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Weighing In

Can We Trust Students to Learn in Web 2.0?

A core debate about learning design arises from the fear that, if we allow learners too much freedom, they will not learn the right things. Web 2.0 exacerbates that fear because it is beyond the control of educators.

Loss of Control

The fear of loss of control has always led educators toward "one-step" teaching: "If we want students to learn properly, we have to tell them what is right" -- rather than the more optimistic "two-step" learning: "If we want students to learn, we have to let them discover for themselves within a learning structure we've created for them." The first approach allows us to define what we "cover" in teaching, the second relies on a belief that learners can be trusted to do the right thing, given a well-thought-out learning design.

Gather by the Woodstove

Our 10-month-old grandson was at our house last week to spend the day. We gave him toys designed for his age, many of which he likes and spends time with. But his real fascination is with our fireplace and the wood stove insert. He wants to touch the metal, the glass window, and the handles. He likes to see his reflection in the glass, to hear the boing sound of the handles when he pulls them and then releases them, and to explore the ash-catching metal lip.

We debate with ourselves: He could so easily get hurt if he slips and bumps his head on the hard edges but at the same time he is curious and engaged in discovery. We don't have as much control over the outcome of his fireplace exploration as we'd like, but we don't want to dampen his curiosity. Does he learn as much useful information by exploring the fireplace as by playing with shape-matching toys?

Or, a third possibility, the real lesson for him may be that he can learn from any exploration of the world: He's learning about learning. He's discovering that the world is fascinating. We guide him and keep him safe and so he is free to explore. Now he's heading for the CD player...

Are We Qualified and Ready to use Web 2.0?

What lessons can students learn by their exploration of Web 2.0? Is there a way to guide learning in Web 2.0 that enhances domain-specific learning? Can we trust students to learn the right things when we send them to the Web to do an assignment?

In the end, for us to trust our students in Web 2.0, we must first feel safe "out there" ourselves. But, I hear distrust messages from my colleagues. And, to be honest, not that many years ago, I feared typing in my credit card info to buy something on the Web. Even more recently, I was concerned about using new Web 2.0 sites. Wasn't it a waste of time? Would I become addicted? Who would I meet there?

With daily use, my trust has increased. I see more friends, family, and colleagues all the time on LinkedIn or Facebook. I have so many Web 2.0 accounts now I have to keep an "encrypted database" (scrawled so only I can read it) of all my logins and passwords.

But, still, for all of us academics, the question persists: Do we feel safe using Web 2.0 social sites? Do they seem non-academic or non-professional when we do?

To develop more awareness of Web 2.0, here's a great site to read: Here, you will see what's happening in the "read-write" world (Web 2.0) regularly, get insight, and be directed to new sites to try.

Get familiar with these tools and develop trust. To make it easier to get to the ones you like, create a start page using Netvibes: This is your personal portal to everything on the Web. Using Netvibes to launch to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc., sites, and connect to your e-mail, news, weather, feeds, and so on, you won't have to login to these separate sites each time.

Develop your own sense of safety on the Web. As you use sites out there, keep imagining how you can use the sites in your own teaching and learning. The water's always cold when you first get in, but, you know, it feels fine after you get used to it.

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: E-mail: [email protected]

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