Tag Archives: web 2.0

Web 2.0 tools: new territory for many learners


World map by Abraham Ortelius (1570)

For some time I have been incorporating the use of blogs and wikis into professional development for teachers as a tool for writing and thinking. This has ranged from one off workshops on topics such as read-write learning to Masters-level papers in education technology. Consistently I have found that participants have little experience in using Web 2.0 tools for writing.

In general, teachers are very familiar with using the web in a Web 1.0 mode – to access research and other resources. They are much less familiar with using it in a Web 2.0 mode – to write and publish. This appears to be consistent with recent research into other target groups: Luckin states that use of wiki technology is limited mainly to use of Wikipedia. (Luckin et al, 2008, page 5) and Kennedy states that The net generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies (Kennedy et al 2007).

Within the ‘write-and-publish’ mode of Web 2.0, there are some big differences in complexity. For example, maintaining a social presence (eg using Facebook) can be a simple matter of filling out an onscreen form. Writing and publishing with a wiki, however, is a far more demanding task both technically and cognitively. Educators need to bear in mind that even those learners who seem very comfortable on the web can struggle with the task of creating a wiki.

In an earlier posting I suggested that educators need better models for the use of Web 2.0 tools. I now believe that the models we need should be based on much clearer distinctions between the specific technologies that are often lumped together under the term ‘Web 2.0’

References and links

Kennedy, G et al (2007). The net generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies: Preliminary findings. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007.
http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/kennedy.pdf

Luckin, R et al. Learners’ use of Web 2.0 technologies in and out of school in Key Stages 3 and 4. Becta, 2008.
http://news.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=38417

Millea, J. The Net Generation are not big users of Web2.0 technologies.
http://blogs.educationau.edu.au/jmillea/2008/09/23/the-net-generation-are-not-big-users-of-web20-technologies/

Wikis: more than just collaboration

Definitions of wikis, especially in education, often state that wikis are ‘collaborative’. Most wiki software does support collaboration, but not all applications of wikis need to be collaborative. In fact, collaborative features can be detrimental if we want to publish our own writing and not have it changed or deleted… the reflective thinker may not want to be disturbed!

For example, I maintain a Mediawiki site for my own articles and other resources that I don’t want changed. It used to be an open wiki, but dealing with the spam became too time-consuming. So now the wiki is only open to be read by visitors, not for writing. I no longer feel the need to apologise for this – I don’t let others browse the documents on my hard disk, but I do let others browse (but not edit) the writing on my wiki. And there are plenty of other channels for collaboration out there.

Some wiki purists might say that using a wiki solely for your own writing, without allowing for input of others, is against the wiki philosophy. But I’d argue we should be able to use the tools in ways that best meet our needs, and the best tools provide flexibility in how we use them. And most of us have the need to write in different read-write modes: sometimes it’s private, sometimes it’s public, and sometimes it’s collaborative. The best wiki tools should let us easily write and manage documents in a range of read-write modes.

Ideally, Mediawiki would allow me to easily manage the read-write mode of any article and its associated discussion page. Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward – permissions are set in the Mediaiwiki configuration file and the documentation warns against relying on the plugins available for finer-grained managing of permissions. So it hasn’t been feasible for me to effectively manage the read-write mode of individual pages on my main wiki.

Recently I’ve been trying out PMWiki, which makes much better allowance for controlling access to the wiki site and to individual pages within it. Any page can have a password for reading and a password for writing, and these can be set relatively simply. That means you have fine-grained control over the read-write mode of any specific page.

That’s just what I need – and I believe that’s what learners need too. Not all learning happens collaboratively: successful learners need to be reflective as well as collaborative. Effective Web 2.0 tools provide for personal reflection as well as more social approaches to learning.

Photo by Matan: Copy of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ at Columbia University

Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge

Information and knowledge in a vocational education setting often has a significance beyond that in more academic courses: in fact, the life and well-being of the students and members of the public may depend on its accuracy. Consider the following scenario:

CC: photo Robert LawtonJan is a nursing lecturer in a department which has recently begun to incorporate a ‘community of practice’ approach, including the use of a wiki for students and staff to collaboratively build publicly-accessible knowledge resources. She logs in one Monday morning and sees that a student has added to the page on clinical practice, including information which is contrary to accepted practice and could put patients’ health at risk.

Jan is appalled: What if another student read that information over the weekend and put it into practice? What if a practising nurse has read it and is about to complain to Jan’s head of department? Jan immediately deletes the incorrect information, then wonders whether she has done the right thing.

How should Jan have reacted? In fact, if Jan’s department had been through a thorough planning process, the risk of faulty information being contributed as well strategies for dealing with it would have been identified prior to implementing the collaborative activity. So Jan would have known exactly how to react.

Some e-learning specialists feel that Web 2.0 tools like wikis have no place at all in vocational education because the risks of ‘faulty knowledge’ are potentially so great. I don’t happen to believe that, but I do believe we need to identify the risks when we are planning, along with what we will do when ‘faulty knowledge’ is contributed. And we need to share this with students beforehand, so that they too understand the risks and how these will be handled.

If we do identify that there is a risk of ‘faulty knowledge’ being contributed, we need to also identify how we will:

  • Monitor the wiki (ie how will we know incorrect information exists?)
  • Deal with the published incorrect information (eg is it deleted, corrected or annotated?)
  • Correct the students’ faulty knowledge (ie that underlies the incorrect information)
  • Maintain a democratic and motivating collaborative environment while retaining the right to intervene
  • Communicate the risks and how we’ll deal with them to students

I believe the potential benefits of exposing ‘faulty knowledge’ outweigh the risks – but we do need a well thought-out plan for dealing with incorrect and potentially dangerous information.

Photo by Robert Lawton