Comments on “Web 2.0” and social software

People often use the word “energy” to mean entirely different things in different contexts. It may mean oil when used in the context of transportation, it may mean electricity when used in the context of buildings, it may mean nuclear when used in the context of ‘green’. And for “energy” we can read “web 2 point oh”.  With this in mind, let’s look at this intriguing post from Graham Attwell’s Pontydysgu (pronunciation guide for non-Welsh speakers — Pont – uh – duz – gee — at least that’s how I think it’s pronounced from my limited Welsh experience) entitled “Developing a Pedagogical Framework for Web 2.0 and social software“.

“And whilst the educational technology community has tended to espouse constructivist approaches to learning, the reality is that most Virtual Learning Environments have tended to be a barrier to such an approach to learning.”

I think that while this assertion is generally true I do think that, for Moodle at least, the reason why this might be the case has more to do with the attitudes, approaches and fears of teachers themselves than intrinsic limitations of the particular VLE system. Teachers are afraid of openness. They don’t want their classrooms to be open. They often feel vulnerable and unsafe when trying new technologies and so they shy away from such innovation. They fear censure (quite rightly) if their experiment with technology fails or comes off half cock. Moreover, I would assert that in many people’s minds the phrase “Web 2.0 and social software” equates 1:1 with Facebook using the same argument that I introduced this piece with. And Facebook in the minds of many teachers (and especially young teachers like my daughter who is just coming into the system) conjures up images not of collaboration in learning new things but of superficial time wasting frippery.

So, to my mind, we have to start with where teachers in real classrooms are situated. It’s one thing to preach the gospel of collaborative learning; it’s quite another to make a class wiki using MediaWiki the basis of a collaborative class wide pedagogic effort. The ‘tools’ that teachers use online have to be designed for teachers and teaching whether they are Web 2.0 or Moodle/VLE based. While generalized Web 2.0 instruments may be pressed into pedagogical service by teachers who are adept with the particular tool the transient nature of much of these sites renders the process unsustainable over more than the very short term.

For a real teaching Web 2.0 site take a look at Zach Whalen’s home site at University of Mary Washington and his excellent New Media course. The guy operates his own drupal site for heaven’s sake!

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