Web 0 and Education: what it means for us all

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Web 2.0 and Education: what it means for us all

“You can only tell the shape of things by looking at their edges.”

ACE 2006 paper.

Note :paper will be accompanied by a demonstration of several Web2.0 applications relevant to education.

Dr Ken Price

Department of Education Tasmania/ Tasmanian Society for Information Technology in Education

Web 2.0 and Education: what it means for us all


There are significant opportunities offered to education by the group of technologies often referred to as Web 2.0 or the read/write web. The Web 2.0 concept involves the web changing from a set of linked web pages that are largely information sources to a full set of web-based applications that draw on services from one another. While the term Web2.0 has become almost a mocked catchphrase, it is convenient as a label for this concept.
Common web applications that embody these ideas are Flickr, Google Maps and Google Earth, digg, del.icio.us, Wikipedia, MySpace and Technorati.. Generically, blogs, wikis, social software and podcasting all fall into this general category.
While some educators have embraced aspects of Web 2.0, there are many more opportunities to be realised. By examining the nature of these technologies, the inherent value they have for education and the challenges faced by schools and education systems in implementing large-scale technology change, we can form some strategies for using these opportunities to our advantage.

Challenges faced by systems offering educational computing applications

The provision of software tools at an education system level typically occurs in response to demand from teachers who have used some externally-provided tools and see potential for educational use. Education tends to pick up on technology after it has reached maturity in other workplaces or in social use. For example, in most Australian education systems the provision of centralised email, chat servers, blogs, wikis etc occurred only after these were in widespread use elsewhere.

In addition, education systems tend to be cautious in adopting any new technologies. Systems are rarely wealthy and cannot risk an expensive mistake, as they have a large and largely captive user base that will rely on any new product. On the other hand they do not have the ability to recover costs for a successful product from a larger user base either. Thus they are unlikely to embark on a cutting-edge implementation.
As web applications become more complex and specialized, it is increasingly unlikely that an education system can compete in developing them. For example, few education systems would have the resources spare to develop a product like Google Earth, and even fewer would be willing to speculatively develop a product of such novelty and complexity.
Education systems also face issues of security, privacy and protection of students, which are not so important in the adult world where users can be responsible for their own action. Such concerns make official approval of use of non-education applications rather problematic: McLeod (2006) identifies that in some cases school systems may choose to deny access to non-school applications for this reason.
As a result, systemic provision necessarily lags the use of these tools in the non-education world.

Current state of Web 2.0

In March 2006 CNN Money published a list of its predictions for rising companies that will underpin the “Next Net”. These are worth examining from the point of view of their potential for education. They are given below using the categories provided by CNN. (Schonfeld, Malik & Copeland: 2006).







News aggregator

Why it is important:

The site's links are picked by the readership, which has been doubling every three months; news items with the most votes make the homepage.


Online feed reader

Why it is important:

The site collects blogs and news from all over the Web and presents it in one consistent, updated, multifeed mashup.


Open-source telephony software

Why it is important:

It sells a $1,000 box that allows a PC to use open-source software to mimic a PBX system that costs five times as much.


Wikis and online spreadsheets

Why it is important:

A pioneer of Web collaboration apps, a.k.a. wikis, it has unveiled its new Tracker application, which provides a powerful, highly collaborative online spreadsheet.


Internet TV distributor

Why it is important:

It's creating a video-distribution platform over the Web for producers large and small


Social radio

Why it is important:

Its software creates a personalized streaming radio station based on the digital music you already listen to, shares your playlist on the Web, and suggests music from other closely related playlists.

Eurekster (San Francisco)

Search mashup

Why it is important:

This do-it-yourself search engine, or swicki, allows you to define sites you want to search, post the results on your blog or website, and get a cut of any search ads your audience clicks on.


Internet phone software

Why it is important:

Its Gizmo Project application allows free PC-to-PC calls, cheap PC-to-phone calls, and sound effects


Online calendar

Why it is important:

This Web-based software allows families and groups to create private social networks, organize events, track schedules, and share photos; it may soon allow you to save phone numbers as hyperlinks and make calls by simply clicking on a link.


Business contact database

Why it is important:

In exchange for their own contact lists, salespeople use this site to access a virtual Rolodex of managers at nearly 150,000 companies.


Collaborative publisher

Why it is important:

Readers vote and comment on stories but can also organize their own pages and write their own stories, for which they collect 90 percent of associated ad revenues.

Simply Hired

Job search engine

Why it is important:

It searches nearly 4.5 million listings on other job and corporate sites; subscribers receive an RSS feed or e-mail alert when a job that meets their parameters pops up.


Presence management software

Why it is important:

With its app, users will be able to control where and when they receive voice or text data, routing calls to their phones, e-mail, or RSS feed-and blocking calls from, say, creditors.


Online project management

Why it is important:

Its Basecamp app, elegant and inexpensive, enables the creation, sharing, and tracking of to-do lists, files, performance milestones, and other key project metrics; related app Backpack, recently released, is a powerful online organizer for individuals.


Opt-in RSS marketing

Why it is important:

By allowing RSS feeds to be customized to the desires of each recipient and tracked individually, the site makes such feeds a powerful marketing tool


Social networking

Why it is important:

With cutting-edge Web software enabling blogs, photo and music sharing, online dating, and more, members confront a rich smorgasbord of ways to interact, and everything can be tagged for easy searching.


Blog search engine

Why it is important:

The site filters the almost 30 million existing blogs, shows how many other blogs link to a particular post, and can rank blogs by topic.


Peer-to-peer voice technology

Why it is important:

Its service integrates voice, video, messaging, and social-networking capabilities into existing data networks.


Online word processing

Why it is important:

It enables online creation of documents, opens them to collaboration by anyone anywhere, and simplifies publishing the end result on a website as a blog entry.


Platform for online enterprise software

Why it is important:

It pioneered Web-based software and is trying to become a marketplace and host for other online apps through its AppExchange.


Video sharing

Why it is important:

This site lets people upload, watch, and share millions of video clips. All videos are converted to Flash (a Web-tailored format for graphics and video), making them easy to import into blogs or webpages.


Real estate mashup

Why it is important:

Combining home listings from agents' websites with Google Maps, the site is becoming a hit in California and is expanding into other regions.

Incumbent To Watch:
eBay (Skype)

The pioneer in the field and still the front-runner, Skype brings together free calling, IM, and video calling over the Web; eBay will use it to create deeper connections between buyers and sellers.


Online e-mail

Why it is important:

Taking aim at Microsoft Outlook, its Ajax-based application can, among other things, bring up your calendar for any date your mouse encounters, launch Skype for any phone number, or retrieve a Google map for any address.

Six Apart

Blogging tools

Why it is important:

The company helped kick off and sustain the Next Net with its Moveable Type blogging software and TypePad blogging service.

Incumbent To Watch:

Hoping to dominate social media, it's gobbling up promising startups (Del.icio.us, Flickr, Webjay) and experimenting with social search (My Web 2.0) that ranks results based on shared bookmarks and tags.


Tag search engine

Why it is important:

By searching user-generated tags on Next Net sites like Del.icio.us and Digg, Wink filters the Web so users can sort links into different collections and add their own tags and bookmarks.

Incumbent To Watch:

By rolling out Windows Live, Office Live, and other Next Net-centric software, it hopes to grab a dominant -- if not monopolistic -- share of the webtop, which Bill Gates regards as a crucial strategic priority.

Incumbent To Watch:

It's becoming a major Web platform by opening up its software protocols and encouraging anyone to use its catalog and other data; its Alexa Web crawler, which indexes the Net, can be used as the basis for other search engines, and its Mechanical Turk site solicits humans across cyberspace to do things that computers still can't do well, such as identify images or transcribe podcasts

Incumbent To Watch:
Already the ultimate Web filter through general search as well as blog, news, shopping, and now video search, it's encouraging mashups of Google Maps and search results, and offers a free RSS reader.

As the categories indicate, these companies are operating in areas that are largely Web2.0. Yet there are few schools making use of these or similar technologies.

The key elements of these and similar new products and companies are:

  • entirely web-based,

  • aimed at re-using information services (via web services, RSS feeds, the trading or aggregating of user data, the combination of map information with other information, the smarter use of IP-based communication etc),

  • reliance and promotion of a significant social component: they connect people with people and allow collaboration (eg the collaborative writing tool writely.com) They create a sense of ownership and place, and allow people to see what other similar people are doing or using,

  • provision of ways for users to create and manage their own content,

  • the utilisation of user-centric ways of organizing and managing information (for example, products like Flickr and Eurekster make use of a community of users to build a navigation or “folksomony” rather than relying on a pre-determined taxonomy,

  • high levels of user customization and personalization of the service,

  • many provide some level of service for free.

Whether these companies achieve commercial success is secondary to the characteristics they exhibit.

How we might respond to Web 2.0?

A difficult situation has developed. We have a range of new and potentially valuable services, but education systems are not likely to be able to respond rapidly enough to provide them.
However, all is not lost. Large numbers of students already make use of free tools such as Skype, Flickr, Del.icio.us outside of school. Websites such as MySpace, which provides free personal blogs, have proven enormously popular. According to internet traffic monitor Alexa, MySpace ranks in the top 10 most visited sites on the web (Alexa, March 2006).
The ability to create and publish information instantly is a feature of many Web 2.0 applications. Becta in their Emerging Technologies for Learning report note the increasing importance of this aspect of technology in everyday life (Becta, 2006: 10).
Despite the widespread use of Web 2.0 tools for content creation, some schools are unaware of their existence and few promote the use of such tools.
As Stephen Heppel (Heppel, 2006) sees it:
I'm not surprised to read …that most of the activities involving broadband are teacher-led (or what I call the Dick Turpin style of teaching - stand and deliver) because we're not encouraging this symmetry, with pupils creating content and using broadband to share it with others. There needs to be this peer-to-peer type of learning and this why broadband hasn't yet delivered the properly personalised curriculum. Sadly, today, broadband is about delivery and not about what it truly should be: participation.”
Most students require no teaching to make use of these tools, and often use them without the knowledge of their teachers. As digital natives they see these tools as a logical way to interact and achieve their personal goals. The Pew Internet Study (Lenhart, Horrigan & Fallows: 2004) showed that large numbers of young people are actively creating digital products, outside of schools. Teachers are amongst the last people they would turn to for assistance in the use of these tools: peer support is seen as far more useful
One response for schools or systems is to ignore or prohibit the use of Web 2.0 applications until the school or system can provide them in a controlled manner. This has an advantage of safety and security, but means we risk students seeing schools as backwaters that fail to meet their needs. Already we have the situation where about 75% of US teenage youth log onto the internet most often at home, compared to about 20% who log on most often at school. (Lenhart, Madden &, Hitlin, 2005). We don’t need to provide more reasons for students to see schools as poor relatives in the digital world.
A second, and more productive approach is to look at ways in which schools can capitalise on the technologies students have available to them independently of school. This provides students with a way to see education as a real part of their world, and while some tools may have limitations the benefits outweigh them. At the same time, systems and schools can learn from the experience and feed the knowledge into the slower process of providing suitable tools at system level. The need to train students in the operation of these tools is minimal: do schools need to teach students how to use a mobile phone? However, schools have a very important role in providing an educational context in which these tools provide a solution.
An example of this process is the way in which email was introduced into most school systems over the past decade or so. Initial use of email by students was via home ISPs or through free providers such as Hotmail. Over time, schools that made use of this external email demonstrated its value in supporting learning through access to online expertise, collaborative projects, etc. A case gradually grew for making email a systemically-provided service to all students. Finally, many education systems responded to this case (which may have been explicit or implicit) and provided the necessary service.
Similar patterns are evident with systemic provision of instant messaging, personal web spaces (such as blogs) and file storage and learning delivery systems that are accessible outside of the school environment.
It is likely that this pattern is almost inevitable in the introduction of new technologies to education, and that by making use of external services in innovative ways we can provide students with authentic experiences and at the same time build the knowledge base for designing systemic services that can support teaching and learning.
Our challenge, then, as innovative educators is to identify new and emerging technologies, envision how they can address curriculum needs, and encourage their use in education, while also monitoring what we see with a view to creating tools that are more suited to education.
Innovative teachers have always seen the potential for using new technologies to support education, and have been able to fit the technology to the task in a way that allows educational goals (rather than technology).to drive the process.


Alexa. (2006). Traffic details for Myspace.com

Retrieved March 29 2006) from http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=&url=myspace.com
Becta. (2006). Emerging Techologies for Learning.

Retrieved March 29 2006 from http://www.becta.org.uk/corporate/publications/documents/Emerging_Technologies_Accessibility.pdf

Fox, S. & Madden, M. (2005). Pew/Internet And American Life Project Data Memo: Generations Online.

Retrieved March 2 2006 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Generations_Memo.pdf

Heppell, S. (2006) Expert view, Interview by George Cole (Guardian).

Retrieved April 5 2006 from http://education.guardian.co.uk/screencheck/story/0,,1745890,00.html

Lenhart, A.,Horrigan, J. & Fallows, D (2004). Pew/Internet And American Life Project Report: Content Creation Online

Retrieved March 29 2006 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Content_Creation_Report.pdf

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Hitlin, P.(2005). Pew/Internet And American Life Project Report: Teens and Technology.

Retrieved March 29 2006 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Tech_July2005web.pdf

Rainie, L. (2005). Pew/Internet And American Life Project Data Memo: The State of Blogging.

Retrieved March 29 2006 from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_blogging_data.pdf

McLeod, S. (2006).. Should schools allow teachers to use non-school technology tools? School Technology Leadership Blog.

Retrieved March 29 2006 from http://www.schooltechleadershipblog.org/2006/02/should_schools_.html

Schonfeld,E., Malik, O., & Copeland, M.V. (2006). The Next Net 25 (CNN)

Retrieved March 29 2006 from http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/23/smbusiness/business2_nextnet_intro/index.htm

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