Web 2.0 in Higher Education…and Colin

I have read for the second time the publication Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World (JISC et al, 2009) and still found it interesting and relevant even though I think deployment of Web 2.0 tools in education is obviously now more widespread than it was then. What I found intriguing at first glance was the illustrations on the front cover.

Front Cover of the publication

I think the mobile device in this photo is a blackberry but it appears that the other learners illustrated here are sitting with their laptops – not an ipad in sight!

How things have changed! At every conference or training event I have attended recently it seems that everyone, except me, is tapping away and swiping at their shiny new ipads. The first ipad was launched in April 2010 and the sales figures were indeed impressive – see Apples Sells 3 Million iPads in 80 days. This small tablet and its copycats have taken off with such lightening speed, in such a short space of time, that educators need to sit up and listen to the buzz. Why? Because just like the advent of the Smartphones that are now ubiquitous and in the loving hands of nearly every learner in College or Uni these sophisticated mobile devices with their innovative apps will probably become mainstream. A quick peruse of the blogosphere will evidence the rapid growth of this technology within education from primary to tertiary.

Just the other day I heard a forward thinking Science tutor say how much he relished the fact that learners in his class were tapping away on their ipads. It seems to me that the ipad instigates feelings of exploration and discovery.

Discovery! Now there’s a compelling word. There is no doubt that Web 2.0 tools can offer a world of discovery.  I am reminded of a narrative I came across the other day in relation to the learner of the future. It centres around a fictional character called Colin who belongs to Generation C, “connected, communicating, content-centric, computerized, community-oriented, always clicking” (Booz & Company, 2012). Go and have a look through the crystal ball.

But back to Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World which I had hoped to digest and focus on a few key points. It was apparent, even in 2008, that there was a need for an independent inquiry to explore the impact of integration of Web 2.0 tools in higher education to inform strategy and policy. The report suggests that amongst school age children of 11 years old and upwards the use of Web 2.0 is high. This has repercussions for H.E. However, deployment of Web 2.0 for teaching was patchy and driven from the bottom up (as innovative technologies often are). I think this is probably still the case. The pros and cons of adopting Web 2.0 for learners and teachers are carefully considered and a number of critical issues identified which help formulate the recommendations. The researchers of this publication had the foresight to identify that the skills learners gain from engaging with Web 2.0 also match the skills demanded by 21st century employers – “communication, collaboration, creativity, leadership and technology proficiency” (JISC, 2009, p.6). Although the adoption of social media sites like Facebook at this time was seen as something to be developed I think educational institutions have made significant strides in the last few years as most colleges and universities now have a Facebook and Twitter presence. A recent HDA report on the Facebook generation suggest that the social networking phenomenon is having a positive impact on “creativity, collaboration, communciation and productivity” (HDA, 2012, p.10). As educators perhaps we should be tapping into this phenomenon?

The critical issues that emerge from the Web 2.0 in H.E publication point to staff development issues for tutors, especially in relation to e-pedagogy and also the necessity to develop learners’ digital literacy so they can “search, authenticate and critically evaluate material from the range of appropriate sources, and attribute it as necessary” (JISC, 2009, p.7). I suggest this is something educators need to address too. The role of the tutor is fundamental as is the changing relationship between the tutor and the student. The constructivist pedagogy which is the hallmark of Web 2.0 based on community, collaboration, participation and sharing allows the learner to be more actively engaged in learning with their peers. This active, self-directed learning calls for a rethink on how we structure teaching and learning. For tutors to “practice effectively, they have to stay attuned to the disposition of their students” (ibid, p.9) and recognise that their role is changing. The idea of a more equal partnership and a flatter hierarchy might not appeal to many (both tutors and learners) but it may be worth considering.

On that dangerous note it might be helpful to know about Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiments in which young school children in rural areas in deprived parts of the worlds learn from a computer, amongst each other and without the intervention of any teacher. Fascintating stuff…but that deserves a posting all on its own.

In the meantime, I wait with bated breath for the arrival of my very first ipad. What on earth am I going to do with it?


JISC (2009) Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World [online]. Available at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/generalpublications/2009/heweb2.aspx

HDA Associates Ltd (2012) Generation F: Facebook Generation Future Workforce Research White Paper [online] Available at: http://www.hda.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/HDA-Generation-F-Survey-White-Paper-Q1-2012b1.pdf

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