Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What are web 2.0 Tools?


The traditional classroom is constrained by physical boundaries while the explosion of Internet tools referred to as Web 2 tools, offers a virtual classroom with few limitations. By association with this idea one would expect that today’s education, too, has few limitations. De Bourgh (2003) moderates this assertion by stating ‘Technology used selectively and authentically can facilitate learning and scaffold development of higher order thinking by delivering content multiple options for expressing knowledge and creative options for engaging learners’

This paper investigates technologies afforded us in this Net-generation with a view to being able to select innovative tools and use them appropriately in creative educational environments. The applications of some of these tools in learning environments are discussed in reference to popular learning theories. The need to establish the credibility of various technologies is important for educators and their students who grow up in a digital age. Johnston and Cooley (2001) state ‘Technology is changing the educational environment regardless of whether educators are prepared for the shift to technology’s infused instruction’.

What are Web 2.0 technologies and How are They Being Used?

The term Web 2.0 is used in contemporary literature, however, the average educator, still caught in the turmoil of using entrance level technology, may be unaware of its’ meaning. Wikipedia.com defines Web 2.0 as ‘a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online’ or, it is ‘the next generation of web based services’ (McDonald & Owyang, 2006).

O’Reilly (2005) describes Web 2.0 as a platform that spans all connected devices as:

  • a virtual environment where software and content are continually updated and get better with use;

  • a network which delivers rich user experiences through participation.
Other characteristics of flexibility, mobility, affordability, cost effective scalability, multiple usage and usability further define it. Web 2.0 is maintained and updated by users who are also co-developers thereby harnessing collective intelligence (e.g. Wikipedia). O’ Reilly (2005) believes that Web 2.0’s power comes in the form of the collective power of small sites which reaches out to the edges of the net rather than from the central core.

The importance of Web 2.0 is explained by Saffo (n.d.)as the focus of an emerging personal broadcasting trend in the same way that television, forty years ago, was at the center of mass broadcasting. To further understand this concept, table (1) outlines some key differences.

Table (1) shows the concepts of Mass Media and Personal Media

Social software is seen as one of the major components of the whole Web 2.0 movement (O’Hear, 2005), and generates the need to personalize and customize interfaces and information. Mass Media sponsored reaction rather than the empowerment engendered by Personal Media.

To understand the diversity of Web 2.0 technologies it’s useful to look from a usage perspective. Some educators classify usage based on time and place believeing that increased collaboration and community involvement demands personal involvement in an anytime, anyplace learning context rather than fixed time fixed place location. Personal flexibility and mobility are afforded by the new technologies. Physical classroom walls give way to virtual spaces (Thompson, 2007).

As outlined in Table (2), The Horizon Report (2007) identifies and describes emerging technologies and ranks categories according to time-to adoption by higher education. They range, from the top of the table, within one year, to the bottom, within the next five years.

Table (2): Key Trends in Emerging Technologies in Higher Education

What do you think?

Is the Web 2.0 term new to you?

Have you used any tools that allow you reflect O'Reilly's descriptors of these tools - "flexibility, mobility, affordability, cost effective scalability, multiple usage and useability"?

Of the types of tools shown in Table 2, how many of these have you been exposed to or used?

Post your comments - we'd love to hear from you.

How Learning Theories Help Us to Understand the Value in Using Web 2.0 Tools

Formal education has traditionally relied on the objectivist view of knowledge. This view assumes that knowledge can be imparted from teacher to learner through transmissive deliveries. Teaching and research driven by this philosophy discourage different views and understandings, disregard different contexts and experiences of individuals, and regard individuals as passive recipients of knowledge. Although lectures may be affective for some individual learning styles, their continued use as a dominant pedagogy has allowed limited recognition of diverse preferences of learning.

Limited learner participation and interaction in the objectivist view has also disallowed pedagogues to realise the need for learner control during the process of learning. Learning in this context rather places emphasis on teacher-control and learner compliance. Gulati (2004). The idea of selecting tools to support the teacher’s style, as asserted by Brown, in Cillay (2003) reflects this objectivist environment in his statement ‘Before selecting the tools that will make up a course, educators should identify where their own strengths lie and what type of experience they want for their students’.

By contrast, the constructivist approach places learners central to the experience, actively constructing their own knowledge. Vygotsky (1962) in Gulati (2004) highlights the importance of social interaction and dialogue in learning which leads to our understanding of social constructivism. Connectivism, has emerged as another learning theory that accommodates the complexity and rapidly altering foundations on which modern learning is based. (Siemens, 2005). Key features of connectivism, as summarized by Siemens (2005) include: the critical aspects of learning capacity; diversity of opinions; linking information nodes; nurturing connections, connecting concepts; decision–making as learning and commitment to currency.

Web 2.0 provides many social constructivist and connectivist affordances to support and enhance our contemporary learning environments. Tools such as wikis, blogs, instant messaging and webcasting support these approaches. Maor and Zariski, (2003) contend that the tools cannot be separated from the learning experience and that the technology and pedagogy are mutually supportive and reinforcing. Teachers become adept at staging learning episodes and selecting the modes of delivery. The emergence of web 2.0 tools, however, challenges this approach because of the vast array of technologies and because the learners are now empowered to reach beyond the walls of the classroom (Thonpson, 2007).

Connectivism addresses concepts of chaos, networking, and self organization and provides for a new age of personal media. Web 2.0 tools promote the creation of new knowledge through connections and interactions. Students need new skills in synthesizing and recognizing patterns and evaluating information. Siemens (2004) describes connectivism as providing ‘insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era’.

Web 2.0 tools support the concepts of Siemens’ theory of connectivism. Examples include tagging and folksonomies as processes supporting links to specialized information sources and evaluative decision-making; wikis and blogs support diversity of opinions; podcasts and vodcasts use tools that are facilitated by other tools; while all, including social software such Facebook, champion up-to-date information.

The educator is in the unenviable position of selecting appropriate tools to deliver course content and high quality learning that is underpinned by sound pedagogy. Further to this students in first world countries have come to expect learning on demand. Students are unafraid of technology, multi-taskers, less tolerant of passive activities, and use technology to stay connected. The educator is therefore forced to adopt new technology and new pedagogy ( Deubal, 2006)

Three educators, Jennifer Bergh, Cathy Hynes and Trudi Shine, representing a diversity of formal learning contexts explore personal educational dilemmas with reference to Web 2.0 technologies and pedagogical approaches with a clear focus on learner needs. ( See next post)

What do you think?

Are all students unafraid of technology and expect on-demand teaching? Are there not some students who prefer the traditional frame of teaching? To what extent will educators have to adopt new technologies?

Post your comments - we'd love to hear from you.

Jennifer's Dilemma - Podcasting

Podcasting - A Mobile Technology

Jenny's concerns that elementary level Emirati college students in her college have limited listening practice outside of the classroom, led to the idea that podcasts could be a viable addition to student resources. Podcast is a term derived from two words ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. It is an audio recording hosted on a server, which through RSS technology, pushes the recording to a mobile device once the user has subscribed to this service. The ‘push’ nature of the technology which automates downloads is valuable as learners are alerted to new recordings and are available on demand.

The advantages of podcasts for learning are well documented (Godwin-Jones, 2005, Thomas, 2006) but there is less documentation available about their use for second language acquisition. ‘Listening’ practice in second language educational institutions is usually afforded by teacher controlled cassettes or CDs and as such language acquisition practices appear to lag behind technology (Wong, 2005). Podcasts could maximize learning opportunities owing to their portability and on-demand nature and additionally are valuable, in combination with a recording device, for capturing and reviewing a learner’s own speech (Kaplan-Lieserson, 2005). Listening is a passive skill and is more suited to delivery via innovative technology than other language skills (Wong, 2005). Keegan in Thomas (2005) states that language education remains one of the most innovative disciplinary areas for the development of new learning technologies in the emerging mobile learning arena.

Chan & Lee (2005) advocate podcasting for self-directed studies to reduce anxiety levels associated with listening activities. Jenny's learners’ preference for not sitting at a computer when studying, together with the growing demand for mobile devices give credence to this idea of portable ‘pushed’ listening resources (Kaplan-Leiserson, 2005). An investigation of whether the use of podcasts would enhance and support the acquisition of a second language thus ensued.

University of Southern Queensland’s FET8604 students were asked to access a contextualized podcast, view extension activities and respond to evaluative questions. The questions phrased the objectives of the investigation focusing on ease of access and quality of the learning.

A consensus of opinions saw that access and subscription to the podcast was not difficult as long as there was clear support and guidance. This ‘push’ technology was seen as a distinct advantage for vision impaired students. These results support Kaplan-Lieserson’s (2005) specific criteria regarding the length, and clarity of recording as well as appropriateness of language level. It was agreed that voices should be used contextually, with a variety of voices for interest. Because listening alone does not enhance language acquisition support materials are necessary to provide a medium for interaction with the language (Collins and Berge, 1996) and for recycling that language in related contexts (Krashen in Schutz, 2002). The learner should control the device, explore different media such as video clippings as well as reflect on and action language through writing activities.

Implications for Pedagogy
In these circumstances the use of the podcast facilitates learning through interaction. Vygotsky’s socio-cognitivist theory supports the scaffolding required for learning in this event. Student opinion saw support for instructivist pedagogy owing to the singular nature of listening and the need to learn vocabulary. The learner-centeredness of the activity supports constructivism (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1996) while the technologies required to ‘push’ listening to the mobile device and connect to support material lent credence to connectivism. Irrespective of the theory, the students concluded that using podcasts enhanced opportunities for learning especially if a variety of learning styles were addressed in the support material. Maor (2005) proposes that it is not the tool itself but rather how the tool is used that enhances learning. Further use of technology will benefit teachers and students and be pedagogically sound when everyone’s interests are brought together (Thomas, 2006, and Kim & Bonk, 2006).

What do you think?
Have you used podcasts in your teaching environment? Tell us about your experiences.

"To achieve shifts in education practices teachers must alter their pedagogical approaches and must be convinced to make the leap to a different mode of professional activity." (Dede n.d.)

Would making the 'leap' described above improve students' learning?

Post your comments - we'd love to hear from you.

Cathy's Dilemma

As a Humanist, Cathy Hynes faced a dilemma causing her to query ways to improve levels of student engagement. Buchanan (1998) suggests that interactivity promotes humanistic educations as it places students in the role of active learners rather then in the role of passive receptors of information. Buchanan asserted that technology can humanize education if it empowers students to manage information.

When first beginning with Google groups, Cathy’s purpose was to increase participation and interactivity with content, peers and the instructor.

Cathy followed Novak’s lead to work with discussion groups and to check understanding of concepts prior to class thereby increasing opportunities for problem solving in particular areas and engaging in discussion and debate. She created a specific ‘Google’ group. Self tests were used in order to identify learning needs and ensure reading had been completed. This group enjoyed good communication with the teacher and peers, which promoted clarification of issues through discussion. Frayer (n.d.) asserts that asynchronous discussion involves student interaction rather than simply student –teacher interaction.

Two software packages were selected to facilitate communication. The Yackpack program is easy to use and provides online synchronous as well as asynchronous voice recordings for offline students. Berge and Collins (1996) stress that it is not necessary for individuals to meet synchronously to engage in social interaction.

Similar to Yackpack, the Skype program also provides for groups of up to nine students to collaborate on tasks or simply meet socially. Both packages encourage communication beyond the school day (Wilber, 2007). Miranda & Saunders cited in Piggs and Crank, (2004) discuss the need for reciprocity in online communication and Gunawardena and Zittle (1997) maintain that immediacy enhances social presence. Skype and Yackpack support reciprocity, immediacy and social presence.

Using Yackpack, Cathy was able to receive and collect messages from members of the class who could not connect synchronously. These interactions helped the group to be more connected and use face-to-face class time more effectively.

Trudi's Dilemma

In a state-wide learning environment of home-based child care trainees, Trudi encountered a dilemma which led her to enquire about access issues for the rural and remote learners. While some of these learners joined the centralized online programs, a significant proportion did not. The Australian Flexible Learning Framework (2003) conducted extensive studies into online learning, including research into access and equity for rural and remote learners. Trudi used this research and framed further questions for an e-survey among her university cohorts, then discussed these issues during a live-to-air university event.

This synchronous event demonstrated the same two learning platforms used in the state-wide Children’s Services programs. The event was facilitated via Centra Symposium and demonstrations of approaches using both Centra and a Moodle group were shared. In this way, it was possible to conduct some evaluation of these technologies with regard to the rural access theme. The topic was therefore discussed with reference to the event participants’ experiences, the results of the in-course Zoomerang survey, published research and the technologies being demonstrated during the event.

Aspects influencing access by rural and remote learners were gleaned from the research (Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2003) and formed eleven factors:

1.culture and language; 2. affordability; 3. age; 4. degree of isolation; 5. level of education;
6. access to internet; 7. technology skills; 8. course design; 9. staff support;
10. peer support and 11. access to support resources.

The in-course survey results and event discussion indicated that access to internet was considered most crucial, followed by ease of use with course software and platforms. This outcome partly mirrored the research report (Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2003) that identified key barriers as distance related technology and infrastructure costs. The report also acknowledged the diversity of needs for regional and remote learners as well as the need for community-based coordination of services and industry involvement.

Effectiveness of instructional design was also considered very important by the university course participants. This included providing limited text, effective use of friendly pictures and many opportunities for interaction, both verbal and graphic. The issue of course affordability was minimized as discussion related to contexts where learners were already highly subsidized. All eleven factors were considered to have some impact on learner access and engagement.

The synchronous and asynchronous platforms highlighted in this event afford users a range of opportunities for interaction and social learning. The extent to which these tools can enable learner- initiated activities for distant students would depend on the pedagogical approach and the impact of the eleven identified features above. Once distance learners become connected, the virtual classroom could be seen to simply replicate the ‘chalk and talk’ physical classroom if used in an objectivist way. However, the break-out rooms, collaborative mark-up tools, text chat and verbal interaction features, when used effectively, will support a social constructivist learning environment. The ‘any time any place’ learner-driven Moodle forums, blogs, wikis and resource sharing clearly support a connectivist pedagogy and allow the learner to take an active approach to group learning. The value of these technologies and approaches is recognized in the report, (Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2003) and the recommended Commonwealth funds for projects supportive of rural and remote learners has been translated into current projects such as those currently sponsored by LearnScope.


The imperative for educators to embrace new technologies and review pedagogical approaches increases in urgency. “As new technologies continue to grow in power, access to new online experiences will redefine instructional delivery.” (Jukes, 2005)

The case study dilemmas of Jenny, Cathy and Trudi, as outlined in this paper, provide an even sharper focus on contextualized learner needs when considering the vast array of Web 2.0 learning technologies available for us today. It was found that a learner responsive approach and access to ’low tech’ user-friendly tools was instrumental in all cases to improving student participation and learning.

Contemporary educators are faced with vital pedagogical challenges relating to the navigation of many emerging technologies and the complex network of learning environments. New learning theories such as connectivism assist pedagogues in understanding how to evaluate, select and make effective use of the inspiring suite of tools that populate the Web 2.0 environment. Sustainable values such as equity and access for all are beacons in a sea of opportunity, guiding decisions for educators across the expanse.