Web 2.0, Social Networking and the Classroom

You’ve most likely heard of Web 2.0 tools. And, if you’re like most, you’re somewhat befuddled as to what it all means. Did we miss Web 1.0? When was the upgrade to 2.0?

The key concept to understand is this: Web 1.0 was/is dissemination of information on the web. It was not dynamic, but plentiful pages of static information. Web 2.0 implies interaction. What you find on the web you can interact with. For instance, a blog, or web log. You can write and publish, like the one you are reading now, and comment. You can agree, disagree, or simply add to the discussion.

Web 2.0 is also about information systems that are embedded within page structures. Look at myPlymouth as an example. This is a ‘portal’ of information connected to various other systems hosted at PSU and elsewhere.

To take it a step further, there are Wiki’s. Wiki's are the underlying foundation of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written and developed by, well, everyone. While some may derail it as less than the venerable Encyclopedia Brittanica, it is a participatory endeavor that is a collection of knowledge that has fared well in comparison. Wiki tools are available for all of us for group writing and editing. If you want to see how they work, see Wikis in Plain English (on YouTube). And, if you haven’t been to Wikipeda, you should. Your students do!

You also have tools available in Blackboard to engage students in online discussions. Use them. Seed some provocative questions about your course materials and post them as questions. Require them to engage, to not only respond to your questions but to interact and play off postings from one another. This is a good contingency plan for snow days and weather cancellations. You don't need to miss entire classes. If you plan to do this, make it clear in your syllabi.

FaceBook and mySpace are other examples of Web 2.0. Students come in our door fully networked with friends in mySpace or Facebook. Many of us think we should meet them there, have our own FaceBook pages. But most of us are stuck in Web 1.0 mentality. We sign up for FaceBook and create a page that becomes static (Web 1.0). They, on the other hand, are using it constantly, communicating back and forth and keeping friends current. It's also important to know that this is a social space for them, an area where they don't necessarily want us. In fact, many will block our ability to view their pages.

However, the transformation that occurs over four years of college should see those social networks turn to professional networks. An e-portfolio is a compilation of a student’s finer work products, their career goals and their resume. Instead of sending potential employers a resume, they will be forwarding links to their electronic portfolios. It will be a grown up and responsible FaceBook.

And then there is the networking. All of us can interact and garner the collective resources and knowledge of those with interests and expertise similar to ours. We can tap that vast resource to improve what we know and bring to the classroom.

What does all this mean to you in the classroom? Maybe nothing, maybe something new and exciting. It depends. But it is important to know about these tools. Look at the learning objectives of your course. You don't need to require the use of these tools, but you can allow and encourage students to use them to accomplish those learning objectives. You will see how they work and the students will be using collaboration tools that are gaining footholds in many areas of our economy.

One thought on “Web 2.0, Social Networking and the Classroom

  1. I have a Facebook page, and occasionally communicate with my colleagues and a few students on it. I've been interested in using it as a communication tool with my classes, but to date have held back because it seemed like an imposition. A week or so ago I read an article on the "creepy treehouse" phenomenon that put it in perspective for me. I think that Facebook can be a useful communication tool if we respect the social boundaries between ourselves and our students. They probably don't want to hear too much about our private lives, or even much of what we do professionally. But if we confine our use of Web 2.0 technology to the classes they are in, and approach them in a friendly but professional manner, then these communication tools can be very useful to us, and to them.

    Also, if you live far off campus like I do, and need to cancel an occasional class due to bad weather, nothing can be more useful than Twitter.

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