Web 2.0 for teaching: wishy-washy or nitty-gritty?

A useful report, summarising Web 2.0 and some of the perspectives in literature about Web 2.0 and teaching, was recently produced by Susan A. Brown of the School of Education at the University of Manchester: The Potential of Web 2.0 in Teaching: a study of academics’ perceptions and use. The findings were based on a questionnaire (74 respondents across 4 Faculties) and interviews (8 participants) with teaching staff from the University of Manchester. It is available on request, so let us know if you would like a copy.
Some of the points that came out of the report:
  • It is the tutors’ own beliefs about teaching that are the main influence on their perceptions of Web 2.0
  • There is little discussion about Web 2.0 amongst colleagues and the use of it is generally a personal decision
  • Top-down goals and initiatives do not play a major part in use of Web 2.0
  • It may be that a bottom-up experimental approach is the most appropriate, especially given the relative ease with which Web 2.0 tools can be deployed, although there were interviewees who argued for a more considered and maybe more strategic approach, which suggests something that is more top-down
  • There is little evidence that students’ awareness of Web 2.0 is a factor, or that students are actively arguing in favour of its use:
“This absence of a ‘student voice’ in tutors’ comments on Web 2.0 is interesting given the perceptions of ‘digital natives’ – the epithet often ascribed to 21st Century students – as drivers for the greater inclusion of digital technologies. It may shore up the view that epithets such as ‘digital natives’ and ‘Millennials’ to describe younger students over-simplify a complex picture where digital/Web technology users do not necessarily see the relevance of Web 2.0 in education.”
  • The use of and familiarity with Web 2.0 tools (personal use or use for research) was not a particularly influential factor in whether the respondents judged them to have potential for teaching.
  • In terms of the general use of Web 2.0 tools, mobile social networking (e.g Twitter) and bookmarking were the tools used the least amongst respondents. Wikis, blogs and podcasting had higher use.
  • In terms of using these tools for teaching, the data was quite complex, and rather more qualitative than quantitative, so it is worth looking at the report for the full analysis. There were interviewees who felt that Web 2.0 is not appropriate for teaching, where the role of a teacher is to lay down the initial building blocks of knowledge, implying that discussion can only follow understanding, not be used to achieve understanding. There was also a notion that Web 2.0 facilitates more surface, social interactions, rather than real cognitive engagement.
“A number of…respondents expressed the view that Web 2.0 is largely socially orientated, facilitating surface ‘wishy-washy’ discussion that cannot play a role in tacklinkg the ‘nitty-gritty’ of ‘hard’ subject matter”.
Three interviewees saw a clear case for the use of Web 2.0 and they referred to honing research skills, taking a more inquiry-based approach and taking a more informal approach and tapping into a broader range of expertise.
In conclusion “The study indicates that there are no current top-down and bottom-up influences operating that are likely to spread Web 2.0 use beyond individuals/pockets of users at the UoM [Universtiy of Manchester]”. The study recommends working with a small group of academics to get a clearer understanding of the issues they face in teaching and how Web 2.0 might offer opportunities, as well as providing an opportunity for more detailed discussion about teaching practices and thinking about how to tailor Web2.0 for this context.

Good teaching wins over technology!

A news entry on Inside Higher Ed this week refers to students’ use of technology. The fact that they are using ‘more technology than ever’ will come as no surprise, but a report by the Educause Center for Applied Research looks more closely at how students use information technology in college and how it can be harnessed to improve the learning experience.

I was particularly interested in the conclusion that ‘students appear to segment different modes of communication for different purposes.’ The report suggests that e-mail, Web sites, message boards and Blackboard are viable ways of connecting with professors and peers, but this is not so for chat, instant messaging, Facebook and text messages, because students ‘want to protect these tools