What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 is a term popularized in 2004 by Dale Dougherty of the publishing and consulting firm O’Reilly Media (O’Reilly, 2005). While it developed outside the academic or instructional context, the term has caught hold in pedagogical vocabularies for online instruction. As Dougherty and O’Reilly described it, Web 2.0 refers to new version or generation of web technology made possible by cumulative changes in how the web is used and designed (O’Reilly, 2005; Anderson, 2007). Unlike the static pages of earlier systems, Web 2.0 functions as a platform for the sharing and networking of interactive and user-generative content. Examples of Web 2.0 technologies include social networking sites, blogs, wikis, folksonomies, video sharing and podcasting, tagging and social bookmarking, and aggregator/feed readers (RSS/Atom). In Web 2.0, social networking sites create a traversable and publicly articulated network and interactive community.
The Function of Web 2.0 Tools in Online Education
Supporters argue that the central principle behind Web 2.0 is the power of the web to harness and disseminate collective intelligence through networking, user engagement and blogging. The success of blogging has been dependent on the expansion of a technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary). RSS allows someone to link not just to a page (as is the case with a hyperlink), but to subscribe to the page and receive notifications when content is changed. RSS also provides a customizable platform outside the original web page to view and organize content. RSS aggregator software (such as Feedly or Skimr) collects updates from the websites/feeds to which a user has subscribed and publishes them in a web-based, desktop or portable client (O’Reilly, 2005). Another example of social software relevant to online instruction includes e-portfolios, in which users create a dynamic, reflective and multimedia record of work/achievements for a project, class or degree program. These are meant to serve a variety of exhibit and learning functions within a password-protected system (Mason & Rennie, 2010). University and educational institutions are leading the development of new digital tools for online or hybrid learning (see, for example, projects at UCLA’s Institute for Digital Research and Education and George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media).
Experts debate the role of Web 2.0 in course instruction and learning strategies. In wider discussions on the role of higher education in the age of the “network society” and “digital culture,” some scholars point to the value of teaching creativity and innovation through 21st century skills (Rudd, Sutch, & Facer, 2006). Other supporters argue that user-generative content and learning networks support constructivist theories of learning. The use of Web 2.0 tools provides students with the opportunity to, as Mason and Rennie write, “collaboratively negotiate knowledge and to contextualize learning within an emergent situation” and supports pedagogical models which emphasize learning as an active process of constructing knowledge (Rudd, Sutch, & Facer, 2006; Mason & Rennie, 2010). Web 2.0 software is inherently participative and encourages learners to be active and interactive. Other potential benefits of Web 2.0 tools include: provide flexible “anytime, anywhere” learning; allow students to self-publish and construct knowledge; give access to large amounts of content; and extend learning to traditionally excluded groups such as the disabled and global community (Mason & Rennie, 2010; Owen et al., 2006).
Self-reporting studies, however, suggest that students have positive responses to virtual interaction and Web 2.0 technology. Similarly, instructional training, campus computing resources and institutional infrastructure support interactive learning outcomes in Web 2.0 tools.
Challenges to Integrating Web 2.0 Tools
Preliminary concerns about user-generated content point to questions of quality and the traditional roles of expertise and scholarly authority (Mason & Rennie, 2010). Despite positive perception studies with students (e.g., Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005), Web 2.0 tools remain problematic for populations without regular access to a private computer and cable internet connection, or those without existing technological skills. Similarly, the integration of Web 2.0 activities offers special challenges for instructors. There is considerable debate on whether online teaching increases instructional workload. While there is some evidence that the amount of interaction with students does increase, other studies conclude that time requirements are difficult to measure (Mason & Rennie, 2010).
FERPA and Student Privacy
A further concern for Web 2.0 applications is the security and privacy of student information. Under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), student records are confidential and protected. The use of social media tools in the classroom, however, has sparked debate on the specific regulations and spirit of FERPA protections. Some experts suggest that FERPA applies only to information in the possession of or controlled by the institution and therefore excludes student work posted on public or third-party Web 2.0 applications (Orlando, 2011). Nevertheless, educators interested in integrating social media into the classroom are recommended to follow policy guidelines to ensure student privacy:
- Inform students (in the syllabus and during introductory discussion) that the course will include public social media platforms outside the university learning management system (LMS) and password-protected programs. Provide information regarding FERPA regulations and suggest that students read privacy documentation for third-party sites used in the course. Give students the opportunity to speak with you individually regarding privacy concerns.
- Allow or require students to participate in Web 2.0 tools under a pseudonym or alias (this should not be the students’ initials or other identifying information). Students should not be required to post personal information on a public site. Some educators recommend that instructors provide alternative assignments for public work.
- Do not post evaluations or grades of student work on public sites.
- While it is not clear whether FERPA regulations require that students under the age of 18 require parental consent to post public work, it is recommended that instructors consider this in their guidelines.
For more information on FERPA policies at the University of California, see FERPA 101 and UCLA FERPA Training.
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