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The Gap: Web 2.0 & Higher Ed

Just read an excellent post by Martin Weller over at e-Literate. Weller makes the excellent point that instituting social learning technology (Web 2.0 apps) in higher ed is not merely a matter of technology–it is (surprise) just as much a social and cultural issue. (Weller is from the Open University and is one of the key players behind SocialLearn.)

Weller invites us to “think of the learning systems we use as the metaphor for the way we approach pedagogy, the learner experience and the role of the educator.” This is a thought-provoking exercise that reminds us that systems should be here to serve us (learners and those who facilitate it) not the other way around.

The biggest “social” obstacle to the implementation of networked learning environments in higher ed is, as Tevye would have put it, “Tradition!” There will undoubtedly be “bottom-up” pressure from students to evolve, but the transition is also likely to be generational as newer, younger faculty members, raised in the Web 2.0 world, begin to change the practices of the academy.

  • Hope you don't think I'm stalking you, just going over the same thoughts in my mind. The bottom-up notion is apt, although I think there's a lot of potential for some proactive administrators to really get the ball rolling. This quote was interesting:

    "Who are ’such learners’? Well, everybody, because as soon as you conceive of learning as something that is in the control of the learner, rather than the institution, then ‘the curriculum’ becomes ‘whatever it is you’re interested in.’ That could be quantum physics, it could be the world of Harry Potter."

    Not being an expert on the administrative side of things, I have to wonder how schools feel about this sort of thing. How protective are they about the learning experience as a bundle? I know a lot of the problem is tradition, but I'm curious if there's also a concern over the student learning experience being smattered across different sites over which they have no control. Would a school get mad if their students logged into a "Web 2.0" LMS where they were passing in their student data (with the same level of precedence as the-leaky-cauldron.org, youtube or howstuffworks) that could potentially be shared across other web sites?

    Personally, I think it's a much better way to function, and that students are capable enough to recognize that Biology 101 announcements are more important than the latest update on the cast of Heroes. That said, it would be useful for a single system to aggregate all their learning systems without reproducing functionality. Why should an LMS reproduce email clients, IM clients, feed readers, content portals and the like, when other sites have done SUCH a better job of it?

    Schools that aren't jumping on the bandwagon are getting left behind as teachers and students both start circumventing the system entirely. Sadly, that leaves the school without any level of control or even analytic ability. I suspect schools would still like some level of involvement in the collaborative process, even if they can't have full control.

  • Brian--

    I wouldn't put stuff online if I didn't want people to read it and comment about it. :-)

    I think there are two distinct issues you raise here. The first is about the kinds of systems universities use to support teaching and learning activities. Clearly we can and must do better. Exactly how we go about doing that will continue to be the focus of my posts. Stay tuned for more.

    The second and I think more intriguing issue has to do with credentialing, i.e. how universities go about certifying that someone is competent in a field of study or a profession. You ask if a school would "get mad" if students shared their data with others in a Web 2.0 learning environment. Assuming students aren't creating security risks (e.g. by exposing their usernames & passwords) or sharing test answers, I don't think there's anything to get mad about. The issue is how students learn and acquire the skills and knowledge they need.

    Universities and professors have the responsibility to establish the learning outcomes (the things students should be able to do) for academic degree programs. We've just been through this process at BYU as we've responded to external accreditation requirements. The result is a publicly accessible website (learningoutcomes.byu.edu) that documents what students are expected to learn in each degree program we offer.

    But just defining outcomes is not the end of our responsibility to students. We must also provide the right experiences and create the right conditions under which students can succeed. Moving forward, the challenge before professors and university administrators is to figure out how to leverage Web 2.0 tools and social networking software to better facilitate learning.

    Thanks for the food for thought.


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