How Web 2.0 has changed the face of education

Young people are reported to spend almost as much time online as they do watching TV, and they are particularly attracted to many Web 2.0 developments, finding the social aspects of easy communication, co-ordination and online expression of personal identities appealing. The speed at which the internet has developed is phenomenal, and the rapid way that young people have taken to Web 2.0 can be challenging to comprehend for those who haven’t grown up with it. However, it is vital for teachers, lecturers and parents to really take the time to understand the way students are using the latest technology, and the various unique features of these new services. Young people regard many Web 2.0 applications, such as social networking, as just another part of their social life, and they are more likely to have learnt these skills from their peers than from parents or teachers. However, these tools, used correctly, could bring huge benefits and support learning in more creative, social and participatory ways.

How can social networking support learning?
The term Web 2.0 was coined in 2004 to describe a shift towards new ways of using the web as a platform for tools and services that have an emphasis on user participation and interaction. Now the use of social networking sites, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and media sharing have become widespread. The existence of such online applications and services as Facebook and YouTube are well known amongst teachers, who are often users of this technology themselves in their private lives, but may not recognise the educational potential for their students.

A recent report, produced by Childnet International and sponsored by Becta, looks at how social networking can support learning in schools and colleges, with students using sites to collaborate on homework projects or discuss lessons. It also considers how social networking services can help teachers to become more innovative in their curriculum approaches.

Becta has also recently published the first two of a series of reports on the impact of Web 2.0 on education in Key Stage 3 and 4, which it commissioned from Nottingham University, in conjunction with London Knowledge Lab and Manchester Metropolitan University. While appropriating Web 2.0 ideas into education seems to have much appeal, we need research into the benefits of doing so, the extent to which this is already happening and the barriers and issues to implementation, such as concerns around e-safety. The research will help inform both Becta’s own policies and those of policymakers, schools and local authorities.

The research has found that 74 per cent of children in Key Stage 3 and 4 are already using social networking sites and 78 per cent have uploaded content, such as photos. A minority of children also use it in more sophisticated ways, for instance for uploading videos, blogs or podcasts. However, use of these tools is not very widespread in schools and colleges yet and, where it is, this use is in an experimental stage. Some schools are beginning to build these tools into their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) platforms. For instance, at Balsall Common Primary School in Coventry, monthly podcasts are uploaded onto the school website.

Source: Tony Richardson is executive director for Strategy & Policy at Becta.

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