Posts Tagged ‘Web 2.0’

Classroom Management in the Web 2.0 Era

March 29, 2010

This product was advertised on another website, and I thought that it put an interesting spin on the whole idea of classroom management, not to mention the socially networked classroom:

NetSupport School is a class leading training software solution, providing Teachers with the ability to instruct, monitor and interact with their Students either individually, as a pre-defined group or to the overall class.

Combining advanced classroom PC monitoring, real-time Presentation and Annotation tools, with an innovative customised Testing suite, Internet and Application control, real-time audio monitoring, automated Lesson Plans, Printer Management, Instant Messenger control, Content Monitoring and Desktop Security, this latest version of NetSupport School rises to the challenge and requirements of today’s modern classroom.

Wikis and Collective Intelligence

March 22, 2010

Wikis are a preeminent example of Web 2.0 technology, as well as of the underlying social constructivist pedagogy. Named after a Hawaiian word for ‘fast’, a wiki is a website that allows the posting and editing of content by multiple users. Wikis can be for personal use, but they come into their own as collaborative project-based sites. The best known example is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, by now one of the most popular websites on the Internet.

Wikipedia is an interesting case, because its exponential growth and popularity have raised all sorts of issues, including reliability and libel. In order to deal with these issues, Wikipedia has evolved complex protocols governing editing procedures (such as No Original Research and Neutral Point of View), a caste of administrators (Admins), and an Arbitration Committee (Arbcom), which is the closest thing to a ruling body.

Wikipedia is perhaps the closest humanity has come to fulfilling the dreams of the 18th century French Encyclop├ędistes, who aspired to a universal compendium of knowledge.

But what are we to make of the notion of ‘collective intelligence’? Does the term make any sense at all? Intelligence is normally something we ascribe to a person, although we may also describe someone’s actions as intelligent, just as we do the material or institutional products of human endeavour. In other words, something can embody intelligence, or exemplify it. We may, therefore, describe a website as embodying collective intelligence, in the sense that it contains information that has been gathered and organised in a collaborative and intelligent manner.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to such ‘collective intelligence’, and we find all of them in the case of Wikipedia. Among the advantages are the sheer volume of information, the rapidity and frequency with which it can be updated, and the constant checking of facts.

The primary disadvantage is a lack of editorial control, making it difficult to rely on the 100% accuracy of articles. Vandalism is an issue, as is libel in the case of biographies of living persons (BLPs). Although many topics are non-controversial, where controversy exists there is a tendency for edit-warring to occur, as opposite camps jostle to ensure the representation of their views. The protocols have evolved to deal with such issues, as have the Admins who are supposed to ensure adherence to them. The result is that everything is ideally arrived at by consensus, although the ideal is not always actualised.

One particular problem with the system is the culture of anonymity that is endemic in Wikipedia. Anonymous editing is not compulsory. There are sometimes good reasons for it, however, for example where privacy is essential. The problem with its widespread use is that it effectively removes any real accountability for one’s writing or editing. Traditional writers (novelists, academics and journalists) put their name to what they write – they stand by it and take responsibility for it. Anyone with an online computer can edit Wikipedia, whether or not they create a Wikipedia account. Even when they have an account, the chances are that they will use a pseudonym. They can also create multiple accounts, and fall foul of the Sockpuppet protocol. (For an extended treatment of my own experience of problems with Wikipedia, see Wikipedia and Kevin R. D. Shepherd.)

Having said that, research has shown Wikipedia to be about as reliable an encyclopedia as Britannica, which is no mean feat given its vast extent. It ought perhaps to be seen as an ongoing social experiment, or perhaps a continuation of the revolution initiated by the introduction of print in the 15th century. Debate within the loose-knitted Wikipedia community continues, as exemplified by a recent discussion on the Talk Page of an experienced editor and Admin.

I believe there is unquestionably a role for wikis in education. In the primary school, they could be used by the teacher to gather online resources before beginning a project. Students could then be given access to the wiki, to make use of the resources, communicate questions and ideas to one another and the teacher, share further resources that they discover, and begin to formulate solutions to problems. Not only could this be highly engaging, students could access it from anywhere with an internet connection. Those unable to attend school for any reason could avoid getting behind in their work. Students in remote locations would be another obvious group to benefit. Most significant of all, however, is that the work is collaborative, allowing collective learning, and it is also more likely to reflect the world of work or higher education that 21st-century children will enter on completion of their schooling.

Thanks to Matthew Outred for the following:


March 14, 2010

Constructivism is an appealing pedagogical theory for a philosopher, and it is noteworthy that its history has been traced back to the Socratic dialogue. I believe that motivation is the single biggest factor in learning, and finding solutions to real-life problems is a significant source of motivation. Through its emphasis on real-life problems, inquiry-based learning, and collaborative work, the constructivist approach is far more likely to engage students, and encourage them to own their learning. The sorts of transferable skills that constructivist methods develop will be more useful to students at higher levels of education and in the workplace.

Having said that, I believe that implementation of a constructivist approach requires good planning and experienced teaching. One of the criticisms of Constructivism is that it neglects traditional skills. I believe it is up to the teacher to ensure that traditional skills are acquired in school, even if a constructivist ethos prevails in the classroom. Students will still be judged by their literacy and/or numeracy skills in the upper levels of education and in the workplace.

Web 2.0 is well suited to a constructivist pedagogy. In fact, it is almost a perfect embodiment of it. Web 1.0 gave people unprecedented access to a staggering amount of information. Web 2.0 allows them to interact with this information in ever more creative ways – linking to it, adding to it, discussing it, and so on. Moreover, it does so in a collaborative way. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of this, with people reading, creating and modifying content in the main article pages, and often hotly debating the content and justifying their editorial choices on the related article talk-pages.

Blogs are another good example of a Web 2.0 technology that embody the constructivist paradigm. In the classroom, blogs can be a way of conveying information, garnering feedback, checking comprehension, encouraging debate, inculcating multiliteracies, and so on. I also believe that students are far more likely to engage with this technology after school hours. If the technology is used wisely, ‘homework’ may lose its dire reputation, and students might look forward to going home to continue projects that were begun during the day.

I see no point in sticking with a pedagogy that was developed during the information-impoverished Industrial Revolution: books were scarce and schools were places where knowledge could be acquired from expert teachers. We live in an era when even children can access vast amounts of information. The role of the teacher must become the constructivist one of mentor and facilitator, ensuring that students acquire the critical skills necessary to negotiate this 21st-century world.