January 18, 2008

Lessons from five years as a Web 2.0 university – final draft?

Follow-up to Lessons from five years as a Web 2.0 university – second draft from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

A final re-write sees the first paragraph now setting up the potential conflict between constructivist ideology and Web 2.0 reality.

On an increasingly large scale Warwick has promoted, and sometimes created, ‘Web 2.0’ technologies for staff and students. The pervasive ubiquity of Sitebuilder, Warwick Forums and Warwick Blogs has encouraged the adoption of sophisticated online activities as normal and everyday: social/academic networking; wiki-esque collaborative writing and tagging; keyword and full-text search; blogging; podcasting; eportfolios; news and event services; RSS content aggregation. This has been motivated by a broadly ‘constructivist’ pedagogy, valuing independent research-based learning, creativity and ‘cognitive flexibility’ (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992). However, the rapid normalisation of these practices has been driven by other forces: independently adopted Web 2.0 services, created for non-educational purposes, have blended into our feature-rich and often confusing mix. A recent poll of 100 postgraduate students indicated that most were accessing and updating Facebook more than twice a day. None of these students admitted to keeping a paper-based personal or research diary. Evidence shows that our October 2007 intake were the first to arrive with social and intellectual affiliations already formed online.

Web 2.0 is not a superficial development1. It is not merely a new interface to an old world. It changes the nature of knowing, and hence of knowledge and the known. For any knowledge based business, it is a ‘disruptive technology’ with negative and positive effects. This presentation will summarise my research into the nature of this new epistemography, with reference to specific technologies (see above) and established pedagogical practices2. The epistemography will be explored both from the perspective of its inhabitants and from a critical distance, with views presented in video interviews.

What effect does this Web 2.0 epistemography have upon learning design patterns? Are Web 2.0 technical design patterns incompatible with conventional learning design patterns? How are we (teachers and students) adapting to Web 2.0? Is a poorly understood scattercast approach to teaching and learning replacing familiar broadcast and narrowcast channels? Are there transferable strategies and techniques that can be recommended?



1 For example, Web 2.0 might encourage loosely coupled concepts: a rapid turn-over of low-value interchangeable ideas (in ‘the long-tail’), redundant detail, few dependencies, weak identities, decreased ‘situational ambiguity’ (and hence less drive to learn), with many poorly evaluated connections and few enabling constraints. Deep structures and specialisations are eroded by endless waves of decontextualisation, resulting in a wide but shallow sea filled with a multivarious confusion of conceptual and practical species.

2 Patterns being investigated:

  • Transmit, record, report, verify.
  • Predict, experiment (risk take), infer.
  • Cognitive apprentice.
  • Adopt, perform and test a perspective.
  • Perspective switching.
  • Stepping stones.
  • Build a product/text.
  • Reflective learning diary.
  • Peer review.
  • Practice/evidence based competency development.
  • Last-minute mash-up.

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