Using Web 2.0 to Support PDP

This article was first published in PDP-UK (December 2007)

Simon Cotterill, Newcastle University,
Alan White, Northumbria University and
Becka Currant, University of Bradford

What is web 2.0?

Technically the term ‘Web 2.0’ is a con. The term implies a change in technologies, but most of the tools of Web 2.0 (blogs, wikis and social networking etc.) have been around since the early days of the Web. So why all the hype? Web 2.0 represents a very real and fundamental change in the use of the Internet – it has changed from a medium largely used for finding and viewing information to one which now also realising largescale personal publishing and social networking. This has been made possible by the availability and rapid uptake of fast networks (although inclusion is still an issue for some sections of society and globally). Web 2.0 tools tend to be relatively unstructured and are characterised by an ease of publishing, a high level of interaction, selfassigned semantics (tagging) and are often media rich.

Not many of us haven’t heard about ‘Web 2.0’ and at least some of the sites which are currently all the rage (Facebook, MySpace, Flicker, YouTube, Blogger, Wikipedia etc). They have large numbers of users e.g. there are now over 180 million blogs out there and Facebook alone has 54 million accounts. OK, so it’s a modest proportion of Internet users and a small proportion of the wider population – but it’s growing very rapidly.

Web 2.0 for learning?

Web 2.0 is great for chat and banter with friends, networking and sharing your holiday snaps with the whole world. But can it be used to support learning? Web 2.0 fits in neatly with the Constructivist philosophy of education; people can create their own structures and meaning using these tools rather than having them prescribed, they can join communities of shared interest without being restricted by organisational boundaries – taken to its extreme, if communities generate their own facilitators, will we need those colleges and universities any more? Regardless of educational philosophy, social networking software clearly has applicability to group work and potentially as a medium for inducting and preparing applicants prior to their arrival on our courses. Where Web 2.0 does struggle is when Assessment comes into the equation because of the lack of structure and inconsistent use of ‘tagging’.

Can web 2.0 support PDP?

Blogs can be used for recording reflection, one of the essential elements of PDP. Most sites allow learners to control access to their work, though the emphasis of Web 2.0 is on publishing to groups and often the default is to be completely public. Does publishing to a group change the nature of the reflection? Probably for many, but not necessarily for the ‘Net Generation’ who have grown up sharing their thoughts and experiences (not necessarily reflective) online. Web 2.0 doesn’t provide any ‘scaffolding’ to prompt reflection or planning or structured outcomes / objectives. As such there is likely to be a greater need for facilitation compared to more structured environments. One very neat approach is to train and support student facilitators rather than putting impossible burdens on tutors.

How should we use Web 2.0?

There are a number of broad options (not mutually exclusive);

  1. use the sites ‘out there’ (MySpace, Facebook, Ning etc.) they are free and now well established (usually supported by advertising),
  2. host specialist social networking software, Wikis etc. at the institution (some are Open Source)
  3. Use/develop Web 2.0 features integrated into institutional VLEs / e-portfolios

One thing is for sure; ignoring Web 2.0 is not really an option – it is certain that many of your students and a few of your staff are using it ‘out there’ now in relation to learning and not just for fun. The next generation of learners will have grown up with the Web 2.0 way of thinking; we ignore this at our peril. However, the approach you adopt needs careful consideration. As tutors, our going ‘out there’ might not always be welcomed – some students may want to maintain a distinction between their working and social lives, and as with the ‘real world’, students will want to discuss aspects of their courses away from tutors and the institution. Whichever approach, effort to help students understand how to use Web 2.0 effectively for learning is probably required. We also desperately need high quality research into use of Web 2.0 for learning and PDP.

The authors of this article (below) ran a Workshop at the CRA Residential in Manchester, 2007 – thanks to all those who participated! They are developing and using Web 2.0 in a variety of ways:

Simon Cotterill is a Senior Research Associate at Newcastle University. He and the team at Newcastle have integrated blogs and community publishing into the ePET portfolio (www.e-portfolios.ac.uk). The blogs are unstructured but entries can be linked directly to structured programme learning outcomes / skill sets for selective inclusion in evidence summaries. The approach is being evaluated as part of the JISC funded EPICS-2 regional e-portfolios project (www.epics.ac.uk).

Alan White is an academic adviser for e-learning at Northumbria University. One of the most recent projects that he has been involved with was the development of an online, distance learning degree based largely around the use of wikis, and he is currently developing an e-journal hosted within a social meeting/learning space.

Becka Currant manages the Learner Development Unit at the University of Bradford. She created a new space called Develop Me! to help ease the transition and progression of new students into the University (developme.brad.ac.uk). This includes reflective tools to help develop confidence in different skill areas, social networking spaces and online learning materials designed to support independent skills development.

Neil Currant is the project officer for the Enhancing Learner Progression project (www.elp.ac.uk). He has set up a private social network on www.ning.com for use on the MEd in Training and Development at the University of Bradford. Students and tutors have engaged with the social networking and the blog in particular has successfully engaged students in sharing their thoughts and reflections.

Ref for this article: Cotterill SJ, White A, Currant B. Using Web 2.0 to Support PDP PDP-UK, 2007, 12: 7-8.

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Last Modified: 07/12/2007