The past five years or so have seen growing excitement within the educational community about web 2.0 technologies. ‘Web 2.0’ is an umbrella term for a host of recent internet applications such as social networking, wikis, folksonomies, virtual societies, blogging, multiplayer online gaming and ‘mash-ups’. Whilst differing in form and function, all these applications share a common characteristic of supporting internet-based interaction between and within groups, which is why the term ‘social software’ is often used to describe web 2.0 tools and services.
Web 2.0 marks a distinct break from the internet applications of the 1990s and early 2000s, facilitating ‘interactive’ rather than ‘broadcast’ forms of exchange, in which information is shared ‘many-to-many’ rather than being transmitted from one to many. Web 2.0 applications are built around the appropriation and sharing of content amongst communities of users, resulting in various forms of user-driven communication, collaboration and content creation and recreation. Commentators now talk of a ‘read/write’ web, where users can easily generate their own content as well as consuming content produced by others.
For example, Wikipedia is distinct from the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online because it is an open document that is created, updated, edited and refereed by its readers, thus deriving accuracy and authority from ongoing group discussion and consensus rather than the word of one expert. Similarly, Flickr could be considered as distinct from earlier online applications such as Ofoto in that users’ photographs are made accessible to all and can be commented upon, labelled, categorised and edited by whole communities of users, making it a photograph-sharing rather than photograph-storage application.
Given the importance of creation, collaboration and communication to the use of these technologies, educationalists have been quick to point out the potential of web 2.0 for supporting and enhancing learning. Yet despite valuable early contributions to the web 2.0 debate from, for example, JISC and Futurelab,2 much of the discussion within the education community has been speculative.
This Commentary sets out to challenge the confident portrayal of web 2.0 by many educationalists in terms of an imminent transformation of learning and teaching. Careful thought has therefore been given to how technologists, educators and learners can best shape the fast-changing internet in the near future. It aims to explore how education can change the web, as well as how the web can change education.