Do you want Web 2.0 help for your educational development?

Brian Kelly, of the great blog UK Web Focus, has recently been reflecting on the different approaches that universities have in using Web 2.0 tools (I’ve commented on the matter there too).

Institutions obviously want to know how they can reach out to students effectively and maintain quality contact.  They want to make sure that the right information and help is there for each and every student.  They would like to succeed in making their lives a little clearer and a little easier.  In the process, they hope that your lives will also become a little easier.

In recent years, it’s obvious that the end-user (i.e. YOU) calls a lot of the shots.  If you’re not publishing blog posts, you’re updating your Facebook profile.  If you’re not Tweeting, you’re sharing photos for the world to view (and possibly even reuse).

No longer is the Internet just a bunch of static views and specific functions.  Now you can create mashups, specialise on YOUR terms, and personalise to your unique and individual brand.

For us as ‘Generation Y’ (as it’s known), we’ve grown up with the Web and all the exciting developments that we take for granted.  It’s led to this:

  1. Students don’t want specifics imposed upon them (who wants – or needs – that now?);
  2. Students don’t appreciate the changes from what they see as a platform for personal and social interaction, to a platform that’s been hijacked by educators and officials as a method of contact and coming closer.

It doesn’t matter that your uni is developing new tools to make your life easier.  Firstly, you may disagree that it helps your individual circumstances.  Secondly, it clouds the boundaries between personal/social life and educational/study life.

With so many Web 2.0 tools out there, the point is that you can pick and choose the services you want/need. It’s mainly up to you, as an individual, to decide what’s important.  That’s an essential component of the Web 2.0 idea.  It’s a fluid, changing space.  To an extent, you help to create the rules.  Once the fluidity is taken away, much of the ‘Web 2.0’ badge may as well be gone.

So the big question is, in what ways can universities achieve a solid base that you – as users – can embrace, but then further develop yourself?

Has your uni helped to give you more control of your educational pursuits online?  Do you make use of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to further your education/career, or do you see these functions as purely a tool for entertainment purposes?

[Update: I’ve found that new research by JISC has found that nearly three quarters of those students who use social networking sites (which is almost every student) use the sites to discuss coursework with others.  Over a quarter do this frequently.  But does this mean that students want a social networking connection to their tutors, or is it better to keep the discussion between peers as another way to do group work…?]


  1. Interesting stuff. I’m puzzled by the fact that my tech-savvy students are often useless at Web 2.0 things. If it can’t be done via text, it can’t be done, apparently.

  2. Rob, I’m interested right back because I’ve mostly encountered the opposite situation. There seems to be an increasing popularity of Web 2.0 tools – even if it’s limited to Facebook, Myspace, et al. – but often no real progression in conquering more traditional software platforms (MS Office is still a mystery to a surprising number of people I speak to).

    In terms of text, I’ve heard about several lecturers using that to their advantage. Most recently, Manish Malik at the University of Portsmouth.

  3. I think the problem is that the text thing would work in a situation such as that described by Malik – fairly limited in scope, and not very creative. I set up a wiki as part of a project to develop writing skills, and had real problems getting the students a) to understand and b) to use it.

  4. I agree that the texting idea seems limited and probably has a finite freshness to it. After a few uses, it faces once again becoming less engaging and more gimmiky.

    I was watching Jeff Jarvis presenting a talk at The Guardian recently and he said that only 1% of Wikipedia users create and edit the content. The remaining 99% just take what they want and push off again, often not even realising that they could have edited the Wiki entries themselves. ‘Leeching’ content used to be a bad thing in the early days of the Web, but now it’s more of a happy norm.

    The only people I personally know who have edited Wikipedia entries did so to vandalise the pages for a laugh.

    Though not a Wiki, would you be able to incorporate a similar project as part of a Facebook group or similar? Maybe not an original idea (and subject to resentment as a ‘hijacked platform’), but it’s still where the majority of students are most likely to understand the setup and therefore participate.

    Until we begin to grasp how collaborations can develop into attractive, yet unique, opportunities for students and tutors to interact, the only option in the meantime is to go where the students are already comfortable and just hope that they’ll accept your presence and intention.

    This method is not perfect by a long way. But like with most Web 2.0 tools out there right now, most collaborative ideas are likely to be in long-term beta testing…

  5. Yes, I did think about using Facebook – but then you run foul of the problem mentioned in your post where students resent the invaion of their space.
    We are looking at using a restricted network, which replicates some of the features of Facebook, but which would be associated with study rather than social networking. The curent favourite platform is Elgg.

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