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May 12, 2009

HE in a Web 2.0 world?

The Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report, which is being launched in London this evening, crossed my horizon this morning and I ended up twittering about it on and off for most of the day.

Firstly, I should confess that I've only had a chance to read the report summary, not the full thing, so if my comments below are out of line, I apologise in advance.

It strikes me that the report has a rather unhelpful title because it doesn't seem to me to be about "higher education" per se.  Rather, it is about teaching and learning in HE. For example, there's nothing in it about research practice as far as I can tell. Nor is it really about "Web 2.0" (whatever that means!).  It is about the social Web and the impact that social software might have on the way learning happens in HE.

The trouble with using the phrase "Web 2.0" in the title is that it is confusing, as evidenced by the Guardian's coverage of the report which talks, in part, about universities outsourcing email to Google.  Hello... email is about as old skool as it gets in terms of social software and completely orthogonal to the main thrust of the report itself.

And, while I'm at it, I have another beef with the Guardian's coverage.  Why, oh why, does the mainstream media insist on making stupid blanket statements about the youth of today and their use of social media?  Here are two examples from the start of the article:

The "Google generation" of today's students has grown up in a digital world. Most are completely au fait with the microblogging site Twitter...

Modern students are happy to share...

I don't actually believe either statement and would like to see some evidence backing them up.  Students might well be happy to share their music?  They might well be happy to share their photos on Facebook?  Does that make them happy to share their coursework?  In some cases, possibly...  but in the main? I doubt it.

I'm nervous about this kind of thing only because it reminds me of the early days of HE's interest in Second Life, where people were justifying their in-world activities with arguments like, "we need to be in SL because that's where the kids are", a statement that wasn't true then, and isn't true now :-(

Anyway, I digress... despite the naff title, I found the report's recommendations to be reasonably sensible. I have a nagging doubt that the main focus is on social software as a means to engender greater student/tutor engagement and/or as a pedagogic tool whereas I would prefer to see more emphasis on the institution as platform, enabling student to student collaboration and then dealing with the consequences.  In short, I want the focus to be on learning rather than teaching I suppose.  However, perhaps that is my mis-reading of the summary.

I also note that the report doesn't seem to use the words "digital literacy" (at least, not in the summary), instead using "information literacy" and "web awareness" separately. I think this is a missed opportunity to help focus some thinking and effort on digital literacy. I'm not arguing that information literacy is not important... but I also think that digital literacy skills, understanding the issues around online identity and the long term consequences of material in social networks for example, are also very important and I'm not sure that comes out of this report clearly enough.

Anyway, enough for now... the report (or at least the summary) seems to me to be well worth reading.


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