Web 2.0 For Rookies: Working Together

Web 2.0 is about nothing if it isn't about working with other people in some way. It doesn't matter what application we're talking about, working with other people is what it's designed to do. That, in fact, is what Web 2.0 is, hence my very pragmatic definition: Web 2.0 is as Web 2.0 does, as explained in the very first article in this series.

It's not just kids who work togetherNow, the reason I'm talking about 'working together' rather than 'collaborating' is that it seems to me that 'working together' is more encompassing. Why? Because there are so many ways in which people can work together.

They may indeed collaborate, for example in the development of a mindmap using a program like Bubbl.us or Mindmeister. Or they may contribute a note or a comment which, while possibly insightful, is not as involved, perhaps, as collaboration.

Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but I am thinking in particular of the sort of youngster I had in my Business and Information Technology class 20 odd years ago. Group work was the order of the day, but he preferred to chat with members of a neighbouring group about last night's soccer. Nevertheless, in a feat of multitasking not usually seen in males (sorry to sound sexist, but it's true), he was also able to follow the discussion in his group.

Thus, every so often he would look back over his shoulder and say, "Well how about a targetted advertising campaign?" or "An overdraft would be better." Invariably, the rest of the group would continue in this new direction, and he would go back to discussing the game.

The interesting thing here is that the rubric supplied by the Examinations Board (now called an Awarding Body) didn't have any provision for that sort of contribution, which meant that my colleagues and I spent ages debating whether he was really good at collaborating, or excruciatingly bad at it - because he wasn't really collaborating at all in the true sense of the term. Had there been a box for "Makes useful contributions" it would have been a non-issue: A for contribution, D minus for collaboration.
I'll deal with assessment issues in a separate article. The point I'm making here is that Web 2.0 facilitates working together in all its guises.

Now, if you think of Web 2.0 from this point of view, it makes life easier if you're not allowed to use Web 2.0 applications in your school, because there are alternatives to some applications. For example, some Learning Platforms and Virtual Learning Environments include a forum feature that takes the form of an area on which people can post 'stickies'. So, if you can't use Wallwisher you may have something like that instead. It will have a limitation in that nobody will be able to view it without logging in to the VLE, but for many schools that would be seen as an advantage anyway.

And at the risk of causing you to shudder, even a program like Word, or the OpenOffice version of it, has a review facility whereby people can make suggested changes and leave named comments. OK, it's not something you can use in real-time, and you can end up with the most terrible problems of version control if you're not careful, but if push comes to shove you can use it instead of a wiki or, say, Google Docs.

Now, I have to be honest with you and say that in my opinion non-Web 2.0 applications do not have the same level of excitement as proper Web 2.0 ones. They don't have the same breadth of collaborative features as a rule, and working in real-time, or near real-time, is exciting in itself. Most of all, though, is the tremendous buzz that everyone gets from working with someone thousands of miles away without having to email documents back and forth.

However, if you have been unable to convince the powers-that-be of the need for access to Web 2.0 applications, it is not the end of the world.

The important thing, I think, is not to think in terms of application but in terms of the activity and the learning. If your school has a VLE then it probably has a built-in word processor application designed for collaborative working, if what you'd like pupils to do is work on a story together. If you would like them to be able to upload and share photos, there's almost certainly a facility for that. I've already mentioned the post-it notes approach to discussion.

When pupils have completed their work, they may still be able to show it off to the world by uploading it to the server to enable it to be embedded in the school's blog or website, as described in the article about embedding.
Getting back to the idea of working together, what lies at the heart of it is a particular philosophy of education and an underlying theory of how people learn. If you think that the teacher is the expert, and people learn best by keeping quiet and taking notes, then Web 2.0 is not the approach for you. If you feel that everyone has or should have an equal voice, and that people learn best by discussing things and working together, a Web 2.0 suite of applications will be on your list of 'must-haves'.

In reality, these approaches are not mutually exclusive, but are dependent on circumstances. For example, if I am going abroad, I would like someone to tell me what sort of plug adapter I need. I don't want a discussion about it, or someone's opinion; I want an expert to say to me: you need X.

In an ideal situation, the teacher will have  access to a whole range of types of application and classroom repertoires.

And the knowledge and skills to use them effectively. 

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.