Why schools cannot ignore Web 2.0: Social Factors

#iCTLT2010 Based on my recent talk at the ICTLT2010 Conference, this short series looks at the social, technical, commercial, economic and educational factors that I think together mean that a compelling case can be made for schools to fully embrace Web 2.0 technologies.

Starting with social factors, I think we can see a number of trends at the moment.

Social networking statistics

Firstly, more and more people are online, and using Web 2.0 applications , especially social networks like Facebook. For example,

  • 400m people are on Facebook (more since I wrote this!)
  • 74.3% of Singapore’s internet population aged 15+ belong to social networks.
  • 23m Brits in social networks (1 in 3)

Social networks are used badly -- by adults. Take a look at these statistics from an article in the Sunday Times back in 2007:

  • 83% of people give their full name.
  • 38% give their Date Of Birth. Bear in mind that your name and date of birth is pretty much all anyone needs in order to steal your identity.
  • 63% make their email address public.
  • 78% of social network users are adults.


I think we also have to consider people’s expectations. Given how widespread wireless access is, together with the trend towards people wanting to be consulted and involved in decisions that affect them, and to doing so many things online or at least in a collaborative way, it seems strange to imagine how schools could not embrace Web 2.0 in the long run.


Along with this goes internationalisation, by which I mean it’s easy and almost unavoidable to interact with people in other countries when you have free and easy communications applications like Skype available.

In fact, you could argue, as Neil McLean of Becta has, that if a student is learning a foreign language, they should be able to expect to have a conversation with a native speaker of that language at least once a week, and whereas at one time that would have been unthinkable, it is now entirely feasible.

Levelling the playing field

I think there is also a sense in which the playing field has been levelled, so there is less deference to authority in the traditional sense. The obvious example of this is Wikipedia. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just that it is, and I think schools should be helping students to navigate this new world by helping them understand how to recognise authority, and how and when it is appropriate to put forward your own opinions and views, and how to evaluate information you find on the internet.

Companies are using Web 2.0

And more and more, companies are using Web 2.0 ideas to relate to, and engage, their customers. Here are some examples.

The Beano is a children’s comic in the UK, and one of its characters is Denis The Menace, who is always up to mischief and getting into trouble.

What they’ve set up is an area of their website where you can create your own Denis The Menace comic strip and save it to the website, so that other people can comment on your efforts.

Coca Cola has a fan page on Facebook, and Kodak has issued a booklet on how to use social media like Twitter to best effect, because Kodak maintains a presence on Twitter and elsewhere. So does British Telecom, which seems to have a customer services team looking out for comments about its service. A few months ago I heard of a case in which someone who had been trying, without success, for months to speak to a high level manager about a mistake on the bill she was sent, had a response within 15 minutes when she posted a comment about it in Twitter.

I had a very similar experience with another company.

Other companies like Ford, Toyota and Proctor and Gamble have entered the Web 2.0 world. In fact, Proctor and Gamble has an interactive and very engaging site called Being Girl which gives advice to teenage girls on a range of issues, and invites them to contribute, and which also promotes Proctor and Gamble products. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – after all, I promote my own books on my website! But I think schools can help youngsters develop economic literacy and commercial awareness, as well as meeting expectations, by getting on the Web 2.0 bandwagon themselves.

Last year, Toyota worked with MySpace to launch a competition that attracted 18,000 entries, and which far exceeded the company’s hopes for brand promotion.

It’s not only big companies that are involved. There is a flower shop in London that has a Twitter account so that its followers can easily be alerted to when there are special offers. In fact, a recent survey found that in Britain, 17% of small businesses have a Twitter account.

I find it hard to believe that anyone looking at this collection of information could believe that Web 2.0 is not entirely relevant for schools today.

Since writing this I have come across Why Schools Should Learn To Use Online Services Like Facebook & YouTube Rather Than Banning Them, via Steven W. Anderson's blog.