Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Educational Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week we looked at the commercial drivers for change. But what of the educational drivers? What are youngsters doing that we ought to know about? 


I think I’ve probably already covered many of the educational drivers for change, in previous articles, but  just to summarise, I think it comes down to two things: the need to help youngsters  prepare for the future, and the need to give guidance to young people. I know a lot of people take the view that youngsters already know everything there is to know about technology, but even if that were true, which it isn’t, they would still need help on how to use the technology effectively and safely. As a 14 year old very tech-savvy girl said in a conference last year, she and her friends feel that they have been under-taught. You can find an interview with her about her views on this website.

There are also two other issues. Firstly, young people need guidance in order to help them keep safe on the web.

Secondly, it’s more and more the case that parents want to be, and have to be, involved in their children’s education, and to be kept informed of their progress ­– in real time if possible. Having Web 2.0 applications like blogs is obviously one way in which they could see what their children are doing, and having a wiki would make it possible for parents to easily contribute to discussions about the school. I visited a school recently in which parents said that the school website had made a huge difference to how involved they felt in what was going on in the school, and they wanted even more involvement by having access to the school portal in which homework was set and resources uploaded, and students and teachers discuss issues in subject forums.

Here are some statistics about youngsters’ use of the internet.

  • 73% of USA teens use social networks.
  • 12-17 year-olds in USA spend 1hr and 35 minutes texting.
  • UK teens in the 13-15 age group spend over 31 hours in an average week surfing the internet.
  • They use it for socialising; with people they already know (especially girls).
  • They use it for homework more than recreational activities like games.
  • They do a lot of multitasking.

I’ve carried out some of my own research online to find out more about how teenagers use Web 2.0, which are the points in blue. I found that teenagers belong to three general social networks, with MSN, Bebo, MySpace and Facebook being the most popular,  in that order. Their average age was 15. Half of them also belonged to at least one specialised social network, like YouTube. I know that we don’t tend to think of things like YouTube as a social network, but YouTube does have the kind of attributes that we associate with social networking, such as being able to follow people. It’s the same with MSN.

Now, surprisingly, the most popular use of the internet was to learn new things, followed by doing homework together with friends and then playing games, in that order. It’s possible that they were only saying what they thought the adults would like to hear, of course.

As for multitasking, that is no doubt true, because if you add up the amount of time they spend online with the amount they spend watching television and other activities, they are spending more hours than are available, because they spend over an hour and a half watching television and nearly an hour and a half playing games every day, as well as nearly one and a half hours a day on the internet. Incidentally, that figure comes out to around 10 hours a week surfing, which ties in with my own research which came out at 9 hours, and other research which suggested 12 hours online. The figure of 31 hours seems a bit excessive, and it is: the researchers  added up all the different activities.

What all this, along with the previous articles in this series, boils down to is the following:

We've looked at a lot of information and several factors from different angles, but I think we can probably summarise it all in half a dozen points:

  • ‘Levelling’.
  • Expectations.
  • Online conduct issues.
  • Awareness of issues such as privacy and non-delete.
  • Ability to share and collaborate.
  • Ability to respond quickly.

These are the elements which seem to me to be common to all of the areas we’ve looked at so far, or which arise from them. There is the idea of levelling, which goes hand-in-hand with people’s changing expectations. Then there are conduct issues, and these are bound up with concerns such as privacy and also the non-deletable nature of the web, that is, that once you’ve uploaded something you can’t get rid of it as a general rule.

There is also the need to be able to share and collaborate with people in distant locations (look out for an interview with Melendy Lovett, senior vice president of Texas Instruments and president of the company’s worldwide Education Technology business, in which she speaks about the charactersitics of the ideal TI recruit). I think what also comes out of this is the need and the ability to respond to situations and discussion points quickly. Again, I think this ties in with expectations too, because people these days expect to receive very fast responses to their communications.

If you're convinced of the usefulness of Web 2.0 in education, but are not sure where to start, you have a number of options, none of which are mutually exclusive:

  • Read the Web 2.0 For Rookies series to get an idea of what the terminology means, and for examples of great applications.
  • Read the Cool Tools for Ed Tech Leaders series to get an idea of what Web 2.0 (and other) applications are available for helping school leaders do their job.
  • Download and read The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book. It contains 87 classroom activities involving Web 2.0 applications + other resources, submitted by 94 contributors. Running at 121 pages, this free ebook has now been downloaded 10,995 times from this website in the three and a half weeks since it was published.