Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Commercial Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week I looked at the economic drivers for change. Turning now to commercial factors, I’ve called this set of factors ‘commercial’ rather than ‘economic’ because they concern financial matters.

Turning to the commercial drivers for change, one development in recent years has been the internal enterprise. What this means is that different parts of the organisation become cost centres in their own right, so instead of having to accept what someone else orders for them, let’s say in the way of IT equipment, they take charge of that themselves and also take responsibility for balancing their budget.

This is not Web 2.0 as such, but I think it’s another interesting example of the 'levelling process' I've alluded to before in this series, in which people are doing things themselves and for themselves rather than having someone else do it for them and to them.

I have to say that, having worked in such an environment, there is a danger that the individual units lose sight of the aims of the organisation as a whole. Therefore I think there does need to be quite strong guidelines and training in place.

I’ve already alluded to companies using Web 2.0 for marketing purposes, and again I think schools need to educate youngsters about this. For example, how do you know if a blogger is independent, as opposed to being paid to write something or promote a product? Guidelines about this have been proposed recently by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, but ultimately I think the only way you can really educate people in this sort of media literacy is by embracing it and discussing it. But in the context of drivers for change, the point is that people are becoming more and more used to Web 2.0 applications being used in the real world, and there’s a danger that schools will find themselves becoming seen as irrelevant from a young person’s point of view.

Lots of companies have realised the value of social networking and other Web 2.0 applications, but are wary of allowing their employees to spend time on Facebook and in other public-facing areas. So what they have done is construct their own internal versions of these applications, collectively known as Enterprise 2.0. 

The fact that some companies have invented an internal version of Web 2.0 applications, especially social networking and instant messaging, does not detract from the main message of this series: the Web 2.0 approach to problem-solving is here to stay. Schools ignore it at their peril.

Next week: Educational drivers for change.

Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Economic Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week I looked at the technical drivers for change. Turning now to economic factors, I’ve called this set of factors ‘economic’ rather than ‘commercial’ because I’m using the term in its pure sense, which is to do with efficiency rather than money.

It’s recognised in the world of business that sharing knowledge actually increases knowledge, because it enables people within the enterprise to make connections that they may not have made before. This has obvious parallels in education.

Companies are starting to use customers to help develop what they can offer to customers, and this is another example of this levelling process I’ve talked about.

There is also the point that social networks such as Linked-In are not just clones of Facebook. Many people are using them as part of their job-seeking process. By posting their details online, and also by contributing to groups – Linked-In has over half a million groups ­– people can draw attention to themselves and put into practice Woody Allen’s dictum that 80% of success is showing up. It seems to work: I myself have been contacted by companies out of the blue because someone has been looking for a consultant and seen my details on Linked-In.

Corporate recruiters use them as well. For example, the Head of Viadeo’s French operations says that the resumés online tend to be right up-to-date, and that people’s profiles give them a good idea of a candidate very quickly.

Finally, knowledge-hunting. A study last year found that workers spend between 6 and 10 hours a week hunting for information, but that using social networks they can save a lot of that time because of the knowledge-sharing and collaboration they encourage.

All this indicates that using socal networks, and by implication other Web 2.0 applications, is more and more starting to be an economic imperative. Schools which do not recognise this, and act on that realisation, are doing a disservice to their students in this respect.

Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Technical 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.

Last week I looked at the social factors involved. This time, let’s look at the technical drivers for change. The obvious one here is changes in technology. As well as Wikipedia and social networking, there are other developments too, such as Cloud Computing, which is starting to enter the mainstream as a viable proposition. In fact, 98% of reluctant companies have said that their main concern was security. But technically, it is now completely feasible to use web-based software for most things, and some schools and even whole districts have been using Google Applications for Education, or similar services, with success. In fact,  Singapore's Minsitry of Education has arranged for access to Google Apps right across the country.

There is also now an openness on the part of government as far as data is concerned. For example, the UK Government recently launched a data portal that enables people to work with the data, and create apps, to drill down into the data to find information which might otherwise remain hidden, such as to do with housing and local amenities in an area. In the USA, the Patent Office has built a wiki called Peer to Patent to enable people to peer review patent applications.

The technology of search engines has changed so that search results can include blogs and consumer reviews. There has also been a  growth of open source, consumer-developed apps, such as for the i-Phone. There are now 150,000 apps  in the Apple Store, and by January there had been 3 billion downloads. Other companies are also adopting this model. Facebook Connect, which lets you take your Facebook identity with you to other communities on the internet, is another example of what I called a kind of 'levelling' process.

Changes in technology have enabled the existence of what Chris Anderson has called the long tail, by which is meant the fact that anyone can produce a niche product in an economic way. For example, by using print-on-demand you can produce a book that only you and your students will use, or you can create a television channel just for use in your school.

AnywhereIn a recently-published book called ‘Anywhere’, Emily Nagle Green talks about the importance of connectivity, in devices, such as pill boxes that know when they’ve been opened and closed, and can notify the network accordingly; in customer experiences, such as people being able to pay parking meters by text messaging, as shown below; and connectivity in business, such as wireless transmitters on taxis in London to save waiting time at Heathrow Airport.

I discovered that in Singapore when you enter a car park your arrival and departure are noted, and you are sent the bill afterwards. Apparently, in Hong Kong things are even more connected.

Parking by textI think the degree of connectivity in the world was brought home to me recently by something which a manager in IBM said:

“There are more transistors in the world than grains of rice”

Brendan Riley, IBM

I have no idea how many grains of rice there are in the world, but I’m sure it’s a lot!

Next week: The Economic drivers for change.

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.

A Reflection On The ICTLT2010 Conference

#iCTLT2010 It's interesting how people who are at the same event can have such widely differing opinions on the same thing. David Warlick and I were both at the ICTLT2010 Conference, for example, but our experiences of the penultimate keynote were not the same by a long shot.

He writes:

One of the best parts of her [Jenny Lewis'] presentation was her questioning of why we still teach safe themes in our classes, like dinosaurs, Eskimos, etc.  She then suggested that our students, within the context of curriculum, explore more important issues.

The list these 'more important issues', taken from a book called High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them,  includes the following:

  • Reinventing taxation for the 21st century
  • Biotechnology rules
  • Global financial architecture
  • Illegal Drugs
  • Trade, investment and competition rules
  • Intellectual property rights
  • E-commerce rules
  • International labor & migration rules

Wait a minute! Does Jenny Lewis seriously think we should tell five year olds that instead of looking at dinosaurs this year, they'll be considering global financial architecture? And does the usually sensible David Warlick seriously go along with that?

I have to say that I thought the statement a little silly, and actually detracted from what Jenny Lewis said, which for the most part was pragmatic and encouraging.In fact, until I saw that David had commented on it, I was convinced that I must have misheard it.

Here are four reasons to not jettison dinosaurs and other favourite subjects:

  • These subjects are fun. Isn't learning supposed to be fun? Global financial architecture doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs. What does it even mean?
  • These children are, erm, children. Aren't kids supposed  to be kids?
  • Let me get this straight. Our  generation totally messes up the environment, finance, world peace and 17 other problems, so we decide to steal the next generation's childhood so they can sort it all out for us? Let them grow up first! Then they can sort out our mess and create one all their own!
  • If dinosaurs etc are taught properly, kids will learn to think and ask the right questions for themselves. I'd have thought that that is exactly what we want.

Besides, call me a big kid, but I happen to like dinosaurs.

General Impressions of ICT in Singapore

#iCTLT2010 If I were asked to give a one-phrase description of education in Singapore, I should have to say that the overriding impression is one of faith and trust. Faith in the ability of the child to rise to challenges that we might consider beyond their years. Trust in the ability of the teacher to guide the youngsters and nurture their talents and abilities.

Faith and trust also in their ability to look at what other countries have done and experiment and come up with solutions all their own.

I am not naive. I understand that when one visits a foreign country, one will be shown the best, not the worst or even the mediocre. But seeing the best is actually what should happen: we need to see what our own students might aspire to given the right circumstances and ingredients.

Two mottos struck me as especially noteworthy. One is the Ministry of Education's ideal that teachers should teach less in order that students may learn more. Teach Less, Learn More, or TLLM, appears to be another way of stating the 'guide on the side' idea, but it seems to me to run deeper. The TLLM philosophy is not simply to leave the students to it, but to encourage and guide them in asking important questions, and then seeking the answers.

A great sentimentThe other motto is 'Every Child Ready for the World'. This strikes me as so much more positive than our own, unfortunately necessary, Every Child Matters. One of the strengths of our education system is that it considers the whole child; school is not only an educational (in the narrow sense) establishment, but the hub of the community and the locus for all sorts of services – police, social, medical – that may impinge on the individual child.

But that is also its weakness. As Michael Gove has pointed out, there is no official body in England that is solely concerned with excellence in school. We do not have a ministry of education, we have a department for children, schools and families. Even Ofsted, the inspection body, is not exclusively focused on schools, but in everything ranging from childcare provision to old age homes.

I'm not familiar enough with the Singaporean education system to be able to say whether they have cracked this dilemma, of striking the right balance between the academic and the social and emotional aspects of the child's experience. But certainly what we saw was impressive: students, even as young as 8, who were articulate about what they have done, and why; students who have worked with mentors in further education in extended projects; students who are able to work well with each other.

I don't think they have completely got it right. A teacher who has been doing very innovative work in science gives her class a pencil and paper test every six weeks. There is no slot on the curriculum for ICT, which is embedded in other subjects across the curriculum. Many will agree with this philosophically, but in my experience it's quite difficult to make it work.

Despite such doubts, for me the real issue is not whether Singaporean children are ready for the world, but whether the world is ready for them. 

Conversation is sometimes better than reading

At six am on the morning of my second Spotlight presentation in Singapore, I opened my hotel door slowly and gingerly put my head out. The corridor was empty. Excellent. Creeping to the lift, and walking in the shadows, I was able to get right into the dining area, have a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice, unseen and unspoken to. Wonderful! I took out my presentation notes and started to read.

It was then that I made the mistake (or so I thought at the time) of glancing up, because I spotted Junko Yamamoto, whom I had been talking to with David Warlick the previous evening, at a networking reception. I am nothing if not a gentleman, and I offered to join her. She accepted.

In a very short time, I was as delighted as I had previously been disappointed to find myself in company rather than alone. Although I had not been able to read over my notes one last  time, the conversation, on the relevant topic of '21st century skills’ was so stimulating as to make such last-minute revision unnecessary. There is no doubt that the talk I gave was enriched by this unplanned exchange.

I was not alone in being thus affected. Junko, who arrived 15 minutes late for the morning’s keynote address, explained to me afterwards that she had been so stimulated by our conversation that she had to rush back to her room and start writing a paper.

You sometimes hear of all sorts of goings-on at conferences. I think that if the effect I have on women is to make them want to race off and write an academic treatise, my wife has nothing to worry about!

5 Minute Tip: Using Your Phone As An E-Reader

How can you read stuff digitally on the move if you don't have an e-reader and don't want to use a laptop?

I have just returned from Singapore, where I was invited by the Ministry of Education to give two Spotlight presentations at the ICTLT2010 Conference, on the subjects of introducing Web 2.0 into your classroom, and into your school. Because of weight restrictions and for the sake of convenience, I didn't want to take reams of paper with me, and I didn't want to have to read everything on a laptop either, as the one I took with was a fairly large one.

The solution? I used my phone instead.

Who needs an e-reader?

I have a smartphone, meaning that I can synchronise appointments and contact details with my computer. It also comes with a suite of applications like Word, and Acrobat Reader. I found that trying to read documents on the small screen is a challenge: you either need microsopic vision, or not mind scrolling furiously every few words.

However, I found that reading my presentation slides in pdf format worked very well indeed. The file was much smaller than the original PowerPoint version, and was perfectly clear, as you can see in the illustration. It meant that I was able to look at my slides very easily and without any fuss, whilst in situations like drinking a coffee in the airport lounge. I would highly recommend this.

Here's what I did (I'm using Office 2007).

  1. In PowerPoint, go to Save As -> PDF or XPS.
  2. Select the Minimal Size (Publish online) option.
  3. Connect the phone to the computer, via a USB cable.
  4. When asked what sort of connection, select ActivSynch.
  5. Create a suitably-named folder in My Documents on the phone.
  6. Copy the file across from the computer to the phone in the usual fashion.
  7. View the file on the phone by going to Program -> File Explorer and then navigating your way to the file.

I shall be doing a lot more of this from now on!