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.


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.