Editor’s Note: This is an insightful analysis of assets and difficulties, both human and technical, in adopting and supporting teaching and learning with Web 2.0 Technologies. Students use these technologies constantly for their personal communications and for information access. Faculty and instructional designers need to be aware of the potential of these media for teaching and learning, research and reporting, and for building learning communities. We must learn how to use them effectively to increase learning.
Teaching with Web 2.0 Technologies:
Benefits, Barriers and Lessons Learned
Yun-Jo An and Kevin Williams
While Web 2.0 technologies are becoming ubiquitous in the everyday lives of students, many university instructors still have little or no experience with Web 2.0 tools. In addition, professors often use Web 2.0 tools in ways that simply reinforce their existing practices rather than using them to their potential. While there is a wealth of literature that discusses Web 2.0’s potential for transforming education, there is little research that provides data-based guidelines. This study sought to provide a synthesis of key lessons that university instructors, referred to as “Web 2.0 experts”, have learned from their various experiences in teaching with these tools. Fourteen experienced instructors participated in a Web-based survey. The findings of this study provide valuable insights and practical strategies for teaching with Web 2.0.
Keywords: web 2.0, benefits, barriers, lessons learned, technology integration
In an attempt to transform teaching and learning, educators in diverse contexts are exploring innovative ways to use Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning. Web 2.0 has been one
of the major topics in recent professional conferences and journals in the field of Instructional Technology. Today’s students, many of whom are so called “digital natives” (Prensky, 2007),
are making increasing use of Web 2.0 technologies in their daily lives. They also expect their professors to use information technology to communicate their knowledge more effectively (Kvavik and Caruso 2005; Thompson, 2007).
While Web 2.0 technologies are becoming ubiquitous in the everyday lives of students, they are still new to a majority of instructors, especially in higher education settings. Many university instructors still have little or no experience with Web 2.0 tools. Some professors use Web 2.0 tools in their teaching but often integrate the new tools into their old practices. As Tagg (2003) noted, technology can be used just as effectively to reinforce teaching-centered practices as it can be to create learning-centered environments.
There is a wealth of literature that discusses Web 2.0’s potentials for transforming education (Alexander, 2006; Brown & Adler, 2008; Bonk, 2009; Downes, 2005; Thompson, 2007; Richardson, 2009). However, there is little research that provides data-based guidelines. Most studies exploring the use of Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning environments have been anecdotal in nature or in the form of case studies that focused on some specific aspects of learning and teaching (e.g., interaction, collaboration, etc.). Thus, this study sought to provide a synthesis of key lessons that university instructors, referred to as “Web 2.0 experts”, have learned from their various experiences in teaching with Web 2.0.
What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 refers to “web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web” (Wikipedia, 2010). Web 1.0 was read-only where Internet users went online to find information. It was similar to going to the library to find books. With Web 2.0, which is read/write, people have become active participants and content creators. They not only find information on the Internet, but also create and share content (Thompson, 2007). Downes (2005) described the emergence of Web 2.0 as a shift “from being a medium, in which information was transmitted and consumed, into being a platform, in which content was created, shared, remixed, repurposed, and passed along.” He also argued that the emergence of Web 2.0 is not a technical revolution, but a social revolution that enables and encourages participation through open applications and services.
Blogs, wikis, podcasting, social bookmarking, and social networking sites are some examples of Web 2.0 applications. These new technologies have allowed users to easily publish content online and to connect and network with people who share similar interest without regard to physical location. The use of tags particularly enables us to collectively categorize and find content easily. In a nutshell, Web 2.0 could be characterized by openness, user participation, microcontent, knowledge sharing, social networking and collaboration, and folksonomy (Alexander, 2006; Brown & Adler, 2008; Downes, 2005; Thompson, 2007; Richardson, 2009).
Web 2.0 in Teaching and Learning
As addressed above, Web 2.0 technologies have “blurred the line between producers and consumers of content and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to other people” (Brown & Adler, 2008, p. 18). The new Web 2.0 culture encourages students to reuse and remix resources as well as create new knowledge. Students take an active role in learning, rather than passively receiving information from instructors. Web 2.0 has the potential to create more interactive and powerful learning environments in which learners become knowledge creators, producers, editors, and evaluators (Richardson, 2009). Downes (2005), who coined the term “e-learning 2.0,” described the evolution of online learning application from a “content-consumption tool, where learning is delivered,” to a “content-authoring tool, where learning is created.” With Web 2.0 and other emerging tools, “learning will continue to shift from the mastery of instructor-based content to problems to be solved and products to be created” (Bonk, 2009, p. 369), and learning content will be “less static and more open for others to use, refine, distribute, and comment on” (p. 371).
Emphasizing a participatory culture, Web 2.0 technologies provide numerous opportunities for social interactions and collaboration among students, teachers, subject matter experts, professionals, as well as a host of others around the globe (Alexander, 2006; Brown & Adler, 2008; Bonk, 2009; Downes, 2005). They encourage and enable teachers, learners, and others to share ideas and collaborate in innovative ways. Also, these technologies force us to rethink the way we teach and learn and to transform our education practices so that we can support more active and meaningful learning that engages students in “learning to be” as well as “learning about.”
As Brown and Adler (2008) noted, Web 2.0 offers increasing opportunities for students to find and join communities of practice where they can “acquire both deep knowledge about a subject (“learning about”) and the ability to participate in the practice of a field through productive inquiry and peer-based learning (“learning to be”)” (p. 28). Indeed, Web 2.0 has the potential to create authentic, open learning communities where students can discuss a wide range of real-world topics and collaborate with people around the globe, instead of discussing pre-assigned topics with their classmates (Bonk, 2009; Brown & Adler, 2008; Downes, 2005).
Furthermore, Web 2.0 technologies facilitate personalized learning and enables the creation of personal learning environments that consist of a set of interoperating applications and support learning in diverse contexts, including learning from formal education, workplace learning, and informal learning (Attwell, 2007; Bonk, 2009; Downes, 2005). In personal learning environments, individuals can take control of and manage their own learning, reuse and remix content according to their own needs and interests, and interact and collaborate with others in the process of learning.
In order to identify “Web 2.0 experts” in higher education settings, the first author contacted professors at a number of universities who were known to have considerable experience in teaching with Web 2.0 technologies. Some of them agreed to participate and also referred other university instructors who were experienced with teaching with Web 2.0 tools. As a result, fourteen university instructors participated in this study. The participants, consisting of 64.29% female and 35.71% male, were from a number of different universities in the United States. They ranged in age from 30’s to 60’s (31-35: 7.14%; 36-40: 21.43%; 41-45: 14.29%; 46-50: 21.43%; 51-55: 7.14%; 56-60: 21.43%; 61-65: 7.14%). The instructors had an average of 15 years of teaching experience and an average of 3.71 years of using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching. Web 2.0 technologies used by the participants include: blogs, Wikis, YouTube, social bookmarking, podcasts, webcasts, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Twitter, Skype, and Second Life.
A web-based survey was used to collect data in this study. The survey was conducted from November 2008 through February 2009. The survey instrument included four demographic questions and 10 open-ended questions. The key questions include the following:
§ Describe 1-2 ways you use Web 2.0 technologies in your teaching.
§ What are the benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching?
§ What are the barriers to using Web 2.0 technologies in your teaching?
§ What instructional strategies or techniques have already worked for you? Please describe best practices in teaching with Web 2.0 technologies based on your direct or indirect experiences.
§ What has NOT worked for you in terms of Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning?
§ What would be effective ways to use Web 2.0 technologies in teaching that you have yet to try but are perhaps thinking about?
Qualitative data from the Web-based survey was analyzed using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). All responses were carefully read and reread and were coded and constantly compared to other data. In the process, some coded data was renamed or merged into new categories. A number of categories or themes were identified and were organized under three overarching categories that this study focused on: (1) benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching, (2) barriers to using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching, and (3) best practices and tips for teaching with Web 2.0 technologies.
The experienced instructors who participated in this study reported how they have used Web 2.0 technologies in their teaching, what instructional strategies or techniques have worked well, what has not worked for them, what lessons they have learned, and so forth. The survey results provided insightful guidelines and tips for using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching. The discussion of results is organized around the following three themes: (1) benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching, (2) barriers to using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching, and (3) strategies and tips for teaching with Web 2.0 technologies.
Benefits of using web 2.0 technologies in teaching
The study results indicate that the major benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching include: (1) interaction, communication and collaboration, (2) knowledge creation, (3) ease of use and flexibility, and (4) writing and technology skills. These findings are consistent with what other researchers have reported regarding the pedagogical benefits or potentials of Web 2.0 applications (Alexander, 2006; Brown & Adler, 2008; Hartshorne & Ajjan, 2009; McLoughlin & Lee, 2007; Richardson, 2009; Thompson, 2007).
Interaction, communication and collaboration
Most participants believed that using Web 2.0 technologies in teaching helps build a sense of community, increases interaction and communication among the instructor, students, and other people, and promotes collaboration and resource sharing. The following are some comments by participants:
§ I think, if used correctly, they can help develop a better sense of connectivity between students and teachers and afford students opportunities to connect and communicate with classmates and resources throughout the world…
§ They reduce the distance between teacher and students.
§ Students learn about new ways of collaboration.
§ Students and teachers see learning as a more social process. It's not just the book and yourself; it's collaborative meaning making.
Half of the participants reported that Web 2.0 technologies enable students to “become creators of knowledge.” As one participant noted, Web 2.0 technologies give students “the opportunity to create content themselves instead of just listening to lectures,” and this supports active and student-centered learning in which students take responsibility for their learning. Several participants also noted that Web 2.0 technologies create an environment where a teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than a distributor of knowledge.
Ease of use and flexibility
A third of the participants reported that Web 2.0 tools are easy-to-use and flexible, explaining that using Web 2.0 tools does not require high-level technical skills. They also noted that while some of the traditional course management systems (CMS) are too static, Web 2.0 tools remove time constraints by providing a more flexible learning environment that is not inhibited by classroom walls.
Writing and technology skills
Several participants noted that the use of Web 2.0 technologies help students become more proficient in writing and in the application of technology. In addition to these four major benefits, the participants also mentioned that using Web 2.0 technologies “helps teachers understand a little more about the world of their students,” and “motivates the students.”
Barriers to using web 2.0 technologies in teaching
The study revealed that the major barriers “Web 2.0 experts” have encountered in teaching with Web 2.0 technologies are (1) uneasiness with openness, (2) technical problems, and (3) time.
Uneasiness with openness
A number of participants noted that the open nature of Web 2.0 technologies is still new to many students. They reported that some students are very uncomfortable with the openness and are reluctant to participate in class activities that utilize Web 2.0.
… And the immediate and public nature of wiki collaboration made some of my students feel more self-conscious and a bit uneasy at times... These students preferred one-to-one teacher-student interaction more than public, peer-to-peer interactions…
Five participants reported that students who have older computers often have technical issues when using Web 2.0 tools. It was also noted that some Web 2.0 tools are “still a little primitive,” having technical glitches and might not work well with current course management systems. Several participants mentioned that universities do not provide enough technical support for faculty who are unfamiliar with Web 2.0 technologies.
While Web 2.0 tools are relatively easy-to-use, it still takes time to learn and manage new technologies. Time was another barrier identified in this study. Several participants reported that learning new technologies takes time away from learning subject matter content.
Strategies and tips for teaching with web 2.0 technologies
Finally, this section provides a synthesis of key lessons the participants have learned from their various experiences in teaching with Web 2.0.
Do NOT introduce too many technologies new to students in one semester.
A number of participants indicated that using too many Web 2.0 technologies in one semester could lead to surface learning. They suggested that instructors utilize a small number of the tools adding more only as expertise is developed.
Do NOT use multiple technologies that do the same thing.
Several participants suggested that instructors should not introduce more than one application that does the same thing. It was noted that students must often manage several email accounts and forums, and a new technology, if used like an existing tool, simply creates management problems. One expert states:
Students and I also felt at times that Wiki space is just another forum to manage in addition to several email accounts, WebCT, and etc in this busy life. The fact that most of my students were working full time and had several email accounts and other "online message boards" to check added to that feeling.
Use learner-centered instructional methods.
It was noted that technology, by itself, cannot facilitate learning effectively. The participants in this study emphasized the importance of creating learner-centered learning environments. Particularly, they reported a variety of strategies for facilitating collaborative learning using Web 2.0 technologies. Examples of the strategies include the following:
§ Using a wiki for collaborative writing projects
§ Using a blog as a collaborative reflection space beyond personal journals
§ Using a social bookmarking site for sharing resources
§ Having students collaboratively create a podcast or YouTube video
Using peer evaluation
Build a sense of community in your classroom first before trying more public collaboration.
Web 2.0 is generally characterized by openness, social interaction and collaboration (Alexander, 2006; Bonk, 2009; Brown & Adler, 2008; Downes, 2005; Thompson, 2007; Richardson, 2009). Not surprisingly, several participants used Web 2.0 tools for inter-institutional collaboration. One reported that her students wrote a wikibook on learning theories in collaboration with students in another university. She believed that their inter-institutional collaboration was not very successful because the students’ entry level knowledge and focus (research vs. practice) were different. She also mentioned that some students were overwhelmed by trying new technologies with new people. She contended that instructors “have to establish at least a certain sense of community first before trying more public collaboration and social interaction.”
Provide appropriate instruction, tutorials, examples, and frequent feedback.
A number of participants emphasized the importance of providing in-class instruction, tutorials, and examples that teach how to use Web 2.0 technologies. They pointed out that Web 2.0 technologies are still new to many students, and support is needed when using them for learning activities and projects. On the other hand, it was also noted that instructors should help their students become independent learners in keeping abreast of emerging technologies.
We can teach them how to use the tools available today, but by the time they graduate from the U., there will be new tools and no one to teach them. So, right up front they need to learn how to find resources on the web to help them learn new technology.
Other tips for teaching with Web 2.0 technologies suggested by the participants include: providing clear goals and objectives for using Web 2.0 technologies, rewarding students for good contributions, creating an engaging and supportive environment, and showing YouTube videos to start or end class.
Discussions and Conclusions
Innovative instructional methods
Web 2.0 has the potential to provide more interactive and customized learning environments where students create knowledge, rather than passively receive information from instructors, interact and collaborate with those who have similar interests globally, and obtain opportunities to learn to become professionals in communities of practice. However, it appears that many teachers and instructors are not using Web 2.0 technologies to their potentials. Instead of maximizing the benefits of Web 2.0, educators often do the same thing with a new tool much like early distance education instructors who simply moved their course content to the Web without adapting the course and teaching methods to the new environment.
Instructors should keep in mind that Web 2.0 itself does not guarantee more effective learning and teaching. Simply adding Web 2.0 tools to our traditional teaching practice cannot realize the potential benefits of Web 2.0. New technologies can help us improve our teaching and learning only when they are used with clear goals and proper methods. Effective use of new technologies requires innovation in teaching methods. “Long-held learning beliefs and established educational methods must be reshaped in order to incorporate the benefits of Web 2.0.” (Thompson (2007)
Participants in this study pointed out that universities do not provide enough technical support for faculty who are unfamiliar with Web 2.0. We agree that it is important to provide faculty with appropriate technical support. However, we believe that it is more critical to help instructors develop new ways of teaching that reflect the capabilities of the new tools and their potentials rather than simply teach them how to use the tools. Diaz (2001) emphasized the importance of pedagogy-based training, pointing out that most technology training focuses on certain technical skills but overlooks the application aspects. Further studies should examine expert instructors’ experiences more in-depth, focusing more on pedagogical strategies, in order to develop more comprehensive guidelines.
Students also require some support to effectively learn with Web 2.0 technologies. Today’s students integrate technology in their everyday lives and are constantly connected to their friends, family, and various resources via technology. Therefore, it is easy to assume that they are technologically savvy. However, as Oblinger (2008) contends, “Not all students have computers, not all are skilled users, and not all want to use technology” (p. 18). This is consistent with the findings in this study. The participants noted that many students have technical issues with old computers, are not very comfortable with Web 2.0 technologies, and need instructions and examples on how to use them. In teaching with Web 2.0 technologies, instructors should be prepared to provide appropriate support and scaffolding. Providing step-by step procedural guidance might be necessary in some situations, but, since instructors cannot provide tutorials forever, we believe that instructors should help their students find appropriate resources and teach themselves how to use technologies.
Openness and privacy is an important issue instructors should consider in using Web 2.0 technologies in their teaching. As addressed by the participants in this study, some students are not comfortable with the open and public nature of Web 2.0 tools, often preventing them from participating in learning activities. Openness is one of the key characteristics of Web 2.0 (Alexander, 2006; Bonk, 2009; Brown & Adler, 2008; Downes, 2005) and is expected to be increasingly reinforced in the future. There should be more research on this issue to help instructors effectively prevent potential problems and deal with students’ uneasiness with openness.
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About the Author
Yun-Jo An, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at Texas A&M University – Texarkana
Kevin Williams is Content Management Specialist at Texas A&M University – Texarkana