Onramp Installment 16: Why No Web 2.0?

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is why I don’t support the term, “Web 2.0.”  I have addressed this in many individual conversations and in a few blog posts, podcasts and a video, but thought I should include it in the Onramp.  The term definitely refers to Web-based applications that involve participatory media, as opposed to static “read-only” Web sites.  When you hear the term Web 2.0, you probably start thinking, “blog, wiki,podcast!” In terms of promotion for learning,  I’m not happy with categorizing participatory media by types of tools.  I feel this puts us at risk of narrowing our opportunities to communicate, by encouraging us to socialize across a particular type of tool, rather than focusing on the people behind the tools.  With RSS, we can bring text, video, audio, photographs, and conversations wherever we wish.  When I post something to my blog, I want the world to be able to easily respond using their favorite medium.  As much as we talk about moving away from the silo of the LMS, simply moving to “Web 2.0” tools, does not solve the silo problem.

Observation #24: More than all the other Onramp posts, this is an example of my personal opinion and a reflection based on my experiences and natural curiosity.  I include it in the Onramp, both to address the Web 2.0 issue, and to give an example of the type of reflection you may see from students as they explore social media.  I’m not citing any source as backup for this rant.  It’s all me!

I’ve heard many presentations on Web 2.0 being the future of learning, with Moore’s Law being cited as critical to understanding the exponential growth of technology development.  It amazes me to see the same people promoting Moore’s Law, trying to move people into a technology advancement that has already been around for years.  If we’re going to teach Web 2.0, I feel it should be taught as an important historical event that forever changed the nature of communications for people with access.  Of course, it is more complicated than that, but I just hate to see it used as a lure to recruit newcomers to presentations, that sometimes seem like magic shows.  I have been guilty of this myself.

Sometimes I feel like I’m approaching this from the perspective of a member of an elite group, holding the exclusive keys to the future of learning.  But this is the Web.  It is here.  Everyone can do what I do, as long as they have access, and can read.  The big problem, is that not enough people have access and reading comprehension.  Sometimes Every day I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off trying to improve access and reading literacy, rather than convert reluctant instructors to integrating technology in teaching.  After all, if a person has strong reading comprehension skills and access, won’t employers be prepared to train them on their individual systems?  I don’t have the answer to this, but sometimes I feel guilty teaching these tools to people who have the access and ability to figure it out themselves.  I wonder if we’re giving stronger voice to those with privilege, when the power is there to enable the unheard, if only we could get them connected and literate.

So, to me, Web 2.0 is not a set of tools.  It was a social, historical, and cultural event that changed the way we communicate and organize around social objects, events and causes.  The world will never be the same.  People now have the power to quickly organize and communicate desires and demands to corporations and political organizations.  Unfortunately, not all people have that power, and many who do are quickly learning to control and take advantage of social media participants.  I’m troubled when I hear educators quote the high numbers of connected as a reason to use social media tools for learning.   Sometimes I’m called to give presentations and I’m told I was recommended as an “expert” in social media.  It deeply affects me when I give a presentation and feel like I’m suddenly revealing the wizard behind the curtain.  I feel using the term “Web 2.0” creates the sense that there is some type of illusory new technology, without which, learning cannot occur.  If I knew a way to engage those without a voice, this is where I would next focus my career.  I know someone must be working on this.  Hopefully we will find each other!

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4 Responses to Onramp Installment 16: Why No Web 2.0?

  1. Chris L says:

    In this post you seem relentlessly dissatisfied.

    There’s always going to be a system of privilege entangled with the idea and effect of literacy. It’s never been a level playing field and it never will be. I admire the spirit of getting to the people inside and behind the machine, but that seems to be a constant refrain, and the use (or not) of the term Web 2.0 (which is a very broad rubric, in my opinion… so broad that it’s not useful to use it when TRYING to refer to a specific kind of tool, making it problematic– imo– in precisely the opposite way you surmise) has little or no correlation with that belief.

    And I think your last paragraph makes an unnecessary connection– there IS undeniably new technology that can be quite useful, but that doesn’t mean learning can’t occur without it… I know you aren’t citing sources, but I just don’t see where this particular strawman has any real material form. Maybe I’m just lucky.

    It’s interesting to me that as I’ve read your blog over the last 18 months or whatever, you seem increasingly convinced that education is a zero sum game, where teaching the “elite” means less teaching of the rest, where teaching those who have more access must mean we aren’t paying attention to those with less, that by using a term like Web 2.0 we must mean one particular thing and it must have one particular effect, that recognizing the continued growth of the connected means that those people must not recognize properly those who aren’t (or the value of choosing not to be) connected, that the use of Moore’s law is so reductivist, etc etc

    The problem with zero-summing is that it tends to put the person doing the calculation in the position of having to make regular (and often radical) assumptions about the other side of the equation in order to reach that zero point.

  2. Chris L says:

    That should say: “that seems to be a constant refrain by educators everywhere.” The rest is relatively intelligible.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Chris, you’re very observant. :) Except, I’m not making an argument, I’m just sharing my feelings. And I clearly state at the end that there must be people working in this other area, and I hope to connect with them.

  4. gailene says:

    Jennifer – thanks for your eloquent post. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time too. I’m relatively new to the Education space, but I’ve always thought that Web 2.0 was used more often like a marketing label for a range of functionality centered around Internet tools/services/functionality. Thank you for providing me with a broader perspective:

    “So, to me, Web 2.0 is not a set of tools. It was a social, historical, and cultural event that changed the way we communicate and organize around social objects, events and causes.”

    It’s been around for a fairly long time now, and I’m personally looking forward to the next generation – Web 3.0 or whatever it ends up as – where we can focus less on labels and more on enabling connecting, interacting and collaboration.

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