I was recently asked to write 500 words on the above..so I thought I would share my less than original thoughts here..
The term Web 2.0 has always been both vague and controversial and covers a great deal of ground. Wikipedia attempts to define it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2 and the entry is particularly long and detailed (and hard fought). It is here though that what I consider the defining elements of Web 2.0 are well stated:
“a social phenomenon embracing an approach to generating and distributing Web content itself, characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and re-use, and ‘the market as a conversation'”
As with uptake of the web in its earliest incarnation Higher Education in the UK is already embracing Web 2.0 in many areas. Both JISC and the Higher Education academy have been funding work in this are and JISC in particular has been busy publishing well received podcasts, papers and publications in this area in the last few months (see web resources at foot of page).
Brain Kelly who holds the JISC-funded UK web Focus post based at the University of Bath has also been evangelising about the benefits of Web 2.0 for the last 18 months, speaking at a number of high profile conferences and publishing a number of papers (www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/)
Between these resources and the large amount of other ongoing work already in process I feel the learning and teaching benefits of Web 2.0 are well served. There are opportunities for Higher Education beyond this though and in particular the Widening Participation agenda may find areas that it wishes to pursue within Web 2.0.
The opportunity to make use of the rise in user generated content and social networks to create genuinely peer-to-peer, trusted resources for potential students would have considerable benefits particularly when targetted at particularly unrepresented groups.
There are some seemingly obvious opportunities in these areas (though they are not without challenges):
Taking an existing website (i.e. Aimhigher) and opening it up to user generated content – allowing first-hand, ground level reviews of not only institutions but courses (and even student support) as well. This may seem like a radical step but the success of Amazon and Trip Advisor and many others has proven the power of this concept and as users/customers become increasingly wary of marketing spin it is to peer reviews and commentary that they turn.
Alongside this it makes increasing sense to travel to your audience rather than trying to move them from the destination sites like Bebo (10.7 million unique UK users per month*) and Facebook (7.6 million unique UK users per month*) to engage with them there. That these social networks are increasingly offering the opportunity to build applications and tools on their platforms should be taken advantage of. An example of a Facebook application that might gain some traction might be a tool that allows users to identify the courses and institutions they are considering attending and allow them to connect with other users of the same mind or even students currently undertaking those courses or even alumni.
There are many other opportunities and benefits that could be identified as well as no shortage of challenges and potential problems and this is just a brief overview. Considerably more detailed information is available from the recommended JISC resources below.
What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education- www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/techwatch/tsw0701b.pdf
Web 2.0 and social software: An introduction – www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/publications/web2socialsoftwarev1.aspx
What is Web 2.0 and how is it impacting on education? – www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2007/08/podcast07lawriephippsdavidwhite.aspx
*According to Comscore July 2007