Higher education and Web 2.0

Martin Weller of the UK’s Open University notes in this blog posting that there is an emerging cultural conflict between the world of higher education and the world of Web 2.0:

[T]he challenge is this – when learners have been accustomed to very facilitative, usable, personalisable and adaptive tools both for learning and socialising, why will they accept standardised, unintuitive, clumsy and out of date tools in formal education they are paying for? It won’t be a dramatic revolution (students accept lower physical accommodation standards when they leave home for university after all), but instead there will be a quiet migration. The monolithic LMSs will be deserted, digital tumbleweed blowing down their forums. Students will abandon these in favour of their tools, the back channel will grow and it will be constituted from content and communication technologies that don’t require a training course to understand and that come with a ready made community.

It’s difficult to say whether how accurate this is, given that students’ knowledge of, and ability to use, those tools is questionable at best. But I think Weller is right that students — faculty, too — are increasingly aware of and irritated by the clumsiness and inflexibility of the tech tools that higher education currently uses. It wouldn’t bother me at all if the Angels and Blackboards of the world were left behind in favor of simpler, more decentralized tools that can evolve throughout a semester according to the needs and capabilities of the members of a class. (This adaptability is a real strength of using a wiki as a course management system, as I am finding out right now in my summer calculus course. More on that later.)

Universities and colleges do seem to face a twofold mandate from students: not only to get in the game regarding technology in the first place, but also to do so in a way that keeps things simple and flexible and student-centered. That can be a tall order for higher ed, which is used to doing things in a highly top-down kind of way.


Filed under Course management systems, Educational technology, Higher ed, Social software, Technology

11 responses to “Higher education and Web 2.0

  1. virusdoc

    The mandate is actually three-fold:
    1) get in the technology learning game
    2) do it in a simple, flexible, student-centered manner
    3) comply with all applicable federal and state laws in safeguarding the educational privacy of the student

    It’s this third part of the mandate that keeps Blackboard in business, because they are willing to certify that their systems meet certain security standards, and update those standards as leaks and vulnerabilities are found. As usable and friendly as many of the social web tool are, they don’t have to comply with FERPA and no university in their right legal mind should let their faculty manage courses outside a security-managed environment.

    Course content is one thing, and I think a wiki would work well for that. But students also want access to grades and (often) the ability to submit assignments online.

  2. I’m finding more and more that students are perfectly OK with *not* being able to check grades online, as long as they have a way of knowing whether or not their records match the professor’s records. When I rolled out the wiki for my calculus class, I sort of apologized to the students for not being able to provide an online gradebook for them and just said they’ll have to keep their own good records. And they were actually OK, even enthusiastic for some reason, about that.

    As for online submissions, email attachments work perfectly well, as would having a Google Documents account and adding the professor as the only other person who could share your document. The latter is not actually “submitting” a document in the sense of moving it from one place to the next, but rather opening an existing document on your account for comments from a user-specified list of approved people. I believe that sort of thing would be FERPA compliant because only the names that the student chooses to give out can view the work.

  3. I should add too that in my experience, as long as students get their work back reasonably promptly, they are pretty indifferent to online gradebooks. They seem generally to like online gradebooks because of the immediacy of checking their *latest* grades; if the prof hands stuff back quickly then that’s really all the immediacy they need.

  4. this is all so silly. the newer-is-better crowd
    won’t even stand still long enough to use
    their stuff if we wanted to. meanwhile,
    good old fashioned literacy ain’t broke.
    (just “out of date”, evidently.)

    “but we have to adapt to the needs of the new generation!”
    –if they want TV, surely they know where to get it.

    meanwhile, i’ll quit teaching altogether
    before i hand over control of my gradebook
    to some corporation.

  5. I don’t think we’re discussing “literacy” here, but rather technological tools which make the traditional, everyday tasks of students and professors easier and more efficient.

  6. the “very facilitative, usable, personalisable and adaptive tools both for learning and socialising” that’ve crossed *my* path appear to me for the most part to’ve been designed–or to’ve evolved–to *replace* the “community of scholars” (as paul goodman probably wasn’t the first to’ve called it) … the “church of reason” (ditto pirsig) …with something a whole lot easier to control (more “efficient” for *who*, we might do well to ask). no doubt some will consider this paranoia. as is well known, this doesn’t mean i don’t have enemies. i don’t consider you to be one of ’em, as i hope is obvious … and i’ll quit posting on this as of a minute or two from now (i can ride my own hobbyhorses on my own blogs). just please don’t insult me by implying that i don’t know what we’re talking about.

  7. OK. Just trying to clarify.

  8. virusdoc

    @vlorbik: in defense of Robert, when I read your first comment it did seem rather loosely connected to the topic of the post, and even a charitable reader might reasonably have assumed that you either didn’t read the entire post, or were posting a tangential rant.

    I don’t think Robert was trying to insult you.

  9. Turtle

    I am in a college course labeled Web 2.0 for Educators and haven’t left my laptop during class instruction, save for the predictable basic human needs. My employer already has a portal for clients to check grades. I do not recall hearing about any breaches that would cause us to stop.

  10. I think the problem with these “clunky” systems is that the requirement to use these systems (and only these systems) inhibits innovation in teaching. Consider what would happen if a college campus said to their faculty “you can only use books published by McGraw Hill – no other textbooks or alternate materials are allowed” – to me, that’s what the adherance to a single clunky system is doing in the online teaching realm.