Web 2.0 for teaching and learning
March 17th, 2006

Bryan Alexander writes in Educause Review about Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? I don’t think anybody knows more than Bryan about the application of online media to teaching and learning:

Social software has emerged as a major component of the Web 2.0 movement. The idea dates as far back as the 1960s and JCR Licklider’s thoughts on using networked computing to connect people in order to boost their knowledge and their ability to learn. The Internet technologies of the subsequent generation have been profoundly social, as listservs, Usenet groups, discussion software, groupware, and Web-based communities have linked people around the world. During the past few years, a group of Web projects and services became perceived as especially connective, receiving the rubric of ‘social software’: blogs, wikis, trackback, podcasting, videoblogs, and enough social networking tools like MySpace and Facebook to give rise to an abbreviation mocking their very prevalence: YASN (Yet Another Social Network). Consider the differences between these and static or database-driven Web pages. Wikis are all about user modification; CNN’s front page is decisively not. It is true that blogs are Web pages, but their reverse-chronological structure implies a different rhetorical purpose than a Web page, which has no inherent timeliness. That altered rhetoric helped shape a different audience, the blogging public, with its emergent social practices of blogrolling, extensive hyperlinking, and discussion threads attached not to pages but to content chunks within them. Reading and searching this world is significantly different from searching the entire Web world. Still, social software does not indicate a sharp break with the old but, rather, the gradual emergence of a new type of practice.

These sections of the Web break away from the page metaphor. Rather than following the notion of the Web as book, they are predicated on microcontent. Blogs are about posts, not pages. Wikis are streams of conversation, revision, amendment, and truncation. Podcasts are shuttled between Web sites, RSS feeds, and diverse players. These content blocks can be saved, summarized, addressed, copied, quoted, and built into new projects. Browsers respond to this boom in microcontent with bookmarklets in toolbars, letting users fling something from one page into a Web service that yields up another page. AJAX-style pages feed content bits into pages without reloading them, like the frames of old but without such blatant seams. They combine the widely used, open XML standard with Java functions. Google Maps is a popular example of this, smoothly drawing directional information and satellite imagery down into a browser.

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