In which a new species appears in the online world called web 2.0

Posted By on September 29, 2008

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Turm zu Babel by Alexander Meins
A funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. Information silos crumbled. The world, Thomas Friedman asserts in his highly popular book, is flat. In his book and his talks, Friedman argues that a complementary chain of events initiated in the mid-nineties—the development of open standards, browser-based access to the Internet, the laying down of overland and undersea fiber optic cable throughout the world and finally, wireless file sharing—has opened up all sorts of possibilities for us to connect and collaborate with anyone from anywhere at anytime with any Internet-enabled device. Those increasingly ubiquitous ‘smart’ phones are but one example of such devices. We are all traveling on the cusp of a monumental change in the way we work and live and learn. Sources of knowledge are no longer trickling from the top downward. Instead, information is disseminated via participation in a network. And so for Friedman, this change is as profound economically, politically and educationally as was the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century.

Just as recent technological developments during Jules Verne’s lifetime opened up the real possibility of world travel for more citizens, it also created opportunities to rethink the hows and whys of travel. In subsequent blog posts we’ll take a look at this new web-based environment and explore the ways in which this new engine might drive the way we approach the teaching and learning of languages and the development of intercultural skills—whether we buy a ticket to board that train or not.

What is this new web or what Tim O’Reilly has called Web 2.0? In contrast to the retroactively named Web 1.0, where web sites function as a more or less static source of information for viewer consumption (think departmental web sites, for example), Web 2.0 represents a more dynamic, interactive environment in which users collaboratively generate, contribute and share information via a web-enabled platform (Facebook is a common example). It is for this reason that Web 2.0 has often been called the read/write web, whereas Web 1.0 has often been labeled the read web. Both forms co-exist on the web. As language educators, Web 1.0 sites provide plenty of quality, authentic, visual, textual and auditory content that can be didacticized and used in the classroom (e.g., news, weather, museum tours, radio stations, maps). But we and our students are consumers of this information; we don’t interact with this information or with the producers of this information. With the advent of web 2.0 enabled sites, we can not only ‘consume’ this information, we can interact with it, with the site creators and contribute our own content as well. In the past few years it has become quite easy to have such exchanges. Indeed, if you can use a word processor and know how to upload files, you can make use of the vast majority of Web 2.0 sites. One popular form of this multimodal communication platform is a weblog or blog, what we are using here to communicate with you. Classroom teachers throughout the world are increasingly adopting this medium as a way, as David Warlick notes, to give “voice to what their students are learning and how they are learning“.

Steve Hargadon describes the kind of affordances this new communication media opens up to us all and then lists what he sees as the coming paradigm shifts for teaching and learning. They are worth capturing here in their entirety:

* From consuming to producing
* From authority to transparency
* From the expert to the facilitator
* From the lecture to the hallway
* From “access to information” to “access to people”
* From “learning about” to “learning to be”
* From passive to passionate learning
* From presentation to participation
* From publication to conversation
* From formal schooling to lifelong learning
* From supply-push to demand-pull

For the past several years organizations such as the Knowledge Works Foundation, the New Media Consortium and the MacArthur foundation have provided funding opportunities and research related to the impact of emerging technologies on education. As we will see in future posts, some institutions of higher education have used these new environments to radically transform the form, delivery and access to educational content.

So how exactly might this new web change the way we approach the teaching and learning of languages? Graham Stanley, an ESL teacher in Spain, suggests some possibilities here:

So what do you think? Is this just another passing educational fad or might this be a powerful means to engage our students as both learners and leaders? Where do you see the possibilities? Where are your concerns? We’d love to hear from you and hope this medium can serve as a forum for ongoing discussions among us all.

Photo credit: Turm zu Babel von Alexander Meins

About the author

Barbara Lindsey currently serves as director of the Multimedia Language Center at the University of Connecticut. She has given numerous presentations and workshops on Internet-based language instruction at the state and national level. Barbara has twelve years experience teaching German language at the university level, and for the private business sector as well as after school enrichment programs. She has served as project director on three federally funded grants and is a past president of the Connecticut Council of Language Teachers (2004-2006).


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  • Alisha D Herron

    nice article! nice site. you're in my rss feed now ;-)
    keep it up

  • Barbara Lindsey

    Thanks very much, Alisha. We appreciate your feedback. Do you have suggestions for future posts–anything you’d like us to discuss or experiences you’d like to share?