29 July, 2010

The Web is Mine!

The nature of the web has changed!

Users are no longer mere recipients of the static web, but agents and co-creators of the Social Web, or Web 2.0. Old school transmission is replaced by community feedback through comments, as in this article itself, and in some cases, content creators, editors and publishers.

wikipediaSome time ago David Wiley identified Wikipedia to have only two employees for its 15 million articles (over 3.3 million in English) - almost all of which have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. By you and me. Our teachers and our students. This demonstrates unparalleled cooperation amongst global communities of practice, and yet because of this very strength, many traditional academics scoff at the thought of Wikipedia, and other user generated sites, as reliable sources for educational content. However as a starting place for research into a topic, I struggle to find a more appropriate single source as Wikipedia. For example, researching teaching and learning theory leads me to Behaviourist approaches (Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner’s rats), through to the constructivist approaches of Piaget and Vygotsky. youtube Quick searches at other sources such as You Tube might return a Von Glasersfeld talk on radical constructivism. As an introduction to a topic, I now have a basis to explore books and dare I say it, peer reviewed research articles.

This is where the web is educational! The web, educates.

Is there a boundary where web content is simply web content, and educational content is somehow subcategorised into something else? No. The Web is the most powerful educational resource one could imagine. A source which pulls together the thoughts, opinions and research from a global community of users, is shaping our everyday lives. The Web has changed! Such a community could never be achieved, heard or published, without such digital communications. Exemplifying this very point, You Tube suggest 24 hours of user generated video are uploaded every minute.

It is these chunks of content; educational, reusable, repurposable, that brings me to my key point – the openness of the web. The openness of such content can impact upon teaching and learning like no other approach. Like no other technique, tool or technology. Creative Commons Through user generated movements such as the open source movement, came the Creative Commons - a series of licenses that users/authors/developers can freely apply to their works to legally allow re-use, re-mixing and re-sharing.

Listening to Peter Hartley recently, a Professor in of Education Development at Bradford University, I was intrigued at his openness towards his own knowledge, or limitations thereof. A classic study into Social Psychology by Dr Zimbardo, is an area of particular interest for Professor Hartley, and one in which over the years, he has crafted a thought provoking lecture. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo researched ‘What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?’ However, as Professor Hartley candidly admits, his knowledge in the topic is ‘limited’, for want of a better word. As he didn't take part in the actual research, he cannot describe the feelings of inmates, the feelings of being dragged off the street and ushered into a police car, the feelings of prison guards watching over the jail cells. Professor Hartley can only convey his understanding, albeit of high regard. His challenging lecture of Zimbardos prison experiment has received somewhat of a facelift since discovering some open resources through the Open University iTunesU pages. There he was, Dr Zimbardo himself discussing his reasoning, his rationale. Leading commentators debating methodologies and ethics of the study. And in a few clicks, subjects of the research, inmates and guards, discussing and reflecting on their mental states throughout the experiment.

So how can anybody teach this topic any better than its primary researcher, Dr Zimbardo? The job of the academic in this instance, is to shape a session which asks the right questions of the learners, or even, encourages the learners to ask the right questions (of the research, other learners, the teacher). His job is to structure resources to engage learners and encourage interaction and reflection.

The richness of such a learning experience is unequalled, and yet there are many questions... But what does this mean for the role of the traditional academic? Who is comfortable with reusing other sources of knowledge than ones-own, with fears of credibility and legitimacy?
But none should reign through more than this: How can I restructure my lectures and seminars to take advantage of such powerful resources?

The answer lies in the changing practices within Institutions.

  • The new academic and multi professional teams, where people work smarter, where the lecturer is not the font of all knowledge, but where curriculum development is a joint venture between academics, learning technologists, media developers and information specialists.
  • Changing practices where ‘new’ skills are encouraged: those of searching the complex web, finding, reviewing and reusing appropriate resources, and structuring them in the learning environment.
  • Changing skillsets in encouraging and harnessing learner exploration, reflection and discussion around topics.

Of course many of the high quality resources available come from those places with the resources to do so - the Open University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford, and other well funded projects. But what about the individual academic who does not have such wealthy resources at hand?

Search, explore, find, retrieve.
Create, share, discuss and debate.
Remix and repurpose.

The web is not a closed book with strict copyright. The web is mine. Yours. Everyones. Just look for the little cc logo :-)


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