Web 2.0 and historical perspectives

There’s been an interesting discussion on David Warlick’s blog about what Web 2.0 means, and is it really new. David Thornburg weighed in with some historical perspectives on the subject and the discussion really took off.

The historical perspective is important, but I think it got techno-centric very quickly. My concern is that we’ve already forgotten (or never knew) the history of what happened to the last education reform that starred technology.

Right now the concept of Web 2.0 in schools is in the hands of excited educators who have felt the power of learning something new and want to share it with their students and other educators. It’s a contagious, revolutionary feeling that we are on the cusp of something that will change the world.

This feels SO much like the 80’s, when computers first started trickling into schools. But the dark side is how schools, instead of letting educators show the way, turned to corporations and publishers to commercialize and pre-package the computer into school-friendly forms. It deprived students and teachers of authentic chances to program, to make music, and to create. Instead of the revolution in learning that seemed to be ever so temptingly on a permanent horizon, it turned computers into test prep machines that reinforced the way school “delivered” information to students.

The score: Technology – 0, “School” – 1

Now we have a chance to recapture the authentic use of computers for education. It is, however, just as likely that history will repeat itself, since schools tend to purchase “solutions” that meet administrative needs for control and search for ways to “scale” any innovation until it becomes a bland caricature of itself.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I hope that people who are new to educational technology as a result of Web 2.0 know that a whole movement of school reform started by technology pioneers had a tragic history, because its meaning was co-opted by corporations and the willingness of schools to give up their control of the educational process.

Maybe it won’t happen again, maybe the free/open source concept is a weapon that will help this time. Maybe we’re smarter, maybe we can stay more connected on blogger networks. But free stuff can be bad and mis-educative just as much as stuff you pay for. Lines of communication can become self-referential. The vigilance HAS to be on individual educators to stand up for what they believe in, and unfortunately vague, techno-centric Web 2.0 terminology is not much of a educational foundation to stand on.

As I wrote in a post a while back, the use of fill-in-the-blank 2.0 is what marketeers call an empty vessel. It’s a way to convey feeling without meaning, using words to convince a buyer that the product is good because the wording is so vague that everyone can write their own script. Watch carefully as school product marketeers co-opt the language of 2.0 and turn it on its head.

I’m not here to lecture people about what the right term is. Find your own — it’s the ownership that makes it concrete and actionable for each individual. Project-based learning, constructivist, inquiry-based, student-centered… whatever. But make it educational, not technical. Tell me what you believe, not what tools you use.

By the way, I’m guilty too! I’m not going to give up saying “2.0”–it’s way too convenient a shortcut. But I will try harder to say what I mean by it. That’s my Promis2.0.


3 Replies to “Web 2.0 and historical perspectives”

  1. Sylvia,

    Well stated and I’ve been saying the same thing, whenever I could. Here’s a great understated video by Richard Baraniuk about the same thing….he speaks eloquently about the need to keep things “open”….just wanted to share it with you…. Thanks, that’s part of it, keep the message out there..



  2. Thanks for being forthright, Sylvia—Education is being hijacked by hype once again. I call it ‘chasing shiny objects.’ Few educators or programs stop long enough to actually create anything meaningful, lasting, and comprehensive with their new tools. I find they want to take the easy way out and buy the prepackaged stuff that is sometimes great, but often not.

  3. If you read David Thornburg’s comments again you’ll notice that he is make a technical-historical point (web2 technologies have pre-web precursors) whereas you, Sylvia, are making an educational-historical point (that School rejected logo and picked up crappy commercial software)

    So some of the replies to David Thornburg inevitably had a technical component to them, even though some respondents did wax about the educational potential of the read-write web as well

    But unfortunately the correct educational- historical point you made here was not made in that thread

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