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Mashing Burning, Mixing: Web 2.0

Mashing Burning, Mixing: Web 2.0

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Published by Steve Wheeler
Paper written by Steve Wheeler and Maged Kamel Boulos describing the destructive creativity of Web 2.0 tools in clinical and medical education.
Paper written by Steve Wheeler and Maged Kamel Boulos describing the destructive creativity of Web 2.0 tools in clinical and medical education.

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Published by: Steve Wheeler on Oct 25, 2008
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Original Articles
[www.reciis.cict.fiocruz.br]ISSN 1981-6286
Electronic Journal in Communication,Information and Innovation in Health
Mashing, Burning, Mixingand the Destructive Creativity of Web 2.0: Applications for Medical Education
Faculty of Education,University of Plymouth,Plymouth,United Kingdom.S.Wheeler@plymouth.ac.uk 
We examine the recent growth of social software (Web 2.0) and its initial impact on education, and offer a review of some of the recent research conducted in the evaluation of its pedagogical applications. We highlight thepropensity of students to be both creative and destructive in their use of social software, particularly with wikis, web logs (blogs) and other text based environments. Student activities within these social software environmentscan cause tension and conflict, and reactions vary, but outcomes have been generally positive. Some medicaleducation examples are reviewed, providing the reader with worked examples of the use of social software inaction in clinical education contexts.
software, Web 2.0, collaborative learning, wiki spaces, blogs.
 Maged Kamel Boulos
Faculty of Health & SocialWork, University of Plymouth,Plymouth,United Kingdom.maged.kamelboulos@plymouth.ac.uk 
1. Introduction
The emergence of social (or so-called ‘Web 2.0’)software provides new and exciting opportunities forteachers to create dynamic, collaborative and sociablelearning environments for their students. Thisincarnation of the world wide web holdstransformational potential for teachers and studentsalike (RICHARDSON, 2006). Mashups, mixes andaggregations of digital artefacts form the basis for adynamic and creative emerging environment within which students can learn through collaborative workingand community based enquiry. Feed burning softwareenables users to receive alerts of web page updates directto their desktop computers or mobile devices. Thepopularity of these applications is rising rapidly, asstudents see the opportunities to free up time and spaceso that learning can be fitted into busy lifestyles.However, a dilemma has arisen. Although, by its very nature, social software attracts activities whichhave democracy and freedom from institutionalinfluence at their heart (RICHARDSON, 2006), suchfreedom may have the effect of opening the door toabuse or misuse of technologies. Seemingly destructiveelements may emerge where the right to participate isexploited. Institutional rules may be infringed, causinga detrimental effect upon the traditional organisationthrough subversion of previously accepted practices.In this paper we explore the creative and destructive
Elect. J. Commun. Inf. Innov. Health, v.1, n.1, p. 27-33
nature of Web 2.0 participation and its implicationsfor education.
2. Autonomous learning
Students using Wikis and ‘blogs generally work autonomously and independently, beyond the reach of any recognised authority, so it is debatable to whatextent educational institutions can, and should attemptto ‘manage’ such learning technology. It follows thatsome universities may see a need to control the use of such software in formalised learning contexts, but lack the surveillance power necessary to facilitate it. Youngerstudents in particular often engage in the use of socialsoftware to share bookmarks, images and videos, andother media outside of the auspices or control of theirparent institution. Popular sites include Bebo,FaceBook, YouTube and MySpace, all of which are usedby millions of subscribers each day. Regulation of suchactivities, even if desirable, would be impractical formost organisations.
3. Wikis
There is an obvious attraction to such freely available webspace tools, but the question is whethereducational authorities should attempt to harness thepower of such applications, or leave them to evolve inan uncontrolled and ‘viral’ manner. The notion of na-tural selection – ‘Darwikianism’ is a term applied tothe lifecycle of wikis – can be applied as a yardstick totest the longevity and utility of social software.Wikis quickly evolve into shared knowledgerepositories as communities aggregate theircontributions over time (GODWIN-JONES, 2003) andthe ‘wisdom of the masses’ can be applied to the creationof the ‘knowledge artefacts’. The social web promotesa stimulating and creative environment where readersbecome writers, and consumers become contributors(BOULOS
et al
, 2006). It is literally, the ‘read/write’ web.
4. ‘Unmanaged’ learning environments
Regardless of a natural orientation towardunmanaged independence, tutors who manageeducational provision from a distance may be uniquely placed to tap into the power and potential of socialsoftware. Teachers may attempt for example, to createstudent centred activities that engage and challenge
the platform of social software. Such activitiesmight need to be managed loosely in keeping with theautonomous nature of social spaces.There has been a long running debate about theeffectiveness of media and technology to influencelearning (KOZMA, 1994; CLARK, 1994), but choiceof delivery technology is crucial to the success of aprogramme. Web 2.0 software goes beyond thesomewhat stilted and linear ‘managed learningenvironment’ or MLE approach established throughoutmuch of higher and further education, providing anarchitecture of participation that encourages studentsto engage in non-hierarchical communities of learning.Perhaps the new term ‘unmanaged learningenvironment’ should be applied to the use of Web 2.0software in distance education. Certainly, the days of the managed learning environment appear to benumbered.More commonly, the term ‘personalised learningenvironments’ or PLE has been coined to describe openarchitecture systems in which users create, mix andedit their own content. Content can be ‘tagged’ usingkeywords so that other users, both within and outsidethe user group can find pages and if permitted, alsoparticipate in the editing. One popular tag organisationsite, Del.icio.us.com, enables such processes to bemanaged by individuals and groups in a highly visibleand accessible manner. Whichever way such openly editable software is viewed, it is clear that this parti-cular role of the teacher/instructor is being radically re-engineered, with teachers becoming resources whilststudents take a more active role in the generation andrepresentation of knowledge.
5. Social presence
Encouraging students to immerse themselves inrichly collaborative learning environments in which they are able to create, mix, modify and extend their ownknowledge artefacts using social software as personal‘cognitive tools’, is not merely desirable (JONASSEN
et al,
1999). It should also be a clear goal for all those who wish to create social presence in distanceeducation. Socially isolated individuals may be generally less healthy than those connected to a richly socialenvironment. PUTNAM (2000) suggests that socialcapital enables individuals to widen their awareness of the ways in which their fate is linked to community.“The networks that constitute social capital also serveas conduits for the flow of helpful information thatfacilitates achieving our goals.” (PUTNAM, 2000). If used correctly, social software provides such anetworked environment, providing students withcommunication tools and virtual contact that emulatesco-presence.There is a perceived ‘coldness’ reported by many students whose learning is mediated largely throughtechnology (WALLACE, 1999; RICE, 1993). The notionthat one is not merely interacting with a technology,but that warmth of human contact exists at the ‘otherend’ is vital for the success of most remote learners(WALLACE, 1999). Social presence reflects thestudent’s perception that s/he is communicating withpeople
the technology (SHORT
et al,
1976). Achieving an effect of social presence is thereforeimportant in distance education, for without it,students can feel isolated. With a sense of socialpresence through direct tutorial intervention however,students feel that they are not alone in their longdistance journey and often raise their game(BELAWATI, 2005) and similar responses are observed
Elect. J. Commun. Inf. Innov. Health, v.1, n.1, p. 27-33
in children’s learning (TUNG
et al
, 2006). Personalcommunication, immediacy of responses from tutorand peer group, and a common sense of purpose withina community of learning are all features that contributesignificantly toward stronger perceptions of socialpresence (WHEELER, 2006). The social web has thepotential to deliver these features.
6. Division of labour
One of the features of wikis and other community based authoring software such as Google Docs andSpreadsheets, is that all members of a community oruser group are able to modify, expand or delete previousentries with alacrity (RICHARDSON, 2006). Suchactivities, although apparently destructive, tend toresult in greater clarity of thought, more judiciouscorrection of errors, and clearer elaboration of previously posted content and ideas. The division of labourrequired to engage an entire group of students incontent generation can be explained within an activity theory framework (ENGESTRÖM, 1993). Division of labour in this context refers to the horizontalrelationship between members of the learningcommunity as a result of their mutual actions andinteractions. Wikis can subvert traditional values suchas personal ownership and intellectual property (RICHARDSON, 2006), whilst community ownershipof the content becomes an equalising factor. A verticaldivision of ‘power and status’ may also be present whichexemplifies this differential (THORNE, 2000). If sucha division is not resolved within the community of learners, conflict results.Thereby, editors and organisers of openarchitecture spaces carefully regulate contentgeneration by wielding the power to remove offendingor inappropriate posting of content. This is achievedby simply ‘rolling back’ to a previously more acceptable version of the wiki page through the wiki ‘page history’facility. In an education setting, wiki development is wisely left as the purview of the student group. Any  vertical power differential or status division can beameliorated by the teacher adopting the role of observer within the creative/destructive process.
7. Ownership and agreement
There is little doubt that the boundaries betweenthat of the professions and the general public are beinggradually eroded by the proliferation and widespreadadoption of social software. A cursory examination of medical or legal wiki sites will confirm this. New partnerships are opening up where lay-people andprofessionals coalesce their ideas, connections andtransactions to create repositories of knowledge thattranscend the traditional resources previously available.There is a sort of ‘swarm mentality’ emerging from virtual interactions, probably first pointed out by RHEINGOLD (1998) and others. The swarm softwaresuch as wikis, folksonomies and application sharingare merely the tools that are facilitating this socialrevolution. Ultimately, professionals are beginning torealise that they are no longer the arbiters of allknowledge, but that through the use of informationand communication technologies, all can contribute within the ‘architecture of participation’ (O’REILLY,2004).Some students have expressed unease about theease at which previous ‘hard work’ is deleted ormodified beyond recognition. They sometimes hold thebelief that the ideas are ‘theirs’ which indeed, in many cases, they are. This is until the ‘Send’ button is clicked,and from this point onwards, the content has become‘public property’ and can then be subject to any amountof destruction. We have already indicated that conflictcan occur, and disagreements have been observedbetween our own students during wiki editing andcontent generation. In this context, the notion of intellectual property becomes problematic, and unless wiki group members agree on the content, an endlessseries of ‘modification wars’ can ensue. Overall, wikiusers must realise that the editing space is open andfree for all to use and contribute toward, and that thecreative/destructive process is ever ongoing.
8. Blogging and creative writing
Writing to the web has never been easier, as many students are discovering. Web logs, or ‘blogs take theform of online reflective diaries and are predominantly  web pages produced by individuals, although groupsand corporations can also be involved. There is also afacility for readers, often bloggers themselves, to enterinto dialogue with the blogger, and to generatediscussion over a period of time.Many bloggers report that regular ‘blog writingenables them to discover a more creative side tothemselves (NÜCKLES
et al,
2004). Some declare that‘blogging has made them better writers and ultimately,better communicators (WILLIAMS
et al,
2004). Thereis also a strangely addictive quality to blog writing,particularly if the blogger is aware of an audience.Students generally write blogs about what affects themduring their studies, and relish the facility to sharetheir thoughts with others. They enjoy receivingcomments back from readers, thereby indicating thatthe postings are being read and valued. Membership of a social tagging utility such as Del.icio.us or Technoratican also increase traffic to a blog, and when otherbloggers link their sites, blog listings rise in the‘popularity’ rankings. Some star bloggers already enjoy regular readerships numbering thousands (WILLIAM
et al,
2004; BOULOS
et al,
2006).Encouraging students to create a group blog, whereeach member of the group has responsibility tocontribute to the regular postings, is a valuable meansto engage quieter students and a fair equaliser in thequest to engage all students in active, discursive learning.Research indicates that writing learning diaries canfoster a deeper cognitive engagement with coursecontent (NÜCKLES
et al
, 2004) and encourages critical
Elect. J. Commun. Inf. Innov. Health, v.1, n.1, p. 27-33

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