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How many penguins does it take to sink an iceberg?

– The challenges and opportunities

of Web 2.0 in education.

Chances are that if you’re over 25 the title of this paper will have left you feeling either
confused or dismayed, perhaps even a little both. Confused because you are wondering what
possible connection could be made between penguins, the Internet and education? Dismayed
because you’re still coming to terms with Web 1 and here is someone talking about Web 2.0.
Therefore, some further explanation of the title is likely to be helpful.

The term Web 2.0 is widely regarded to have been coined by an industry visionary called Tim
O’Reilly in 2004. In technology the number after the decimal point refers to a revision of an
existing technology, the number preceding it refers to a paradigm shift where the technology
has undergone such a substantial change as to become something different. Therefore,
according to a recent BECTA report, Web 2.0 technologies for learning at Key Stages 3 and 4
(2008), “Web 2.0 is a catch-all term to describe a variety of developments on the web and a
perceived shift in the way the web is used. This has been characterised as the evolution of
web use from passive consumption of content to more active participation, creation and
sharing – to what is sometimes called the ‘read/write’ web. These are internet activities and
tools that are broadly concerned with encouraging communication and participation among
internet users.” Thomas March in Revisiting Webquests in a Web 2 World (2007) helpfully
adds that the significance of Web 2.0 lies not in the technological revolution, impressive as it
is, but rather in the social revolution that Web 2.0 facilitates.

As the BECTA (2008) report suggests, alongside this new Internet has emerged a range of
tools which exploit the technology often requiring no more than access to the Web and a
browser. Among the most familiar are Blogs and Wikis and if you are a regular Internet user it
is likely you will have come across, perhaps even contributed to, a Blog or Wiki such as
Wikipedia. Web 2.0 has also facilitated the development of new virtual communities where
individuals can meet and interact. For example, it is estimated that if the members of social
networking site Myspace formed a country it would be the 8th largest in the world.

Increasingly such communities are being created around virtual landscapes where virtual
people inhabit virtual properties. One such virtual community specifically designed for
children is Club Penguin. Children from all over the world create an online persona (or
avatar) represented by a penguin and travel through a virtual winter wonderland competing in
games and solving puzzles, sometimes alone, sometimes with the help of online friends. With
an estimated 12 million children registered worldwide, Club Penguin was purchased by
Disney in 2007 for a reported $700 million dollars. It was while watching my son play Club
Penguin that I first came to fully appreciate the enormous potential of Web 2.0 as an
educational tool. Ironically, it was not the carefully designed learning opportunities
programmed into the various games and quizzes within Club Penguin that caught my
attention. Rather, it was the informal, unintended learning being generated by a group of
around 50 penguins meeting on a virtual iceberg somewhere in cyberspace that really got me

One of the children had suggested it was possible to sink the iceberg and began to persuade
others to join him on the Northern edge in a vain attempt to tip everyone into the sea.
Unsuccessful but not undeterred, another child suggested jumping up and down. Again,
without success. Soon some children began to break away from the main group convinced
they could sink the iceberg by congregating on a different edge. Surmising that more weight
was needed, there then began a process of persuasion and negotiation as competing splinter
groups tried to persuade the huddled mass of penguins that their solution was the most likely
to get everyone wet. To use the language of the new Revised Curriculum for Northern Ireland,
the children had displayed curiosity and creativity in seeking out a question to explore (can
we sink the iceberg?), generated a possible solution (congregate on the North shore), revised
the solution (jump up and down), showed commitment, determination and resourcefulness in
trying alternative approaches (the splinter groups) all the while communicating and
collaborating with each other to achieve their end goal. In essence, these children had
organically created a rich learning environment that elicited complex, critical and creative
thinking skills which made my attempts to artificially induce such skills in the classroom look
frankly amateurish. Clearly Club penguin is unlikely to become the sole vehicle for delivering
our school curriculum but it does illustrate some of the potential for web based learning to
transform how we approach the education of our children. It also serves to illustrate the
emergence of a growing digital divide between teachers and pupils.

Traditionally the term digital divide has been used to describe the problem of access to
technology. While evidently access to technology is still an issue on a global scale, research
suggests this is not the problem it once was in the UK. According to the UK Children Go
Online report (2005) 75% of 9-19 year olds have accessed the internet from a computer at
home while 92% have accessed the internet at school. Coupled with the recent Labour
government announcement of a £300 million programme to get low income families online
and the rapid growth of mobile platforms to browse the Internet, Olivia Stevenson in the UK
government report Harnessing Technology: Transforming Learning and Children’s Services
(2005) suggests we need to look at the digital divide not as a question of access but rather as a
description of how different groups within society use the technology. This difference in the
use of technology can be clearly seen when one compares how pupils and their teachers use
Web 2.0 tools inside and outside school.

Several surveys were conducted as part of the BECTA (2008) report. It was found that,
“learners’ use of Web 2.0 and related internet activities is extensive.” Of the 2,600 learners
surveyed across 27 schools, 74% had social networking accounts and 78% had uploaded
digital media (mostly photographs or video clips from phones) to the internet. The teacher
survey (which probably reflected the views of keen ICT users as it was online and voluntary)
found that while many teachers had used web 2.0 tools outside school, “most had never used
Web 2.0 applications in lesson time.” Similar findings were reported in the updated
Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning report (2008). In contrast to the very high
us of Wikis among young people, 25% of secondary teachers never heard of them. Not
surprisingly, therefore, nearly all Web 2.0 use is currently outside school, and for social
purposes. The differing attitude to Web 2.0 tools can perhaps best be illustrated by comparing
preferred methods of communication. Several surveys have confirmed that while adults tend
to prefer email, children prefer instant messaging. How many schools do you know who have
banned the preferred means of communications for this generation? Has yours?
There therefore seems to be good grounds for claiming that our pupils are ‘growing up
digital.’ For these ‘Digital Natives’ forced to exist between two very different cultures, going
to school may well feel like travelling in a distant land. It is like a land that time forgot where
the technological tools and experiences that support their informal learning at home are
dismissed as irrelevant in the more formal learning context of the classroom. Thomas March
in Revisiting Webquests in a Web 2.0 World (2007) concludes, “The embarrassing truth is that
in a few short decades, schools have gone from providing many students with their first
experiences with computers and the Internet to what have become islands of

So why does this new digital divide exist? There is evidence of growth in the use of ICT in
the classroom and a generally positive disposition among teachers. The National Centre for
Social Research (2006) found that at least three quarters of subject respondents to their survey
stated that ICT was ‘very’or‘quite’important to their subject at Key Stages 1 to 4. 70% of
secondary school respondents also thought that ‘all’ or ‘most’ teachers were enthusiastic about
using ICT. However, while many teachers have embraced technology it would seem they have
largely done so in an attempt to make their existing teaching more interesting and efficient.
The Harnessing Technology: School Survey (2008) found that,” Teachers predominantly use
ICT for whole-class activities, in line with their preferred use of ICT for display and
presentational purpose.” Many teachers seem to have become addicted to PowerPoint which
Edward Tufte, an authority on visual display, describes as ‘educational cocaine’, “easy to
start, hard to stop and not very good for you.” It is perhaps no surprise therefore that while
there has been a dramatic rise in the use of presentational tools such as Interactive
whiteboards and data projectors in schools, Web 2.0 tools with their emphasis on pupil
participation and collaboration have had little impact in the classroom. Technology, it would
seem, has been used to automate teachers’ pedagogy rather than transform it and as a
consequence it is unlikely that the full value of technology is currently being realised in

This raises the question of whether the digital divide between teacher and student use of
technology, and the resultant divide between the use of Web 2.0 at home and in school, is
simply a matter of lack of awareness of what can be achieved using Web 2.0 tools, or a more
fundamental resistance to transformation within the education system. In the remainder of this
paper I want to tackle the question of awareness head on by looking at 10 reasons why I
believe teachers should be using Web 2.0, and then consider how likely it is that Web 2.0 will
play a transformational role in our education system.

1. Web 2.0 Tools are Easy to Use

Given the rate of technological advancement over the last 20 years it is perhaps
understandable that the focus of many Government and educational initiatives has largely
been on questions of infrastructure and hardware. The Ofsted inspection report ICT in
Schools (2002) found that even where training had been offered it tended to focus on
improving teachers’ personal ICT skills rather than classroom application. Therefore, it seems
likely that lack of awareness of how technology and Web 2.0 tools in particular can be used in
the classroom is part of the reason why there has been little transformation in how teachers
use ICT. This was recognised the Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning (2008)
update which said, “The aim of the next phase of the strategy is to bring about a step-change
in the way technology is used across the breadth of the education and skills system. The goal
is to develop a system which exploits the benefits of technology for learning and delivers
tangible and measurable improvements and outcomes.”

While teaching staff will undoubtedly require further training in how best to exploit
technology in the classroom, one of the chief characteristics of Web 2.0 tools is their ease of
use. These tools bring a much wider range of sophisticated ICT based activities within the
reach of the non-specialist. Furthermore, most Web 2.0 tools have a very short learning curve
and often encourage users to learn by doing. They often come with video tutorials which
cover the more complicated functions thus enabling self-learning by students and taking the
onus of the technical expertise of the teacher. Finally, the skills necessary for using web-based
tools can often be transferred from one tool to another such as how to upload a document or
image file. Taken together, the ease of use of Web-based tools means teachers can spend more
time thinking about how to use ICT for learning rather than the learning to use ICT.

2. Web 2.0 tools offer greater pedagogical opportunities through ICT

The Harnessing Technology (2005) report comments that the wider availability of new
technology gives teachers both the opportunity and the responsibility to explore new
approaches to teaching and learning. While the introduction of the Revised Curriculum in
Northern Ireland has seen many teachers expanding their pedagogical range in the classroom,
it has been my experience that there has been much less experimentation when it comes to
ICT. Too many teachers limit their use of ICT to passive presentations and even where
children have been allowed to participate, tasks seldom go beyond word processing,
researching the web or producing a PowerPoint. As one commentator put it, for too long they
have been ‘standing on a whale while fishing for minnows.’

From Multimedia Scrapbooks to Interactive Timelines, Web 2.0 gives teachers the tools to
expand their pedagogical range. In particular it offers pupils more, and richer, opportunities to
use ICT creatively and in problem-solving activities. As part of my research into Web 2.0 in
education I produced a directory of free web-based tools for teachers. It was interesting to
note that while the most popular page search was predictably ‘Presentations and Slideshows’,
the ‘Mindmaps’, ‘Collaborative tools’ and ‘Thinking tools’ pages were all in the top 10 while
‘Note Taking’ came a distant 26th. As the website is largely visited by teachers who have an
interest in Web 2.0, it doesn’t seem too great a leap of imagination to conclude that such
teachers see Web 2.0 as the solution to expanding their pedagogical skills and providing a
better, more active student experience on the Internet. This was certainly the case for me and
is a question that perhaps deserves further research.

3. Collaboration

It could be argued that on the evidence so far, Web 2.0 tools offer little advantage over a well
designed example of traditional desktop software. This is not the case, however, when one
considers the collaborative ability of web-based tools. Communication between users is a core
Web 2.0 function and in this respect ‘Web-top’ software has a particular advantage over
desktop software. Through sharing a web address, a user name and password, or simply e-
mailing an invitation, several pupils can access the same documents and files. Web based
Whiteboards and Seminar tools can be used to facilitate real time meetings between pupils
from all 4 corners of the planet allowing individuals to interact as if they were in the same
classroom. Bryant (2007) suggests that, ‘The adoption of social software tools, techniques and
ideas will be the most important and visible example of the use of emerging technology in
education over the next few years.’

Collaborative or social learning based on the idea that our understanding of content is actively
constructed through conversations and interactions is currently much in vogue in education
circles. BECTA (2008) reported that 82% of teachers indicated that their students needed
more experience of collaborative learning. Yet while two-thirds of teachers thought that Web
2.0 tools could support such collaboration, 41% of teachers had never used Web 2.0 to
facilitate it. Among those with the vision, there is mounting excitement over the potential of
Web 2.0 to become the perfect vehicle to deliver collaborative learning. Richard Noss of
London Knowledge Lab comments that, “The collaborative spirit of these web 2.0 activities
and many others like them has coalesced into a prevailing sense that the internet has created
greater opportunities for access, debate and transparency in the pursuit of knowledge than
ever before.”

Yet while this concept of shared wisdom (No one knows as much as everyone) is the greatest
benefit of Web 2.0 for many, to others it represents Web 2.0’s Achilles heel. Are experiments
in shared wisdom no more than experiments in shared ignorance? Or on a more sinister level,
if the Internet can bring the whole world into our classrooms how do we make sure we keep
those that are dangerous or undesirable out?

The preferred approach for many is to filter Web access through a virtual learning
environment (VLE) sometimes referred to as the ‘Walled Garden’ approach. However, VLEs
by their nature have limitations. Government funded systems such as Learning NI in Northern
Ireland are unlikely to have the financial resources to compete with the quality and cutting
edge technology of commercial web-based products. Even commercial VLEs are likely to
impose restrictions on web access as they have a vested interest in keeping competitors out.
There are few things more frustrating to the Web 2.0 teacher than finding a brilliant new tool
only to have it blocked by the very system which is supposed to be enhancing teaching and

Most experts advocate an ‘empower and manage’ approach, in which schools allow children
access to public Web 2.0 sites. Children need to learn how to use the Internet in a responsible
manner and this will be impossible if their access to the open web is too heavily restricted in
schools. Such an approach not only recognises the need to prepare pupils for life after school
but acknowledges the reality that many of our pupils are already ‘digital natives’ who all too
often lack the skills and judgement to live safely in the virtual worlds and communities they
inhabit. There is no disputing that some of the material posted on public websites is unsuitable
for children and suitability and safety need to be key considerations when deciding to use a
Web 2 tool. However, many sites do have an acceptable use policy and some will remove
offending material upon request. Others offer educational versions of their tools where levels
of public access can be controlled by the teacher.
4. The forms of activity cultivated within Web 2.0 are widely regarded as important by
theoretical perspectives on learning.

In its encouragement of a wider range of pedagogical approaches, its collaborative nature and
its focus on ICT as a participatory rather than passive experience, it is clear that Web 2.0
dovetails with much recent research on learning. The Harnessing Technology: Next
Generation Learning (2008) report found that among Learners aged 11-19 the preferred
methods of learning are ‘in groups’, ‘by doing practical things’, ‘with friends’ and ‘by using
computers’. In contrast, the same Learners reported that three of the most commonly reported
activities in class are still copying from the board or a book, ‘listening to a teacher talking for
a long time’ and taking notes while the teacher talks. Therefore, it is clear that any discussion
of the potential of Web 2.0 tools to transform teaching and learning must be set within the
more fundamental debate of how pupils learn and how teachers teach.

The tendency for teachers to adopt a didactic pedagogy would seem to suggest that the
traditional Cartesian view of knowledge and learning which has dominated education for the
last century still prevails among teachers. In their use of Powerpoint and Interactive
whiteboards, teachers are merely searching for a better way to transfer the mysterious
substance called knowledge to their students. By contrast, social constructivism which claims
that, “… active and authentic learning taking place best where knowledge can be constructed
actively by learners who are supported in communal social settings” appears to be the
dominant force within educational research and policy. So is the reluctance of teachers to
embrace Web 2 symptomatic of a wider resistance to educational change in the UK?

I would have to say from my experience probably not. As I stated earlier, many teachers in
Northern Ireland have positively received a Revised Curriculum whose pedagogy embraces
the principles of social constructivism. Most of my colleagues are also equally enthusiastic
about ICT. Yet, in spite of this I have seen little evidence of Web 2.0 practices becoming
embedded in their teaching. I have already noted that a lack of awareness of the potential of
Web 2.0 for learning seems to be a key factor in explaining why Web 2.0 has received such a
lukewarm reception among teachers, although I would have to concede that my research also
pointed to a lack of pedagogical adventure among some colleagues. Perhaps, Web 2.0 might
prove a catalyst for change not just in how teachers use ICT but also in their general teaching
style. BECTA (2008) suggested the same possibility, “What may be more significant about
these recent developments is that they highlight a certain 'disposition' that practitioners might
adopt in relation to teaching and learning. The Web 2.0 innovation may be requiring closer
attention to those matters of pedagogy rather than attention to novel internet configurations.”

5. Our students are using Web 2.0

The first piece of advice I was given as a trainee teacher was to start from where my pupils
were. Consequently, the most straightforward reason for using Web 2.0 in education must be
the recognition that young people are already using them. Professor Michael Welch in his
podcast Human Futures for Technology and Education, reports that in the average semester
his college students read 8 books but view 2300 web pages. For every 42 pages they write for
class, they write 500 pages of e-mail. So from a purely practical perspective it seems likely
that our pupils will be familiar with a style of interacting and inquiry that arises from
browsing the Internet. There are also increasing indications that learners’ expectations of
technology in learning are not being met. Richard Noss of London Knowledge lab summed
up the expectations of the modern student when he said, “These digital natives are thought to
expect technology-assisted fluidity in all aspects of their lives, including the ways in which
they learn and are educated. They are thought to have distinct expectations of education that
involve learning which is personalised, accessible on-demand, and available at any time, any
place, or any pace.”

Of course, some might suggest that education has a higher purpose and rather than imitating
our pupils’ activity we should seek to raise them above it. Some teachers complain about the
Internet being a distraction and warn that much of what takes place on the web is at best
frivolous, at worst damaging. In practice I cannot deny that many of my pupils have found
web-based tools very appealing and that at times the tools have almost overshadowed the
wider learning intentions of a lesson. However, I don’t think teachers should ban Web 2.0
tools on the grounds that their students enjoy them too much. On the contrary, as teachers we
should be looking for ways to harness these tools for our own educational ends. For example,
consider why Social Networking is the most popular activity on the web for teenagers. Rather
than being a frivolous activity, experts suggest that Social Networking represents a search and
exploration of identity. As a Religious Studies teacher in particular, surely there are
opportunities for me to explore the role that faith might play in the individual’s search for
meaning and personal identity. ICT will never be a substitute for good, creative teaching but
by the same token ICT can help to make our teaching more effective, creative and relevant to
our pupils.

6. Web 2.0 matches overarching policy and curriculum goals

Having already commented upon the link between Web 2.0 and constructivist educational
theory, in this point I want to focus on how ICT has a major role to play in realising the wider
educational vision of the government. In March 2006, Ruth Kelly announced an independent
review of teaching and learning chaired by Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of
Schools. The resultant report, 2020 Vision, explores what teaching and learning might look
like in the future. Among the key recommendations were:

- Increasing curriculum breadth by delivering some lessons remotely using video

- Changes to the traditional school day and greater access via the internet to interactive
learning opportunities, enabling 24-hour access to learning
- Technology should influence what, how and why a child learns by broadening the
range of learning material children are able to access, either guided by a teacher or as
part of self-directed learning
- Promoting development of a broad range of knowledge, skills and understanding,
in new contexts and with virtual access to experts
- Facilitating collaboration with peers (in the same school and in other schools)
- Increasing the variety of learning resources, software and communication tools,
through new media
- Helping schools to use a wider range of readily available resources and software to
enhance learning, including making software available to children to use at home
- Blurring distinctions between informal and formal learning – giving children the
ability to choose what they learn and when they learn it
- Increased relevance, through greater links between children’s experience of school and
of the technology-rich world outside.

A recurring theme in a number of such educational visions for the future is ‘personalisation’
and this notion of a personalised learning environment with tailored access to materials and
content supported by online tuition also lies at the heart of BECTA’s Learning Entitlement
Framework. BECTA (2008) concludes, “It is therefore clear that current policy for the
incorporation of ICT in education and current thinking about the nature of the learning that
education must provide are both in step with the affordances of Web 2.0 activities.” There is a
striking resonance between the government’s vision for the future of education and Web 2.0
technologies that demands greater attention from teachers and policymakers alike.

It is also clear that if such a vision were ever to become a reality that it would have a dramatic
effect upon the teaching profession. It is likely that such an education system would require a
radical shift in the mindset of teachers from 'the sage on the stage' to 'the guide on the side'.
However, this shift towards a technology driven, personalised education system needs not
imply a reduced or secondary role for the teacher. Neil Selwyn in Education 2.0 –Designing
the Web for Teaching and Learning suggests that the complexity of the Web will mean
teachers will have a crucial role in helping students to gain the skills to become autonomous
on-line learners. For example, the UK Children Go Online survey (2005) found that while
38% of pupils aged 9-19 trusted most of the information on the internet, only 33% of them
had been taught how to judge its reliability. As individual companies such as Google
increasingly seek to gain control of the world’s knowledge on-line, and more and more of our
pupils turn to the Internet as their primary source of learning, there is clearly a vital role for
teachers in helping pupils to determine the trustworthiness of the information they encounter.

7. Web 2.0 can help prepare our students for the future

In the course of researching this article I lost count of the number of times I read that our
current education system is no longer fit for purpose. For example, the Empowering Schools
Strategy (2003) states that, “significant change will be required by the education service if we
are to meet the personal, social and economic needs of young people living and working in
the 21st century.” As someone who was educated and still works within a fairly traditional
grammar school system, I must confess that I have never given much weight to such calls as
to do so would logically lead me to concede that my own educational experience failed to
equip me with the skills to work and live successfully in the future. Yet, while I may not agree
wholeheartedly with such views, there is still merit in considering how the future needs of our
pupils might impact on their educational requirements.

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel was the first to observe that the raw power of silicon
technology doubles every 18 months. The exponential growth in the power of computers is
now known as "Moore's Law." It is estimated that by 2048 a computer with the computational
power of the human race will cost $1000, by 2059 it will cost just $1. This is likely to happen
in the lifetime of our current students. Will we still need an education system conceived in a
20th century mindset where the dominant philosophy was on helping students to acquire
stocks of knowledge and skills that would last a lifetime? In Minds on Fire (2008), John Seely
Brown and Richard P. Adler envisage a future characterized by a demand-pull rather than
supply-push mode of delivery. Students will access the knowledge they need through
becoming members of an on-line community motivated through a need or passion for that
particular knowledge. In these ‘communities of practice’ learners will find support as they
collaborate with other newcomers and professionals. As I reflected upon my own study of
Web 2.0 in education for this paper, I realised that this was no longer a future vision but a
present reality for much of my learning had largely been facilitated through participating in
such On-line communities and sharing in their resources.

A second suggestion is that future learners are likely to engage more frequently with a broad
range of digital media and will therefore need to become more ‘digitally literate.’ BECTA
(2008) argued that while our current educational system is founded upon the idea of a ‘literate
mind’ having command of the written version of a spoken language, any future curriculum
will need to take into account that the concept of literacy has to be stretched to cover new
modes of creativity and expression beyond the printed word.

Finally, it has been said that we are facing a ‘seismic shift in epistemology.’ How will Web 2.0
with its emphasis on the collaborative creation of knowledge, its philosophy of free and open
access to information and the provision of a platform where everyone can become a digital
publisher impact upon our view of knowledge? It is not just the way in which knowledge is
constructed that is being challenged by Web 2.0, it also seems likely that we will need to
discover new ways of navigating the sheer volume of information. Consider that while the
American television network ABC has produced 525,600 hours of television since 1948,
Youtube has produced more in the last 6 months.

Whatever the merits of our traditional education system and whatever the future needs of our
pupils might be, it seems likely that the future economy will require an adaptable workforce
with the skills, confidence and autonomy to take on new learning. Web 2.0 can help prepare
our students for this future and according to the Empowering Schools Strategy (2003),
“Familiarity with the structure of Web 2.0 practices will place the continuing adult learner in a
strong position to pursue their own learning agenda.”

8. Web 2.0 can help motivate our students

There are undoubtedly many and varied reasons why so many students are apathetic towards
their education and, while technology is not a cure all panacea, there is a growing body of
research that points to ICT having a motivating effect. In fact Ofsted (2008) have as gone as
far as saying that, “The most important impact observed (of ICT) was in students’ increased
motivation and engagement.” In addition to this general effect of ICT, there are a number of
reasons why Web 2.0 technologies in particular may influence student motivation.

Web 2.0 tools encourage an active rather than passive experience for the user, they encourage
what Debbie Abilock, founding editor of Knoweldge Quest, refers to as “minds-on” tasks.
There is also the potential for anonymity which may help to engage more tentative
contributors, while creativity and curiosity are encouraged by enabling expression through
different types of media. However, I believe that the greatest motivating factor of Web 2.0 is
the potential for the publication of student work to a real audience. Web 2.0 puts a range of
sophisticated publication tools into the hands of students that enables them to easily produce
written and visual material for a global audience in a manner that would have been impossible
just a few years ago. For example, my own website had over 1000 visitors representing 35
countries in its first month since publication.

Online publication also raises the possibility of introducing new forms of peer and teacher
assessment. One of the major weaknesses of ICT use identified in research has been in the
area of assessment. The Ofsted report ICT in Primary and Secondary schools (2005/07) stated
that assessment remained a significant area of weakness in one in five of the schools visited.
Yet students are already using Web2.0 tools in an informal capacity to assess and comment
upon Youtube videos and Social Blogs. Constructive feedback on published work from
teachers or peers has the potential to motivate students to engage in a cycle of continuous

9. Web 2. 0 overcomes some practical educational problems

Web 2.0 can facilitate anytime, anywhere learning. On a practical level this means students
can work on the same software at home as they do in school so long as they have a device
with access to a web browser. This saves a great deal of time in the classroom as files don’t
need to be moved from one system to another and removes the problems caused by different
versions of software. Web 2.0 tools enable synchronous meetings between students outside
normal school hours allowing them to collaborate on a single piece of work as if they were
still in the classroom. Many tools also allow ‘asynchronous’ interaction whereby students and
teachers can access material at a time that best suits them with an archive of previous
conversations and contributions available to all. This flexibility also extends to geographical
location with students and experts from all over the world being able to contribute to a lesson
so long as they have internet access.

Freed from the constraints of a traditional school timetable and the economic and physical
limitations of a school’s curricular provision, students are free to learn what they want, when
they want, from whom they want. In the 21st century why should students still have to study
subjects that they have no interest in or talent for when Web 2.0 allows them to connect to a
network of learners who share their particular passion no matter how obscure the subject
area? The flexibility inherent to this pull rather than push system of educational provision
clearly presents a challenge to traditional educational structures and will undoubtedly be
disruptive to the way that many schools and teachers operate. So could it not be argued that
Web 2.0 causes more problems than it solves?

I think not. To say so would be to ignore the fact that change is coming anyway. There are
already considerable demands placed upon the public education system in the UK which seem
likely to grow if one considers the practical outworking of the 2020 Vision report referred to
earlier. In Northern Ireland, the new Entitlement Framework requires all secondary schools to
increase the number of courses on offer to 24 at Key Stage 4 and 27 post -16 causing a
logistical and financial headache for many schools. Web 2.0 tools offer an efficient and cost-
effective solution to the more personalised education system envisaged by making it possible
to access high quality educational resources and teaching tools, and in some cases teaching
expertise, often for free. Furthermore, such are the pressures upon teachers within the current
system some have suggested we need to adopt a more student-centred approach from a purely
practical rather than philosophical perspective. Web 2.0 provides the teacher with an
interactive infrastructure ideally suited towards such student-centred learning.

Finally, Web 2.0 helps to overcome the problem of educational access for a number of key
groups. The multimedia nature of the Internet allows different learning styles or special
educational needs to be catered for. For example, there are a number of tools such as Read the
Web which will read the text from any webpage you request overcoming a barrier to
education for people with dyslexia. There is also evidence that Web 2.0 can help engage those
that have become disaffected with traditional schooling, while at the other end it clearly
provides new opportunities to stretch those regarded as gifted and talented.

In 1996 Sir John Daniel estimated that by 2006 there would be 100 million students world
wide qualified to enter university but with no place to go. There are millions more who can
only dream of an education because of extreme poverty. As web based tools and resources
are often free, the economic barrier to education at all levels could be removed if there was
the political will to provide free Internet access for all. Web 2.0 proponents often talk about it
being as revolutionary as the Printing Press. It doesn’t seem too improbable to suggest that a
technological breakthrough that could lead to a further 100 million university educated
students bringing their talents and ideas to bear on the issues facing humanity would have as
revolutionary an impact as that experienced almost 600 years ago.

10. Web 2.0 is the best tool for the job

It is an oft repeated mantra that we shouldn’t use technology where a better alternative is
available, but surely the converse is also true. The Empowering Schools Strategy (2003)
stated that where technology is integrated effectively into the heart of education it has the
potential to, “enhance and individualise the learner’s educational experience, helping them to
enjoy learning, improve their performance and raise standards.” This link between the use of
technology and improved learning outcomes is being claimed in an increasing body of
evidence. Several studies have found that ICT can particularly help students to develop
successful approaches to learning which may go some way to create the autonomy that is so
highly desired but so seldom found among pupils today. Richard Noss of London Knowledge
Lab comments that, “Web 2.0 tools appear to strengthen fundamental aspects of learning that
may be difficult to stimulate in learners. There are problems with web 2.0 learning in practice,
but these tools do seem to mark a step change in the ways in which learners can interact with
and on the web. Alongside business, journalism and medicine, it is therefore perhaps not too
fanciful to talk of ‘education 2.0.’”

So how might these tools improve upon existing practice? There are many teachers who
believe that books are without equal as a teaching tool so I will use this sacred cow as an
example. Two and a half thousand years ago Socrates apparently didn’t like to write things
down because he couldn’t ask a book a question, I wonder what he would have made of the
book sharing web tool Bookglutton. With Bookglutton pupils have the ability to comment on
a book as they read it online. As well as a live chat function, comments are published
alongside the text to form an archived discussion adding a whole new educational dimension
to the traditional practice of reading books.
Several examples can also be found in Higher education which has a number of practices that
seem archaic in a Web 2.0 world. Why take the time and money to publish in an academic
journal when research can be instantly made available to the entire world with the potential
for peer review built in. In a world of hyperlinks why publish a bibliography which requires
readers to spend hours ordering up books and papers when an electronic book marking tool
such as SearchMe can give instant access to a range of sources in addition to text.

Conclusion – One Final Iceberg

Web 2.0’s tools clearly reflect the principles inherent in much current educational theory and
policy yet their uptake and impact has so far been minimal across every sector of the
educational landscape. While lack of awareness is likely to be a significant factor in why Web
2.0’s potential has not yet being fully realised, BECTA (2008) listed a total of 11 other
tensions which have hindered its uptake. Taken together these tensions could perhaps be said
to represent the voice of traditional educational authority and it should not perhaps surprise us
that such tensions exist given the fact that Web 2.0 challenges the very bedrock upon which
our educational system is built. In its view of how knowledge is constructed and its
democratisation of knowledge, Web 2.0 is potentially a very disruptive force which means it
is likely to arouse feelings of fear, mistrust and jealous guardianship among those that it seeks
to transform.

In this regard, those teachers who are Web 2.0 enthusiasts could perhaps be compared to the
penguins we met earlier jumping up and down on an educational iceberg which in any
estimation is all but impossible to sink given their respective mass. Like those children, some
educators would like to see nothing better than the iceberg being sunk. Indeed, some claim to
see signs of it giving way. Students are already learning in new ways, they are connecting and
building networks and learning outside the traditional classroom, in an anytime, anywhere
educational setting. They have access to information and other teachers and experts and often
what they are finding is more relevant to them than what they are finding in the classroom.

However, such predictions about the collapse of our education system have been made before.
In 1913 Thomas Edison speaking on the benefits of the motion picture said, “Books will soon
be obsolete in schools…our school system will be completely changed in the next 10 years.”
A more realistic view might therefore be that just as penguins jumping up and down will
reshape the ice beneath their feet, so Web 2.0 has a role to play in encouraging the reshaping
and transformation of the existing educational landscape. The maturing of the Internet into a
viable platform for learning is unlikely to achieve this transformation alone, rather, it is the
fact that it has coincided with a widely accepted new vision for education that makes change
more likely to become a reality. Yet while Web 2.0 calls for a stake in the transformation of
our education system we must not forget that educationalists also have a role to play in the
shaping of Web 2.0. In Futurelab’s vision of the future 2020 and Beyond, they conclude, “If
educators are to shape the future of education (and not have it shaped for them by external
technical developments) it is crucial that we engage with developments in digital technologies
at the earliest stages. We need to understand what may be emerging, explore its implications
for education, and understand how best we might harness these changes. Without this early
engagement we risk, as always, being the Cinderella sector of the technology world –
constantly receiving the hand-me-downs from the business, defence and leisure industries and
then trying to repurpose them for educational goals.” With this in mind I hope that I speak on
behalf of penguins everywhere when I call upon everyone interested in transforming our
educational iceberg to jump up and down now. There will be risk involved but I am reminded
of what my son said when I asked him why he wanted to sink the iceberg. He replied simply,
“To see what happens.” This is the reply of a learner, what would yours be?


While I have listed the main sources for this paper below, in the spirit of Web 2.0 I have also
created an on-line Bookmark of all the resources I used during my Fellowship. It can be
accessed at:

Becta (2008) Web 2.0 technologies for learning at Key Stages 3 and 4

Thomas March (2007) Revisiting WebQuests in a Web 2 World. How developments in

technology and pedagogy combine to scaffold personal learning Interactive Educational
Multimedia, Number 15 (October, 2007), pp. 1-17

Department for Education and Skills (2005) Harnessing Technology -Transforming

Learning and Children’s Services

Becta (2008) Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning 2008–14

Ofsted (2002) ICT in Schools: Effect of government initiatives Secondary Religious


Michael Welch (2008) Human Futures for Technology and Education, Educause

Dfes (2006) 2020 Vision Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group

Selwyn, N.[ed] (2008) 'Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning, ESRC
Teaching and Learning Research Programme commentary

Education Technology Strategy Management Group for the Department of Education

Northern Ireland (2003) Empowering Schools Strategy

John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and
Learning 2.0, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): 16–32

Ofsted ICT in primary and secondary schools: 2005/07

Futurelab (2007) 2020 and beyond :Future scenarios for education in the age of new