What is Web 2.0 and how is it impacting on education?

Not my title but the title of a recent JISC podcast in which myself and JISC strand manager, Lawrie Phipps, discuss the nature of Web 2.0 and its possible relevance for education. We both take a cautious liberal view that recognises the potential in this new style of communicating and sharing whilst being clear that institutions can’t simply dive-in and appropriate the emerging online culture which seems to be in a permanent state of flux. If you are not sure what Web 2.0 is all about then this may be the non-technical introductory podcast for you.


Social Capital and Community Development in the Pursuit of Dragon Slaying

What can the massively multiplayer game ‘World of Warcraft’ teach us about how to facilitate learning communities? Below is a video of the talk I gave at the Games Learning and Society conference in Madison Wisconsin. (Running time 26 minutes)[flv:http://tall.conted.ox.ac.uk/video/maina.flv 500 375]

If you want more details before watching here is the abstract…

This presentation is an evaluation of ethnographic field work conducted in and around the World of Warcraft MMO. The study focuses on the motivation of guild members to construct communities of practice both to learn and to socialize. This suggests that the guilds can act as useful models for understanding how online social networks function and how they could influence the ideology of next generation e-learning services.

Successful collaborative learning can only be sustained if the individuals involved feel part of a group or community in which they can trust. The most robust communities tend to be those that form via a collective aim or interest; their formation has a social underpinning and is not totally utilitarian.

If an aspiration of e-learning is to move away from simply providing online programs of study, demarcated by subject, to increasingly fluid spaces in which students can build social networks, then we need to understand how contemporary collaborative and participatory environments encourage the formation of these types of groupings.

Some of the most sophisticated examples of online community creation and management take place in and around MMO environments. The current apex of this field is the ‘guild’ system which suffuses the World of Warcraft MMO. Guilds are effectively goal-oriented clubs or societies, many of which utilize the latest Web 2.0 technologies out-of-game and multi-channel text chat and VOIP systems in-game both to organize and to socialize.

This paper is based on data collected over a period of six months from an ongoing ethnographic study comprising self-reflexive observation and semi-structured interviews conducted in World of Warcraft and face-to-face with guild members. This extends into a study of the social software used out-of-game by community members that acts as a communication base for the guilds.

The data is evaluated using Wenger’s notion of communities of practice, which highlights the interweaving of goal-orientated learning and the immersion of those participating in trusted social networks. This has the effect of generating and communicating what Bourdieu calls cultural capital, the lack of which often makes online learning a poor second to traditional face-to-face learning.

The challenge here is how to abstract underpinning principles and practice that will be of value to e-learning away from the immediate goals or ideology of a particular MMO. This is not to suggest that killing dragons in collaborative groups is the future of e-learning. Instead it proposes that much can be gained from reflecting on the success of MMOs in motivating the formation of vibrant online communities and the ways in which these communities interweave socializing and learning.

Web 2.0 Analysis and Statistics

You may be interested in my report on Web2.0 take-up and usage which I submitted to JISC a few weeks ago. It’s analysis of some data that blogged back in March. I included the responses to the data in the report. It was all very ‘participatory’. The report can be downloaded from here: www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/digitalrepositories/spiresurvey.pdf

JISC approaches the web with an open mind

Last week (April 25th -26th) I attended the first of JISC’s Users and Innovation strand events in London. The event was run by George Roberts and a team from Brookes University. There are just over 100 people in the ‘Emerge’ community (http://emerge.elgg.org/) within the strand and they are by no means the normal JISC crowd.

The whole format was very encouraging with Lawrie Phipps and JISC approaching the ‘new stuff’ that is happening on the web with an open mind. The focus was as much cultural as it was technical and it was one the very few days I have attended where the technology really didn’t come first. The main theme was that of community both online and offline. I can see that the members of ‘Emerge’ will find common themes around the provision of social spaces, the use of immersive environments and many others. It will be interesting to see how the community evolves as the process of putting bids together starts.

I hope that this new format works for JISC and that the individual members of Emerge will benefit from being part of what could become a really useful community. As far as I’m concerned it has got off to a great start.

Some real data on Web 2.0 use

As part of the JISC funded ‘SPIRE’ project we ran a survey to try to discover which online services people were using and in what manner. We were interested to find out which services were popular and if they were being used for work, for study or socially / for fun. The SPIRE project was originally looking into the possibility of using peer-to-peer technologies in UK HE and FE for informal sharing but switched to a more Web 2.0 focus as it became clear that these types of services were already having an impact on the tertiary education sector. They also appear to be where most of the informal sharing and collaboration is currently taking place online.

The survey was advertised to the Department for Continuing Education’s online students and on the online courses marketing pages. We received circa 1400 responses which left us with a lot of data to analyse. I have processed this data in to a number of colorful charts which are in the PDF below.

I have already drawn a number of conclusions from these charts but have not included these thoughts in the PDF as I would be interested to know what others think the data might mean.

Results of the survey undertaken by the JISC funded SPIRE project (PDF)

For the full analysis of this data please download the final report here: