Bryan Alexander, Director for Research at the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Arts, recently published a terrific article titled, "Web 2.0: A New Way of Innovation for Teaching and Learning" in the most recent issue of Educause Review. There’s no disagreeing with Alexander; it’s pretty clear that the last couple of years have seen the rise of new, socially-oriented technologies that have changed how people interact over the web, and that it has great potential for teaching and learning. And, of course, Blackboard recently announced our forthcoming Web 2.0 initiative, Blackboard Beyond. The opportunity represented by these technologies collectively referred to as Web 2.0 revolves around putting more of the authority (in the most literal sense of the word, as in "the ability to author") in the hands of users, but doing so in a way that helps automate making some of the social and conceptual connections.

Alexander identifies four key concepts (social software, microcontent, openness, and "folksonomies") that define the common ground for Web 2.0 technologies. After establishing the basic concepts, he provides an multiple examples of applying commercial Web 2.0 services, like del.icio.us or Writely, to educational settings. Alexander sums up some of the potential nicely:

"[T]he social nature of these tools means that collaboration between classes, departments, campuses, or regions is easily supported. One could imagine faculty and students across the United States following, for example, the career of an Islamic feminist or the outcome of a genomic patent and discussing the issue through these and other Web 2.0 tools. Such a collaboration could, in turn, be discovered, followed, and perhaps joined by students and faculty around the world. Extending the image, one can imagine such a social research object becoming a learning object or an alternative to courseware."

But he also points out some of the limitations of applying these tools to education. He writes,

"The concepts, projects, and practices of Web 2.0 as a whole, insofar as we have surveyed them, are fluid and emergent. They are also so accessible as to be launched and interconnected at a pace rapid even by Web standards. At the same time, many services are hosted externally to academia. They are the creations of enthusiasts or business enterprises and do not necessarily embrace the culture of higher education."

As a generalization, I think he’s right. Developers of these commercial Web 2.0 applications don’t necessarily have teaching and learning in mind as primary use cases. There are exceptions, of course; some that jump to mind are the EduBlogs service, the Academici social networking service, and the ScuttlEDU social bookmarking project developed at Zane State College, a Blackboard customer.

There’s a lot of opportunity to use existing Web 2.0 technologies in education without further development, and plenty of people are already loosely joining together these small pieces. However, there’s also still lot of need for innovation around these technologies — innovation that is specifically designed to help teachers and students get the most out of Web 2.0 in an educational setting.

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