Web 2.0 and Higher Education

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By Catherine Armstrong

Jobseekers, scholars, and students spend an incredible amount of time using the Internet. What impact does this have on higher education in general, and teaching in specific? How can this affect your search for a job in academia?

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 refers to the second level of Internet functionality. This includes the ability to communicate with and share information with like-minded individuals. Examples of Web 2.0 are blogging, social networking sites and wikis (of which the most famous example is wikipedia).

Why is Web 2.0 important for Higher Education?

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) has published a report outlining why this technology is important to students and teachers. You can read it online here:

The theory is that teenagers and young people make increasing use of Web 2.0 technologies in their daily lives and that their educators have to keep pace with that change. It has an impact on the way students learn because they are used to getting their information from online sources rather than more traditional media.

There is huge potential for the development of innovative teaching styles that proactively use Web 2.0 technologies, so the HEA wants lecturers to lead the way in Web 2.0 rather than simply struggling to keep up with their young students' knowledge.

Web 2.0 technologies are also important for employability(a buzz-word in higher education today). All of the skills that students are taught at university are vital in the workplace but online skills are probably the most useful in the 21st century

What are universities doing about Web 2.0?

The report argues that the use of Web 2.0 technology at university-level is patchy and relies on the personal interest and enthusiasm of individual tutors. So, on a basic level, if you want to get on board with these changes, then teach yourself about how you can use Web 2.0 in your own classroom.

However, the plan for the future is to get a more strategic, uniform, top-down usage of this sort of technology. The broadband Internet infrastructure is already there. Indeed, universities have always been at the forefront of technological innovations, such as email.

Key findings of the report:

  • 90 % of 11-15 year olds use email and 75% use social networking sites.
  • Students are divided into those who think that Web 2.0 is useful for academic work and those who think it is a distraction for entertainment only and should not be used for academic work

What is stopping people using Web 2.0 in the classroom or in their research?

The Web divide is still a big problem. This phrase means that not everyone in the UK has equal access to technology. There is still a proportion of ‘have nots' who, for financial or other reasons, are unable to access the internet on a regular basis.

Another problem is tradition: academia is slow moving at times and lecturers can be slow to realise the benefits of using technology in the classroom and in research. Some assume that learning and research methods should stay the same.

Students can also be resistant. Some see technology such as networking as fun and do not want it to impinge on their learning.

What should we be doing for the future?

Universities should be ensuring that all the students who pass through their doors are fully internet-literate. As it is a vital skill for the workplace, it is essential that students know how to use the Internet.

But equally universities have a responsibility to train their staff too. As technology moves so quickly, it is important to have every member of staff trained to use the Internet as a tool for learning and information sharing.

What impact does that have on job seeking and CV building?

Because you are reading this article on an online recruitment website it is safe to assume that, to a certain extent, you are on-board with the argument about Web 2.0 and its usefulness. However, it is important to develop your teaching and research portfolio in a way that takes advantage of these technologies. Increasingly interviewers and perhaps even application forms will ask you to comment on your use of e-learning and Web 2.0 technologies generally. So make sure you know of the opportunities available for networking, researching online and using the web as a teaching tool in your field. If you can talk coherently about this at an interview, including giving real examples of your own practice, then it will set you above other candidates.

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