Why Some Web2.0 Tools Fail in Education

Many people have had great success integrating various Web2.0 tools and sites into their online classes.  Still others try very hard but come away frustrated with the results.  Is Web2.0 just a random concept that gives some instructors success while confusing others with no discern-able pattern?  Or is there a reason why some well-planned activities using Web2.0 still fail?

Many people point at bad pedagogy as the reason for some failures, only to end up finding out that good pedagogy can still lead to dissatisfied students.  Sure, there are those instructors that just get caught up in the ghee-whiz factors of some “cool tool” they just discovered.  They ignore pedagogy at their own peril, and then scratch their head when their cool tool fails to impact students.

But why do some Web2.0 activities with solid pedagogy still flop?  I believe it is because the instructional designers ignore three important foundations of what makes Web2.0 so powerful:

  1. Social Networking. Call it socialization.  Call it constructivism, or connectivism.  Or pop-educational mumbo jumbo.  But the factor that makes Web2.0 sites like Facebook so popular is that they help people connect with each other and interact in interesting ways.  Sure, you might come up with a really solid pedagogical way to use blogs in an online course.  Students get out there and do an awesome job journaling their thought processes as they work on class projects. But once the students get out there and create their own blog, those blogs are still independent of each other, with no real networking going on (beyond the two required comments students have to post each week).  Or you are using Twitter to just broadcast class updates, with no real socialization happening?  Students will get bored quickly.  What ever tool you use, you need to utilize the social nature of that tool and get students interacting.
  2. Relevant, useful information. You’ve heard the complaints about Twitter many times: “I could care less how many times everyone brushes their teeth each day, so why should I bother with this micro-blogging thing?”  Even when people interact socially, if the interaction is asynchronous to some degree, they still need to interact over information that they find useful and relevant to their life or situation.   Especially in educational situations.  Even if you are helping students get to know each other better, they still need to do that over interesting facts about each other.   Many educational activities using Web2.0 tools can have solid pedagogical reasoning and brisk interaction/ socialization, but still end up failing because they are still used to communicate information that is not relevant or useful or maybe that is even covered in other areas (such as the textbook).
  3. Constructing information. Even once the information becomes relevant and useful, the students may end up doing nothing with it.  The talking head at the front of the classroom has been transferred into a “talking head” on a blog or a podcast.  The students don’t do any useful higher order thinking with the information they receive… it all just becomes trivia to tuck away until the test.  Today’s learners, no matter their age, are becoming producers of information – not just consumers.  Don’t just have them interact over relevant information in a pedagogically sound activity – have them do something with that information.  Have them construct and connect that information into something meaningful.

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