Three Approaches to Web 2.0 (and Web 3.0) including a Marshall McLuhan Moment

Lately I have been thinking about what the term Web 2.0 really means. According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 “allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (consumers) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them” (para. 1). The description of users as passive consumers refers to Web 1.0, the era when most people did not create content online; they simply used the Internet to research information so it travelled only one-way, from the computer to the person.

The following YouTube video posted by jleister titled, 3 Phases of Educational Technology, does an excellent job of explaining the progression of student and teacher technology use from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 by breaking it down into three parts. jleister emphasizes that all three phases are equally important in the learning process, and that during a single lesson, all three may be present.

Briefly:

  • Phase I – teachers use technology as one-way mediums for disseminating information, such as showing video clips or PowerPoint presentations to a passive student audience. The visuals help students to understand concepts more clearly. This use of technology maintains the teacher’s role as the disseminator of knowledge and controller of the structure and organization of the classroom.
  • Phase II – students begin to interact with the technology to acquire content knowledge instead of full reliance on textbooks or teacher lectures. They conduct online research, read, or view media that they search for themselves. However, the structure of the lessons may still mimic phase I.
  • Phase III – students become producers of media. They create images, presentations, audio, and/or texts, and what’s more–they share their creations with others and interactively review others’ work. jleister argues that we need to focus on modern skills of communication, collaboration, and creation during this phase and think of students as producers of information, not just consumers of it. I feel that this is the essence of Web 2.0.

Next, I found an excellent animated video titled, Evolution Web 1.0, to Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 by davidEPN. It highlights how Web 2.0 is moving into Web 3.0. Web 3.0 is:

  • The development of an intelligent, omnipresent web that is an extension or continuation of what we presently understand the web to be
  • Involved in a continuous learning process that anticipates users’ preferences, such as the recommendations that Amazon provides as you shop
  • Increasingly interconnected appliances including cars and phones that communicate with each other, becoming more and more present but less visible. They learn about our lives and make individualized recommendations in increasingly automatic ways
  • Web 3.0 opens the door to machines converting data into useful, meaningful information, otherwise known as the semantic web

Finally, I will refer to the thoughts of someone who was way ahead of his time. Marshall McLuhan, considered by many to be the father of media theory (and a great Canadian thinker, I might add!), contributed to our understanding of technology’s influence on us before we even knew it was happening in the 1960’s and ’70’s. In the following clip, marshall mcluhan on the media posted by matsutakneatche, McLuhan explains:

  • All media is an extension of human faculties: the wheel is an extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothing is an extension of the skin, and electric circuitry is an extension of the nervous system
  • The extension of any one sense displaces the other senses and alters the way we think of ourselves and the world
  • The literate (book) world emphasized the visual, and made us detached and isolated from the other people since reading is a relatively private activity. McLuhan calls it “not involved”
  • The electric revolution and the information age is where “involvement is total”
  • The information explosion becomes the culture
  • Artists are the only ones who live in the present on the edge of change while most people live in the age just behind them because it is safer

Takeaways:

I am completely intrigued by each one of these videos and thinkers, but even more interested in what happens when we take them together in the context of Web 2.0, 3.0, and beyond. My thoughts are:

  • Perhaps after the information explosion (that McLuhan identified), the semantic web will begin to limit our access to information by bombarding us with only the ‘recommendations’ that have come about from the complex programming that goes into semantic systems. There will be a semantic culture if you will, that will develop from the interpretation of billions of tiny bits of information that users input into the web connecting everything, without even knowing it. And this semantic culture will not only be invisible, but will continue to evolve until what began as ‘recommendations’ will become automatic ‘decisions’ that are made for us.
  • After jleister’s phase III, we must consider students themselves to be learners as well as teachers in a never-ending learning cycle of researching, learning, synthesizing, creating, and reviewing. McLuhan’s term, “total involvement,” defines the role of schools as helping students develop their skills and understanding of this cycle. Furthermore, we will have to re-think what we refer to as curriculum, since the value that we place on particular ideas or knowledge isn’t half as important as how we interact with it. This draws upon McLuhan’s famous idea that “the medium is the message“. Instead of focusing on curriculum, we will have to focus on the learning cycle.
  • What does it mean to live in the present as opposed to the age that has just passed? I believe that technology has become a medium that extends our thinking and the way in which we connect ideas, learn, and think. Our concepts of time and collaboration have also changed through the immediacy of information and access, the range of people that we can collaborate with, and the permanent nature of what we share online. Perhaps living in the present means accepting that we will be forever less private and more connected with people, things, and places, even when we think that we aren’t.
  • Will there still be phase I and II learning in this world? Of course! If I know nothing about a particular topic and ask someone about it or look up an article online, then I am engaging in the first two phases. However, I believe that our notion of ‘baseline understanding’ of any given topic will change completely. After all, with so many more sources of information, the lines between opinion, educated opinion, and fact will become increasingly blurred. Baseline knowledge may decrease in importance while sound arguments based on a wide range of sources will become more important. Thus, phase III will become much more prevalent and may put ‘untouched’ baseline knowledge to the test.

I will definitely delve into the thoughts of McLuhan and the road to Web 3.0 in future posts. This topic is incredibly intriguing to me! What are your thoughts on our journey into the future? What about living in the past or present? And what of technology as extensions of ourselves? Please share!

(Image: Brains, by neil conway. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons Generic License.)

Checklist for Evaluating Tech Tools, Apps, Software, and Hardware

I have been searching high and low for an efficient, easy-to-understand list of criteria for evaluating hardware, software, tools, and everything in between. Most online articles that I found focus on selling things, or are incredibly vague or incomplete so I decided to do some brainstorming based on what I have found in my own practice speaking to students, teachers, specialists, and researching online. Here’s what I came up with.

TechPudding’s checklist for evaluating technology:

  • Always put learning first. What is it that you want your students to learn, examine, discuss, think about, use as assistive technology, and research? it is useful to create a list of what you want to do first so that you don’t forget anything or get distracted by extra bells and whistles. How does the technology help to accomplish your learning goals? There are so many options for applications, software, and hardware out there that you will definitely be able to find a tool for every learning opportunity.
  • Higher order thinking skills. Does the tool support you and your student’s engagement in higher-order thinking? Andrew Churches’ Educational-Origami wiki provides a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating).

  • Does it follow universal design for learning (UDL) principles? Meaning, does it allow for: 1) multiple means of representation, 2) multiple means of expression, and 3) multiple means of engagement? UDL principles are becoming more and more important as we move toward personalized, real-world learning and away from teachers as conduits of knowledge that use limited modes of teaching and delivery.
  • How about usability? Is it user-friendly? Is it easy to learn for everyone who will need to learn it, including teachers, administrators, students, and parents? What kinds of training and support are necessary? How long does it take to get comfortable with it? One way in which you can “try before you buy” is by downloading a trial of a prospective application or service. It is useful to have people of varying comfort with technology try it out, and for students to try and evaluate it.
  • How much does it cost? What can you, your students, and your institution afford to spend on training, maintenence, upgrades, and the like?
  • Word-of-mouth. Researching online user discussion boards and asking specialists for recommendations can be very useful. But also be careful about word-of-mouth. I find that people often recommend anything that is new, just to sound like they are on top of the trends (or they try to sell you products and services).
  • Reliability and support. How much support is required? Are there frequent updates that need to be installed? Does it break down easily? You can find information about this from real users on discussion boards.
  • Flexibility. This refers to how the software is used, what it can produce, how much it can expand with increased use and access, and how it might expand to offer more services in the future. For instance, utilizing Google Apps may offer incredible options in the future as its services and access points expand.
  • Evaluation and monitoring tools. Does the technology come with tools for you to monitor how you and your students are using it? Does it come with tools for you to evaluate your students’ learning? If these tools are built-in to the application, it can be a huge bonus for both teachers and students.
  • Security and privacy. How does this technology protect information and privacy of its users? Who has access to what is shared and how is it shared? 
  • User interface. The more I use different tools, the more this has become a deal-breaker for me. When user interfaces are cluttered, illogically laid out, or overly complicated, they immediately turn me off. Information and commands should be laid out with the most-used ones easily accessible. There should be no more than 3 mouse clicks to access any option or command, and vocabulary should be readily accessible to new users. Again, UDL principles dictate that software and apps should offer visual, audio, text, and other forms of support, not just one. Furthermore, the user should be able to create their own shortcut keys and commands for exactly what she/he would like to accomplish.
  • Sharing and communication. We know that collaboration online and sharing with an authentic audience is important to both student learning and teacher collaboration. Therefore, the software should enable sharing either in a secure way to authorized users, or in a public way to all users online. The tool should make it easy to view, share, comment, communicate, evaluate, contribute, and socialize synchronously and asynchronously.
  • Integration with existing tools. Does this tool support or integrate well with the existing tools that you are currently paying for or using? Can you use it to “fill in the gaps” for existing applications? How can all of the tools that you use collaborate with each other and enable you to do more than you could with them independently?
  • Don’t get attached to one tool. This is the most important thing to remember! There was a time when we all thought that Microsoft Word was the be-all and end-all of word processing tools. But now there are multiple ways to produce, share, collaborate, and contribute to written texts. There will always be new tools–one is released every second, so don’t get stuck using only one. Always be on the look-out for recommendations and discussions about the next thing. That way, you will be able to find the best tool for whatever job you are engaged in. You can sign up for online newsletters, blogs, and other services to help stay up to date.

What are your criteria for evaluating technology, applications, software, tools, or hardware for the purposes of learning and teaching? What can you add to this list based on your experiences?

(Image: Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Concept Map from Educational-Origami and Andrew Chruches. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 2.5 License.)

Cloud Computing: What Does It Mean?

The term cloud computing seems confusing and open-ended. Many IT industry leaders as well as educational specialists that I work with claim that cloud computing is “the next big thing” so I decided to find out what it is, and through this, I came up with some questions to consider in realm of education.

According to Wikipedia, cloud computing can be compared to our supply of electricity, telephone, or cable television services, in that we use these services without having to understand how they are provided. We access them through a simplified view called an abstraction, without the details of the “backend”. These services are said to be housed “in the cloud” (para. 1).

To give you an idea of how confusing and wide-open this term is, check out the video below titled, What is Cloud Computing by joyent, that highlights the perspectives of multiple IT industry leaders as they try to define cloud computing:

For a very simple intro to the term, also view CommonCraft’s Cloud Computing in Plain English video and read 5 Examples of Cloud Computing by polrid.

In cloud-based computing, users can share services via any of the following layers (listed from the user to widest base):

  • Client: Hardware or software that is used to deliver services to the user.
  • Application: Centralized access to a software application and its maintenance.
  • Platform: The infrastructure that supports applications.
  • Infrastructure: The underlying systems that sustain the platforms that applications run on.
  • Servers: The hardware or software that supports the delivery of cloud services.

Some key characteristics of cloud computing are:

  • Resource efficiency: Allows users to make use of resources and infrastructure on-demand and with little cost.
  • Cost efficiency: Users can pay only for the services that they need, and only when they are needed. Furthermore, users can expand their use of resources quickly and easily and allow those who take care of their applications to deal with the technical details of expansion without having to do it themselves.
  • Device and location independence and accessibility: Users are no longer limited to one access point for services–the majority of services can be accessed online from any location or device.
  • Scalability: With on-demand, flexible services, users no longer need to plan for peak periods or down time. The system can expand or reduce its services for the load that it carries easily and quickly in response to users.
  • Security: Cloud-based services can be more secure than non-cloud-based services because many applications and users can share the cost of powerful security applications and resources. Furthermore, cloud-based services are backed up in multiple locations so users do not have to worry about damage at one access point. However, at the same time, with so many users sharing these resources, it can be difficult to enforce and monitor security throughout an entire system.

There is much debate over some aspects of the term. Some argue:

  • Just because you can access something remotely does not mean that it is “in the cloud”. Cloud computing is rooted in the way in which end users access services, rather than the services themselves. It is a whole new way for people to provide, purchase, and use services without knowing every little detail about them.
  • What exactly is being purchased and sold in a transaction between a buyer and a vendor? Who has control over each element in such a transaction? What supports and services come with these transactions? (This also brings up the issues concerning privacy, security, and maintenance of cloud-based services.)
  • With so many networks of users and providers working together, how do we decide who owns and is responsible for each part of the cloud, and how they should collaborate to support it?

Implications and questions for education:

  • We should focus on how services are offered as technology becomes more and more interconnected and complex. What should users know about it in order to use it properly and efficiently? What are the characteristics of an effective user interface?
  • With more services and applications available to students and their parents, how should we monitor and support access? What and how should students, parents, and schools share access to information and applications?
  • If school is to be extended into a true 24/7 institution where access is available for any one at any time, then how should applications be shared between educational institutions and students? How can these applications be supported and who should pay for them?
  • How can we select the most efficient, cost-effective, flexible, and reliable cloud-based networks for productivity, research, creativity, and socialization? What characteristics should we consider for educational institutions?

Even in its infancy, cloud computing is having a huge impact on the future of IT resources and infrastructure. This is incredibly important for the future of education and the workplace. What are your thoughts on this? How are you and your students planning for the changes ahead?

(Image: i made you…,  by tinney. 2006. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)