This question has been bothering me lately. Like everyone and their (lol)cat I am much taken by the enthusiasm, community, user involvement and creativity found in social networking/web 2.0 sites, and look on them rather covetously for education purposes. I feel like I’m at a big dinner event and on the table next to mine everyone is laughing and having a great time, while on my table we are haveing very earnest discussions about the Iraq war. It’s interesting, but after a while, you want to find an excuse to join the other table, or at least get some of them to swap on to your table.
We’re in the process of a few web 2.0 initiatives at the OU, including a social networking type one. In addition we already have the excellent openlearn, which is giving away loads of great content free, and allowing people to take it and adapt it. Except they aren’t. Well, not much anyway. They are looking at it, but there isn’t as much reuse and adaptation happening as we’d hoped for. Now this could be because it’s still fairly new, or that attitudes in higher education lag behind those in the online community so reuse is still frowned upon, or it could be something to do with our setup.
But if we are to really map any of this 2.0 stuff across to higher education, then it has to have the subtle motivational factors found in the successful sites, such as YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, wikipedia, etc, etc. What a lot of these sites have in common is that they offer quick gratification and feedback (as AJ suggest, it’s all Skinnerian conditioning). I know that there is a lot of indepth debate and involvement in these sites e.g. the discussions around wikipedia articles, but they also offer instant returns – you can set up your Flickr site and upload some photos immediately. Then you get progressive returns, upload some more, maybe you get some comments, you find some you like, you comment, you join a community, and so on.
Education doesn’t seem to work like this. I think education is one of the most rewarding activities you can undertake, but that’s not the same as exciting, and excitement is what seems to drive a lot of the social sites, in that they are either exciting themselves, or they are about exciting things, eg. bands on MySpace. The key question for all us educators looking at web 2.0 for education then, is ‘does it have to be this way?’ Is there something in the DNA of education that means it has to be worthy, hard work, a little dull but ultimately rewarding, or could it be restructured so it has more of these quick hits and progressive involvement?
If I was a cynical man I’d say us educational technologists will spend the next 3 years not really answering this question and then move on to the next big thing. But I’m not.