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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Web 2.0: What’s in a Name?

In late July, edtech pioneer and author David Warlick posted a short blog entry about an interaction he had with a group of educators unfamiliar with the term “Web 2.0.” His post erupted into an all-out smackdown between edubloggers trying to figure out if this term does more harm than good.

The post, called First Year Teachers, detailed David’s recent experience presenting to a group of 300 educators in Arizona. In it, he noted how none of the educators wasfamiliar with Web 2.0, the shorthand that’s often used to describe the spectrum of interactive Web tools that encourage community interactions and user content production, including blogs, social networks and the like.

[N]o one knew about Web 2.0, only a handful knew what a wiki was, and no one had heard of RSS. It really forces me to wonder if we’re stirring up a bunch of hype about “Web 2.0″ just to have something to be enthusiastic about. It’s not a bad thing that these beginning teachers hadn’t heard of Web 2.0. They’re certainly doing it. Most of them IM, have MySpace or Facebook (etc.) sites. They communicate online with individuals and groups, and they’ve used these conversations to teach and learn, though they probably haven’t thought of it that way…. …Back to my question — I think that Web 2.0 is real, we need to be able to label it, and to talk about it, to deconstruct it, lay it out, and apply its parts. It is changing how we use information, and this affects what and how our children learn. It’s OK that these beginning teachers can’t do this — as long as doing it, taking part in this conversation, becomes part of teaching.

In the first day after the post, various educators added their own comments to the discussion, which should come as no surprise given the popularity of Warlick’s blog. Then came a post from David Thornburg, who’s been a leader in education technology circles longer than just about anyone else. Thornburg took Warlick to task, arguing that the term Web 2.0 was developed by technology publisher and conference organizer Tim O’Reilly to inject new life in a moribund technology sector and doesn’t represent a significant shift in the way we use the Internet by any means.

Web 2.0 is pure commercial marketing hype, and NOTHING more. It was designed to try to add commercial value to those companies that survived the dot-com crash. Name ANYTHING in “Web 2.0″ that is new, and I can show you the precursor….

… Look, David, you are a very bright guy, and you have fallen victim to the hype factory. Here’s a suggestion. Be sure you understand the difference between mere quantitative change (doing old jobs better and faster) and qualitative change - truly doing new things. There are new things to talk about, as you know from attending my sessions. Let the marketeers keep all things 2.0, and use the valuable time of your audiences to share the truly new stuff. Calling something 2.0 that is just a rehash of old technology does a tremendous disservice to teachers, and can actually impede their actual use of technology in the classroom….

… I know, financial security means giving people what they want. Load a speech title with buzz words, and you get great bookings.

But here’s the kicker. If teachers weren’t paying attention when this stuff was shown to them the first time, what makes things different now? Teachers are busy folks, they need insights they can use right away…. Maybe the teachers didn’t acknowledge knowing about this stuff because they realized that it has precious little to do with helping kids learn.

Almost immediately, Thornburg’s post attracted bloggers from across the education technology community like a bench-clearing baseball brawl. Chris Lehmann, principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, was one of the first to chime in, arguing that Web 2.0 tools like photo-sharing sites and blogs have made it possible for more people than ever to participate online:

There are a few differences between Flickr and a good ol [img] tag, between blogger and my old static web page. One, the ease of use matters…. These tools have democratized content creation in powerful ways…. [Y]es, that was the birth of the term “Web 2.0,” however, as Postman writes, rarely is the inventor of a tool the best judge of its use. The term has had a life long beyond what O’Reilly thought of…. In the end, there’s no question that the web of today stands on the shoulders of giants who developed the tools that launched it. There’s no question that it is an evolutionary process, but as someone who remembers his Cleveland FreeNet password, I don’t think we can deny the power and energy around what is being done now. And I think David’s idea that we should examine what is going on now and try to find out how we use it powerfully in education is a noble goal, whatever we call it.

Mark Wagner of Edtech Life then made a good case for splitting the difference between Thornberg and Lehmann:

Thornburg is right about these tools being only incremental improvements over earlier technologies, but I agree with Chris Lehmann’s response above - the incremental changes have resulted in revolutionary new uses. When teachers attend a hands-on blogging workshop or podcasting workshop they leave with a powerful new tool they can (and do) use tomorrow… I’ve seen it over and over. It is undeniably a qualitative change (at least for those teachers). And if a David Warlick keynote can inspire teachers to look into blogging and podcasting, that is an important incremental change.

Tom Hoffman argued that it doesn’t matter what educators call these tools:

The meta-question is, “does it matter if we use technical terms in an entirely arbitrary fashion?” It most serious, mature disciplines, people take the terms they use seriously, and expect their peers to do the same; while there are serious and mature people in the field of ed-tech, ed-tech is not a serious or mature discipline, if conversations like this are any measure.

I mean, it is quite common to hear ed-tech folks lump in Second Life and Skype as “Web 2.0″ technologies. So apparently you don’t have to use the web to be Web 2.0?

… So… looking back at this whole conversation, I think I agree with David’s original point, which seems to be that if teachers are using Facebook but don’t know what “Web 2.0″ is, does that matter. I’d say no.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach took this idea a step further:

Who cares what we call the shift? Who cares what tools are now as compared to the ones you and I used years ago? What matters is - are we capturing the hearts and minds of the students we teach? Are we giving them all the foundation they will need to be successful in the 21st Century? I respectfully disagree– these tools, just like the dishwasher in my house– have everything to do with how these kids learn.

For John Pederson, the essence of Web 2.0 wasn’t about the tools themselves, but the conversations and relationships they catalyze:

As the tools emerged, so did new leaders with new ideas and new passions. I needed an online medium beyond the 30 page PDF’s that I collected from the leaders of the 90’s. [Will] Richardson called and invited me to dinner while in town on vacation. Warlick grabbed a cell phone and recorded our first f2f meeting. Conversation. Built on two way relationships developed on tools that have built a more expansive, more cohesive, and much more social network of educational technology advocates.

For me, though, it was a comment by history teacher Eric Langhorst that resonated the most:

To me web 2.0 is not so much about tools but the concept of allowing students to create, publish and collaborate. The CONCEPT of web 2.0 is what is important here and has changed the way that I teach in my classroom. The concept is beginning to gain traction now with mainstream teachers, not just the techno expert who loves to tinker. David T. is right that some of these tools have been around in some format in years past but the difference now is that with internet in almost every classroom in America the web based applications are there to allow students to incorporate these concepts. I think it is a very exciting time to teaching. I use the term Web 2.0 in some of my presentations simply to illustrate my belief that web 1.0 was a one way street in which almost everyone on the net was only pulling content off. Now with the tools available online, web 2.0 is more of a two one street with much more participation in the form of posting and publishing information. I don’t see the term as marketing, I see it as a means to help explain the potential of what is available to teachers.

As I myself added to the conversation, I don’t care what term we use - web 2.0, the read-write web, social media, the live Web, etc. It’s absolutely true that community tools have been around since the earliest days of the Net, but things have changed in recent years. Nearly half of all U.S. households have broadband access, making it easier for people to access and share audio and video content. Community-building tools are easier than ever to use, eventually leading to a shift in our media culture in which user-generated content is the norm, not the exception. We can use techniques like Folksonomies and tagging to provide context to content, allowing like-minded people to gather around like-minded concepts. RSS feeds have change the nature of blogs and other tools from publishing mechanisms to conversation mechanisms. And as more sites open up to allow others to tinker with them and add new value to them, we’re seeing more of a seamless conversation taking place across multiple platforms.

Having lived through the era of listservs, free nets, community networks, USENET bulletin boards, all of which have online origins literally going back 30 years or more, I gladly pay homage to the fact that today’s social networking and Web 2.0 tools are their direct descendants. But what we’re doing today isn’t just the same thing done faster or on a bigger scale. It’s evolved exponentially and taken on a life of its own. I think it’s earned the right to be given a name, even if it’s a hackneyed one. :-) -andy

Filed under : Blogging, People


As I wrote in a post on my blog recently regarding Dr. Wesch’s powerful short video, I don’t care what it’s called but it is something.

That something came together not too long ago and has radically shifted how we do business, especially when it comes to education and learning.

This “something” provides tremendous potential for learning communities. How we teach, design curriculum, assess, etc. is all being altered in very radical ways. Ways that get at the very foundation of what it means to educate and how we go about doing it.

Yes, the “something” was happening for quite some time, but over just a short time, the tipping point of this something happened.

We can choose to argue against the term Web2.0 all we want but what we can’t argue with, is that at some point, an interesting convergence took place.

And then learning, sociology, philosophy, databases, poetry, code, art, ninjas, grammargirls and complex algorithms and flower gardens started integrating in some messy yet interesting way. A way we hadn’t seen before. So easily. So seamlessly. Text, visuals and sounds. Radically so and radically fast. And just in a very short period of our lifetime.

Will the world be a better place because of the cluetrain we ride in, web2.0, the read/write web, the restoration of the goddess, google, wikipedia, the database of intentions, tagging (no, not the Banksy type, but while we’re at it, why not the Bansky type), folksonomies (user-generated taxonomies) that walk in and break bread with ethnographies and fieldwork, stay for some wine and never leave…

I don’t know. That’s completely up to us and not the technology or the intersection and integration of these technologies.

But for those of us in education, teaching and learning, who are interested in getting away from the traditional text-based learning model and move into a cross-disciplinary, multi-modal, hypermedia, narrative based model, this seems to be a good time to be alive.

There’s no right or wrong, there’s only exploration and further questions with no clear answers…and for teaching and learning, that’s a good thing!

As Saul says, it’s about “…making it easier for people to access and share…” Teachers have been using constructivist approaches since at least my childhood (over-50 person here)— in some schools and some classrooms. They did not have to have edtech to do it. What they did have to do was allow the messy stage of the creative process to morph into the AHA! phase of learning by letting the kids get muddy, make mistakes, speak out, sort the good pieces from the bad pieces, and develop their own visions for what the product should be. In some schools only the art teacher allowed it; in some schools everyone except the art teacher did. The really good ones allowed the kids to select the tools most meaningful to them (as the new tools of the web are to kids today). The important thing is that the creative impulse/process was allowed to work its way through from a messy collection of “stuff,” through incubation, into production. That’s where we see learning.

The new tools just make it a WHOLE lot easier. Instead of begging someone to give you access to “business” tools that charged exorbitant fees to build creative, web-based products that invite participation, the tools are free and pop up as fast as dandelions. (Of course they die just as fast when the realities of business spray financial “Roundup” on them, but there is ALWAYS another dandelion.)

Let the gurus argue about the name. They need self-coined buzz words to get the speaking engagements and press that eventually free the way for the grass to grow. The rest of us are IN the grass roots, enjoying the dandelions, and we appreciate the help from the new tools. I personally enjoy sharing them with teachers for the first time.


This conversation seems to go on and on. To continue — I posted a response to David’s comments on a seperate blog article. It’s titled:

In Response…

— dave —

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