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

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January112008

Web 2.0 and Education: Hot or Not?

Andrew Keen’s polemic on Web 2.0 culture, The Cult of the Amateur, has been riling the social media community for months now. It was probably just a matter of time before it came up in a big way within the edtech community, and now that just might be happening, thanks to a new blog by online safety advocate Anne Collier. It’s inspired her to ask a simple question to the education community: why do a growing number of educators like Web 2.0 in the first place? But I want to know something else as well - what don’t we like about Web 2.0, and is there anything we can do about it?

If you haven’t heard of Keen’s book yet, here’s the gist of it. As the tagline on the cover says, the book is an attack on “how the democratization of the digital world is assaulting our economy, our culture and our values. He spends the next couple hundred pages going after everything from citizen journalism to crowdsourcing to social networking, all of which he believes glorifies what he calls “amateurism” and denigrates expertise. The book has caused a firestorm among many Web 2.0 activists and experts, some of whom have written detailed retorts to his arguments.

Most of the attention surrounding Keen’s book died down many months ago, but it’s been making the rounds on education-related discussion forums and networks in recent days. On notable educator responding to the book is Anne Collier, publisher of Net Family News.

Collier writes:

The other day, a couple of us online-safety advocates were talking about a new book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture, by Andrew Keen, which is about why Andrew doesn’t like Web 2.0. I told my colleague, Stephen Carrick-Davies at Childnet in London, that it challenges me with the question of what it is I like about today’s (very social) Internet so much. Then it occurred that we should just start a blog and encourage everybody to add their answers to this question. We know there’s negative stuff on the social Web - we deal with it in our jobs every day - but there’s also so much that’s positive. Let’s articulate that!

With that, Collier launched a blog called Why We Like the Social Web. In her first post, she takes a crack at listing what she personally likes about Web 2.0:

  • It has a way of keeping the professional media providers and traditional publishers honest (as it buries their work in a landslide of user-produced content that forces all media consumers to think).

  • It empowers the nonbranded and uncredentialed.

  • It trains kids better for the “real world” than traditional education does.

  • It exposes truth as well as evil for people to find and take action for and against.

  • It is the place where our children - natural information “hunter-gatherers” that they are, as MIT’s Henry Jenkins puts it in his book Convergence Culture - can dig around endlessly for the information they crave, and it’s the place where we can help them approach it critically and intelligently.

  • It’s necessarily bringing ethics back into the public discussion and citizenship back into public school curricula (I think, I hope).

  • It subverts false authority and secret power.

Now, she’s asking other educators to come to the blog and chime in as well. Since the blog just launched, I’m not exactly sure how it’ll play out. Once thing that could help people participate in the conversation would be to add a feed of all the blogs of people linking to her blog; that way, educators with their own blog could simply write their thoughts there and link to her site. Blog search engines like Technorati can help monitor who else is linking to the site, even producing an RSS feed of those sites, further increasing the ease of following the conversation. As I write this, no one’s linked to her blog yet, but I surmise that’ll change as notes about her blog spread through discussion groups and social networks. (Besides, I just linked to her, so that should show up in Technorati soon.)

I’d also suggest that Anne take it one step further by asking educators what they don’t like about Web 2.0. One of the reasons Keen and other critics of social media throw out words like “cult” when describing people who advocate Web 2.0 is because we don’t always do a very good job being critical observers of the medium, and that we act as wide-eyed cheerleaders unwilling to acknowledge any limitation or downside. Don’t get me wrong - I’m immersed in Web 2.0 and see many benefits for educators and others embrace it - but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing the challenges created by social media and desiring ways to improve upon the situation. If we’re going to defend the medium, we should be able to acknowledge its flaws as well. -andy

Filed under : Blogging, People

Responses

I don’t understand why we continue to give Keen the attention for which he is desperately crying. Let him wallow in his own ignorance.

I was stunned when I listened to a NPR interview of Keene regarding his book.

He asserted that the autocracy of the current media elite preserves our culture. He supports the gatekeepers retaining full control of what we can listen to, watch in movies and on tv and read in books. He argues they are benevolent dictators who strictly subscribe to the “Truth” in their sieving of what the “ignorant masses” should be exposed to.

He sees the traditional publishing channels as the “greater good” Deciders.

I argue that one only need examine the foibles and blatant bias of the press in the 2008 presidential primaries to see the fallacy in Keene’s arguement. In fact, the Web has played and will continue to play a critical role in letting the masses judge the truth for themselves.

The Youtube exposure of Senator Allen’s macaca comment is an excellent example of the positive effect of the web. We could listen to the senator’s comment and judge it for ourselves. The genie could not be put back in the bottle. What we saw was ugly and clearly very inconvenient for Senator Allen.

Consolidation of mass media has not served the US citizen well. The web now stands as the only sharp contrast to the overtly and covertly biased, mass media industry.

Consider the obsession the mass media has with trite and derogatory reports of the downfalls of the social, sport and entertainment elite. The national evening news is clogged with redundant reports about misadventures and arrests of pop and movie stars. They are becoming as trashy as the garbage “alien baby” newspapers sold in the grocery store checkout line.

Great culture and intellectual advancements have often come from the outsiders. The forums of Web 2.0, like Gutenberg’s printing press, spreads communication power to many more people and especially those who think outside the box.

I say, Hurrah! We should use the Web to encourage all students to be fact checkers. We can use it to train them to look for the deceptive messages and hidden motives. Then they can be sharp eyed, skeptical consumers of all forms of media.

Thanks for bringing up such an important issue and providing links that I’ll be checking out in my quest to better understand web 2.0’s place in my classroom. I have wholly embraced it for my own learning, but have to explore more to be able to implement many of the tools. I want to make sure I’m using technology to support learning and curriculum, not merely b/c it’s new and exciting.

Keene says web2.0 “glorifies what he calls “amateurism” and denigrates expertise”

He really needs to look at those he says are the experts. I learn more about politics (with actual citations) from blogs than the garbage that flows out of Wolf Blitzer’s mouth around the clock on CNN.

I agree that unchecked zealotry does not always help one’s cause. However, rather than discussing WHETHER OR NOT Web 2.0 is good for education (or what we like and dislike about it), I would advocate for reframing the discussion to consider WHEN and HOW Web 2.0 might help teachers and learners. Rather than taking a dichotomous approach, it seems more practical to talk about potential educational benefits (and challenges), as well as conditions for successfully reaping those benefits (and minimizing the challenges). Web 2.0 is clearly not going away, so this seems to me like the most constructive perspective in looking toward the future.

For more of my thoughts on this, check out my blog post entitled “An Ecological Perspective on Web 2.0 in Education.”

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