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.
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