Web 2.0 and its potential impact and influence on education

Author/Producer Julie Hughes and Kevin Brace
Published in newsletter No 10, Spring 2008
Date Published 28 February 2008
Pages 3


The web's shift from a tool of reference, or space for telling, to a space for talking, where the emphasis is upon participation and collaboration, presents teachers with opportunities for rich e-learning


The evolution of Internet technologies and applications, popularly known as Web 2.0, has transformed the web experience from a predominantly ‘read only’ medium to one of user-generated content where anyone can publish, share and collaborate with others.

Web 2.0 is not simply an update to the technologies of the web. It also offers fundamental changes in the way that the technologies are used. The underlying principle is that the web is now a platform where people interact and create the web; not just consume it. West Suffolk College have already taken this approach by using a collection of Web 2.0 tools to replace their institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) as a learning platform. This next generation of web-based application delivery – utilising multiple websites and services – called cloud computing, is expected to replace installed computer applications. Indeed, Google Docs is already pioneering this principle by offering users a free word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation application which allows users to create and collaborate online.

Typical Web 2.0 technologies


Wikis are interactive web pages that allow users to create and edit content using any web browser. Unlike read-only web pages, wikis support collaborative information construction and editing in a relatively straightforward manner which does not require sophisticated HTML coding knowledge. This ‘what you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG – pronounced wee zee wig) interface approach is being explored and exploited by Kathy Wright at the University of East London to disseminate pre-course information to ITT students and to develop on-course collaborative working between central services, secondary ITT administration and academics. This facilitates up-to-date information sharing and communication with the intending students. The initiative is helping administrative and academic staff, as well as offer holders, to understand the potential contribution of collaborative online technologies to student learning and support. It is also giving tutors and trainees a positive experience of a learning technology, thus modelling the potential of such software during a teacher training programme and its potential use by trainee teachers and their learners.

Portable e-portfolio for ITE at the University of Sussex

Web-based ePortfolios have been developed and become increasingly popular in many HE institutions over the last few years. However, many use institutionally based learning platforms and are only available to students whilst they are enrolled at a specific university. For over six months Duncan Mackrill, a National Teaching Fellow at the University of Sussex, has been investigating and developing a system using open-source portable applications for building and recording e-portfolios for lifelong learning. This takes the concept of a portable ePortfolio as its basis, enabling students to take their portfolio with them into further study at a different institution, or their workplace. The resulting ePortfolio is now being piloted with a group of PGCE students who will record and save their professional development portfolio to Flash Drives.



The phenomenal growth in blogging is indicative of the relative ease in creating a web-based diary to share personal expertise and knowledge.  This society of bloggers, having created the blogosphere, now has access to its own search engines, for example www.technorati.com among others.

The University of Warwick has pioneered the use of student blogs – see http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk . All staff and students can now set up and run their own academic blogs. Simple discussion or deeper reflective prose can be found on these personal spaces. The ability to comment upon others’ blog posts enable these previously personal spaces to become a potentially powerful discursive learning platform.

Julie Hughes and Emma Purnell from the University of Wolverhampton have used blogs for two years to support the transition into University with part-time Foundation Degree in Learning Support students. A blogging tool within the University’s ePortfolio system has been embedded in a Study Skills module to support the development of critical reflective thinking and writing to foster dialogue cultures.Blog writing as doing is utilised as both an online socialisation activity and as a gradual immersion into HE culture(s).

Other Web 2.0 tools

Podcasts, which can also be embedded into learning platforms, are chunks of audio content designed to support face to face sessions which may be accessed anytime, anywhere. The audio files can then be loaded onto a standard MP3 player. The University of Leicester, partially through funding from the Higher Education Academy, has seen great success in delivering podcasts to students. See www.impala.ac.uk Skype, (Internet Protocol telephony), is an application that allows free calls to be made to others via a PC and web connection. Recent updates to this software have included the use of instant messaging, conference calls, and full video webcam support. The use of Skype can now enable tutors to support one or many students over the web using voice or web cams in a synchronous manner.

Webcasting, through applications such as Instant Presenter and Elluminate, provides voice and video (webcam) support within a standard web browser. Students can watch or listen to the webcast, chat in a text chat box, vote on questions posed and share the microphone with the presenter. Desktop sharing, presentation tools and graphs of votes added to the mix create a rich synchronous learning experience for the students.

The use of social bookmarking sites such as FURL and del.icio.us allow websites to be labelled or ‘tagged’, added to a personal webpage and then shared with others. By agreeing upon a common ‘tag’ or keyword to describe websites, a cohort of students can quickly build up a collection of web resources to support their studies. A collaborative web browser called Flock extends this principle of tagging and sharing, which encourages peer supported learning. RSS, Really Simple Syndication, is a straightforward way to distribute a list of headlines, update notices, and web based content (blogs and wikis) to a wide audience. RSS feeds organise those headlines and notices for easy access, pushing regular web updates that Internet users no longer need to search for.

Further information and contacts:

Kevin Brace k.brace@wlv.ac.uk http://he.rscwmsystems.org.uk/

Julie Hughesj.hughes2@wlv.ac.uk