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Wed 21 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Learning 2.0

The internet revolution that is changing the concept of knowledge as we know it.

The internet revolution that is changing the concept of knowledge as we know it.

Many were surprised when Joel Podolny, the Dean of Yale University's School of Management, announced he was leaving to take up the position of dean at Apple University.

Most users identify Apple's iTunes with entertainment, but many universities, such as Stanford and Oxford, have long since utilised its podcasting and RSS capabilities to reach out to students through their ubiquitous iPods. It is one of the signs that Web 2.0 has penetrated mainstream education.

Though there is no commonly agreed definition of Web 2.0, the internet's new capabilities represent innovative approaches to content, collaboration, connections, and contribution.

User-generated content: Far from being passive consumers of content, these days internet users take advantage of the opportunity to create, share and cross-reference knowledge, which is an important 21st century skill for every knowledge worker to acquire.

With relatively low cost digital technologies such as mobile phones, digital cameras, and podcasting tools, a number of services like YouTube, TeacherTube, Scribd and Flickr facilitate the creation, storage and sharing of multimedia content.

Students and faculty now have the ability to create and record their learning and teaching, and share it not only with their group or class, but also with users around the world.

Collaboration in learning: In today's corporate world, collaboration is critical for individual and organisational success.

Teamwork allows the creation of new ideas, which in turn results in new processes, products, technologies or services that generate revenue for the organisation. As such, educators have a responsibility to prepare students to operate in this new order in the corporate world.

Social writing platforms like wikis and blogs are different in many ways. In education, a blog is used to deliver news and updates to a class or group, and a wiki to work on projects, assignments and group work.

These technologies are suitable for student group learning, staff collaboration, learning journals and reflection, peer editing and review. With the inclusion of audio and video in blogs and wikis, these platforms have become a rich collaborative environment for learning and teaching.

Connections for a networked society: "What percentage of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your mind?" This was the question posed to a group of workers in a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University. When the group was surveyed in 1986, the average answer was 75%.  In 1997, the year the internet began to take off in the business world, it was 15-20%.Today, the figure stands at a mere 8-10%.  The old adage of ‘It's not what you know, it's who you know' has changed to ‘only know what you need to know.'

Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn not only provide the connection to one's friends and colleagues, but also cater to ‘human networkers' who seek to expand and share knowledge.

In Facebook, for example, which is mainly a social networking site, one can find and create groups on every topic imaginable, post items, discuss topics on discussion boards and even set up events like interest groups, debate meets and even concerts.

Students usually interact with their wider student community through such sites. In fact, when an institution recently failed to get responses to a survey, one of the students set up the survey as an event.

This got a tremendous response. Such is the popularity of this ‘space' that leading learning management systems like Blackboard have come up with applications that provide course information within the Facebook site itself.

Contributing to ‘wisdom of crowds': More information has been produced in the last 30 years than in the previous 5000 years.

Such an explosion of data needs a strategy of harnessing collective intelligence. This is what successful Web 2.0 technologies have done, and it is certain that we will be seeing further improvement in applications and functionalities in the years to come.

In what was started as a radical experiment, an online encyclopedia - wherein an entry can be added by any web user and edited by others, now commonly known as Wikipedia - has created a global information phenomenon as the first ever ‘collective encyclopedia'.

Moreover, social bookmarking sites like delicious, Digg and IET Discover let users share their bookmarks with others, thereby enabling collaborative information discovery.

Through such sites, faculty can track student research progress and learn from their peers as well. These bookmarks are also being tagged by users who generate and attach keywords that can become tag clouds, which can form a collective vocabulary.

Students today live in a multiplicity of information channels that include social networking sites, YouTube channels, podcasts, media sharing sites, blogs and wikis. Today, these are not just ‘cool' technologies, but services that are making a new impact on ‘Learning 2.0'.

Shameema Parveen is knowledge officer at Edutech Middle East, a company which provides educators with the content, tools and technologies they need to meet their learning, training and information needs.

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