March 28, 2008

A sneaky peak at Becta's research on Web 2.0 in the UK

Last week I opened a Becta Research Seminar, a new breed of event and consultation that shares emerging research with a group of researchers, policymakers and consultants who may be able to build something new or change tack on the back of the findings.

Charles Crook and Colin Harrison from the research project team at Nottingham University presented an emerging paper on what some of us working with kids every day have known for some time: there's a perception that young people are "doing it", being highly skilled and creative on the web, and older people [read: teachers] don't "do it". It's not true. It boldly tells us once more that the "digital natives, digital immigrants" statement, brought up again by the Prime Minister's children-the-net-and-gaming Advisor Tanya Byron yesterday, is simplistic.

Their findings show that the preconception, evident in the original research question, that young people at large are being drawn "into a wide range of creative production – such as video, images, and expressive text, all of which can be uploaded, systematised, and shared", is a utopia reach by only a minority.

We do see the beginnings of more creative uses of the potential in web 2.0 technologies, but why do we see so many more primary students than secondary pupils being involved in Web 2.0 type activity? More flexibility, more time being passed to pupils to reflect, embedded assessment for learning?

But what job is research doing in Web 2.0, particularly in the UK? Research offers the opportunity to stand back and see what questions we need to be asking. When reports say "Young people are doing this" Colin's reaction is to ask "Who says?" When we say we need to break down the barriers to participative culture, he asks if we really do. I would say, of course, that the answer is yes, since years of Assessment for Learning research point to the elements of collaboration that work, most of which are at least replicated or indeed enhanced by Web 2.0 tools, practices and pedagogies.

The pedagogies they were hoping to unearth in young people's use of Web 2.0 could be covered under four domains: Inquiry (Purpose?); Collaboration (Play?); Literacies; Audience (Public / Private?).

Access and opportunity
Their first main research area revealed extensive access and opportunity to digital media. In order, from 100% down to about 10%, young people have access to:

  1. TV
  2. Mobile phone with camera
  3. Digital camera
  4. MP3 player/recorder
  5. PC
  6. Desktop games console (Xbox, Wii)
  7. Handheld console (Nintendo DS, PSP)
  8. Wifi
  9. Laptop
  10. Wired internet
  11. Webcam
  12. Mobile (no camera)
  13. PDA

Isn't it strange how adults tend to demonise net technology, with an image of a lonesome teen at their desktop wired PC, peering through a webcam and chatting to a complete stranger? That technology grouping doesn't even make the top ten. Most, it seems, are more keen on keeping in touch with friends on their mobiles, taking photos and playing games with strangers and friends through wifi.

Don't romance the Web 2.0 Appetite
This is borne out in their findings of what kids do online. They chat (MSN) and 73% of them publish on their social networking sites (more girls than boys, more Bebo than anything else). They gaming, mostly online, more boys than girls. Video sharing comes next, but only a tiny minority actually create their own material. Keyword searching through Google comes after that.

Activity is often low-level and unmemorable ('I didn't do my homework because "I was on MSN or something"'). There continues to be little evidence of creation of digital content. In class, technology is limited to rewards, to make life easy (being allowed to listen to an MP3 player while working, using a PC when the 'work' is finished).

Their reaction to those who use technology 'too much' is that they should "Get out more" or avoid the potential for 'addiction'.

School is a different place
This reminds me of the story of Glow in a classroom in East Dunbartonshire: while the interface wasn't like Bebo, and perhaps not as engaging, the students saw it as being something in school. It's a different place, it comes with different expectations. This, of course, doesn't mean that it's good enough and can't be made more enticing with time.

I think they spend a lot of time teaching you how to use Microsoft programmes which have a help button but when you get into situations on the internet there is no help button.

Using 'their' tools at home, tools like Bebo, would take the fun out of it. Having the teacher on those tools is "weird". 'Collaboration' becomes placing a problem on Bebo, changing their name to CanYouHelpMeDoThisOnBebo and waiting for friends to deliver segments of the project before bringing it together.

Inquiry is difficult
"You copy and paste your homework and the teacher says 'How did you know all that?'"
Does anyone use Wikipedia: "Yes, Oh Yes. Every single bit of homework, just type it in, get that, copy and paste."

"If there was a science test I'd probably just go to the text book. You know where everything is in the textbook but I don't know where to find it on the web."

Coordination is not collaboration and many of these technologies actually bring about coordination, rather than rich collaboration where everyone pulls together. What granularity of interaction is there for the intersubjective experience of collaboration? What depth of community is required for the affective experience? We're so busy uploading stuff, coordinating comments that we're not concentrating on the learning.

Web 2.0 challenges with the practice of education
Resource overload (I've only just learnt how to... and now you want me to...)
ICT Absorbing the budget (we have to replace this because it's not fast enough)
Dissemination (viral dissemination among teachers in a school - how can we make this better and then take it even wider?)
Match to existing culture (a culture of trust, culture, participation that exists makes it easier; if it's not there then it's harder)
Assessment (matching 'romance' to the realities of summative testing [maybe the EScapes project LTS are now working on with Goldsmiths provides an answer?])

The full research report will be published soon, with even more data and insightful quotes. I can't wait to get my nose into it and see where we take learning next in a bid to promote truly creative citizens for Scotland and beyond.


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So many of the comments in this summary ring true. Just because kids are more familiar with ICT doesn't mean that they are using it at a deeper level. I enjoy learning new tools but I am beginning to suffer from resource overload myself let alone the classroom teacher with many other pressures. It will be very interesting to see the full report and then we can look into our own educational practices and see what we can do to make the Web 2.0 dream a working reality.

This is pretty much what I have found when talking with 16 - 19 year old students in FE.

Most of the students use or are aware of web 2 sites but are surprised that they can be used "professionally" (in work and education).

I think this is the role of teachers in the future - how to use the "natural resources" of the web as tools.

For example - when I suggest that blogs could be used to publish project work the students are "gobsmacked" - they consider blogs as nothing more than writing up trivial items of personal life - only when they see examples of professional blogs do they "get it".

The students very much regard the web as perdsonal these days - as you say, they find it strange that a teacher might want to use a facebook group to carry out an on-line discussion. However, in many cases the students have been very willing to network amongst themselves to get tasks done.

Looks like an interesting priod ahead with a personal - professional "tension" in teh application of web 2

I agree with most of the above. The challenge for teachers is to enable real collaboration. So much of what children do using web 2.0 type tools is trivial as demonstrated in the research (and my own experience - but I may not be a great teacher!). However, enabling real collaboration requires real trust and putting the children in control and this is where so many teachers feel uncomfortable. Maybe the point about dissemination is important, but my feeling at the secondary level in particular is that ICT is still very much a discrete sunbject in a lot of schools and the curriculum is a particularly narrow one.

I hadn't considered the difference between collaboration and coordination before, this is something I'll have to give some thought.

The collaboration/coordination angle is new to me, and I appreciate it. (My realm is corporate/organizational training, so I have to think about whether this exists there and what the implications are).

Re Martin's comment on students being gobsmacked that you can use tools like blogs to do "work," rather than just yap with your friends -- this goes along with my notion that most people move more quickly from the specific to the general, than vice-versa.

So when someone sees two or three examples of things he's familiar with, being used in unfamiliar ways, he's better able to see the connection and even come up with yet another way for himself.

Hopefully this is the final nail in the digital divide coffin.

I've fallen over a couple of times recently putting the children in control when a fair percentage of the class have used this as an excuse to swing the lead or play with the toys (cameras, recorders, pcs etc) and not really think about the topic they should be learning with. I probably down to insufficient planning and prep and too high expectations by myself.

I encourage my pupils to use online dictionaries and other resources. For their oral presentations at higher level, I also expect them to use the internet for research purposes.

Do I expect them to ignore their text books? Of course not. There is nothing better than a well put together textbook to help pupils revise for tests and examinations. You can't beat a good grammar book, with all the topics indexed at a moment's glance and easily accessible.

In my opinion, it has never been a question of either/or. I have never expected new technologies to take over education completely (not during my time anyway), so I am not going to get disappointed or despondent when the latest piece of research demonstrates that there is only so much you can get out of technology. That was always in the back of my mind anyway.

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