Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Stager, Logo and Web 2.0

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 04, 2007

Originally posted on Half an Hour, September 4, 2007.

Gary Stager offers an impressive assessment of the use of Web 2.-0 tools in learning by virtue of an extended comparison between those tools and Logo, the revolutionary e-learning system developed by Seymour Papert in the 1960s.

His criticisms are directed mostly toward David Warlick and others who are advocating the 'revolutionary' use of Web 2.0 tools in schools. I think his criticisms are effective against the School 2.0 movement. And I think that it is because the School 2.0 movement has not embraced the lessons that should have been learned from decades of school reform.

And the main lesson is, I would say, school reform won't work. Schools were designed for a particular purpose, one that is almost diametrically at odds with what ought to be the practices and objectives of a contemporary education, an education suited not only to the information age but also to the objectives of personal freedom and empowerment.

Let me look at Stager's list, point by point, and outline how the discussion has shifted.

However, there are some primary differences between Logo (and its variants) and the panoply of Web 2.0 tools, including:
  • The Web 2.0 tools promoted by Warlick and Utecht were not created by educators or for children. Educators hope to find educational applications despite having almost no input into the development of future tools.
Logo and the rest were designed specifically for an educational environment. But it's not clear that this wasn't a mistake. While some continue to argue that tooks and resources should be specifically 'educational', I would suggest that the newer approach (which we are calling 'learning networks' or 'connectivism') stresses continuity between the educational environment and the wider social environment.

This has two aspects. First, it means that the tools used by students are essentially the same as those used by practitioners, and that students can see and interact with practitioners. What is learned, needs to be learned in a context, and through not mere instruction but concrete modeling and demonstration. And students' practice and experimentation needs to be relevant. This does not preclude totally any sort of scaffolding or safety nets, but it does argue for something more open and more widely used.

Second, it means that learning needs to be better incorporated into the tools and environments employed by practitioners. The best example of this can be seen in game design, where gameplay and instruction are seamlessly intertwined. Again, this argues against technologies that can be employed only in learning, and for technologies that integrate well with each other.

  • The Web 2.0 tools come out of corporate, not academic, cultures with very different motives.
This is to some degree true but to a large degree false.

It is true, of course, to the extent that many Web 2.0 initiatives are corporate initiatives, coming from companies like Skype, Google, and others. But a lot of it is coming from academia as well.

But more to the point, the division between the 'academic culture' and the 'corporate culture' misses the point. In fact, traditional academia and business share a great deal in common - structures, authorities, leaders, standards, scale, mass production, uniformity, and more. The 'school' is the perfect blend of academic and corporate culture, and as such, is everything you would expect; compartmentalized, rigid, authoritarian.

What Web 2.0 represents - or, more accurately, what the larger movement of which Web 2.0 is a part represents - is the rejection of that, on both the corporate and the academic levels. 'Decentralizing decision-making' has the same essential logical structure as 'personalizing learning'. New types of collaboration (not 'teams') in the corporate world resemble new types of collaboration (not 'classes') in academia.

Yes, the edges are blurred. Yes, traditional corporations with vested hierarchies and old-school models of economics try to play in the Web 2.0 world. One thinks of NBC in iTunes. And just so, some people in education who are still invested in the teacher-and-school model of learning try to present themselves as Web 2.0. Things aren't as neat as we would like. But proponents of traditionalism - cast in a guise like 'School 2.0' - should not be mistaken for what they are not.
  • There is no educational philosophy inspiring the development of the Web 2.0 tools or their use.
Yes there is. Moodle and Elgg, for example, adopt explicitly Constructivist theories to inform their design and development. Others in development (such as the various personal learning environment prototypes and applications) follow the Connectivist approach, as outlined by George Siemens. I have tried very hard over the years to outline my own theories of knowledge, learning and community, which I believe have influenced the development of tools and practices.

But, of course, in the very question we see the assumption of compartmentalism that characterizes old-school thought. Why would we need a specifically educational theory? As though learning is some practice or discipline totally separate, totally unrelated, to the rest of our lives? We've left people like Dewey and Moore behind, we've left things like transactional distance and other cognitivist information-theoretic approaches behind.

People working in Web 2,0 in learning have drawn from a variety of sources - social network theory, social media theory and Criticism, connectionism and other approaches to AI - as well as specific works, such as the Cluetrain Manifesto and the Hacker Ethic (to name a couple). And more than a few people working on Web 2.0 in edcucation have referred to people like Illich and Freire.

True, you won't necessarily find these theories described in Warlick and Utecht. But you are looking in the wrong place, if that's where you're looking. Not everytbody is a philosopher; not everybody is a theorist.
  • Although a principle of the Web is the democratiziation of knowledge, this is an abstract concept to educators raised on textbooks and being commanded to recite from scripted lesson plans.
Right. One of the debates I've had recently centres around the textbook. And it's not just that the textbook is an inefficient paper-and-ink publication. It's the whole idea of standardization and lesson plans and curriculum that the textbook brings with it. We should stop using textbooks because they cost too much. We should stay off textbooks because we get a better education as a result.

People often ask me how long I think it will take before we see the changes I describe - changes brought about by the democratizing powers of the web - to be realized in schools. My response is usually, "we won't." The changes we see in learning won't happen in schools. They'll happen outside of them. And they are very likely to make schools irrelevant.

And it's not just the sort of changes we already see in Knowsley - though it is that. It is also informal learning and workplace learning, it is also online learning communities, and it is learner-directed learning.

Logo probably never had a chance. As Stager says, quite accurately, "As more computers were delivered to schools and the enthusiasm of the early adopters were drowned out by teachers with other priorities, Logo became harder to sustain in schools. Add commercial pressures that devalued children making their own software (for obvious reasons) and the rest is history."

My thinking is that Web 2.0 will be more successful doing outside schools what Logo attempted to do inside them.
  • The greater Web 2.0 community has little interest in reforming education.
Yeah, we've pretty much given up.

As Dave Pollard says, "Bucky was right: 'You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.' We won't win zoning battles or economic control battles or electoral system battles or proportionate representation battles in the courts or the election campaigns or the markets that are controlled by the elite. We must instead walk away from these corrupt and dysfunctional systems and build new ones, responsive and responsible and sustainable alternatives that others can look at and say 'yes, that works much better'."

When I speak to teachers these days, I don't tell them how to improve the way they teach their students. I talk to them about how they can improve the way they teach themselves.
  • Web 2.0 attracts very little interest in the educational psychology or even teacher education communities.
Maybe. But that's kind of like saying that communes attract little interest in the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal.

I would not expect educational psychologists, or even teacher education specialists, to have a particular interest in Web 2.0. Not simply because they are pretty much immersed in the old-school tradition, but because they don't really work in the field of educational technology (and compartmentalism Rules All).

But I would expect them to be impacted - eventually, because the speed of academic journal enquiry is glacial - by many of the themes and ideas behind Web 2.0. I find, for example, a lot of discussion in educational psychology about learning networks. Why would that be? Because many of the principles behind Web 2.0 are the same as those principles behind the new theories about neural networks.

The things we as a community talk about can be found throughout the literature. Access to online learning resources. Learning networks. Bringing learners together for knowledge sharing. Peer tutoring in ad hoc transient communities. And incidental learning through games and recreation. I could go on and on and on.
  • There exists very little peer-reviewed scholarship regarding Web 2.0. In fact, many people in the blogosphere are openly contemptuous of theory and scholarship in favor of "the wisdom of crowds," a new and popular, albeit inherently anti-intellectual world-view.
My estimation would be that the scarcity of peer-reviewed scholarship for Web 2,0 specifically is more reflective of the relative newness of the term than of a dearth of any academic interest in the subject. I suspect as well that there is some trepidition on the part of academic writers to employ what appears to be nothing more than the most recent catchphrase. Justifiably.

There is no dearth of research, peer reviewed or otherwise, in the topics surrounding Web 2.0. A search in Google Scholar, for example, returns hundreds of results for 'folksonomy'. Thousands of results for 'recommender system'. More than a hundred thousand results for 'social network'. Six hundred thousand results for neural network.

This quantity of results is important, because these researches (and many others) form the basis for what Stager is calling an "inherently anti-intellectual world-view".

Stager's criticism is like saying that the brain is 'inherently anti-intellectual' because there are no 'super-neurons' to which all other neurons must defer. Like saying that markets are 'inherently anti-intellectual' because there is no arbiter of supply and demand. Like saying a forest is 'anti-intellectual' because nobody organizes the trees and the shrubs.

It's a criticism that makes sense - barely - against a particular application of the theory, one which favours connectionist decision-making mechanisms over authority-driven mechanisms in certain intellectual enterprises, such as the evaluation of research and project funding.
  • By definition, the Web 2.0 community is leaderless. Too often, non-equivalent opinions are given equal weight without a demand for evidence or supporting arguments.
This is a misleading argument clouded in vagueness. Who are these people who are giving 'equal weight' to non-equivalent opinions? What does that mean, even, in this context?

The suggestion, of course, is that you need a 'leader' in order to assign these weights (or, perhaps, to be assigned these weights - like I said, it's vague).

Of course, nothing is actually given equal weight to another. When we read a paper - or a post - we assign a subjective weight to it. Each of us assess the paper, and decides for ourselves whether the paper has any value. Some people may emerge as having produced works of greater subjective value. But those 'leaders' insist that they are not leaders. This is a good thing. But let me explain what it means.

When Stager is talking about 'equal weight', what he is talking about is a priori weight. That is, the value that would be assigned to paper A or paper B before it is even read. The 'leaders' of the movement are (presumably) those people whose works have the greatest a priori weight.

All other things being equal, the criticism is apt - no paper is presumed to have any inherent value simply because it was written by some expert or authority. But this does mean that readers must wander aimlessly through the interweb seeking and never finding the most useful material. There are many ways to find good content, usually through some process of recommendation. Reputation does play a part in such a system, but not the central and defining role it plays in more traditional systems. Nor should it.

The fact is, even if I had the best ratings in the entire educational web 2.0 community, it could still be the case that my next post will be a dud (some would say it likely!), while the contribution by some unknown might be sparkling and brilliant. What we want is a system that demotes the did and promotes the new work. This is exactly what an authority-driven system prevents.
  • There is very little material written for educators on using Web 2.0 tools in a creative fashion. Will Richardson's book is a fabulous resource for understanding the read/write web, but hardly offers provocative project ideas.
Unless educators require their own special books, maybe written in big print or something, this statement is empirically false. There have been reams of materials written on how to use Web 2.0 applications.

Not so much, though, on how to use Web 2.0 to enforce order, force students (and teachers) to follow the curriculum, increase standardized test scores, or any of the education-as-industry sort of activity. Insofar as Richardson's work fails to offer provocative project ideas, it is because it is working within the constraints of 'school'.

This past weekend I taught myself how to make my own personalized Google Maps, share my lecture notes with the world, to find MP3 files almost instantly, and more. It doesn't require someone to come along after to write something especially for teachers to tell them to, say, have students create their own custom Google map for, say, a biology project, does it? Or, for that matter, for students to come up with these ideas on their own?

We expect people to find their own way, not to be told what to do. In old-school thinking, teachers and students follow a manual or guidebook. In new-school thinking, they write it.
  • No matter how cool, powerful or revolutionary Web 2.0 tools happen to be, there are few if any mature objects-to-think-with embedded in them and certainly no explicit statement that their use is designed to transform the learning environment.
I find my RSS reader and blogging engine to be great objects to think with. That this is not their sole function is a strength, not a weakness.

As for the 'explicit statement', Stager is welcome to read Educational Blogging and get back to me.

More seriously, this point again hits on some of the points made above. The idea that there should be exclusively educational applications. The idea that everything should all be spelled out in a guide. The idea that the impact should be inside the school environment. None of these is the case. In fact, just the opposite.
  • The emphasis on information reinforces passive pedagogical practices, whether intentional or not.
This is just a mis-statement of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is about doing, not consuming. You can see this expressed any number of ways by any number of people.

The most charitable interpretation I can give to Stager's point is that Web 2.0, because it is a computer-based medium, necessarily involves nothing more than information processing.

But in fact, if you are producing, rather than merely sharing or consuming, information, then you are necessarily getting up and away from the computer screen.

This is one of the key big differences between Web 2.0 and many of the approaches to learning that came before.

Think about what's involved, say, in creating a photo album or making a video. You have to go out into the community, talk to people, place yourself in a position to observe, interact with the environment, and more. Then you have to process that experience, to reflect on it through the act of creating the blog post, video or whatever.

It is not possible to learn passively in a Web 2.0 environment. Page-turners, just like classrooms, are inherently 1.0
  • While they may be really powerful or innovative software applications, a teacher simply does not need Skpe, Google Eartth or Second Life. Using them will do little to challenge conventional classroom practice. Some of the richest examples merely enhance the existing curriculum.
In related news, it was discovered that adding wings to trains did little to make them faster get them to the station on time.

While some of the reschoolers focus on the changes that Web 2.0 could make to the classroom, let me stress again that the people who work in the field mostly think that the greatest benefits of Web 2.0 are felt outside the classroom.

(I should also point out that none of Skype, Google Earth, or Second Life are, strictly speaking, Web 2.0 - but I can leave such trivialities to the side. I suppose.)

Web 2.0 applications may not be the greatest teaching applications in the world. But they revolutionize learning.
  • Web 2,0 requires robust ubiquitous access to the Internet. Most schools have demonstrated an inability to trust teachers and kids online and as a result create insane barriers to teachers using the Web in an educational fashion.
Quite so. More of the same.

Though I would point out that many Web 2.0 applciations require lower bandwidth than their inefficient 1.0 predecessors. YouTube video, for example, works well on iBurst technologies in Africa (I tested it) while a 20 megabyte .mov is a non-starter. AJAX applications require only small status updates rather than complete page-loads. Many applications, such as Zoho and Google Reader, are designed for use offline as well as online. Things like SMS and instant message are optimized for efficiency in small, burst transmissions.

That's one of the great things about Web 2.0. It's a great leveller. Tools like Slideshare and Blogger and YouTube and the rest meant that everybody could produce and consume multimedia, not just a select few. It's internet access the way it was meant to be.

Schools may be blocking access to Skype, weblogs, Facebook, and the rest - but in so doing are only pushing themselves closer to irrelevance. They are certainly - despite their best efforts - not blocking students.
  • By definition, Web 2.0 is temporal (just wait for 3.0) and new tools emerge every hour. As a result, teachers don't see a reason to invest much time in mastering technologies that will be obsolete or leapfrogged tomorrow. For many enthusiasts, collecting the tools is as important as using them.
Fortunately, one of the principles of Web 2.0 is that the tools should require a lot of mastering.

Thick software manuals and how-to guides are the legacies of a 1.0 world. People expect to learn a tool as they're using it.

They expect this with other learning too. The whole idea of stopping everything you're doing to 'learn something' is old-school thinking.

As for 'collecting the tools' - it's more like a conveyor belt. As new tools are collected at the front, old tools are dropped off the back. Which explains why the last time i opened Microsoft Word, I got the 'software personalization' dialogue.
  • Times have changed. Few Americans protest anything, not the war in Iraq, not the erosion of civil liberties. Educators don't even fight overly restrictive and counter-productive network policies that castrate the Internet. Has ISTE raised the issue before Congress? Has the NEA made this an issue of working conditions? No, there is little appetite for rocking the boat. We have become passive and compliant just like our schools wish for our students.
This comment goes well beyond the domain of Web 2.0 (not to mention being incredibly culturally-centric) but here goes...

As I commented above, people have pretty much given up on trying to reform the existing institutions. We've seen a lot of people try. Meet the new boss... same as the old boss. Why bother to fight the restrictions. School web is blocked? Just use your iPhone. Policies are overly restrictive? Just ignore them. I mean - what are they going to do, fire you from your $25K job? Why rock the boat when it's going over the waterfall?

People are not just opting out of traditional education. They are also opting out of traditional business and traditional government. Making their own decisions instead of trying to sway bodies that purport to make decisions for them.
  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but the educational Web 2.0 community has little first-hand experience in social activism and scant knowledge of existing school reform literature. Like the discovery of new tools, one gets the sense that proponents of Web 2.0 in education are discovering educational theories here and there and then applying these ideas to the new tools.
Different explanations for different people. If Stager wants to focus on Warlick, Utecht and Richardson, that's his prerogative.

Speaking for myself, I think my activist credentials are pretty solid.

Not that it's relevant. If I'm right, I'm right no matter what my credentials are. If I'm right, I'm right whether or not I know about school reform literature.

Back when I went to school, we called this kind of criticism an ad hominem. And it wasn't worth the paper it was written on. But I will say (if I can say it without being too testy) the ad hominem is a staple of old-school teaching and reasoning, and I don't know where it would be without it.
  • What is the unifying educational theory behind using Skype, Second Life, Scratch and Google Earth?
Here: e-learning 2.0, Connectivism, Connective Knowledge, Learning Networks, and elsewhere.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

Copyright 2024
Last Updated: Jul 22, 2024 9:58 p.m.

Canadian Flag Creative Commons License.