Web 2.0 Briefing Paper

For the Association for Learning Technology conference 2007 I was asked to prepare a short Web 2.0 briefing paper. Limited to 2 pages this has not been an easy task, the paper can be found at http://www.jisc.org.uk/publications/publications/web2socialsoftwarev1.aspx. However below is a longer version with live links.

The terms Web 2.0 and social software are now used widely in the education sector. While often difficult to determine an exact definition, with
many new tools and applications released on a regular basis, most commentators agree that these terms apply to a set of characteristics in the context of the internet and applications served over it.

Web 2.0 and social software in education
As broadband becomes more affordable and widely available, and the relative price of hardware calls, many more people are finding it easier
to access rich content and interaction on the internet. Whilst there is currently limited research into the level of use by students and potential
students, anecdotal evidence suggests that not only is it being used widely, but the perception of it is also shifting. Many students seem to see
the use of the tools in their workflow not as an additional overhead, but as an integral part of ‘their world’.

Case studies indicate that whilst content is accessed on virtual learning environments (VLE), courses and modules are also discussed in a
variety of other media, such as instant messaging tools (MSN and Skype) and social networks (Facebook). In addition there is also a growth
in the use of these tools to support distributed research groups, including online research
groups in biomedical, cancer, physics and many other disciplines.

Many of these tools can bring benefits in a range of ways:

  • Using instant messaging to conduct tutorials at a distance with a distributed group
  • Providing easier opportunities for students to collaborate, and make word of mouth recommendations about sites including, or
    related to, course content
  • Allowing students to create their own interest groups allied to their studies
  • Allowing students to interact with students from different universities and countries
  • Providing researchers with ways to share results faster and with opportunities for instant
  • Allowing the formation of ad hoc research groups
  • Providing a way of having material peer reviewed by a broad audience before publication

There’s always a but…

However, when using these types of tools for their practice, staff should be aware and beware of some of the key issues.

Intellectual property rights and copyright

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are core to many of the issues around content.

  • Material that is placed on most sites will be accessible to a wide audience: are you happy that everyone can see it, access it and potentially use it without your permission?
    Make sure you are entitled to place the material on the site: for example do you own the copyright? Do you have a licence to use the
    content and place it on a public website?
  • Check the terms and conditions; one popular application states:

‘All content on the Site and available through the Service, including but not limited to designs, text, graphics, pictures, video, information, applications, software, music, sound and other files, and their selection and arrangement (the ‘Site Content’), are the proprietary property of the Company, its users or its licensors with all rights reserved.’

System stability

With literally hundreds of sites and applications being released it is difficult to know which to use and what will persist; consider:

  • How reliable is the service?
  • How often has the site been unavailable?
  • What happens to your material if the site ceases to exist?
  • Can all students gain access, or does the site require high specification machines or have a cost associated with it?


Design, look and feel play a big part of the Web 2.0 movement. Consider:

  • Some sites, such as Flickr and YouTube, allow you to embed images and videos into your own pages as long as they link back to the host site,
    meaning that students clicking on the video will be taken to the host site
  • The use of some of the tools allows users to create their own look and feel and promote the site through resell SEO; if the site is being used as a teaching enhancement or
    supplement, the person who has developed the site may deviate from guidance given at an institutional level, diluting the corporate brand
  • Some sites are prone to extreme views or may attract inappropriate attention; users should monitor the site carefully, especially where comments can be left, such as blogs (these can be used for spam postings to various sites including those of an adult nature)


What if you have content in YouTube, Slideshare and Facebook? Can you cross-search it, use it in various ways coherently to support whatever task you’re engaged in, or build it into managed activities?


If you want to keep this material, Web 2.0 services may not be the best option. Data backup is
important, but it needs to go deeper than this: if this content is to be managed and retained over time, then serious planning needs to go into the
environment in which that happens.

You, Web 2.0 and students

We are most often alerted to the tools and sites associated with Web 2.0 by students themselves. However, that doesn’t mean they are ubiquitous in student circles. Before using such tools consider:

  • Can the tools you are using be accessed by all students, for example can a blind, deaf or dyslexic student access content appropriately?
  • Is it appropriate for a member of staff to have access to the site, or is it a site that is aimed at ‘students only’?
  • Do the students want you there? Would you follow them to the student’s union and listen to their conversations?

You and Web 2.0: next steps

Before applying a Web 2.0 or social software solution to your practice you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my institution already have a solution for what I want to do? It’s worth not only talking to IT support or staff and educational development units, but also asking your colleagues whether they have needed the same facility. A supported, resourced internal
    solution will probably serve you better than an unresourced, unsupported, beta version of something in the Web 2.0 community.
  • Are there solutions at other institutions? JISC have funded many innovative technologies and approaches that have been deployed across
    the education sector – would one of these technologies fit your need?
  • What are the risks? Do these risks put you, your work or your students in difficult situations? Take each of the situations and write down a risk assessment. Think about privacy, data protection and copyright conditions, and provide students with advice also.

Finally, if you decide to use a Web 2.0 technology make sure that you back up all of your data in a safe place.

Further Information and Resources

JISC Users and Innovations programme Looking at a range of new and emerging technologies and the issues that surround them, including IPR, accessibility and good practice models.

TechWatch Social Software briefing paper

Web 2.0 for Content for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education report

Secure personal institutional and inter-institutional repository environment (SPIRE)

Personal Repositories Online: WIKI Environment (PROWE)

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