Tensions Between Web 2.0 & Educational Practices

This article by Nina Dohn was especially interesting.  Though not specifically about the differences between human and machine interaction, I think it gives some insights into that.  She argues that the practices of education and those of the Web 2.0 have intrinsic tensions due to differences in their goals and resulting “views of knowledge, competence, and learning” (p. 349). The web has evolved “from the one-to-many display of information on homepages to the ‘bottom-up’ many-with-many interaction of numerous participants in the construction of social networks, communities of practice, user-driven encyclopaedias like Wikipedia…, and collaborative content sharing systems” (pp. 343-344).  Dohn calls the communication practices utilized online “Web 2.0 practices,” and argues that there has been “a shift in the goal of the communication from centring on information sharing to focusing on the establishment and negotiation of personal identity and social relations and, generally, on participation for the sake of participation itself” (p. 344). As I read this statement, the thought that came to my mind was: If this is what students are attuned to receiving online, should online educational activities try to blend educational goals with the negotiation of personal identity?  The issue of educational goals versus participation valued in-and-of itself is something Dohn addresses later in her article.

This statement gets at the discrepancy in goals which Dohn sees as central to the tension between Web 2.0 and educational practices.  Web 2.0 practices are internally-based; they aim at participation, communication, knowledge construction, and knowledge sharing as goals in and of themselves.  As Dohn states, “participation…[is] for the sake of qualifying in them” (p. 349) [these practices].  On the other hand, educational practices have external goals.  In education, “participation in educational practices is for the sake of qualifying to get out of them” (p. 349).  I’m not sure if this changes as one goes to graduate or professional school, entering into a community of practice.  As a result of these discrepant goals, educational and Web 2.0 practices differ as well in their views of knowledge, learning, and competence.  Dohn uses Anna Sfard’s (1998) acquisition/participation metaphor to argue that educational practices are fundamentally based in the acquisition metaphor, while Web 2.0 practices embrace the participation metaphor.  “…[I]nherent in educational practices… is an individualistic, objectivistic view of knowledge and competence (or at least of essential constituents hereof). Learning, correspondingly, is viewed as the acquisition—the coming into possession—of the knowledge and competence states and abilities, objectivisticly understood” (p. 350). In contrast, “learning within Web 2.0 practices is implicitly and explicitly (Downes 2005) viewed as participation; knowledge and competence are correspondingly viewed as situated doing” (p. 350). Dohn finds Wenger’s (1998) communities of practice model the most similar to Web 2.0 practices.

Dohn argues that the tensions between Web 2.0 and educational practices are not an “eternal principle,” but they are very entrenched in reality.  For example:

  • Web 2.0 activities have “distributed peer responsibility” (p. 359); how does a teacher assign individual credit for such enterprises?
  • “Patchwork” collection of information: “from the Web 2.0 point of view, ‘collecting relevant material’ will be an important part of knowledge (or knowing) understood as the dynamic use and reuse of material across contexts” (p. 360).  But this is seen as cheating in education.
  • What is the role of the teacher in confirming knowledge?  Dohn discusses the dilemma between “inhibiting the process of continuous dynamic knowledge construction by students sharing collaborative ownership/ responsibility [if a teacher inserts herself into the process]; and b) relegating the material useless for the students because they have no assurance of its trustworthiness, thus putting an effective end to the Web 2.0 use of the material” if the have no expert assurance of the quality of their findings (p. 359).
  • “The internal goals of participation, communication, knowledge construction, and knowledge sharing for their own sake are subsumed under the external goal of letting learners acquire the knowledge and competence necessary for their future working life” (p. 352).
  • “Dynamic and distributive views on knowledge and competence are enrolled in the service of an individualistic, objectivistic view of knowledge and competence” (p. 352).
  • “Learning as participation, the view of learning implicit in Web 2.0, is understood as a means for realising learning as acquisition, that is, is viewed as a pedagogical method” (p. 352).

How does this apply in the case of blended learning?  In part, it just reminded me of what is possible with the online aspects of blended learning.  We need to maximize the merits of Web 2.0 activities: “intrinsic meaningfulness, student motivation, participation, and collaborative knowledge construction” (p. 353) when incorporating online aspects into our courses.  Dohn recognizes the difficulties of this.  For example, Web 2.0 discussions are valued purely by participation.  But when I use an asynchronous discussion board in my class, I feel the need to establish criteria about number of posts, quality of language, use of textual references, and so forth.  In doing so I reduce the inherent attractiveness of participating in something purely by choice and interest.

Dohn does not address the question of human versus machine interaction.  As she writes of Web 2.0 practices, she is clearly referring to human interaction via the computer (such as a Voice Thread discussion).  As Graham and I spoke, we classified this Web 2.0 practice as human interaction, even if it is mediated by a computer.


Dohn, N. B. (2009). Web 2.0: Inherent tensions and evident challenges for education. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4(3): 343-363. doi:10.1007/s11412-009-9066-8. http://www.springerlink.com/index/10.1007/s11412-009-9066-8.


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