This chapter describes how the social software tools that characterize Web 2.0, such as wikis and blogs, can be used as a valid substitute for more traditional Learning Management Systems in the context of e-learning and blended learning language courses. First, we will give a brief overview of how the educational arena is changing and the role social software can play in promoting these changes. Then we will describe two experimental courses carried out at the University of Padova using social software. The chapter ends with a discussion of the role of these tools in formal education. The aim of the chapter is to show how these tools allow language educators to take network-based language teaching beyond the limits of planned classroom activities, offering students new opportunities to access and produce real language in real situations.
Web 2.0 And Social Software For Educational Purposes
The educational arena today is finding it necessary to react and adapt to the shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. We are now living in an information society where the way knowledge is created and organized and the very nature of knowledge have changed. The ways knowledge is represented have always been strongly influenced by the tools used to express it. Today it is impossible to think of knowledge without associating it with tools such as search engines, Web sites, repositories of learning objects, and more recently, social software tools such as blogs and wikis. Today’s students need to learn how to operate effectively in today’s information overload and, at the same time, how to become creators of knowledge. Upon graduation, they will find themselves looking for work in a global knowledge-based, networked economy where they will need to be skilled in collaborative and creative project-based work and critical thinking (Bruns & Humphreys, 2005). At the same time, we must also help students develop “the resources and skills necessary to engage with social and technical change, and to continue learning throughout the rest of their lives” (Owen et al., 2006, p. 3). Language acquisition especially is a lifelong process that cannot end with traditional education, but rather must be cultivated throughout life.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Informal Learning: Learning that takes place outside of institutionally defined contexts; for example, learning on the job and in one’s personal life. It can be associated with other concepts such as lifelong and continuous learning, both of which are becoming more important in today’s information society.
Social Software: A generic term used to describe various types of software that enable people to collaborate and create, and join online communities. The tools can promote various types of communication: synchronous one-to-one (instant messaging), synchronous one-to-many (Skypecasts), asynchronous one-to-many (blogs), asynchronous many-to-many (wikis), or asynchronous many-to-one (feed aggregators). These tools allow users to share and create content, collaboratively create and edit content and/or manage content.
Social Bookmarking: Social bookmarking Web sites allow users to store, classify, share, and search their own Internet bookmarks as well as those of other community members by using tags (folksonomies). Most services offer remote hosting so that users can access their bookmarks from any computer. Social bookmarking can serve as a filter for the information overload on the Internet. When users search on these Web sites, they are not searching the entire Web using an algorithm, as is the case on most search engines, but rather they are viewing Web sites that other users have found to be useful and taken the time to save and describe, and for which they have chosen semantically classified tags.
Network-Based Language Teaching (NBLT): NBLT involves teaching languages through the use of computers that are connected to one another in either local or global networks. NBLT allows students to interact with speakers of the target language without having to physically meet with them. In NBLT, the main focus is on authentic communication via the computer and the Internet. Social software offers new opportunities for NBLT.
Feed Aggregators: A client software that allows users to receive syndicated Web content from any type of Web site that uses feeds such as newspaper Web sites, blogs, podcasts, and so forth. In other words, rather than having to regularly check Web sites for updated information through the use of feeds (RSS, XML RSD, XML Atom), updated information is sent to the feed aggregator so users have only one place to check for updated content. Users can decide how much of the updated information they would like to receive in the aggregator (e.g., a few lines or the entire text) and whether or not to receive just text or other media as well. Users can also go directly to the Web sites from the aggregator. Feed aggregators provide a useful tool for managing the information overload on the Internet.
Participation Literacy: Whereas information literacy refers to a person’s ability to effectively manage information, participation refers to the competences required to effectively participate in Web 2.0 environments. In other words, participation literacy involves learning the social skills needed to take part in online communities.
Blog: Simply defined, a blog, or weblog is a sort of online journal organized in reverse chronological order, where a person writes about his or her thoughts and interests, including providing links to relevant resources on the Web. Most blogs allow readers to leave comments. There are many types of blogs, from very personal journals to educational blogs. Various types of media, from audio to video to images, can often be integrated into a text blog.
Web 2.0: A term used to contrast the World Wide Web in the 1990s as a collection of Web sites produced by experts, institutions, and companies (the read-only Web) with the changes that took place starting with the 21st century where Web applications allow end users to create and share content on the Web (the read-write Web).
Wiki: A software application that allows the creation and development of interlinked Web pages; any user can create new pages and edit existing pages. Wikis, therefore, are an effective tool for collaborative authoring, collective learning, and project-based work.