In Response — The Need for “Web 2.0”

That’s David Thornburg to the left, me on the right, and I think Gary Stager (another master musician) is just behind me.

Upon entering my office at 4:45 this morning, I was amazed to find 29 comments on one of my recent posts, First Year Teachers.  I’m certain that its a record for me.  It’s not only the number of comments that distinguished this post, but also that David Thornburg reads my blog.  I have known Thornburg for years and sat raptured more times than I can count at his stories about a period of time we reside in, one that damands a new education system, different from what prepared us in the 1950s and ’60s.

David has known me for only a few years, and he has generously given me invaluable advice.  What I’m doing now is in no small part because of his contributions over the past many years.  You youngsters out there — if you’ve not seen David Thornburg speak, then hock your watch, buy a bus ticket, and head to the nearest ed tech conference that’s featuring him as a keynote.

I’ve also enjoyed making music with David, though I really can’t get the hang of bossa nova on my keyboard.

As for David’s comments on my blog, I think that he is both right and wrong, which is something that I seem especially skilled at doing.

I’ve read the stories about where the term, Web 2.0, came from, and I accept that it is part marketing.  But even though Reilly has trademarked the term, Web 2.0 seems to lend itself to endless interpretations.  It seems that almost any interview with new web enthusiasts, evangelists, and developers begins with, “So, what’s your definition of Web 2.0?”  This mushiness, of course, is not comforting to educators, who need things to fit on a multiple choice test.  However, I think that a highly flexible term can be useful to the rapidly evolving information environment that the Web has become.

That said, I would counter Thornburg’s assertion that “..Web 2.0 is pure commercial marketing hype, and NOTHING more.”  It is true that there is little about the new web that is technically brand new.  But I think that it is important, especially as educators, to think about the Web as something more than just the machines, infrastructure, and protocols that make it work.  It is a growing information landscape that, I believe, has changed pretty dramatically in the past half-dozen years.

So I’d like to take just a few minutes to respond to David’s listing of tools — and I urge you to read his full text at the original blog, First Year Teachers, comment 11.

Flickr? I can show you the e-mail arguments between Marc Andreeson and Tim Berners-Lee regarding Andreeson’s argument that the web should allow photos to be displayed…

A multimedia web obviously won out, and there have certainly been online photo album services for many years.  But what’s new with Flickr is that it represents far more than a personal family album.  It’s a global photo album, where we share the images of our experiences with a world of people who are interested.  Little here is technically new, but the site begs to be used this way.  What’s more, I can form virtual photo albums with Flickr based on people, places, events, concepts, and even based on David Thornburg.  I can even train those photos to find me, as new pictures, tagged with specific words, are uploaded. I’ve been sharing bookmarks since the discovery of pi. puhlease…

True!  But is far more than just sharing bookmarks.  It’s a growing library of web-based resources that are loosely (but effectively) organized around tags that are applied by those who contribute.  ..And here is one of the qualities that I would lump with Web 2.0 applications — that they invite, rely on, and respect the cooperation and contributions of the community.  Not only are social bookmarking systems like libraries in how they are collected, but also in that I can check out, so to speak, web resources based on topic/tag and even based on the contributor, and I can train those web links to appear automatically in my own web sites and online handouts.  This is new, this ability to organize dynamic documents that reshape themselves based on the contributions of others.

Blogging? Oh, you mean “bulletin boards?” These were wildly popular when Marc Andreeson was in elementary school.

Well, yes!  But how many people were participating in those bulletin boards — and who?  You did and I did, because we were willing to invest the time in learning to use computers, modems, and communication software.  It was nearly six-months from the time that I purchased my first modem, before I was able to login to my first bulletin board.  David Thornburg probably had a hand in inventing the first modems.

Blogging democratized the Web.  Before blogging, you needed to have technical skills in HTML or the ability to operate sophisticated editing software to publish on the web.  Today, you simply need to be able to type — and it’s free.  Now certainly there was no firm line when the web became democratic, though It’s interesting to point to the beginning of  But what’s truly interesting is that there are individuals who, with the use of blogs, are now enjoying a larger readership than many nationally recognized newspapers, and they’re making a living at it.  This is new and it is important.

Oh, I know, Second Life! Yesiree. That has Web 2.0 written all over it. Except that Neal Stephenson wrote all about it in Snowcrash, published in 1992. His vision of a parallel virtual world became reality a few years later with a program called the Palace that kids all over the world were using to create virtual worlds. My book on the topic was published so long ago it is out of print. You can, however, still buy Snowcrash.

Hey!  I loved Snowcrash.  And to tell the truth, when I’m asked to define Web 2.0, I almost never include Mult-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs).  I suspect that a case could be made for it, but I usually do not.  Some have said that Second Life represents Web 3.0, but I suspect that what ever constitutes the NEXT generation hasn’t happened yet, and it may be a real surprise.

Look, David, you are a very bright guy, and you have fallen victim to the hype factory. Here’s a suggestion. Be sure you understand the difference between mere qualititative quantitative change (doing old jobs better and faster) and qualitative change – truly doing new things.

This is true enough, though you probably overstated the “bright guy” thing.  There is little that is technically new here (though I haven’t mentioned RSS), but it’s not the technical that I’m interested in.  My goal is not to assure that all of the teachers in my audiences know what a blog is, what RSS is, how to create a wiki, or even publish a podcast.  Hell, that’s all going to change anyway.  My goal is to convince educators and education stakeholders to understand that these incremental advances in technology have affected our information experience.  It has become far more participatory, reader controlled, and it conducts human interactions in ways that were never possible before — and it is having profound affects on many aspects of our culture.

It is absolutely critical that educators and education stakeholders understand this, because the learning experiences that you and I enjoyed in the 1950s and ’60s are absolutely insufficient and in some cases in appropriate to preparing our children for their future.  We need to make the case that as information experiences change, the literacy skills that are necessary to accomplish goals through that information experience must also change — and if a little hype helps us do that, then hype me up.

There are new things to talk about, as you know from attending my sessions.

Right you are, there are new things — more than one.  Yours is equity, helping us all to understand that we can provide our students and teachers with access to digital content, even within a society that seems unwilling to pay for it.  You’ve taught us that there are alternatives with less than “state-of-the-art” machines and open source software.  I respect this and I respect you for this and every other issue you’ve educated us about.

But I’m going to continue to push on this idea that while open source software is providing us with new opportunities, open source content (Web 2.0) is also challenging us to think about what and how we teach our children in different ways.

I know, financial security means giving people what they want. Load a speech title with buzz words, and you get great bookings.

HEY!  There’s a lot of bandwagons I refused to jump on that would have made it a lot easier to get my kids through college and provide a secure future for my wife and me.  So just because I’ve chosen one issue and you chose another, doesn’t make you right and me wrong.  We could both be right!

Again, with respect and gratitude!

19 thoughts on “In Response — The Need for “Web 2.0””

  1. David I believe your response to Dr.Thornburg’s comment on your blog is very good. What struck me when I read his comments on First Year Teachers was that he seemed to miss the concept of web 2.0 allowing for collaboration and communication among those of us who choose to participate in this online world of give and take. He never mentions the opportunities available to everyone now in this read/write world to build communities, build networks of people to learn from and with through this pariticipatory culture. Yes, some of these concepts have been around for a long time, but certainly not the ability to reach out to others across the country and the world to ask for opinions, suggestions, share ideas, ask questions, offer our own successes and challenges in a global community of learners. Your blog is always interesting, thought provoking and one of the ways I continue my own learning day to day. Thank you.

  2. WOW. What a great exchange. I agree you can both be correct, but as a teacher I see so many more opportunities (for ALL teachers) now than I did just 5 years ago. It is not as daunting as it was, things are easy to use and FREE!!! I actually think that one of the reasons that many “old school” teachers have rejected technology is because of the attitude of many “techies” that seems somewhat snobbish.

  3. Interesting discussion. I think you’re dead on, though, when you explain the difference between early versions of these technologies and the current incarnation.

    Thornburg wrote:
    If teachers weren’t paying attention when this stuff was shown to them the first time, what makes things different now? Teachers are busy folks, they need insights they can use right away.

    Speaking as a teacher who remembers how excited she was to have an Apple IIC her first year of teaching (a glorified word processor, but I thought it was wonderful!), and who is now buried neck deep in digital storytelling, blogs, wikis, etc, I can tell you exactly why I’m paying more attention now.

    Back in the day, I remember trying to join a local bulletin board. It required special software that I had to drive somewhere to get on a floppy disk. THen it took me forever to figure out how to load and run it. Once I did, I could only log on half the time, as lines were frequently busy. It was difficult to use, difficult to manage, and not very great to look at. I had one computer in my classroom, and only a few in the computer lab, none of which had internet access. I was only even vaguely aware of what the internet WAS.

    The difference today, as you say, is both
    one of scope and access. First, schools are more prepared to use these tools in meaningful ways. We have the equipment, we need the training and the pedagogical understanding for why it’ important to integrate technology. Second, thanks to the glories of open source software, wonderful techno-mashes, and WYSIWYG it’s easier to use and easily available for even the most technophobic user. Software developers are designing applications with the needs and knowledge of the average user in mind, not technogeeks (grin–and I use that word affectionately!)

    ALso, as the first poster said, its about creating communities. As I dove into the world of blogs, wikis and nings this summer, set up RSS feeds and immersed myself in the thoughts/ideas of the best and brightest, I became part of an ongoing conversation that taught me more in six weeks than I learned in my entire grad program this year. I feel connected and engaged, and I want to re-create that experience for my students.

    THAT is why I’m paying more attention now.

  4. Hi David,

    The point Mr. Thornburg misses is that while many of these tech functions have been around forever – bulletin boards, virtual worlds, sharing bookmarks etc. – the interfaces of Web 2.0 so simplify the processes that you don’t need to be a geek to do these things. That’s the democratizing factor.

    Interesting entry, David!


  5. “It’s not what we teach, it’s how” -Dr. Thornburg 1998. (Brainstorms and Lightning Bolts, p.48)

    If these tools change the way we teach for the better then they are valid, right? But is there no learning and implementation curve anymore?

    If we cannot adopt a change immediately should we discount it as hot air?

    MI theory revolutionized how we talk about education, but I wonder many teachers consciously use that information to improve how they respond to individual needs? I know they (the kids) are there, but there are still too many variables that are barriers to complete implementation. (Standardized testing anyone?)

    Does that make it invalid?

    I know this is taboo, but for most teachers and introduction to the tool is still necessary before they will think about it in terms of pedagogy. Workshops and in-service presentations about “the tool” are as good of a starting point as any. When I am done with a presentation I hope my audience leaves wanting to explore “the tool” further.

    I am always available to continue the discussion on-line. 🙂

  6. What an interesting conversation and exchange of ideas!

    What would happen if
    teachers who don’t attend conferences, or have tech friends so much, were enabled by technology. Some of the ways in which we are enables is through understanding.

    I used to have coffee with David Warlick when we were on a listserv. He’s a kind person and very sharing.

    I work very well with David Thornburg,
    and I don’t want to make choices but to applaud them both for what they have done to change education, teaching and learning.Creating and making a learning landscape that works is not all that easy.

    Without addressing the points raised on each side or the consideration each gave to the ideas of the other,my real concerns are the first year, second year, and third year teachers and the fact that technology has pretty much remained static in use unless pushed by the vendors for testing and assessment.

    How do we stop leaking teachers.. losing them from the profession?

    Why do we lose teachers?

    What can be done to improve the profession?

    I am long in teaching and technology so I didn’t really know what 2.0 described and really didn’t care until I realized that it was a term for things most of which I was already doing and so then I had the awareness level.

    I am an accidental technologist. I discovered that it made a difference in the lives of my students. I was
    more than shocked to learn how much more they learned. I like to be able to share, demonstrate, give information to teachers so they can become enabled. Both of these guys do that.

    Technologies are often around for a long time before they are accepted, particularly in teaching. What makes the moment that the technology becomes accepted is always interesting to me.Those of us who pilot them probably don’t get to be upfront at the time when they are accepted.

    I remember being in Georgia sharing about the cell phones , the research, how people would have cell phones and pictures and I was just about laughed out of the conference. It was not a great experience for me, being right meant nothing.

    It took some time , about a year before the cell phones started to be adopted by the public, but that was late after being almost booed by teachers while I was talking about it. It’s fine, a researcher picked up my notes and powerpoint and was happy to have it.

    I could make you laugh by telling you that I sent a private message to David Warlick asking some of the same questions about 2.0. David Thornburg, Ferdi and I have had the same conversations, just not on a blog and we all had feeling about our definitions too. I tend to be private in my concerns most of the time.

    Ferdi Serim and I had a confrontation about emerging technologies. But we don’t
    own the agenda of the bigs in technology. We are working together. The conversation is important ….

    I am bemused that we don’t recognize Internet 2, Teragrid, Petascale and visualization and modeling resources as
    emerging technologies. I think it is because the powers that be that decide what we present in conferences and on paper and in blogs are just learning? or maybe thinking that these applications have no reference to the classrooms of today. But I digress…

    I like both of thes guys, and the ways in which they think. Sometimes different , sometimes the same.

    The real issue is getting the attention o teacher and the public and those who might help educators come out of the
    1800’s.Perhaps with technology that reaches most teachers we can at least have the conversations that led to our own personal awareness.

    A real issue is keeping teachers in teaching its a great job, the variables are many and it really depends on where you are hired, what permission you have and sometimes what the sense of being is that is in the school, learning community, and the awareness in a global sense.. the reality of that place, that school, that faculty with which you work and then a lot of other little things.

    I have worked in places where I often was so challenged that it was not a happy task. It was not the children, it was the
    place and permission and policy.No matter how good I was , working there was hell.

    I loved teaching. That does not protect one from so many things that are a part of our educational culture. If you are really good at it you can be a target but it all depends on circumstances, and the variables we all know about.

    I think I had my head in the sand working with newer technologies thinking how far we had come along since 1996..if you are a new teacher, there were some really great projects going on around that time’
    they were not social networks but there were knowledgenetworks and teachers and researchers and kids shared information.

    Sometimes I write for and work with the George Lucas Educational Foundation. There are many case studies in videos and the magazines and even explanations of
    the policy, applications and the reality of trying to make it work.

    I think I was blogging even before Andy Carvin. But I was doing it for the purpose of bringing teachers to the discussion of the NIIAC, the people who helped to frame the policy for the use of technology in the US . One of the people who assisted me and backed me up was David Thornburg. You can’t imagine how radical it was then for a minority to have a voice, and one on the Internet.

    Andy Carvin has been blogging forever and had a tool that we , David Warlick are still working on.

    The idea was to start the conversation and to make change, real change and to not let teachers and schools be vendore driven. I am afraid I failed. But, I keep trying.

    David Thornburg helped to create the policy in the Clinton administration that
    was the foundation of what we are doing now no matter how furiously Margaret Spellings and this administration try to shut it down. I am sure he never shares that.

    We can change teaching and learning and broaden participation but not with
    1800’s in our mind as the way of teaching.If we are not careful, we will be being instructed to teach by people who don’t understand teaching and learning at all.

    Bonnie Bracey Sutton

  7. David,
    I think the historical perspective is important. The openness of the definition of Web 2.0 has pros and cons. As you say, it’s “highly flexible”. But people asking for more precision is not just about wanting to put it on a multiple choice test. It’s the worry that someone else will define it for us. Right now the concept of Web 2.0 in schools is in the hands of excited educators who have felt the power of learning something new and want to share it with their students and other educators, like Jeri said.

    This feels SO much like the 80’s, when computers first started trickling into schools. But the dark side is how schools, instead of turning to educators to show the way, turned to corporations and publishers to commercialize and pre-package the computer into school friendly forms. It deprived students and teachers of authentic abilities to program, to make music, to create and turned computers into test prep machines.

    We have the chance with Web 2.0 to recapture the authentic use of computers for education. It is, however, just as likely that history will repeat itself, since schools tend to purchase “solutions” that meet administrative needs.

    Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I hope that people who are new to Web 2.0 know that a whole movement of school reform started by technology pioneers had a tragic history, based much on the fact that its meaning was co-opted by corporations and the willingness of schools to give up their control of the educational process.

    Maybe it won’t happen again, maybe the free/open source concept is a weapon that will help this time. But free stuff can be bad and mis-educative just as much as stuff you pay for. The vigilance HAS to be on individual educators to stand up for what they believe in, and unfortunately, the mushy, techno-centric “fill-in-the-blank 2.0” terminology is not much of a educational foundation to stand on.

  8. And this proves what I continually say to people about you — YOU ARE A GENTLEMAN!!

    Bravo, David — excellent response.

  9. Nice response.

    The term Web 2.0 has taken a life of its own. It has so many meanings now to people that sometimes I think we should forget that it exists (not possible).

    Can’t we just understand how the internet has changed without arguing about a silly label?

    Easier said than done, but I need to get that off my chest.

  10. David Thornburg has a blog where he espoused his ideas on this topic a couple of weeks ago, see:

    I think really it has been a gradual (what Thornburg calls ‘quantitative’) shift. We had guestbooks and bulletin boards on the web even in the mid 90s. Wiki was created in 1995. If you are going to use the term ‘web 2.0’, then those were ‘web 2.0′ also. And as Thornburg points out, there were precursors before the web, in usenet, bulletin boards, IRC, etc., many of which are still popular today (check out the #ubuntu channel on irc freenode for example).

    Who cares? Well, no one’s arguing that kids should use usenet in schools, or irc. What’s the difference with wikis and blogs? That’s where customization, user control, and actual research data come into play. Wikis alone aren’t a solution, you need to change how you teach to accommodate them (see for example georgia tech’s research on their use). With blogs, I think there is research evidence that they help students’ writing ability. Also, since they are open source and don’t seem to be hosted on some big mainframe, you can customize them and install them on local networks or computers. For example moodle. Or use versions customized for educators (like edublogs).

    So, I think both sides are right in a way. Youtube may not be an answer to a school’s needs, but what about teachertube? Wikipedia I think has a lot of flaws, but wikispaces lets a teacher create a special wiki just for one class, and this other project selects the most educationally useful stuff from wikipedia:
    Digg is nice and popular but totally useless for education purposes. We could use an educational digg site. Most news sites (cnn, google news, yahoo news, etc.) have or no longer even have an educational section (including digg).

    And this also explains some people reluctance about Second Life in education. It is still at the IRC/USENET stage. Stored in centralized servers out of our control, and while some customizations are allowed, they, like Thornburg mentioned about powerpoint, tend to lean towards the superficial.

  11. Well, if blog writing improves our writing ability, blog commenting surely worsens it. I also mistyped some words as others have. I meant to say that most of the news sites on the web _don’t_ have an education section (cnn even dropped that section recently).

  12. Granted my mind starts to wonder and my eyes get bleary after reading 53 entries spawned from David’s original post and rebuttal—but did any one mention curriculum? Where does rich and rigorous content come in? Using technology to enhance or discuss fog gives you more fog. Just a thought. N.

  13. Not to send this off on a different tangent, but how would we all define “rich and rigorous content”? Do we mix the term “content” with “medium” sometimes? Are forms of communication other than the written word valid and relevant in “legit” education? How much of school should or should not change to meet the changes in how we live or lives? Do we sometimes hold onto “traditional” ways simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it? Is it necessary for every thoughtful and valid conversation or writing to be done in a “scholarly” manner with citations and MLA rules in place? Where do we envision learning going with all of this? Sooooooo much to ponder…

  14. This is a great discussion – for teachers.

    What I mean is, recapping the discussion for some of my students they chuckle and I receive the same response as when I take them to education conferences. “You mean teachers are still figuring out what to call it?” They’re incredulous when they see presentations and notice how some in the room have never heard of many of the topics before.

    While I completely agree that just because a student can operate their MySpace account, doesn’t mean they are technologically prepared, that’s the point. Most of this is becoming/has become mainstream whether the teachers are using it or not.

  15. I read the posts, I read the responses and only briefly–and only in one or two responses–did anyone mention the students. It’s not a matter of message board vs blog–it’s a matter of reaching students. Teach the students, communicate with them, the way that they are communicating. Nothing speaks more respect than to put yourself on even ground, on their terms, to show them that you are in it for them to succeed no matter what it takes. Students 20 years were calling each other on the phone–not instant messaging. There’s no comparison to the means of communication today vs the way we as kids were communicating and learning. There will always be new tools, but it’s a matter of how well we as teachers adapt to the changes.

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