Thursday, August 28, 2008

Definitions and criticism

So Web 2.0, what is it? In one sentence, Web 2.0 is the fruition of interactivity and production online, where the focus or the foundation of online work and play is social production, rather than individual information gathering. As I mentioned in my rationale, it's a term coined by Tim O'Reilly to describe a shift he was seeing in Internet usage, one that he as an entrepreneur wanted (and still wants) to profit from.

One way to differentiate between Web 1.0 and 2.0 that O'Reilly presents in his article "What is Web 2.0" is a list of programs/services that contrast with each other between the two versions of the web. Here are a few examples:

Web 1.0 --> Web 2.0
Ofoto --> Flickr
Britannica Online --> Wikipedia
personal websites --> blogging
content management systems --> wikis

The basic difference between the two being much more interaction between users in Web 2.0 compared to Web 1.0.

One singular example that just clicked for me in the last week is the difference between bookmarking or "adding to favorites" and social bookmarking. Since the browser became available in the mid nineties, we've been able to bookmark web sites to recall later by clicking on the necessary toolbar or button. But they only worked on one computer. If you were at another computer, you couldn't access your bookmarks.

Today, with services like delicious, you can upload bookmarks that are accessible by any computer and can easily be shared with other users.

Here's an image of memes in O'Reilly's article that helped me keep straight the concept:

Some criticize the term and concept, with concerns about the over commercialization of social websites, leading to a lack of "unmarketed space," the exploitation of labor, and the hype surrounding the idea that Web 2.0 is something radically different from Web 1.0, as Tim Berners-Lee, one of the pioneers of the Internet denies. No doubt the criticisms have merit--certainly most any Web 2.0 application can find its antecedents in Web 1.0. However, isn't that the case in any versioning? Firefox 2.0 and 3.0 have many of the same features, but the latter takes the browser to a new level. Might the same be said of Web 2.0? Let's look at a rather longish passage from Kevin Kelly's "We Are the Web":

How could we create so much, so fast, so well? In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world's population. That remarkable achievement was not in anyone's 10-year plan.

The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers - all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works.

This view is spookily godlike. You can switch your gaze of a spot in the world from map to satellite to 3-D just by clicking. Recall the past? It's there. Or listen to the daily complaints and travails of almost anyone who blogs (and doesn't everyone?). I doubt angels have a better view of humanity.

Why aren't we more amazed by this fullness? Kings of old would have gone to war to win such abilities. Only small children would have dreamed such a magic window could be real. I have reviewed the expectations of waking adults and wise experts, and I can affirm that this comprehensive wealth of material, available on demand and free of charge, was not in anyone's scenario. Ten years ago, anyone silly enough to trumpet the above list as a vision of the near future would have been confronted by the evidence: There wasn't enough money in all the investment firms in the entire world to fund such a cornucopia. The success of the Web at this scale was impossible.

Seems to me that this evolution of the web--from static web pages, documents and images in the mid 90s to the sharing and creating of information, art, ideas, opinions, and so on today presents the crux of the change. Again, I'm not saying much of the social interaction/production didn't take place in the 90s. Listservs, AOL IM, MOOs, AltaVista Forum (early course management software), Amazon and bulletin board reviews--all were vibrant a decade ago. But with the advent and spread of high speed Internet, low cost, powerful laptops and desktops, even cell phones, the interaction between users and production of services has exploded well beyond what most envisioned a decade ago.

And the whole argument concerning exploited labor--people doing stuff online for free rather than being paid to develop (see Scholz )--neglects to consider the drive to create that many hobbies or pastimes fulfill--knitting, woodworking, cooking, photography, painting. Sure, we need to keep an eye open for exploitation and the theft of work by large corporations. But it seems that most of the "free" work being done online is simply because people are having fun making stuff.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Schedule of activities

Here is the proposed schedule of activities I proposed in my sabbatical application.

Month 1: research Web 2.0 for educational purposes, sifting through the hype and the reality of the communities and applications currently being used.

Month 2: begin to explore Second Life, especially Angel Learning Island and other virtual campuses. Also, choose a few web 2.0 applications, such as Pageflakes or Netvibes, and explore more closely their value in college classes.

Month 3: create some assignments that could be used in online classes based on the research and exploration noted above.

Looks neat and tidy, doesn't it? Well, so does the "writing process" taught, especially this week, all across the nation in thousands of composition classes, presenting an orderly cause and effect set of tasks to compose an essay. Anyone who has spent any time writing learns right off, it ain't that neat. Writing is recursive, where we try some prewriting, then some drafting, then some more invention techniques, then throw it all away and start over, then freewriting, so on and so forth.

Such will take place with my research. While I will focus on the aspects of my work as described above, I expect to take(and already have taken!!!!!) many sidetrips, dropping out of research to play with web applications, dropping out of web applications to do some research, or sketch out a preliminary assignment.

I'll try to keep things looking orderly and sensible in this blog, but I look at the exploration as play, and like a child making mud pies, I expect things to get rather messy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sabbatical statement of purpose

Here is my statement of purpose that I used to explain/justify my sabbatical for the sabbatical committee (with a couple alterations):

In 1996, I went to the League of Innovations in Atlanta, Georgia. In visiting the vendors, I kept hearing the same thing over and over: “Well, six months ago we were working on this CD, but today, we’re redesigning to place it online.” It was clear that in publishing, education, indeed in much of modern society, the Internet exploded onto the scene and changed everything. And many had to scramble to catch up.

Lansing Community College was one of those institutions who scrambled, and with President’s Syke’s vision and full support for faculty to develop courses as fully interactive and rigorous as face-to-face (f2f) classes—and in one year—we started offering an online degree with the newly formed Virtual College in fall 1997, the first community college in Michigan to do so. With a desktop computer, dial-up connection, AltaVista Forum, Netscape Composer, some web space and email, I conducted the first WRIT 121: Composition I class online and have continued teaching online, whether with f2f, hybrid or fully online classes, ever since.

Much has changed in the last ten years—FrontPage, Angel, high speed Internet, Firefox, WIMBA—with my online classes, as well as the many others at LCC and at colleges across the nation. However, changes are taking place within the last few years that are beginning to leave many of us scrambling, again, to catch up: Web 2.0, a term coined under four years ago by Tim O’Reilly that comes to terms with the web as interactive communities rather than as a place for individuals to access information through their standalone PC. With blogs, Google, Wikipedia, Pageflakes, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Second Life and many other web applications and web communities, the Internet has become much more interactive and adaptive than anything we saw ten years ago.

Consequently, what I plan to do for my sabbatical is to explore the Web 2.0 world with the purpose of determining what and where (virtually) would enhance online learning for my classes. I’m particularly interested in finding ways to make online classes much more of a virtual world than we currently present through our two-dimensional course management software (CMS) platform, Angel, where class members have a place with visual and aural depth just as they do traditionally with a brick and mortar classroom.

I’m particularly interested in Second Life, a 3D virtual community where users have a physical presence through avatars that roam a virtual world much like a video game. Angel just last year rolled out their own Angel Learning Island in Second Life upon which educators can learn about, explore, and conduct online classes. And some colleges/universities have their own virtual institution in this virtual world, such as Ohio University, Case Western Reserve and Valencia Community College.