Friday, August 1, 2014

A review of the book "Web 2.0 for schools"

Julia Davies and Guy Merchant, Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation, New York: Peter Lang, 2009, pp. xi + 146. ISBN 9781433102639

In this book, Davies and Merchant (D & M) explain that a significant amount of learning occurs in  out-of-school contexts, leaving the concept of formal learning institutions outdated. Understanding online interaction as a new way of learning helps us to appreciate the various online interactions found in Web 2.0. A paradigm shift in learning practice is engendered by digital technology, and in particular networking, participative and collaborative developments are maintained constantly in Web 2.0 (Sew, 2010).
D & M identify an advantage of web-based learning, namely that Web 2.0 spaces give voice to participants and suggest new possibilities for social engagement and citizenship (p. 8). Indeed, there is much efficacy to be harnessed from Web 2.0 including the learning of Malay as a foreign language (Sew, 2009, 2012). As a space to cultivate personal interests, the fan sites powered by Web 2.0 have become the avenue to develop self-esteem for a male Chinese American immigrant. In dealing with his literacy fallout in the formal classroom setting, the teenager was able to find his (English) voice through interacting with the fans of his website created in dedication to Ryoko, a celebrated female singer of Japanese pop songs (Lam, 2000).
D & M's project investigates the impact of digital media on two areas: firstly, changes in holistic individual identities that occurred with the use of digital media; and secondly, the extent to which digital media have altered conventional social organizing criteria, such as gender, ethnicity and language (p. 17). The answers are found in the deliberations and vignettes in each chapter. At the outset, the holistic social identities of online users may be fragmented by digital technology (Asthana, 2012).  Some of the web-based features may include user presence, the ability to modify content and user-generated content, and the social participation of online users (p. 5). As a result, the self becomes a fluid concept in online activities. Debunking a unitary concept of self(less) in an interface of real and virtual worlds, Thorne’s observation (2003) that artifacts, including digital media, take their character from the activity itself is insightful to us for contextualizing the notion of pattern-randomness. The notion of pattern-randomness involving distributed identity-self generated by hybrid chase games such as Can You See Me Now? illustrates a shift of embodied-self to a digital production of a telematic posthuman self (cf. Chatzichristodoulou, 2009).
In contrast to the term affinity spaces introduced in Gee and Hayes’ book (2011), D & M use the term spaces of reflection. Among other reasons, participation in these spaces is not absolutely collaborative, as opposition is a common outcome from interacting with others online (p. 18). However, the term reflection has a didactic underpinning that may not correlate with the motive(s) of participation among like-minded online gamers or chat room users online.
Despite the terminology quibble, affinity spaces as a term appears frequently in Chapter 4 describing the intricacies of online photo sharing. While acknowledging the use of webcams and internet-based video conferencing, D & M contend that most online interactions come in written formats that are stripped of the prosodic and paralinguistic features of oral and face-to-face communication (p. 19). Such a view is contestable with literacy outcomes manifested in different modes of semiotic expression following the application of a multimodal approach to second language writing (Nelson, 2006). Additionally, online bilingual English-Cantonese-chat interaction is multimodal with its digital content inherent in different forms of emoticon and animation (Lam, 2004).
Technical terms such as folksonomy and tag cloud are introduced to highlight the varying aggregation of tags and tag clusters assigned to the respective visual content stored in Flickr. Some of the interesting themes useful for pedagogical purposes reflected in Flickr’s membership groups include 5 picture story and photo dominoes (pp. 48-49). The former photo group requires individuals to upload five images that tell a story, while the members of the latter have to contribute an image that is relatable to the previous photo in either content or theme. Diverse uses of photo sharing in Flickr may foster creativity with new interests. Davies develops an interest for street-art from studying the online photos in Flickr while Merchant enhances his understanding of different types of padlock following his participation in a Flickr micro-community (pp. 43-44).
D & M find the data collected by Technocrati’s blog-count in Web 2.0 rather bare because the number says little about whose blogs are being commented or visited regularly; nor do the statistics reveal who owns multiple blogs (p. 27). D & M’s reporting on 2 billion images found in Flickr until Nov. 2007 (p. 35), however, does not tell much about the types of picture that are more frequently uploaded, or the categories of image that attracted more online viewers with extensive comments. It is explicated further that music sharing is an extremely popular online practice among 15-25 year olds.
In relation to the disregard of copyright laws by online users of music sharing sites, e.g., Napster, BitTorrent and LimeWire (p. 73-72), D & M make a timely suggestion for media education to include legality issues surrounding music sharing. Beyond verbal warnings against downloading music files illegally, educating young learners on the musical materials that are available for free sharing and selecting intellectual properties endorsing maximal Creative Commons are instrumental to responsible digital citizenry. Teaching responsible digital social media in schools is critical to bridge the ethical vacuum in current digital media use. D & M stress that the dynamic features of shared knowledge and distributed authorship qualify wikis as a valuable learning tool. The characteristics of wikis outlined in the book indicate that open wiki participation is conducive to intense interactivity online (p. 99), so encouraging learning involvement online entails a change of teachers’ role from transmitting knowledge to coordinating and facilitating learner participation. In this respect, teachers are considered as the brokers of learning in the learning landscape of the 21st century.
Using wiki-writing as an example, D & M outline the principles of 4P as the structured conditions to implement online learning practice (p. 106). Furthermore, appreciating the underlying operatives that include purpose, participation, partnerships and planning are critical to prevent a recycling of traditional learning with digital technology. An old wine in new bottles phenomenon occurs when digital media are used to maintain traditional learning practices, namely essayist literacy (see Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). At the cognitive level, we are reminded that pigeonholing ICT skills according to the requirements of different subjects is not in sync with learning in the digital age (Buckingham, 2007)
An alternative would be playing literacy games involving both children and parents towards transformative learning. Through structured repetition and feedback programmed digitally, literacy games are relevant for improving English reading skills in the United Kingdom (Homes, 2011). In line with the possible strength of digital media to foster learning, a different picture complementary to the current practice of teacher-centred chalk and talk is presented in the book. D & M introduce the readers to many digital platforms available for constructive exploitations in formal learning.
Peppered with interesting anecdotes, the strengths and the shortcomings surrounding each type of digital media are examined in the book. The theoretical grounding and hands-on skills provided by the authors have positioned digital media strategically for classroom learning. Useful information is made available for educators and parents to appreciate the significance of various digital literacy practices in out-of-classroom contexts. Readers may find the idea of brokering learning to maintain learners’ participation online at all levels of education an important strategy for progressive learning. In the current learning landscape, infusing digital technology into pedagogy is indeed a relevant literacy practice.

Asthana, S. (2012). Youth media imaginaries from around the world. New York: Peter Lang.
Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond technology: Children’s learning in the age of digital culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Chatzichristodoulou, M. (2009). When presence-absence becomes pattern-randomness: Blast theory’s can you see me now? In A. Bentkowska-Kafel, T. Cashen, & H. Gardiner (eds.), Digital visual culture: Theory and practice (pp. 79-87). Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.

Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. R. (2011). Language and learning in the digital age. London: Routledge.
Holmes, W. (2011). Using game-based learning to support struggling readers at home. Learning, Media and Technology, 36(1), 5-19.

Lam, E. W. S. (2000).  L2 literacy and the design of the self: A case study of a teenager writing on the Internet.  TESOL Quarterly 34(4), 457-482.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning.  Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Nelson, M. E.  (2006). Mode, meaning and synaesthesia in multimedia L2 writing. Language Learning & Technology 10, 56-76.  

Sew, J.W. (2012). Learning Malay online at tertiary level. GEMA: Online Journal of Language Studies 12(1), 147-162.

Sew, J.W. (2010). Kuala Lumpur: University Malaya Press.

Sew, J.W.  (2009). Wired new learning: Blogging Malay literacy. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 6, Suppl. 1, pp. 302–314.
Thorne, S. L. (2003). Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication.  Language Learning & Technology, 7, 38-67.

Jyh Wee Sew
Centre for Language Studies
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
National University of Singapore