Web 2.0 enhances distance education

One of the most noticeable
developments in modern information and communication technology is Web 2.0, in
which social software is used to facilitate collaboration and sharing between
Internet users.

This computer-mediated
communication, found in sites such as MySpace and YouTube, is used every day by
millions of people.  Using appropriate
web-based tools and web hosts, users can write, record and share their ideas,
upload photographs for others to see, make Internet TV, or upload and share
videos.

So how can an educational
organisation such as the University of the West Indies Open Campus use Web 2.0?

Perhaps the most important aspect
of Web 2.0 is the control it gives to any user to publish whatever they want to
the web.  Internet users are no longer
passive recipients of information placed there by organisations and institutions.  Instead they are active contributors or publishers.
In education we want students to be active contributors to their learning, so
this aspect of Web 2.0 is particularly useful for distance learning when it is
conducted online.

Another important aspect of Web 2.0
for distance learning is its potential to facilitate social interaction and
build a sense of community amongst the users. Students can share their ideas,
hopes and frustrations or just vent their feelings about any particular topic
in a ‘virtual community of learners’ in the same way they would do on campus.

There is a wide range of Web 2.0
tools that can be used in distance learning, including:

Blogs – journals or newsletters in
which users frequently post informal thoughts, comments, and philosophies
reflecting their views.

Chats – places on the internet
where two or more people with similar interests meet and communicate together
by typing instant messages.

Discussion boards or forums –
online discussion groups, where participants with common interests exchange
open messages.

Email – electronic mail system that
can be used to send text and attachments.

Instant messages – programs that
instantly send messages from one computer to another. Podcasts – a method of
publishing mostly audio and video files to the internet, allowing users to
subscribe to receive new files.

Social bookmarking – a system that
enables users to store links to web pages and the resulting lists can be made
accessible to other users of that bookmarking system.

Social networking sites – where
users can maintain links with their social networks and perhaps link to new
people on the same site.

Wikis – software that allows users
to freely create and edit Web page content and hyperlinks using a web
browser.  The most famous wiki is
wikipedia.

In Caribbean countries, as
elsewhere, ICT can play a significant role in equalising opportunities for marginalised
groups and communities.  Web 2.0 provides
tools that education institutions can use to assist in this process.  The UWI Open Campus continually explores ways
in which they can be used to improve its distance education programmes.

Professor Stewart Marshall is
director, special initiatives for the UWI Open Campus

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