Web 2.0 in higher education

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There is a belief in some circles that Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Joomla and Drupal are labour saving devices and that their very presence online will spontaneously invoke a community of highly-skilled individuals that will submit content and build the system in a coherent and meaningful way. This idea is a myth as virtual communities require a great deal of maintenance, promotion, and strategy to work in a meaningful way for all. It is almost impossible to make a virtual community work if the main concern is the technology alone. It is an inherently socio-technical exercise with the former being extraordinarily difficult in an institutional environment.

JISC will launch a report on Web 2 in Higher Education next Tuesday 12 May (that I will attend). I also draw attention to a case-study report published on the JISC web site last year that claims ‘The features most associated with a Web 2.0 approach (rate, comment, upload, blog and send to friend) were commonly described with reference to social networking or e-commerce sites and were largely considered non-academic and therefore inappropriate for the Pre-Raphaelite online resource’ (link). In other words, building a virtual community is a very labour intensive and difficult task in HE and almost impossible if there is not at least some attempt at a community building strategy. A virtual community needs a strong sense of community through a coherent and interesting concept, a belief that the labour that the user is contributing to the site is meaningful and consequential, and some sort of reward system. There is no rigid method for making a community site work, but it does take a strategy to grow and foster the community but the one that develops may not always be the one that was imagined in the first instance.

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