So what’s next? Web 3.0? .. Second Life? Or human beings communicating with each other?
Most people have some idea these days what we generally mean by Web 2.0 even though Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989 actually says that there is no such thing. What I understand by Web 2.0 is the transition from the top down communication that I grew up with where audiences received information from mass media, to a collaborative medium where content is, or may be, created by everyone. This has its pros and cons, that I’m not going to go into here in any great depth, but it is fair to say that whilst Neil Postman, in the eighties, told us that we had “no say” and could “do nothing” about the big questions, this was probably true, as most of the information was coming from the television to the viewers, or from newspapers to readers, so top down, from those in authority, to us, the masses, who did not even have the means to really know if what we were being fed was true or not.
Relationships and Communication, or Reaching Out.
This is no longer true, in the sense that now we can all interact with just about anyone, and videos that are making statements go viral everyday, as flash mobs are organised. Michael Wesch, in the video I include below, describes the way that the remix of an advert caused multinationals to renegotiate in order to protect the environment, and for whatever, reason they may have decided to do this, it has to be a good thing, and that was brought about by activity that was moving bottom-up, from us to them. The very fact that I am sitting here blogging means that I am not just scribbling my thoughts in a private journal as I used to do, but I am reaching out to you, and at least one or two people will read this and then add their own thoughts to the mix. This is, in my opinion, social construction of knowledge, and this, I think is what we mean by Web 2.0.
This is an image we all tend to associate with knowledge, and our education systems still buy into this idea. Knowledge is an object or a construct. Teachers can “provide it” for their learners, and learners can “acquire it” by studying, thinking and building up ever growing stocks of information. If we are very lucky some of our teachers will encourage us to think critically about this information and draw our own conclusions, but it is still knowledge as an object. Learning languages involves learning skills, and even these become objectified (I’m not sure if that’s even a word, but you know what I mean :-). In the language learning world we really should know better. Our learners all want to “communicate” which means “doing things with language” it does not mean memorizing volumes of metadata about iffy grammar rules, but even now, in the 21st Century, there are still classrooms whereoral exams mean speaking in the L1 about the systems of the L2, rather than actually using the L2 to do something meaningful. This is not, however, the norm, any more, fortunately, I have to add, and most classrooms nowadays reflect the shift that I mentioned at the beginning when thinking about the difference between the era of the television and our Web 2.0.
Knowledgeable or Knowledge-able?
Michael Wesch’s TED talk is entitled “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able” and, I think, this says it all in a nutshell. What our learners (and not only the learners but all of us, in fact) need to learn is how to use knowledge, what to do with it, how to communicate and how to find the reliable information they need to carry out the business of living. Gavin Dudeney in this presentation on Digital Literacies, said very similar things and one of the most memorable points he makes, I think, is that digital citizens envision technology as processes wuch as chatting, studying, blogging, skyping etc. whereas the technophobes are much more likely to think of technology as a collection of objects that are very likely to break down and cause them yet another headache. We’ve all been there, of course, and there is nothing worse than your computer crashing, unless it’s your car , with you in it, perhaps… Anyway, nothing is perfect but focusing on what we can do with technology rather than the devices themselves, seems to be a recipe for a more successful use. From this point of view, then, of course, what we need to do is to organise those processes, learn how to multitask, and in language learning, use the technology to increase our skills of communication in all languages.
Task Based Learning and Collaboration
So, whether your task is to get from A to B or whether it is to design your future, collaborating with others and learning from each other is, in my experience, one of the best ways to do things well. I know that I can study alone and probably do a good job, but when I work in a small team, the results are invariably better, as none of us is perfect and we can all teach each other something. I am thinking in particular about the process of writing exams, where, with the best will in the world, the items you write will not all be perfect, and sharing doubts etc. with a well-meaning colleague is a great help. This is why I am a great believer in task-based learning, particularly at B2+ levels, as it also has to be said, that learners who cannot use the language at at least an intermediate level tend to struggle when it comes to tasks, or they become so engrossed in the task that they fall back into the L1, as the task has become more important than the language they are using.
From a B2 level onwards, however, learners benefit much more from using the language to do meaningful activities and to actually create meaning with new language rather than artificial practice activities, but in order to do this those tasks may have to be scaffolded. It is rather daunting for learners to listen to native speakers doing a task, which simply provides a model that they will not be able to emulate. It would seem to be better to break the final task up into sub tasks in order to finally build the skills required to do the final one, so that writing an article about travel destinations to publish on a site like Tripadvisor, for instance, may start with work on the vocabulary learners may need, or some language work on the type of construction they may need when writing. Knowing how to do something is not the same as simply acquiring knowledge. Learning about how relative clauses work, because you are going to use them in a real life task like writing a Tripadvisor review, for instance, is a far cry from simply looking at relative clauses because they are the next item on the syllabus. There, are, of course, still issues, with task-based learning and one of these is how to build a meaningful syllabus based on tasks. I’m still looking for an answer to this. Any ideas?
Working together with Normalised technology
It seems to me that the real question is not whther we are in the era of Web 2.0 or Web 3.0, whatever that may ultimately prove to be, but whther the technology we are using is simply a “normal” part of the way we relate to each other on a daily basis. y learners are already using technology to work together on English tasks this quite well, and having just seen some of the great texts they are producing on our class wiki space, I felt quite euphoric and had to write this. Without even thinking too much about it, they are just sitting there and creating something together. The technology has become, in the words of Stephen Bax, normalised, so that it is not what is important, what is important is the process they are carrying out and the ideas they are exchanging. The technology is improving all the time, of course, so that nowadays comments can be made directly into a collaborative text and this can be stored digitally so that everyone can work on it together. This, to my mind, is what the next stage is, and we are already embarking on the process. It has more to do with human relationships and what we choose to do than the technology we use to do it, although, as I said a the beginning, we are in the middle of a shift where a bottom up approach to communication is proving dramatic. How we use these systems depends on us, and Michael Wesch tells the Aztec story of the little bird who tried to put out an inferno of the burning world with a few little drops of water from his beak. He was doing the best that he could. If we all join him, then think how powerful that might be.
Here is the video:
“From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able”