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Stephen Miles

Web 2.0 Review

EDUC 5101G Learning with Technology 1

A Critique of Web 2.0 Tools An Examination of Bitstrips as a Tool for Teaching and Learning There is much evidence to support the claim that students who use technology in the classroom on a regular basis demonstrate increased achievement levels (Rockman et al, 2000; Roderick & Engel, 2001; Haydel & Roeser, 2002; Gulek, 2003). The research on this topic usually involves a technology immersion program where students are given laptops to take home or have full day access to technology on a one-to-one basis (Gulek & Demirtas, 2005). While effective in improving student achievement, these programs require significant financial investments or grants that are not possible in most schools, resulting in inequities among schools and districts. How then do we ensure access to technology for all students while minimizing the costs associated with implementation? One solution that is the source of much discussion recently, is allowing students to use their own personal devices at school. While this approach has many hurdles to overcome, one of the key issues is what common programs and software are students to use when they have a variety of different devices? Web 2.0 tools offer a common platform for students to learn, collaborate and create on any device that is Wi-Fi enabled.

Technology use in education should be used to engage and motivate students through the use of authentic tasks that encourage collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Using Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom is a step in the right direction for developing active, self-actualized learning and can foster some of the skills users develop in online gaming environments (Gee, 2003; Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004; Prensky, 2006). This paper will examine the use of Bitstrips, a Web 2.0 tool used to create avatars, comic strips and share ideas and creations in a secure, online environment, in the classroom setting. I will also examine the theoretical framework of connectivism and flow theory as it relates to Bitstrips and the relationship between the use of Web 2.0 tools and student achievement.

What is Web 2.0? Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of sites available on the World Wide Web. According to Gilmor (2007), it is distinct from the read only first generation of web applications by evolving sites into a read, write web where users are able to manipulate the content available on sites to best suit their own needs. Web 2.0 sites involve a more active participation on the part of the prosumer as opposed to the passive role of consumers in previous versions of the Web (Chang, 2006). While opinions vary on an exact definition of Web 2.0, Duffy (2008) outlines some of the key characteristics as follows: network as platform; delivering (and allowing users to use) applications entirely through an internet browser users own the content on a site and exercise control over it an architecture of participation that encourages users to contribute a rich, interactive, user-friendly interface social-networking functions

OReilly (2005) is largely credited with pushing the term Web 2.0 into our modern lexicon and sums up his definition by stating; Web 2.0 stands for the idea that the Internet is evolving from a collection of s tatic pages into a vehicle for software services, especially those that foster self-publishing, participation, and collaboration.

Web 2.0 sites have extensive implications for teaching and learning and our society in general. Research by Greenhow et al. (2009) shows that over 50 per cent of young people in the United States spend 9 hours a week on Web 2.0 activities alone, not including time spent using other media and technology. Spending this much time each week connected to technology causes young people to actually think differently through a process called brain plasticity, based on research by Kolb, Gibb, & Robinson (2003). It is important for teachers to engage in professional learning regarding technology in the classroom and in particular, Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning, in order to promote some of the benefits of online learning. Owston (2009) highlights some of the benefits for teachers to develop their professional knowledge using Web 2.0

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technology as anytime-anywhere learning, instant access to a network of professionals and the fostering of a professional learning community (p. 271).

What is Bitstrips? Bitstrips is an interactive website that uses comics to engage students, teach critical thinking, and allow for collaboration in a secure online environment. Bitstrips is one of the few Web 2.0 applications that have specifically targeted classroom use by enabling a free teacher login account where teachers can add multiple classes and easily assign accounts and activities for students to access. Within the Bitstrips environment, teachers assign a username, which is the students own name selected from a pull down menu, and a login for each member of the class. In the elementary school setting, Web 2.0 sites such as Bitstrips, that do not require students to have an email address, are particularly appreciated, as most students in the primary/junior age group do not have an email address , which prevents access to many Web 2.0 sites. In my own practice as the Teacher-Librarian and Media Studies teacher at an elementary school, I appreciate the ease of use on the site and the variety of activities available for students. I used Bitstrips at the beginning of the school year with all grades, Kindergarten to Grade 8, to create avatars and short comic strips to introduce themselves, and was amazed by the effort and focus students put in to their creations. As the year progressed I have been able to assign activities related to topics such as bullying, medieval times, and the War of 1812 to name a few, that create a cross-curricular connection to the topics being studied in their regular classrooms.

Bitstrips conforms to Duffys (2008) aforementioned criteria for a Web 2.0 application in that it is accessible through an Internet browser and students own and have control over the content of the site. Students are eager to share the artefacts they create and can collaborate online to complete work. They are able to post comments on the work of others and share ideas, as well as publish their work to the class gallery, which satisfies Duffys (2008) social networking criteria. The teacher is able to share the class gallery publicly by enabling the feature and sharing the URL link with others outside of the classroom. Within the program

itself are countless options and capabilities for developing creative, entertaining comics. The layout is logical and user-friendly allowing students to master the navigation of options quickly with a minimum of instruction. Despite having modelled the use of the features within Bitstrips many times, students are able to easily surpass my own knowledge of the site and are eager to share their new findings with other members of the class. Theoretical Framework Bitstrips, along with many Web 2.0 sites, falls within the intersection of the Informational and the Social competencies in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) theoretical framework as outlined by Van Oostveen (2012). Bitstrips as a tool to create, innovate and foster critical thinking can also be considered under the Epistemological competencies of the HCI model as well. Connectivism is a theory for learning developed by Siemens (2005) and Downes (2005) to describe a process for learning that fits more closely with the use of technology as a tool for learning and knowledge creation. When learners connect to a network or community of shared interest, learning is created through interaction, dialoguing, and thinking together (Siemens, 2005). The ideology of connectivism is as follows:

learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions; learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources; learning may reside in non-human appliances; capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known; nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning; ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill; currency (up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities; decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision. (Siemens, 2005)

Connectivism is applicable to the use of Bitstrips as a vehicle for learning and creating knowledge in that students are connected with a network of users, with common goals and purpose, in order to develop and create meaning. Learning is continuously changing and evolving as students share thoughts and ideas with

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Web 2.0 Review

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each other. Shared knowledge is a powerful tool for learning as each student brings a different perspective to the group. The Bitstrips environment is empowering for all students as they have control over the pace of their learning and can contribute knowledge through their unique background and perspective.

Flow Theory, also known as Optimal Experience, was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1991) and can be used to describe the experience students have when connected to Bitstrips and focused on a particular task. Csikszentmihalyi (1991) refers to flow as a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. In terms of learning, Flow Theory can be described as the intersection between challenge and skill (Van Oostveen, 2012). Guiding students into a state of intense concentration and focus, combined with the joy and excitement of discovery and accomplishment, is the educational equivalent of an epic win for teachers. It is indeed a rarity, and something we continually strive for in our lessons and assignments, but with the use of Web 2.0 sites and other technology in the classroom, perhaps it is possible to achieve the epic win more often. Csikszentmihalyi (1993) describes eight dimensions for achieving a flow state, most of which can be closely linked with the criteria for Web 2.0 sites. The dimensions are as follows: Clear goals and immediate feedback Equilibrium between the level of challenge and personal skill Merging of action and awareness Focussed concentration Sense of potential control Loss of self-consciousness Time distortion Autotelic or self-rewarding experience

Similarities between the criteria for flow and the criteria for a Web 2.0 site can be seen in the need for the learner to control learning at their own level, the connection between action and awareness, which

encourages learners to contribute, and the ability to give and receive feedback from other learners. If our goal for learners is to achieve a sense of flow, then Bitstrips is a site designed to accomplish these goals. Educational Benefits and Strategies for Using Bitstrips in Teaching and Learning Some of the educational benefits of using Bitstrips are highlighted on the site itself and include the promotion of critical thinking, cross-curricular lessons, collaboration on the creation of artefacts in a secure environment, the development of social skills and emotion recognition, and the ability to make inferences in digital storytelling. Students often dont connect the use of comics to literacy so it is an excellent tool for promoting reading and writing skills while motivating them through self-expression and creativity.

Strategies for using Bitstrips as a tool for learning can involve the creation of a community where everyone can contribute with equal value, regardless of age or ability level. It can also be used as a creative alternative assessment to a traditional written report, thus promoting media and visual literacy skills. The use of comics is a powerful strategy for portraying concepts in a setting students can easily connect with and helps to visualize concepts. Historical events can be connected to real life emotions and feelings through the use of Bitstrips and can often lead to a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding major events.

Conclusions Bistrips can create an enthusiasm for learning while allowing students to express themselves creatively. Similar to many Web 2.0 applications, Bitstrips is beneficial for student use by supporting topics in a fun, safe environment while encouraging students to think critically about issues surrounding their studies. It is excellent for supporting learning in a visual manner, allowing students to personify issues and ideas and connect the topic to their own background knowledge and experience. Through the framework of connectivism, students create knowledge in Bitstrips through a diversity of opinions, by communicating and collaborating to develop comics. It also allows students to connect subjects and ideas, as well as make decisions on the topics they choose to develop. As websites continue to evolve into Web 3.0 and beyond, educators have the potential to use these technology tools to support the curriculum and boost enthusiasm for learning, leading students and educators alike towards their own epic wins.

Stephen Miles References

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Siemens, G. (2008). About: Description of connectivism. Connectivism: A learning theory for todays learner, website. Van Oostveen, R. (Producer) (2012). Module 3 social order [Web]. Retrieved from Van Oostveen, R. (Producer) (2012). Module 4 epistolmological order [Web]. Retrieved from