Tomorrow I am off to attend a “National Roundtable” on Web 2.0 Authoring Tools in Higher Education Learning and Teaching: New Directions for Assessment and Academic Integrity. Quite a mouthful. I’ve spent some of the traveling time today reading the discussion paper and trying to formulate what I might be able to contribute. We’re meant to give an opening statement as the lead off. What will I say?

Social media is promising, but it ain’t everything

First, I’ll use social media instead of Web 2.0. I feel that social media in the true open sense – not that of a wiki/blog locked within an LMS – has some very promising affordances that could enable a lot of interesting learning and teaching – and subsequently assessment – practices.

Following Postman’s ideas with any technological change there is a trade-off

This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost.

However, to a large extent I think discussing this trade-off, focusing on how the existing higher education system can harness social media through good practice, is ignoring the elephant in the room. i.e. that most of what passes for learning and teaching within universities is not all that good. That most of the practice around supporting learning and teaching through policies, strategies, technologies and processes at best doesn’t support innovation and transformation and at worst actively constrains it. For example,

current institutional policies, including teaching and learning quality measures and lack of resources, are compromising the way subjects are delivered. In some cases academics are discouraged from improving their teaching practice (Tutty, Sheard et al, 2008)

To some extent the aim of the roundtable is a bit like a convention of nutritionists getting together to come up with principles of good nutrition for weight loss. While there is great benefit in the outcomes of such work the chances of them encouraging the significant percentage of the population that is currently over weight is very, very limited. Given the current nature of the higher education system – and particularly its work around technology mediated learning – the chances of a majority of teaching staff within higher education using the outcomes of this roundtable is similarly limited.

That said, to me social media tools seem to be obviously the next evolution of technology that will offer some new and very interesting affordances for learning and teaching that raise some very interesting questions for policy and practice at higher education. Anything that seeks to share knowledge about what has worked, and importantly, what hasn’t is useful and to be applauded and I look forward to learning from the experience and knowledge of those gathered here today.

To finish on a contrary note, I don’t see much value in the sharing of good practice unless the sharing moves beyond the simple listing of what was done. Why it was done and why it worked (or didn’t) is more important and is necessary in order for good practice to be moved from one context to another.


Tutty, J., J. Sheard, et al. (2008). “Teaching in the current higher education environment: perceptions of IT academics.” Computer Science Education 18(3): 171-185.