Like the dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia and other informationbased references, phonebooks are becoming obsolete. More than half of us now search for phone numbers — and definitions and synonyms and other information — online.
In the ’90s and early 2000s, the World Wide Web represented a new frontier of information retrieval, as well as shopping. Leading retailers developed online stores, catalog giants began using their printed publications not for product ordering but to drive buyers to their websites, and entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to create virtual storefronts with maximum profits and minimum overhead. The web brought new forms of communication, with email and online chat becoming commonplace.
Columbia, Purdue, Rice and UCLA were the first universities to purchase website addresses, but Willamette wasn’t far behind. The University established a web presence in the mid-1990s1 and, much like today, provided information for prospective and current students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.
The web at that time was like any other mainstream media — communication was one-way, with content created, edited, moderated and dished out by experts and professionals. But Tim Berners-Lee had a different vision when he created the web in 1989: an Internet where anyone could contribute. Content for the web would be created by the people for the people in an easy-to-use collaborative environment.
In the last six years or so, the web has begun to mature, and the term “web 2.0” emerged to describe this more-advanced version. While there are any number of definitions of “web 2.0,” most agree it is a movement based on interaction and participation.
Those words may seem synonymous in RL (real life), but in web development “interaction” refers to a new breed of applications — word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing — that have been made available on the web. We no longer need to run programs on our individual computers. We can simply log on and use the word processing, spreadsheet and file-sharing applications available from sites like Google Docs, or we can use the tools offered by websites like Flickr to edit, upload, view, print and share photos and create our own photo albums.
For those of us who aren’t web developers, web 2.0 is best understood in terms of philosophy. Simply put, the changes in the web have been based, like all industry, on supply and demand. The early web supplied information, but people wanted more than access. They wanted engagement — the ability to share that information, comment on it and supply it themselves. Amateur authors, photographers, videographers, directors, musicians, actors and others have the opportunity to out-do their professional counterparts through collaborative web-based communities where they can publish their work, receive feedback, contribute to other creative efforts and bond with those who share their interests. And the collaboration isn’t only for creative types. It’s for shoppers, wine lovers, bakers and cooks, bookworms and movie buffs. It’s for people who love to share ideas and opinions, for those who like to share a good story or a good laugh. It’s for people who want to make new friends or extend their professional networks. Web 2.0 offers something for everyone — including faculty and students.
For more than 20 years, prospective students have been able to learn more about Willamette through the University website, but today web 2.0 tools allow them to learn more — and more personally — than ever before. “The philosophy of web 2.0 is not to tell students what we want them to know about us,” explains Russ Yost MBA’05, marketing director for the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. “It’s for them to tell us what they want to know about us. It’s letting our students drive the experience.”
Yost, the Atkinson admissions team and Dean Debra Ringold have pursued web-based strategies to great effect, using advertising on Facebook and targeted email campaigns through the Princeton Review, Vault and the Graduate Management Admission Search Service (GMASS) to generate prospective student inquiries. In a “top of mind awareness” survey by the Portland Business Journal in 2004, Willamette University didn’t even make the list. But in 2006, after such strategies had been implemented, Willamette’s name was as familiar as Oregon Health and Sciences University. Data will soon be available for 2008.
Much like maintaining a blog, such efforts take a great deal of time and energy. For example, Yost may hand out 10 business cards at an event and then receive invitations from six of those people to join their LinkedIn networks. He does, and then uses LinkedIn to invite them to an Atkinson event where he hands out more business cards.… He and other members of the admissions team also hand out iTunes cards that can only be redeemed by clicking through the Atkinson website. He maintains a Facebook page as well, and says, “If we want to contact a student, we get a much faster response by posting to their Facebook page than by sending a traditional email.”
In fact, Atkinson has established a Facebook group for prospective and admitted students, many of them international, to help them get acquainted with each other, with the school and with Salem. The group was invaluable for Sejal Mehta MBA’09, from India. After receiving an invitation to the group from Judy O’Neill, AGSM admissions director, Mehta joined and connected with other Willamette students. “I asked many questions and received replies,” she says. “I found another Indian girl coming to the school, and we exchanged messages and decided to become roommates. [The other students] helped clear up a lot of my confusion, and I’m really thankful to them.” Mehta now does the same for new international students.
This year Atkinson launched its first-ever “Our Willamette MBA” video contest, inviting MBA student filmmakers to chronicle their learning experience. The videos premiered in March, and cash prizes were awarded to the top three, based on voting by other students. A week after being posted on YouTube, the videos garnered more than 400 hits from viewers around the world.2
Undergraduate admissions uses several of the same tools. “We’ve had blogs on the website for years now, and we also run chats with the help of our Student Outreach Ambassadors,” says Erik Schmidt ’05, assistant director of admission. “We also have podcasts, and a video profile project is underway.” But sometimes — true to the nature of web 2.0 — web-savvy students take matters into their own hands. “I was going to initiate a group through Facebook last year, but I learned that the admitted students had already started their own ‘Willamette Class of 2011’ group.”
Such situations are not uncommon. According to David Douglass, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of rhetoric and media studies, the Millennial students now in college and the Net Gen-ers coming up behind them are digital natives, “like fish in water,” having grown up with computers at home and in the classroom. The web has existed as long as they’ve been able to speak, and using it to make friends and socialize is today’s equivalent to playing in the backyard 40 years ago. “The average Net Gen-er will pack 8.5 hours of media usage into just 6 hours because they overlap media,” Douglass says. They are agile with the technology and the habit of multitasking, sending text messages from their phones while listening to their iPods and watching videos on YouTube.
But there are tar pits in the geography of the digital landscape. When connectivity never ends, attention spans grow shorter and more fragmented, and it’s easy for users to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and number of choices available. According to a December 2007 article by Nick Martinez ’08 in the Willamette Collegian, Facebook users have created groups named “Facebook Is Devastating to Procrastinators” and “Heroin’s Got Nothing on Facebook.” Without boundaries to establish how much is too much, many students struggle.
For their part, faculty face their own challenges with the web, and not just in teaching. When it comes to electronic faculty publications, “There’s still a bias against purely electronic media for tenure and promotion,” Douglass explains, though for some fields the stigma has passed. He cites the value of private industry databases that work with college and university libraries, among other clients, to provide reference materials as well as online journals and subscription management.
The biggest faculty concern remains cheating, and Douglass refers to the widespread practice of “patch writing” — cutting and pasting information from websites. “In many cases students don’t understand it’s wrong to use the information they find there without attribution because, as digital natives, they inhabit a culture of creating and sharing,” he says. In response, some professors require students to submit their work through TurnItIn.com. The digital assessment website helps prevent plagiarism by comparing submissions to thousands of online resources. It also gives students a forum for having their work reviewed by peers, and it allows faculty to go paperless, grading assignments and keeping a gradebook all online.
While college courses may still be based on a syllabus, the web has made the reading packet extinct. “I dread when students tell me, ‘I couldn’t find anything on Wikipedia,’” Douglass says, “because the web makes so many useful scholarly resources available.” Web applications like Blackboard and Sakai allow faculty to incorporate material in a variety of formats, make real-time announcements and provide interactive feedback on student projects. Students access those resources online and upload their homework assignments. Course-based wikis give students a forum for discussion outside the classroom. According to David Cummings, president of the Hannon Hill web content management design firm, “As students integrate more of their lives online, they expect the same sort of integration in their schools.”3
As Willamette continues to integrate new media across the curriculum, it can look to the experiences of universities across the country. DePaul University offers video podcasts (called vodcasts) of classes on iTunes. UC-Berkeley launched audio podcasts in 2006 and by 2007 had audio or video podcasts for 86 full courses and more than 100 other events, adding up to 3,500 hours of course credit. Stanford has not only integrated the technology but is now offering a computer science class on designing software applications for Facebook.
Several universities, including Vassar, Texas State and the University of Ohio, have created a campus in Second Life, a 3-D virtual world. So has the University of New Orleans. In a live discussion on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website in October, Merrill L. Johnson, associate dean of the UNO College of Liberal Arts, explained that the university created its virtual campus to attract students who want the convenience of online courses without feeling isolated. Since users participate in Second Life by creating 3-D avatars, there is a greater sense of community and interaction. UNO also hopes to extend its international outreach, making courses available around the world. But its primary goal, Johnson says, is to “provide additional administrative and teaching resilience in the event of another disaster like Katrina.”4
Cummings foresees a future in which social media are such an integral part of the higher education experience, “Students could peruse the course catalog, sign up for their classes, and then actually begin to interact with other students in the same classes before school even starts.” Joe Burkhart, director of Oracle Higher Education, believes “this highly personalized technology landscape will enable … students to plan and manage their educational paths in coordination with factors like their finances and extracurricular activities.” Academia can take a cue from web-based giant Amazon.com, he says, by providing students with advice such as, “‘Students who have taken this course have also taken this course,’ or … ‘Students majoring in X pursue careers in Y and Z. To improve your chances of getting a job in Y or Z, you might consider taking this course.’”5
Of course for such changes to take place, faculty must become conversant with the technology and its languages, including screen literacy and information navigation.
“It’s a paradigm shift,” Douglass says, “and we would do well to acknowledge that. Faculty must not only become conversant in this new language, but we must also equip our students for living as educated citizens who can use, reflect on, and judge this new media for themselves.”
Education in the world of social media requires faculty and students to be aware of both dimensions of knowledge, explicit and tacit, or know-what and know-how, according to John Seely Brown, cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning and visiting scholar at the University of Southern California. The two converge in the medium of the web, he says. “Much of knowing is brought forth … through participation — in the world, with other people, around real problems. A lot of our know-how or knowing comes into being through participating in our community(ies) of practice.”6 We all have techniques for learning with and from each other, in class and out of class. The web, Brown says, “could create a new fabric for learning … that is the essence of lifelong learning.”
At Willamette and on campuses around the nation, buildings like Ford Hall will be based on this convergence, bringing together divergent disciplines — rhetoric and media studies, math, computer science, digital art — by using instruction and technology “to work collaboratively on the same problems with the same tools,” Douglass says.
As the University explores new and better ways to weave the web into the Willamette learning experience, Douglass, one of the leaders in that effort, says, “We will sustain the deeply held tradition of personal contact — technology will never replace that at Willamette — but we would be remiss in not taking advantage and helping students reflect critically about what they learn.”
Some are learning enough is enough, that the web is helpful for research but counterproductive for the process of actual writing because of the potential for distraction. “Simply walk into the library and count how many computers radiate that blue and white [Facebook site] we all love and hate,” Martinez writes, telling the story of Matthew Tanabe ’08, who found it so hard to ignore “so many little icons calling out” to him that he bought a typewriter.
When the web was nothing more than a way to retrieve information, it was easy enough to find the phone number or definition you were looking for and go back to what you were doing. But the participatory nature of web 2.0 makes it more difficult to walk away. The importance of the web is shifting away from content and toward connection. “Engagement itself is meaningful,” Douglass explains.
And engagement is just what the web’s creator had in mind. Go to Tim Berners-Lee’s webpage7 and you’ll see how he explains his creation to the youngest of learners:
Here is my hope. The Web is a tool for communicating. With the Web, you can find out what other people mean. You can find out where they are coming from. The Web can help people understand each other. Think about most of the bad things that have happened between people in your life. Maybe most of them come down to one person not understanding another. Even wars. Let’s use the Web to create neat new exciting things. Let’s use the Web to help people understand each other.
For a better understanding of web 2.0, watch these three videos:
A web log where you post comments on current issues, your pet fish, or life in general, linking to other sites and giving readers a chance to comment on your posts. Check out: Blogger or Top100bloggers.com, or go to Twitter to see micro-blogging at its best.
Also known as RSS or syndicated content, feeds bring information to you from your favorite websites. You receive updates by email or through your web browser or website such as Google Reader. Check out: The Willamette website offers both news and story feeds, or subscribe to news sites including the New York Times, Google News, The New Yorker and Newsvine.
If you want to meet new people, especially those with similar interests, get online and create a profile. You may find a long-lost classmate, a new job or a spouse! Check out: Facebook or Ning to make friends, LinkedIn to expand your professional network, Recipezaar or Corkd to share recipes and wine recommendations. Shoppers will love Kaboodle, and crafters and artisans may find commercial success as well as community on Etsy.
In creating your bookmark page, you can apply keywords or terms to describe a website or its content so it’s easier to find and categorize when you share it with others. A group of tags is called a tag cloud. The tag cloud for Willamette might include the terms liberal arts, Oregon, private, university, Annapolis Group and 1842. Tags become a kind of vocabulary to discuss content and are often called a Folksonomy. Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_cloud.
A collection of information written by people like you, not by spokespeople, not by professionals or experts — at least not necessarily. Check out: Wikipedia