but with plenty of scope for innovation, creativity and collaboration. Furthermore, because the technology acts as a levelling force, in which all may collaborate as equal partners, students who might not ordinarily contribute, perhaps as a result of a disability or shyness, can now join in activities as equals. Perhaps somewhat disconcertingly, the levelling effect also means that students can readily amend tutors’ work, or enter in lively discussion with experts.
Many of the available tools allow for ‘asynchronous’ interaction, meaning each person can be involved at a different time as best suits them, with the archive of the conversation available to all. This allows students and teachers to fit in with busy schedules, meets the needs of those with a range of learning styles, provides flexible class timetabling, and means that class sessions can concentrate on key social interaction, with assessed activities left till later. In addition to flexibility in timing, there is flexibility in geographic location: students can contribute from any location given suitable access.
Teachers can easily view input from students, make assessments online and in most cases full audits of the ‘conversations’ or amendments are made allowing later analysis. For example, Drew Buddie (http://merapolis.co.uk/moodle/) describes an assignment for his ICT students to create a ‘fair use policy’ document. He created a shared document that could be easily be edited by himself and the students (actually a wiki, see below). After he seeded it with a statement that was obviously incorrect his students soon made 28 edits to the document and created a high quality policy by collective agreement.
Information sites such as Wikipedia, (http://wikipedia.org/) the Open Encyclopaedia, and its siblings, including wikibooks (http://wikibooks.org/) , allow students to contribute to a hugely useful and globally availably resource. Thus students can produce, vet and elaborate an existing resource to develop it for others whilst learning themselves. Many express surprise that the editing privileges which such resources provide are so rarely abused, and on the exceptional occasions when they are, a process of peer review quickly and effectively deals with any difficulties, without the need for an appeal to authority.
These ways of working are also extremely effective for teachers to use themselves for collaboration at college or wider scopes. David Hargreaves, the chair of Becta (http://www.becta.org.uk/), believes that having educators working collaboratively in ‘innovation networks’ is the only way forward for education, thus modelling themselves the sort of collaborative, social learning they hope to encourage in their students.
There is a cost associated with this way of working, however, and an institution seeking to implement such technology needs to be aware that, as these web- based services become the medium for learning, there is a need to provide a level of service and reliability over and above that required for a more passive, resource presentation approach to the web. Similarly, whilst such technology is essentially an empowering one for all learners, there are circumstances in which some students may not have access to the web from home, and some strategy for bridging this ‘digital divide’ should be in place.
Well, a large range of interaction styles is possible and the following categorisation is a guide only, as many of these technologies can be adapted to