The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Commentary 3: Web 2.0 in Education

One of the most interesting and telling statements in the article, ‘Web 2.0 A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?’ comes when author Bryan Alexander is discussing the wiki.  After describing how the wiki works he says, “They originally hit the Web in the late 1990s (another sign that Web 2.0 is emergent and historical)”. (Alexander, 2006)  To refer to something from the late 1990s as ‘historical’ shows how rapidly web 2.0 is developing and changing.  But this rapid development, the thing that makes web 2.0 so interesting and exciting may also be the biggest problem this emergent technology faces.  Anderson’s article is specifically intended to discuss the use of Web 2.0 in education, yet Web 2.0 has developed so fast that it has gone beyond the comfort level of many educators.  Even teachers who are at ease with the technology are leery of much Web 2.0 content, believing that the openness of Web 2.0, one of its key features, makes it rife with faulty information.  Much about Web 2.0 can be discussed and described, with the caveat, ‘on the one hand…but on the other hand…’  Even Anderson, whose intent is to showcase the positive aspects of Web 2.0 appears somewhat cautious of making a categorically positive  statement and has included a question mark in his title, inviting the reader to decide on the verisimilitude of the title statement.  This commentary will look at the Anderson article from the point of view of an educator with limited experience and knowledge of Web 2.0 and point out where some of the problems lie that will prevent this technology from gaining complete acceptance in an education setting.

As any new technology does, Web 2.0 has developed a user language; phrases, terms and even acronyms that are understood by developers and frequent users but can be problematic for the uninitiated.  The article was originally published by Educause, which bills itself as, ‘a non-profit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of Information Technology’.  With this mission statement one can assume that the article was intended for educators, not Information Technology specialists. Yet within the article, Alexander writes in a way that many educators may find confusing. Anderson points out that even the term ‘social bookmarking’ could be confusing to some users yet then goes on in the article to use such phrases as, “Ajax- style pages”, (Alexander, 2006) or, “Web 2.0 can break on silos but thrive in shared services”. (Alexander, 2006)  One of the most effective ways of separating something from acceptance by the general public is to use a specialized language.

Since the article is about the educational use of Web 2.0 Anderson discusses how the open structure of social bookmarking sites can be used with respect to research.  He envisions the collaborative sharing of research between students and instructors and gives examples of how this could be achieved using Web 2.0 based sites where the open structure allows people to not only read but to change and contribute to a site.  As intriguing as this is there are two problems with this notion, both of them related to the open structure of Web 2.0.  The problems are the quality of the information that is being shared and the quantity of information available.  Of the two, quality is by far the most serious for the student.  In the article Alexander talks about one of the best known user controlled sites, Wikipedia, an open structured site which “allows users to edit each encyclopaedia entry”. (Alexander, 2006)  Unfortunately the very openness of a site like Wikipedia and others like it can make the site unreliable.  Wikipedia and other open sites allow anyone to add or say anything they want.  Its hoped that the nature of these sites, which allows readers not only to contribute but to edit material, will naturally weed out information that is suspect or even wrong, but this is not always the case and many teachers now specifically advise  students not to use material that has been found on Wikipedia.

Blogs are another aspect of Web 2.0 that Anderson discusses in terms of their pedagogical possibilities.  He describes how, “Students can search the blogosphere for political commentary, current cultural items, public development s in science, business news, and so on.” (Alexander, 2006)  While this is true and blogs can allow students and researchers to find and share the most current material in their field, the popularity of blogs has made this a challenge.  A recent Google Blog search with the terms, ‘Digital Literacy’ returned over 350,000 hits, and one with the very general term, ‘Web 2.0’ returned over 49 million, which leaves one wondering, is this really useful? How many of these will a researcher actually look at and how much time must be invested to do so.  Realizing this problem Anderson then goes on to discuss services that can be used to filter search results, which rather than simplifying the process only made the process seem, at least for this reader,  even more complicated.

If Web 2.0 is to become ‘a new wave of innovation for teaching and learning’ its first hurdle will be educators.  The problems outlined above will have to be considered and there may have to be a change in direction in how Web 2.0 is presented.  Web 2.0 is relatively new, despite Anderson’s ‘historical’ comment and needs an introduction.  Educators don’t want to be overwhelmed by the possibilities or fantasies about what could be, or have to deal with a steep learning curve, they want to understand the basic concepts and to know how they can start using it now.  The article would have served educators better if Anderson had shown how a Wiki or a blog could be used on a small scale, e.g., show how a Wiki could be used by a group of students to collect material for a project.  Once educators had some experience and improved their comfort level they could move beyond the classroom and use the technology to its fullest potential.

Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0 A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? Educause , 33-44.

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

Final Project – Graphic Novels, Improving Literacy

Before I started this course, I had noticed the increased availability of graphic novels in our school library.  My teenage son is a fan, preferring Manga to the North American style comic books.  When our school recently began school-wide silent reading to promote literacy, student interest in and requests for graphic novels increased further.  There seemed a clear link between this form of literature and the need to improve  literacy rates as part of our province’s Student Success initiatives.

In the past weeks, I researched the topic of graphic novels to find the link between improved literacy and an alternate form of literature.  This website is meant to be an informative document.  My hope is to link it to the school website for parents to find documented answers to their questions about how to get reluctant readers engaged in regular reading.

A website is unlike a traditional essay in that I found it difficult to conclude the document.  You will find both internal and external links.  Typical of websites, the readers can choose the path to follow – it was never meant to be linear.  Ultimately, I hope this site encourages readers to continue their own journey in learning about graphic novels.

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 3

For this last commentary, I have selected Bolter’s chapter 9: Writing the Self. I felt this was appropriate as this course has initiated and altered my own thoughts on writing and the affects that writing technology has on the way we think and the way we interact with the actual technology.

Bolter begins the chapter with the following statement:

Writing technologies, in particular electronic writing today, do not determine how we think or how we define ourselves. Rather, they participate in our cultural redefinitions of self, knowledge and experience. (Bolter, 2001, pg.189)

As a society, we are influenced by the technologies that exist and aid in our existence.  The early hunters and gathers were aided and influenced by the use of stone and stick- to which they fashioned tools to hunt and to aid in the preservation of foods.   As a society in the knowledge age, we are influenced by our use of technologies that aid us in the rapid creation and transfer of knowledge.  We exist through the instantaneous movement of 1s and 0s, which has transformed the very quality of our life.   To imagine an existence without these technologies would be a kin to imagining what life would be like to live in a third world without food and shelter.  This existence is prevalent across the world, but not an existence that many Canadians (excluding new Canadians) can identify with.    

Bolter continues in his chapter by claiming “for many, electronic writing is coming to be regarded as a more authentic or appropriate space for the inscription of the self than print.”  (pg. 190)  I ask, is this because we truly know no other space?  Just as I can not identify with the conditions of may inhabitants of this planet, I also can not identify with those ancient cultures who used ancient technologies to carve hieroglyphs and symbols onto tablets; or cultures who employed papyrus to convey the thoughts of the time.   This same logic can be compared to the many seniors who can not grasp and use the computer and internet today; technologies that were not influencing factors in this existence!     

Bolter furthers is chapter by stating that “writing is seen to foster analysis and reflection” (pg. 192) and “writing becomes a tool for reorganizing, for classifying, for developing and maintaining categories.”  (pg. 193)  Considering the vast amount of knowledge and information that is available, this statement is logical.  Perhaps the question that one should ask is which came first, the changes in the use of writing as a knowledge organizer or the amount of knowledge that was available which required to be organized?  Generally speaking, members of a society create or modify tools for a need and not as an accident.   While much like the preverbal genesis of the chicken and egg, the answer would provide the foundations for the affects of writing technologies. 

Lastly, the portion of the chapter that I was most intrigued with implicated current writing technologies and a refined experience for the author   As “the technology of writing has always had a reflexive quality, allowing writers to see themselves in what they write” (Bolter, pg. 189), the desire of a writer want to “change her identity, by assuming a different name and providing a different description” (Bolter, pg. 199) allows the opportunity to create false selves in many virtual worlds including Second Life and chat rooms.   While writing can be a wonderful venue to escape the world, the creation of false worlds can lead to serious repercussions if the author can separate the real from the fiction. 


Bolter, J. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, N.J. USA.

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

Web 2.0



Bryan Alexander’s article “Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning” relays the emergence and importance of Web 2.0 in information discovery. It highlights a number of important aspects of Web 2.0 including social networking, microcontent, openness, and folksonomy, and than continues on to describe how it can enhance pedagogical ideologies. Each of these characteristics will be examined below.

Information on the Internet is presented in a variety of ways. Graphics and multi-media now define the Web, challenging the very definition of literacy. Information flows in numerous directions and paths offering the ‘reader’ or ‘visitor’ multi-layered information. Web 2.0 is based on interactions between people in asynchronous and synchronous communication, offering flexability and accomodation. This has a significant impact on our society, education system and our culture.


There is much debate over the definition of Web 2.0. Alexander (2008) defines Web 2.0 as “…a way of creating Web pages focusing on microcontent and social connections between people” (Alexander, 2008, p. 151). Wikepedia defines Web 2.0 as “…commonly associated with web applications which facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web” (Wikepedia, 2009). Many argue that this is not something that is a recent technological invention, but more of an evolution of sorts.

Social Networks

Social networking is one of the major characteristics of Web 2.0. This includes listservs, Usenet groups, discussion software, groupware, Web-based communities, blogs, wikis, podcasts, and videoblogs, which includes MySpace, Facebook and Youtube (Alexander, 2008). Facebook alone has thousands of users, allowing people to stay connected using a variety of methods.

 “Social bookmarking is a method for Internet users to share, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of web resources” (Wikepedia, 2009). Social bookmarking and networking are constantly evolving, changing and metamorphing ways to acquire knowledge and stay connected. It allows various people from around the world to bond together and engage, where otherwise this would not be possible. It enlarges the definition of community and links people by topic, concerns, human interest, educational needs, political perspectives, etc. For example, Twitter allows people to instantly communicate with their ‘followers’. This type of social networking was used recently during the American Presidential campaign to keep voters and constituants in touch. Instant messaging allows spontaneous contact with others, which is strongly associated with the characteristics of immediacy within our society.


One critical aspect of social networking is microcontent. Microcontent is an important building block of the Web as information is in bite size pieces that can be accumulated, edited, manipulated and saved. Microcontent allows participants to contribute small pieces of information that can take little time and energy, is easy to use, and provides foundational pieces to web pages. An example of this is Blogs and Wikis.


Another characteristic that Blogs and Wikis share is openness and accessibility. Openness is “…a hallmark of this emergent movement, both ideologically and technologically” (Alexander, 2006, p. 34).  Users are considered the foundation in this information architecture (Alexander, 2006), and therefore play a pivotal role in developing, creating and designing spaces. Participation is key and Web 2.0 encourages openness and participation from all.


“A folksonomy is a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content” (Wikepedia, 2009). Managing tags and collecting information from peers is an important aspect of social networking and Web 2.0. Tags and hyperlinks are two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years (Kelly, 2006). By linking pages each book can refer to multiple other books. References and text are endlessly linked to each other, creating exponential knowledge.

Pedagogical Implications

There are many pedagogical implications that come with the advent of Web 2.0. A list of beneficial websites, ideas and tools for teaching with Web 2.0 applications were put together by myself, using Webslides, and can be found at These tools can be a valuable asset in the classroom. 

Social bookmarking can play a role in “collaborative information discovery” (Alexander, 2006, p. 36) allowing students to connect with others, follow links and research references. It can also enhance student group learning, build on collaborative knowledge and assist in peer editing (Alexander, 2006).

“The rich search possibilities opened up by these tools can further enhance the pedagogy of current events” (Alexander, 2006, p. 40).  This allows students to follow a search over weeks, semester or a year (Alexander, 2006). The ability to analyze how information, a story or an idea changes over time allows collaboration between classes and departments and provides the ability to track progress (Alexander, 2006).

Wikis and Blogs can chronicle student’s development over a semester, provide occasions for partnering and discussion, and provide opportunities to practice literacy skills and communication techniques. Blogs and Wikis can give each student a voice and provide equal opportunities for all participants. Storytelling provides creativity and allows students the opportunity to tell their own story. Chat can develop critical thinking skills while podcasting and voicethread can develop opportunities for documentation and interaction.

 The interactivity that Web 2.0 offers encourages group productivity and consultation. Projects like connecting students with real-time astronauts or with sister schools in another country heightens learner interest. Whether it is Science fairs or projects, English literature, history or social studies, Web 2.0 can enhance the multiple aspects of the learning paradigm.

Alexander’s arguments are compelling, however, he does not address the downside of Web 2.0. This would include cyberbullying, cyber-predators, web cameras used for pornography, and the unreliability of the Internet. Accessibility and openness is all inclusive, meaning right and wrong information can be contributed. Learners need to be taught how to find reliable sources on the Web while sifting through mountains of information with a critical eye. The Internet is a Pandora box of sorts – the good comes with the evil. Not every technology and Web innervation has acceptable pedagogical implications, or can be used appropriately in the classroom. Applications can be unstable, come with technical issues, and can be cost prohibitive for those that come with licenses.  Applications are tools to be used to assist in learning and not to replace exceptional teaching methods. However, even with multiple tools available, teachers may not use them as they may not be available for every class, they do not have the knowledge to use them, or find them too time consuming.

The Future

The future of Web 2.0 is Web 3.0, which will be a highly interactive and user-friendly version. The advancement of the above characteristics will ideally enhance applications that are already being used, and provide new applications/opportunities for learning. Skills that are developed in the classroom now will prepare students with the necessary skills that they will require in their future workplaces.


The evolution of the Web will continue to ebb and flow and evolve over time, bringing learners and creators together (Alexander, 2006). Gone are the days of ‘reading’ web pages, which are now designed to be more interactive and purposeful, inundating the user with myriads of information. The availability of social networking, microcontent, folksonomy and openness on the Web will continue to provide learners and educators with multiple learning opportunities. With guidance from the educator, learners can be provided with positive learning outcomes, while using multi-layered applications.


Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? Educause Review, 41(2), 34-44. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from

Alexander, B. (2008).Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory into practice.47(2), 150-60. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from

Kelly, K. (May 2006). Scan this Book. The New York Times.

Wikepedia. (2009). Folksonomy. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

Wikepedia. (2009). Social bookmarking. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

Wikipedia. (2009). Web 2.0. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

from mash up to mad

SoI had this great idea of mashing up the same song by two different artists, Tom Waits doing his song ‘Long Way Home’ and Norah Jones doing her version of the same song.  I worked at it for quite a while, then thought, o.k. that’s long enough I’ll post what I’ve got.  Unfortunately, after all that time the security wouldn’t allow it.  Gee was I happy.  So instead I’m going to follow John’s lead and  post something that I did last summer for another class.  I like it better than the resulting song that i got anyway, it was a bit rough and the transitions weren’t quite as smooth as i would have liked.  You can find the PhotoPeach story  here . (Make sure your speakers are on)

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

The rising influence of the visual over the purely written word.

The rising influence of the visual over the purely written word.
Third Formal Commentary

Richard Biel
University of British Columbia
Etec 540

Professors Jeff Miller and Brian Lamb

Many have claimed the death of the author is nigh (Barthes, 1968).  One of Michel Foucault’s most pivotal works “What is an author?” may have even started the dirge.   Kress (2005) and Bolter (2001) do not go as far as that but they do both argue that there is an incredible change that is presently occurring.  Information and knowledge are moving from the long standing dominance of writing to a multi-modal form of communication best exemplified by the Internet and the webpage however extending far past this to more common forms of text.  This “remediation” as Bolter (2001) phrases it, is causing a shift in power from the author to the reader.  The reason for this shift is the limitations of text and the development of technology that allows this change to occur.  Both authors are wary of being labelled technological determinists and distance themselves from this position citing the complexity of human/societal/technological relationships.  One thing is for certain whether the advent of the Internet and hypertext is the executor of the author is questionable however they most certainly have mutagenic capabilities.

In the natural sciences there are a number of species that have, despite all odds, hung on for a “unnaturally” long period of time.  Kress (2005) contends that this is certainly the case for writing.  Writing has had and continues to have a very prominent place in the dissemination of information, knowledge and entertainment.  However this dominant role of writing is changing.  “In particular, it seems evident to many commentators that writing is giving way, is being displaced by image in many instances of communication where previously it had held sway.” (Kress, 2005).  Bolter (2001) contends that text and writing actually, “contained and constrained the images on the printed page.”  The rise of the image in dominance is demonstrated on an almost daily basis by newspapers, textbooks and magazines that are resembling more and more like webpages and hypertext.  I doubt very much that writing not supported by other multi-modal forms of communication will be completely supplanted however there is no doubt that a change is occurring towards a more visually dominant age.

Traditionally the author of the written word has taken a far more prominent role when it came to the author/reader power differential.  This relationship is changing.  The author traditionally had control over syntax, grammar, word order, word choice and a myriad of other conventions that allowed the author to dictate how information and knowledge was metered out.  Readers traditionally took more passive roles in their interaction with the written word but with the ever growing prominence of the visual image “ we get a reverse ekphrasis in which images are given the task of explaining words.” (Bolter, 2001).   This is best exemplified by the “novelization” of films.  Where films are first released and then the novel is written almost as a second thought.  “In a multimodal text, writing may be central, or it may not; on screens writing may not feature in mulimodal texts that use sound-effect and the soundtrack of a musical score, use speech, moving and still images of various kinds.” (Kress, 2005).  Both Kress (2005) and Bolter (2001) recognize that we are currently living in the age of the visual and the written word, although still highly regarded, is slowly taking a backseat to the visual.

So why has the written word been bumped out of the drivers seat?  This can best be explained by outlining the limitations of the written word.  Kress (2005) contends that individual words are vague and rely to heavily upon the interpretation of the reader.  An image, on the other hand, is far less open to interpretation by the viewer.  However, I would argue that images can be manipulated to highlight different aspects of the images and downplay others and thus lead viewers to interpret the images in particular ways.  Images, Kress(2005) contends have a much greater capacity and diversity of meaning.   “Hypermedia can be regarded as a kind of picture writing, which refashions the qualities of both traditional picture writing and phonetic writing.” (Botler, 2001).  Although a purely written text is being relegated to the halls of academia and higher thought it still has a place in supporting the successful transmission of information and knowledge.

Multi-modal representations have become common place in the visually rich culture of the western world.  Traditional forms of concept transmission such as the written word are being re-tooled and enhanced with sound, video and images.  Kress (2005) and Bolter (2001) both contend that this is to the betterment of the media as a far richer and more diverse form of communication is evolving.  The purely written word that is supported with few if any images is being pushed to the margins of higher learning and thought.  With the advent of digital media we will continue to be offered a greater diversity and more individualistic experience when it comes to information, knowledge and communication.


Barthes, Roland (1968).  The death of the author.  Downloaded on November 28th, 2009. From

Bolter, Jay D. (2001).  Writing Spaces:  Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, Mahwah, New Jersey, London.

Foucault, Michel (1977).  What is an author? In Language, counter-memory, practice:  Selected essays and interviews (pp.113-138). (D. F. Bouchard & S. Simon, Trans. ).  Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University

Kress, Gunther (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning.  Computers and Compostion 22, pp.5-22.

November 28, 2009   No Comments