Web 2.0 technologies application in teaching and learning by Makerere University academic staff.

Author:Okello-Obura, Constant
  1. Background

    According to Thomas and Thomas (2012), over the last three decades rapid growth and development has occurred in the area of information and communication technologies (ICT). Particularly in the last decade, the growth in prominence of social media and Web 2.0 technologies has had a dramatic impact globally on how people communicate (Thomas and Thomas, 2012). Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and Renren have the potential to become important disruptive technologies (Christensen 1997; Mutula, 2013) for building cutting-edge models of management education. Fleck (2007) however notes that to date applications of ICT have stimulated developments in e-learning more as support mechanisms than disruptive technologies.

    These learning enhancements have typically involved Microsoft Office tools (e.g. Power Point), e-mail and more innovative applications such as online interactive web chats, specific interest forums, streaming video, electronic conferencing and Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol systems, e.g. Skype and "blended learning" programmes (Hawawini 2005). Essentially, these technologies have encouraged a more flexible learning approach to take place across various "touch points", i.e. the classroom, off campus, within the workplace and virtually anywhere with internet access. This distance "blended" learning approach initially occurred within the fields of executive education and lifelong learning within faculties. Globally, many academicians are embracing the utilization of web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning. The rapid penetration and use of these technology platforms is also being driven by the rise of affordable handsets (Mutula, 2013). However, with the erratic power supply; poor internet connectivity, poor ICT infrastructure etc in African Countries, it difficult to know whether academia have adopted the utilization of web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning. It is against this background and doubts that this study was instituted to establish the utilization of web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning at Makerere University.

    1.1 Problem Statement

    Makerere University is the oldest and premier University in Uganda. In the recent webometrics ranking (August, 2013), Makerere was ranked 4th in Africa by August 2013 (Cybernetics Lab, 2013). Makerere University is an institution in a continuous state of transformation. According to Tusubira (2007), one of the adopted strategies in this transformation is the integration of ICT in all the university academic and administrative functions. The planning phase of this project started during the early part of 2000 and up to now there is remarkable adoption to the utilization of ICT in Makerere University with 24 hours and seven days access to Internet services. There is a fully established Directorate of ICT in the university that supports the University functions by ensuring that there is full-time Internet services. With the availability of these services, one would expect academic staff to adopt the use of web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning given that the current generation of students is the IT savvy generation. Unfortunately, through interaction with many staff and students, we realized that some staff members were not utilizing web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning in the University. According to Makerere University Annual Report (2013), there is a steady improvement in the use of e-learning platform. Unfortunately, this report makes no mention at all of any adoption of web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning in the University. This therefore prompted us to make a University wide investigation into the utilization of the web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning with the guidance of the following objectives:

    i. Determine the awareness and use of web 2.0 technologies for teaching and learning in the university

    ii. Establish the opinion of academic staff towards web 2.0 technologies for teaching and learning

    iii. Determine the factors that hinder the utilization of web 2.0 technologies by academic staff in teaching and learning at Makerere university

    iv. Propose strategies to promote application of web 2.0 technologies

  2. Literature Review

    Grange (2011:3) ably notes the challenge of the learning environment today by observing that "The widespread acceptance of online education has fundamentally transformed our perception of what is and how it should be acquired. It has changed the psychology of learning". New learners want an education so focused that it is almost vocational. They want to learn by doing, or at least experimenting in parallel with their reading and lectures (Grange 2011). To accommodate them, schools will need to institute major changes at faculty level, the curriculum design level and the classroom teaching level. Schools may need a long period of anticipation to install these new learning principles, but they need to understand them now" (Grange 2011).

    Thomas and Thomas (2012) argue that the beauty of new social and digital technologies is their immediacy, reach and flexibility. Alongside traditional teaching techniques, social media can be continually developed around any topic and incorporate current academic events in the learning process as the events themselves unfold during the academic period. Discussion could be guided initially by a staff, but be managed by students and monitored and supported by the institution itself. This sort of teaching could promote the department/university/school globally online as a forward-thinking online and innovative institution (Thomas and Thomas, 2012). However, the utilization and forward thinking in the adoption of web 2.0 technologies squarely lies in the awareness and the knowledge of the intrinsic values academic staff attach to their utilization. If you are not aware of something, there is no way you can even develop interest in their utilization. The awareness and attitude towards something are intertwined. Davis (2005) supports this when he reasons that "Web 2.0 is an attitude, not a technology". That is why it was prudent to find out whether Maker ere University staff are actually aware of some of the web 2.0 technologies that they can use in teaching and learning. This was established and reported in section 4. However, the understanding of what constitute web 2.0 and use in higher education is critical. The review below addresses this.

    3.1 What is Web 2.0?

    The internet has revolutionized the concept of information and its use, access and management. Ten years ago, finding information was a lengthy, convoluted process (Hicks and Graber 2010). Today, not only do individuals and computers produce thousands of gigabytes of information a minute, but this information is also networked collectively, which further increases the amount of information produced (Wesch 2008). A very large proportion of human knowledge can thus be accessed within seconds by anyone and through a variety of devices. And, as information grows and becomes more accessible, the concept of knowledge shifts too. Unlike Web 1.0, which was akin to a source or means of communicating information, Web 2.0 provides a way to create information, and consequently knowledge. Web 2.0 is an emergent key driver changing learning paradigms at academic institutions. According to Tyagi (2012), besides technology, Web 2.0 challenges intellectual property and transform consumers into active users creating and curating knowledge. The use of Web 2.0 tools (wiki's, blogs, RSS feed, social networks, podcast etc.) can support innovative teaching methods and is associated with concepts like communities of practice, syndicated content, learning as a creative activity, peer-to-peer learning, creation of personal learning environments, and non-formal education (Tyagi 2012).

    We are enveloped in a "cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation" (Wesch 2008). Web 2.0 tools give power to the user/learner. Web 2.0 applications rely on user-generated content and interactivity (O'Reilly 2005). This means that students have control over the content and over the choices that they make in relation to what is preserved and what is discarded (Jordan 2012). Students can upload videos in the target language or make blog posts in the target language and the end product is very much theirs. Rather than just passively using the web to source information, Web 2.0 users are able to run rich internet applications in their browsers (Wesch 2008; Jordan 2012). Newstead (2007) asserts that web 2.0 applications, such as blogs, wikis and aggregators, have a participative element, which encourages users to add, edit or simply rehash content (mashups). These opinions are shared by Greenhow, Robelia and Hughes (2009) who note, "Knowledge is decentralized, accessible and co-constructed among a broad base of users".

    Web 2.0 allows learners to participate in this cloud, through five main characteristics, collaboration, creativity, conversation, community and control (Hicks and Graber 2010). It is a read and write web where "users are as important as the content they upload and share with others" (Cormode and Krisnamurthy 2008). The participatory and open nature of Web 2.0 gives us the capability to collaborate with new knowledge and to create empowering connections and community between people. It allows us to creatively use and reuse material in novel ways because there is not one centralized power controlling the web. Finally, and most importantly, Web 2.0 changes us from passive to active information consumers, allowing our online voice to be part of the conversation. The way we produce, store and consume information has changed, and we need Web 2.0 in order to interact with and to direct the future of scholarship and learning (Hicks and Graber 2010).

    2.2 Web 2.0 and higher...

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