Integrating Web 2.0 Tools into the Classroom: Changing the Culture of Learning

June 1, 2010

This report presents findings from a two-year investigation of the ways in which Web 2.0 tools and social networking technologies are being used to support teaching and learning in classrooms across the United States. With funding from Intel®, the Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology (EDC/CCT) interviewed or visited over 30 educators in 22 different schools throughout the country as they employed these tools in their classrooms in innovative ways. We also spoke with and observed a number of students in these schools.

Currently, there is much discussion and excitement about Web 2.0 in education, but we still know very little about how these tools actually work in the classroom. Therefore, the goal of this research was simply to interview and observe educators and students who are experimenting with these tools in the classroom to see what uses are emerging and to explore the learning affordances of blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 tools.

Over the two years of our research, the sample of teachers was drawn from the Intel® Teach Essentials course and the network of master teachers and training agencies that has grown up around that program. Through this network of educators, we sent out a request for volunteers to teachers that are experimenting with Web 2.0 technologies in their classrooms. During the first year we recruited 12 individual teachers, but for the second year we targeted districts with larger groups of teachers experimenting with Web 2.0 and were able to reach 27 educators across three districts.

Our report is divided into two sections: (1) a summary of some of the most frequent Web 2.0 applications we encountered, and (2) a discussion of different themes and issues concerning the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms that emerged from all the interviews and visits.

The first section of this report presents a catalog of the range of tools that we observed teachers using or that teachers reported using. We discuss the most salient examples in more depth, but we also present tables listing all the tools and defining how teachers reported using them. Web 2.0, a term we use almost every day, is actually an ambiguous concept referring to a large and shifting set of technological tools. We sought to solve the definition problem by limiting ourselves to the tools we encountered in our visits and grouping the tools into loose categories according to the teachers' pedagogical goals for them. Our list is not meant to be exhaustive. We divided the resources into the following four categories:

  1. Tools that create or support a virtual learning environment.
  2. Tools that support communication and cultivate relationships.
  3. Resources to support teaching and learning.
  4. Tools enabling students to create artifacts representing what they are learning.
  5. The second part of this report discusses and interprets our observations about the use of these tools. The initial thrust of the research was intended to identify broad themes and to help demonstrate the extent of Web 2.0 use across a variety of classrooms and a range of teachers and students. While this project did not aim for a set of definitive findings, the following key themes emerged that will be a useful starting point for further and deeper research.

    Our overall finding is that these tools show potential to transform many aspects of teaching when web2.0 teachers are thoughtful about how they use the tools and they are blended with careful instructional designs.

    Innovative teachers are using the networked nature and ease of Web 2.0 to create virtual extensions of their classrooms.

    Teachers and schools we visited are using different Web 2.0 tools or programs to create virtual spaces or networks that support and enrich their pedagogical goals, both at the classroom and the district level, and increase educational capacity by extending learning beyond the physical walls of the classroom. These virtual extensions are a daily part of teaching and learning in their classrooms.

    The Web 2.0 tools that teachers are selecting are very easy to use, and this ease of use appears to be a key factor in the decision to use any individual tool.

    A salient feature of this current generation of technologies is the relative ease with which users can create products and virtual spaces. From teachers creating virtual classrooms to support teaching and learning to fluid communication among students, teachers, and parents to students doing online activities to mashing up products from different programs, learning how to use the technology was seldom a focal point of the activity. Nor was much time spent logging into sites, designing spaces, or dealing with "decorative" aspects of creating products. In fact many teachers reported not using Web 2.0 tools that could not be embedded into their own virtual spaces, required a complex login, or presented any other type of roadblock to use.

    Educators are using Web 2.0 tools to promote new avenues of communication among teachers, students, and the community in ways that can strengthen the community of learners.

    When the assignment is meaningful and supports the learning objectives, Web 2.0 tools are being used to increase communication (not just dissemination of information) in ways that strengthen the educational community and help to center classroom-and out-‐of-‐classroom-conversation on issues and topics that support and deepen learning. We examine the following four lines of communication in the report: (1) communication among students, (2) communication between students and teachers, (3) communication with parents, and (4) communication among educators.

    As the networked nature of Web 2.0 begins to blur our traditional boundaries between school/home, public/private or youth/adult culture, it presents an emerging challenge.

    Web 2.0 technologies are fundamentally reshaping and realigning many aspects of the communication loop: the people with whom teachers, students, and parents communicate; how they communicate; what they communicate about; and where and when they communicate. These ongoing processes bring to the fore exciting opportunities and novel challenges for educators. As schools use these technologies to build communities, the old boundaries between public and private, in school and out of school, and youth culture and adult culture are melting away and being redrawn.


Daniel Light
Deborah Keisch