What does Web 2.0 mean for the humanities?
Tonight at the Center for History and New Media we hosted the DC Area Technology & Humanities Forum, the title of which was “Scholarship 2.0: What Web 2.0 means for Digital Humanists.” The speakers were our own Dan Cohen, Eddie Maloney from the CNDLS project at Georgetown University, and Bryan Alexander.
Brian started off by showing us his “Blogging Dracula” site and then moved on to discuss Web 2.0 as a response to information overload, just as the Cyclopedia was a response to too many books to read. Next came Web 2.0 as multi-authored microcontent that offers networked constructivism. Then he posed two very good questions: Did popular courseware products keep higher education from contributing to blogging? Did academia’s lack of engagement make it much harder to start contributing now to the blogosphere now? Among the many examples he presented, perhaps the most interesting to me was the Flickr group “Tell a story in 5 frames.” This Flickr group encapsulates so many of the Web 2.0 features–collaborative content, social networking, microcontent, clean design, etc.
Dan followed Brian by presenting Zotero, the Firefox plugin the team he leads developed this year. Before you examine Zotero, though, descend into the time-suck that is the Google Image Labeler, which, if the folks at Google are right (aren’t they always?), it will make it possible for Google to label every image on the web in about three months–for free. No wonder they make money…
Zotero, as you might expect, hopes to capitalize on this sort of Web 2.0 phenomenon. One of the most powerful features of this tool is the tagging facility. Already, in addition to allowing you to tag your own records, Zotero already picks up the tags the original creator of the material has placed on the digital object–Library of Congress subject tags, etc. Once Zotero moves into its server-side incarnation, users will be able to exchange data via these tags.
Eddie got to go last and he discussed Georgetown’s Digital Notebook Project (no web presence yet…pilot out in Fall 2007). This particular tool is intended to overhaul the ePortfolio business to make them more focused on education. This new project will be built on the various Web 2.0 principles Brian and Dan described. What’s really different about this kind of ePortfolio? The intention is to make it possible for students to pull together all of the materials they create and access while at college. Similarly, faculty members could have their own personal notebooks that contained their teaching/scholarly material. And what if the students and faculty members could share this content, collaborate on this content, tag this content?
It wasn’t clear from Eddie’s presentation, but it seems as though the folks at CNDLS are trying to revient a number of wheels that are already out there. This turned out to be the first question from the crowd. Right now they are actually modifying existing tools, rather than simply using what’s out there, road tested, and working. His argument for doing it this way is that some of what’s out there is often too complex for the needs they’ve identified from students and faculty and they needed to strip out various features to make whatever tool they’re using (blog platform, etc.) more usable for students/faculty.
One good answer Eddie gave to further questions about why reinvent the wheel was that the integration of all these tools in one platform allows students to do “identity management”–that is, keep the identities they arrived on campus with. Another is that universities have content management issues (pornography, copyrighted material, etc.) that have to be addressed in ways that existing platforms can’t or don’t.
A thought that emerged during the presentations and then the discussion was that the examples presented demonstrate that a small number of faculty have gotten ahead of our students (at last) when it comes to the use of new technologies in teaching and learning. Our students use many Web 2.0 platforms, but don’t know how to use them to learn. Now what we have to do is figure out how to teach them to use Web 2.0 to learn.