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Web 2.0 and Distance Education
Web 2.0 is the term used to denote a wide range of interactive web applications that facilitate user-generated content, user-centered design, and user-based collaboration. Some examples of Web 2.0 include web-based communities, hosted services, web applications, social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and mashups. The interactiveness of Web 2.0 sites allow users to change or alter content and share content, in short, participate in the whole experience.
The rise of Web 2.0 technologies have enhanced the quality and dissemination of distance education. Students and instructors can enjoy a more dynamic educational experience at lower cost and with about as much effectiveness as actual face-to-face learning. At the same time, however, the new technologies have given rise to certain issues that need to be addressed with care. Let us take a look at some of the problems with web 2.0 in distance education.
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Issues with Web 2.0
Concerns about Relevancy and Reliability
Adding Web 2.0 technologies do not make a course worthwhile or relevant. Students need to research their distance education courses very carefully, noting how these are relevant to the actual demands of the job market and making sure that the courses are correctly accredited by the proper regional or national accrediting agencies. Another issue is the research and online study that students undertake. Since Web 2.0 makes it easy for anyone to publish any kind of content online, regardless of qualification, it is important to check and recheck sources for reliability, not just take in everything as it is found.
Copyright and Plagiarism Concerns
The easy sharing mantra of Web 2.0 can lead to copyright violations, even with works issued under a Creative Commons license. There is also the issue of the EULA (end-user license agreement) notices with the software used; these often automatically claim certain rights over the works produced using that software. Then there is the issue of students plagiarizing from online sources or cutting and pasting other people's work as their own. There is also the concern of safeguarding original data that students produce in the duration of their course.
Privacy and Safety Concerns
Web 2.0 makes it very easy to leave a digital footprint that can provide a lot of information about the user. As there have been several online cases of harassment and stalking, students need to be careful about the kind of personal information they put online. There should be a clear-cut policy about how students and instructors are expected to conduct themselves in their online interactions. This may not always works, but it's good to have some ground rules laid out.
Data Protection and Data Storage Concerns
How do you protect data that is stored on servers in another country that may not be subject to the same data privacy laws as your country? And what happens if your data hosting company goes kaput without warning? Do you lose your stored data?
Concerns about Developing Real Life Skills
A main concern with distance education has always been the lack of face-to-face interaction. This gives distance education students a disadvantage when it comes to real life communication and presentation. Communicating via live chat and live video can mitigate the issue to some extent, but not wholly.
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The problems with Web 2.0 in distance education can be overcome to a reasonable extent with a good dose of common sense, practical know-how, and research. Distance education providers need to select reliable web hosting companies and maintain well-organized backups and records of their educational content and also provide clearly delineated user procedures and policies. Students, on their end, need to adequately research distance education courses and understand what to expect, develop a good attitude towards learning, and best use of the resources at their disposal.