Web 2.0 in education

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Analysis: Web 2.0 in education (KS3&4) At a glance

  • A series of reports has examined the use of Web 2.0 by secondary age learners at home and at school
  • Young people use Web 2.0 considerably more frequently at home, but they are often 'consumers' rather than 'producers' of digital information.
  • A number of schools are innovating in use of Web 2.0 in education, but a range of institutional, technical and sociological barriers to widespread adoption remain.
  • The pedagogical models implied by wider use of Web 2.0 technologies are not entirely new, but theychallenge a number of important assumptions about the way that formal education is currently constructed.
  • The researchers recommend a strategy of 'empower and manage', while acknowledging that progress towards Web 2.0 approaches is likely to be 'slow and cautious'.

What is Web 2.0?

The term Web 2.0 covers a range of technologies, services and trends underpinned by the growth of a critical mass of internet users. It is about using the internet as a platform for simple, light-weight services that leverage social interactions for communication, collaboration, and creating, remixing and sharing content. Typically, these services develop rapidly, often relying on a large community of users to create and add value to content or data. The availability and ease of use of Web 2.0 tools and services has lowered the barriers to production and distribution of content. Some examples of Web 2.0 services include: social networking sites, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, media sharing sites, rich internet applications and web 'mashups'.

Why is Web 2.0 of interest to education?

Young people seem to be particularly attracted to many Web 2.0 developments, often for the social aspects of easy communication, coordination and online expression of personal identities. At the same time, the affordances of Web 2.0 seem to harmonise well with current policy initiatives and modern thinking about educational practice. In particular, they seem to:

  • offer new opportunities for learners to take more control of their learning and access their own customised information, resources, tools and services
  • encourage a wider range of expressive capability
  • facilitate more collaborative ways of working, community creation, dialogue and knowledge sharing
  • furnish a setting for learner achievements to attract an authentic audience.

Key questions for the project

  • How and to what extent are young people using Web 2.0 technologies outside of education and how does this compare to their experience in schools?
  • What are the potential benefits, opportunities and issues around using Web 2.0 approaches for learning and teaching?
  • How are schools currently using Web 2.0 technologies and what are the barriers and issues to effective implementation?
  • What are the e-safety/child protection issues around the use of Web 2.0 technologies? How aware are learners, schools, parents and teachers of the risks and how can Web 2.0 be used safely?


Becta has published a series of five reports on Web 2.0 in secondary schools, based on research commissioned from the University of Nottingham in conjunction with London Knowledge Lab and Manchester Metropolitan University. According to the authors:

'Web 2.0 is a catch-all term to describe a variety of developments on the web and a perceived shift in the way the web is used. This has been characterised as the evolution of web use from passive consumption of content to more active participation, creation and sharing - to what is sometimes called the "read/write" web.' (Report 5, page 9.)

The research was designed to find out how Web 2.0 is being used, its potential impact in education and some of the barriers to successful adoption. A suite of five reports has been published:

  • The current landscape - opportunities, challenges and tensions (Report 1)
  • Learners' use of Web 2.0 technologies in and out of school in Key Stages 3 and 4 (Report 2)
  • Implementing Web 2.0 in secondary schools: Impacts, barriers and issues(Report 3)
  • E-safety issues in using Web 2.0 (Report 4)
  • Web 2.0 technologies for learning at Key Stage 3 and 4: summary report (Report 5)

Conclusions are based on existing research, surveys, focus groups, interviews and case study evidence. Two groups of schools were identified: 12 schools selected on the basis of their innovative use of Web 2.0 technologies and 15 schools that were chosen as broadly representative of the national demographic. Throughout this article the reports will be referenced by their number (above) rather than the full title.

This research complements other reports into use of Web 2.0 technologies, or social networking in particular, such as Young people and social networking services (Childnet, funded by Becta), Social Networking: A quantitative and qualitative research report into attitudes, behaviours and use (Ofcom), Information behaviour of the researcher of the future (University College London/JISC) and sections of the Byron review (DCSF).

Students' experience out of school

Report 2 publishes details of young people's use of Web 2.0 technologies, across a broad spectrum of applications based on the definition given above. Over the half the pupils surveyed had used a search engine or instant messaging application within the last 24 hours; nearly half had used a social networking site (such as Bebo or Facebook) or email. More learners from the 'Web 2.0' schools had used these technologies, although the difference was in the order of two to six per cent, depending on the application. In general, younger pupils and boys were more interested in gaming, while older students and girls were more likely to be found using social networking and communication software.

Home access to the internet was almost pervasive, with 96.6 per cent from the total sample able to get online. Nevertheless, many of these learners shared access with other family members and nearly all schools had some learners without any kind of home access.

Large numbers of young people are uploading content to the internet out of school - 73 per cent would upload pictures and 49 per cent share video - and almost three quarters are using social networking sites. Fewer students are using text-based contributory sites, such as blogs (53%) or wikis (17%).

Learners (Report 4) frequently interact with people they do not know, with 41 per cent 'occasionally' or 'frequently' receiving instant messages from unknown contacts and 35 per cent of these replying to them; 42 per cent 'keep up friendships' via social networking sites with people they have never met. The researchers conclude, however, 'this does not, of itself, indicate that children are naive or are engaging in behaviour that puts them at significant risk.' (Report 5, page 29.) Around half the students have, at least 'rarely', seen text or pictures about themselves that they did not like. Basic security is an issue for some: 28 per cent of learners 'occasionally' or 'frequently' find out others' passwords and 52 per cent would select passwords based on personal data.

Given the widespread use of such media by young people, the researchers see a role for schools in educating learners about the range of emerging technologies, the digital literacy skills needed to use them effectively and how to remain safe in this space. They state that, 'learners need to be offered appropriate ways in which to build on their enthusiasm and the fledgling technology skills they gain out of school'. (Report 2, page 11)

Current use in education

Report 2 compares school use of technologies, including Web 2.0, with experience at home, finding considerably fewer learners accessing these technologies during their formal education. Only two applications, email (40%) and looking up information in Wikipedia (73%), are used by more than a fifth of students; uploading pictures (7%) and video (6%), writing in blogs (9%) or wikis (9%) and use of social networking sites (8%) are experienced by a small minority.

Report 3 goes into greater detail of the actual use of Web 2.0 tools in the 12 case study schools, examining each technology in turn. Teachers in these schools experienced problems accessing the tools and the sample is small, so it is difficult to provide conclusive statistical evidence. Blogs and wikis were being used with students for open-ended writing tasks, collaborative development of text, debate, sharing comments and reviews, peer assessment and collating research. Various 'conversational arenas' were used for debate, supporting students and as a medium in which quieter students felt more able to contribute. Three quarters of teachers considered it important that pupils gained experience uploading and sharing media.

Skills and attitudes of students and teachers

The researchers found considerable enthusiasm among pupils for Web 2.0 activities, but that, 'there is little evidence of groundbreaking activities and only a few embryonic signs of criticality, self-management and metacognitive reflection'. (report 2, page 6) This lack of experience carries over into school, where teachers find that many students uncritically copy and paste text when engaged in learning activities and that 'digital consumers are more prevalent than digital producers'. (Report 2, page 8)

Learners, on average, spend more time at home using ICT for school work - a third estimate that they spend only an hour a week using ICT in school. Both teachers and learners experience problems of access to hardware at school and restriction policies that they find unhelpful.

Teachers do use Web 2.0 tools, but more often for social than professional purposes. Report 3 reveals that 46 per cent of teachers across the schools used social networking sites personally, but only 7 per cent used them for planning or delivering learning and teaching; likewise around 18 per cent used blogs but only 8 per cent professionally.

Teachers are apprehensive about many aspects of new technologies, not just Web 2.0 - 64 per cent say they have 'rarely' or 'never' received training. In addition to more technical issues around access, software skills and support, concerns include appropriate educational use, copyright, e-safety and assessment strategies. Over a third of the teachers surveyed believe that introducing Web 2.0 approaches into learning will be time-consuming and nearly two thirds experience 'frequent' or 'occasional' problems managing learners' use of the internet.

Pedagogical opportunities for Web 2.0

The researchers suggest that a:

'significant reason for educators to turn to Web 2.0 is that it seems to fit with certain experiences emphasised in contemporary theories of learning and modern thinking about how best to design the conditions of learning'. (Report 1, page 30)

Report 3 identifies four major ways in which Web 2.0 may impact learning:

  • Stimulating new modes of enquiry
  • Supporting collaboration
  • Engaging with new literacies
  • Generating publication.

Each of these is examined and examples of relevant activities are drawn from the case study schools. Appropriate use of Web 2.0 also affords opportunities to develop personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS), creating an environment in which students can be critical, reflective and self-managing, developing metacognition through activities undertaken. Changes in pedagogy implied by Web 2.0 are not unique to the technology, but may be 'new' to many learners, educators and institutions. It is important for schools to consider what they want to achieve and whether the technology will deliver these learning goals.

Web 2.0 and beyond in education

Many of the Web 2.0 approaches being adopted by innovative teachers strongly support policy initiatives that emphasise personalisation and assessment for learning. However, the researchers identify two 'important insights':

  • 'The first is that one of the reasons Web 2.0 has been slow to make a deep impact is because it demands new modes of learning from students;
  • 'the second is that Web 2.0 applications result in new products of learning, and teachers and schools will need to find ways to accommodate these into new curriculum practices.' (Report 5, page 34.)

The whole landscape of Web 2.0-enabled learning is changing rapidly, with more research needed. Report 5 derives a set of policy implications from the evidence they gathered, impacting on issues such as home access, assessment systems, training and e-safety. Meanwhile, technology analysts are starting to talk about Web 3.0, or the 'intelligent web', combining natural language input, artificial intelligence and pro-active data-mining to draw out the information users require.

In relation to e-safety, an advisory panel of 30 experts strongly recommends a technological approach to web access that they termed 'empower and manage' (report 4) - learners are educated, granted access and monitored, with inappropriate behaviour dealt with as necessary. Due to the fundamental shift in pedagogy towards more learner-controlled, collaborative approaches implied by the effective use of Web 2.0 technologies - and the accompanying need to change the mindsets of educators and strategists - the authors recommend that Web 2.0 innovators 'recognise that relatively slow and cautious progress is inevitable' (report 5, page 45.).


  • Web 2.0 technologies for learning at KS3 and KS4 - Project overview
    • Report 1: The current landscape - opprtunites, challenges and tensions (May, 2008) - link
    • Report 2: Learners' use of Web 2.0 techs in and out of school in KS3 & 4 (June 2008) - link
    • Report 3: Imp. Web 2.0 in Secondary Schools: Impacts, barriers and issues (Sept 2008) - link
    • Report 4: E-safety issues in using Web 2.0 (September 2008) - link
    • Report 5: Web 2.0 techs for learning at KS3 & 4: summary report (September 2008) - link
  • Young people and social networking services (Childnet/Becta) - link
  • Social Networking: A quantitative and qualitative research report... (Ofcom) - link
  • Information behaviour of the researcher of the future (JISC) - download
  • Byron Review - link
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