Opinion: Web Two Wowsers

In the course of my work as an online education designer and as an educational consultant, I come up against some Pretty Daft Arguments as to why teachers and managers shouldn’t use free, online applications, such as wikis or blogs, in our classes and for our work practices. Those making the Pretty Daft Arguments are what I would call ‘Web Two Wowsers’ — people who want to spoil it all for the rest of us: they are Web One people stuck in a fast-changing world, and they haven’t done any research or investigation into (let alone thinking about) how the new systems work. Thus, you’d think it would be safe to say that their opinions are un- and ill-informed and thus really should carry no weight in decision-making.

Sadly, though, they do. In fact, these people seem to make up a large chunk of the leadership that is making decisions about what’s best for the rest of us. Rarely are they current teachers with on-the-ground, day-to-day experience of 1) how effective wikis and blogs can be as learning and management tools, and 2) how crappy LMSs such as MyClasses and BlackBoard are to work with in the classroom.

So, for your own edification and delight, here are some of the real doozies I’ve heard recently from Web Two Wowsers, and my responses to them:

  • “Free, online services are not secure”. Yes, they are. Do your research.
  • “Free, online services are not private”. Yes, they can be. Do your research.
  • “Free, online services are not reliable; their infrastructure might go down.” Yes, and so might Telstra’s, which is probably where your LMS is hosted. But how often does this happen with a reputable company? It is usually not the software company that owns the infrastructure. It is the telco. Same: your educational institution does not own the infrastructure, it is owned by the telco. The control you think you have over the infrastructure is an illusion — hosting something on your own site just makes you feel better, is all.
  • “They might sell your info to a Third Party.” Meh. Maybe. But that’s why you need to check out the Terms of Service when you register and you need to go with a company with a reputation. I’m not taking my car to Dodgy Brothers when it needs a tune-up. I’m taking it to Ultra-Tune or to an operator I trust. The Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of companies such as WordPress and WetPaint state unequivocally that they will disclose your info only to those who need it in order to work on the system (such as employees and contractors, who must sign non-disclosure agreements, anyway) and only if the law requires it. Do your research.
  • “This is changing the work practices of the entire organisation. You need permission from Those Up On High to do that”. (Frankly, I don’t know where in Hades this one came from, but I have heard it …) Two answers: 1) No it’s not changing the work practices of the entire organisation — just this class or project group. We want to work more efficiently and produce better-quality learning. 2) Why do we need permission to work better? The answer is ‘because Those Up On High signed a contract with this particular LMS company — a company that is making big bucks out of rorting already under-funded educational institutions by supplying poor-quality, ill-conceived, difficult-to-use products’. Mobs like WordPress, WetPaint, Google, WikiSpaces aren’t rorting the education system. You can at least say that much for them.
  • “I know nothing about this company”. So learn. You might find that you like their business model, ethics and mission. You might find that they have a published commitment to using your data in an ethical way — does your mechanic? WordPress.org, for example, promises to adhere by Attention Trust principles (don’t know what that means? Then learn …). Other mobs such as MyMindshare, and Wesabe, are up-front about their commitment to your rights to your information, and Open Social Web is working on A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web. Do your research.
  • “They might go bust.” If the product is poor, then so they should go bust. If the product is good, then they won’t. The reason that companies such as WetPaint, WordPress, WikiSpaces, Google, Yahoo! etc., etc. have survived is because they care about their reputations and they know that if they make poor products, then their customers will be out of there like a shot. I ain’t sticking with a mechanic who can’t set the gap properly on me points. I’m going elsewhere. Web Two Wowsers seem to think that business on the Web is somehow ephemeral and that there is no such thing as reputation. Trust and reputation are the same concepts, regardless of where they occur.
  • “This company might get bought out by someone else … like … like … like Google!” Well, BlackBoard bought WebCT, didn’t it? Besides, if Google buys something, then it’s gotta be good. Who owns Arnott’s these days? Does it stop you from eating Scotch Finger Biscuits? Web Two Wowsers seem to think that the online world somehow is different from the ‘real’ world — that business models and practices that characterise the ‘real’ world suddenly change online. In fact, it seems to me that Web Two Wowsers don’t really have much idea about how business works at all.

So, leaders, get educated. Inform yourselves about how these companies and their tools work. And then think of creative solutions (as a TAFE college in WA did) as to how to integrate these things into your institutional framework. Once you have investigated these things properly, you will be in a position to make intelligent and legitimate calls about how the technology can and should be used in your workplace.

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