Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The politics of Web 2.0

In my book, everything is political. No ifs, no buts: the choices that we make; the purchases that we make; the individuals with whom we associate; all have ramifications for people's relationships with each other and indirectly confirm or assure the behaviours, values and cultures of third parties (individuals, corporations, institutions etc.). Like it or not, our choices impact upon social inclusion and social justice.

That's why, whether we agree with him or not, we need to engage withTom Hodgkinson's Guardian article of Monday 14 January, 2008, entitled "With friends like these ..."

Not only does Hodgkinson engage with the politics and values of those who own and manage Facebook, but he also raises issues to do with online privacy. This is a thought-provoking piece, and I was particularly struck by the following:

"Futhermore, have you Facebook users ever actually read the privacy policy? It tells you that you don't have much privacy. Facebook pretends to be about freedom, but isn't it really more like an ideologically motivated virtual totalitarian regime with a population that will very soon exceed the UK's? Thiel and the rest have created their own country, a country of consumers."

With universities beginning to engage in conversations around learning, teaching and assessment using Web 2.0 technologies, perhaps it's time to discuss and analyse issues around privacy a little more seriously.


Steve Mackenzie said...

here's my tuppence worth

I think there will be responsible web 2.0 companies that have good privacy policies and good security arrangements and the programmers of these companies will do their best to close any potential for hacking, which is a consideration.

For me without looking at the privacy policies there is something about facebook that starts ringing warning bells, plus i don't believe it's an educational space - it's a social space.

Suki said...

From our institutional perspective, we need to look at why these sites are 'attractive' to students for collaborating, and we probably know why - I do agree Facebook is a social space. We need to take advantage of web 2.0 technology and the features that they provide - we need to pay attention and filter as to how this can work in education to make the learning experience an enjoyable one for the diversity of students that we have today. There are some things that we need to be careful about 'mashing up ' by doing so are we clear about what we are trying to achieve? and more importantly what we want the students to achieve from the experience. It's our duty to advise staff of the implications of web 2.0 technology in particular around personal data and security.

Rob Wall said...

Agree with Steve and Suki that Facebook is a social space and may not be the best social networking site for educational purposes. (Ning seems good, at least in my limited experience of Steve's Web 2.0 learning network.)

I think Suki's point about clear aims and objectives is crucial. My intuition is that just using web 2.0 because we assume it’s what students expect is a mistake. Without a clear learning outcome web 2.0 tools are probably just as useless as any other educational exercise that lacks a clear learning outcome! However, if there's a defined task that can be facilitated by a web 2.0 tool, great.

As for the privacy / politics issues, I confess to being pretty ill-informed even though I am a social user of Facebook. As with all online apps, I try to be careful about how much personal info I make public, or supply to site operators even if it isn’t going to be public. I suppose for non-educational (ie personal, social) use, it’s really up to users to make themselves aware of privacy policies and decide whether to join a community like Facebook. But if we’re to push such things as an institution then we have to be careful about what we ask people to sign up to and some responsibility must rest with us. Personally I’d shy away from Facebook for any ‘official’ DMU activity not only because it is seen by students (and by me!) as a social space, but also because it’s so covered in advertising (often for things that I find a bit objectionable – dating services where you can find a wealthy partner, anyone?) that I don’t think it’s appropriate. Well, call me and old stick-in-the-mud!