Challenging the Learning 2.0 formula

Henry Jenkins insists, participatory culture is NOT Web 2.0:

“There has been a growing tendency to describe the application of these participatory culture principles to the classroom as “education 2.0” and as we do so, to take the highly visible corporate “web 2.0” portals not simply as our ideal model, but also as the source for these new participatory practices. Look at the way Brown and Adler’s (2008) influential formulation of “Learning 2.0” ascribes agency to corporate platforms and technologies rather than to communities of participants:

“The latest evolution of the Internet, the so-called Web 2.0, has blurred the line between producers and consumers of content and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to other people. New kinds of online resources– such as social networking sites, blogs, wikis, and virtual communities– have allowed people with common interests to meet, share ideas, and collaborate in innovative ways. Indeed, the Web 2.0 is creating a new kind of participatory medium that is ideal for supporting multple modes of learning.”

The DIY ethos, which emerged as a critique of consumer culture and a celebration of making things ourselves, is being transformed into a new form of consumer culture, a product or service that is sold to us by media companies rather than something that emerged from grassroots practices.

For this reason, I want to hold onto a distinction between participatory cultures, which may or may not engaged with commercial portals, and Web 2.0, which refers specifically to a set of commercial practices that seek to capture and harness the creative energies and collective intelligences of their users. “Web 2.0” is not a theory of pedagogy; it’s a business model. Unlike projects like Wikipedia that have emerged from nonprofit organizations, the Open Courseware movement from educational institutions, and the Free Software movement from voluntary and unpaid affiliations, the Web 2.0 companies follow a commercial imperative, however much they may also wish to facilitate the needs and interests of their consumer base. The more time we spend interacting with Facebook, YouTube, or Live Journal, the clearer it becomes that there are real gaps between the interests of management and consumers. Academic theorists (Terranova,2004; Green and Jenkins, 2009) have offered cogent critiques of what they describe as the “free labor” provided by those who chose to contribute their time and effort to creating content which can be shared through such sites, while consumers and fans have offered their own blistering responses to shifts in the terms of service which devalue their contributions or claim ownership over the content they produced. Many Web 2.0 sites provide far less scaffolding and mentorship than offered by more grassroots forms of participatory culture. Despite a rhetoric of collaboration and community, they often still conceive of their users as autonomous individuals whose primary relationship is to the company that provides them services and not to each other. There is a real danger in mapping the Web 2.0 business model onto educational practices, thus seeing students as “consumers” rather than “participants” within the educational process.”

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