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Virginia Journal of Education


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What’s This Web 2.0 I’ve Been Hearing About?


by Karen Work Richardson

Lately, we've been hearing a lot about Web 2.0. What does that mean? According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is itself a Web 2.0 application, the phrase "Web 2.0" was coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004 to describe new, interactive Web-based applications that encourage collaboration. These might include social networking sites, collaborative writing tools such as wikis or Google docs, and other websites that take advantage of the Internet to allow users to share information and media. This month, I'm going to feature three of my favorite Web 2.0 applications that I think are particularly interesting for educators.

LibraryThing (www.librarything.com ) allows you to create your own online card catalog. After setting up a free account, which is limited to 200 cards, adding books to your catalog is as easy as typing in a title, author or other search information. LibraryThing searches several different book databases, including Amazon and the Library of Congress, and returns a list of books. Just click the title of the correct one, and it is added to your LibraryThing catalog. You can view my catalog online at www.librarything.com/catalog/witchyrichy . There is a space for you to write your own review. Certainly, if I were back in the English classroom, I would set up a LibraryThing account for my class so the students could add their own books and reviews.

What makes LibraryThing different from a regular card catalog, however, is also what makes it a Web 2.0 application. While each individual user has his or her own catalog, the application makes it easy for those users to share their catalogs with others. One way of doing that is by adding tags, or keywords, to each book in your catalog. Each book can have multiple tags; so, a book about baseball might be tagged "sports," "baseball" and "history." You can use these tags to search your own catalog, but you can also use them to search everyone else's catalogs as well, making it easy to find new books about topics in which I am interested. In addition, the discussion forums provide a space to talk about books with others, sort of a virtual book group that meets whenever I have time.

Many schools have licenses for the Kidspiration and Inspiration software. These concept-mapping programs are a great way to introduce visual organizers into the classroom. Unfortunately, some schools cannot afford enough licenses. And, even if they can, few students have access to the software at home. Here's where a Web 2.0 application called Gliffy (www.gliffy.com ) can be a lifesaver. It allows you to create graphic organizers and flow charts online and share them with other users. While it does not have all the bells and whistles of the commercial software, Gliffy makes it easy for students to collaborate in a way that stand-alone applications do not allow. In addition, because the files are online, they can work on their concept maps from both school and home.

My current favorite Web 2.0 application must be Google Maps (http://maps.google.com ). While I have always used it to plot directions or find hotels and restaurants, its newest feature--My Maps--has now made it a platform for creating "mash-ups." Put quite simply, a mash-up is the integration of content from several different websites into one. For instance, I can pull in photos from flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/therichardsons/ ) and digital video from YouTube (www.youtube.com/witchyrichy ). I just create a new map at Google Maps, search for particular locations, and then use the built-in tools to add placemarks. You can edit the pop-up box that appears when you click on the placemark, adding both text as well as links to those photos and videos you've got stored at other websites. If you want to see a sample, visit the site I created for a recent trip to Texas (http://tinyurl.com/23ev8z ). And then start thinking of the possibilities for the classroom; students could map Civil War battlefields, design literary tours of London or New York, or track field-based research findings.

These Web 2.0 tools make it easy to both publish and collaborate on the Internet. To find more tools, visit the Go2Web20.net website, a directory of Web 2.0 sites (www.go2web20.net/ ).

Richardson has been working as an educator for over 20 years, currently as an adjunct instructor in educational technology at The College of William and Mary, where she is also working on her doctorate in curriculum and educational technology. In addition, she serves as regional director of the Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership, a program that develops and implements professional development for school administrators.


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