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Why aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?

Blog keyboardSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at why the uptake of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom has been slow, and offers some solutions.

On a daily basis, many of us are using web-based tools. For example, we are using Facebook and Twitter, watching YouTube and accessing a variety of other web-based resources for news, shopping, and planning our lives. Some of us also keep blogs.

However, when it comes to using these resources in the classroom, we have been reluctant to do so. Why? I believe that there are three main reasons for this.

First, there is the problem of “digital dissonance” (Clarke et al, 2009, p. 57); despite using web-based tools in our daily lives, we still haven’t seen the potential of using the tools for learning.

Secondly, using web-based tools for learning is not compatible with current curricula that emphasize knowledge consumption and reproduction of this knowledge in assessments (Dowling, 2011).

Finally, even if we have the opportunity to use web-based tools for learning, as the learning focuses not just on the product but also the process, assessment presents more challenges (Ehlers, 2009; Gray et al, 2010).  But these complications are not intractable.

First, select appropriate web-based material for your students. While the Web provides vast amounts of learning material, finding appropriate material can be problematic for learners, particularly those in the early stages of the learning cycle or whose English skills may be weak. I have found sites such as Learn English (British Council), Learning English (BBC World Service)  and Elllo useful for this.

Second, develop appropriate online assessments for web-based learning. As this type of learning perhaps focuses more on the process and social interaction than on the product, use specific rubrics to take this into account. For example, if students need to use blogs, marks can be given for posting on time, title, content formatting, replying to comments, number and quality of comments made on other student blogs, etc.

Finally, track and support learner activity. A Twitter hashtag or Facebook page could be used to do this. Or use a blog, for example WordPress or Blogger, to not only give access to online resources but to also deliver your lessons online and give support (see my blog web2english as an example). If privacy is an issue, or you need more learning management functionality, web-based tools such as Edmodo and Claco allow you to set up secure online learning environments where you can track and support all the learner activity.


Clarke, W., Logan, K., Luckin, R., Mee, A., and Oliver, M. (2009). Beyond Web 2.0: Mapping the technology landscapes of young learners. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 25, pp. 56-69.

Dowling, S. (2011). Web-based learning – Moving from learning islands to learning environments. TESL-EJ, 15-2, September 2011.

Ehlers, U-D., (2009). Web 2.0 – E-Learning 2.0 – Quality 2.0? Quality for new learning cultures. Quality Assurance in Education, 17, 3, pp. 296-314.

Gray, K., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., Clerehan, R., and Hamilton, M. (2010). Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26, 1, pp. 105-122.