Emerging Web 3.0/Semantic Web Applications in Higher Education
reviewed by Kiersten Greene - May 10, 2016
Title: Emerging Web 3.0/Semantic Web Applications in Higher Education
Author(s): Charles Wankel & Agata Stachowicz-Stanusch
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681231468, Pages: 338, Year: 2015
Search for book at Amazon.com
The web is literally becoming smarter with every technological development. As a result, the capacity to more effectively and automatically collect, interpret, and sort data improves. In turn, opportunities and modes for learning grow, providing new pathways for creating and accessing knowledge. In Emerging Web 3.0/Semantic Web Applications in Higher Education, edited by Charles Wankel and Agata Stachowicz-Stanusch, a group of education scholars provides an interdisciplinary entry point for thinking through the ways this more highly evolved and intelligent internet impacts teaching and learning in higher education.
A good portion of each chapter is devoted to explaining what Web 3.0 is or how the authors interpret the concept. It is acknowledged throughout the book that Web 3.0 is still being defined; however, the authors agree that it is a new stage of the internet in which producing, sharing, and sorting information becomes increasingly automatic. In other words, the web takes on more human qualities by thinking like people and these developments point to the possibility that Web 3.0s ability to learn will grow exponentially. For example, the web is capable of performing tasks it was unable to perform just years, and sometimes weeks, days, or even hours ago.
Web 1.0 provided the ability to access knowledge from the internet, whereas Web 2.0 provided the ability to both access and create knowledge. As the authors assert, Web 3.0 is a new stage of the internet that goes beyond multi-directional sharing of information and is characterized by the increased capacity for machines and programs to interoperate with one another in a complex series of networks.
In the era of Web 3.0, or the Semantic Web, we see intelligent bots and other artificial agents collecting, sorting, and modifying information faster than human users possibly can. The authors argue that this new stage of the web shifts the purpose of the digital in higher education: it provides an opportunity to enhance learning as never before. Think about how the ads alongside your Facebook feed seem tailored to your interests; this is the Semantic Web at work and the same type of algorithm used for this type of individualized differentiation in advertisement can be applied in a classroom. As you work on a math problem, imagine if your computer could anticipate the exact tutorial you need to be successful; or as you progress through your schooling, your program of study and available course offerings shift along with your educational needs.
With the increased automaticity of Web 3.0, students have increasing opportunities to determine their own learning pathways. This means that teachers take on a different role that is less about disseminating content and more about guiding a path toward content discovery. Tools become increasingly interactive as the Semantic Web develops, which fosters student and instructor collaboration. In turn, this produces seemingly endless amounts of user-generated data that can be mined in a variety of formats, sizes, and speeds. The authors argue that Web 3.0 produces an increasingly intelligent internet that creates previously inconceivable possibilities for what, how, and where to learn in a digitally enhanced environment. In the era of Web 3.0, the student has the ability to direct her own curriculum and knowledge production.
As the capacity to enhance classroom instruction by digital means increases, so does the opportunity for students to create their own pathways for learning. A thread of student-focused, student-directed instruction is strung throughout Emerging Web 3.0, and the authors provide in-depth explanations for how the Semantic Web shifts the focus of instruction from teacher to student. Instructional technology approaches, including flipped classrooms, wikis, sophisticated games, and other interactive learning experiences are described in the text and their uses are contextualized for Web 3.0 in higher education.
In explaining how different digital tools enhance student learning in this new phase of the internet, the authors introduce another theme in the text: the critical role teachers maintain in the classroom. The authors believe the student-directed focus of instruction does not diminish the role of the instructor; however, their role is undoubtedly changing. The authors posit that rather than being solely responsible for one classroom or a single area of study, faculty members will work in increasingly collaborative relationships. Rather than focusing on traditional coursework, students will focus on solving real-world problems and the walls of the classroom will begin to fall away. The role of faculty will shift but not be eliminated.
STAYING UP TO SPEED
Only a few chapters touch on ensuring that teachers have the opportunity to learn how to use new technologies as they develop. While hardware and software seem to change at an increasingly rapid rate, professional development to teach faculty how to use new digital tools cannot be avoided. The authors suggest shortcomings with the typical top-down decision making structure in higher education. Consider how interactive whiteboards ended up in so many classrooms recently despite mobile technologys rise. In retrospect, a mixture of these technologies in higher education classrooms might have made more sense. Rather than making sweeping decisions about one particular product or approach, administrators must remain in touch with the on-the-ground needs of students and teachers in the classroom; no one-size-fits-all approach will work for every teaching and learning community.
While the topic of this book is absolutely fascinating, timely, and thought provoking, there are several limitations. The first is the techno-deterministic theme that runs throughout. In each chapter, an assumption is repeatedly made that technology has changed society. However, in reality, technology has both changed and been changed by society. I would argue that the shifts in technological intervention in our society, especially in classrooms, have been more multidirectional than conceptually presented in this text.
In addition, several of the suggestions for future instruction and collaboration are presented idealistically without mention of logistics, access, or other potential obstacles. For instance, it is asserted that the flexibility and accessibility of flipped classrooms provides faculty with the option to share teaching materials and learn from one another. However, the invisible but burdensome digital work-creep taking place in higher education makes this well-intended suggestion highly unrealistic. Without a fair, authentic way of balancing the ratcheting-up expectations of faculty work and providing extra compensation for additional labor, there is little time left over for applying new digital tools. Finally, while individual chapters of this book are worthy reads, there exists overlapping content in the explanations of Web 3.0 from one chapter to another. This produces repetition in the book when approached as a collection.
A logical next step might be to conduct further research studies with larger samples of teachers and students with the goal of providing real-time suggestions for harnessing the power of Web 3.0 in the classroom. Without a clearer idea of the how, the what of the Semantic Web and its impact in the classroom will remain inaccessible to many institutions of higher education for the foreseeable future.