Web 2.0?

In Search of a Fluid Networking Culture

Helsinki (SF), November 2007 - The international MA program ePedagogy Design - Visual Knowledge Building has recently been awarded "best-practice" in the Erasmus program. Following his experience with this project, Prof. Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss tries to answer questions about the impact of social software tools on eLearning and implications on students' modes of interaction, aesthetics, and techniques.

You are head of the international MA program ePedagogy Design - Visual Knowledge Building. Could you please tell us a bit more about this program?

Prof. Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss: The international MA program MA ePedagogy Design - Visual Knowledge Building emerged from a European Commission-funded Erasmus Curriculum Development project (2003-2005). It was developed by the University of Art and Design Helsinki as the coordinating institution together with the Netherlands' Inholland University and the University of Hamburg in Germany.

The two-year (120 ECTS) Master's program covers an interdisciplinary curriculum with specific emphasis on cross-curricular co-operation based on media convergence and media literacy to interpret various forms of visual representation in all scientific disciplines and networked communities. This includes investigation of process-oriented, cognitive, and meta-cognitive ways of creating, simulating, and visualising new methods of content creation, researching, and implementing new technologies and didactical models.

During the last two years, the MA program has achieved a strong network of corporate universities and related organisations, institutions, and enterprises to foster knowledge building, transfer, and efficiency. The international MA program aims to contribute to high quality standards in European higher education in order to face the challenges of electronic networks and related economic, cultural, and social changes in professional and private life.

From your experience what is the impact of social software tools on current practice in eLearning?

Prof. Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss: A tendency towards social networking tools (StudiVZ and Facebook) can be observed within a few months' time. It seems that the originally conceived study and online communities as integral parts of either proprietary or open-source- based LMS or LCMS can no longer support adequate preconditions that serve the users' need to connect either randomly or purposefully or to share and communicate for different occasions at the same time, and they are thus becoming obsolete.

This means the community with which I am connected - and potentially could be connected in the future by means of social networking tools - continuously expands and converges into software clusters stimulating multitasking and proposing living on the net. Smart mobile technologies that would create another dimension of spatiotemporal relationship between connected users have not yet achieved similar Asian (especially Japanese) standards.

What implications on students' modes of interaction does Web 2.0 have?

Prof. Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss: The core infrastructure of the MA program contains a Group Blog where students feed study-and-research-topic-relevant information. In addition, group work over distance in an international setting relating to project work topics are organized either in blogs or in password-protected communities, which allows flexible information aggregation and dynamic knowledge construction. Spontaneous and organized one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many conversations are conducted over the Internet (e.g. via Skype).

Photo and video sharing tools, podcasts, and virtual world habitats are like-minded modes of expression. Especially in international and multilingual user groups, it appears interesting to see how local interests and cultural idiosyncrasies can be refashioned and recontextualised into prevalent English-speaking communities.

What consequences does participatory media culture have for aesthetics and techniques?

Prof. Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss: Internet aesthetics entails programming, interface design, and interactivity (social action) that have paradigmatically changed the modes of perception, reception, and production, transforming users who were formerly either consumers or producers into a new "species" of conducers, i.e., consumers and producers at the same time. Open source/content, open APIs, and free software, web services, and Internet access, as well as many other developments based on the principles of exchange culture (deriving form the hacker milieu as "gift culture"), have been the driving forces leading to a global community of creative commons.

These developments have revolutionized the theoretical and practical media architecture, which can be subsumed as a collective and co-evolutionary attempt towards collective and creative citizen media: everyone can become an artist, musician, author, journalist, producer, …