Is academia failing us by not teaching Web 2.0 skills?

Your help is needed. I just received this email from a colleague:


Are there curricula available from schools, online, etc. where one can learn about and improve your interactive skills? All facets of the interactive world. I’m at the University of Nebraska Journalism School and they don’t currently offer too much education in this area and the students and even faculty are asking “Where to you go to learn and study more about a career in this rapidly growing field and learn the necessary skills?”



I’ve already been made painfully aware of the vacuum in academia, as far as educating students on the skills needed in a Web 2.0 world.

One example: Last month an intern with a marketing firm I know told her boss she didn’t have a Facebook account because, “That online social network stuff is a waste of time.”

Yes, I know Facebook can become a monumental way to screw off instead of work, but in a world where we are only as useful to our employers as the information we can access –and the network of talent that will help us gain this access — this is dangerous ignorance. Facebook has a place because it helps us maintain and expand our network of trusted sources.

So, okay. I’m off my soapbox.

Now I’m appealing to my network: Where are the best educational programs for tomorrow’s knowledge workers? And are there ways that students in far-flung places — such as Nebraska — can convince their teachers to add these curricula to their own?

Comment here, or through my Twitter or Friendfeed accounts and I’ll be sure to consolidate what I’ve learned here.

15 Replies to “Is academia failing us by not teaching Web 2.0 skills?”

  1. Who is the “us” that’s being failed? My daughter is in college — no one needs to teach her web 2.0. I think she (and her peers) are teaching academia web 2.0.

    My observation, Jeff, is that my daughter and her classmates “practice” Web 2.0 — and there are some profs who participate in this, and even create the Web 2.0 opportunity for their students.

    Why would this be something that has to be elevated to the level of importance that it needs to be “taught”?

  2. Good point, Ron. It’s true that with online teaching platforms like the open source Moodle, students learn some social media skills while turning in assignments, etc. But what about the study of the social graph? The distinctions between various computer mediated communication sites (which is the more academic term for “social media”)?

    Also, search engine optimization, and understanding viral marketing and “Google bombs.” All of this would aid most future information workers greatly once they graduate. Must it be self-learned?

  3. The importance of utilizing the social web comes down to one word, “Communication”. If you are able to communicate faster and better you will become smarter and more valuable. Whether the tool is Twitter, Facebook, Seesmic, etc. you are able to reach a greater number of people with your message for cheap and probably free.

    Communication is the cornerstone of any learning interaction whether it is professor to student, text book to student, or student to student. Web 2.0 tech like the applications named above can improve any one of those communication channels.

    Kanye had it right when he said, ” longer, better, faster, stronger.” These tools will provide longer communication by making it easy to store. They will make it better by making it more available and real time. They will make it faster by opening up the platform by which people will communicate. And finally, they will make it stronger by increasing the involvement…more people can join the same conversation! Ok ok, the Kanye thing was a stretch but seriously without embracing the social web now you will be behind the curve and thus not get the same value proposition from these tools.

    Feel free to share my blog with the class:

    Best of luck with the lecture!

  4. Thanks, Ryan. I can heartily endorse Ryan’s blog.

    He’s doing terrific things to improve the business and technology climate in this part of the country.

  5. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I think the social web is more about connections, knowledge, and access than it is about communication. Communication was pretty effective with the phone and email; for me, the Social Web isn’t so much permitting me to communicate better (and in some cases, I’m communicating worse thanks to 140-character limits on microblogs), but it has allowed me to get to know more people, gain more knowledge, stay abreast of more current information, find more resources, etc.

  6. First off, there needs to be a discussion of the term “web 2.0.” When it was first used, the amount of websites it encompassed was small, and has since grown to include many sites that hold true to the original ideas, and many sites that are just faking their way into a trend.

    For someone to really get a hold on the term and the trend, they need to spend a lot of time reading/playing/testing/talking/watching/etc. I think Ryan will attest to that. It’s only after study of the beginnings and the evolution of “web 2.0” can a person start to get a hold on what the term really has meant to not only the web community but also regular social and business communities.

    As far as academia, this is just another situation in which they are nearly powerless. Teachers and professors would have a really tough time teaching most of this stuff because they don’t have the time to be fully immersed in it. What the teachers need to be doing is taking their tried and true teaching methods and figuring out how to apply them to what they want the students to learn about web 2.0 and the internet/tech world today.

    They need to come at this problem not from a position of “What can I teach these kids?” but from a position of “What can I do so these kids learn?” Our teachers are smart, but I feel like most do not want to attempt teaching this stuff because they don’t feel like they’re experts on the subject matter. And since very few people are experts, and very few of those are teaching about it, everyone has to learn on their own.

    As far as what can Nebraska educators do? Nearly everything that anyone else can do (in regards to learning the subject). Projects, case studies, experiments, testings, readings not from books but from the great industry blogs. And while these blogs are the best texts right now, like any textbook there needs to be an honest and contemplative study of what they contain. Some are full of truth and others have been corrupted by monetization and rote devotion to business plans.

    The students need to examine the human aspects of the changes brought forth by web 2.0, not just how to make money from it.

    I’ve loved watching the web change over the past few years, but it’s definitely taken a lot of my time to keep up with what’s going on. I’ve stopped using more web 2.0 sites than most people know exist, but that’s how things go when you’re an early-adopter enthusiast.

    This is a (very small) list of things that have stuck with me in the web 2.0 world. These are instances where people or ideas have worked better than most, and have allowed users to create honest and useful connections:

    Tracy Apps and Seesmic. Gary Vaynerchuk and wine. Robert Scoble and startups. Chris Pirillo and anything. Twitter. Flickr. Revision3 and Diggnation.

    I hope I made sense.

  7. A University Webmaster friend of mine says ‘the real skills are in adapting to the latest tech not being ‘taught’ the technique’

    I say, it’s ok not to know a certain technology or Web 2.0 thing, but not it’s not ok to have no idea how to find the answers, ie through personal or professional networking and Search Engine use.

    The net moves too fast to depend on academia to teach us how things work. By the time curriculum is drawn up, the tech is usually obsolete.

  8. Sam, I think you nailed it when you said “For someone to really get a hold on the term and the trend, they need to spend a lot of time reading/playing/testing/talking/watching/etc.”

    Maybe academia should butt out of educating students on this type of communication (and yes, I agree Augie — it’s all communicating). Maybe it should be like physical fitness — something else that by college we should know how to stay physically healthy.

    Or perhaps it’s like reading and writing, two things that are assumed as baseline skills.

    Sam and Voxana both got to the crux of relying on academia: “Things move too fast.”

  9. @augieray – it wouldn’t been pretty tough to have this level of discussion and valuable discourse with the social web. I found out about it via twitter, I commented on a blog, then it was presented to a college class…perfect example of web meets world!

  10. IUPUI recently had me teach a J320 class on Marketing and Advertising and how Corporate Blogging was impacting the industry. The professor, in reviewing the courseware and the text book, was horrified not to find ANY Web 2.0 material in the book.

    Kudos to IUPUI for reaching out, hopefully there are more professors that see the opportunities to do this with their regional SEO and Social Media Consultants.

  11. Small world, Douglas.

    Thanks for contributing. I agree that I hope this is a question that’s being asked all over this country.

    Significantly I’ve received no specific citations of curricula. I know there are some out there, but they apparently are pretty rare.

  12. Wow! What a fascinating discussion. I find it a bit ironic that the web was born in academia, and now academia can’t keep up with it! When I was in college, the web was new. At that time there simply were no web curricula. Based on what I’m reading that must still be the case.

    Having worked as a web developer and graphic artist since 1999, it is clear to me that the web (whichever version it is currently in) is the “front line” of communication in the modern marketplace. It is a tool for networking and accessing information — both of which are essential to a successful career. Students are in college because they want the best career opportunities available. They will need web skills in order to attain that goal. What kind of college wouldn’t take an active interest in that fact?

    As a web site designer, I need to stay current on new software, new standards, new practices, new ideas and new trends among other web designers. This industry requires non-stop learning. When I need to quickly get familiar with new web development tools or skills, my favorite resource on the web is It’s not an online college by any means. But in the past few years their library of video courses has allowed me to learn new technologies, skills and tools faster and more flexibly than any college-based alternatives I have found.

  13. Jeff,
    Very interesting thoughts, particularly agree with Sam and Augie on much of what they said.

    In my opinion, I think immersing myself in engaging ‘interactively’ by adopting and utilizing mainly Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook is teaching me more than any academic medium would. Web 2.0 is ‘interactive’ and I think that concept is difficult to bring that experience into a traditional classroom setting. Then again, I completed some of my coursework for my Business Degree through Lakeland College’s Online program and it has been awhile since I sat in a traditional classroom in a college; I am sure that there are things that have changed a lot since then. Nobody had laptops or cellphones when I was in school.

    The best way I have found to learn more about interactive and Web 2.0 is through ‘self-taught’ and a lot of reading; mostly on the Internet. Even more valuable are ones I follow on Twitter that I would regard as ‘experts’ in the new media / interactive web, Chris Brogan, Jim Long, Michael Marlatt, Dan Schawbel, Warren Whitlock to name a few. And let’s not forget local folks in Milwaukee whom I have learned a lot from such as yourself, Augie Ray, Tannette Elie, Al Krueger, Steve Glynn aka Spreenkler and many others.

    I would love to hear about any classes or courses that would be available at a college or higher education setting so I think you raise an important question. I’ll be interested and watching to see what you find out.

  14. I can’t answer the central question, “Where are the best educational programs for tomorrow’s knowledge workers?” today. But I sure hope that in 5 years my answer is, “Right here, in my town,” and that I played a role in starting it.

    The challenge for any of us who believe social media and Web 2.0 are more than just a passing fad – that they are changing the way the world forms relationships, shares information, spreads ideas, and does business – is to gather evidence (Obama campaign), make a case for our argument, draft a syllabus, and start teaching.

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