Skip to main content
BlogTechnology in Schools

What’s so different about Literacy 2.0?

By November 17, 2009June 14th, 20168 Comments

Literacypic_smallThe “2.0” buzzword has gotten a lot of hype in recent years, and deservedly so. Whatever word we could have used to describe these new tools, the emergence of the term indicated a social, even anthropological, shift in how we use the web.

Defining what qualifies as “web 2.0” or “literacy 2.0,” has become more difficult as the term has become more ubiquitous and trendy. According to Knobel & Wilber (2009), “a Web 2.0 ethos values and promotes three interlocking functions or practices: participation, collaboration, and distribution.” In other words, you know a web 2.0 resource if it helps you collaborate with others and share what you have gathered, learned, or created. Examples are wikis (i.e. PBWorks), social bookmarking tools (i.e. Diigo), and sites for users to share pictures and video (such as Flickr and YouTube).

For educators, the emergence of these tools has led directly to discussions about what skills students need in order to manage and utilize such tools. Termed “Literacy 2.0,” many teachers have come to the understanding that past protocols for researching, reading, and writing are woefully outdated in a world where students and adults are not only encouraged, but expected to collaborate and contribute to group projects and where learners must efficiently and effectively sift through vast amounts of information.

Perhaps this latter point presents the biggest challenge of the shift that has happened in education. When schools as we know them were conceptualized, information was relatively scarce. We went to school because that was where the resources were that had information. School was staffed by someone (or multiple people) who could help us use those resources and learn (memorize) that information for later access.

Information, however, is no longer a scarcity. If anything, there is an overabundance of information that our students must learn to vet. They must learn to recognize bias, understand an author’s motivation and background, and add this to his/her ever-changing understanding of a concept (Richardson, 2009). As Knobel & Wilber (2009) affirmed in their article, “Let’s Talk 2.0,” this new literacy “doesn’t mesh well with such practices as book reports, comprehension questions, leveled reading tasks, and weekly spelling tests that students are asked to do in school.”

I vividly recall my own fledgling attempts to help students learn these new skills. I was working with sixth graders on a primary sources history project, when I realized one day that they had not yet been taught how to vet and scrutinize information they found on the web. The next week, I started their class by launching into a short lecture about the dire state of California’s velcro crop and how this plight of velcro shortage may affect us all. I showed a web site with information and data to illustrate my concern. I recall finishing my lesson, then a long silence following. I asked for reactions or questions about what they’d just learned. Finally, one student raised her hand with great uncertainty and asked, “Are we talking about velcro? Like… (pointing to someone’s velcro on their jacket sleeve) ….velcro?” When I affirmed, there was more silence before another student voiced, “I guess I didn’t know that velcro grew.” Laughter. Then realization.

This conversation led to an entire unit where students learned to compare many different sources, both online and off, to see if they agree or conflict, to look at who owns the site using a source such as, to consider the suffix of a web site (i.e. .k12, .gov, .com, .org) and what that might indicate, and finally (perhaps most importantly) to compare what you are reading with what you already knew or thought you knew. (Note: if I were to do this same activity today, I would consider using the Tree Octopus site as my teaching tool.)

Perhaps Will Richardson best captures the concept of Literacy 2.0 in the March 2009 issue of Educational Leadership, which focused entirely on this subject: “Students will need to build their own curriculums, create their own projects, and assess their own products and their contribution in creating them. In short, they must be self-directed, self-motivated, lifelong learners who are network-literate in their creation and participation in these spaces.”

Later, he states, “If we continue to simply pass paper back and forth in our classrooms, we are not preparing students for the world they are entering.”

Well said.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Rhonda Gamble says:

    Web 2.0 also poses problems when it comes to social networking. There are instances in which a teacher’s personal social networking blurs into educational networking. And we must be careful with what we post and what we link to.

  • Anna says:

    When students are presented with options, they choose the easiest route with the least amount of work. At this age few are truly intrinsically motivated. Our job is to train them in higher level tasks and show them that they can do it. After they taste success multiple times, they just might begin to be intrinsically motivated.

  • Mikie says:

    I think you are exactly right that the overwhelming amount of information that is now available is an issue that we need to address as educators. Being able to “vet and scrutinize” as they “sift through vast amounts of information” is not an inherent ability for students. They need instruction and modeling of this important life skill for the 21st century. I really like the creative example you gave of how you presented this concept to your class.

  • Maria Segovia says:

    As a chemistry teacher I started the year with students researching dihydrogen monoxide, starting out with . It was a great introduction on naming molecules as well as validating your resources.

  • Sarah Parham says:

    I think the idea of having students compare different sites for validity is great. Students often choose the first site that appears when they google their topic. If we teach them how to filter out the “good” from the “bad” they will be able to better utilize the mass amounts of information they have avaliable.

  • dga says:

    Web 2.0 can be a scary place for teachers and students if they do not learn the basics of using it. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there and students especially tend to think if they read it, it must be true. It is important for us to teach them how to research and scrutinize the information they find and that can be a daunting task for teachers.

  • Jennifer Takala says:

    I absolutely love your velcro example. What an excellent idea for showing students the importance of being able to scrutinize all information provided to them! It is absolutely necessary to teach our students this lesson. For the rest of their lives, they will be bombarded with misinformation coming at them from every direction. By teaching students to evaluate rather than just believe, we are not only teaching our students to be smart about what they hear in an educational setting, but we are preparing a generation of people who actually think for themselves.

  • Karleen says:

    Web 2.0 resources are a valubale tool and can be well utilized in the classroom, however, like the article states, students must be able to figure out if the information is accurate. We can not have students relying on Google or Wikipedia in order to find all of the needed information. It is amazing the number of website students believe simply because they found the information on the web. I love the example of the Tree Octopus.

Leave a Reply