Head in the Clouds? Ten Free Web 2.0 Tools to Support Faculty Research

Twenty-first Century research is increasingly becoming reliant on information and communication technologies to address systemic and distinct educational problems through greater communication, interaction, and inquiry. Research is an interactive inquiry process. In many instances this involves interaction with people. We also interact with technology and through technology to improve our educational practice. Practitioner research seeks to understand the underlying causes enabling personal and organizational change (Reason & Bradbury, 2001).

Increasingly more researchers are integrating Web 2.0 technologies with research methods (data driven instruction) as they examine barriers and potential solutions for systemic issues in their individual educational practice. However, while there are a multitude of tools, which tools are appropriate?

Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of web development and design that facilitates communication, secure information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the World Wide Web. A central characteristic of Web 2.0 or “Cloud Computing” is the ability of the users to own and exercise control over the data on the web (Page & Ali, 2009). Web 2.0 tools are enabling people from the distant corners of the globe to effectively communicate and construct knowledge, troubleshoot common enigmas, and collaborate in ways that give their previously unheard voice more than a mere echo or some false illusion of truth on the horizon.

Practical examples of researchers integrating Web 2.0 technologies include music educators who combined action research methods and technology to describe the experiences of students and teachers, Welch, Howard, Himonides, and Brereton (2005). Meanwhile, Strong-Wilson (2008) used action research methods to explore how the role of new media technologies and innovative pedagogical approaches in professional development. These teachers were promoting a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and were encouraged to share their thoughts on the adoption and resistance of technology.

Being conscious of the capabilities to cloud-based tools to accelerate and improve inquiry gives researchers new perspectives on how to design projects, capture data, and process the emerging patterns of knowledge. This applies to all genres of research including mixed-methods and experimental designs. Laurillard (2008) cautions practitioners to have an understanding of the educational problem before adopting a specific technology. For example, sharing knowledge, reflecting on one’s own personal development and using technology through an online learning activity management system or blog are all part of the process.

Web 2.0 tools help inquiring minds to examine increasingly complex data and to visualize it in new ways (e.g., Gapminder, Mindmeister, bubbl.us). This provides the individual with enhanced appreciation of what they know and what they are learning. You can have your “head in the clouds” and rest assured that you are on the correct path for positive pedagogical change.

To help you get started, here are 10 free Web 2.0 tools along with a brief explanation of HOW these tools support and enhance research.

Web 2.0 Tool/Link Functionality
BibMe ·Create fast and easy bibliographies
bubbl.us ·Brainstorming made simple
·Visual data
·Flow charts
CiteULike · Easily store references you find online
· Discover new articles and resources
· Automated article recommendations
· Share references with your peers
· Find out who’s reading what you’re reading
· Store and search your PDFs
Confolio · Store files, links, ideas
· Collaborate with others by sharing info
· Publish opinions on contributions of others
Connotea · Save and organize links to your references
· Easily share references with colleagues
· Access references from any computer
Gapminder · Interactive, dynamic data visuals
· Trend analysis
· Statistical analysis
Google Docs · Co-construction and online creation
· Manuscripts, interview transcripts, spreadsheets, presentations, etc
Mendeley · Sharing, building online research libraries
· Collaboration.
Mindmeister · Mindmaps
· Schematic diagrams
Zotero · Bibliographic plugin for organizing research

Laurillard, D. (2008). The teacher as action researcher: Using technology to capture pedagogic form. Studies in Higher Education, 33(2) 139-154.

Page, G. A., & Ali, R. (2009). The power and promise of Web 2.0 tools. In C. Payne (Ed.) Information technology and constructivism in higher education: Progressive learning frameworks. Hershey, PA: IGI.

Strong-Wilson, T. (2008). Changing literacies, changing formations: The role of elicitation in teacher action research with new technologies. Teachers & Teaching. 14(5/6). 447-463.

Welch, G. F., Howard, D. M., Himonides, E., Brereton, J. (2005). Real-time feedback in the singing studio: An innovatory action-research project using new voice technology. Music Education Research. 7(2). 225-249.

G. Andrew “Andy” Page is professor of research and educational technology, consultant and evaluator, and partner with the Dionysius Technologies Group.