While many young people are familiar with digital media such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts falling under the Web 2.0 banner, it's likely few have thought about how these technologies could be applied in their future jobs.
A new Web 2.0 course offered at the University of Arizona and co-created with IBM aims to get young people thinking about the benefits these technologies can offer to their potential employers.
"A lot of companies are stuck in their thinking about the Web," says Andrea Winkle, early outreach coordinator and Web administrator at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management. "Many look at Web 2.0 technologies for only a small population of their customers, but with some tweaking, customization, and new ideas, these technologies can help them reach a much bigger population," says Winkle, who teaches the new course along with Rawn Shah, an IBM community program manager.
A key focus of the class is to reinvigorate the excitement of technology students, says Gina Poole, VP of innovation and university relations at IBM. The course provides University of Arizona management information systems and marketing students with lessons on how to use technology tools to create blogs, wikis, online communities, podcasts, and other Web 2.0-type forums. The course also provides students with the bigger picture of how online communities and social networking technologies can impact and play important roles in business.
Class projects, which include building online community sites for kids at a nearby high school, help teach university students hands-on skills to deliver a product, as well as get them thinking about the technologies' other potential value.
As part of the curriculum, students explore the Web to evaluate different sites, blogs, and wikis and think of ways these sites can better make customers part of the value chain rather than external players. For instance, many companies could probably get more valuable feedback from customers using blogs, rather than more traditional means of customer service communication such as phone calls or e-mail.
"So many people don't realize what the Internet is capable of doing," says Web 2.0 student Trish Scull, an MIS major in her junior year. "These technologies give room for people to express themselves and an opportunity to respond without having to deal with the anger you might see face-to-face," she says.
The classes provide the right mix of broader perspective and hands-on skills, says Scull. "You don't need to be a technology expert to learn how to use these tools." Students who learn about and understand Web 2.0 technologies will likely have solid employment opportunities once they graduate, says Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at research firm RedMonk. "A lot of startups out there are hiring for these positions, as well as bigger players like the Googles and IBMs," he says.
While much of the current hiring for Web 2.0-related jobs is by technology companies, more enterprise-type businesses will increase their demand for these kinds of Web 2.0 functions as well, O'Grady predicts.
Companies will increasingly evolve their use of Web 2.0 technologies from external interactions to internal communications and applications. "Most technologies start out in businesses and then trickle out to consumers," O'Grady says. "This is one of the more rare reverse examples."
IBM will provide a pilot for similar Web 2.0 classes that other colleges and high schools can offer, says IBM's Poole.
It's not just younger students who are benefiting from the Web 2.0 class. Diana Anderson, 47, is taking the class as a senior year dual major in business management and MIS. "The Web is a place to make money, and new business models are emerging," says Anderson, who spent more than 20 years in manufacturing research and operations jobs before deciding a few years ago to make a career-shift into business technology.
"I get the sense that most nontech companies aren't yet using Web 2.0 technologies to their advantage," she says. "Once I graduate and work for one of those employers, I'm hoping to use these tools for teamwork and to help the company use the Web to its advantage."
While students at the University of Arizona are learning about Web 2.0 technologies, this week private independent grant-making institution The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation unveiled a new program to study how children use and learn with digital media.
The foundation is providing up to $50 million in grants over the next five years to research projects that focus on how kids use digital media, including blogs, online communities, electronic games, and social networking sites, as well as the impact the technologies have on learning, society, and the workplace.
"Digital media is reshaping everything we do," says Connie Yowell, MacArthur Foundation director of education grant-making. "We need to understand how it impacts young people, and how they use it. There's a major social transformation happening with young people," she says.
The foundation's goal for the research is to help parents, practitioners, and policymakers in their decision-making related to kids and digital media.