HomeDigital technology & MultimediaWhy aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?

Why aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?




Blog keyboardSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at why the uptake of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom has been slow, and offers some solutions.

On a daily basis, many of us are using web-based tools. For example, we are using Facebook and Twitter, watching YouTube and accessing a variety of other web-based resources for news, shopping, and planning our lives. Some of us also keep blogs.

However, when it comes to using these resources in the classroom, we have been reluctant to do so. Why? I believe that there are three main reasons for this.

First, there is the problem of “digital dissonance” (Clarke et al, 2009, p. 57); despite using web-based tools in our daily lives, we still haven’t seen the potential of using the tools for learning.

Secondly, using web-based tools for learning is not compatible with current curricula that emphasize knowledge consumption and reproduction of this knowledge in assessments (Dowling, 2011).

Finally, even if we have the opportunity to use web-based tools for learning, as the learning focuses not just on the product but also the process, assessment presents more challenges (Ehlers, 2009; Gray et al, 2010).  But these complications are not intractable.

First, select appropriate web-based material for your students. While the Web provides vast amounts of learning material, finding appropriate material can be problematic for learners, particularly those in the early stages of the learning cycle or whose English skills may be weak. I have found sites such as Learn English (British Council), Learning English (BBC World Service)  and Elllo useful for this.

Second, develop appropriate online assessments for web-based learning. As this type of learning perhaps focuses more on the process and social interaction than on the product, use specific rubrics to take this into account. For example, if students need to use blogs, marks can be given for posting on time, title, content formatting, replying to comments, number and quality of comments made on other student blogs, etc.

Finally, track and support learner activity. A Twitter hashtag or Facebook page could be used to do this. Or use a blog, for example WordPress or Blogger, to not only give access to online resources but to also deliver your lessons online and give support (see my blog web2english as an example). If privacy is an issue, or you need more learning management functionality, web-based tools such as Edmodo and Claco allow you to set up secure online learning environments where you can track and support all the learner activity.


Clarke, W., Logan, K., Luckin, R., Mee, A., and Oliver, M. (2009). Beyond Web 2.0: Mapping the technology landscapes of young learners. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 25, pp. 56-69.

Dowling, S. (2011). Web-based learning – Moving from learning islands to learning environments. TESL-EJ, 15-2, September 2011.

Ehlers, U-D., (2009). Web 2.0 – E-Learning 2.0 – Quality 2.0? Quality for new learning cultures. Quality Assurance in Education, 17, 3, pp. 296-314.

Gray, K., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., Clerehan, R., and Hamilton, M. (2010). Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26, 1, pp. 105-122.


  1. Great blog post and some compelling reasons for why we aren’t using Web based resources. I have to agree, that we need to begin to integrate tools in an as needed basis – which may also require a shift in knowledge consumption to knowledge acquisition.

    • Thanks Paul. I also like to have my students use web-based tools to create content, which in turn becomes valuable learning materials for their peers…a process that could be referred to as knowledge production. I hope to discuss this in more detail in a later post.

  2. We are unable to have these resources in our university classrooms, since the financial means to equip them is too far from our economic resources, unfortunately. However, we use ‘virtual classrooms’ through a special web site from our university.

    • Hi Ines,

      I guess we are fortunate to have these resources available in our classrooms. However, it’s not actually necessary to have these computing/internet resources in the classroom. As most students now have access to computers and the internet in computer labs, at home, internet shops, etc., the classroom could be flipped. If time allows, you could assign web-based activities for outside homework and use traditional resources in the classroom.

  3. […] to using technology in education/ELT. I’m honoured to have been asked. My first post, Why aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?, was published yesterday. Please have a look. It’s a pretty general post but will serve as […]

  4. […] have also been asked to be a guest blogger and my first post, Why aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?, was published yesterday. Please have a read, add any comments and share with your friends and […]

  5. Hi Sean,

    Enjoyed post but also must add that sometimes it is not even a question of classrooms having digital devices (and as you point out, majority of students today have access to computers at home or possibly libraries etc). The difference lies in attitude and the value of learning. Additionally, in any institution, there needs to be a strong commitment by all participants, for students to understand the benefits of digital learning – and this goes beyond only using digital tools. For instance, I still fail to understand the point of having students create digital stories if they are not shared in a student’s blog. If creating content is only meant to be shown to the teacher for assessment purposes and then stored away, out of mind and out of sight, in a storage cloud, that just echoes certain practices of the past which no longer make sense. (At least to me!)

    Perhaps digital literacies and practices for learning take longer to be incorporated than I wish.

    • Hi Ana,

      Thanks for the great comment. I also should have perhaps written that web-based tools are not being used not only because teachers can’t see the potential of using them, but also because they don’t even want to give them a try. As you say, there needs to be a strong commitment towards using them from all participants. And of course I agree with your point at the work just stopping at the teacher’s desk (or cloud). We now have the tools to showcase students’ work to a wider audience, so why not use them. I will be looking at ways to do this in later posts.

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