Web 2.0 reaches the classroom

University of Arizona students are learning how Web 2.0 technologies can help businesses establish better communications with clients and partners.

University of Arizona students are learning how to build online business communities using technologies often grouped under the controversial and problematic Web 2.0 concept.

As the latest buzzword, the term Web 2.0 has become obligatory in the marketing initiatives and advertising campaigns of many Internet companies in recent years. Along the way, it has turned into an overused, cliched and vague term.

This didn't deter the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management from naming a new course being offered this semester "Web 2.0: Maintaining and Developing Online Communities."

The undergraduate course attempts to teach students how new online services like wikis, blogs and social networks, along with related practices like content tagging, syndication and categorization, can help companies create communities of clients, employees and partners.

Developed in conjunction with IBM, the course doesn't focus on the technology behind these new services, but rather on their business applications to foster online collaboration. As such, the course is aimed at students of marketing and management of information systems, and not so much at aspiring computer scientists.

"We're focused on the user/consumer-driven Web economy," said Andrea Winkle, the professor teaching the course. "We're helping the students remember that wikis and blogs are tools and that tools will change, so they need to think about [using them] to build communities."

Building Web 2.0-based online communities can help businesses create new business opportunities and improve customer relations, said Rawn Shah, a community program manager at IBM who helped Winkle develop the course and acts as a regular lecturer. The University of Arizona students are learning how to effectively plan, create, maintain, and promote online communities that yield tangible business benefits, Shah said.

Successful completion of the course requires students to use Web 2.0 technologies and build online communities that engage students from a local high school. The class has been split up into groups, which have in turn met with the 60 or 70 participating high school students. The university students will be evaluated according to the level of traffic and use their online communities generate among the high schoolers.

The course ends in December but will be offered again next semester.

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