Featured in a recent Ars Technica post, Martin Weller,Professor of Educational Technology at Open University UK, describes the current state of collaboration and online learning tools available at most universities as "systems with 'digital tumbleweed blowing down their forums.'"
As he notes, the latest generation of students entering university have been raised on a diet of YouTube and MySpace, the social networking components of which allow them to interact and form groups in extremely open and interesting ways. While he doesn't argue for the value of MySpace, he does point out that
the online communities fostered under the Web 2.0 umbrella perform a largely parallel function, in that they foster groups with common interest and link them to relevant materials. They don't fully replace the university experience, as these communities tend to have experts that are self-appointed, but Weller argues that the parallels between the two can't help but influence the expectations of students that have been raised in a Web 2.0 world.
What students usually find is a strictly-structured Blackboard-style system that offers none of the flexibility or pizazz to which they've become accustomed. Given that, the students tend to underutilize the university system and turn elsewhere:
"Why will they [students] accept standardized, unintuitive, clumsy and out of date tools in formal education they are paying for?" he asks. If the students can't meet their expectations through these systems, the students will just ignore them and start their own Facebook community.
To address this, Weller has begun work on the next generation of online learning tools called the Social Learn Project. The project's website makes for a good read, asking interesting questions about "learning on the open social web."