Book by Curtis J. Bonk
Review by Nikola D. Strader
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
The Ohio State University

The World Is Open is most useful as a compendium of the immense number of online tools available to users.  The author has sorted these tools in a way that allows for organization according to a somewhat forced acronym, WE-ALL-LEARN:

W: Web Searching in the World of E-Books
E: E-Learning and Blended Learning

A: Availability of Open Source and Free Software
L: Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
L: Learning Object Repositories and Portals

L: Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
E: Electronic Collaboration and Interaction
A: Alternate Reality Learning
R: Real-Time Mobility and Portability
N: Networks of Personalized Learning

As one would expect, given the subtitle (“How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education”), everything presented here is given a decidedly educational spin.  Bonk does a good job of defining the technologies and emphasizing the learning capabilities in each.

Each category has its own chapter, and they flow best when read in order; however, I would recommend reading the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 12 before diving into WE-ALL-LEARN.  Even though Chapter 12 is the concluding chapter, it addresses issues that are conspicuously absent in the WE-ALL-LEARN chapters, and knowing that the author does address them will make reading about the technologies and their educational possibilities easier to follow.

The book suffers from some editing and presentation problems.  The WE-ALL-LEARN chapters appear to be slightly modified talks.  There is a noticeable amount of unnecessary details weighing down each chapter, which in a spoken presentation would not be particularly disturbing.  These details are frequently encumbered by an inconsistent presentation of numbers and symbols (e.g., eight thousand vs 8000), which only underscores the original verbal presentation.

The book suffers the most, however, from extremely loose uses of the terms “learning,” “teaching,” “knowledge,” and “information.”  “Information” is frequently interchanged with “knowledge” (they are not the same; knowledge is created from information), and “learning” and “teaching” are not defined.  The emphasis on self-centered learning is so strong that a good overt definition of the phrase would have been useful.  In one spot (p. 323) he refers to students “receiving learning,” a completely surprising phrase from an educational professional.  No one “receives” learning.  One learns by receiving information and creating knowledge.  The teaching side of the education equation is generally downplayed, although a frequent connection Bonk makes between teaching and learning is that learners can easily create their own content and share it with others through these technologies, in essence becoming teachers of others through this sharing.

How does this book apply to academic advising?  There is no doubt that technology has had and continues to have a profound influence on education at all levels.  For advisors in higher education, being aware of how technology is being used by students and faculty is an important part of the job.  For advisors who teach college success or related courses, many resources mentioned in the book could be useful.  Also, many advisors may find resources that can be used to better understand students and their backgrounds.  In addition, the different uses of the Web illustrated in the book may give advisors ideas for assisting students at various levels, from the freshman exploring student to the advanced-research doctoral candidate.

In summary, if the reader is willing to wade through a considerable amount of gratuitous detail and the loose use of certain terms, this book is a decent introduction to the variety of online tools available today to enhance or create learning opportunities.  It includes an incredible number of specific examples, and even more are available at its accompanying website (worldisopen.com).

The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. (2009). Book by Curtis J. Bonk. Review by Nikola D. Strader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 480 pp. $29.95 ISBN # 978-0-470-46130-3
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