H. Bienzle, K. Toifl

"die Berater" Unternehmensberatungs GmbH (AUSTRIA)
Professional and inter-organisational networks play an increasingly prominent role in the area of lifelong learning in Europe. In this context networking can be understood as the process of building up ties by people and/or organisations for multiple reasons: access to information, ideas or funds, political mobilisation, benchmarking, support or mutual assistance in professional crisis situations. Moreover, networks face high expectations they cannot always meet: they are supposed to solve structural deficits in the field of education. In a more realistic perspective networks should focus on three core functions (Bienzle, H. et alia (2007), The Art of Networking. European Networks in Education. Vienna):
- Networks are about networking
First and foremost, networks should bring together practitioners, experts and policy-makers in a specific field and create an organisational framework for intensive contacts and exchange.
- Networks are about learning
A network should provide ample implicit and explicit learning opportunities for all the actors involved. Personal and organisational learning should have a prominent place on the network agenda.
- Networks are about shaping practices and policies
Although the creation and maintenance of suitable provision for networking, sharing experiences and learning for actors inside and outside the network would already be a considerable achievement, networks should go one step further. A network should make some sort of measurable impact in the educational field concerned.

As a consequence of the increasingly networked character of educational work, networking, i.e. the ability to act effectively in networks and to coordinate complex and multiple network processes can be regarded as a key competence of practitioners at all levels of hierarchy in educational institutions.
As most networks, not only at European level, link geographically spread actors, the competence to fully exploit the potential of information and communication technologies for professional networks, is critical for a successful network.
Web 2.0 technologies provide a wide range of tools for communication, collaboration and learning and joint production: “’Wikinomics’ is the new form that is bringing people together on the net to create a giant brain.” (Tapscott, D. and Williams, A.D. (2006), Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. London).
But it is evident that Web 2.0 tools are by far not sufficiently used in education networks. This deficiency has several reasons: lack of knowledge and specific application skills, but probably even more importantly, lack of own experience and inspiration how to practically apply Web 2.0 in diverse network contexts, e.g. self-organised learning and knowledge management, contact management and collaboration, promotion and dissemination, network visualisation and evaluation.
The presentation, which is based on theoretical reflection, a field survey and transnational development work carried out in two European projects on networks and networking (cf. www.networks-in-education.eu), explores how Web 2.0 technologies can support network activities. Their potential, as well as typical problem areas and limitations of synchronous and asynchronous technologies will be discussed.