Posts tagged ‘e-learning’

Learning the Web 2.0 way (2/2)

Technology is not always a student’s best friend. It’s more like a moody, unreliable and can’t-be-trusted ex with whom you have a love/hate relationship. Everyone’s got a few tragic tales about lost essays, blue screens of death, and MS Word suddenly shutting down on them before they could save their work.

But thanks to Ward Cunningham‘s invention of the wonder that is Wiki, there is one less problem we have stress about. Gone are the days of e-mailing a document/project/essay back and forth between group members, bickering over who has edited or deleted crucial information, and freaking out when the most updated version can’t be found in anyone’s e-mail account.

A wiki is a combination of a website and a Word document that allows multiple users to access and edit the document collaboratively from a single location. (Hence, no need for feverish e-mailing). More importantly, it keeps track of all the changes made to the document, stores older versions of the document and allows users to compare the older and new version.

Wikis in education

Wikis have great educational value and are being used widely by universities and some schools. Students can use it to work on a group report, compile results or analyse data (Google Spreadsheets), and teachers can use it to collaboratively structure their courses and interact with their students. Because a wiki is a “wide open space” in which everyone has equal power and access, it allows students to “own [their] education experience”. See Wiki evangelist, Stuart Mader’s post on ways to use wikis in education.

Mader has argued in his book that “today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”. Students have grown up surrounded by technology and are comfortable with it; and it’s up to teachers to revise their teaching methods to incorporate tools and resources that could help them build a better, more engaging rapport with their learners.

Teachers at a middle school in the States are doing just that: they are using this wiki to teach their French classes, and provide notes, videos and assignments to their students. Brown University has also set up a course advisor wiki that allows students to edit and review the courses that their professors teach. A lecturer at Bowdoin College has been quite successful in using a more scholarly wiki to engage with students in his Romantic Literature Course. There are also countless number of wikis set up by students to facilitate their own learning, like this one.

Wikis seem to be most commonly used to teach students writing skills. Not only do they encourage engaging writing, close reading and careful editing, they also teach students “network literacy”. According to Jill Walker, a prominent blogger and web 2.0 theorist, this involves preparing students to write collaboratively and for public consumption. It means, “jolting students out of the conventional individualistic, closed writing of essays only ever seen by [their] professor”.

Challenges

When used in the context of educational instruction, wikis have encountered various criticisms. Because it allows anyone to chop and change content, it’s difficult to keep track of who has edited what. Linked to this is the issue of security and how much of “control” should be given to students to edit course content or review papers, etc.

Brian Lamb importantly notes that control is only an issue if teachers/lecturers try to impose it on the medium. The aim of a wiki is ultimately to facilitate learning among students, and with their teachers, in a setting that doesn’t mimic that of a classroom. A teacher’s role on a wiki should be to engage students, not pull rank on them. Lamb argues that teachers must relinquish some of their authority in order for students to engage meaningfully on a wiki. Otherwise, wikis will have no real use or effectiveness for students, and we may as well just be content with PowerPoint.

Wikis present a huge departure from the conventional teacher-student relationship, so it’s understandable why those who are still devoted to the chalk-on-blackboard method of teaching frown upon it. The value that students and teachers accrue from wikis will depend on the extent to which both parties are able to handle the power issue – teachers have to give up some of theirs, and students need to use theirs responsibly.

Sources:

Brian Lamb. “Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not“.

Stuart Mader. “Using Wiki in Education“.

29 April, 2008 at 9:38 am 1 comment

Learning the Web 2.0 way (1/2)

When I was in primary school, the most intolerable subject I had to endure was something called Needlework. Only girls had to take this class while the boys did woodwork. The hour-long weekly lessons involved learning how to stitch buttons, knit with those two chop-stick-type objects, and sew little cushions – skills that were apparently necessary to our education. Apart from the fact that my school perpetuated the sexual division of labour and tried to socialise girls into being “good housewives” one day, my point is that this type of education was archaic and boring. The teacher sat at her desk in the front and tried to demonstrate a backstitch, while the rest of us tried to stay awake and not prick ourselves to death.

Thanks to the new OBE system, Needlework no longer features on the list of skills that students need.

And thanks to Bill Gates and the rest of the techno geeks for new educational tools like Showslides and Moodle that have moved into the mainstream. E-learning is becoming increasingly acceptable and popular among students and teachers, and so too is the use of social media in education. In this post, I review a few (almost brand new) e-learning resources, and in the next, I’ll discuss the use of wikis in education.

LearnHub, which launched last month, is a social network for students and teachers/lecturers. It’s made up of a range of user-created communities around a specific topic, like Mathematics or Photography. Students can interact with other students and with educators. They can join a community created by a “lecturer” who teaches a course by posting lessons (including powerpoint presentations) and tutorials, and initiating debates. The “lecturer” can also set tests and track students’ progress. What’s most impressive is the site offers real-time tutoring through live video, voice and document sharing. All of this is free, but teachers can charge a fee for their courses and for tutoring in the LearnHub marketplace.

The more I use LearnHub, the more I’m impressed by it. While the line between student and teacher is blurred through this mode of learning since anyone can teach a course or offer a solution to an equation, what makes LearnHub an effective educational resource is that many professional teachers and experts have joined the network and are offering courses. The information on the site then is, for the most part, trustworthy. LearnHub also has a reputation system for users to rank other users’ answers/courses. The higher your ranking, the higher your authority on the network. It’s a great way for students to find credible sources, and for teachers to market their expertise or offer it freely.

In the words of its developers, Socrato is a “web-based test preparation and assessment platform”. Professional teachers can use the application to post multiple-choice tests, which their students then take online. Socrato boasts analytical tools that tracks students’ progress and helps them identify their strengths and weaknesses. Students can also create study groups and share content with their peers. The application is currently in its beta phase and freely available to the public, but will become a pay-to-use service soon.

Unlike LearnHub and Socrato, this social network is aimed exclusively at students. While professionals can sign up, skoogO automatically links all students to each other. Based on the profile information you provide, it connects you to other students at your university/school, or those from around the world who are doing a similar course, or even using the same textbook as you are. Students can then ask and answer questions relating to their course, and engage in online peer-to-peer learning this way. Although skoogO aims to be an educational resource for students, they seem to be using it more as an alternative to Yahoo!Answers or the local Answerit, rather than for purely educational purposes. (Questions range from “Is it better to be feared or loved?” to “What shampoo and conditioner is best for naturally curly hair?”).

I’ve e-mailed my younger siblings the links to these sites because I think they really can be valuable and useful to them (and me). While e-learning resources are not a substitute for face-to-face education, they can augment students’ learning and provide them with a variety of knowledge that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. I’m not saying do away with classroom-based education, I’m saying that if a teacher wants to engage with his/her students, he/she should use the technological medium that most appeals to them. This way, they’re less likely to doze off in the middle of a lesson – or prick each other with needles, they way my friends and I did in Needlework class.

24 April, 2008 at 2:37 pm 4 comments


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