Building and Maintain Community
Often one of the most challenging aspects of an eLearning course is getting your students to interact as a class in an asynchronous situation. Providing opportunities for students to share experiences, resources, and reflections can be accomplished using different tools. “Make students active participants in learning. Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, solving.” (Lucas 1990) Also providing a space for students to interact with each other (with or without the instructor) is an important element in fostering classroom community.
Blogs provide an opportunity for online, public reflection without demanding high levels of technical skills on the part of students. Being “owned” by the students that create them, blogs can take on a life of their own during and after a particular term.
Public blogging puts the students’ work out where anyone can see and learn from them. While not suitable for every class or every topic, when public reflection is feasible, the enhanced performance obligations often result in stronger and more dynamic writing.
Discussions that happen through blog comments are often more substantive than through closed interfaces such as the Blackboard Discussion Board because students take more ownership of this reflective process when it takes place in public and there is a wider audience range that may include other subject experts.
Advantages of Blogs
- can be shared or individual
- has potential to be public and to include the greater community
- posts are governed by most recent entry
- viewers can subscribe via RSS feeds
- organized by category or tags
Using in Class
Log Reflective Writing – Individual students use weblogs to create and collect reflective exercises such as journals, assignment responses, or directed writing exercises. Using a weblog, instructors don’t have to collect, sort, and archive email messages or bulletin board entries. Because weblog entries are “published” rather than simply sent to an individual, it highlights and reinforced the idea of semi-formal discourse. If the weblogs are made public (or shared with just the rest of the class), then the student will gain practice writing for others.
Create a Class Community - A single weblog can be maintained by a group of authors. Creating a single weblog instance in which all students in a course become authors is a natural method for creating a class community. Like a discussion board, each instructor will need to facilitate the flow of posts, model good blogging behaviors, and define expectations for what students can (and should) post. A class weblog might be topical or it might be assignment driven. A community weblog in the distance education setting may combat “the loneliness of the long-distance learner.”
Create a Collaborative Resource - Students collaboratively build a weblog around a specific topic as a good exercise in research and writing. This development may result in a genuinely useful resource to the world at large. Blog software lowers the barriers to entry to allow for this kind of collaboration at a distance.
Create a Class Information Site – In a distance education setting, timely and efficient information dissemination is critical. Weblogs are easy to maintain and post, and most weblog tools allow for different streams of information that can be syndicated and picked up by students in a variety of different ways. This is more visible than discussion board posts or posting such information as course documents, while allowing for room to expand on topics and posts that are not easily handled by the “Announcements” section of a Learning Management System.
E-Portfolio – A blog can be a place to show progress or present materials that a student has used or created throughout a project, class or program. Since most blogs allow for posting multiple types of media, as well as adding links and commentary, this can be a great tool for e-portfolios.
Peer Review – Have students post their work to a blog to get comments back from other students and other blog readers before submitting to instructor for grading. Suggestions and comments about content or grammar can be a good exercise for both writer and reviewer. Plus the added impact of getting comments from experts outside of the class can be a powerful motivator.
- UAF Community Server http://community.uaf.edu/
- Mary Washington University Blogs http://umwblogs.org/
- Bowling Green State University Blogs https://blogs.bgsu.edu/blogs/
Social bookmarking is the act of saving bookmarks online and sharing them with others. Bookmarks are “tagged” with keywords provided by the user. The creator of a bookmark saves the bookmark and tags it with meaningful words that make the link easy to find later. Social bookmarking allows you to overcome the limitations of the traditional (old-school) bookmarking you do in your web browser.
Tagging is a non-heirarchical way of organizing. In this context it is an informal and personal process where a user assigns a meaningful word or set of words to describe information so that it may be found again by searching on the tags. The vocabulary used to tag information is created by the user, and is therefore referred to as a folksonomy – or user-generated taxonomy. Folksonomies create opportunities for serendipitous discoveries of information tagged by others using words you interpret as being relevant.
While the use of folksonomies is a definite advantage to social bookmarking sites, it is also a drawback due to personalized meaning, unclear context, and no defined standard for the tag structure
Advantages of Social Bookmarking
- Access to bookmarks online even while away from your regular computer
- Organize bookmarks using tags
- Share bookmarks with others
- Follow what others are reading and linking to
- Discover resources from other users by searching tags
- Search bookmarks quickly
Using in Class
- Use tags to create a set of bookmarks as a class resource
- Conduct research and interact with peers
- Follow group work and track student progress with tags
- Set up a group tag so everyone can share found resources
- Use tag feeds to integrate bookmarks into online resources
Advantages of wikis
- collaboration on writing projects
- history provides indication of who contributed
Using in Class
Wikis are most often used as a collaboration area for students who are either working on a writing assignment either individually seeking peer review or as group. The wiki could be used as a classroom resource for key terms or as a glossary.
PSY F320 (CDE-UAF)
SPAN 312 Murder and Mayhem: Latin America in Translation (University of British Columbia)
Another successful class collaboration using Wikipedia was Jon Beasley-Murray’s “Murder, Madness, and Mayhem” project in which his students created original or edited existing articles and worked with the Wikipedia Featured Article team to try to get the articles his students created to “Featured” status… with no small amount of success. What does it mean to write a Featured Article, a Good Article, and an Article Stub on Wikipedia and why choose Wikipedia as the venue for students to write about Latin American literature? You can read more about the project and see the articles the students created at the Murder, Madness, and Mayhem Wikipedia Project Page
Types of Wikis
There are a number of technical ways to make a wiki available in your class:
- Use UA Google Sites, which we will be using in the workshop and which comes as part of your UA Enterprise Google account
- Use an existing wiki (Wikipedia)
- Sign up for a free managed wiki space (PBworks, or wikispaces)
- Use a wiki integrated in your school’s LMS (Blackboard)
- Host your own wiki on your server (PM Wiki)
Advantages of Discussion Board
- It allows asynchronous communication between fellow students and instructor creating a sense of community.
- It allows personalized attention and recognition that encourages student involvement and success.
- Provides a mechanism for participation for students who may be reluctant to speak up during a face-to-face class.
- Instructor has a mechanism to easily grade forum contributions.
- Potentially, interactions can be richer than in face-to-face class or direct email correspondence with instructor.
- It is not open to the public and thus provides a discussion space with a limited cohort to talk about sensitive subject areas.
Using in Class
Weekly discussion questions – weekly class participation in the form of responding to a weekly discussion topic or question. Students read the discussion question of the week. Shorter posts are more appropriate as students reflect for a shorter amount of time.
Discussions within specific content – Posted two to three times a semester as a way to summarize or emphasize specific course content. For example, after an exam or a paper, etc.
Student’s Questions - give students an opportunity to come up with a topic of discussion. If the class has a large enrollments the students can be divided into groups and each group can take turns proposing a topic of a week, etc.
Peer Review – students post drafts of their work and invite feedback from peers.
Student Lounge – to give students a space for peer-to-peer interaction.
Feedback and help – technical help, problems with content, etc; also as virtual office hours with proper instructions on when to expect response.
Each of these types of discussion can be used for the entire class, for groups (which are grouped throughout the class time or new group for each forum) or a combination of these two.
Example wording for peer-to-peer interaction
Lucas, A. F. “Using Psychological Models to Understand Student Motivation.” In M. D. Svinicki (ed.), The Changing Face of College Teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 42. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.