Web 2.0 Technologies and Community Building Online

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1 Web 2.0 Technologies and Community Building Online Rena M Palloff, PhD Program Director and Faculty, Teaching in the Virtual Classroom Program Fielding Graduate University Managing Partner, Crossroads Consulting Group Keith Pratt, PhD Program Director and Faculty, Teaching in the Virtual Classroom Program Fielding Graduate University Managing Partner, Crossroads Consulting Group Introduction The online learning community continues to generate much interest, both in terms of research and in faculty training to successfully create a learning community. Faculty, however, continue to raise significant questions about the importance of a community-based approach to online learning, its impact, and how to develop and sustain it. Our own research (Palloff & Pratt, 2007), as well as that of others (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000; Rovai, 2002; Tu & Corry, 2002), has shown that intentional work on the development of a learning community and presence online is the vehicle through which online courses are most effectively delivered. Much of the writing on the topic, including our older writing, describes the use of asynchronous threaded discussions in response to instructor discussion questions as the main means by which this community is developed. We have also talked about the use of collaborative activities, such as ice breakers, debates, and fishbowls as additional means by which community can be achieved and have found great success with their use. More recently, however, we have explored additional means by which community can be encouraged and enhanced and through which it can emerge, such as the use of blogs, social networking, and Second Life. These are important community building tools that can be added to an instructor s toolkit for creating and sustaining community and have the potential to significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction with online courses. A review of what have come to be known as Web2 Technologies will be presented in this paper, along with the pros and cons of their use in community building. What Are Web 2.0 Technologies? Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of the World Wide Web, offering higher levels of user interaction and collaboration. Much of Web 2.0 emerged from the desire of young people for self-expression through creation of content posted on the Web, easy communication with peers, and ways to stay connected to friends. However, interest in and engagement with Web2 technologies is no longer relegated to younger people or people who are technologically savvy. Adults are now using Web2 technologies in greater numbers and businesses are making use of these technologies for marketing purposes and to connect and communicate more effectively with consumers. Web 2.0 tools range from those that allow for personal expression to those that support community building. Educational applications of Web 2.0 technologies are increasing rapidly. Some of the more common forms of Web 2.0 technology currently being integrated into online courses, along with examples of how they are being used, include: Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 Blogs (Web logs) are online journals maintained by individuals, which are generally commentaries on particular topics. Blogs are being incorporated into online courses in several ways instructors are encouraging students to set up blogs both inside and outside of courses in order to journal their reflections to the course and, in the case of journalism or writing courses, to experience the blogosphere that has become an integral part of journalism today. Some instructors are utilizing blogs as a means to conduct online courses, having students post assignments in the form of blogs and asking students as well as experts in the field to comment on the blog postings. Instructors are also using blogs as a substitute for lecturing, in that it allows the instructor to reflect on course material and bring in additional perspectives. Learner Generated Context (also known as Collective Intelligence) is a system that collects the expertise of a group rather than an individual to make decisions and generate knowledge and can include wikis (defined separately), collaboratively generated digital content (such as through YouTube video content and Flickr graphic content), learning spaces, approaches to learning designed collaboratively by learners, and shared databases. Collective intelligence or Learner Generated Context is a collection of tools, information, etc. gathered by a group of learners to create a learning ecology that meets their needs. An interdisciplinary research group (London Research Group) is studying this form of technology and has defined it as, A context created by people interacting together with a common, selfdefined or negotiated learning goal. The key aspect of Learner Generated Contexts is that they are generated through the enterprise of those who would previously have been consumers in a context created for them (Lukin, 2007, p.91). LGC can include the development of Wikis, Google Docs, YouTube video content, Flickr, and other digital technologies. LGC is being used as adjunct material to an online course, but we have not yet encountered a full course developed and delivered through LGC, although this is the goal of those studying this form of Web 2.0 technology. The downside to the use of LGC is that the instructor has limited control of the direction learners might go. The upside as noted by Lukin (2007) is that LGC breaks out of the boundaries of traditional pedagogy and significantly enhances collaboration among students. Wikis (like Wikipedia) are systems that allow for the creation and publishing of a webpage or website. Anyone with access or permission can contribute to or edit a wiki. The use of wikis is becoming increasingly popular in online courses and the ability to create wikis is now built into many course management systems including Blackboard and Moodle. Additionally, there are many wiki sites available on the Web, allowing for the creation of user accounts for the purpose of developing wikis. Wiki assignments allow students to collaborate on gathering information and building a web page wherein that information is collectively displayed. Students are able to add to or edit content if they have permission to do so. Small groups in an online course can be working on multiple wikis simultaneously with the ability to share the final products with the other groups, the instructor, or outside experts. Wikis can easily be added to portfolios for assessment and documentation of student work. Because of the ability to edit at will, wikis usually contain an accessible revision history that indicates the author of the edits. Due to this editing function, however, students need to develop wiki etiquette so as to keep collaboration primary and avoid possible conflict as content is deleted or edited. Podcasts (or vodcasts) are audio or video recordings posted in an online course or on the Web that can be downloaded and played on a computer or an MP3 player. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 Podcasting or vodcasting are another form of Web2 technology that has gained significant popularity in online courses due to the ease of creation, download, and use. Podcasts or vodcasts are generally used for the delivery of just-in-time lecture content via the instructor and can be added to a course via file attachment, posting in itunes or on YouTube in the case of video, or through an RSS feed. Given the availability of open source software for the creation of podcasts (Audacity) and vodcasts (imovie, Windows Movie Maker, Jumpcut) and the ease with which the final products can be made available, students can also create podcasts and vodcasts alone or collaboratively to add content to courses or complete assignments. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds refer to real-time information, usually in the form of news, blogs, or podcasts that can be streamed to a website in real time. Almost all course management systems allow for the inclusion of RSS feeds. Instructors can choose to include feeds from outside sources that are relevant to course content or create feeds from blogs or any other updated content, such as podcasts or vodcasts as they are created. Students can also subscribe to RSS feeds on mobile devices. RSS feeds can help keep students abreast of new developments as they occur and help keep students connected to the instructor and the class. Social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and others allow people to connect with a select group of people around personal or professional interests. MySpace is generally considered a place where younger people (mostly in high school) meet, while Facebook appeals more to college students and adults. In March of 2009, 61.2 million people visited Facebook and 70.2 million people visited MySpace (Schonfeld, 2009). Users of social networks establish a list of friends with whom they communicate, share information about their lives, and in general, connect socially and personally. Many academics are researching the impact of social networks and some instructors are actually using social networks as a means by which to deliver online courses. Embedded within Facebook, for example, are applications such as wikis and groupware, such as the ability to create study groups that allow for the posting of notes and sharing documents. Asynchronous discussion and the posting of files, photos, and other media are all possible in Facebook. Twitter is a form of a social networking space that allows for very short (140 character) microblog entries known as tweets. Tweets are delivered instantly to those people who have signed up to follow a person on Twitter. Known as a form of social networking, Twitter users, like Facebook or MySpace users, declare the list of people they choose to follow. Unlike Facebook or MySpace where postings are limited to an identified group of friends, postings to Twitter (or Tweets) can be read by any Twitter user who chooses to follow a particular person. Although replies to Tweets are possible, this does not commonly occur (Angwin, 2009). A study of Twitter (Huberman, Romero, & Wu, 2009) concluded that Twitter users have a very small number of friends compared to the number of followers and followees they may have. Twitter, at this juncture, is not being widely used in online teaching. However, there are instructors who are using Twitter to communicate bits of information to students, including websites to visit, experts to follow, and what the instructor is currently reading or recommends for reading (Perez, 2009). Skype is an internet-based phone service that also allows for conference calling, document sharing, and text messaging. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 Skype is becoming a very popular online teaching tool for teaching a variety of content areas and particularly in the teaching of languages where voice contact is important. Allowing for contact using voice, video, and chat, Skype helps to meet a number of communication needs for instructors and students alike. When students are located all over the globe, Skype can make both individual and conference calling easy and carries no expense, which is a significant benefit. Skype also allows for file transfers, file sharing, and whiteboarding. Second Life (SL) is a virtual world in which users interact in real time through the use of avatars. Second Life has its own economy and the ability to buy land; many universities own land in SL and are using it to deliver distance learning programs. Second Life has grown in popularity in terms of online teaching. There is a learning curve involved and several orientation programs to Second Life, along with how to use it in teaching, have emerged to address this challenge. Users create avatars and interact in real time. Because classes are conducted in the virtual world and it is possible for students to speak at any time (versus the threaded discussion that occurs in an asynchronous online course), instructors note that there are a new set of classroom norms that need to be developed to avoid chaos (Nesson, 2007). However, because SL is a virtual world allowing instructors and students physical representation, users believe that it helps to enhance a sense of community in an online class. The use of avatars has also raised question about this, given that students can represent themselves as anything from human, to animal, to fantasy creature. Can Web 2.0 Enhance Community in Online Courses? As with any form of technology, Web 2.0 technologies have both positives and negatives associated with their use. Some examples of concerns include the following: Because these technologies are, for the most part, available in the public domain, issues of copyright may emerge. Users of Facebook, for example, sign waivers acknowledging that Facebook owns the copyright to materials on the site. Another concern relative to the public nature of sites like Facebook and Second Life are that given that they are primarily social in nature, students can wander into areas that may be questionable. This raises possible liability issues for universities. Additionally, because materials are created on and posted to another site, there may be concerns about archiving and loss of content. Privacy concerns emerge in the use of social networking sites and Second Life. The use of social networking sites also blur the lines of formality some instructors object to being friended by their students. Instructors fear the loss of control that accompanies the collaborative and more social nature of Web 2.0 technologies and are discovering the need to develop new norms for their use. The concerns listed must be addressed when using Web 2.0 sources for the creation of community or to extend the reach of an online course. The positive aspects of using these forms of technology, however, may outweigh the negatives. They do have the ability to enhance the development of community online. Relying on any one of them to accomplish that task is a bit short-sighted. However, the inclusion of a variety of means by which community is developed in an online course can only serve to facilitate this task by increasing the means and amount of communication possible between students as well as between students and the instructor. The depth of a sense of community can be significantly enhanced. Web 2.0 technologies are designed to connect people to one another also serve to increase the sense of social presence in an online course through these various forms of communication. The use of Web 2.0 Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 technologies can help to reduce the isolation and distance often felt by students in an online course and, thus, are worthy of exploration. References Angwin, J. (2009). How to twitter, Wall Street Journal, March 7-8, Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), [ Huberman, B.A., Romero, D.M., & Wu, F. (2009, January), Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope, FirstMind, 14 (1-5), January 2009 Retrieved from [ Lukin, R., Akass, J., Cook, J., Day, P., Ecclesfield, N, Garnett, F., Gould, M., Hamilton, T., & Whitworth, A. (2007), Learner-generated contexts: Sustainable learning pathways through open content, OpenLearn07. Retrieved from [ Nesson, R. (2007, May 17), Teaching in second life: One instructor s perspective, Terra Nova: A Weblog about Virtual World. Retrieved from [ Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007), Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Perez, E. (2009), Professors experiment with twitter as a teaching tool, JSOnline, April 26, Retrieved from [ Rovai, A.P. (2002), Building sof community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, (3)1, April [ Tu, C., & Corry, M. (2002), Research in Online Learning Community, Electronic Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, 5(1). Retrieved from [ Author Summaries Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt are the managing partners of Crossroads Consulting Group. Rena and Keith are program directors and faculty in the Teaching in the Virtual Classroom program at Fielding Graduate University, which trains instructors to teach online. They are the authors of the 1999 Frandson Award winning book Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom (Jossey-Bass, 1999), Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom (Jossey-Bass, 2001), The Virtual Student (Jossey-Bass, 2003), Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community (Jossey- Bass, 2005), and Assessing the Online Learner (2009). The second edition of Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace, now titled, Building Virtual Learning Communities was published in July The books are comprehensive guides to the development of an online environment that helps promote successful learning outcomes while fostering collaboration and building a sense of community among the learners. Drs. Palloff and Pratt have been presenting this work across the United States and internationally since 1994 as well as consulting to academic institutions regarding the development of Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

6 effective distance learning programs. They have presented at the Distance Learning Conference annually since Contact Information: Rena M. Palloff, PhD or Phone: URL: Keith Pratt, PhD or Phone: URL: Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 6

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