Using Web 2.0 Tools in Online Teaching

Web 2.0 tools are proliferating like fruit flies.  Perhaps only smart phone apps reproduce at a speedier rate. However, despite their purportedly promiscuous proclivities, Web 2.o tools are not only a boon to online education, they enable it.

The now commonplace blog is a case in point.  The online teacher can use a blog as a home base and clearing house for a course.  Students in a course can use blogs to complete assignments, record their thoughts, and house their portfolio of accomplishments.  Using the comments function, the instructor and students can interact with one another.  While not a learning management system, an integrated collection of teacher and student blogs can be a powerful platform for online learning.

Here’s one example.  Last year, I taught a series of blended learning courses for school administrators to “certify” them as technologically savvy educational leaders.  I created a blog as our online meeting place.  It served as the portal for our program by providing links to syllabi, assignments, polls, and resources—not to mention a bully pulpit for me.  Each student created a blog to post thoughts and ideas in response to class assignments, compare and analyze different types of technology and evaluate their impact on learning, and create and collect artifacts to demonstrate what was learned during each course in the series.

While a few of the administrators had some prior experience of blogs, including a couple who had actually started a blog for personal use, most had a very limited understanding of blogs and almost no practical understanding of how they work or how one might use one.  What’s a post?  How is it different from a page?  No clue.

I quickly realized that I needed to slow down and take time to “teach the tool.”  These adult learners could already think lofty thoughts, but they could not express them in the context of their personal blogs until they learned some basics of how blogs work.  It was critical to start slow, introduce basic vocabulary, and demonstrate how to accomplish key tasks.   Tools like Screenr were indispensable for this purpose.

Whether in the face-to-face, blended, or online learning environment, blogs can be a versatile and engaging tool. However, like any Web 2.0 tool, their educational value depends on how they are used.

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