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Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning for Student (and Teacher) Success


November 21-22, 2008
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, California

Ludmila Smirnova, Mount Saint Mary College

Many educators would agree that a vital indicator of student success is students' ability to develop both skills and an interest for lifelong learning. If this is the objective, however, then it follows that the modes of teaching we employ and the overall educational experience and environment we offer should reinforce these skills. In this context, I want to discuss the importance of educational technology. Formerly merely an issue of what machine was used to achieve a particular type of presentation, the use of technology has emerged as a keystone issue with regard to lifelong learning.

Increasingly, our students are coming to college already possessing advanced skills and practices with regard to electronic learning and communication. Labeled by some as "digital natives" ( J. Brown, S. Parpert, M. Prensky), the computer and its electronic offshoots are so integral to their modes of thought, information acquisition and communication - indeed, central to their core behavioral repertoire -- that they literally live in a virtual vernacular world.

In contrast, most faculty teaching these highly digital literate technophiles use the computer as an extension of the typewriter; it is a tool, but not a mode of being. These "digital immigrants" (M. Prensky) experience culture shock as they learn a new language and tools. Many cannot advance to fluency. For students, then, technology is a pedagogical context. They are far advanced of their faculty, for whom technology is an intrusive set of new tasks that infringe on the content learning that is of value to them.

It turns out however, that the emerging student techno-learning mode is exactly the kind of fast paced lifelong learning and collaboration skill set that is demanded by our rapidly changing world. It is a mode of transient learning where expertise in areas that become rapidly obsolete is less valued than the ability to quickly master emerging knowledge. Disciplinary knowledge is also being made irrelevant by the demands for multi and interdisciplinary learning skills.

The Relationship of Student Success and Web 2.0 Technologies
Earlier, student success was defined as the acquisition of lifelong learning skills. But what are the learning skills that one is acquiring? Traditionally, education focused on the three "Rs" of "reading, `riting and `rithmetic." But these core skill sets must now be matched by an additional 3 Rs of information literacy: rigor, relevance and relationships. Rigor refers to the developed skill of discerning the accuracy and validity of information accessed on the Internet, along with meeting the demands of copyright, protection of intellectual property and creative commons requirements. Relevance involves the ability to identify online information that relates directly to the topic of study or research using a full array of online information sources and tools, while avoiding the potential for disruptive tangents that the Web offers. Relationships refers to the ability to network and identify communities of like-minded people and to collaborate and contribute to an informational commons. This new set of skills and its vast potential for collaboration offers new hope for an informed global society with a civic view of the goals of education. While therefore serving the prospects for democracy, this new reality complicates outmoded notions of individual achievement.

Achievement of success thus requires that faculty take the core of knowledge that is vital to us and integrate it with the new learning modes. Our new student learners are motivated to acquire information, but they have much to learn about what information to savor and how to use information and communication to various ends.

Defining Web 2.0
Over the past 8 years, many Web 2.0 technologies have been developed; technologies which are constantly evolving with the growth of technology in general. These Web 2.0 tools and services have been immediately embraced and utilized by students. Learning Management Systems (LMS) have emerged that increasingly reflect student as opposed to teacher needs. In a sense, these LMS attempt to buffer the distance between the skill sets of faculty and the learning sets of students. They are a "bridge tool," connecting generations with diverse learning styles and capabilities.

The very concept of Web 2.0 illustrates the rapid emergence of ideas. The concept was introduced by Tim O'Reilly in 2005 at the Web 2.0 2005 conference. It quickly became a buzzword in the educational world. By 2008, many interpretations of Web 2.0 had emerged, with more than 9.5 million citations in Google.

Web 2.0 can best be understood in contrast to the static and isolated environments of Web 1.0, with its characteristic tools including word processing, static web pages, and other modes of one way communication (from the publisher to the reader). Web 2.0 environments offer a dynamic, permanently evolving, interactive web platform that gives free and open access to diverse participants. As a result, Web 2.0 facilitates

  • individual and collective productivity,
  • creative authorship and interaction with data published on the web,
  • multi-modal interpersonal, group and public communication,
  • active participation,
  • advanced levels of collaborative learning and
  • social networking that provides for a sense of connectedness and relationship.

My own journey into Web 2.0 began with working in a Web CT LMS setting. Aware of the gaps in this early bridge tool, I began to explore the technology tools mentioned above to select those that could help me enhance students' engagement, collaboration, and effective communication. Struggling with the limits of Web 1.0 programs, I used a lot of additional services and tools outside Web CT to make both students' on-line and face-to-face learning engaged and effective. I employed such sites as Yahoo!, Google web, Freewebs and Weebly to allow students to design their personal web sites; for writing their reflective learning logs; Yahoo! groups and PBwiki for group collaboration and project publishing. I used the WiZiQ free platform to arrange online conferences when I was traveling and teaching. I opened numerous accounts with Web 2.0 services to conduct surveys (SurveyMonkeys,, and created quizzes and tests with Hot Potatoes. All these tools are successfully integrated in some of the more recent LMS tools.

Educators have increasingly adopted Learning Management Systems (LMS) as course organizational tools. New platforms have improved on first generation systems such as Web CT/ Blackboard. Some of the most widely used of these are Sakai and ELGG. As an enhancement to the face-to-face classroom, these tools can be employed for paperless assignment handling and record keeping as well as a means to engage students in active learning. They also offer a platform for moving to on-line teaching. These tools variously involve steps beyond the traditional Web 1.0 setting, empowering students to communicate, collaborate and create collectively. But they retain strong Web 1.0 features in the high degree of control retained by the instructor. These LMS tend to be quite costly to use and, as a result, are found generally in large institutions.

We are now seeing a new generation of LMS emerge from Web 2.0 innovation rather than being modified from Web 1.0. These LMS are freeware and open source (improvable by users). An excellent case in point is Moodle, an acronym for the Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. The product of a dissertation by Martin Dougiamas (2001), Moodle is one of the most promising Learning Management Systems from the point of view of innovative learning and teaching. As an indicator of its success, Moodle has been translated into twenty-seven languages and is being used by several hundreds of educators around the world, including universities, schools, and independent teachers.

Moodle was explicitly designed as a tool for improving processes within communities of reflective inquiry. Its power derives from the combination of Web 2.0 features with the most significant educational theory to emerge in our time, Constructivism (J. Bruner, J. Piaget, Lev Vigotsky, S. Papert). In Constructivism, learners are understood to build knowledge with the help of other learners, teachers, experts, and learning objects from a combination of existing knowledge, interaction with their environment, and new experiences. Importantly, constructivists violate the practice of behaviorism, which creates traditional, authoritarian classrooms where a teacher is the expert, the only transmitter of knowledge and the only dominant force. Instead, constructivists prefer learning to be initiated by the learner. They emphasize independent learning, the personal construction of meaning, effective collaboration and multi-channel communication (in Web 2.0 language: "connectedness" (G. Siemens). There is a natural synchrony between constructivism and Web 2.0 that is perfectly expressed in the Moodle design.

Moodle and similar programs like Haiku are primarily asynchronous in form; learners in an on-line environment communicate at different times rather than at the same moment. The instructor seeking to go beyond the LMS to create live interaction (synchronous learning) can combine Moodle with a freeware virtual classroom program such as WizIQ. Subscription virtual classroom programs are also available, including Elluminate Live* and Marratech. The combination of a virtual classroom with Moodle allows class participants to meet and learn online synchronously as well as asynchronously.

Virtual Classrooms create powerful and effective communicative learning environments. These programs integrate such features as whiteboard, chat, audio, video, question/response, multiple choice responses, embedded PowerPoint, and sharing of desk top applications. Affect can be added with emoticons (symbols for emotions). Online learners can even work in groups inside virtual rooms created by the instructor and then return to a common space to present their projects to the whole class. The entire class can also visit a group to watch their presentations on the group's whiteboard.

Other Web 2.0 environments have emerged offering powerful learning opportunities. Faculty have begun to experiment, for example, in using Second Life, a simulated world, as a three-dimensional learning environment. A hybrid of Moodle and Second Life has now been created called Sloodle. This Open Source project aims to bring together the learning support and management features of web-based LMS to create a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE employs rich, interactive game-technology based 3D Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVE) that have a natural appeal to a generation of students weaned on virtual reality computer games and digital technologies. The possibilities of integrating technology in teaching are endless and will continue to evolve.

Indications of Success
After extensive use of LMS over the past 8 years, my students' course reflections and my own observations of their performance indicate that Moodle is strongly preferred over WebCT. Students laud Moodle for its "user-friendly environment," its quick learning curve, and its support for effective collaboration and communication among classmates and with the professor. The discussion forum, wiki, and blog in Moodle combined with WiZiQ for group collaboration and Elluminate Live* for whole class sessions serve as a superb mix to promote student success. Submitted assignments are of high quality as students take pride and feel responsible for designing professionally impressive and effective Internet projects. The course works from both traditional and technologically-enhanced perspectives. Both the traditional 3 R's and the new 3 R's are served.

Teachers and students alike are trained by Web 2.0 and other technological tools to be effective lifelong learners in an evolving connected knowledge environment. The collaborative nature of Web 2.0 tools not only makes it possible to find global knowledge quickly, but it allows for new knowledge to be created collectively. The existence of this body of "collective intelligence" can only be accessed through participation and active learning. Thus, the boundaries between teaching and learning and between knowledge acquisition and knowledge production break down. Successful learning in this technologically enhanced environment is enabled by the use of Web 2.0 technologies in our teaching.

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