Enhancing Lecturer - Student Interaction with Web 2.0 Technologies

UPDATED ON 31 July: This entry is cited here.

Insight@UNIMAS,Vol 12, page 6-8.

by Syahrul Nizam Junaini

In the ‘90s, embracing the Internet for teaching and learning (T&L) activities is seen as eerie and weird. However, as the end of the new Millennium’s first decade approaches, the ways on how we use the Internet have begun to change. Developments in Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, Google docs, wikis and photo sharing are tremendous. Web 2.0 is used to describe current web applications, thus distinguishing themselves from previous generations of web software (Web 1.0).
Why Web 2.0 for T&L?
Traditional e-Learning (e-Learning 1.0) focused on using the Internet to replicate lecturer-led activities virtually. e-Learning 2.0 (i.e. the second version of e-Learning) is built around the concept of collaboration between students and the instructor. The T&L activity takes place through conversations and interaction among these two main entities. In this case, e-Learning 2.0 is believed to be ‘a new torch’ for knowledge acquiring processes, especially in the university settings (Ferretti et al., 2008).
Currently, the usage of social networking sites is a serious business. Major social networking sites include Facebook.com, MySpace.com and Bebo.com (Kelly et al., 2008). An interesting fact is that as of May 2007, there were over 14,000 Facebook users who identified themselves as employees of IBM (DiMicco & Millen, 2007). It is so popular that since January 2007 to date, an average of 250,000 new registrations per day has been recorded.
Social networking, as a promising technology in e-Learning, is seen to likely have huge impacts on T&L process in the near future (Saeed &Yang, 2008). In my opinion, one central reason for using social networking in an academic setting is to investigate whether it enhances student’s learning experience or otherwise. In the higher education context, a group of researchers from Newcastle University studied how social networking environments such as Friendster.com could enhance the learning process of university students (Charlton, Marshall, & Devlin, 2008).
As for myself, over the last couple of years, I have started embracing various Web 2.0 tools for carrying out academic activities. I am currently using blogs for TMT2053 (Computer Games Design and Development) and TMT1013 (Web Design and Technology) courses. In addition, I have also uploaded my lecture notes and conference presentations at www.slideshare.net, and shared other documents at www.scribd.com.
A question at this point would be whether the use of these Web 2.0 tools are instructionally sound? My response to this question is quite simple. The real issue here is whether we, as academics, have done what is necessary to achieve the learning outcomes (LO) of our courses.
Using Ning.com for T&L Activity
Unimas has its own learning management system (LMS) at http://morpheus.calm.unimas.my. This LMS is the official course authoring tool. I do use this facility to upload my PowerPoint lecture notes. However, I noticed the additional benefits of using Ning.com to facilitate communication among students. Ning.com provides an additional room beyond the normal classroom environment. This is slightly beyond the scope of what LMS can offer.
During the 2008/2009 session, I require my students to sign up on Ning.com for the TMT1013 Web Design and Technology course. This site enables me to communicate with my students in a personalised shared learning environment. Ning.com also combines blogging with discussion boards.
This unique experience does not differ much from the normal physical classroom setting. However, this setting is far more powerful—it is available 24/7. Sometimes I receive messages from my students even at 3 o’clock in the morning! Any of my students can show up anytime and from any part of the world. Figure 1 shows two students who are online at a particular time.
Figure 1: The ‘Online’ indicator.
Figure 2: Student blog posts.
At http://tmt1013.ning.com, the course homepage also works as a living room. Here the students can share ideas, posts questions or initiate discussions. As a site administrator, I can detect whether students respond to a particular discussion topic in real-time. In addition, students can extend their academic chats beyond the boundaries of certain learning units.
I meet my students face-to-face only once a week. Therefore, online communication is normally the easiest way for me to reach them. I have realised that many students communicate much better through Ning.com online discussion forums and messages rather than in the classroom. Some of them become extremely active online as opposed to their normally shy and uncommunicative behaviour in the classroom.
In addition to participating in discussions, I had asked my students to post their assignments using the Ning.com blog tools. My reason for doing this is to provide them with a platform to showcase their work to the world from their own personal page. Figure 2 depicts a screenshot of students’ assignment blog posts. The whole class could even comment on these assignments and contribute to idea development.
Survey and Discussions
Data was collected from 21 students, aged 20-28 years (an average of 22.4 years) from different faculties (n = 5) in Unimas. Students’ responses on their satisfaction of using Ning.com were obtained. The questionnaire contains 18-item (under 6 main categories) on a 5- point Likert scale (with 1 being Strongly Disagree and 5 being Strongly Agree). The means and standard deviations were calculated for each question. Overall, the students were satisfied (mean = 3.8, S.D. = 0.934) with this online class management system (see Graph 1).
Graph 1: Students’ satisfaction survey results.
For site registration, I made it compulsory for students to use their matric numbers and real names. Nicknames were not allowed so that the students took this social activity more seriously. I also use Ning.com to better learn and remember my students’ names. During the last semester, I had students from five different faculties. Their online profiles and portrait avatars helped me to match faces to names quicker.
One key concern about social networking in a university setting is the issue of privacy. During this run, only my students and I could access this site. First, my students will receive an invitation e-mail to allow them to register. Ning.com also provides options for students to protect their privacy. They can opt to screen the comments that they received before displaying them.
Personally, I think among the important questions to ponder include: ‘What are the educational uses a tool like Ning.com have in the academic setting?’; ‘How do using these e-Learning 2.0 tools help us become more effective lecturers?’; and ‘Can this tool assist us to meet our course goals and learning outcomes (LO)?’.
The implications of this article can be extended into research and practice. More research needs to be conducted to differentiate the effectiveness of the university LMS and Web 2.0 tools such as social networking sites. This is vital to assist academics achieve learning objectives.
In a nutshell, I strongly agree with the “need first, technology second” paradigm. Let us move toward using Web 2.0 technologies to enrich our teaching and learning activities. I anticipate that in the near future, everyone will consider Web 2.0 as really HOT STUFF!!
Charlton, T., Marshall, L., & Devlin, M. (2008). Evaluating the extent to which sociability and social presence affects learning performance. In Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (Madrid, Spain, June 30 - July 02, 2008). ITiCSE ‘08. ACM, New York, NY, 342-342.

DiMicco, J. M., & Millen, D. R. (2007). Identity management: multiple presentations of self in Facebook. In Proceedings of the 2007 International ACM Conference on Supporting Group Work (Sanibel Island, Florida, USA, November 04 - 07, 2007). GROUP ‘07. ACM, New York, NY, 383-386.
Ferretti, S., Mirri, S., Muratori, L. A., Roccetti, M., & Salomoni, P. (2008). E-learning 2.0: you are We-LCoME!. In Proceedings of the 2008 International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility (W4a) (Beijing, China, April 21 - 22, 2008). W4A ‘08, Vol. 317. ACM, New York, NY, 116-125.

Kelly, B., Nevile, L., Draffan, E., & Fanou, S. (2008). One world, one web but great diversity. In Proceedings of the 2008 International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility (W4a) (Beijing, China, April 21 - 22, 2008). W4A ‘08, Vol. 317. ACM, New York, NY, 141-147.
Saeed, N., & Yang, Y. (2008). Incorporating blogs, social bookmarks, and podcasts into unit teaching. In S. Hamilton and M. Hamilton (Eds.) (2008). Proceedings of the Tenth Conference on Australasian Computing Education - Volume 78 (Wollongong, NSW, Australia, January 01 - 01, 2008). Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology Series, Vol. 315. Australian Computer Society, Darlinghurst, Australia, 113-118.

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