Sunday, October 6, 2013

Web 2.0 Implications: Personalized and Learner-Centred Experiences

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Two terms that have been churning in my head recently have been "personalized learning" and "learner-centred environments." The article "Web 2.0 Tools for Learning in Higher Education: The Presence of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Microblogs, Facebook and Ning" (Shih & Waugh, 2011) explores these terms and the article's discussion on Web 2.0 tools has lead me to consider how I could be using Web 2.0 tools differently in some of my courses, particularly Broad-Based Technology 9 (BBT 9).

The BBT 9 class I teach explores various Web 2.0 tools. There has been a move away from using software that is isolated in an individual computer to
introducing students to a range of Web 2.0 applications for collaboration and online publishing. Additionally, the cost factor has also played a part, since most Web 2.0 tools have little to no cost associated with them. For example, students can now explore photo editing and manipulation without schools needing to invest in a large number of licences for specialized software. In fact, the problem now is trying to determine which Web 2.0 application would be most effective for the learning objectives, since there is such a wide variety of choices. 

I think, however, this is where I wonder if my approach in BBT 9 is the right one. Normally, I will introduce students to a Web 2.0 tool and then assign a project which will allow them to explore the tool's features and then create a product they then publish to their course blog. As indicated by Shih and Waugh (2011), students in BBT 9 usually enjoy using blogs and like to be able to submit their work for other students to see, providing opportunities for feedback and peer-to-peer assessment. Yet, I think sometimes in instructing students to use one particular Web 2.0 application for a particular project, I may be undermining their experience in discovering how Web 2.0 tools can become part of their "toolkit" for personalized learning. Additionally, I think sometimes the projects I am assigning them can simply be "going through the motions" to learn features of a Web 2.0 tool without any real engagement in authentic and relevant learning. 

As indicated by Shih and Waugh (2011), referring to Stepanyan, Mather and Payne (2007), when students use Web 2.0 tools they show a greater depth of engagement. Additionally, Shih and Waugh (2011), discuss how students can also make connections between course content and their personal experiences through group collaboration when using Web 2.0 applications (Matthew, Felvegi and Callaway, 2009). These findings prompt me to ask how I could implement more engaging projects that require greater collaboration among the students that allows them the opportunity to explore which Web 2.0 tools would work best to address the projects requirements. In other words, instead of assigning a Web 2.0 tool, part of the process of the project would be for students to determine which Web 2.0 tool they think would work best. Certainly, I can supply a number of suggestions, but leave the decision to the group and let them experience trial and error through their own exploration.

Such projects would require more time, and it may not allow the class to explore as many Web 2.0 the course currently offers. However, Shih and Waugh (2011) note a study by Schwartz and Digiovanni (2009) that indicated students found creating a podcast took extra time but "the process promoted constructivist and collaborative learning." The BBT 9 course may not cover as many Web 2.0 tools, but it would provide more opportunities for students to engage in personalized learning and group collaboration, and they would certainly have a more robust relevant Web 2.0 tool-kit for future studies. 

This approach, however, would have its barriers. Currently, there are many limitations on what students can and cannot do on the school network. The computer labs have many restrictions and students can only use an outdated version of Internet Explorer. The netbooks have fewer restrictions and students can download other browsers, particularly Google Chrome which most of them prefer and find works best with many Web 2.0 tools. But the screens are very small on the netbooks and are not well suited for Windows 7. Further, the netbooks are now on their fourth year showing their age and lack of computing power and adaptability.

Nevertheless, I find the students generally have a lot of patience and work through the barriers. And the eventual arrival of seven higher end computers, through a grant the school won last spring, will certainly allow for more group work in the class with, hopefully, greater flexibility in what students can use as they explore and engage in projects using Web 2.0 tools.  

Lastly, Shih and Waugh (2011) report what could be seen as a disturbing finding in research: students were open to feedback from their peers but "tended to be protective of their ideas as their own work and resisted having their contributions edited or deleted by other group members." When we consider the power of collaboration and how Web 2.0 (and beyond) can provide opportunities for our students to work collaboratively on projects in dynamic ways, it seems that we have to ask ourselves whether schools are supporting collaboration with knowledge sharing and building, or reinforcing the notion that knowledge is static, isolated and proprietary. 

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