Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is Twitter useful in education?

Earlier this semester I decided to add a Twitter widget to my Blackboard site, after an enthusiastic student began tweeting during one of my first-year lectures. I saw this as a great oppotunity to engage the students - beginning conversations during the class, and continuing them throughout the week.

At first, I would often display the widget on screen during the lecture, and discuss any tweets as they came through. But after a while the tweets slowed down. There were only half a dozen or so eager students using the service, and the novelty of this tool soon died.

Maybe I was just too early with this trial. Are there enough users of Twitter amongst our undergraduate student population yet?

Have you used Twitter in your teaching or learning? Do you think it could be a good educational tool? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Google Wave has arrived...

... well, for some people it has. I'm still waiting for my invitation!

Google Wave is going to be brilliant for teaching and learning. Here's why:

  • It's designed for collaboration - good teaching practice encourages learners to work together.
  • Conversations (waves) are place and time independent - you can invite new participants into a wave at any time, and they can replay the conversation to "catch up". Flexible learning (time and place) will be well-supported!
  • It will grow - Google will allow third-party developers to extend Wave beyond its initial design. After personally experiencing the power of open source educational tools (such as Moodle), I am convinced that innovative educators will find amazing ways to build learning experiences in Wave.
  • And most importantly, it takes the best Web 2.0 tools and combines them together into one application: wikis, multimedia, email, instant messaging, online applications, and more.
Here's a great little video from the creative team at epipheo studios explaining how Google Wave will change the way that we communicate online...

So, what do you think? Will it help you to teach or learn?

(And can somebody please send me an invitation?)

UPDATE (10 November 2009): I'm now on Wave (thanks Sid)! Add (and ping) me if you want to explore:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Exams on PC?

When was the last time you wrote the "old-fashioned" way - pen and paper - for three hours straight?

Think about that last big report, academic paper, or letter that you wrote, and it's likely that it all happened on a keyboard and screen, not on paper. And the younger you are, the less likely you hand-write much these days - except for exams! We still expect our students to do something very unnatural when it comes time to sit an exam - up to three hours of handwriting. But that looks like changing...

The NSW Board of Studies has indicated that, by 2012, computers will be used in exams. This gives us three years to work out some of the complex issues that are inevitable with such a change - cheating, collusion, and invigilation to name a few.

So, is this a good idea, or do you mourn the loss of an important skill - the ability to use a traditional writing implement? What do you think?

Good Practice Principle #1 - Student-faculty contact

Do you spend time getting to know your students? Not only their names, but their interests and opinions? And do they get to know you?

One of the dangers of some online education is that it can distance the learner from the teacher, not only geographically, but personally. Recently I was chatting with a colleague, who teaches a large number of students in an off-campus unit. She made the comment that her online students often address her as "Mr", even at the end of a 13-week semester, as they have never met, never seen her, and never got to know her (she has a gender-neutral name). It's certainly not her fault, rather the traditional distance education systems that we are forced to use (Blackboard is one of the culprits!).

The online experience doesn't have to be de-humanising. Consider the following Web 2.0 tools that can be used to connect with students:
  • Video
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Skype
  • Blogging (both as a blogger and as a commenter on student blogs)

I use all of these tools in my teaching, and they work brilliantly. There are benefits for me (getting to know my students), and for my students (increased connection to their teacher, and their learning experience).

I guess that's why it's called "social media"!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tag Galaxy (thing #6)

A quick post to highlight one of my favourite Flickr mashups, Tag Galaxy. It's a highly engaging, graphical interface for searching for images on Flickr using the visual metaphor of a "galaxy" of planets.

Searching for images has never been so much fun!