This year, I've used a few of the Web 2.0 tools to enliven my courses. This year, these techniques were used on two modules, DSA and IAD. Since I also teach web technologies, it seems appropriate that students gain some experience of these tools as part of the courses.
This is a summary of the value my students and I have found in some of them.
The standard VLE at UWE is BlackBoard (UWEOnline). There are a few difficulties with the way it is administered here, particularly around the restricted access to material. Another problem is the lack of ability to link to modules or documents to UWEOnline, limiting the possibilities for integration.. Nonetheless, this the vehicle students expect to be used. Of course in this subject area much of the material is based on server languages like PHP, MySQL, and XQuery and thus resides on our faculty server.
Blogs were used in two ways - as a means of communicating from teachers to students, with student commenting (DSA and IAD), and as a component of each students work.
The blogs are all hosted on Google's Blogger. During the year this improved in ease of use an in the ability to tag any item. Thus all items on lectures, or coursework 1 or PHP can be tagged and then browsed as a group.
Over the year there were over 50 posts to each blog. The tutors on the modules all had write access. Activity on the blogs was monitored by Google Analytics and showed the expected increase in traffic around lecture time and towards coursework hand-ins. Since the blogs were public,there was a background of hits from all over the world, and some items, such as one on the Periodic Table of Visualisation methods were linked to and gained considerable traffic. Comments on both blogs were few, from students and the public, but there were some.
I also occasionally post to my personal blog (here)and it was sometimes unclear where an item should be posted. I also tried to run one for the new 1 -year programme in Internet Application Development but this did not take off .
Students prefer a consistent interface to learning materials, although they also valued the narrative structure of the blog. However there are difficulties in using it to organise information which must be easily findable, even with the tagging facility. Thus, with some reluctance, I have decided to revert to putting lecture notes on BlackBoard rather than my own web site. BlackBoard will also contain the workplan. I plan to use my own blog to add my own commentary and additional material, with items tagged for consumption by one or other module even though the blog will only be able to refer to items in BlackBoard by name.
Students on IAD were required to keep individual blogs as a record of their reading over they year. This was not successful, partly as a result of concern for the damage to reputation that poor quality web appearances could have on future prospects. In this regard, it may be preferable to use the private blogs in BlackBoard for this purpose.
I have used wiki's for some time, and one was used for web2.0 technologies. It is doubtful that this was beneficial, with so much excellent material on wikipedia. However for details of implementations and tools which are specific to CEMS, there is a need for a local wiki. This was established as the CEMS wiki and is being populated, though much more could be done before it becomes the first palce of enquiry about the use of a language, tool or technique in CEMS.
I also set up a student wiki in CEMS for use by students in organising and presenting their research into individual topics. This was quite successful, both as an opportunity to gain experience in wikis and as a means of organising their material. However, the student entries were more in the nature of online articles, with a low level of linkage. Students were required to hand-in a copy of their wiki material (since this is needed for external examiners) and this perhaps led to the lack of a linked structure. A more collaborative, group-based approach might be tried to get a larger network but there are obvious problems with attributing authorship.
On one module,the tutors kept a register of attendance. We opted to use the recently available GoogleSpreadsheets for this, partly to explore the value of collaborative documents. Technically, this was very successful, and a big improvement on passing Excel spreadsheets around. However (there seem to be rather a lot of 'however's in this account :-( ) the spreadsheet feels rather cramped and lacks the ability to hold row and column headings in place when scrolling. (freeze panes)
An advantage of blogs is that they provide an RSS feed which can then be aggregated with other feeds. (unlike BlackBoard which does not) An attempt was made to use this feed to populate the announcements in Blackboard which was only partly successful, creating an additional point of failure. Take-up of RSS is still slow but the new myUWE portal supports RSS feeds so it will be suggested that the blog feed can be added by the individual student.
A couple of lectures were recorded on audio and posted to the blog. I also used Evoca to record short messages.
Whether these initiatives were valued is difficult to say. I think the audio alone is of limited value and integrated slideshow, video and audio is the ideal. Creating such resources for small to medium-sized classes, in such as rapidly changing field as the web, may not be economically viable.
These new technologies have great promise, but the fit with a corporate culture an institutional E-Learning policy creates tensions. This year's experiences are certain food for thought.