Saturday, 14 June 2008

Hot tools, hot topics

Entitled ‘Technological Culture: Web 2.0 tools and social media’, this was the last parallel paper session before the final plenary event at EDEN – day 3. The session should have been less well attended than previous ones, because traditionally most people begin to leave for the airport around this time. It’s difficult with last day sessions – often known as the ‘graveyard’ slot. Most of the presenters also had to dash away early to catch their flights. Yet there was a very healthy turnout, with an almost full room which is a testament to the fact that Web 2.0 is a red hot topic at this conference.

The first paper with the somewhat impenetrable title ‘Web 2.0 environment with workflow language’ – was presented Pritt Tammets from Tallinn University, Estonia. He talked about visual language and visual thinking which tap into the intuitive and emotional learning. Tammets’ aim was to develop a suite of visual language tools that could integrate into Web 2.0 applications such as wikis. This is a tool for designers, but became a little too complicated, he reported. Results were mixed and the system didn’t work for large scale delivery.

The second paper in the session was also focused on the use of wikis to support the learning of English as a foreign language. Igor Balaban (University of Zagreb, Croatia) borrowed Gilly Salmon’s ‘e-tivities’ concept to characterise student engagement with wiki tools. Wikis are good for interaction, collaboration and to share content with a wider audience he said, but in second language learning they are considered less useful. The EngWiki project aimed to discover how they could be optimised so his team developed a taxonomy of wiki activities (a bit of an anachronism perhaps when the chaotic and folksonomic nature of wikis is considered) to support the learning. Igor presented some very interesting wiki activities such as analogies, vocabulary trees, narratives and role playing. The results were very positive showing that students engaged more actively with the course. I will definitely be in touch to discuss their research.

The third paper, ‘A wiki as an intercultural learning environment’ was the result of collaborative research between Spanish and Australian universities. Presented by Guzman Mancho (Alcala University, Spain) the project highlighted problems with learning English through technology. Making two different semester structures coincide between the Spanish and Australian universities, assimilating the culture of the other university and overcoming lack of funding were all issues addressed. Collaborative editing was required so an ‘institution free’ wiki – MediaWiki – was selected. Students practiced collaborative writing in English which had very useful outcomes, with most producing useful content and completing the course successfully. However, there was lack of interaction between students, difficulty in assessing the degree of intercultural ties and many students lacked experience in wiki use.

The final paper, entitled ‘Disrupting the technological culture’, was presented by Stella Porto of the University of Maryland, USA. She focused on staff support (the majority are part-time professors) to train their online tutors. Social software tools are overwhelming in number and scope, but applications are becoming friendlier and can be used to build communities. Scalability was an issue – providing training and support for 2500 teaching staff was difficult. Many teachers had no technical background and some were technophobic (not recommended for online tutors). The university is now trying to bring the open social tools under their control (happening in many other universities probably because they are scared of being left behind in the technological flow) which challenges the question of ownership of content (e.g. e-portfolios) access to materials (e.g. e-portolios), and interoperability across platforms (e.g. e-portfolios!). When we are using social software, who needs protection?

Hot tools and hot topics, yes, but still so many questions to answer....

Posted by Steve Wheeler. Follow Learning with 'E's.

No comments: