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Reflection of Communication Tools in Moodle for a Mock Course

Introduction

Building an effective learning community (whether face-to-face or online in a LMS) that allows for communication and interaction among students, teachers and content to flourish should be at the core of any curriculum/course design. And in an online learning community, a cognitive, social and teaching presence helps ensure that communication does occur. The type of interactions depends on the kind of communication (synchronous/asynchronous and 1-way/2-way) with students, teachers, and content that is used, the type of social interactivity that the environment allows, and what is being assessed (Anderson, 2004).

As a part of the mock online course, Styles of English for Science Students II, which I am designing in Moodle, I need to be fully aware of what communications tools I am using, how I am using them, and what their limitations are. When distance and online learning through computers and LMSs was being explored during the 1990s, it became apparent that there would be “a transition from traditional model of teaching, based on a model of information transmissions and comprehensions through the lecture mode” to a “more constructivist and collaborative learning” model (Bates, 1997). Later, social software, such as wikis, blogs, VOIP, opened up new possibilities for synchronous and asynchronous communication, and some studies, for example, suggest that students in an online course using asynchronous communication tools “outperformed students who were less asynchronously active” (Johnson, 2006). Blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and social networking now provide new ways for students in university to collaborate and communicate within their class or around the world (Bryant, 2006).

The SECTIONS model assists with measuring the quality of social activities online, outlining the importance of “interaction between the learner and the originator of the teaching material, interaction between the learners and an instructor who mediates between the original material and the learners by providing guidance or assessment, and interaction between the learner and other learners (Bates & Poole, 2003). I would also add the importance of interaction between learner and content, between teacher and content, and between content and content, especially when interactions occur through communication tools like wikis.

The Course

In Styles of English for Science Students, first-year undergraduate students will learn about rhetorical situations in written discourse, including awareness of various purposes and audiences for writing, including basic features of structuring arguments and recognition of common fallacies in logic and reasoning. The course is online and enrolment is 25 students per sections. There are 4 sections, and two professors teaching the course.

Communication tools

The communication tools that I included in the Moodle course are: a chatroom (synchronous, 2-way communication), forum discussion (asynchronous, 2-way communication), and a wiki (asynchronous, 2-way communication). For each tool I will explain the following: why I chose it; what this tool brings to the educational experience; and what its limitations are.

Chatroom

This synchronous tool is built into the Moodle system and will primarily be used for an icebreaker activity during the first week of the course. The tool was chosen because of its accessibility, functionality, and usability. Everyone in the course will have free access to the chatroom. It is easy to use. And it provides 2-way synchronous text-based communication. The chatroom will also be available for students throughout the course so they have a platform where they can discuss course content, receive instant feedback from peers, and create a sense of community. “A feeling of belonging to a community creates comfort and trust and encourages students to participate by sharing knowledge, asking questions and supporting peers” (Dixon, Crooks, & Henry, 2006). Communication will occur through the chartroom and the forum during the first week simultaneously. Students will be encouraged to use the chartroom to follow-up on the icebreaker activity (see the Forum section below).

Limitations

There are limitations to this tool. First, it would be difficult for numerous students to participate in one conversation at one time; that would be overwhelming for everyone, and possibly technically impossible. Text-based chat can also be tedious, and voice or video conferencing may be better. However, due to the limitations set by the administrators in Moodle for this exercise and the fact that asynchronous communication plays a larger role in the course outcomes, I decided against implementing any third-party software. Under normal circumstances, and within budget, I would embed a tool like GONG into the Moodle course. GONG is a free system for voice communication on the Web, that allows groups of people to participate in discussion groups using their computers, using both synchronous and asynchronous chat. A tool such as this is better equipped for creating an effective online learning community. Wimba, which GONG is based on, would be another tool, but the cost of using it may be a limiting factor.

Forum

This asynchronous tool is a core function in the Moodle system and will be used for the icebreaker activity, lesson activities and assessed tasks. This tool was chosen for similar reasons as the chat tool: accessibility, functionality, and usability. It was chosen because it allows students to have time to reflect on their work, as well as their peers’; it is flexible with regards to time; and it maintains records of students’ work.

Icebreaker activity

As mentioned above, the forum will be used first as an icebreaker activity. Some research suggests that “learner satisfaction in online learning is higher with ‘high levels of social presence’ (Dixon et al., 2006). The icebreaker activity will be based on Dixon’s example where instructors post the question What do you do? and “ask students to post three hyperlinks that provide clues regarding their profession or area of personal interest. As a means of becoming acquainted with each other, students pose questions to each other in an effort to identify the professions or interests of their virtual colleagues. Ultimately this activity provides insight into each other’s backgrounds and interests, and gives a context to the group’s experiences and expertise” (Dixon et al., 2006). Students can also use the synchronous chat tool to ask their peers questions.

Course activities

“Discussion forums provide the opportunity to share about what we know and compare new concepts with our fellow learners” (Corich, Kinshuk, & Hunt, 2004). Each week students will be asked to read or watch something and then comment on the material in the forum. Students will be guided by questions, and they will be expected to contribute to in-depth discussions, which will be assessed based on Susan Levine’s framework and Nada Dabbaghs guidelines outlined by Anderson (Anderson, 2004). Each discussion topic is embedded into the course notes so students can see the relationship between the course material and their learning process.

Limitations

Student motivation, teacher presence, time, student preparedness, lack of good real-time support, and the ability to promote oneself as a “real” person have all been mentioned as potential limitations for this tool (Anderson, 2004; Bartolic-Zlomislic & Bates, 1999; Curtis & Lawson, 2001; Farmer, 2004). Because the establishment of a leaner community is important, these limitations should not be taken lightly. Also, “in establishing cognitive presence, issues associated with the lack of any definable audience do not only affect the nature of the way in which an individual writes, but also the discourse possible and in this the ability of a writer to reflect on their thoughts and ‘construct and confirm’ meaning” (Farmer, 2004).

Wiki

Wikis offer rich and flexible interactions among students, teachers, and content. This asynchronous tool is another core function in the Moodle system and will be used for assessing students’ comprehension and reflection of course content. Some studies show that collaboration through wikis assist with learning content “more thoroughly than they would have using a traditional resource” and wikis can be used “to enhance social interaction among students online as well as for the dissemination of information to the student body, for building information repositories, or for the collaborative production of documents” (Parker & Chao, 2007).

Course activity

This activity is based on an activity given by UBC’s MET course ETEC540 (2008). Students will be both an author, and an editor, of Styles of English: A Student’s Guide. They will be responsible for authoring one major entry under one of the topics listed in the course syllabus (e.g. the five canons of rhetoric). And they will act as an editor of their own solo entries and edit/comment on entries written by their colleagues.

Limitations

The main concern with using a wiki is its usability. This is still a fairly new form of technology, and not all students or teachers will be comfortable with using it. The wiki tool in Moodle is basic; however, students and teachers will have to take the time to learn the coding to format and use the wiki effectively – a learning curve some may not enjoy. The fact that the Moodle wiki is private could also be considered as a limitation. According to Guth, having students contribute to a public wiki may be more beneficial than semi-private or private because students gain an increased sense of responsibility and, thus, write more accurately, and they also gain a sense of empowerment, which could increase motivation (2007).

Conclusion

It is important that the course allows communication and interaction among students, teachers and content to flourish in a way that produces an effective and efficient learning community. And the mix of communication tools embedded into Moodle accomplishes that. Some tools, like the chatroom, assist with creating a sense of belonging, an informal and formal sense of being a part of a community. Others, like the forum and wiki, allow for reflection, reducing the pressure of time. Having these tools embedded into the course creates more opportunities for a cognitive, social and teaching presence. There are limitations with using these tools, especially the ones provided in the basic Moodle set up. But they do assist with enhancing communication and interactions in the learning environment, ways that are not possible in face-to-face  settings.

Works Cited

Anderson, T. (2004). Teaching in an online learning context. Theory and practice of online learning, 273-294.

Bartolic-Zlomislic, S., & Bates, A. W. T. (1999). Investing in on-line learning: Potential benefits and limitations. Canadian Journal of Communication, 24(3).

Bates, A. W. (1997). The impact of technological change on open and distance learning. Distance education, 18(1), 93-109.

Bates, A. W., & Poole, G. (2003). Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bryant, T. (2006). Social software in academia. Educause Quarterly, 29(2), 61.

Corich, S., Kinshuk, L. T., & Hunt, L. M. (2004). Using Discussion Forums to Support Collaboration. In 3rd Pan Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning, Dunedin, NZ. Citeseer.

Curtis, D. D., & Lawson, M. J. (2001). Exploring collaborative online learning. Journal of Asynchronous learning networks, 5(1), 21-34.

Dixon, J. S., Crooks, H., & Henry, K. (2006). Breaking the ice: Supporting collaboration and the development of community online. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 32(2), 99.

Farmer, J. (2004). Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments. In Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 274-283).

Guth, Sarah (2007). Wikis in Education: Is Public Better?  Proceedings of the 2007 International Symposium on Wikis. pp. 61-68. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1296951.1296958

Johnson, G. M. (2006). EBSCOhost: Synchronous and Asynchronous Text-Based CMC in Educational Contexts: A Revi… TechTrends, 50(4), 46-53. Retrieved June 17, 2009, from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=2&hid=9&sid=050e5906-a4b7-41fe-a2c5-a61317cee525%40sessionmgr2.

Parker, K. R., & Chao, J. T. (2007). Wiki as a teaching tool. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 3, 57-72.

Written by seanmcminn

May 5th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

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