Posted by: | 21st Jun, 2009

Communication Tools

The course readings and module content regarding synchronous and asynchronous communication tools helped influenced my decisions about which tools I would include in my Moodle course and how these tools will be used. I will include on this page a brief description of the activity and the tools I set up within the course shell and also a rationale of the decisions I made. The course instructions were to design two activities, but I got carried away, couldn’t help myself, and added a couple more. Hope this is okay. To set the context here, please recall that my Moodle course shells a novel study on The Outsiders (1967).

ACTIVITY # 1 forum

A Discussion forum where students have been instructed to post their personal reflections to the chapter readings. I will repeat this discussion forum for each of the course modules. I configured this forum to allow each person to post one discussion, but I require everyone to respond to at least two of their classmates’ posts. I have been clear about what content is to be included in the discussion posts, but students will have a great deal of personal choice because they are free to take up a wide range of topic. This is the nature of personal reading responses. To support my learners with this, I have included an assessment rubric in the course materials in response to Anderson’s (2008) assertions regarding effective online course design.

Why I chose it

Teaching students to write personal responses to literature is an accepted teaching strategy in language arts instruction. Traditionally, in face to face settings, students publish reading responses in notebooks or journals and these are submitted to instructors for assessment. What is lost here is the possibility for the students to learn through valuable social interactions that Anderson (2008) asserts should take place between teachers, students, and content. I was looking for a tool that would allow students to exchange and share their reading responses throughout the duration of the novel study. As the instructor of this course, I need to also be able to interact with my learners as they make connections with literature.

What this tools brings to the educational experience

My personal experience as a student has allowed me to recognize that there is much value in using forum discussions even in face to face settings. Posting reading responses to a forum for the learning community to see will encourage interactions between the instructor and his/her students. In a face to face discussion immediate responses to ideas are required;however, the asynchronous forum allows students time to think and reflect on content before posting a response. In my opinion, this increases the quality of the exchanges and alleviates some of the anxiety that learners sometime feel by being put on the spot when face to face. Of course, forums also support two-way communication making students active participants in the learning process.

The tool’s limitations

The danger of using discussion forums is a lack of participation by learners. If students are not participating in the discussions the potential benefits of the forum may never be realized. The forum in Moodle requires learners to read and write responses and offers little alternative for those who struggle with literacy. Students who have difficulty writing for example may not be willing, or capable, to publish posts.

Does it work?

Yes, I tested my forum and they all work.

ACTIVITY # 2wiki

A Wiki activity on characterization. Working in groups of four, students will design a wiki about the characters in the novel study. The idea is that this activity is on-going and edited as we progress through the course. The wiki will become a resource for my learners and a study guide for the final exam. I have already structured the wiki so that it includes the main characters of the book. I have also provided a resource to introduce students to wikis. The wiki will be assessed as part of each students’ participation mark.

Why I chose it

Characterization is an important element in literary works and is commonly taught in novel studies. The Outsiders (1967) introduces its readers to many characters in great detail. Keeping track of all the characters and what role they play in the plot is a difficult task, so I wanted students to create and maintain a document that could record their notes as we make our way through the novel. I don’t feel, however, that students should tackle this lengthy and difficult assignment individually, so I chose a wiki to enable student collaboration. This will help to divide the workload among learners. Again, with a few clicks of mouse, I added a wiki activity to my Moodle course. The ease of adding the tool factored into my decision regarding its selection.

What this tool brings to the educational experience

When I think wiki, I think fast, efficient collaboration. Providing students with a mechanism for working together towards a common goal will hopefully engage them in the task and make them active participants within a learning community. A wiki allows for asynchronous participation, so, like the discussion forum, provides a tool for interactions to take place over time. As the instructor, I will be able to track and evaluate individual contributions to the wiki to ensure the workload is being shared. The students will be able to develop their work under peer review, which is important.

The tool’s limitations

Compared to other wiki authoring sites, the Moodle wiki interface is not as user-friendly. Wikispaces, for example, makes it much easier to navigate and edit wikis. This is important because it is quite possible that a lack of technical skills of a student might impede their ability to participate in the activity. Also, I do not like how the Moodle wiki does not have a space for groups to discuss the collaborative document. Most wiki services have a discussion tab to facilitate this.

Does it work?

Yes, tested and the wiki works.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES

  • Chat forums have been established to enable synchronous communication. I created private chat rooms for groups in order to facilitate group discourse. Here, students can collaborate and discuss group projects. Another chat room has been created to allow all students come together in order to discuss the course or simply to hang out and form community bonds.
  • Lastly, as a bonus, since I already downloaded SKYPE during the e-learning toolkit activity, I am planning on using this communication tool to “bring in” an outside expert to present to my learner. The expert who has agreed to visit us using SKYPE will present on the topic of “street gangs”, very relevant to the novel study of course.

Rationale:

The selection of these tools was made after careful consideration. In my opinion, and consistent with several of the course readings, proper selection of instructional tools is the key to effective course design (see Anderson, 2008; Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996). Forums, chats, and wikis all encourage interactions on several levels: learner-learner;learner-knowledge;learner-teacher. These tools also help to establish the learning community.

Moodle made it very easy to add these activities to my course design and I’ll be able to track student progress with no problems. I’ve elected to assess the discussion forum activity by activating the grade option and using the “separate and connected ways of knowing” scale. I have also chosen to read the tracking highlights of unread posts. Regarding the chat rooms, I can view past chat activity at any time. Because I won’t be assessing chat, I need only be concerned with the appropriateness of content, although there might some value in reading the chat archives to follow progress and check for understanding. Moodle will allow me to monitor the wiki activity as well. I can also browse the wiki history to see who is contributing to the group effort.

Limitations

The problem with chat is that it requires all participants to participate at the same time. My students all live in the same time zone, so the physical distance that can be problematic in some settings does not apply here. Still, with conflicting personal schedules, it may be difficult to find a meeting time that works for everyone. Text chatting, is also very slow. It may be difficult to get my learners to buy into Moodle chat when so many other attractive options are around, such as cell phones.

In my experience, forums can be problematic for some learners who have difficulty expressing themselves in writing. This might discourage them to post written responses that are viewable to the entire class. Again, with the other online options available to teens, I’m not sure that they will be big on hanging out in Moodle as opposed to popular social-networking sites.

Concerns

I think my students will enjoy working with the communication tools that I designed into the course and they certainly have the skill set to do so. If I’m worried about anything, it’s the level of participation that will be seen. How will I encourage my students to take part at a level that will enhance the learning experience? I think I have already began to address this by providing clear participation expectations.

References

Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an Online Learning Context. In: Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University.

Chickering, A.W. & Ehrmann, S.C. (1996). Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49(2), 3-6.

Hinton, S.E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York, NY: Viking Books.

Responses

Hi Erik,

Similar to your wiki, you can also assign participation marks to the discussion forum, as stated in the Anderson’s article – or is it your intention not to assign any participation mark to the discussion forum?

Cheers,
Leo

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