Step 1: Managing the Web 2.0 Environment

The Assessment Items

Two main assessment items are being addressed in this first project:

    A group blog: This activity requires students to write a number of blog posts, with a set word limit, each requiring references using the APA referencing system. Students are required to comment on a set number of their colleagues’ posts.
    A media sharing assignment: Students are required to identify and share a set number of media articles related to set topics, and then comment on their colleagues’ articles.

The Web 2.0 Challenge

A significant challenge for teaching in the Web 2.0 environment is developing efficiencies which can be up-scaled to large numbers of participants. After using Facebook as an optional channel for online participation in 2007 (with about 200 participants), I found the effort required was not worth the ‘wow’ factor which some students experienced, even though participation improved dramatically.

Working in an online environment with large groups also means waiting for participants to perform simple tasks like registering new accounts (such as Blogger or Facebook) and requesting new passwords to forgotten email accounts. Further, it is surprising the number of 'digital natives' who have not received a 'digital education'. For example, out of a class of 65 students aged 18-22, only two had blogged before. The administrative tasks are therefore a major obstacle.

Purpose-built learning management systems (LMS) provide better administrative controls to monitor and keep track of participants' contributions. However, LMS do not give students experience with common Web 2.0 applications. I am focusing on assessing the learning outcomes, which include contextual and conceptual knowledge, but in a Web 2.0 environment. The approach is designed to develop students' generic skills in online written communication. While the online environment is a secondary focus, it tends to require the most effort.

The Web 2.0 challenge, then, is to minimise the transaction costs yet provide students with a genuine Web 2.0 experience.

The Browser Drama

In the near future, we should have access to a hosted blog-aggregator or buddypress site. In the meantime, I have set up a simple, private Google Blogger blog and invited students to join as contributors via their student email. During the first computer lab session, numerous problems with web browsers emerged, such as outdated versions, a lack of plugins or no flashplayer or java installed. The usual forgotten email passwords occurred, too, but there is little that can be done other than allowing plenty of time and providing concurrent activities for those who are better organised.

Without a blog aggregator, I decided to use just the one group blog to enable me to keep track of all students and control access to outsiders. But the media sharing activity proved to be a difficult. The different browser characteristics also prevented some students from posting comments during the practice run. I had originally intended to use for the media sharing, but without an aggregator the setup time seemed daunting.

After dicussions with UC Hothouse colleagues today and some trials this evening, I have decided on the following solution:
  • Firefox Portable enables the browser environment to be controlled. I have set up the relevant add-ons, and the blog and other instructions have been set as the home pages. Because Firefox is self contained, I will set up a html intro page with instructions for using the browser with the blog. The entire browser is 35mb so I can set this up on the LMS page for students to download to their flashdrives. I have also located a number of old marketing flash-drives that I can provide for students who need them. This has solved the browser problem.
  • I tested a number of sharing apps that integrate with Blogger. I found the AddThis function the best as it enabled me to restrict the sharing choices to Blogger only. This means that students can simply search the Net for relevant media articles, and then use the AddThis button in the browser to share the article via the blog.
This is where I am up to today. Tomorrow I will be testing this approach during the computer lab workshop. The next steps are to solve the browser consistency dilemma and then the identity drama, but more on that later.