Thursday, December 2, 2010

Networks of Personalized Learning

Notwithstanding Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, was not in favor of using the term “Web 2.0” because, according to him, the original goal of the WWW was precisely working together with others (Anderson, 2006), the truth is that prior the emergence of the set of technologies that O’Reilly coined as Web 2. 0, the amount of interaction allowed by the WWW was very limited. Indeed, I recall that in the first years of the WWW, a web user was called a “surfer” reflecting the fact that users mostly “surf” or “navigate” on the Web, meaning that users were mainly passive consumers of information.

Most content posted o the Web on its early years belonged to corporate, governmental and educational institutions and it was near to impossible for a regular user to have his or her own individual web space, unless he or she could get a web server account and had knowledge about creating web pages. Web 2.0 technologies changed this passive way to access the Internet. Users switched from being mere consumers of information to be the producers of it. There is no need of any sophisticated knowledge to post whatever one thinks, believes or feels on a web page using blogs or wikis.

The level of interactivity among web users has also changed dramatically. Before Web 2.0, most “surfers” would need to use third-party applications such as email or ICQ to be able to communicate. Nowadays, communication is possible from within the web itself. Social networks make it possible to be in touch with classmates, friends and relatives. Moreover, social networks are also being used for educational purposes such as learning a second language (Naone, 2007).

I believe that Web 2.0 technologies have the potential to promote personalized learning because students have a great variety of options to choose from when they are really interested in learning. Students should take advantage of their strengths and learning styles to select the best way for them to learn whether they are visual or aural learners.

Anderson, N. (2006). Tim Berners-Lee on Web 2.0: "nobody even knows what it means". Retrieved on November 29 from

Naone, E. (2007). “Learning Language in Context: Startup Live Mocha Leverages Social Networking to Teach Foreign Languages,” Technology Review (October 5, 2007),

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Podcasting, Webcasting, and Coursecasting

I think that podcasting is one of the least understood Web technologies, perhaps due to the fact that the term “podcast” has been used very broadly to mean many things. For instance, based on my personal experience, I have noticed that to some people “podcast” is any voice-recorded audio file, regardless of the file format. To some others, it is any video or audio file in which there are one or many presenters. Others refer to it as a web-based narrated presentation whereas some others consider podcasts any video-conferencing recording.

So, as instructional designers or consultants, it is important to clarify from our clients what they mean when they request a “Podcast”. Technically and strictly speaking, “Podcast” refers to a combination of two technologies: (1) an audio file, specifically using MP3 file format, located in a Web server and (2) a “feed” file which allows anyone to “subscribe”, in other words, to be able to receive automatically any new audio file uploaded to the web server, avoiding the need to having to check periodically the website to find out if there is a new audio file uploaded and then to manually download it. The feed and subscription model distinguishes a podcast from just uploading audio files into the Internet (Ashley, 2007).

In order to help distinguishing between audio and video podcasts, several terms are used:
Podcast: Refers mainly to audio files
Vodcast: Refers to video files
Screencast: Refers to recordings of the computer's screen
Enhanced Podcasts: Refers to video files with an embedded PowerPoint presentation (or other similar application).

Reynard (2008) suggests that podcasting is conducive to be integrated into instruction because it empowers students as providing them with the sense of authorship: students use their own voice to create a podcast that will be heard by anyone accessing the Internet. Being authors of their own material have the potential to encourage and motivate students to increase their final products' quality.

Ashley, D. (2007, June). Podcasting. A Teaching with Technology White Paper. EDUCAUSE. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from

Ruth Reynard (2008, June). Podcasting in Instruction: Moving beyond the Obvious. T.H.E. Journal.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mobile, Wireless, and Ubiquitous Learning

I must admit that before this week’s readings describing Paul Kim’s work and projects, every time I heard "mobile learning" I immediately thought about students from medium to high socio-economic status who were able to afford an iPhone or a tablet device and who could also afford being wirelessly connected to the Internet 24/7.

While it is true that using smart phones, tablets and other expensive portable devices is part of mobile learning, thanks to this week’s readings I’m aware now of how mobile devices can also promote literacy in rural impoverished communities in developing countries. First of all, the cost of mobile devices is decreasing significantly. The cheapest laptop I knew of was the $100 laptop project, but India has unveiled now a computer for just $35 dollars (Shah Singh, 2010).

Of course, there is no use of a computer in a rural area without electricity. So I found quite interesting Dr. Kim’s initiative about his PocketSchool project (Kim, 2010) in which his team has designed an sturdy and durable mobile device that could be charge either though solar panels or by connecting it to a bicycle and then riding the bicycle for a while. He has conducted multiple studies in different countries such as Mexico, Peru, Honduras, Malaysia and India. I found especially interesting the studies conducted in Latin America aimed at teaching reading and writing to indigenous children in rural areas which did not have any school or teachers.

Harmeet Shah Singh (2010, July 23). India unveils $35 computer for students. CNN World.
Kim, P. (2010) Seeds of Empowerment

Educational Blogging

According to my personal experience, from all Web 2.0 technologies blogging is perhaps the one that has changed the most. I recall that the first times when I accessed blogs back in 2002, most of them contained just an unordered list of links to resources and external websites; a few of them emulated a personal diary, including all activities done by the authors on a daily or weekly basis; and a few others discussed events in the news. I must admit that at that time I didn’t foresee the potential of blogs as an effective Web 2.0 tool. I wonder why people would need blog applications if they could easily get a free website in Yahoo or Geocities, just as I did at that time.

With the time, blogs have switched from being mere lists of external resources or personal diary entries to become a tool in which anyone can express their own thoughts, ideas and reflections about any topic. Moreover, most blogs now support the capability of receiving comments and feedback from any user per blog posting, which might promote social participation.

Blogs can also be an excellent tool to support learning. Downes (2004) identifies different ways in which blogs can be used for educational purposes, among them: (1) Students can be requested to write their individual blog about topics covered in the class, as part of their course grade; (2) Blogs can be used to organize in-class discussions, in this way students get to know each other better by reading each others’ blogs; (3) Blogs can be used to provide summaries of readings, other students could comment or critique each others’ postings to enrich the summaries.
Personally, I like using blogs as a metacognitive tool in the sense that it allows me to reflect upon the readings covered during the week and the topics discussed in class, highlighting the main concepts, thinking about effective uses of the content covered and sometimes critiquing with different points of views.

Downes, Stephen (2004, September/October). Educational blogging, EDUCAUSE Review, 39(5), 14–26. Retrieved on November 15, 2010, from

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Alternate Reality Learning: Massive Gaming, Virtual Reality, and Simulations.

The use of Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG), virtual worlds and serious games for educational purposes is a controversial topic. Indeed, this kind of Internet-related technologies is the least used in academia according to a survey conducted in 96 universities offering online programs (Eduventures, 2010).

Advocates of using MMOs and virtual worlds for learning argue that these tools promote social learning. For instance, Thomas and Brown (2009) consider both virtual worlds and MMOs as “social systems where people learn how to become part of new, often rapidly shifting institutions and to organize socially and solve problems quickly on a short-term basis” (p. 15). Prensky (2001) identifies several reasons video games in general could be used for learning purposes such as the fact that players can receive immediate feedback; games put learners in the role of decision-makers while addressing different learning styles; games have the potential to provide high levels of motivation and engagement, etc.

In spite of the great enthusiasm of several social constructivists, creationists, and connectivists about using MMOs and virtual worlds for learning, there is a lack of formal studies that provide evidence of the effectiveness and efficiency of using these tools for instructional purposes. Critics of using these tools argue that it usually takes a lot of time for students to actually learn what they supposed to be learning though discovery and trial-and-error. An additional disadvantage is that usually these technologies take a lot of computer resources and bandwidth; furthermore, since the design and development of a new MMO or a virtual world intended to teach a specific content area is very time consuming and expensive, most instructors need to utilize an existing product and adjust it to accomplish their learning objectives.


Eduventures (2010). Trends in Instructional Tool Usage in Online Education Programs, Research Brief, Retrieved October 11, 2010 from

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2007). Why We Need Virtual Worlds Retrieved October 12 from

Interactive and Collaborative Learning

One of the main criticisms of online learning enviroments is the feeling of isolation reported by students and instructors. When students who have taken all their previous courses in a traditional setting switch to an online setting they are exposed to the feeling of lack of peer-to-peer interaction, especially when the online course does not promote it.

Even though there is a plethora of online technologies that allow interaction and collaboration among students, these technologies might not be effective when they are not applied appropriately. For instance, Lee et al. (2006) identify different interactive technologies and report that communication technologies such as email or voice-over-IP are the easiest to use but at the same time they are very limited in promoting teamwork. Thus assigning projects in which the only communication technology is email might not be sufficient for effectively facilitating learning.

Cooperative technologies, according to Lee et al. (2006) include online forums and blogs in which students have some time to reflect upon the content being covered and to elaborate about it. In addition, synchronous technologies such as chats and videoconferencing tools which allow multiple team members to communicate in real time have the potential to promote social cohesion and provide the opportunity to give and receive immediate feedback. For this reason, Park and Bonk (2007) suggest that it is critical to acquire the skills and practical strategies in using both asynchronous and synchronous modes for online learning.

In spite of the multiple current Web 2.0 tools that facilitate peer-to-peer interaction, they might be ineffective if students do not know or not have the skills to work as a team. Instructors should not expect that just by making groups of students and providing them the communication technology they will work and learn effectively as a team. Instead, instructor should consider applying elements of cooperative and collaborative learning, such as group size, group heterogeneity, positive interdependence, group skills, individual accountability, team incentives, social cohesion, etc.


Park, Y. J., & Bonk, C. J. (2007). Is life a Breeze?: A case study for promoting synchronous learning in a blended graduate course.

Lee, S. H., Magjuka, R. J., Liu, X., Bonk, C. J. (2006, June). Interactive technologies for effective collaborative learning.

YouTube, TeacherTube, and the Future of Shared Online Video

Video sharing technologies are among the most recent Web 2.0 technologies. Before the availability of sites like YouTube, it was really difficult to upload video to a third-party server and it was even more difficult to be able to play it. Generally, users had to download the video first and then open it in an appropriate video player. Perhaps one of the main reasons for the lack of services like YouTube was that video files take a lot of space. Indeed before YouTube was created in 2005, most email services like Yahoo or Hotmail were given just about 500MB per free user account. Thus, allowing uploading as many videos as wanted was very welcome by most users. Providing an easy to use interface to upload videos and being able to display the videos right into the web browser as soon as they have been uploaded was a plus which contributed to the success of services like YouTube.

Shared online video services can be used in education in many ways: (a) an instructor/teacher can record herself explaining a specific topic; (b) an instructor can search for educational videos related to the topic being covered and show them to the students; (c) students can create videos either individually or as a team for their peers to watch and critique; (d) instructors can use the videos as anchors for instruction (Bonk, 2008), showing the video at the beginning of the class and having the students reflecting upon it.

A potential disadvantage of using YouTube as part of a class is that it includes ANY type of content, not only educational. When playing a video, YouTube shows a list of other related videos which might not be educational at all and students might be tempted to watch those videos, getting distracted from the topic being covered. A viable alternative is using shared online video services like TeacherTube in which all videos are supposed to be educational.

References: Bonk, C. J. (2008, March). YouTube anchors and enders: The use of shared online video content as a macrocontext for learning. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2008 Annual Meeting, New York, NY.