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.

Wikis, Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and Collaborative Writing

Along with Podcast and Blog applications, Wikis are considered a prominent Web 2.0 technology. From its inception in 1995 by Ward Cunningham, wikis technologies have been intended to facilitate a quick and easy development of a web document. Before wiki technologies were available, web users were only able to read content from web pages but did not have the capability to author pages collaboratively, unless they owned their personal web site. Wikis provided the capability for any web user to create and update web pages.

The first web application to take full advantage of wiki features was Wikipedia, which started in 2001. Wikipedia is thus the most well known wiki application (Konieczny, 2007). Contrary to other web-based encyclopedias, the success of Wikipedia is that anyone can become a contributor, speeding up in this way the process to add new entries to the encyclopedia in practically any language. The inherent features of wikis facilitate collaborative writing so multiple users can be working/editing a Wikipedia entry simultaneously.

Wikibooks are an additional application conducive to using wiki technologies. In Wikibooks, multiple people work together in writing and editing an online book. As in any other wiki technology, it is possible to track the history of revisions and additions done to each section of the Wikibook.

Having students adding a new entry in Wikipedia or writing a chapter for an existing Wikibook can become an empowering activity because students will know that their work is actually contributing to the world’s knowledge, while at the same time, they’re learning to work collaboratively. However, in order to guarantee the quality and accuracy of the postings, instructors might want to play to role of editors.

Reference:Konieczny, P. (2007, January). Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Education, 4(1), 15-34. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Connectivism, Social Knowledge, and Participatory Learning

The main idea behind Connectivism is that learning is a network phenomenon, in other words that we, as social beings, learn better when we interact with others than being alone. In some way, we could say that it is similar to Vygotsky’s Social Constructivism theory in the sense that it emphasizes the social context as a key element for cognitive development. For Vygotsky, learning was also a social and collaborative activity; according to this theory the only way a person can go beyond his/her own Zone of Proximal Development is precisely with the help of someone more capable.

Social knowledge and Participatory learning share similar ideas as Social Constructivism and Connectivism. However, in my opinion it seems that Connectivism attempts to go even further in emphasizing the social aspect of learning. For connectivists like George Siemens knowledge does not only exists in individual persons but it also exists in the network itself, in the material world. Connectivism also pays particular attention to the role that technology plays in allowing people to communicate among them. According to Siemens, learning can be aided by socialization and Web 2.0 technology such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc. (Siemens, 2006).

Personally, I consider myself an advocate of social learning. After all, there are hundreds of studies that have proven that collaborative and cooperative strategies, when well applied, promote more learning gains than when studying alone. Some of these studies were conducted by Johnson & Johnson, some others by Slavin, etc. Likewise, I believe that if used properly, Web 2.0 technology could be effective in promoting learning as well.


Siemens, G. (2006). Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime for the Self-Amused?. Retrieved October 18, 2010 from

Open Educational Resources and OpenCourseWare

In my opinion, Open Educational Resources (OER) are the most compelling evidence that the world of learning is truly open. Many academic institutions are embracing the philosophy of knowledge sharing, so instead of keeping their course content confidential and private, they are releasing it to anyone. OpenCourseWare (OCW) was an initiative started by MIT and several other institutions have joined it gradually. According to the MIT’s OCW website ( in 2008 there were 250 universities that formed part of the OCW consortium.

Language is a critical issue of OERs and OCWs. Even though there are online products that translate automatically from one language to another, the translation is not entirely accurate most of the times. So, it is remarkable that there are organizations comprised mainly of people who volunteer their time and efforts to translating the OERs and OCWs content and to adapt it into a specific culture. One of these organizations is the OpenSource OpenCourseWare Prototype System (OOPS) lead by Lucifer Chu. OOPS is in the process of translating and adapting MIT OpenCourseWare into Chinese.

In spite of people’s good intentions to contribute their time and effort to translating the courseware, there is always the risk of the quality of the translation, especially if they do not master the content area they are trying to translate. Critics of organizations like OOPS attack mainly the quality of the translations, arguing that “no information is better than wrong information”. To help improving the quality of the translation process, organizations should not only depend on the work of volunteers but also should consider hiring professional editors who review the final stages of the process. Having access to content about any topic in your own language is only the first step. A second important step is for other academic institutions to design a plan about how to make use of the content in the most effective way.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Movement Toward Free and Open Source Software

Coming from a developing country I have learned to appreciate and value the importance of the open source initiative. The current costs and licensing policies to use commercial applications is simply too expensive for many public institutions in developing countries to be able to afford them. Moreover, many software companies are now charging an annual fee for using an application, so instead of being a just one-time payment, institutions must pay every year as long as they want to use it. No wonder that most public academic institutions in Latin America are using a variety of open source software such as Linux, Apache, and Moodle.

Being free is just one of the advantages of open source software. An additional great advantage is that the source code is available to practically anyone, also free of charge. By providing the source code, anyone who has the programming knowledge and skills could contribute to fix some of the existing issues with the application or to add new features in order to keep improving it. Indeed, the quality of several open source applications rivals or even exceeds that of commercial products. For instance, the Apache web server is used by about 55% of more than 200 million websites around the world (

Certainly, the open source initiative could be criticize from different points of views, such as:
a) Not all open source programs have sufficient quality.
b) It’s difficult to find good manuals and documentation to use some open source programs.
c) There is no guarantee that a specific open source program will not be deprecated very soon.
d) Companies and programmers should be compensated for their time and effort.
e) It takes longer for open source programs to be released or patched.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Continued Expansion of Blended and Fully Online Learning

I found really interesting and exciting the reports that show the great increase of online courses and online programs across all academic levels in the United States. Indeed, according to the most recent Allen and Seaman’s (2010) "Learning on Demand" report (located at there was a 17% annual growth in online enrollment from 2007 to 2008. In my opinion this increase shows that students are having more confidence in taking online courses and that academic institutions already started understanding the importance of offering fully online programs. However, hopefully the fact that the demand for online learning is increasing might not somehow jeopardize the quality of some programs which just for offering online courses too would not be properly designed and developed.

On the other hand, it was little bit discouraging to read the results of the Eduventures (2010) report regarding the trends in instructional tool usage in online education programs because it seems that most online programs are heavily text-based which means that institutions are not really investing time and effort in utilizing some of the new technologies provided by the Internet. Of course, this statement doesn’t necessarily imply that by using more recent technologies online courses will be taught better. Institutions should also provide the professional development opportunities for instructors to learn the best practices to integrate such technologies into their virtual classrooms.

Personally, I think that the trend is that little by little institutions will implement new technologies as part of their online courses such as mobile learning, Web 2.0, immersive environments, etc. The appropriate integration of these technologies will then boost the continued expansion of online learning not only in the United States but in other countries as well. As a matter of fact, there are many countries still reluctant to take advantage of the benefits provided by online education. Education institutions in those countries might already offer a blended program or a few online courses but not a fully online program. It will be interesting to see if other countries follow the same growth in online courses as the United States within the following years.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2010, January). Learning On Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009.

Trends in Instructional Tool Usage in Online Education Programs, Research Brief, Eduventures, February 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Yeah, I know that there are many advantages of using e-books such as portability, accessibility, and probably the most important, promoting ecology by saving trees. However, I'm not completely convinced that these advantages are enough to support the Governator's plan to replace all textbooks in schools in California. It seems that the main reason he's doing that is trying to save in the consumption of textbooks but I wonder if there are other alternatives (such as simply re-using the textbooks) .

I'm not againts e-books, I think it's awesome to be able to have books online, especially if they have advanced features such as bookmarking, highlighting and providing word definitions. However my main concern of replacing textbooks by e-books is that not all of the kids will be able to afford a digital divice to access the e-books and even if they did, there is always a big chance of the device being stolen, broken or becoming obsolete. For instance, my HP Jornada PocketPC just lasted 3 years before becoming obsolete and based on my own experience, most devices last just about that long.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Digital Literacy

In the 21st century, being literate means knowing more than just read and write. A literate person will be that one who knows how to effectively use information technologies and how to integrate them in their daily professional and personal lives.

However, according to the 21st Century Skills organization, there seems to exist a "profound gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century communities and workplaces" (21st Century Skills report, n.d.). One of the possible reasons for this gap is that current teachers and school administrators are relunctant to use them or simply don't possess the knowledge and expertise to integrate current technologies into their classrooms.
There are still many people who consider technology to be more harmful than helpful, e.g. Jarion Lanier and Nicholas Carr. They argue that technology is diminishing our mental abilities, for instance, we are not exercising our brains any more to learn several phone numbers since now we depend completely of our phone devices to store them. Furthermore, Carr argues that several studies show that people are not reading books any more because they have a harder time trying to focus.
Personally, I think that it is important for students to become digital literates because they will have more and better professional opportunities. To me, being literate also includes to be wise about using the technology in the most appropriate way. Also, it is important that students develop strategic thinking skills because tecnology as such is constantly changing. As instructors we need to prepare students so they can easily re-adjust their skills when a new technology comes up.
Learning for the 21st Century (A Report and MILE Guide for 21st Century Skills) (no date).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Intro to Open World and Neo Millennial/Web 2.0 Learners

The readings from this first week have made me reflect upon the fact that as educators, we cannot keep using the same pedagogical methods and strategies that we have used over the past 100 years to teach K-12 students. If we continue to do so, we would not be taking advantage of the most recent instructional technologies, but most importantly, students will not get well prepared in using efficiently those technologies in their advanced academic studies or even in their professional lives.

Instead of being passive recipients of information, new millennium students should acquire the ability and skills to collectively seek, sieve and synthesize the information (Dede, 2005). Being digital natives, K-12 students are already familiar with the technology that is all around us, they have make technology part of their daily lives. As such, they know how to use Web 2.0 technologies for creation and communication purposes. Unfortunately most educators are not digital natives and are still reluctant to integrate new technologies as part of their instruction, partly because they really don’t know how to do it. This has to change. We need educators that promote an education that is interactive, engaging and challenging though the use of these new technological tools (Oblinger, 2008).


Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly, 28(1)

Oblinger, D. G. (2008). Growing up with Google: What it means to education. Becta: Emerging technologies for learning, 3, 10-29.