Chapter 14 in the Veletsianos book is titled “Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication” and is authored by Rita Kop: (Chapter 14)
Kop’s chapter describes a project in South Wales, UK, built around distance learning with extensive use of Web 2.0 tools. The intention was to explore a model where increased learner control and shared information are key components. Blogs, wikis, chat, pod and video-casts were all used in the interactive environment that was created for this undergraduate Higher Education Certificate program, taught mainly at a distance. Tutors, learning technologists and students were all interviewed as part of the evaluation of the project. Activities and interactions (blog use, wikis, chat etc.) were monitored, analyzed and coded.
Conclusions of the analysis revealed that the students responded well to “spur of the moment” videos from their tutors, found wikis to be less useful for collaborative knowledge creation than would be expected (the author sees this as possibly because the concept of collaborative knowledge was just not very familiar and the asynchronous nature did now help with time management issues that the students were having), and found chat to be a good way to create a sense of togetherness. (p. 279). For all tools, the role of the tutor was seen as working best when it was supportive and nurturing, while still allowing semi-autonomous learning. The ideal is that semi-autonomous learning is a bridge that will one day lead to fully self-directed learning.
Having just concluded co-instructing a course that attempted to incorporate some of the ideas in this chapter, I would agree that finding the right balance as an instructor can be a challenge. For any student new to online learning, there seems to often be an initial sense of uncertainty at being left on one’s own. Teamwork very early in the experience is a good motivator, and tools like chat, forums and wikis definitely do create a “place” for this to happen. I’m not sure if the UK project described encouraged the collaborative writers to select a person to take the role of editor. My personal experience is that this, rotating from assignment to assignment, can really help with the time management issues. I’ve seen teams start to self-manage in an amazingly quick period of time, but again, there is a need for subtle facilitation and being ready to step in if things are not happening as they should be. In some ways, (again in my own personal experience) the most effective “instruction” in this model is often completely invisible to the students much of the time.
This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).