21 December, 2009

Does web 2.0 benefit students?


Web 2.0 is suffering the same fate as previous “Revolutionary” ICT technologies of earlier decades. Politicians, school governors and university management are often heard citing the benefits of these new technologies, but there is still a lack of empirical evidence to suggest that the use of web 2.0 improves student performance.

However (moving swiftly on …), there are some clear benefits that Rob Spence (English and History) has found whilst using Wiki technology:

  • Improved student engagement
  • Students feel less on the spot
  • Students are more self critical
  • Tracking of student performance from day 1


There is a perception that students are arriving at university with ever decreasing levels of literacy, combined with ever increasing support requirements. Spoon feeding ‘A’ level candidates is thought to be a widespread practice in many schools and colleges, and when combined with a highly prescriptive curriculum perhaps it is no wonder that many students struggle when they arrive at university. It’s not unheard of for new students, when presented with an essay title, to ask for the opening sentence or paragraph, the quotes they are likely to need to use, and other guidance and materials.

These were the kinds of issues that Rob had been experiencing – perhaps informing his rationale for using a wiki for part of his first year “Introduction to Narrative” course.


Reflecting on his use of the wiki, Rob found that his students were more willing to get involved in writing at an earlier point in their university career, and found the experience less threatening than being put on the spot in a classroom session. Students were found to be more self critical – perhaps because they were writing for a perceived audience. One of the major benefits that Rob experienced was being able to see students work from much earlier in the learning process than in previous years – he could see drafts and developments from many students in the same area so was able to identify and track “Problem Students” at a much earlier point in the cycle.

Is it for me?

If you are considering using web 2.0 stuff (wikis, blogs, bookmarking …) in your teaching and learning, the Learning Technology team would love to hear from you. We are here to encourage and support you in the use of technology for teaching and learning. You can contact me (david.callaghan@edgehill.ac.uk x 7753) or Katherine Richardson (richark@edgehill.ac.uk x 7754).

David Callaghan
th November 2009

Image by Peter Nielsen, 2009

03 December, 2009

Technology Enhanced Feedback

There has been some research undertaken over the last few years, about giving audio feedback to students. The 'Sounds Good' project at Leeds Met was one of the more high profile, and I've bookmarked a few other relevant links.

Online audio use now seems mainstream, and several staff at Edge Hill are giving summative feedback now by means other than text (e.g. via audio, videos of the tutor talking, screencast videos showing the piece of work). In the Learning Technologist's office, we were discussing what is required to enable any member of academic staff to feel comfortable using 'technology enhanced feedback'. Is there a really simple way of creating audio feedback that wouldn't cause difficulties to those staff least comfortable and familiar with new technologies?

Something like Vocaroo is wonderfully simple, and while I'm not sure about proposing that as the Edge Hill solution, this level of simplicity is going to be required by some people. However, the most common approach currently seems to be to borrow or buy a voice recorder, and to email the audio feedback to the student. This contains several steps, but helps ensure good quality recordings, and could be achieved in several different ways.

Sue Murrin-Bailey and Shirley Hunter-Barnett are running a SOLSTICE session which describes how and why they gave audio feedback to students, at Edge Hill on the 11th January 2010. You can book through Edge Hill University Staff Development - staffdevelopment@edgehill.ac.uk - and SOLSTICE sessions are even open to people from outside Edge Hill University, so all are welcome.

After this session, it would be good to put together some very simple, technophobe proof advice that anyone could use to do something similar. Has anyone got good ideas about how this might look, and the tools that would be required?

[Image by mrbula]

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02 December, 2009

What is the Future of VLEs?

As Edge Hill's project to look into what the different people in the institution want from a VLE is underway, it is worth exploring some of the debates that are going on in the wider community.

Most agree that the general way VLEs are used, and design of VLEs by software developers, is not perfect. However there are many opinions and viewpoints on what the way forward is.

A good starting point is the 'The VLE is Dead (or is it?)' debate at the ALT-C conference this year (note that the debate has moved forward now). To summarise, four stances are set out.
  1. VLEs are evil. They aren't focussed on learning, but are content management systems. They are closed to the world and contacts out there who you can learn from and discuss with. They are owned by the institution, which in itself plays a role in switching students off.
  2. Personal learning environments (PLEs) are the way forward. The VLE is based on the same paradigm as the factory system of education. Rather than promoting learning they are designed to commodify learning. VLEs have the potential to open up learning to those currently outside the institution, and we should focus on achieving this with them. The personal learning environment is set up by the learner, and we enable them to develop one that helps them learn.
  3. Use the VLE for now, to teach the teachers and learners how to develop PLEs. Learners don't generally know how to use these web services, certainly for learning. The VLE can be involved in guiding students towards these new web based technologies for learning.
  4. The VLE is good enough, and will get better. The tools in the VLE are good enough. Students expect consistency and reliability, which the VLE (if designed well and used well) should provide.
The idea of web based personal learning environments is exciting to me, mainly because that is where I do much of my own learning. My feed reader would be the centre of this, bringing in blog posts, twitter posts, journal articles and news, making it easier and quicker for me to follow and get involved in many conversations in a variety of subjects that I'm interested in. Someone else's environment might centre on their Twitter account or blog, and that's what makes this more personal than a VLE.

The personal learning environment model also fits in with creating lifelong learners. Where ever I go in life my online PLE is going to be available, unlike the VLE.

Have a look at Steve Wheeler's post, and the resulting comments for lots of other responses to this debate.

Another debate that is going on is talking about whether the system that the institution provides should be a teacher controlled VLE (like Moodle) or a learner controlled network (like ELGG). The 'Moodle- the wrong tool for the job?' post on the Learning Conversations blog contains interesting points related to this.