Friday, September 11, 2009

Social Networking: A Tool for Learning

"Approximately 4 million students are enrolled in online education in 2007."
(Sloan Consortium)

Today in age, receiving an education no longer requires a student to attend a physical institution or university. There are numerous outlets a student can explore to receive assignments, instruction, knowledge, and feedback. These outlets fall under a more general term called e-learning. This is short for electronic learning, which basically means learning any sort of information through some sort of electronic process and electronic medium. Here are a few examples:

Distance Learning

(Bently Institute)

Distance learning has been around for centuries. In fact, it began in 1728, when "an advertisement in the Boston Gazette...[named] 'Caleb Phillips, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand" was seeking students for lessons to be sent weekly." (Distance Education, Wikipedia) Distance learning today is very similar, except we have adapted a new medium: the internet. Above, you see a diagram from the Bently Institute and how it has mapped out the process of distance learning via internet. The various roles include the Bently Moderator, the Bently Instructor, and the Participants. By simply substituting these roles with a dean, professor, and students, this diagram can be applied to any educational institution.

The arrows in the diagram depict the flow of information and the connections within all of the members of the distance learning network. The moderator and the instructor can share information privately with each other, both the moderator and the instructor can share information with the participants, the participants can share information with the moderator and the instructor, and the participants can privately share information with the moderator and/or instructor.

Video Conferencing

(Where in Washington Video Conferencing Project)

Video conferencing is another form of electronic learning. Above, you see a group of students participating in a lesson that is being provided by an instructor who is miles and miles away. The difference between distance learning and video conferencing is that students are allowed to participate in instruction through discussion, asking questions, etc in a more face-to-face educational environment. What does this mean? Well in distance learning, a participant would log on to his/her computer from home or work to access an assignment that would more than likely be self led. Interaction would occur between participants through a thread. The participant would then submit his/her assignment before the designated deadline and receive feed back and a grade from his/her instructor.

In video conferencing, however, the students along with the moderator are in a physical educational environment (as normal instruction would occur), but the instructor is not. Video technology has allowed for these students to learn from an instructor who is teaching from a different location. Students may ask questions to one another, face-to-face, and "technically" can too ask the instructor questions "face-to-face." Also, video conferencing is not self led like distance learning is; there is a designated time-slot these students may interact with their instructor and assignments must be turned in in a timely fashion.


(Blackboard,University of Texas at Austin)

Blackboard is mainly used by colleges and universities. It too is a form of e-learning and social networking, but more of an extension from the traditional instruction that occurs on campus at a designated time. Each student is assigned a blackboard account with a user ID. Students are able to review the courses they are enrolled in for the current semester and are able to view information on past courses too.

Professors may upload documents such as assignments, readings, presentations, send mass emails to their students, start a blog for the class, start a discussion thread for the course, and post students' grades. Participants may too send mass emails to their peers, starts blogs, threads, etc. It is basically a way to consolidate information for the instructor and the students in a digital format.

Social networking can be defined as a community created by individuals for individuals who are connected by some common "strand" or purpose. This connection allows for the participants in the community to share information, ideas, and conversation about their common interests. So how does social networking improve online education or education through e-learning? Well it keeps "retention," says Shai Reshef, Founder and President, University of the People.

(University of the People)

University of the People is the "world's first, tuition-free, online academic institution dedicated to the global advancement and democratization of higher education." (UOP) Classes began this past week, September 10 to be exact. The entering class consists of about 180 students from 49 countries. University of the People offers two degrees: Business Administration and Computer Science. The application fees range from $15 to $50 and students will only have to pay for examination and processing fees.

University of the People's "fundamental belief is that all people, worldwide, should have the opportunity to change their lives and contribute to their communities, as well as understanding that the path to societal and individual prosperity through education." Thus, taking inspiration from e-learning methods like the ones mentioned above, University of the People's main teaching method is through social networking. Students will be taught through "peer-to-peer learning" by posted commentary on their course's page. Instruction is furthered by professors on a volunteer basis from established institutions from around the world. Students are required to submit weekly assignments to test retention of the material discussed.

Some advantages of e-learning and online universities:
_accessibility (24/7)
_self-paced (to some extent)
_interaction with people from different geographic regions
_opportunity to individuals who have not other option
- outlet for people who cannot afford attend an institution
- outlet for people who do not have the time to attend an institution

Some disadvantages of e-learning and online universitites:
_do not have face-to-face interaction (separation; connected, but disconnected)
_large room for distraction (not in an educational/school environment)


Distance Learning:
Bently Institute,

Video Conferencing:
Where in Washington Video Conferencing Project, Olympic ESD 114 Ed Tech Blog,

University of Texas at Austin,

University of the People:
University of the Poeple,

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