Interaction and Collaboration: Advantage E-Learning

  • by

Technology is regarded as an all-encompassing phenomenon that has a tremendous impact on our working, cultural and private lives. E-Literacy has become very important for success in academic and professional milieu. Sensing this need, a lot of educational institutes across the globe have started offering online-courses followed by instant online assessment. E-Literacy is slowly making its presence felt in education, various government offices and business agencies and we see a continual change around us. However, this change needs to be extended to the educational fields. As Lankshear et al. observe, it is vital that technology for pedagogical purposes should also fall within the change agenda (Lankshear, Snyder, and Green 2000; Luke 2000; Millard 2003; Ramsey 2000). It is therefore imperative that educational institutes provide easily accessible e-learning experiences to learners that suit their needs and learning styles.

Advantage E-Learning

E-courses have become very popular as ICT enables an array of communication channels that help in developing dynamic texts that are neither place nor time dependent. They also offer a unique non-threatening learning environment to the learner that not only promotes learning but also motivates learners. Learners from diverse backgrounds can participate freely in online programmes without feeling inadequate in any way. Besides professional and academic enrichment, students doing such courses go through the experience of autonomous learning as they take on the responsibility of learning themselves. Such courses may also encourage them to develop an independent thinking which can help them later in their lives in comprehending complex business situations and taking independent decisions. In addition to this, online learning promotes collaboration with other learners as well as with their online tutors which becomes an excellent opportunity for learners to communicate for a ‘real’ task in ‘real’ time.

Learning through Web 2.0

Any discussion on the use of the Internet for education makes it mandatory to discuss Web 2.0 and how it is different from Web 1.0. According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 is generally ‘associated with web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web.’ To put it simply, Web 2.0 may be understood as a many-way participative environment rather than just one way non- participative electronic environment controlled by the author. The difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 can also be better understood with examples of Britannica Online (Web 1.0) and Wikipedia (Web 2.0). Both are online encyclopedias but one is non-editable compiled by experts while the other is within the editing reach of people.

Some Web 2.0 sites comprise social networking sites such as Orkut, Twitter, Facebook, Skype where the users share audios, videos, pictures, texts etc. Friends on such sites are free to blog or edit the pages created by each other. It gives them a chance to interact through online threaded forums and also to create, in contrast to websites where users are restricted only to passive viewing of material created by others. Using such popular sites as these brings a motivated excitement to the class as the distance that many a time separates the teacher and the taught gets reduced. Together they can ‘domesticate’ the computer (Bigum, 2002) and create a learning community that may focus on collaborative and reflective practices.

Web 2.0 and Language Teaching

Language teachers seem very enthusiastic to take on the opportunities introduced by the Internet for collaborative teaching and learning. They  are now pretty familiar with tools such as e-mail, discussion forums, blogs, and chats and are using them as per their own comprehension but most teachers are not yet familiar with some of the recent tools such as wikis, RSS feeds and second life. Here I would like to illustrate the use of technology to teach / learn language through various technological tools. However, to use these tools one needs to register on these sites. After registering, one can click on RSS feeds icon to get latest feeds in one’s mail. As a teacher of English, one can use those RSS feeds as reading material and ask students to comment on a particularly interesting one. This can happen online or in class where learners can have a discussion (a real speaking task) on what they have read. Another tool is using forums in the class where all students get a chance to express themselves. For example the teacher could post a thread on homophones explaining what a homophone is and then give them a task of showing comprehension of the term by writing a humorous conversation where people get confused about what is happening because of the homophones. Online game forum can also be used to play language games with learners. For example a game such ‘Truth- Untruth’ can be very interesting. The teacher could write three pieces of information about him/herself, one of which may be incorrect. The students are then required to guess which piece of information is not correct and give reasons for their answers/comments. This kind of activity not only works as an ice-breaker but also generates lot of language.

Appel (1995) advocates keeping a learning journal or a diary which promotes an active form of reflection, introspection and self-evaluation. Keeping on-line journals (Towndrow, 2004) that includes notes, descriptions, reflection and evaluation would allow conditions for interaction and collaboration.  In accordance with this it may be fair to say that keeping a student blog or a class blog would also serve a similar purpose.  Teachers can take any burning issue such as ‘environment’, ‘honour killing’ etc. and post it on the classroom blog and give student a time frame to complete the assignment. Teachers may also decide to give such tasks in groups. The participants in groups may be given different roles to complete the task- readers, thinkers, compilers and writers. This will compel them to think, read and then write. Together they can present an online essay to the   teacher who can comment on the essays received. One good blogging site for this is https://www.blogger.com/start. Using Adobe Dreamweaver, teachers can also create their own blogging website on which they can have links to some famous blogs. These websites function as classroom blogs that can also be used to promote creativity in students. They can be encouraged to write poems, stories, jokes, one act plays on the blog that can have hyperlinked buttons leading to different topics. I would also like to discuss how emailing is being used as a potent communication tool for establishing ‘key pal’ forum for international collaboration between teachers and students. Key pal projects encourage development of writing skills in learners wherein they send mail to their key pals and get to know about them, their culture, and their country and in the process improve their reading and writing skills know about them, their culture, and their country and in the process improve their reading and writing skills. Besides language skills, this kind of multi-user environment encourages learner autonomy and promotes collaborative experiences, language negotiation and critical thinking skills in the learners. Nagelhout (1999) suggests that students should look at the Internet as a valued resource for potential learning material and they should feel comfortable multi-tasking with other users.

Conclusion

To sum up, I would like to maintain that using web resources in the classroom is very exciting and useful. At the hands of an imaginative, motivated teacher, technology can do wonders and can bring a positive change in the attitude and classroom behaviour of learners. However, teachers whether they are using read only sources or Web 2.0 sources, need to be watchful about the sites they are using. They need to evaluate the site themselves before recommending it to the learners. Moreover they should be vigilant about how the internet resources are being used by the learners and take steps to ensure their safety from the cyber stalkers. Learners should be given a complete orientation in the net etiquettes and in using these resources to their advantage.

Works Cited

  1. Appel, J., Diary of a language teacher. Oxford: Heinemann ,1995
  2. Bigum, C.,“Design sensibilities, schools and the new computing communication technologies.”  In Silicon literacies, Communication, Innovation and Education in the Electronic Age. ed. I. Snyder. London: Routledge, 2002. 130–40
  3. Lankshear, C., I. Snyder, and B. Green. Teachers and technoliteracy. Managing literacy, technology and learning in schools, St  Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2000
  4. Luke, C. “Cyber-schooling and technological change: Multiliteracies for new times”. In Multiliteracies. Literacy learning and the design of social futures, ed. B. Cope and M.Kalantzis, South Yarra, Australia: Macmillan. 2000. 69–91.
  5. Millard, E. “Towards a literacy of fusion: New times, new teaching and learning?” Reading, Literacy and Language 37(2003): 1: 3–8.
  6. Nagelhout, E. “Pre-professional practices in the technical writing classroom: promoting multiple literacies through research.” Technical Communication Quarterly 8(1999): 3:1057-2252.
  7. Ramsey, G. Quality matters. Revitalising teaching: Critical times, critical choices. Sydney: New South Wales Department of Education and Training, 2000.
  8. Towndrow, P. “Reflections of an on-line tutor.” ELT Journal 58(2004):2: 174–181.

Vandana Lunyal is a teacher educator in the Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh.

* Article first published in FORTELL Sep 2010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *