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Month: October 2012

POT Cert Week 9: group activities for students and social bookmarking

I have to say that I enjoyed reading Chapter 7: Student Activities in the Online Environment and got quite excited by the long list of student activities that Ko and Rossen provide:

  • role playing and simulations
  • summaries and consensus groups
  • experience-based practicum or lab assignment
  • reflective activities
  • just discussion
  • scenarios and case studies
  • peer editing and review
  • peer activities involving guest speakers
  • cross cultural exchanges
  • using the web as a resource

I know I was only expected to read as far as “Reflective Activities”, but I got carried away.

The chapter was also very good in providing solid advice for organising, supervising and assessing group activities. I’m particularly interested to learn how to facilitate effective group activities that prove to be satisfying for all concerned. In my experience of group work, there’s usually some element that doesn’t sit right for someone. Ko and Rossen advocate that it’s “best for the instructor to play a role in dividing students into groups” (p.176) and they further advocate that the online tutor provide some level of supervision to the group. This is to “encourage participation by all group members and ensure that an individual’s contributions to the group are recognized” (p.179).

I recall reading an article earlier in the course, which explained that the key to successful group work is to “design tasks that are truly collaborative, meaning the students will benefit more from doing the activity as a group than doing it alone”. Now, if only I could locate that article…

Continuing on, it was recommended that this week’s post might be about our experiences trying one of the tools for students’ activities, Diigo for example.

I would categorise Diigo as a social bookmarking tool, but the official blurb insists that it’s so much more:

  • A Personal Research Tool
  • A Collaborative Research Platform
  • A Social Content Site
  • A Knowledge-Sharing Community

Although I’m not new to social bookmarking, I’ve only recently become a user of Diigo. I previously started using Delicious, but my bookmarks got wiped out when they were taken over by… heaven knows who. So I’ve just started all over again, but this time with Diigo, and with a few lessons learnt. I use Diigo as my primary social bookmark service and have it automatically export my bookmarks to Delicious, so I now have a backup in case something similar happens again. This is one of the potential pitfalls of using proprietary platforms on the open web. It’s great whilst its working, but you need to have a back up plan for your data if things go wrong. Indeed, only last week Diigo suffered some kind of hacker-attack and the site was down or subverted for a while.

Diigo has the potential to be used not only for bookmarking (social or not), but also for group work by students. This might include peer editing and review activities or indeed facilitating summary and consensus group activities.

Eureka! I just found that article: how to design effective online group work activities.


Bart, M. (2010) How to Design Effective Online Group Work Activities. Available at:

POT Cert Week 8: creating community, plus a whole lot more, with Twitter.

This week, to develop the topic of building community, POT Cert continued to read Ko and Rossen, Chapter 6: Building an Online Classroom, and went on to consider the actuality of using technology to build such community. Considered technologies included not only the LMS, but a range of synchronous and audio technologies. Further reading was also indicated with Envisioning the post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network (Mott, 2010), and it’s Mott’s article, together with the technology of Twitter, that I wish to expand upon in this post.

Twitter can be used to form connections and to create community, and as I mentioned in my post last week, it can be used as a tool for professional development and as a tool for teaching and learning. In contrast to the concept of learning within a “walled” LMS, Twitter fits well with the notion of open learning and with the idea of learning as actualised through a personal learning environment [PLE]. Moves away from the LMS are being mooted because patterns of usage suggest they’re primarily being used for the purpose of administrative efficiency rather than as a platform for substantive teaching and learning activities. A PLE, as opposed to the “vertically integrated and institutionally centralized” LMS, combines small pieces of the open web to create connections for learning “free of the arbitrary constraints of matter, distance, and time” (Weinberger, 2002). Twitter can be one such piece within a PLE, or indeed be adjunct to a LMS based course.

Within this conception, Twitter can be used equally to facilitate and/or support learning: provisioning student-faculty connection, helping create a sense of community, assisting the discovery of relevant and up to date content, enhancing student engagement and connecting students and faculty alike with professional communities of practice (Dunlap and Lowenthal, 2009 and Ebner et al., 2010).

Admittedly, to anyone who’s never tried it Twitter appears frivolous and a distraction from “real work”, never mind to have any serious pedagogical properties. This is so wrong!

Let me show you how I began to realise the power of Twitter.

Yes, that’s frivolous alright!
But hang on, @timbuckteeth is Prof. Steve Wheeler.
Why’s he off to Budapest?
Research workshop?
Hyper-link to first report on the EDEN workshop.
European Distance and eLearning Network.

Here we can see that a 140 character “tweet” not only allows something very specific to be communicated but, with the insertion of a shortened hyper-link, permits the dissemination of detailed information. What’s more, it also acts as a mechanism through which individuals can create a “peephole” for others to gain an insight into everyday events and discover what’s inviting attention. So, self-disclosure of this nature, rather than simply being seen as a stream of mundane status updates, can be seen as a series of posts that represent an invitation to get to know the individual user and take part in interpreting their events (Oulasvirta, et al., 2010). This is probably what gives Twitter its trivial and lightweight image, but it is this very aspect that makes it so powerful for making connections and creating community.

Below are a selection of articles that hopefully will help to show how Twitter can be used to develop a personal learning network [PLN], connect with professional communities of practice and create a sense of community to leverage learning within an online class.

However before that, just a reminder that the hashtag for the Program for Online Teaching is #potcert, and to say that I’ve also started to create a list of POT Certers that are on Twitter.

  • Horton Hears a Tweet: in this article Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) explain how Twitter can enhance students’ experience in the online-education setting and attest that through microblogging and social networking activities facilitated by Twitter students and lecturers alike can build personal learning networks (PLNs) and as a result participate in professional communities of practice.
  • Twitteracy: very recent research paper that positions Twitter as a new literacy practice that promotes student engagement and improves learning.
  • Twitter hashtags in the classroom: blog post from George Couros explaining how he uses Twitter hashtags to connect to educators around the world and how hashtags can be used with classes to create community and leverage learning.


Weinberger, D. (2002) Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books

Dunlap, J.C. and Lowenthal, P. R. (2009). Horton Hears a Tweet. Educause Quarterly, 32 (4).

Ebner, M., Lienhardt, C., Rohs, M. and Meyer, I. (2010) Microblogs in Higher Education – A chance to facilitate informal and process-oriented learning? Computers & Education, 55(1), pp. 92-100.

Oulasvirta, A., Lehtonen, E., Kurvinen, E. and Raento, M. (2010) Making the ordinary visible in microblogs. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. Online first. Special issue on Social Interaction and Mundane Technologies. 14, pp. 237-249.

POT Cert Week 7: the online classroom – absent without leave

POT Cert Week 7 commenced on Sunday 14th October, and the topic was ‘Building Community in Your Online Classroom’. Having  been  tasked to create a post initiating a discussion about something that we’ve covered in the course so far, it constituted the first part of a two-week community-style discussion. However, I was away on a course last week and was unable to attend to my POT Cert studies; absent without leave no less!! This is a shame as I really believe that creating a sense of community is a vital aspect of learning, not just online learning.

Any how, I figure I’m not going to kick-off any further discussion at this stage but spend my time instead looking over the discussions already under way and offer comments where I feel that I can add something. I’ll consolidate my learning in my next blog post.

P.S In relation to Twitter and creating a community, or personal learning network, I’ve been using Twitter now for almost 2 years.  I started investigating it as a Masters student, both in terms of its potential for teaching and learning and as a tool for professional development. I have to say that Twitter really opens up a lot of opportunities and exposes you to what’s currently happening in your field.  Most definitely, it can be leveraged pedagogically as well.

I hope to see you on Twitter sometime. I’m @crumphelen and the POT Cert hashtag is #potcert.