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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 6: internet skills and tools – sussing the search algorithms

This week of the POT Cert course sees a move away from the course textbook, for the time being at least, to focus on internet skills and tools. As such, I’ve refreshed my fledgling knowledge of HTML (it’s true – just take a look in the page source code), over hauled my RSS feeds in Google Reader, embedded a video in this blog post, and I’ve also taken the Internet Skills Quiz where I scored 11/12. Yes I confess, I can’t name the device that connects your computer to the internet via cable or DSL (like what’s DSL in the first place??). It’s this aspect of internet skills that’s had me thinking this week, especially as the purpose of this week’s post is to “find a video on YouTube […] that teaches something from your class or that teaches you something about teaching online. [And] embed it in your post and comment on it”.

So here it is, despite the ubiquity of access to videos on YouTube, and the fact that for the 3rd consecutive year YouTube was rated 2nd in the influential Top 100 Tools for Teaching and Learning Survey, I have to say that generally I’ve tended to avoid searching for video content on the platform because I just can’t abide the amount of time it takes to find something of real relevance and quality. Typing search criteria into YouTube is like searching for a needle in a haystack, the eager anticipation when you hit the play button, followed by the disappointment 30 seconds later when you realise you’ve selected a turkey. As a consequence, I recently (very recently) set about the task of getting myself  better able to find relevant quality content within YouTube, which incidentally is more like the kind of Internet skill I’m after.

Usually, I just haphazardly favourite videos that I come across, often in other resources. But the question is, how might I better find these video gems for myself? Well, first off it transpires that Google operates YouTube’s search function, which means that it’s possible to search the site more strategically by using Google’s advanced search operators, but even so, you still need to have an understanding of how Google’s search engine works in order to effectively evaluate the results of your search. For example, Google ranks pages based on a technical algorithm that determines the number of links to a page matching a particular search term, and then again to the number of links that in turn link to those pages. However, because the term that I’m interested in, ‘digital literacies’,  signals different things to different people, results are often still of little relevance, so it’s  here that I need to deploy my own agent-based or social algorithms in order to better evaluate the search results. That is, via social networks make use of people or groups of people to guide me to useful resources and also, based on the demands of the particular circumstance, intelligently apply my own mental processes to the results. Agent-based algorithms take account of multifaceted information and  ‘fuzzy logic’, and social algorithms help form not only relationships with data but also relationships with trusted people.

Consequently, the video that I’ve chosen to embed here is based on such a search. I’ve come across the work of the video’s producer before, and it accords well with my take on digital literacies.

Digital Literacies by Lou McGill