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Posts Tagged ‘community’

Online personal portal environments have immense potential in education for a whole host of uses.

Three of the best known online portal tools are:

You can see comprehensive notes about online portals, and Netvibes in particular, from ‘Click On‘ by the BBC/Open University.

Firstly, they are an invaluable way to categorize and organize content of interest if you are a learner. You can place common items on the same page and categorize using understandable names. The content can come from any source that has an RSS feed, which delivers any changes straight to your particular portal page. This saves you lots (and we mean LOTS) of time and effort locating new content of interest to you. This has to be one of THE most useful tools for learners out there and it’s a mystery why more aren’t using them.

This has suddenly turned into a very useful research tool for your studies. Not only can you pull in relevant external reference content, you can also access all your own produced content. This means you can categorize content into separate sections for your different study areas. Then under the relevant section you can pull in all your bookmarks from your preferred social bookmarking tool, along with other content you’ve produced elsewhere; be that reflections or notes you’ve blogged, videos you’ve produced and hosted on YouTube (or elsewhere), your online lab notebook wiki, etc.

You can keep this content in your online portal personal, or (and this is a really good bit) you can share it with others. This means that portals can be used by educators to deliver relevant, topical content to a group of learners. Will Richardson has written about this in his Weblogg-ed blog. You can see how this can be used solely by the instructor educator or as a group resource with the ability for any of the group to add additional content feeds.

Extending this concept further, portals can easily be developed as the hub of content for a community to share resources.

I’ve been working for a while on the use of personal portals from a social education perspective. I played around by developing the uostech portal pages as a hub for Users of Scholarship Technology. I used this as an experimentation and research platform to ‘play’ around with how Web2.0 tools could be loosely harnessed for learning, teaching and research. I presented the uostech concept with a colleague at a Research 2.0 Workshop at the NCeSS Forth International Conference on e-Social Science, Manchester, UK, 18-20 June 2008. A slidecast of the presentation is available online.

By writing this post and working on uostech I realise that there is much more to be done with using online portal tools and I will develop more examples.

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The concept of a Learning Community for Students (LCS) parallels and links to the idea of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). The PLE envisages learners exploiting existing services to enhance their learning process. I’ve witnessed directly this happening as some of the more ‘tech savvy’ students harness the advantages of Web2.0 technologies. Whilst the services provided by these Web2.0 technologies aren’t necessarily directly aimed at education, they do provide many opportunities for personal organization of tasks that are directly beneficial for institutionalized learning. So one element of what the vision for LCS wants to achieve is to consider how a student body as a community can corral existing services to directly benefit learning as a whole, through coordination of technology not centrally provided by an institution.

Key to the LCS philosophy is the idea that students must now develop their skills to enable them to rapidly make use of new technologies as they emerge to meet their needs in different areas of their learning and social activities. It is believed that students who develop additional skills to use technology beyond institutional provision are more open to further learning opportunities, placing the them at a distinct advantage over their peers. So they need to engage with the idea of using a technology for a limited period and adapting to newer, more useful technologies as appropriate. This is why a community approach is essential; no one individual is capable of identifying the tools of most use to his/her activities any more, and by sharing experiences with the rest of a learning community everyone should benefit. (This community approach can be witnessed already succeeding in many areas of Web2.0 technology.) So the community would share information about what tools are useful, explanations of how to use the tools at the basic level, and also examples of how tools can or have been used for learning or research.

Also, arguably the complexity of these technologies is increased for the individual, which can be overwhelming; it is hoped that by structuring an LCS with an intuitive front end some of these feeling can be alleviated, (and also some of the seduction of the technology at the expense of deep level learning sometimes encountered by the more tech savvy students can be tempered). Therefore, it is envisaged that through an LCS students will empower themselves to use informal learning resources beyond what is provided by a university. This develops an emphasis centred on the individual learner’s needs and capabilities of a student, provides accessible learning opportunities without time and place constraints, prioritizing of the social elements of learning by using effective tools aligned to existing behaviour, and continuation and consistency of resources beyond graduation. It is also debated that a shift towards personal ownership of technology increases engagement and alleviates problems of accessibility, usability, learner mobility and pedagogical integration. This is a departure from the traditional approach where institutions coordinate the infrastructure of learning technology for use by the learner. And for an LCS to be successful it must provide a means of accessing and harnessing Web2.0 in a way that matches students’ existing patterns.

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