Virtual Learning and Training

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Teaching and Learning with Drupal
Meredith Farkas, Norwich University

Transferring face-to-face classes straight to online classes doesn’t work. They are boring. Something is lost in translation?

What gets lost is the before- & after-class interaction; the in-class interaction; this hasn’t always been transferred to online learning.

Web 2.0 ideas for the classroom.

  • age of participation
  • the wisdom of crowds
  • social constructivism
  • instructor is facilitator; everyone learns, even the instructor

Meredith used Drupal, an OS CMS, in her instruction, instead of the school’s current learning management system.

  • multiple blogs
  • wikis
  • forums
  • static html
  • lots of options available in Drupal

She has taught three semesters of classes online so far. The important part has been the class participation, and the commenting that has gone on in the class.

Why blogs?

  • faculty communication with students — “housekeeping” category posts
  • familiar medium
  • builds student sense of ownership over the medium (with forums, you don’t own the space; you just post there; with own blog, it’s your space)
  • community-building: students interacted and connected online, much more human medium where they be themselves, informal.
    • “this was probably the most engaging class i’ve taken because were were required to interact with each other every week…” –comment from student
  • Reflective learning: reflect on the experience of reading, process it, and write about how it affects you. Reflect on other discussions.
  • Discussion and debate: when you have to critique or justify your ideas, you are able to start to clarify your own ideas better and own them.
  • Writing in public: gain experience writing for an outside audience, while in school, not just your class reading your stuff; professional blogging beginning already
  • Everyone is teacher and learner: reading and teaching not as important as the conversations that went on in the class, so everyone learns and teaches.

Blogs can:

  • promote critical and reflective thinking
  • enable collaboration and knowledge-saharing
  • create an informal environment for student discussion and community-building
  • encourage dialogue and debate
  • encourage students to teach as well as learn and co-construct their learning experience

Using blogs for teaching brings in much more real-world experience.

Blogging at the American University in Cairo
Joan Petit, Portland State University

Worked at the American University in Cairo for two years.

It’s a US-accredited institution; has a required info lit class; mostly Egyptians; English as 2nd or 3rd language; no libraries there; no critical thinking taught in high school; no research papers in class before college. This situation presents challenges for the information literacy course that’s required.

OLD LALT 101 class

  • research project
  • Quizzes — graded automatically
  • WebCT
  • PowerPoints — instructor would read through the slides
  • 20% increase from pre- to post-test
  • Light workload for librarians; not much prepwork

New LALT 101: class wiki

  • Strict attendence — if you came to class & did the assignments, you’d pass.
  • Easier to pass
  • All students had to blog
    • weekly posts
    • assigned topics
    • political blogging in Egypt
    • Final project in blog — just a blog entry
    • Student Blog #1
    • Student Blog #2
      • Students could have public or private blogs

WordPress blogs resulted in for staff:

  • near-disaster
  • platform is not-so-simple
  • technology issues
  • instructors thought the students hated it

Student feedback

  • they loved the blogging.
  • the instructors couldn’t back off the blogging approach because the students hated taking the rest of the class. Since they bought into the blogging portion of the class, it had to remain.

The Lessons

  • Looking good on paper isn’t enough
  • Take advantage of key moments
  • Own your disasters
  • Define success
  • The most exciting technology isn’t always the best for users
  • Ill-considered hastily implemented can be a great success: if this had gone before a committee, it wouldn’t have happened.

Comments at the End

Meredith: students felt ownership of their classroom through the online structure of the class.

Joan: you find the technology that works for the students, play around with it, even with engineering students.

Meredith: so many different ways to engage your students in learning; you just have to find ways to engage the students so that they learn.

Joan: hear what the students are saying in response to what’s being used.

Meredith: how to get students to comment on each other’s stuff? not sure if an environment caused this or if it was the students themselves.

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