Despite the wide availability of technology, educational institutions have not provided adequate training to support innovative teaching practices (Pachler & Daly, 2011). If e-learning is to fulfill its potential as a collaborative learning tool, then instructors must take the lead in developing their competencies with regard to e-learning technologies.
When teaching an online class, it is important to make use of e-learning technologies that will engage learners and create a sense of social presence within the learning environment. By taking advantage of available technologies, instructors can instigate peer assessment, cultivate a learner-centered environment, craft interactive lessons, demonstrate the use of applications, encourage peer interaction, and provide rich-media feedback to students. Classroom Salon, Edublogs, Soft Chalk, ScreenCastify, Facebook, and electronic feedback are technologies that support such innovative practices. They can be used in any online class to foster an interactive learning environment and build relationships between instructors and students as well as students and their peers.
As Kaufer, Gunawardena, Tan, and Cheek (2011) explained in their research, Classroom Salon is a social media application designed to facilitate the formation of social networks among students of writing. The technology was inspired by historical salons, which were frequently sites of learning in addition to being social spaces. Historical salons fostered intellectual development over social advancement, bringing different classes of people together to pursue the common cause of self-development. In Classroom Salon, students participate in social networks as annotators of their peers’ written work, developing communities centered around texts.
The main features of Classroom Salon are the annotation tool, which students use to mark up and comment on the writing of their peers, and the visualization of annotation behavior via “hotspots” in the text. When a particular section of text is frequently annotated, this information is available to both instructors and students so that they can get a sense of the community’s interests and concerns with respect to a piece of writing.
Kaufer et al. (2011) noted that students in classes using Classroom Salon made better use of discussion time and read texts more carefully than students in classes without this technology.
Although their research is limited by small populations, Kaufer et al. (2011) maintain that Classroom Salon has the potential to “give every student agency and presence in the classroom” (p. 316). If this potential is fulfilled, Classroom Salon would constitute an indispensable tool for online classes.
Students enrolled in online classes are inevitably isolated from the instructor and their peers unless appropriate technologies are employed to create a sense of social presence. By focusing on the written word—already a common practice in many online classes—Classroom Salon maintains the student-content relationship while simultaneously expanding opportunities for interaction and personal expression. Students in Kaufer et al.’s (2011) study reported a high degree of social rapport with their classmates, pride in their contributions to class discussion, and a strong sense of peers’ identities gained solely through annotation styles.
And if that wasn’t enough, Classroom Salon is as easy to use as Facebook.
The blog is a Web 2.0 technology that became popular in the late 1990s. Blogs, in their simplest form, are web pages that contain a series of “posts”—by one author or many—resembling newspaper articles or diary entries. Students make posts using a web interface known as a dashboard. Editing posts after they have been published is as easy as clicking a link.
Using blogs in the classroom allows instructors and students to: (a) share class materials, such as homework assignments; (b) integrate rich media, such as audio and video, in their posts; (c) comment on student work, such as draft versions of assignments or finished products; (d) reflect on learning experiences; (e) collaborate on class projects; and (f) assess learning by using the blog as an e-portfolio.
Shana and Abulibdehb (2015) showed that blogs were viewed positively by students required to maintain one and that blogs were an effective means of enhancing student learning. Students who maintained blogs critically engaged the course content and were able to place their learning in a wider context.
Blogs can help move a classroom toward the ideal of a learner-centered environment in which students take responsibility for their learning and strengthen their identities as a result. This move is especially important in an online classroom where there is little to no contact between instructors and students or students and their peers. Without some means of interacting with each other, students cannot form a community of inquiry and become creators of knowledge. The benefits of such a community are that students improve their reading and writing skills and learn how to critique others’ work.
Blogs simplify the process of forming a community of inquiry by including the ability to comment on each post. The instructor may be required to teach students how to create meaningful content and provide effective feedback to their peers, but the time spent on such preliminary activities is well worth it in the long run.
Soft Chalk is an e-learning design tool that allows instructors to easily produce interactive lessons for their online classes. Essentially, Soft Chalk is an HTML editor with features that assist in the creation of educational content. It is easy to learn and integrates with almost any learning management system.
With Soft Chalk instructors can create: (a) “QuizPoppers,” or pop-up quizzes, to assess student learning as they are navigating the content; (b) “TextPoppers,” or textual annotations, to define key terms or provide further information on a topic; (c) embedded activities and games, including flash cards, sorting, and crossword puzzles; (d) rich media, such as images, audio, and video; (e) web widgets to enhance the functionality of the lesson, such as polls and slide shows.
Student engagement is a problem in online classes where aninstructor is minimally present. However, by using Soft Chalk to create interactive course content, students can engage with the material in ways that enhance their learning.
ScreenCastify is an audio and video recording tool for the Chrome web browser. It is not specifically an e-learning tool, but it can still be used to enhance any online class. It allows instructors to record their desktop, their web browser tabs, or even themselves and export the results to YouTube or a video file. From there instructors can either insert the video file on a web page or embed a link to the YouTube video into any learning management system.
This technology is important for two reasons: (a) it gives instructors a means of demonstrating tasks within their institution’s learning management system and (b) it helps instructors establish a sense of presence within the online classroom. Demonstrating tasks instead of just describing them is an important step for any instructor to take when diversifying their teaching strategies, and being “present” in the online classroom, even asynchronously, allows for a connection to form between the instructor and his or her students.
Facebook is a social media platform that has over a billion monthly active users. Each user is given a timeline that keeps track of his or her activity on Facebook. You can fill up your timeline with status updates, text, images, audio, video, links to other sites. Facebook encourages users to make their timeline a record of important events in their lives.
Almost anything posted to the site can be “liked” or commented on by other users with the simple click of a button. Additionally, users can “friend” the people they wish to stay informed about. The Facebook news feed features posts from the people you have added to your friends list as well as posts from users whose content you have liked in the past.
Of more interest to educators is the fact that Facebook allows users to create “pages” about virtually any subject. These pages can be public or private, individual efforts or collaborative projects.
Facebook pages make it easy for instructors to set up social media spaces for their classes. Students are probably already on Facebook and likely know how to use it, so getting them set up to use your new page should be a breeze.
Some possible instructor uses for the class page:
- Post extra credit assignments
- Start a discussion on the current lesson
- Share last minute updates
- Ask students for progress reports
- Learn more about students and their interests
Some possible student uses for the class page:
- Publish class work to receive feedback from peers
- Connect with other students
- Form study groups with classmates
- Post summaries of what they’ve read for class
- Ask for help on an assignment
- Play educational games
A social media platform like Facebook can improve e-learning because it already delivers an informal learning experience to its users. Students learn about each other using Facebook’s features and have fun while doing it, so why not use Facebook to direct their informal learning experiences toward course content? Doing so would allow students to see that learning is a part of their everyday lives (Musbahtiti & Muhammad, 2015).
Electronic feedback is any form of feedback that is delivered by means of an electronic communication medium (e.g., e-mail, recorded speech, video file). In an online class, electronic feedback is the most important—and sometimes the only—way that an instructor communicates with his or her students. Walter, Ortbach, and Niehaves (2015) examined the perceived usefulness of feedback in relation to its format and discovered that text-based feedback is perceived by its receivers as much less useful than audio- or video-based feedback.
Walter et al. (2015) explained that feedback format influences perceived social presence. The higher the degree of perceived social presence, the higher the perceived usefulness of the feedback received. In order for instructors to make an impact on student learning, relationships must be developed. In a face-to-face environment relationships develop because the students and the instructor are in close proximity. Online relationships are harder to develop because they are mostly asynchronous. However, the creation and maintenance of such relationships is facilitated by the social cues present in rich media feedback.
In conclusion, e-learning technologies have made it possible for instructors to build online classes that are both engaging and include a sense of social presence. Opportunities for engagement and indications of social presence are essential to ensuring the best learning outcomes for students. By utilizing the technologies outlined in this presentation, instructors will be able to supplement traditional text-based learning with tools that will produce engaged students who are responsible for creating knowledge instead of merely digesting it.
Kaufer, D., Gunawardena, A., Tan, A., & Cheek, A. (2011). Bringing social media to the writing classroom: Classroom Salon. Journal of Business & Technical Communication, 25(3), 299–321. doi: 10.1177/1050651911400703
Leibold, N., & Schwarz, L. M. (2015). The art of giving online feedback. Journal of Effective Teaching, 15(1), 34–46. Retrieved from http://uncw.edu/cte/et/
Musbahtiti, K., & Muhammad, A. (2013). Improvement quality of LMS through application of social networking sites. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 8(3), 48–51. doi: 10.3991/ijet.v8i3.2669
Pachler, N., & Daly, C. (2011). Key issues in e-learning: Research and practice. London, England: Continuum.
Shana, Z. A., & Abulibdehb, E. S. (2015). Engaging students through blogs: Using blogs to boost a course experience. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 10(1), 30–38. doi: 10.3991/ijet.v10i1.4240
Walter, N., Ortbach, K., & Niehaves, B. (2015). Designing electronic feedback – Analyzing the effects of social presence on perceived feedback usefulness. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 76, 1–11. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2014.12.001