Technology tools, especially social software, provide the means to support relationship building, engagement, critical thinking, and co-reflection that extend beyond the time and space of the physical classroom. With training and technical support, students can converse, innovate, and collaborate in interactive virtual learning spaces. The persistent conversations and artifacts that remain provide opportunities for sustained critical thinking and reflection that face-to-face communication alone does not. Creating conditions to improve the use of technology for communication and learning is an important research as well as pedagogical goal. I make extensive use of online materials, social software, and online class spaces to support learning. I hope this also saves trees. Over time, students use the technology in creative ways not required by the courses.
Moodle/D2L for Course Administration and Forums
Moodle is the free, open source course management system that I use for course administration and student forum postings. Moodle's flexibility allows me to adapt my courses to the needs and skills of different classes. Students submit assignments in Moodle, and I post grades and comments on their private Moodle pages. Moodle also houses the online discussion and help forums. Class members are notified by email when there is a new forum posting.
PBworks and Wetpaint Wikis for Class Interaction
Cloud-based wikis -- PBworks wiki and Wetpaint Wiki -- allow the creation of web pages that multiple people can edit, encouraging collaborative writing and idea sharing. Both have useful plugins such as spreadsheets, chat rooms, shared calendars, and YouTube widgets. I use these wikis to post reference notes, handouts, and webliographies for further exploration. Students also use them to brainstorm and report on findings of small group work. Recording ideas and activities publicly provides a basis for further reflection and a record for students who miss a class. A lightweight chat widget, Yaplet, embedded in a wiki page, is used for simulated chat reference interviews and virtual classes. Altogether, these pages represent a growing class knowledge base.
Students also have individual wiki pages to use as they wish. Some students have posted answers to their search exercises and other assignments to share with the class. Others have used the class wiki to record notes and drafts of assignments. Members of project teams and research teams have used the class wiki to collaborate on their projects - to arrange meetings, schedules, tasks, and responsibilities. They have also used the wiki to collaborate on writing their final reports, as well as preparing their final presentations.
Other Social Software for Web 2.0 Experience
My classes use a range of online tools for communication, collaboration, presentation, social networking, personal productivity, and web creation (e.g., MediaWiki, WordPress, Dimdim, Netvibes, Google Docs, Google Groups, Delicious, Yaplet, Tal.ki). These tools provide students with hands-on experience to help them understand the basics of Library 2.0 and Web 2.0 applications and to see the potential for use in their future professional lives.
Netvibes for Cross-Class Resource Sharing
I use Netvibes as a common portal for news and resources for all my classes. Each current class has a tabbed page with essential class links and resources, and there are general pages with links to well-used library and institutional resources, citation styles guides, online collections, technology tools, and selected news feeds.