The Center for the Study of Teaching and Writing sponsored the Digital Media in a Social World February 20, 2009. I had agreed to participate in a faculty panel on using technology in the classroom. However, just days before the conference, Dr. D’Arcy Oaks and I learned that we were the only ones who were actually planning to be there. We decided present highlights of our ideas regarding teaching with with technology rather than be a panel of two.

During the past half decade I have taught as often in digital classrooms as I have in traditional classrooms. Concurrent with a broadening of the definition of classroom within education the range of technological tools involved has expanded as well. Though the location of my courses has shifted from physical space to cyberspace, my goals of facilitating student engagement with content and building communities of practice have not changed.

Lave and Wenger (1991) maintain that learning is situated within communities of practices. They assert as well that learning extends from varied participation in dynamic social practices. Creating community is as important in teaching online as it is in the onsite classroom. Web 2.0 tools allow educators to construct course infrastructures that facilitate development of communities of practice.

Though students have varied access to social interaction through cyberspace. Most students who enter the university have some expectation of interaction with digital technologies within the course of their collegiate academic experiences. Many students are already collaborating with others informally outside the purview of their formal classroom instruction (Winterwood, 2008). These endeavors take many forms and are related to a variety of pursuits related to both formal and informal educational interests. Though many university students will have at least some familiarity with digital interfaces and networked environments, it is important to provide scaffolding for for all students within the infrastructure of the course to enable them to use the technologies involved in the course in ways that enable them to function effectively within the course’s community of practice.

It is possible for educators to create a digitally networked infrastructure within a course using readily available online tools to facilitate cultivation of learning communities of practice. Creating such a course infrastructure takes some planning and practice in facilitating but can be well worth the effort. Without incorporating various forms of interactivity within online courses instruction may end up mirroring the worst of traditional teacher-centered pedagogy. Many courses which only incorporate web 1.0 tools lack interactivity among participants. Web 1.0 tools are great for allowing students to move from being content consumers to content creators. However, it is also important for faculty planning courses to create an online environment which facilitates cultivation of learning communities of practice as well.

It is important that pedigogical choices drive technological choices so that the technologies can enable the pedigogies faculty choose to enact. Once a faculty member has a vision for how she/he wants to teach the course it is possible to create a course structure that enables that plan.

One strategy for creating a course infrastructure designed to facilitate development of a learning community of practice is to incorporate both synchronous and asynchronous forms of interaction. Though there are many tools available I will only cover a few here.

  • An OSU course could be grounded in Carmen. This is a secure site and all correspondence with regard to sensitive information (like grades) can occur through it. Among the many tools available within Carmen, instructors can post messages or various files for download, students can turn in assignments to take quizzes. Carmen also has a wiki that can be used as a collaborative tool and it also has a chat function for basic synchronous interactivity.
  • TELR is hosting an Elluminate pilot. Elluminate is a wonderful synchronous communication tool for hosting group conversations and facilitating workgroup meetings.
  • OSU has a campus on iTunes U. It is possible to podcast lectures or other activities and post them to iTunes for students to download.
  • TELR has been exploring teaching in Second Life. There is a fairly steep learning curve associated with teaching in Second Life, but it is an interesting medium for interacting in cyberspace.
  • Blogging and student commentary within their peers’ blogs may provide an avenue for asynchronous interaction.
  • Google docs or Carmen wiki provide collaborative workspace.
  • Students may host their own digital media productions on a variety of sites including OSU’s media manager, flikr, teachertube, youtube, etc. Students may embed digital media they host elsewhere in their blogs.
  • Video conferencing using polycoms, or VoIP applications like skype, or dimdim is possible.
  • To include non-OSU students in maybe a workshop type course Moodle is a possibility in some colleges.
  • It is possible to hold group chats at tappedin.org.
  • Nings social networking spaces within which it is possible to blog, have discussions, etc.
  • IM chats and conversations allow for small group or individual conversations
  • del.icio.us provides an opportunity for social bookmarking, sharing internet bookmarks
This list is by no means exhaustive. Plus, this post is much too long already… so I will wrap it up here and post more about this topic later.