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Emerging Practices Associated With The Use of Online Tools

In the past decade, how we tended to use the internet has significantly changed.  The early web was a destination - you went to the web to search, find and read information. Most individuals did not have the HTML coding skills to actually publish their own content on the web.

Look at how that has changed!  We live in an era where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is readily available and easily accessible - quite literally at our fingertips. Using devices from laptops to mobile phones, we can connect to the Internet from anywhere and in moments search for and find information that not only helps us answer questions, solve problems and complete tasks, but also entertains, inspires and confounds us. At the same time, the web has become a place where anyone with a computer and a connection to the Internet can readily publish text, images, audio and video. The web has become a space where human knowledge is stored, reshaped, accessed and redistributed. Information is abundant and knowledge has been set free.

In this new era, new practices have emerged in which anyone can engage:

  • Building Personal Profiles
  • Publishing Content
  • Commenting
  • Tagging
  • Sharing / Redistributing

Web sites are no longer static, many now give you and your students options for creating accounts and building an online identity.  Your students may already have an online profile created in Facebook or other social media websites.  There is now an expectation that you should be able to see a picture of the person with whom you are interacting, even though that picture might be an avatar or caricature.  This has implications for your online class.  First is how (or whether) you provide a profile of yourself to your students.  The Staff Information area of Blackboard makes this easy.  You can also add your own profile to social media sites that you use with your class.  The key is to be aware of the digital image you are placing on the web for your students to see.  Have you "Googled" your own name to see what students will see?  You can be sure that your students have googled you!

From modeling your own profile, it is a short step to having your students create their own profiles in Blackboard using the Homepage feature.  This opens up a creative opportunity for students and helps with building community.

The web has shifted from a "Read-Only" model to a "Read-Write" model.  Data from the EDUCAUSE ECAR study suggest that many students have established pages on social networking sites like Facebook, but do not see this as "publishing to the web."  Yet, that in fact is precisely what they are doing.  Having your students build on that by creating homepages in their classes and adding profiles to their wikis or blogs will sharpen this skill.

Many websites offer the option of adding comments to pages.  Whether you are viewing a blog, a newspaper webpage, pictures on Flickr, YouTube videos, powerpoints in Slideshare, or social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, you will find that not only is there the ability to comment but that many are actively doing so.  This has increased the social aspects of the web, as networks of like-minded individuals congregate together via loose social connections.

Tagging is another practice that has emerged.  Rather than following an established method of cataloging pictures, files, websites, or documents, individuals have begun applying their own tags to manage and categorize information.  Tags are chosen informally and help describe a website, image, video, blog, or any file so that the person applying the tag can search for and find this item sometime in the future.  By not using an established taxonomy, a folksonomy emerges - a term Thomas Vander Wal used to describe a people's taxonomy (Pink, 2005).

Pink noted that a folksonomy begins with tagging:

"On the Web site Flickr, for example, users post their photos and label them with descriptive words. You might tag the picture of your cat, "cat," "Sparky" and "living room." Then you'll be able to retrieve that photo when you're searching for the cute shot of Sparky lounging on the couch. If you open your photos and tags to others, as many Flickr devotees do, other people can examine and label your photos. A furniture aficionado might add the tag "Mitchell Gold sofa," which means that he and others looking for images of this particular kind of couch could find your photo. "People aren't really categorizing information," Vander Wal says. "They're throwing words out there for their own use." But the cumulative force of all the individual tags can produce a bottom-up, self-organized system for classifying mountains of digital material."

Some websites aggregate the tags people are using and display them as a tag cloud, such as this one from Flickr:

A recent report of an independent committee of inquiry into the impact on higher education of students’ widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies, Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, noted that the social web has had a profound effect on behaviors, particularly those of young people. The younger students inhabit it with ease and it has led them to a strong sense of communities of interest linked in their own web spaces, and to a disposition to share and participate.
This propensity to share is not without issues.  The ECAR study found that students' perceptions about their digital literacy were questionable, because students tended to not be aware of the complexities involved in technology.  The study suggested that the potential gap between actual and perceived skills and literacy is important to understand and factor into strategies for teaching and learning.

These emerging practices, if guided, can be useful in developing higher order thinking skills in our students. 

In the pages that follow in the Teaching Online Toolbox, we will explore specific tools that reinforce these emerging practices:












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Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 09/22/2009
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