header image

Using Facebook in the University Classroom

Posted by: lida | December 11, 2011 | No Comment |

While many college and university instructors have successfully used social media such as Facebook and Twitter, some important ethical issues may arise.  For example, many students use Facebook to communicate with family and friends and post personal photos they intend to share with an exclusive, select audience.  If Facebook is opened as a forum for course interaction, such as a Facebook course page, students’ personal lives may be opened to their fellow students, most of whom do not know one another (especially in a large lecture setting).  Instructors and other students might access personal photos and other media which could be used in unethical ways.

Luckily, these issues can be avoided with effective planning.  For example,class participants can create groups, whether whole class or small groups, without having to friend one another.  Another strategy would be to create a separate, “sterile” account just for classes or other formal interaction.  This account should be left devoid of personal content which could possibly be used against students.  Facebook can also be used an alternative course management system. For example, RSS newsfeeds can be used to update students on the latest class news, events can be scheduled, and course notes, homework, multimedia, or other important documents can be stored and easily accessed.  The Facebook course site can also be interlinked with a class blog or wiki to improve access to those resources.  Facebook can also become a forum for discussion through asynchronous posts or direct relay chat with the instructor and other students.  Like Twitter, Facebook also allows students who are less likely to speak up in class to express themselves –  but unlike Twitter, it allows them to do so at more length.  However, perhaps the best reason to integrate Facebook is that many students are familiar with its basic interface, and if they are not, it is quite easy to learn.  This allows the instructor to use it in class with minimal training required.  Also, as it is available through mobile phones as well, it helps to extend course accessibility.

I’ve included a link below that describes 100 ways Facebook can be used in class (some of which I’ve discussed above).


under: Social Media

Twitter in the University Classroom

Posted by: lida | December 9, 2011 | No Comment |

Over the last few years, educators have tried to harness the power of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to enhance students’ educational experiences.  I was interested to discover how teachers in adult and post-secondary education have attempted to integrate Web 2.0 technologies.   One interesting application I came across was Dr. Monica Rankin’s use of Twitter in a large (90 students) history class at the University of Texas – Dallas.  For Dr. Rankin, one of the key benefits of Twitter is its ability to involve large numbers of students in discussion of class material.  Whereas in a traditional setting, perhaps only four or five students would participate in discussion, using Twitter she was able to involve upwards of forty or fifty students during one class period.  Twitter’s anonymity encouraged more students to participate.  A second benefit is that the Twitter discussions are recorded and open to anyone.  As such, the Twitter posts constitute a learning artifact that contributes to the store of knowledge, history in this case.  People anywhere in the world can access these discussions and learn something new about the topic.  At the same time, the Twitter record also serves as an excellent study tool for students, as key course information is discussed therein.

Although the 140 characters can limit the depth of discussion, it can also help students be discriminating in the kind of supporting information they include, and get right to the core of their opinion.  The professor was also able to contribute to the class discussion remotely when she was away.

It was interesting to me to see how social media can be incorporated into a traditional university classroom to improve participation and engagement.  The more students are involved in the discussion, the more they get out of it.  At the same time, the collaborative nature of the media allowed students in a lecture theater to construct a learning artifact in the form of a Twitter discussion which they could subsequently use as a study tool.  I’m sure this is just one simple, yet effective use of the media, and it will be interesting to see how others have used it, whether alone or in conjunction with other Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs or wikis.



under: Social Media

Reading through George Siemens’ latest blog post, I was struck by the use of metaphor in conceptualizing learning and technology.  EdTech blogger Dave Cormier, drawing upon the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, has likened learning to rhizomes – the “stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads” (Cormier, 2011, November 5, para. 2).  Like rhizomes, ideas and learning are interconnected and branch off from one another in an organic, messy way.  According to Cormier, learners all come from diverse backgrounds and contexts, and we as teachers cannot assume we know what’s best for them.  The teacher should develop a context for multiple pathways of inquiry, just as the soil is the context for a root system, as it pushes deeper to gain nutrients.  For “rhizomists”, the traditional curriculum is too static, too fixed in time to be of use (Cormier, 2008).  Rhizomatic learning is “not driven by predefined inputs from experts”, but rather “constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions” (Cormier, 2008, p. 3).

In contrast, George Siemens prefers the “network” metaphor, which is criticized by Cormier as being too neat and tidy.  Siemens highlights the fact that rhizomes do not create new entities, but rather reproduce themselves.  Rhizomes are “diverse in shape and structure”, but “they are not diverse in substance” (Siemens, 2011, November 10, para. 5).  For Siemens, this detracts from the rhizome’s status as a metaphor for learning, as for him the purpose of learning is to create new knowledge and innovate, rather than to replicate earlier learning.  For this reason, he views networks as a more appropriate metaphor.  For “networkists”, knowledge consists of the connections between distinct entities.  Siemens argues that the contemporary period is defined by increasing specialization, and new knowledge occurs when different specializations collide and combine in new ways (Siemens, 2011, November 10).

I find interesting how EdTech theorists seek to leverage metaphors from the natural world to describe learning with technology.  It is almost taboo to be seen using a mechanical metaphor – the more biological the better.  There is an underlying assumption – an epistemological leap – that people must function like rhizomes (or some other specimen from the plant world), because we are also biologic.  This doesn’t detract from the use of the natural world as a model of the social world (this has been done for a long time), but it does make me curious to find out which tuber, tree, or particle will become the next metaphor for human learning.


Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate, 4(5). Retrived from http://innovateonline.info/pdf/vol4_issue5/Rhizomatic_Education-__Community_as_Curriculum.pdf

Cormier, D. (2011, November 5). Rhizomatic learning – Why we teach? [Weblog post]. Retrieved from http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/11/05/rhizomatic-learning-why-learn/

Siemens, G. (2011, November 10). Rhizomes and networks [Weblog post]. Retrieved from http://www.connectivism.ca/.


under: Connectivism

OER University

Posted by: lida | November 12, 2011 | No Comment |

Last week, I wrote about the advent of OpenCourseWare and some of the difficulties around accrediting open learning.  In a side conversation, Tricia brought to my attention an initiative currently under way which aims to do just that.  The OER University is “a sustainable international system which will provide free learning to all learners with pathways to gain academic credit from formal education institutions around the world” (Stacey, 2011, February 22, para. 5).  It is intended to be an alternative pathway to a higher education credential and to augment traditional provision.  The OER University is a partnership of universities, corporations, non-profits, governments, and international agencies (Stacey, 2011, February 22).

The model is basically as follows:  Different participating universities around the world constitute “OER University”.  OER University maintains a catalog of credit based OER that are approved by all constituent members, and a trans-national qualifications framework is used to rate these credits.  Instruction primarily consists of peer-to-peer tutoring rather than teacher-student interactions.  Students taking OER courses create portfolios that are assessed through PLAR assessment techniques.  Once the portfolios are assessed, credit can be transferred to an appropriate participating institution.  Once the degree is finished, the logo of all universities that assessed the student would be printed on the diploma (Stacey, 2011, February 22).

Some of the main benefits of this model include the removal of citizenship and residency requriements, continuous enrollment processes, use of flexible entry and exit points, and personalization of curriculum and program structure.  Some of the difficulties include developing internationally relevent course materials and implementing a valid international qualifications framework (Stacey, 2011, February 22).

When this initiative is realized, it will constitute a major contribution to the accessibility and personalization of higher education.  It is truly an amazing example of international cooperation and dedication to community service.  I’m sure it will experience some unforeseen difficulties once it goes operational, but it is the first (and only) model for accrediting open learning.  It is the starting point of a new chapter in higher education.


Stacey, P. (2011, February 22). Open Educational Resource University (OERU) [Blog].  Retrieved from http://edtechfrontier.com/2011/02/22/open-educational-resource-university-oeru/.

under: OER

The Learning Potential of OpenCourseWare

Posted by: lida | November 5, 2011 | No Comment |

As a follow up to my last post on open textbooks, I would now like to review current open source course and module initiatives – which I have discovered since starting this course.  MIT is generally credited with sparking the worldwide Open Educational Resources movement in 2001 when it announced it would upload its complete course catalog online (Guttenplan, 2010, November 1).  Since then, other major universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the Open University in the UK have opened a significant number of courses for public consumption.  Institutions around the world are now joining the movement (Guttenplan, 2010, November 1).  While the early development of OpenCourseWare was funded by foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, it has now reached a point where new directions are being sought, as private funding is seen as unsustainable in the long term (Guttenplan, 2010, November 1).

One of the main issues for OpenCourseWare has been that of accreditation and certification.  While open students can access courses for free, their learning is not accredited or certified.  It’s not something that could go on a transcript or a resume.  OpenCourseWare providers have viewed their offerings more as a study aid for students in related courses, or a “gateway to enrollment” (Guttenplan, 2010, November 1, para. 21).  For example, a student studying economics in Western Canada might access MIT’s course to supplement their own course, or someone not in higher education might choose to pursue a business degree after taking several open courses at the Open University.

The open module is another type of OER that is related to OpenCourseWare.  However, rather than offering a complete course in literature or history, it offers “educational material made of small knowledge chunks” that can be organized as “courses, books, reports, etc.” (Connexions, 2011, para. 1).  An excellent resource for module OERs is “Connexions” (www.cnx.org).  Connexions allows people to share and collaboratively create content in a range of subjects.

I believe the open course movement has tremendous potential for students and educators alike.  Teachers can access resources and share their own materials in easily searchable databases.  Free access to high-quality material “levels the playing field” and gives everyone the opportunity to learn and reach their potential.  The issue of quality still surfaces however, which is one reason students who take open courses are not awarded credit, even though they listen to the same lectures and take the same tests.  At some level, the institution that offers the course feels that free use does not offer the same quality as paying students receive.  This idea may partially stem from a bias towards online learning – that it is inherently cannot equal the face-to-face experience.  However, as open courses become more widespread, as well as online fee courses, education administrators will have to tackle the challenge of accreditation.


Connexions. (2011). Home Page. Retrieved from http://www.cnx.org.

Guttenplan, D. (2010, November 1). For exposure, universities put courses on the web. The New York Times [online], Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/world/europe/01iht-educLede01.html?pagewanted=all.


under: OER

The World of OER

Posted by: lida | October 28, 2011 | No Comment |

In this new series of blog posts I would like to review the world of Open Educational Resources (OERs).  OERs are part of a larger open access movement advocating the free and collaborative use of resources and practices.  OERs include not only textbooks, but also “full courses, course materials, modules, journals, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques that are critical in the learning environment” (Hane, 2009, para. 1).  The aim of this post is to discuss the objectives of the OER movement and examine some of the benefits it can offer educators at all levels.

OERs are based on the notion that “a central pillar of the academic community is its commitment to the free flow of information and ideas” (EDUCAUSE, 2009, para. 2).  This commitment to sharing gives rise to “a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go” (Cape Town Declaration, 2007, para. 1).  Educators have the opportunity to edit, adapt, and modify content according to their purposes, which allows them to tailor resources to their students’ needs.  Currently, the most widespread OER is the open textbook.

Anyone in college or university knows that textbooks are expensive.  The concept of open textbooks is to provide a peer reviewed, high quality, free web-based textbook to assist students in their learning.  As David Wiley notes in this YouTube video, even if their were no academic improvement between published and open textbooks, saving a student $200 would be worth it.

Open textbooks and other open materials typically involve four types of permissions – what Wiley terms the “4Rs”, which are Reuse, Redistribute, Revise, and Remix (Hane, 2009).  This gives anyone the permission to add to, alter, and disseminate knowledge through educational artifacts such as books.  Conditions of use can be specified, such as that the user share their version or that the OER be used for non-commercial purposes.  Textbooks from open providers such as flatworldknowledge.com and collegeopentextbooks.org allow customization of books and often include teacher guides and supplementary workbooks. The unique aspect of OER is its ability to not only spread knowledge, but also to receive input back from the larger community.  This gives it tremendous potential for making learning more accessible.

In my next post, I’ll move beyond textbooks into full course and module sharing.


Cape Town Declaration. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/read-the-declaration.

EDUCAUSE. (2009). EDUCAUSE values: Openness. EDUCAUSE Review Magazine, 44.  Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume44/EDUCAUSEValuesOpenness/163568.

Hane, P. (2009). Open educational resources (OER) and libraries [e-newsletter]. Retrieved from http://www.oercommons.org/community/open-educational-resources-oer-and-libraries/view.



under: OER

After reading about the basics of connectivism, I’m interested in exploring more about how it might apply to the teaching and learning process.

I recently came across a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Stephen Downes in which he describes the “Massive Open Online Course” (MOOC) he co-facilitated with George Siemens entitled “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge”.  This 12-week course, offered by the University of Manitoba in 2008, enrolled 2,200 students.  While some were paying tuition and receiving credit, the vast majority were attending the open course.  The content was discussed using a variety of web-based tools, including blogs, wikis, LMS forums, Elluminate sessions, Twitter… the list goes on and on.  Learners created personal content, and connected with others to extend their personal network.  The course sought to install four main principles that form the basis of connectivist teaching and learning: (1) diversity, (2) autonomy, (3) interaction/connectedness, and (4) openness.  Diversity is achieved through effective planning and design – diverse readings and environments lead to diverse discussions and greater learning.  Autonomy means that learners can pursue their own interests and choose the learning modalities that best suit their needs.  Connectedness refers to the belief that knowledge emerges through interactions between students and faculty, rather than content transmitted from expert to novice.  Finally, there are no barriers to course participation – learners are welcome no matter how engaged they are.  Openness helps develop networks, despite the fact that some connections will be stronger than others.

Figure 1


Note: Source: Adapted from “Connectivism”, Retrieved from http://mms.uni-hamburg.de/epedagogy/mmswiki/index.php5/Connectivism.

The implications of this for the teacher are profound.  The purpose of the teacher is to nurture and guide learners in forming and maintaining connections.  It involves an enormous amount of trust to be able to simply create the conditions for learning, and then let the learners go – to explore, discuss, and discover their interests while forming networks and sharing with others.  This is accomplished through an astounding array of Web 2.0 technologies – the more the better.  Diversity is key to increasing and strengthening the network.  I believe that leading courses such as this requires an intensive planning, modeling, guiding, and moderating.  However, once learners are connected into the network of other learners, the assumption is that they will be willing and able to control their own learning.  If students seem unmotivated, it is simply because they always been told what to do and are unaware of how to control their control their own learning.  The role of the teacher is to model their personal learning network for students to emulate (Downes, 2011).  


Downes, S. (2009). Connectivism: A theory of personal learning [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/connectivism-a-theory-of-personal-learning.

Downes, S. (2011, October 17).  Connectivism and personal learning . Charles University Prague. Retrieved from http://www.downes.ca/files/audio/2011%2010%2017%20-%20Connectivism%20and%20Personal%20Learning.mp3

under: Connectivism

The Underground Learner

Posted by: lida | October 14, 2011 | 1 Comment |

In my reading for this course, I’ve encountered many articles describing the importance of learning theories in distance learning.  One recent theory that has garnered both praise and criticism is Stephen Downes and George Siemens’ connectivism (see video).  I find this theory interesting and relevant due to its association with the educational technology field.  In this post, I want to explore the theory of connectivism and its application to distance learning

Connectivism assumes that technology has revolutionized the way people learn.  Indeed, as Siemens (2004) notes, “the tools we use define and shape our thinking” (p. 1).  Modern technology continues to increase the speed of knowledge production and dissemination to the point that no individual can process it effectively.  On the other hand, technology can be used to support these processing functions.  For example, databases contain vast quantities of information, but it does not become knowledge unless an individual knows how and where to access it.  It is now the conduit, or connection, that matters – not the content.  In the digital age, we “derive our competence from forming connections” (Siemens, 2004, p. 4).

Connectivism finds inspiration in chaos theory.  Chaos, defined as “a cryptic form of order”, implies that meaning exists separate from individuals.  The task of the learner lies in recognizing “the patterns that appear to be hidden” (Siemens, 2004, p.4).  Learning, or “actionable knowledge”, is a process that takes place “within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual” (Siemens, 2004, p. 4).  Learning to access and make connections between the various core elements, or nodes, is essential in the new digital age.

My encounter with connectivism is changing the way I think about learning.  My experiences with online learning have taught me the importance of accessing and evaluating the quality of information.  I find myself connecting with themes or concepts in the formal environment of the LMS, and then going “underground” – accessing blogs or videos – to expand my understanding.  In my next post, I’d like to explore the notion of “self-organization” and the power of networks to expand learning and knowledge.


Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://devrijeruimte.org/content/artikelen/Connectivism.pdf.


under: Connectivism

Stepping into the Blog-o-sphere!

Posted by: lida | October 3, 2011 | 3 Comments |

Greetings and welcome to my blog!

After spending some time considering what my first blog should be about, I thought perhaps it’s best to write about the very experience!

I am pleasantly surprised by the user-friendliness of blogging! It is really like writing an email. When it comes to content however, it’s been a rather humbling experience! I find I am aiming to write this creative piece expressing “my personal voice”, and I’m not having an easy time of it.

Our readings so far have been very encouraging of partaking in the various technology-mediated opportunities for engagement and participatory learning. I must admit, blogging is quite a new territory, and a novel way of interacting and relating to others. I imagine it will take some mental adjustment before it’s going to feel natural and rewarding. What is so unusual about it? Perhaps it is the fact that like many other Web 2.0 applications, it is rather non-private. It is akin to standing in front of the class and addressing everyone at once, rather, as Christopher Long put it in this excellent video clip, “the audience of one becomes infinite across time and space”. So although the anonymity of online learning is  helpful in expressing oneself freely, at the same time, blogging seems highly onymous once you consider the possibility of sharing and RSS feeding. The other side of the coin is  the potential for stimulating dialogues expanding beyond the classroom to anyone out there who might come across one’s blog and be interested in participating.

I find as the years goes by, I become more comfortable and interested in the idea of expanding my horizons and stepping outside my comfort zone. I am fully determined to embrace the challenge and become part of the conversation, even if a minute part of it, and so here I go posting my very first blog entry.

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences and thoughts on the practice of blogging. Whether you are a first time blogger like myself, or more experienced. Does it come naturally? If yes, then please consider sharing some tips! If no, I’d definitely love to hear I’m not the only one.

Thanks for visiting my blog!


under: Social Media