Saturday, May 14, 2016

How useful is Facebook as an educational tool at university level?

Educators and researchers are in two minds when it comes to the pedagogical, social and technological benefits of social media, particularly Facebook. Some say it can provide a platform for learning and allow students to collaborate and communicate with each other. Yet other educators say Facebook has little educational value and does not serve any academic purpose. In the worst-case scenario, it could even impact negatively on individual performance.
by Pauline Bugler
Ayotola Aremu is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria where she has been teaching the design and use of educational media and resources at both undergraduate and post-graduate level for 14 years.
A bottleneck of students registering on the university’s learning management system meant that access problems loomed, most of which could only be resolved after a lengthy wait. On top of that, a lack of class space and technological facilities prevented all the students from attending lectures at the same time. Classes were akin to a caravan moving from room to room in search of space. Other responsibilities frequently took Aremu, who is the main facilitator, away from classes.
This difficult situation prompted some four facilitators to redesign a course called Educational Media and Technologies – a teacher education course for post-graduate students – using Facebook. Their choice fell on this particular social networking tool partly because of its popularity. When the course got underway, eight groups of students received instruction involving face-to-face classes between every two weeks online.
Aremu describes an example of an assignment: students were told to imagine the scene on arrival at a school for their first job as a teacher at a poorly equipped educational technology laboratory. Their task was to draw up an inventory of equipment needed and to write about how other teachers could use one listed item.
Students at Ibadan could then post their comments on Facebook from the comfort of their homes. The facilitators were keen to determine whether the social media platform could help provide a variety of media for different learning styles, interaction and authentic learning. Another crucial goal was engaging and developing students’ critical thinking.
But can a medium designed for informal purposes really take on such an important role in formal education?
On balance, the facilitators felt that the goal of content sharing and providing media rich resources was achieved to a great extent. But ultimately, the social media platform remained a social rather than an academically engaging platform. The objective of critical thinking and authentic learning was not achieved to any considerable extent.
However, Aremu said: “The facilitators were convinced that with more effort made on the instructional design, the Facebook page could actually achieve the objectives of all the five areas of consideration.”
Facilitators also found thata lot of commitment is needed to engage students on such platforms continuously. Their performances have to be monitored in terms of responses and activities.
Alternative social networking platforms in education now allow students to look up assignments or quizzes set by their teachers and include a deadline. Unlike Facebook, some of these sites are spelling sensitive and students cannot post on each other’s pages.  Teachers can also upload attachments for the assignments.
The online project had a positive effect on students in Ibadan as many used the platform for the first time and improved their technology skills in the process. It’s worth bearing in mind that the majority had completed an undergraduate course where they most likely never used technology for learning purposes.
Many students felt classroom demonstrations on using the social media platform beforehand would have been helpful and called for a collective summary of all weekly activities after all submissions and posts had been received. Excited by the possibilities of using technology in learning, students said they would use social media platforms for teaching in future, if the facilities were available.
Aremu and her colleagues intend to continue social networking tools and integrate students’ suggestions while looking out for other social media platforms.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Augmenting classroom practices with technology

eLearning has to transform education in Africa, but it can only do so if teachers are trained in how to integrate it into their curriculum. Solen Feyissa is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota whose research focuses on learning technologies. He believes that in order for eLearning to thrive on the continent, it must make learners feel as if they are part of a knowledge community.

“Social constructivism is the idea that learning happens in a social space and is not divorced from the things we experience,” Feyissa explained to eLearning Africa. “It acknowledges that knowledge is constructed through our own daily experiences, and social interaction plays a role in the knowledge we create.”
Feyissa mentioned Ning, a social networking site he thinks can offer teachers a social network for students to communicate and build knowledge together (though the site attracted some negative publicity when it discontinued its free offerings, there are a number of great Ning alternatives, including CubeTree, Jabster and ShoutEm).
The point is to ensure that students are active agents in the creation of their own education. Feyissa is from Ethiopia, and there he saw first hand how access to ICT is not enough to create an innovative learning environment; teachers must also be involved or computers will go to waste. He mentioned a computer lab at a school where he used to teach in which most of the computers weren’t even plugged into the wall.

“It’s not enough for students to be online in a classroom — we need to go outside of that. We need to be connected through blogs and Twitter so that learning becomes a conversation you have with the outside world.”
At eLearning Africa 2016, Feyissa’s goal is to spark a dialogue about what kind of Western pedagogies might work well in Africa —and which ones won’t. “Just because a pedagogical approach works in the Western hemisphere, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work well in Africa. We need to look at things differently in Africa, and we need to train educators to think about pedagogy differently. That’s what we’re bringing to this workshop.”

Africa, of course, is not a continent about which one can make generalizations, but there are some commonalities among the problems various African communities face when integrating ICTs into their classrooms. “There are a number of situations in which hardware is brought into schools, but not enough thought is put into training for educators,” Feyissa said. Some of the research Feyissa and his colleague Dr. Angelica Pazurek have engaged in regards the ICT infrastructure in Africa and how it impacts teaching in the classroom.
Overall, Feyissa is more interested in sparking a dialogue at eLearning Africa than in anything else. He wants educators and professionals who attend his workshop to reflect upon the way they use ICTs in their own classrooms and how it impacts learning. (He was also quick to credit Dr. Pazurek with many of the ideas he’s bringing to the table; unfortunately we were unable to connect with her before publication of this article).

Feyissa is hopeful that participants will walk away with a greater awareness of new technologies in terms of their relevance and pedagogical utility within their own classroom endeavours. He said that in his experience as an educator in Ethiopia, he saw computers playing “essentially no role” in teaching experiences — and that was just a year ago.
“It’s vital that we have a conversation about this and understand how technology can be more of an educational equalizer.”

Join Solen Feyissa’s pre-conference workshop at eLearning Africa 2016 on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016.

Monday, May 2, 2016

eBooks: A Passing Fad or an Innovation worth using in Educational Settings?

For most of us (well the BBCs i.e. Born Before Computers) or Digital Immigrants (born before ICTs were widely used), the use of eBooks was not commonplace. We grew up using print based books or hard copy books. The language of Kindle Books or books in ePub formats is not the language that those born before the 80s were familiar with. But now these terms are common place. Most youths regarded as digital natives (born in times of widespread use of technology) have used eBooks before on mobile devices and laptops. Such use in educational settings hasn’t grown though. 

A number of reasons could be given for the lack of wide use of eBooks (electronic Books) in schools and higher educational institutions. One of the reasons could be the lack of confidence of teachers using technology. The other could be the familiarity of hard copy books which the teacher grew up with. How many times have we heard teachers or headteachers say: We don’t have enough textbooks and yet the teacher has Internet access on their mobile device or in their computer lab (for schools who re privileged to have computers with Internet access)? 

Lack of confidence could be addressed by the teachers being exposed to the use of technology in teaching and learning. Where the teacher is allowed to “play” with technology, they become confident and are able to wisely use the vast Internet educational resources and open educational resources (OERs) available for educators. In the past week, I have downloaded over ten (10) eBooks (most of them free) from the Internet, Google Books and from the Amazon Kindle Store. The teacher has thus available to them and his or her learners far more eBooks than they would have time to read or use. Granted issues of bandwidth, Internet cost access and erratic power supply(with growing load-shedding :-) ). But where there is a will there is a way. If you are reading this article online on a blog, it just shows you the potential that technology has for teaching and learning. 

What are your thoughts? 

Festival of eLearning Conference kicks off

The Festival of e-Learning officially started yesterday. The Festival of eLearning is an opportunity to deepen the network of e-Learning ex...