Learning a sense of community online

June 19, 2007

Children and their teachers are already benefiting from online learning communities such as the Oracle Education Foundation's Think.com, but there is a real opportunity for richer learning with such systems that is yet to be tapped.

Elizabeth Hartnell-Young of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham and freelance statistician Karen Corneille of Victoria, Australia, writing in the International Journal of Web Based Communities, describe how they have taken Think.com as a case study and investigated how a free, password-protected online community can support children's learning.

"We found that many children engaged readily with the site," says Hartnell-Young. Even those children with less developed ICT skills benefited from interacting with others. She adds that, "educators played a powerful role in mediating learning, managing the communities, setting guidelines for participation, and linking students with outside experts." Such online communities are not yet mature enough to provide a fully rich learning experience, however, the researchers add.

As part of their assessment of the online learning community, the team defined the process of learning as not simply rote learning of events and objects but the creation of knowledge products, including information, principles and theories. Building knowledge obviously underpins learning.

The researchers also point out that modern teaching does not simply involve a teacher imparting knowledge to students but a more creative process in which teachers lead students and help them build knowledge. Such a process still needs boundaries but is more of a partnership with student and teacher essentially "learning" together. Such online communities have a long way to go to reach their full potential for Learning, however, they add.

Translating the concepts of teaching, learning, and knowledge building to an online community is no simple task. The Web is a disparate mix of useful, informative, entertaining, misconstrued and malicious material. The boundaries provided by a protected online learning system allows teachers to mediate the learning process in a secure and safe way, the researchers explain.

The team set out to find instances of how Think.com, as an example of an online learning community, helps the learning process. They assessed how such a system encourages a range of "digital" literacy, through enabling students to create their own material, and cases of interaction and collaboration between users in different learning tasks.

"As evidence of digital literacy, we considered individual students' pages," Hartnell-Young explains, "and the range of text, files and images with which they filled these pages." The team also investigated whether a sense of identity and audience existed and the kinds of social skills developed by users on message boards and voting. They also sought examples of joint tasks where groups worked together within a school, between different schools, and even internationally.

They found that the best way that teachers and facilitators could help students reap the rewards of using an online community is by encouraging their active engagement by designing accessible and provocative online activities, managing access to useful resources and, most of all, asking relevant and thought-provoking questions that challenge the students. "Teachers need to play an active role in encouraging student voice and ensuring that students can create and identify quality content," Hartnell-Young says.

For their part, as students start to share their pages and engage more widely within such a community, they can get positive feedback from fellow students and their teachers as well as benchmarking their own efforts against those of others.
-end-


Inderscience Publishers

Related Learning Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

When learning on your own is not enough
We make decisions based on not only our own learning experience, but also learning from others.

Learning more about particle collisions with machine learning
A team of Argonne scientists has devised a machine learning algorithm that calculates, with low computational time, how the ATLAS detector in the Large Hadron Collider would respond to the ten times more data expected with a planned upgrade in 2027.

Getting kids moving, and learning
Children are set to move more, improve their skills, and come up with their own creative tennis games with the launch of HomeCourtTennis, a new initiative to assist teachers and coaches with keeping kids active while at home.

How expectations influence learning
During learning, the brain is a prediction engine that continually makes theories about our environment and accurately registers whether an assumption is true or not.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time
If you're always scoring 100%, you're probably not learning anything new.

School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.

Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.

Read More: Learning News and Learning Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.