Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of their learning technology needs will be met. However, the world moves fast, and some educators find that our suite of communication and collaboration tools doesn’t cater to our teaching and learning needs as well as they might. Interestingly, VLEs are usually more suited to managing rather than learning (but that’s for another day). So there is an argument for looking outside of the VLE to expand and enhance our options for engaging students in learning activities using technology.

When it comes to thinking about social media or web 2.0 tools, we are looking at tapping into the affordances such tools have towards communication and collaboration. There’s a creative process involved in this, and it takes time, space and a certain amount of risk. However, it’s worth exploring if you want to keep developing as an educator and are always looking to improve the learner experience.

Usually the stimulus for such a process comes from seeing or hearing about a particular tools used in a particular context. In these instances, the process is focused and relatively easy. However, what if you want to explore for yourself what’s out there and make informed decisions on what tool to use?

Firstly, it’s useful to have in mind a set of criteria like the Sloan Consortium’s:

  • Access
  • Usability
  • Privacy & Intellectual Property
  • Workload & Time Management
  • Fun Factor

Visit the weblink above for details on this.

What I’ll do in this post is reflect on the stages I go through when scoping our internet-based tool for teaching and learning. I’ve split it into different stages of the process:

What type of tool?

If you have no idea what’s available then you’ll probably need to talk to someone in the know. This will give you a starting point. From here, it’s about finding what this tool does and how that can be applied to learning. So for a mindmap, it’s about creating mindmaps for brainstorming, visualisation, reflection. You’ll notice that it’s not one simple concept here and it rarely is. What’s important is that you know what you want to use it for, choose a tool which is suited to this task and can articulate this clearly to the learners. Confusion can occur with tools that could conceivable perform a large variety of functions. Any collaborative document tool like google docs could be used for a multitude of learning activities. As long as you are clear about how you want the learners to engage in a tool and why, you’ll be OK. Just make sure you are not shoe-horning an activity into a tool that isn’t well suited to it. This process is about finding the best fit. For example, I could conceivably use a group blog for an asynchronous discussion. However, for this learning activity, I might be better off using a message board, a discussion forum embedded within a VLE or social network.

Scoping out tools?

The next step is to choose the particular instance of the chosen tool. For this, you need to scope out the available tools. This is something I do a lot. It isn’t an exact science, and you have to be aware that there will always be good ones you’ll miss. In fact, the hard part is finding the time every few month to find new instances that spring up. Also, in the fickly web 2.0 world, tools come and go so you need to check for disappearances — you usually get warning on this.

I like to start with sites that already scope out tools for educational use —  Free Technology for Teachers and Richard Byrne’s Favorite Tech Resources for Teachers. There’s also Robin Good’s Best Online Collaboration Tools 2011, but there’s a lot of rubbish there, and it can be difficult to load up and navigate. What I want to avoid is googling. Although it’s not to be ruled out, you want to start from an informed place rather than a random one.

So what should you be looking for?

Cost: The first thing I look for is cost. Commercial products are a no-no for me. I want to recommend free tools where I can. Sometimes minimal cost tools are OK, but anything more than a few pounds/dollars is ruled out. When it comes to internet-based tools for use in teaching and learning, starting off by paying lots of money isn’t necessary. You can often tell by the look and feel of a commercial website. They will have pricing or product as one of their main pages and will often be aimed at businesses. Most tools will have different levels based on cost. If the lowest level is a free version, then it’s worth investigating. This is especially true if there’s a free upgrade for education. Free tools aren’t necessarily amateur looking, but there will be more variety in their layout.

Trying it out: The next thing is to try it out. Good tools will allow you to try it out quickly and easily. Ideally, there will be a video explaining and showing the features on the front page. Watch this first. This way you can decide quickly whether to dismiss it or not. It’s vital that you record the process you go through when you first start testing something. Answer for yourself questions like:

  • How intuitive is it?
  • How many stages are there?
  • How easy are key functions?
  • Does it do what I want it to?
  • Is the language and terminology they use right for my context?
  • How much learning would it take for learners to work it out?
  • How does it look, and is this what I had in mind?

The hard part of this is judging whether your learners will have the same experience as you did when trying the tool. My advice would be: Don’t assume anything. A simple process that you were able to move through easily can derail an entire course if taken for granted. I know, I’ve seen it. I’m blessed with an inability to pick things up quickly. This gives me little scope for assuming too much. Providing a three minute screencast can go a long way. The quick learner can simply skip this.

Usually by playing around for a few minutes you get a feel for whether this could work for you. If you are scoping a few services, make a note of them (better still bookmark them) and move on. It’s common to not find anything you really want so you use the best you can find.

It’s worth mentioning the importance of account creation. You should always bear in mind that you want to keep additional logins for your students to a minimium. In this regard, tools embedded within the VLE will always win. However, you’ll be looking outside the VLE for tools that have no internal equivalent. Some tools can be used without creating an account, but most will require it. I’m talking here about communication/collaboration tools that require students to become actively engaged. If the tools are educationally inclined, they may allow the educator to create accounts for a group of students (e.g., Diigo).

For content creation tools like Prezi, only you will have to create an account and simply share/embed the results. You can usually get away with asking students to create one or two accounts on particular tools if the reasons and the benefits are clear. Anything more than that isn’t advisable. In general, account creation is getting easier with possible links to existing accounts you might have (like google). Be careful about linking with social networking accounts like facebook. I advise against it. It blurs the boundaries between the professional and the social. When it comes to using a social network service as the hub of activity, I prefer to go down the Ning or Grouply route rather than Facebook.

A process that needs investigating is the interaction between two instances of the same tool if this is what you want to realise in practice. Most of the time you can test this out yourself on the same machine, but you might need to use different machines or even involve another person. I am often employing different email accounts so that I can create different accounts on the same tool. I have one or two emails that only really get used for this purpose.

If you get to the stage where you think you’ve found something to use, you’ll need to try it out for real, hopefully with a friendly test audience. How it interacts with your VLE needs careful thought. A lot depends on how much you use your institution’s online environment currently and what its capabilities are. It might be as simple as providing a weblink with words around it. If you’re lucky, you can embed it somewhat. What’s important here is to think through what process/navigational support you need to provide. For a tool type that is new, you’ll need to clearly describe how you expect the learner will engage with the tool, with the other learners and to what end. So it’s more than explaining where to click. It’s about purpose and learning outcomes.

I hope this rambling rundown gives some insight into the process of scoping out and choosing an internet-based tool for teaching and learning. As always, I find it personally useful to articulate my thoughts in this way.

30 Responses

  1. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  2. As a commercial educational software developer and vendor, I have to take exception to the only-free-tools recommendation for many reasons.

    Firstly, it’s possible to pay for something and still save money if the cost of the technology-based version is less than current practice.

    Secondly, by excluding anything you pay for, you may be excluding the perfect solution that will even reduce net expenditures.

    In a perfect market, software that isn’t free is better. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and it really is hard to figure out. An amateur writing educational software should be expected to produce amateur results. A professional should produce professional results. It’s too bad that some amateurs attempt to charge for their work. It’s great for schools that sometimes a real professional does something for free, but usually has an upgrade that’s not free. It’s not enough that the software engineer is a “professional.” These people come in a wide variety of talented-ness. You should also see that the organization has specialists in whatever they’re doing. I am a highly qualified scientist and have world-class software and education people working for or with me.

    The free versus for-pay software also has another dimension, the nature of the software. General-purpose software usually have a good-quality free version. GIMP is good for image manipulation, and Apache is a great web server. Niche software, such as specific learning software or learning management systems, is another matter and may just not create enough interest in the open-source community to make free versions viable. Remember that software writers must eat just as must teachers. Would you teach for free?

    Free software will have little or no support. If you pay for your software, you should get support with it. If not, then the software may be difficult to support because it’s not very good. You shouldn’t have to pay for support in lieu of paying for the software. That may work for mySQL, but is a problem for education. You should be sure that “free” really is free. Check with others who are using it.

    Will your free software be updated and available in the future? The latter question becomes very important for cloud-delivered software. Naturally, the same question should be asked of for-pay software. How long has the company been around, and how many customers do they have?

    Finally, there’s the issue of price. How much will it cost you per student per year? if the amount is small (interactive whiteboards are not), then you may be able to make an excellent case for purchasing if the rewards are greater than the cost. In business terms, it’s the ROI (return on investment) that should drive the decision. Five or ten dollars per student could be worthwhile if your actual savings plus value for reduced hassle, better learning, more rapid results, and so on is greater.

    What you ought to be seeking with educational technology is “better, faster, cheaper,” to use the NASA slogan. Cheaper does not have to be free to succeed.

    • Thanks for this comment Harry. I’m now remembering how useful it is to write for this journal it there is always some interesting debate.

      You make some interesting points. On the “free” issue, my context is to highlight for academic colleagues in my institution and teachers across London that there are tools available to them outside of their official Virtual Learning Environment. It’s make sense to start with the free tools. Partly because it shows I am not endorsing a certain product, and partly because it means they can try it out for themselves without a financial outlay. If, having explores different instances of a particular tool-type, they decide to buy a product – then great. But at the introductory stage, its correct to show what they do for free. Also, if you introduce it under the web 2.0 banner, then the “for the greater good” ethos should apply.

      I take your point about Prezi. I like it for large, complex images or structures where I can show the whole thing and then focus on different elements. Of course, ensure that it’s right for your context/environment.

  3. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of their learning technology needs will be met. Source: etcjournal.com […]

  4. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

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  6. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

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  8. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett "Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of their learning technology needs will be met. However, the world moves fast, and some educators find that our suite of communication and collaboration tools doesn’t cater to our teaching and learning needs as well as they might. Interestingly, VLEs are usually more suited to managing rather than learning (but that’s for another day). So there is an argument for looking outside of the VLE to expand and enhance our options for engaging students in learning activities using technology…" Source: etcjournal.com […]

  9. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  10. Great suggestions!

    I’ve added a link to your article to the WebTools4U2Use wiki – Finding the Right Tool!

    http://webtools4u2use.wikispaces.com/Finding+the+Right+Tool

  11. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  12. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning « Educational … Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of their learning technology needs will be met. Source: etcjournal.com […]

  13. […] purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of their learning technology needs will be met.Via etcjournal.com LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  14. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  15. The difference between “for free” and “free” is also an important factor here. When Harry Keller writes: “Free software will have little or no support”, he must surely be referring to “for free” but not “free” software. Free – as in freedom of speech – software usually has excellent support, with forums and a database of questions already asked in the forum, plus another one for bugs. “For free” – or free as in free beer – software does not always.
    However, even there, you find happy exceptions. For instance, wikispaces.com is not free software, but it fits within Tom Preskett’s description of “.. tools [that] have different levels based on cost. If the lowest level is a free version, then it’s worth investigating. This is especially true if there’s a free upgrade for education.” And it has excellent support for both levels: basic for-free and education for-free.
    Another criterion worth adding is whether what you produce with the tool is in an open standard format, hence can be saved and reused in other contexts, outside the course.
    Then, re the Sloan list of criteria mentioned by Tom Preskett, its Access criterion includes: “Does the tool provide options that support ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance?”. That’s good but not enough. Take blogging platforms: most allow the insertion of an alternate description for pictures – producing the “alt attribute” that the scree readers used by the blind can voice – via the source code, but many people are not conversant with source code. WordPress actually incites authors to provide this description by providing an “Alternate description” field for it in the dialog box that opens when you insert an image. This increases the likelihood that users will comply with the alternate description requirement for accessibility (1).
    And vice-versa, ADA compliance should not be an absolute criterion. Take prezi, also mentioned by Tom Preskett. Prezi presentations do not read well, if at all, with a screen reader, because they are not linear, and we listen linearly. However, their freer spatial disposition might well be more suited for people who don’t mainly think linearly: e.g. native sign-language speakers. So it’s OK to present information in a prezi, provided it is also presented in another form that can be used with a screen reader. Such a solution would also cater for the different learning styles of people who do not – presently – have a disability.

    (1) This could be taken even further, theoretically. When a user does not provide an alternate description, the software could ask: “Are you really sure that your picture is purely decorative and does not convey any information?” And if the answer is “No”, the software would say: “Go back and write a description”. Whereas if the answer is “Yes”, it would say: “I’m not going to let you clog my server with pictures that don’t convey information”.
    However, this is not very likely to happen: in Italy, someone in charge of the accessibility of a public administration website did include such a dialog for picture insertion in the CMS for the site, but people protested and he had to withdraw it.

    • Hi Claude, Thanks for the taking the time to comment on this. What’s interesting about this area is that it’s fast moving so official advice is lacking. I can only construct training and advice based on my knowledge, experience and understanding. It’s useful to get others’ perspective within forums like this. For the Sloan framework, it’s useful to know more about the compliance issue.

      A further point on a document like this. Quite often, internet-based technologies are approached in a “wnat are the dangers” kind of way. My session and my rhetoric is deliberately the polar opposite of this. Not because this isn’t important (it is) but because I won’t to provide balance. I want to inspire our teachers to use these tools, not scare them off them. so I provide the Sloan framework as a handout and don’t focus on it or highlight it. Instead I focus on different ways you can use each tool type in teaching and learning.

      • I agree with you, Tom: that’s why I mentioned prezi as a non ADA compliant tool that can nevertheless be used in an ADA compliant way, if in conjunction with other tools. Accessibility is an enrichment of content presentation that benefits all: see CAST’s About UDL (Universal Design for Learning) page and their UDL Bookbuilder tool.

  16. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  17. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of t… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  18. […] Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning « Educational … Reflections on Teaching About Web 2.0 Tools Prezi Reflections on ….. Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning | Educational Technology Today | Scoop.it, on December 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm said: […] Choosing Web … Source: etcjournal.com […]

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  21. […] By Tom Preskett Connecting formal education to social media/web 2.0 tools is a relatively new area. Educational institutions hope that by purchasing a virtual learning environment (VLE) all of thei…  […]

  22. […] 100 Helpful Web Tools for Every Kind of Learner. Bloomin' Apps. Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning. […]

  23. […] Technology Tool Do I Choose? | Edutopia. Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching and Learning. Blendspace – Create lessons with digital content in 5 minutes. Ask.com – What's Your Question? […]

  24. […] Preskett (https://etcjournal.com/2011/12/05/choosing-web-2-0-tools-for-teaching-and-learning/) suggests that educators consider the following questions when seeking a technology […]

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