The Benefits of Web 2.0 Tools

What are Web 2.0 tools and why might you want to use them? Web 2.0 tools are online applications that provide interactive software for the user. Often the basic version of these tools is provided free of charge. Online tools provide solutions to help students develop 21st Century Literacy skills in a contemporary environment whilst eliminating the need for schools to purchase expensive computer software. The ability of Web 2.0 tools to help find information, validate it, synthesise it, collaborate, and leverage ideas are all attributes that will carry learners forward into the information age. Our future environment will require people to be creative divergent and critical thinkers. These will be people who can find solutions to problems within a set time frame and collaborate their results instantaneously.

If a teacher chooses to integrate a new ICT tool it is important for them to take the time to use the tool themselves in order to become familiar with the basics. Although, it’s often said that preparation time is something teachers feel they lack when incorporating new media into lessons. However, the benefits of using Web 2.0 tools are that they usually have very simple interfaces and free tutorials on how to use them. Students can take responsibility for their own learning and work at their own pace providing they have access to the internet either through the school library or at home.

Searching with Google


Students are happy with the concept of searching the internet, and are quite familiar with it but the question is do they use it effectively? Judging by the number of students I’ve seen who remain off task, due to the browsing of any other web site but sites related to the intended research topic, I’d have to say no. A focused search requires some self discipline or it must be outlined as part of the schools cyber safety policies which inevitably sees a patrolling teacher monitoring screens. My suggestion is that students would do better with some guidance when it comes to searching for information, as well as a class brainstorm to determine which key words and phrases could be useful.

Schacter et
al. [19] suggest that lack of planning when attempting a complex search and a desire
for the easiest path to the desired information lead children to prefer browsing to keyword search.[1]

This is where the dynamic nature of the internet can really come into its own. Utilising an interactive tool like Google’s Wonder Wheel or Google Squared can aid student’s engagement and help retain focus. I’ve created a short clip which shows how to creatively use some of Google’s unique search tools, to not only help narrow internet searches but also to help generate some ideas on what you might be looking for.









Social Bookmarking - Delicious and Diigo


A useful tool to help refine student searching is to integrate a class social bookmarkingsite like Delicious or Diigo. Initially set up by the teacher, sites can be bookmarked in order of relevance to the subject. Then they can be categorised into specific groups or lists and if students create an account they can add to the list. See the video below for a brief introduction to using Diigo.




Online Collaboration - Elluminate


What is it?
New to Elluminate? Elluminateis an online collaborative, e-learning tool designed to provide an interactive classroom experience for online students. It allows the pre-creation of presentation slides which once the class commences can be modified real-time by students and teacher alike dependant on the Elluminate classroom settings.

Elluminate incorporates several forms of communication such including:
  • · Text based Instant Messaging
  • · Half/full duplex voice
  • · User video (independent of voice)
  • · Pre-built slides

The presentation slides can incorporate static information and/or media content and classroom settings will determine if/how students can interact with the slides. The tool allows interactive updates/changes by participants to the material presented. They can add and modify information, data, and pictures as presented also see the contributions from other class members.

Capturing of lessons for revision/review/absent learners
The lesson can also be recorded real-time and archived for playback at later times. This can be useful for students who have missed lessons or for lesson revision and useful for teacher reflection and gauging student participation.

How To
Below is a brief overview on some of the many features available within Elluminate and how they are used.








Components
Elluminate comes with 3 available functions Plan, Deliver, and Publish.

  • Plan allows the offline building of lessons. The lesson planning, collection of resources, building of tests, etc can be completed prior to being made available as full content.
  • Deliver is the online application as available at http://www.elluminate.com/
  • Publish is an additional function that allows the archived lessons can be ported into other visual media types for reuse via other portals such as YouTube or from a cell phone.

This is explained more fully in the below video from the VP of Marketing and Strategy for Elluminate.








Possible uses within the class
Interactive whiteboard
Used within a typical classroom, Elluminate used in conjunction with an interactive white board allows for the teacher to provide a fully interactive classroom experience gaining input from students real-time. It can provide an instant repository for brainstorming, research, and feedback allowing discovery of topics across pathways of enquiry. Because the lessons can be recorded it allows different lines of enquiry to be picked up from previous classes easily.

Remote learning
Because of the communication tools embedded within the application Elluminate lends itself easily to the creation of classrooms for distance learning. This is useful for people living in remote locations. Dependant on bandwidth availability at all locations the communication tools provide almost as good as being there experiences for students. What is missing though is the ability of the teacher to confirm the students are on task and focused due to their limited visibility of the students activity.

Collaborative working
Elluminate allows for collaborative workspaces using pre-built slides and interactive white boarding. This can be as a full class or if breaking out into groups separate rooms/sessions can be generated to allow silo-‘ing’ of work and ideas.

Virtual classroom management
Elluminate provides some online classroom management tools at class or individual levels. These tools include:
  • · Ability to talk online
  • · Provide video playback
  • · Raising of hand for attention
  • · Taking of polls
  • · Ability to interact on the white board and to what level
  • · To add or remove people from the class
  • · Transferring administration rights to other classroom participants

Students
In instances where Elluminate has been introduced into a mainstream classroom it has been noted that due to the varying methods of communication and information formats possible within the application, that are also typical of what today’s digital natives use outside of class, that typically quiet or unresponsive students in a traditionally run class are more likely to interact and forward their ideas and answers.

The tool caters to many different learning styles due to its interactive nature and ability to use multimedia content and facilitates real time research and idea generation encouraging the exploration of ideas and questions as they arise in the classroom. This in itself provides a huge broadening in a student’s exposure to the world and how the view and interact with it.

Challenges
Bandwidth
Reasonable bandwidth is required for full use of the applications functionality. Even if all participants are located within the same physical classroom, due to the nature of how the application interoperates with the Elluminate server and services provided a decent bandwidth is required to allow use of all functionality. If the lessons are recorded they reside on the Elluminate server for access anytime from anywhere assuming access permission is provided. It would make sense that if the lesson is being recorded that at minimum there will be a capture of the voice interactions during the course of the class.

School policies and resources
School Internet policies, outsourcing agreements, and available internet resources may make it difficult to widely use this tool in some schools.

Classroom layout
Thought needs to be given for good classroom design that allows easily for flexible use of the classroom when considering online teaching including but not limited to:
  • · Appropriate online/application use and management thereof
  • · Student positioning in relation to information shown/displayed based on the intent of the lesson
  • · Adequate and appropriate collaboration space both physically and virtually

Costs
Application Licensing
A rough estimate of the current cost to implement the application as is across a school of 1000 students assuming classes of 30 students and 85% of classes using the application would be approximately US$14,000 per year (28 classes/day) not including bandwidth or classroom hardware requirements.

Bandwidth and Hardware Resources
These also need to be considered and factored in and will be dependent and specific to each schools requirements and current technology penetration into the classroom.

Summary
Elluminate is a useful tool that facilitates opportunities for learning in the classroom in a way that can reach more styles of learning than the typical non-interactive white board.
The cost to implement the application within a New Zealand school is currently prohibitive and without further marketing development by the application owners it could not easily be utilised within New Zealand schools today. This leaves the only possibility of this application within the NZ education sector in a user pays or government funded environment such as remote online learning and tutorials or distance learning programs.

Conclusion
Today
Elluminate offers a brilliant opportunity for teaching and reaching remote people. Assuming minimum bandwidth requirements between users and the Elluminate servers are met as well as server availability then in a user pays or government funded situation this would be a great tool within the New Zealand context. Operations could cater for school children in remote places or learners in any country being taught from a New Zealand resource base.

Currently within the typical New Zealand classroom situation this tool would not be implemented due to cost and bandwidth considerations and for the requirement to have the technology available when needed.

Possibilities
In-house Elluminate Service
Assuming Bandwidth and currency conversions will not allow Elluminate access easily into every mainstream classroom on a school campus an alternative could be to discuss with the service owners the possibility of a school hosting its own instance of the service visible only within the school or to students via the school Internet. This provides the following advantages to a school for live lessons:
  1. No additional Internet bandwidth requirements
  2. No reliance on a series of Internet providers to maintain links to the online service
  3. Recording voice and video of the lessons becomes a viable option for teachers
  4. Cheaper and more responsive access for all classes to a great teaching tool