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1. Jamie Davies One Size Fits All? A critical review and examination of implementing different e- learning strategies in a Sixth Form College. Of…
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  • 1. Jamie Davies One Size Fits All? A critical review and examination of implementing different e- learning strategies in a Sixth Form College. Of those teachers who are not running scared from the whole internet [r]evolution there are many resources which can give a further dimension to their delivery. Students are becoming ever more familiar with the Internet and how to use it to the best effect (not necessarily what we as teachers might think is the best effect however). Shouldn’t we take a hold of this enthusiasm and capitalise on it – make them learn without them realising that they’re learning! More-and-more so when thinking about learning and knowledge it can be argued that it’s becoming “[that] knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, Not passively received from the environment.” (Dougiamas and Taylor (2003)) so shouldn’t we be providing our students with the best tools from which they can explore the topic and expand their knowledge? Here I am going to gloss over the big players in Internet resources that could allow you to diversify learning. This is in no way an exhaustive list and I am in no way an expert. Try them out, see what they are capable of, individualise and tailor each one to your style of teaching and what you’re expecting of them. The four big players in the interactive software for collaborative learning are wiki’s, forums, blogs and VLE’s (virtual learning environments). We are going to take a look at what each does and doesn’t do, where you can get access to them, how they could be implemented, and the downfalls of each option. It’s important to realise when talking about these solutions there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ option that provides the solution to what everyone wants or needs. Many sites combine these different softwares and VLE’s like Moodle1 and BlackBoard2 offer wiki’s, forums and blogs within their vast learning environments. Wiki’s A wiki is a collaborative3 website where many people can work together to create a web page or even an entire website. Wikipedia4 has to be the most well known wiki – an encyclopaedia online that anyone can edit or add to. Obviously this, the unique selling point of a wiki, could be its downfall should some rogue student come along, but you can always roll back to a previous version should any page get cyber-vandalised. Using a wiki you could allow your students to produce projects by creating a web page of information, contributing to a page, or actually editing and publishing an entire website for a study, domain of psychology or just your colleges department. With a wiki the opportunities are endless as to how you could implement it into your teaching; it could be a learning exercise or a form of assessment on the finished produce. 1 2 3 4 1
  • 2. Jamie Davies Here are a few examples of psychology related wiki’s to browse through. These wiki’s are there to provide information to those using the site, however I feel that in teaching the main use of a wiki would be to allow the students to create, edit and maintain a departmental wiki for ‘fun’ or as a piece of assessed work. • • • Forums Forums are very much a double-edged affair when thinking about using them for e- learning. If you want to create a community of students, be that from your department, college, or even just psychology students in general, however, the management involved can sometimes put people off (it put me off running one). A forum is a site where groups of people can join and take part in ‘conversations’ with other members. These conversations are usually grouped into ‘rooms’ that house conversations of a certain kind or on a particular topic. A forum that you are more-than-likely aware of is the TES forum5. If you have a good group of users who are willing to post and reply then running a forum can be effortless and it will sustain itself quite easily. However, you have to be careful about what people post and make sure that you have set guidelines about what is accepted. Keeping an eye on the posts of other (or moderation) can take up hours of time, and this will be needed especially if you have groups of students posting about how much they hate Mr. Doe because he smells a little funny. One solution to this is to have trusted students do this for you and can work well. All-in-all forums work well at creating a community of people with similar values wanting to converse and question their subject. When you have established users you find that people are more-than-willing to share their own knowledge and help each other, which is great to see. The biggest issue with forums is management and control over what is being posted and the reliability of the information posted. Should you decide to dabble in forums there are many places where you can get free (sometimes advert supported) forums such as here6, here7 and here8. Another option would be to have forum software installed within your college on an intranet or alike. If that is the case then there are many solutions for you and you’re probably best talking to your IT department about which one is best for you although by far the most popular forum software is phpBB9. Blogs Blogs or blogging has become a big hit over the last few years with some of the biggest blogs having massive followings. How can the rants of some disenchanted internet user 5 6 7 8 9 2
  • 3. Jamie Davies help me teach I hear you say; well, there are a massive number of blogs out there and many of them are specifically related to psychology and teaching psychology. Here I am going to break blogs up into two sections: what you can achieve through writing a blog for your students; and what you could gain from reading others blogs or encouraging your students to read and research others blogs. Writing Blogging software is becoming more advanced with each new day and now it is very simple to create a website solely using software designed for a blog. There are really an infinite number of uses for blogs within the education field: writing and collating new and relevant news for your students, giving students a summary of what was covered in that past week, leaving homework assignments, and many others which don’t come to mind at the time of writing. Not only can you write your blog posts but students, other teachers and colleagues can comment on what you have said and start discussions about what was raised; again this could lead to other implementations of blog software. There are many kinds of blogging software but the two most popular ones are WordPress10 and Google’s Blogger11. Both of these sites allow you to set up your own blog online and post articles or general musings through a web-based interface allowing access wherever you have the Internet. If used well blogs can provide to be a central part of teaching and independent learning, however, general rules of web etiquette still apply and all users need to be aware of this. For a good overview of blogging best practices see what other schools have done with it here12. Reading Blogs aren’t just something that you have to write to make use of them as a teacher; there are hundreds if not thousands of psychology related blogs out there, some useful, some not-so-useful, and reading these can give you and your students a great idea of what’s going on in psychology at the moment. You could use a search engine such as technorati13 to search for articles or blogs of interest. When you have found them rather than having to return to the website to see any new ‘breaking’ stories you could use the RSS feed and a news-reader14 of which there are many. I myself write a blog ( that is a blog aimed specifically at students studying the OCR psychology specification, giving them more studies, ideas and help in their studies. In the further reading part of this article there are a few blogs which I subscribe to which might be a good place to start (well, if you’re a psychology or social science teacher that is!) VLE’s Unlike the other options above VLE’s (or virtual learning environments) really should have their own devoted seminar (or collection of) as there are so many different aspects of VLE’s to discuss. Therefore, I have chosen to only give a very brief overview of what a VLE is and two options for VLE’s: Moodle (free) and BlackBoard (not-so-free). 10 11 12 13 14 3
  • 4. Jamie Davies A VLE is a website in a box which has been specifically written to handle and manage students learning. I have seen it used from primary schools all the way through to universities therefore there is massive scope to its implementation. Basically, VLE’s are very modular pieces of software allowing them to be tailored to a varying range of institutions. Some of the many modules include things such as blogs, wiki’s and forums (as we have discussed earlier) but have testing suites, essay submission forms and a plethora of other uses. As the range of functions increases so does the ease of use and administration. I do not know of a site where you can get a ‘free’ VLE account – unlike all of the above. VLE’s can be rather time consuming at both the install level and general administration so you tend to find that an institution will have one which is run by the IT staff and other departments can have ‘areas’ or ‘courses’ on this installation. If your college does have a VLE make use of it – they’re a great way to centralise information and allow the student a little freedom over their learning. The initial learning curve with VLE’s may be a rather steep one and actually getting around to putting course materials may be time consuming initially, but the outcome is a one- stop-shop for your students where they can access notes, test themselves, hand in their coursework and chat in the community forums. Conclusions Echoing what I said in the introduction to this piece there is no solution that will keep everybody happy; we as teachers want different things to what out students will demand off us, the college technicians will want and demand control. The best way of learning what’s what, and researching what solution, if any, is the most appropriate for your individual needs is to get your hands dirty, play around, let your students loose on it and see what happens. My final and most important message, or final thought if you will, is this: in the time it’s taken me to write this article a lot of what I have said and comment upon with be defunct. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, however it is vital that you keep up with what’s going on in the field of internet and web based resources or you will find yourself behind and playing a difficult ‘catch-up’ game. Personally I find that the best source of information, and criticism, about new resources comes directly from those who we are trying to teach – our students. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to education, be it teaching styles or choice of e- learning solution. You have to make a decision as to what’s best or most suited to you. Just because someone else says that it’s the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t mean that it will be your cup of tea (far too many metaphors in one sentence) – don’t be scared to try other solutions and experiment. 4
  • 5. Jamie Davies Further Reading How to use weblogs safely in schools: What is a wiki? Psychology Related Blogs: • PsychBLOG (shameless advertising of my blog): • BPS Research Digest: • MindHacks: • PsyBlog: • Psychology and Crime Blog: • The Situationalist: • World of Psychology: And for more information on accessing blog feeds and newsreaders see this15 really informative article on the BBC News site or this16 one on PsychBLOG. Free Software: phpBB Forum: Moodle VLE: Wordpress: and Blogger: Wikimedia: And for a list of many more blogs, VLE’s, wiki’s and other content management solutions see: References Dougiamas, M. and Taylor, P.C. (2003) Moodle: Using Learning Communities to Create an Open Source Course Management System. Proceedings of the EDMEDIA 2003 Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii. A digital copy of this is available online so that you can get to the links a lot easier at 15 16 5
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