The Value of Group Collaborations in Web-based Interaction Sites: Wikis, Blogs and Video (Netmeeting) Tiffany Beste Melissa Johnson Gary Witcher CET 747 Web and ITV Based Applications of Distance Education Dakota State University Fall 2006 Online Collaboration 1 Introduction Education faces a number of challenges as it rushes into the 21st Century. One of these challenges involves creating online education environments that promote group collaborations through web-based interaction. A promising solution involves the implementation of conversational technologies. Christian Wagner (2004) cites four advantages of conversational knowledge creation. It is economical, it is fast and it is “suitable for environments where knowledge is not centralized, but resides with multiple owners who may be located far apart.” He lists eight types of conversational technologies: e- mail, static and database-backed web pages, discussion forum, Internet chat/instant messaging, video and audio streaming, video and audio conferencing, weblog (blog) and wiki. This paper will examine current research centering on three of these forms: blogs, video conferencing (such as Netmeeting), and wikis. How well do blogs, video conferencing and wikis fulfill the expectations of current learning theory? Research - Blogs A weblog, also known as a blog, is a way for users to share ideas and allows for other people to post their comments (West et al, 2006). This inexpensive technology provides a service for professionals and students to learn from people with similar interests and also those with different interests. Due to the limited knowledge of technology required to blog, there has been an increase in the amount of blogs developed (West et al, 2006). The price and the ease of use have also contributed to Edublogs (blogs used for education). Online Collaboration 2 Weiler states that “blogs have great potential for educational use, both on their own and as extensions of the traditional classroom” (2003). A fourth grade class in Maryland has built a blog-based site full of facts and trivia about their home state (West et al, 2006). A third grade teacher in Maryland has had an edublog for three years. Her postings ask her students to explore links on geometry that may consist of game- like assessments or quizzes (Ray, 2006). These are great examples of how blogging is a great tool for students to enhance their understanding (Poling, 2005). A student-to-student blog was introduced into a student teacher program at Brigham Young University the fall semester of 2004 (West et al, 2006). It was found that blogs were a helpful tool to stimulate reflection and discussions between students. One challenge that was encountered was that the students struggled to learn the new technology well enough to use it effectively in their own classroom. It was recommended by the students to develop more structured assignments rather then just reflections. An example would be for students to read a popular blog and then compose a reply while in groups. This collaboration would create more discussion and develop a learning community at the same time (West et al, 2006). In Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi a teacher-to-teacher blog was used during the implementation of a new literacy program (Aguilar & Rivero, 2006). The blogs allowed the teachers to show their support for others and also share their experience with the literacy program in their schools. As new instructional strategies develop, blogs are a great tool for teachers to collaborate within their department and share with other departments. Online Collaboration 3 The most recent developments in blogging are video blogs, vlog, and mobile blogs, moblog (Lee, 2005). A moblog allows for an entry to a blog be entered by email or by cell phone. Analysis – Blogs Online collaboration tools can be simple and inexpensive. A blog not only fits those categories but also provides a way to communicate, to share documents, and to meet other members of a community (Fichter, 2005). A blog also allows for multiple authors to collaborate on materials and post them for a large audience to read. A blog not only encourages student-to-student learning, it also is a vehicle for teacher-to-teacher learning and teacher-to-student learning (Poling, 2005). Anytime a tool fosters communication such as blogging does, active learning is inevitable. The use of a blog in a classroom setting has the potential “to motivate students, to build on collaboration, and enhance learning opportunities” (Clyde, 2005). By allowing students to tell stories and dialogue on a blog a teacher is promoting literacy (Clyde, 2005). Some instructors use blogs to promote conversations about topics in school and also to post samples of student work. Though a blog is considered to be a one-to- many communication type that “one” can be collaboration between many (Delio, 2005). Research – Video Conferencing (Netmeeting) Another means of collaborative learning can be done through video conferencing. Video conferencing is defined as, “a live connection between people in separate locations for the purpose of communication” (Gowan & Downs, 1994). The purpose of video conferencing is to allow two or more different parties to interact synchronously with one another as though they are in the same room with each other. Video conferencing uses Online Collaboration 4 audio, video, text and graphics to allow students to feel as though they are directly interacting with each other and their instructor (Kydd & Ferry, 1994). The benefits of video conferencing make it an effective tool when collaborating with groups over the Internet. A study was done using a random sample of 266 students at an accredited College of Business and Economics to analyze the effectiveness of video conferencing – mediated instruction. The study examined video conferencing reliability and usefulness. The study found that video conferencing success and student usefulness are directly correlated to the reliability of the videoconference system. The study also indicated that the university usefulness increases with the usefulness of students and the reliab ility of the videoconference system. Reliability was defined as, “less crash and down times, broad bandwidth and high student trust in the technology.” The study summarized that videoconference reliability and usefulness by the students are the most important success factors of video conferencing technology (Selim, 2005). „Netmeeting‟ is one type of video conferencing system becoming more popular with institutions that are wishing to have their students interacting online. „Netmeeting‟ is a product developed by the Microsoft Corporation that enables groups to collaborate using the Internet as means of transmission; it is part of the Microsoft Internet Web Browser. „NetMeeting‟ provides groups with chat sessions, a whiteboard and the ability to share applications (Webopedia, 2005). A study comparing a few different types of technological communication systems found that interaction using „Netmeeting‟ was quite simple. The study used four different groups of undergraduate students completing different assignments and using different Online Collaboration 5 systems. The students using „Netmeeting‟ were able to send and receive messages with a great amount of ease. However because of the simplicity of communication, the study found that the students using „Netmeeting‟ were more likely to find themselves off task than those using the asynchronous types of communication systems. Also, two-thirds of their messages were non-constructive, leaving only one-third of their messages to accomplish their task. Of these constructive messages, most were spent introducing a new idea or evaluating existing ideas, very little time was spent explaining ideas (Veerman & Diermanse). Analysis – Video Conferencing (Netmeeting) With synchronous collaboration like „Netmeeting,‟ the student will feel more comfortable with his/her environment, this making the effectiveness of the videoconference more successful in that aspect. As Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) state, instruction that is learner centered, which „Netmeeting‟ is, will provide a much more effective learning environment. However, when students are given the freedom to interact socially, they may find themselves more likely to get off task and not get as much accomplished as desired. The value of video conferencing must be measured by what the instructor hopes to achieve. Instructors who want their students to feel comfortable in their environment, and want them to interact with ease, would be best suited to use synchronous means of communication like „Netmeeting‟ or other video conferencing. If instructors are only concerned with the amount of on-task, constructive transfer of information that occurs, he/she may be better suited to use an asynchronous type of communication that won‟t allow as much social interaction. But most Online Collaboration 6 importantly, when choosing a communication system, in order for it to be of value to students, it needs to be reliable and it needs to meet the students‟ needs. Wikis Starting with listservs and web based discussion forums, conversational technology has evolved to include forms such as the wiki. “Wiki” (from Hawaiian “wiki- wiki” for “quick”) was applied by Ward Cunningham to an Internet collaborative tool he developed in 1994. Wiki users are able to read, re-organize and/or update content in what is referred to as open editing. Research - Wikis Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) point out that the philosophy of wiki favors four specific directions of thinking: “democratic peer review over editorial control, ease of access and open editing over security and control, incremental growth over upfront design, and free form content over structured content.” Their study examines a wiki implemented at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. A survey of Deakin students in 2003 indicated that 50 percent felt that their online learning experience was unsatisfactory. Frustration with technology and lack of interaction were given as causes for low satisfaction. Students felt that only 42 percent of their classmates participated in discussions. Implementation of an icebreaker activity using a wiki was proposed as a possible remedy for the lack of interaction. All participating students (451) completed the exercise satisfactorily. Mader (2006) utilized a wiki in teaching spectroscopy in a university setting. He is currently working on a wiki-based model to involve multiple faculty members in Online Collaboration 7 teaching a freshman science course. He is also testing another model to improve student in-class presentations. While most wiki projects have been aimed at students in secondary schools and above, Désilets and Paquet (2005) studied using wikis to develop writing skills among students in grades four through six working in teams of two to five. They observed three levels of collaboration which they described as co-located synchronous, co- located semi- synchronous and pair-editing. Analysis - Wikis Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) suggest that effective learning is learner centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, and community centered. (Terry Anderson [2004, p. 34] offers suggestions why it should be “learning centered” instead of “learner centered.”) Wikis are strong in all of these areas. Their constructivist nature makes them especially learner/learning centered. As Mader (2006) notes, the wiki breaks down the boundaries of the traditional physical classroom and extends time limits encountered in normal scheduling. It also provides the student with an opportunity to learn in an environment that is closer to the professional working situation. The purpose of a wiki is to develop accumulated knowledge. “Collaborative learning exercises are student centered and enable students to share authority and empower themselves with the responsibility of building on their foundational knowledge” (Augar et al 2004). Wikis produce documents reflecting shared knowledge of the group. “Wikis can also be used to facilitate the dissemination of information,” the study adds, “to enable the exchange of ideas and to facilitate group interaction.” Online Collaboration 8 Wikis can maintain databases of previous versions, including individual contributions, so educators can assess individual student participation in a group project. A study at Queensland University of Technology (Bruns and Humphreys 2005) used a wiki to work toward authentic assessment of critical, collaborative, and creative ICT literacies. This assessment valued a “networked rather than linear structure.” Wikis are designed to engage an entire community of participants. In fact, they involve all of the elements suggested by Schwartz et al (2004) for the creation of successful communities of practice: “a virtual presence, a variety of interactions, easy participation, valuable content, connections to a broader subject field, personal and community identity and interaction, democratic participation, and e volution over time.” Wenger (2002) developed seven principles for instilling life in communities of practice: design for evolution, open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives, invite different levels of participation develop both public and private community spaces, focus on value, combine familiarity and excitement, create a rhythm for the community. Studies raise two questions about wikis: accuracy of information and security. In December 2005, Nature magazine published the results of a peer review of parallel articles in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica (Giles 2005). The study found only eight serious errors, four in each source. There were 162 factual errors, omissions or misleading statements in Wikipedia and 123 in Britannica. Godwin-Jones (2003) outlines features that make wikis more secure than some other interactive online forms. He adds that wikis generally involve more “seriousness and permanence.” The Deakin University study (Augar et al. 2004) describes security Online Collaboration 9 measures taken in implementing that wiki. No major security problems are encountered in the study. Conclusion Conversational technologies, including blogs, video conferencing and wikis, promise to create online education environments that promote group collaborations through web-based interaction. Blogs are simple and inexpensive tools for stimulating reflection and discussions between students. Video conferencing provides the element of live interaction between students as well as between student and teacher. Wikis promote effective learning by being learner centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, and community centered. All three provide effective environments for interactive learning. Online Collaboration 10 Bibliography Aguilar, Cynthia M., & Rivero, Heather (2006, September). BLOGS: ending isolation. Principal Leadership. 7 (1), 46-51. Anderson, Terry and Fathi Elloumi, eds. (2004). Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Retrieved December 2, 2006 from http://epe.lac- bac.gc.ca/100/200/300/athabasca_univ/theory_and_practice/contents.html. Augar, Naomi, Ruth Raitman and Wanlei Zhou. (2004). Teaching and Learning Online With Wikis. Conference of the Australian Society for Computers in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). Retrieved December 2, 2006 from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/augar.html. Bransford,John D., Ann L. Brown and Rodney R. 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