Archive for April, 2009

Evaluating Social Networking Tools for Distance Learning

Ellen S. Hoffman

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Using Ning

Tag cloud resource:

Point of presentation:

  • Why use social networks for distance learning
  • Evaluating social networks
  • How She’s used it in a class herself.

Formal definition

  • You have a profile
  • Have a way to relate to other users
  • Can leave persistent comments
  • Share content/Collaborate
  • Personalize Visually tools & widgets
  • Boyd & Ellison definition… include things like Youtube and Flickr… though this paper focus on only tools that are social in nature and doesn’t focus on content sharing.

How does it fit into Distance Learning?

Interactions with content/other students/ instructor

If it was easy to learn using a textbook… then you wouldn’t need universities and college.

Distance learning is unique and powerful. IT SHOULDN”T BE A Replication of what is done in the classroom.


  • Student is the center of attention.
  • It’s easy to get too fascinated with the technology.
  • Need to focus on the environment you want to conduct learning.

Evaluating Distance Learning Tools.

  • Students use social networking outside of classroom for social activity. Doesn’t mean they would know how to use it in a learning context.
  • Some students don’t like using it.
  • Some are there only because they have to use distance learning.
  • Sometimes courses have structure with specific learning goals and social networking may not be appropriate.
  • Sometimes people value anonymity.
  • Permanence issues. Sometimes things disappear online.
  • Intellectual property issues.
  • Advertising – sometimes not appropriate

Social networking that works for me.

  • I can learn from what others have to share
  • I can see who has what experience or expertise
  • People share opinions and content on various subjects
  • I can have open discussions with others.

Effective use of VLE Infokit. Jiscinfonet.

  • How to choose good appropriate tools.
  • How does the tool benefit you and the students and how does it help achieve learning goals.
  • Does it support the particular content you need to use in this course.
  • Elgg – server based – Eduspaces is an example
  • Ning –

Case Study:

  • Teacher education course in educational technology
  • Asynchronous – tougher to create a feeling of connectedness. Social networking can help
  • Mixed Technical Abilities
  • Most limited DL experience
  • Ongoing action research.

Why did her school look at this technology?

  • Lower student satisfaction in Distance courses
  • Week discussion tools in course management system
  • Goal of modeling use of newer tech.
  • Instructor interests.

They selected Ning:

  • Liked the discussion tools – could create a private site soley for their class.
  • Students wanted a private discussion area.
  • They start by creating a profile page. They can post images if they want.
  • They have required discussions in the social networking site.
  • Give them the freedom to choose how much they want to use the Social Networking site.
  • Some students were very social adn some were lurkers.
  • Improved the course ratings 🙂
  • Some initial confusion but they eventually got it.
  • They have open ended question…what did they like about it. They liked the level of interaction provided  by the social networking tool.
  • This is awesome stuff! 🙂

Interesting Observations:

  • Older students like instructual support.
  • Older students more likely to put up photographs.

The Tao of Online Faciliation

From my notes from the 2009 TCC conference.

NOTE: I will add my own notes and links later.

Presentation by Scott Robinson – Chair of Dept of Humanities at Kaplan University

There is a natural flow of energy in teaching

Yin and Yang -represents harmony, balance, good vs. bad.

Taoism –> West vs. East.

We’re dualistic hard to get away from that “Good Bad” mentality.

What about balance? Moderation?

Taoism two forces that work together to create balance. Nature and life reflects this. Yin and Yang refers to this natural balance in nature. The more we understand this flow of energy the better we can work in this flow.

  • Feminine side is dark side –> Rest and nurture, rest and restoration
  • Light (Masculine) we find –> Productivity, Work, Doing.

QUESTION: Can we put this to work to our advantage as facilitators?

Define Facilitate: What does the word mean?”

  • Let’s take the term “Make Easier.”
  • Easy –> Four letter word for educators
  • Hard –> Four letter word for students. Avoid instructors because they’re hard.
  • What  if we could find a balance between hard and easy.

Facilitator –> Conductor.

  • Faciliation is related to the flow of energy.
  • Facilitators direct the flow of energy.
  • Positive facilitation directs energy to the learner.

Chi –> energy, breath, life-force

What are some examples of learning as flow of energy?

  • Conversation online
  • Sharing on a wiki
  • Building knowledge online

Sometimes the flow is so strong

Westerners are tuned into action … hard to ‘not act.’

Wui-Wei –> actionless action. Non-action.

  • When we are actionless in the West it is often associated with laziness or weakness.
  • Wu-wei nonaction takes a great deal of self discipline and knowledge.
  • You must go with the flow. Trust the flow of energy and go with it.
  • Paying attention to the signs in an online class of student feeling/work… learning environment.
  • “Go with the flow” –> Positive facilitation is working with the energy of the student, or class, to produce the learning outcome.
  • Sometimes in a classroom there’s a ‘dangerous rip tide.’ Sometimes we take it on and try to nip the destruction at the bud. Correct the wrong assumption. Instead we should recognize the learning opportunity and go with it. Example some students might go off on a tangent and want to talk about building wikis…

Instructors as Judges.

Can’t escape this role. Sometimes this role makes us arrogant. Taoism helps us practice non-judgement.

Practicing Non-judgement

  • Suspending judgement to create space for the flow of energy
  • Non-judgement does not equal no judgement
  • Positive facilitator creates a respectful environment for learning

Here comes the Professor

  • Sage on the stage
  • Pompous
  • All knowing

Practicing Detachment

  • Releasing one’s personal attachment to the outcome
  • Positive facilitation keeps the learning process a the center by removing the (arrogant) presence of the facilitator

Tao and Constructivism

Constructivism adult learners construct meaning from previous life experiences. Positive facilitation uses the energy built into adult-learners life experiences.

Tao and Andragogy

Power is in the hands of the student or learner

Positive facilitation uses the student’s energy to fuel the learning experience.


Tao of Asynchronous Learning

Diverse energy sources occurring at a variety of times

Positive facilitation keeps the energy flowing 24/7 through frequent efforts to validate and generate learning.

Tao and Cognitive Economy

Cognitive economy adult learners invest in education based on their return on investment.

Positive facilitator creates positive energy by rewarding learning.

QUESTION: How do you do this?

Tao of Online Learning

Make learning easier by:

  • Suspending the need to judge students
  • Building meaning from the student’s life experience
  • Allowing student to fuel the learning experience
  • Frequently kindle the fire of asynchronous learning with affirmations, illustrative stories, and clarifying questions.
  • Feeding student’s hunger for learning.

Electric Grandmother

I probably will get a talkin to for posting this video up here, but I can’t help it.

My husband’s latest work:


I remember the show The Electric Grandmother with Maureen Stapleton as the grandmother.  It felt like one of those “Afterschool Specials,” but apparently it was based off of the short story by Ray Bradbury titled “I Sing the Body  Electric.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Robot Nana?

This guy is my hero right now

I first learned of Patrick Awuah via the TED talks.

Here is Patrick Awuah’s talk at TED: /patrick_awuah_on_educating_leaders.html

The man left a prestigious corporate job to found a university in his home country of Ghana. And it wasn’t just any university where you had a major and a minor or a major and two minors… it’s a Liberal Arts college aimed at developing good leaders.  I often joke with friends that Liberal Arts colleges are like dinosaurs that we really need right now. You hardly see them any more, but we are, in my opinion, in dire need of them.

I will not argue that a liberal arts education is necessary or applicable for everyone, but somehow we may have a great many people (depending on who to talk to) who are technically educated or understand their fields, but we don’t have a lot of people who can really ‘think’ strategically and creatively. Good liberal arts ed when executed properly helps young people make connections with what they learn, and it develops people who are skilled at analyzing life and it’s events and experiences and connecting them with literature, philosophy and the past.

I’ve suspected that the death of Liberal Arts in this country came when we decided that it was more important to rely on higher education to get specialized and technical training for a specific careers.  That pesky major in “communication” is a good example of this. While I see it’s important to learn what you’re going to apply in a job, isn’t it also important to learn why or even ask why you’re learning it? Perhaps we wouldn’t be facing some of the economic or political problems today if we had more people asking “why” questions, specifically, “Why are we doing that?” Or even better, “Is that right?”

I think you need people who are educated via liberal arts and technical education, to execute successful endeavors in many fields.


My place outside of work to explore and make connections with the ideas and things (sometimes work-related) that I'm passionate about.

My Tweets

Blog Stats

  • 296,288 hits