I focused on five of the biggest names of the interactive web: forums, wikis, blogs, polls and instant messaging
Forums – Forums are asynchronous by design, but firmly grounded in real time in practice: waiting for responses that may never materialise is one problem; another is the latecomer’s dilemma: why should I bother to post when everyone else has moved on? Disabled students may find it difficult to keep up. Often forums do not have a spell check function which can alienate dyslexic students. Forum threads frequently slide off-topic; the moderator (if there is one) is free to intervene, of course, but may alienate the contributors in doing so.
Wikis – a real-life wiki can get messy; any moderately busy wiki in an educational setting is likely to present the reader with a multitude of voices and stylistic conventions
Students in a tutor group might well start correcting the typos of other students; sometimes they won’t be typos but conventions, and even if there is a genuine error students may resent their peers editing their contributions
Groups of students are likely to descend on a single wiki at the same time; even where wikis are divided into sections that can be edited simultaneously, some students will be locked out while someone else is crafting the perfect sentence.
On the whole, though, Wikis clearly have great potential for online collaboration, but there are issues for disabled students.
Blogs – can be thought of as a forum that allows only one user to post new topics – which may be more manageable for disabled students and allow others to comment. These comments can be checked and approved before being published.
Polls – polls could play a part in fostering an appreciation of the diversity of opinion amongst students. Taking polls can provide snapshots of views and perceptions and be a helpful check on how students are feeling. It is a useful way to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the teaching materials.
Instant messaging – may be useful for students to ask questions, participate in tutorials for online material, facilitate communication and collaboration.
Forums – forums collapse the distance between students: it is usually fun to read what other people have written and it can be rewarding (if daunting) to see what other people make of one’s own contributions
a forum allowing multiple threads automatically sorts discussions by topic for future reference
most forums are equipped with a search box, so it’s usually easy to find important messages
Wikis – have great potential for collaboration
Blogs – can stop important posts being buried in threads entitled ‘testing testing’ or ‘hiya’.
Polls – foster an appreciation of the diversity of opinion among students and are a good way to provide feedback
Instant messaging – allow for communication in real time.
Visit PROCAT Prospects College of Advanced Technology
This PROCAT Digital website is produced to report on activity from the Digital Learning Fellowship at PROCAT Prospects College of Advanced Technology, funded by The Education and Training Foundation.