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Web 2.0 is now a technological juggernaut, and these technologies are revolutionizing the way people communicate, collaborate and accomplish basic tasks. The focus of IT 860, Emerging Technologies in Instructional Technology, was to explore the latest and greatest Web 2.0 tools that show promise in education. Dr. Yuen exposed each student to the theoretical basis for each Web 2.0 tool through his book, “Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking.” In addition, students were required to use each Web 2.0 tool that was discussed in order to gain knowledge through experiential learning.

The first generation of the Web was developed primarily by experts and aimed at merely sharing knowledge. Web 2.0 differs in that these tools are created and developed by a variety of users with the intent of collaboration and interactivity. This focus on collaboration and interactivity has facilitated a sweeping embrace of social media. For example, if Facebook was a country, then it would be the third largest in the world behind China and India.

The Web 2.0 applications covered in IT 860 can be divided into three categories: tools that connect people, tools that share knowledge and tools that connect people and share knowledge in virtual environments. A large portion of the readings focused on issues involved with connecting people, while the bulk of the Web 2.0 tools that were covered focused on the sharing of knowledge. It should be noted that while I discuss these ideas separately, the whole point of Web 2.0 is to provide environments that both connect people and share knowledge.

Tools that Connect People

The premise of collective intelligence is founded on the power of tools that connect people. A series of readings helped to shed light on the philosophical basis for the use of these connecting Web 2.0 technologies in education. A new paradigm in learning theories was introduced in 2004 with the birth of connectivism, which stems from the traditions of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. Our first reading was on connectivism and described the power of collective intelligence. Connectivists hold that learning takes place as networks of individuals share knowledge, and one powerful Web 2.0 tool covered that represents the power of human connection is Twitter.  For example, Twitter boasts 50 million Tweets per day; that is a lot of connecting!

As might be expected, this level of connectivity requires a good organizational infrastructure and can lead to a great number of legal concerns in education. Therefore, our second reading addressed the obstacles to implementing Web 2.0 in educational institutions. Further, educators need to consider the human and social issues involved with the implementation of Web 2.0 in the classroom, which was our third reading.

Synchronous Online Learning Environments (SOLE) represent an excellent example of synchronous online learning that is offered in an ethical and effective way. In SOLE, students have a chance to interact with peers and the teacher in a similar way to a traditional classroom, and multiple channels of media simultaneously connecting with learners enhance this interaction.

Tools that Share Knowledge

The power of Web 2.0 to share knowledge is robust; in fact, the number of tools is overwhelming. Dr. Yuen did an excellent job of weeding through the volumes of applications available and introducing students to the best of these tools. A reading that described the potential of Web-based video (e.g., YouTube) began this quest.

Following this reading, students dove into a myriad of Web 2.0 tools aimed at sharing knowledge. Social bookmarking (Diigo) is a Web 2.0 technology that allows users to bookmark Web sites and place tags on those bookmarks using keywords. Social publishing sites (Scribd) allow users to share and find written documents on the Internet or mobile devices, such as Word, PowerPoint or PDF. Screencasting (Jing or ScreenToaser) occurs when individuals capture a video of what happens on a computer screen over a span of time, and audio (e.g., narrative) is usually part of a screencast as well. File Sharing (Drop.io) is a powerful trend in Web 2.0 that facilitates collaboration, and users can create a “drop” by uploading an image, audio, video, document or other digital content. VoiceThread is a media aggregator that permits users to upload media to a website, and this tool also facilitates collaboration and feedback on such media.

Connecting and Sharing in Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds find their ancestry in video games. Therefore, our first reading on virtual worlds actually focused on a model of Game-Based Learning (VISOLE). Learning through games is gaining more attention from several educators. Perhaps an even more promising environment for learning is seen in virtual worlds. Our final reading focused on taking a Pedagogical Odyssey in Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds (The SECOND LIFE Model). As a point of application, each student had an opportunity to make a presentation at a conference in Second Life.

Summative Thoughts

All of these tools described above promoted the sharing of knowledge. However, it would be misleading if I failed to highlight the intrinsic ability of each of these tools to also connect learners. A symbiotic relationship exists between connecting people and sharing knowledge in Web 2.0.

Dr. Yuen provided an incredible environment for learning these emerging tools. In fact, he taught the class through a platform (Mixxt) that closely resembled a social networking site (SNS) rather than through learning management software (LMS). Naturally, this approach led to more connectivity among students and facilitated the sharing of knowledge among the group.

This class has been an incredible journey of learning. I now feel confident to use Web 2.0 tools and design instruction around them appropriately.

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Virtual worlds offer an exciting new outlet for delivering content to learners. Second Life is one the best known and largest of several virtual worlds that are designed to attract crowds, including educators. Second Life is arguably the best virtual world in terms of collaboration, education, community and innovation.

How big is Second Life?

There are over 1 million residents in Second Life that regularly go “inworld” (i.e., log in and activate an avatar). In addition, there are over 1,400 organizations in Second Life ranging from colleges to mainstream corporations to government agencies. Many of these organizations own property including the U.S. military. Second Life contains around 500,000 acres of virtual real estate that can be purchased or rented. In 2009, the transactions in Second Life garnered over an astounding $500 million; that is actual U.S. currency. Second Life allows real-life individuals to have full-time jobs within this virtual world.

In some ways, this movement mirrors the growth of the Internet. Second Life is often used as a test bed for corporations such as Sony, Nissan and Sun Microsystems, among others. In the 1990s, the Internet was largely a research and educational network, but it has quickly become a commercial juggernaut.

What do people do in Second Life?

“Residents” of Second Life can sign up for free, and they simply do life together. They make friends, play sports, watch movies, run businesses and construct buildings. Residents can walk, run and fly, and they can dress in any body style they wish. In fact, users can change from a hip-hop male to a glamorous female to an animal all in the same session. In other words, they can be anyone or anything they wish to be, and they can do almost anything they wish to do.

Opportunities for Learning in Second Life: A Case Study

Because Second Life allows users to be anyone and do anything, opportunities for rich learning experiences abound in Second Life; they are virtually infinite. One such opportunity came as an assignment in IT 780. We were asked to create a presentation on a Web 2.0 topic and present this topic in the context of a Second Life Symposium.

Second Life Alcove

The symposium took place on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Second Life island: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/GoldenEagle1/124/122/24. Each student prepared a short presentation that was displayed on a giant display alcove (pictured above).

Second Life PodiumThe presentations included several items. A podium in the front of the alcove displayed a “real-world” picture of the presenter, and if viewers clicked on this image, then a short biography of the presenter appeared. The front podium also held a title slide for the presentation. If viewers clicked this image, then they could see a short abstract of the presentation (presented below). Beside the front podium a “comments” box was placed so that viewers and peers could leave feedback on each presentation.

Second Life HandoutAnother feature of each presentation was a handout. The handouts allowed each passer-by to take a summative artifact of each presentation. Viewers could obtain a handout by clicking on the handout poster, which was placed on an easel beside each presentation, as illustrated.

The Presentation: eyePlorer

Obviously, the main feature of each presentation was contained on the five posters placed on the alcove module. I chose to do a presentation on eyePlorer. EyePlorer is a free Web 2.0 application that allows learners to “explore and process knowledge.”  Learners begin by typing in a word or phrase to research. EyePlorer gathers information from the Web and arranges it into a color wheel of concepts.  If users hover over each concept on the color wheel, then they get a brief description about that item. In addition, each term is cross-referenced with associative concepts.

The premise of eyePlorer is to enhance the way “users interact with knowledge and information online.”  Discovering information is accomplished in an interactive, visual and innovative manner. This application is ideal for brainstorming and finding associative ideas. An interactive notebook is provided to drag and drop facts, which allows users to find and collate references. The process of searching for topics and collecting notes helps learners prepare to write and promotes digital literacy. My presentation can be viewed below.

Rewarding Experience

The process of creating this presentation for Second Life was rich and rewarding. As might be expected, I learned a great deal about Second Life simply as a result of having to present in the context of Second Life. This required that I learn how to communicate, travel, change clothes and the list could continue.

Interestingly, I was learning on two levels simultaneously. I was doing the research on eyePlorer and learning about that Web 2.0 technology, and at the same time, I was learning about Second Life. This experience was almost like “digital dual-coding.” I haven’t heard that term before, but I think the experience is accurately described by that phrase.

A Sidebar Takeaway

As a side note, I have a great story that I will remember from this project. Our instructor told us to ensure that we had all documents in place well ahead of time and that we had a secure connection for the presentation. All of the documents were in place well ahead of time, so that was no issue. In considering a secure Internet connection, I could think of no better place than my workplace, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). After all, we have a network that flows straight from our state’s capital, Jackson, on a pretty beefy infrastructure. I spent the morning of the presentation double-checking to make sure Second Life worked from my desk, and I was ready to go. The presentation started at 3:00, and around 2:55 (no kidding), MGCCC’s entire network crashed. They initially thought it was a server problem, but we came to find out that AT&T actually cut into a major fiber. I wound up having to drive to my house and arrived at the presentation 30 minutes late. All of this to say, that I was reminded of a valuable lesson: “The best made plans of mice and men often go awry.”

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VoiceThread is a media aggregator that permits users to upload media to a website, and this tool also facilitates collaboration and feedback on such media. This free Web 2.0 tool has several unique strengths. Users can easily add a voice narrative on top of an uploaded media, and this media can be a video, photos, slide presentation or document. In response, viewers can add feedback to the uploaded media in the form of video, audio or text. The power of aggregation brings all of these elements together, so that the resulting page contains a Flash-based animation with the original media and related comments. Another strength of VoiceThread is that it is user-friendly, especially in posting comments.

Making a VoiceThread

Users need to sign up for a free account in order to start a project. Creating a VoiceThread begins by uploading media. Fortunately, VoiceThread allows subscribers to upload content from a variety of sources. You can upload from a local computer, URL, webcam or media source (Facebook, Flickr, New York Public Library and other VoiceThreads).

After the media artifact is uploaded, users have the option to comment on each slide. Comments can be made by a keyboard (text), audio file upload (audio), phone (audio), microphone (audio) or webcam (video). Each speaker (i.e., commenter) is identified by a small image that is interactive. In other words, a user can click each speaker’s image to retrieve his or her comment. Creators and commentators also have an option to doodle (i.e., lines, arrows, etc…) on the media as part of their comment.

Finally, VoiceThreads can be shared in a variety of ways: email, embedded in a Web page or through a URL link. Under the “Publishing Options,” creators can control how each VoiceThread is shared. You can make it closed to a group of friends or open to the public. You can allow anyone to comment or restrict commenting. You can also allow the VoiceThread to be searchable in search engines by clicking “Show on Browse Page.”

How can this tool be used in education?

VoiceThread allows students to post an artifact. The teachers and peers can then comment on this artifact. Students could also collaborate on projects in order to produce group presentations or oral histories. In addition, VoiceThreads could be used for digital storytelling and for communication. For teachers, this tool seems ideal for starting discussions. For example, a teacher could post an image or video and then ask the class to comment on the respective media.

Are there any disadvantages to VoiceThread?

VoiceThread might pose an accessibility problem for those students with low bandwidth. In addition, viewing the application on a mobile phone can be quirky because it employs Flash to deliver content. Finally, teachers will have to take a creative approach to assessment because this is a nontraditional tool.

Future trends

In essence, VoiceThread makes sharing visual media easy and accessible, much like tools such as SlideShare. Because VoiceThreads are so easy to make and post comments, users might embrace this technology more quickly than complex technologies. VoiceThread comes across as professional. The ease of use and high quality of VoiceThread makes it an ideal tool for collaboration and interactive presentations. Perhaps the greatest potential of VoiceThread is that it allows users to convey their own thoughts through media and contribute to other VoiceThreads.

You can view a recent VoiceThread that I made by clicking the image below. It is a presentation on “The Value of a Network” from the perspective of constructivism. Feel free to leave a comment!

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As mentioned in my brief biography, I am currently working towards a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration with an emphasis in Instructional Technology. I have a learned a great deal from the classes I’ve taken in Instructional Technology, especially concerning Web 2.0 applications. In fact, this blog was initiated in conjunction with my doctoral program.

In the next several post, I will chronicle some of the learning that is taking place in IT 860 (Emerging Technology in Instructional Technology). Each post listed in the IT 860 Table of Contents will serve to outline the major assignments and the learning that takes place. I also hope to reflect on each project and discuss opportunities for application in my current setting. The following description represent a brief outline of the contents to be covered.

The primary focus of IT 860 is on emerging Web 2.0 technologies. And each assignment iss tied to a corresponding chapter from Dr. Yuen’s book, “Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking.“ The major readings for this course include Postmodernism in E-Learning 2.0, Embracing E-Learning 2.0, University 2.0, Web-Based Video for E-Learning, Synchronous Online Learning Environments, Game-Based Learning (VISOLE) and A Pedagogical Odyssey in Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds (The SECOND LIFE Model). These readings will help to introduce several Web 2.0 tools, provide a theoretical background for each tool and demonstrate points of application in education for each tool.

In conjunction with each reading, students are asked to immerse themselves in the technology. This step is important because instructional technologists need to move beyond a surface level understanding of Web 2.0 tools and actually use them. Without interaction with these tools, comments and discussion would merely be speculative or second hand. The Web 2.0 tools that we will experience during this semester include Twitter, Social Bookmarking (Diigo): Reflection on Assignment #2, Social Publishing Sites (Scribd), Screencasting, File Sharing with Drop.io and VoiceThread. These tools represent current tools that are popular and show a great deal of potential in education. I look forward to experiencing each Web 2.0 application!

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This table of contents chronicles the reflections on various projects and assignments of IT 780, Seminar in Instructional Technology.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.    Introduction to Blogfolio

II.  Reflection on Assignments

III. Reflection on Readings

IV.  Overall Reflection on IT 780

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Web 2.0 has only been on the technology scene for a few years, since around 2004. However, this new body of Web applications has transformed the way people interact with the Internet and each other. The focus of IT 780, Seminar in Instructional Technology was to expose students to current Web 2.0 applications. In addition, Dr. Yuen insured that students were immersed in the practical employment of these tools rather than just studying about them.

Content within the first generation of the Web was developed for communication and information sharing, and usually an individual or group created these Web sites.  Web 2.0 differs in that it is based on interactivity and collaboration, and users develop these new applications. The genesis of Web 2.0 has given rise to the popularity of social media, which I will discuss in five broad categories: communication, collaboration, multimedia, reviews, and entertainment.

Communication tools (e.g., blogs, microblogs and social networking systems) have garnered the most attention among all Web 2.0 tools. Most notably, social networking systems (SNS) are immensely popular. For example, Facebook would be the third most populated country in the world if compared to existing countries. Dr. Yuen covered communication tools in four ways. First, the IT 780 class was primarily taught through Ning, which is a SNS. Second, we had reading assignments that presented research on SNS, and each member of the class had to create a Ning Web site designed to teach a class. Third, going a step beyond normal Web site creation, Dr. Yuen assigned a project that asked each student to generate an original mobile Web site. Fourth, the blogfolio that you are now reading serves as an example of a Web 2.0 communication tool, and this blog represents the final project for the IT 780 class.

Collaborative tools allow groups of people to accomplish projects together and include such items as social bookmarking, wikis and news. Social bookmarking allows users to bookmark Web sites, tag each site with keywords and save the bookmarks to a public Web site. A wiki is simply a Web page that can be edited and viewed by anyone with an Internet connection and a Web browser. One of the reading assignments for IT 780 focused on social bookmarking. Also, the IT 780 class was divided into small groups, and each group was responsible for creating and designing a wiki. The development of the wiki was informed by two reading assignments on wikis that were given by Dr. Yuen.

A myriad of Web 2.0 applications have been produced for multimedia, which includes photos, videos, audio, livecasts and presentations. Flickr and Picasa represent Web 2.0 tools designed for photos and graphics, and podcasting represents an example of an audio application. In fact, one of the reading assignments and a project for IT 780 focused on podcasting, including the creation of an RSS feed. Dr. Yuen also assigned a project that employed the use of an online presentation tool, Slideshare. This presentation tool allowed each student to upload and share Adobe PDFs, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations online. I underestimated how many individuals would view this site. For example, I uploaded two presentations, and both of them have over 700 views in just a couple months. Obviously, the potential of such devices is enormous.

Dr. Yuen also asked the class to read an article that gave a general overview of Web 2.0 technologies. This article addressed many of the applications mentioned above. The focus of the IT 780 class was to expose students to Web 2.0 tools, specifically as it related to education. In light of this exposure to Web 2.0 technologies, Dr. Yuen asked each member of the class to make a presentation on a Web 2.0 technology that he or she found useful. Therefore, we did not spend a great deal of time on Web 2.0 applications designed for reviews (e.g., products, business or community) or entertainment (games, platforms or virtual worlds). However, these tools were mentioned in various class discussions.

IT 780 has been an incredible adventure of discovery in the Web 2.0 world. As Dr. Yuen says, many technologists read or talk about these applications but never immerse themselves in the tools. This class forced students to gain a functional knowledge of Web 2.0 tools. As a result, I feel prepared to discuss current Web 2.0 technologies with authority. In addition, exposure to these technologies has been a catalyst for personal and professional change. For example, I will certainly change several approaches in teaching and learning as a result of this course. When a class motivates one to make life changes and challenges previously held beliefs, then I would argue that it has been a great success. IT 780 is certainly in this mold.

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Web 2.0 was designed to encourage social collaboration, user-centered design and interoperability. An overwhelming number of applications have been developed in association with Web 2.0. In the midst of this social media, individuals can become overwhelmed with the options and inundation of information. This technological flood can, at times, send users into overload. Prioritizing what is important and urgent is an essential skill in using Web 2.0.

Interestingly, Web 2.0 enthusiasts have recognized this issue and created applications that assist users in filtering and prioritizing information. Aggregators represent a genre of Web 2.0 tools that accomplish this task. There are a number of aggregators available, but I would like to discuss Netvibes as a representative example from this group. In addition, one of the assignments from IT 780 was to present on a Web 2.0 tool, and I chose Netvibes as the tool on which I would present.

The term “aggregate” simply means to gather into a whole. Web 2.0 aggregation, therefore, can be seen as an application that gathers pertinent information from various sources into one place (i.e., Web site). An analogy to aggregation can be illustrated by the evolution of sandwich making. Before 1916, if someone wanted to make a normal sandwich, then they would need to go to the baker for bread, butcher for meat and, perhaps, a number of farmers to get fresh vegetables (e.g., lettuce or tomatoes). However, Piggly Wiggly became the first self-service grocery store in 1916, and sandwich connoisseurs could gather all the needed ingredients for a sandwich in one location. Similarly, aggregators allow users to gather all desired Web-based content in one location.

Netvibes offers a number of widgets and tools to facilitate this gathering of information. First, users create a custom home page with widgets that can be accessed from any location with Internet access. This allows users to always have access to their Netvibes home page. The application centralizes content. Live data can be added to the home page, such as stocks, email, weather or headlines. Social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook or Twitter, can also be added to the home page. RSS and Atom feeds are also supported by Netvibes. In fact, users can embed another website within their Netvibes home page.

As mentioned earlier, a number of aggregators exist, but Netvibes offers several competitive features. SNS integration is a crucial component of Netvibes. In addition, Netvibes updates in real-time, so information is always current. There is a great deal of flexibility within Netvibes, including multiple page and tab creation. Bloglines, Google reader plus iGoogle, My Yahoo! and Pageflakes are additional aggregators. In my opinion, Netvibes, Pagefalkes and iGoogle are the three best aggregators currently on the market.

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