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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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Among the many social networking sites (SNS) that have emerged in recent years, Ning stands out as a unique and useful tool for educators. Ning is a Web 2.0 tool that allows users to create their own social network. Although the company has only existed for five years (i.e., 2005), Ning has proven to be a powerful, attractive and free tool for SNS enthusiasts.

One of the most appealing features of Ning allows users to produce an original social network that focuses on a particular topic. In addition, creators can customize the features, widgets and design of this SNS. The user-friendly interface and easy setup is perhaps the greatest component of this creative opportunity.

As mentioned earlier, Ning is a free application, but the tradeoff for this free access is a series of adds posted on each page of the SNS. However, these ads are not intrusive and quickly fade away as one focuses on the content of the page. If a user desires to eliminate ads, then Ning offers ad-free SNS for a fee.

I enjoyed creating a Ning website for this assignment. The variety of tools offered within Ning allowed for a great deal of imagination on each page. I chose to construct a SNS for a Music Appreciation class that will be taught in the coming school year. Ning served as an ideal platform to host the variety of media that I wanted to incorporate in this class. For example, the top portion of the home page for my Ning site is illustrated below. The home page contains a graphic representation of each member, welcome, audio player, video links, chat area, course content links, announcement board, discussion forum, picture widget and group area. In addition to the home page, I created 11 additional pages that can be accessed by the navigational tab menu at the top of each page. These tabs range from personal information on each student to a link to my personal blog.

Ning Example SNS

The possibilities of Ning seem limitless in an educational settings. Promoting community, enhancing classes and teaching classes are examples of this potential. I do have to admit that I was surprised and saddened to discover that Ning would no longer be a free service as of May 2010. Certainly, there are similar tools on the Internet that can accomplish what Ning does, but Ning seems to be the leading competitor at this time. However, I will find a new, free service rather than paying to prolong activity in Ning. I believe that Ning will lose many customers because of this decision, and I think Ning underestimates the free market and open source options.

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