Connecting students

Online learning communities

3 min Video by Stephen Heppell

A balance of Freedom and Responsibility

Voices of the world

21st Century Connections


A key aspect of online social networks is that the content is user created and edited as well as commented upon by others. The benefits of this type of cooperation and collaboration on the learning process have long been recognised and steps have been taken to introduce these into managed/virtual leaning environments (Glover & Oliver, 2008).
Few authors have sought to understand how technology can build bridges of understanding across geographically distant and diverse cultures (Maguth, 2008). Teachers can use technology to foster global interconnectedness amongst students. We are coming to realise how local issues are rooted in global issues as well as how global issues are linked to local issues. Like Maguth, I believe that AIDS, poverty, conflict, human migration and climate change are challenges and issues that no single nation can address alone.

As we start to understand the importance of fostering interconnectivity educators play a special role in readying future citizens to meet the complex and global challenges of this era. Using the internet as a means to foster global connections serves as an effective mechanism to ready students for the complex and global nature of a new age. The internet has had profound implications on the way individuals collaborate and interact. Whereas many textbooks confine students to information embedded with stereotypes and narrow perspectives (Maguth, 2008), the internet allows users to navigate through a variety of information sources and opinions. It provides an immediate method of searching for and capturing multiple perspectives and accounts on a variety of issues. The internet holds the potential to bring students together to learn about one another and to take action in making their communities and world a better place.

Motivation is enhanced when learners’ expectations are satisfied and when they attribute their success to their own efforts and effective strategies (Dennis, 2008). Building learning communities in online environments becomes more complicated due to the diversity of students and their cultural back ground. There are no set standards or rules for cross-cultural learning other than mutual understanding and respect. The purpose of education is not just to teach students book knowledge but more importantly education should improve individual quality through nurturing good learning habits and improving communication skills (Liu, 2006). Liu discusses the following basic skills that students can start to master to improve their individual quality to build a strong community:
  1. Time management skills
  2. Communication Skills
  3. Social Networking skills
Like Lui, I believe the method of instructional delivery for educators is in a constant state of change and nothing will be finalised as long as the world is changing. Community learning is a way of combining learning with reality and brings education closer to the real world.

Sanders (2005)discusses how symbolic interactionists have long supported the theory that our definition of the world around us, and subsequently our knowledge and understanding of the world, emerges out of the interactions that take place between individuals and groups. Like Sanders, I believe that teachers need to encourage students to interact with content, learners and experts. Since a learning community cannot just evolve naturally the participating students and teachers must consciously build a virtual community that supports the exchange of each of the ideas, information and feelings of the members; technology opens up a wide range of opportunities for this to occur.

Ewbank, Carter & Foulger (2008)discuss the responsibilities of teacher educators and professional development mentors in assisting new and incoming teachers to understand the possible consequences of posting personal information on social networking sites, especially when these are open to the world. In their study they have found that some teachers that develop profiles on sites such as Facebook have found that tapping into this medium has proven to be a resource for tying classroom instruction into real life for their students. Other school professionals use social networking profiles as a means to generate buzz about school programs and to remind students of upcoming homework deadlines and quizzes. However, other teachers have been fired from their teaching positions due to their non-school MySpace sites being deemed as being inappropriate as they contained information of a personal nature. Like Ewbank, Carter & Foulger, I believe that whether we like it or not, teachers are held to a higher standard of moral behaviour than that of the general population. Making decisions about how to share and what private information should be shared cannot be taken lightly. Educators need to be responsible for sharing their wisdom about technology tools (such as Web2.0) so that informed discussions can take place with students.

Podcasting, blogging and social networking have amalgamated and become one “mashed-up technology” (Reamsbottom & Toth, 2008). Reamsbottom & Toth discuss the next step that podcasts have taken and the ease of online sites that allow video blogs without the need for software on your computer system. These online tools provide feedback mechanisms which form an excellent interactive environment and are simple to use. Like Reamsbottom & Toth, I believe we must find the most effective ways to use these tools. Today’s students are exposed to new technology at a rapidly increasing pace and educators cannot afford to be the late adopters anymore. Students are using these technologies and it is not a matter of questioning whether we should use them but how and when they should be used.

Dennis, C. 2008. Aiming for best practice in blended online learning communities. Paper presented at the World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2008, Vienna, Austria.

Ewbank, A., Carter, H., & Foulger, T. 2008. MySpace Dilemmas: Ethical Choices for Teachers using Social Networking. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2008, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Glover, I. & Oliver, A. 2008. Hybridisation of Social Networking and Learning Environments. Paper presented at the World Conference on Eucational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2008, Vienna, Austria.

Liu, Y. 2006. Building and Sustaining Online Learning Communities. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2006, Orlando, Florida, USA.

Maguth, B. 2008. Connecting Students Globally: The Effects of Infusing Technology into the Global Classroom. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2008, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Reamsbottom, B. & Toth, C. 2008. The Mash-up of Web 2.0 Technologies: The future of podcasting and social networking. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2008, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Sanders, R. 2005. Interaction and Online Learning Communities. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2005, Phoenix, AZ, USA.