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'Learn Web 2.0 with Maggie'

Maggie Verster, a passionate ‘Web 2.0 activist for teaching and learning’, facilitates a social learning site at http://learnwithmaggie.ning.com/. At the time of writing, this community has 136 members – mainly South African teachers but the site is now attracting more and more people in different parts of the world, from Puerto Rico to the Philippines.

As Maggie says on the home page: ‘This group is for all those who want to learn with me about how to use Web 2.0 technologies for teaching and learning...’Anyone can join the community at any time, and through the use of asynchronous tools, can learn from discussions that have taken place previously, as well as participate in current discussions. Maggie occasionally runs asynchronous online workshops on blogging, and all the materials and discussions arising out of these workshops are freely available for anyone to view at any time.

The following communication tools are used: 

  • Discussion forum – Anyone can start up a discussion thread here. The discussion forum is used mainly for the blogging workshops, for example, participants use the forum to introduce themselves and share their action plans, etc.

  • Blog – All members of the community can create their own blogs, and you can view everyone’s latest blog postings on a single screen. Many of the blog postings contain slide shows produced by participants, or links to slide shows, or commentaries on blogs by other people. Members also use the blogs to share ideas about teaching practice (e.g. how to get the best use out of a SmartBoard or electronic whiteboard), and to comment on each other’s ideas.

  • Video and photo pages: Anyone can upload videos or photos here. There are several video tutorials related to using Web 2.0 for teaching and learning (e.g. on how to use social bookmarking tools, how to use Twitter, etc.), and the photographs are mainly of face-to-face workshops that participants have attended. 

  • Profile pages – All members have their own profile pages where they can upload photos of themselves and write about their work and their interests. This is an essential component in creating a successful community, as it enables members to find out about each other and discover common interests.

The ‘Learn Web 2.0 with Maggie’ community is an excellent example of an open, informal learning environment in which asynchronous tools are used for collaborative learning.

Postscript: Since this course was initially developed Ning have made a decision to charge everyone to make use of their platform. Thus all 2.3 million creators of networks on the site will either have to pay for the service or migrate the network to another platform. Unfortunately, Maggie has made a decision to close down what was a very vibrant network.

An example from a Business Studies course

Here is an example of how some of these activity types might be combined in a single task, in a module on globalisation in a Business Studies course. The learners are required to produce a document in which they analyse the impact of globalisation on a particular industry of their choice. This could be a rather daunting task for learners, and so the tutor decides to scaffold the learning process as follows:

To start with, learners work in small groups to jointly produce definitions of globalisation, with reference to current theories on the subject. Each group of learners will produce a wiki page. In order to develop the wiki content, they will need to use search engines and possibly social bookmarking sites to find information about current theories on globalisation.

The groups are given a fixed time limit within which to produce their definitions – say, a week – after which all the wiki pages are made available to all class members to comment on. Each group can then refine or modify their definitions of globalisation according to the feedback they get from other class members, if they wish.

Learners then write individual blogs over a period of time (say, four weeks), documenting their ongoing discoveries and thoughts as they read and learn about globalisation in the particular industry they have chosen. During this time, learners can comment on each other’s blogs and respond to feedback from others. If the blogs are in the public domain, members of the public might also contribute.

Finally, learners individually write a 2,000 word paper in which they pull together all the strands of the content of their blogs, and summarise their understanding of the impact of globalisation in their selected industries. They submit these assignments to the tutor for marking. 


For each of the following activities, suggest one or more asynchronous tools (either within the learning management system or in the public domain) that would be appropriate. Some activities might work best with the use of a couple of tools used in combination.

  1. Learners write regular journal entries as individuals, and can read each other’s journals and comment on them. 

  2. Learners read a prescribed article and then write their answers to a few questions. Learners should be able to read each other’s answers and respond to each other with further questions or comments. 

  3. Learners give an audio presentation which their classmates can download and listen to in their own time. 

  4. Learners take a stand on a topic and write their point of view. All class members can read everyone else’s statements and comment on what others have written or challenge others’ views. 

  5. Learners ask questions of the tutor to clarify the requirements of an upcoming assignment. 

  6. Learners exchange personal information about their families, hobbies and work. 

  7. Learners are divided into groups of five or six. Each group is required to create a joint text in which they explain a concept. 

  8. Learners search for relevant articles on the internet in order to find out about a particular topic. 

  9. A learner invites friends and members of the public to join her in her learning journey in a particular subject area. 

  10. An individual attends a conference and uses his laptop to publish a running commentary on the presentations for anyone who is interested. 

  11. A tutor makes an audio recording of a lecture and asks learners to listen to it on their computers or mobile devices before attending a tutorial. 

  12. A tutor writes to a learner individually to find out how she is managing with an assignment which is overdue.

Below is a commentary on each of the above activities. Compare these points with your own answers:

  1. A blog would probably be the most appropriate choice here. At what stage in the learning journey (described in Unit 2) do you think learners will be ready to write a blog?  

  2. The activity described here is an example of a typical discussion board activity in an online course. Discussion boards offer an excellent way of organising learners’ contributions in this kind of activity. 

  3. An audio presentation can be recorded using podcasting software (such as the free Audacity) and a basic microphone. It is well worth investing the time in learning how to use this software, and if you are a relatively confident computer user, you will find it easier than you could have imagined.  

  4. This is another typical example of a discussion board activity. You might want to think about the role that you, as the tutor, should play in these discussions. To what extent should your ‘voice’ be heard on the discussion board? We will look at this question under ‘Mediatating asynchronous communication’ below. 

  5. While some learners might choose to write you an e-mail asking for clarification of the assignment requirements, it is usually preferable to encourage learners to post these questions on the discussion board so that others can see them too. That way, you only have to answer a question once. It is also very reassuring for learners to see that others have questions too! It is a good idea to have a permanent section of the discussion board dedicated to assignment queries. 

  6. As we said earlier, exchange of personal information between learners is an essential part of developing social presence. Many learners will do this via e-mail, but it is also good to encourage learners to share personal information in the class' shared space. That way if someone says he plays the drums, other musicians in the class might write back and indicate their shared interest. The more ‘open’ these discussions are, in terms of who can participate, the easier it is for shy people to join in. 

  7. Creating a joint text is usually best done in a wiki format. Wikis are excellent tools for enabling learners to add text, edit text and produce a final document that everyone in the group is happy with. Google Docs are a useful alternative, especially if learners want to use other formats such as spreadsheets or presentations, and if they want to edit simultaneously. The wiki pages or Google Docs can be kept private, only visible to the small group, during the development stage, and then made available to the whole class for comment. 

  8. Searching can be done using search engines such as Google, or using social bookmarking sites. 

  9. A learner who is documenting his learning journey would probably write a blog. The issue of whether learners’ blogs should be public or private (only available to classmates) may come up. What do you think?

  10. Many conferences are now documented in real time by enthusiastic bloggers who type an ongoing commentary on their laptops throughout the conference. This is called live blogging. While this practice is not known for the quality of the spelling and grammar, it is very useful as a record for people who are unable to attend the conference and want to get a feel for the kinds of discussions that are taking place. 

  11. Making a podcast of your lecture is an excellent way of freeing up time in synchronous meetings with learners for learners to ask questions, discuss issues and articulate their understanding of what they are learning. 

  12. Individual communication with learners is best done via e-mail. (Alternatively there is the telephone, which will be discussed in the next unit.)

Additional resources

Nancy White's blog, 'Full Circle, is an excellent source of ideas and information for anyone who is leading a discussion forum: http://www.fullcirc.com/