Bridging the Distance: Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Online Education More Social

Poster was presented at the 2015 Social Media and Society International Conference in Toronto, Ontario on July 27-29, 2015

Bridging the Distance: Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Online Education More Social

Abstract: Over the past several decades, distance education has come to be virtually synonymous with online education or eLearning. Non-credit Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are touted as increasing access to education, while for-credit online education offers geographically or time constrained students depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as recognized credentials. Yet, online distance education has some significant drawbacks for students who are not physically present where they are enrolled. These challenges include limitations to communication abilities, feelings of separation from instructors and peers, and an increased likelihood of dropping out. New technologies have arisen, however, that make these challenges easier to surmount.

Given the increasing number of distance education students, it has become more imperative for an institution to have the right communication tools to suit the needs of its students and faculty. Distance educators now use Content Management Systems, Virtual Classrooms, and Web 2.0 social media applications to connect with their students, both for educational and for community-building purposes. Effective use of these tools can greatly increase the level of engagement of faculty and students alike, while ineffective use of these tools can reduce engagement.  Knowing which tools may be most effective is highly beneficial for faculty. 

The use of Web 2.0 tools is already changing the education paradigm as distance learning becomes more social. Some of these tools are being rolled into Content Management Systems, while others are being used outside of them. Current students have access to asynchronous non-collaborative tools, including interactive online lessons, and blogs.  Students can also use asynchronous collaborative-tools, such as forums, messaging services, glossaries, and databases. Finally, they have access to synchronous tools such as chat rooms, wikis, and Virtual Classrooms, which can provide a range of technologies including VoIP and video calling, allow for the sharing of whiteboards, slides, and application, and archive live class sessions for later consultation. Distance education students can also use non-classroom based Web 2.0 tools, including social media, RSS and podcasting, media sharing applications, and social bookmarking. Increased use of any of these tools can help distance education students feel more connected to their fellow students and thus more likely to remain part of their program.


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