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  • 1. 2nd International Malaysian Educational Technology Convention Communities of Learning Within Web-Log Ng Huey Zher & Raja Maznah Raja Hussain Department of Curriculum and Instructional Technology University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur nhzher@gmail.com, rmaznah@um.edu.my Abstract Lecturers from higher education institutions face difficulties in adopting and implementing the most apt tool for active and engaged learning in order to produce learners who know how to think while balancing it with other uphill administrative tasks. In order to answer the challenges faced by the lecturers and to close the gap in producing life-long learning students, this study illustrates how web-blog was adopted and applied to create communities of learning in a course in a higher education institution. The Technology in Primary Education course was designed to encourage students to learn from reflection and communication via web-logging. The instruments used for this qualitative study are content analysis on web-logs, and interviews while sampling of the study is six third year students (pre-service teachers) enrolled in the course. From the analyzed data, it was gathered that a community of learning formed from six different student-individual, with common goals which they aimed to achieve. It should be cautioned that due to the limitations and delimitations of the study, the data cannot be generalized to a wider population. Introduction In an article (TheStar, 030608) written by Ir. Ahmad Jais Alias Fellow from the Centre for Consultancy and Training, IKIM, most of the employers (or potential employers) are of the opinion that today's graduates are not ready for a job requiring a certain command of knowledge that graduates are supposed to have acquired from their learning process in the universities. With such consistent reminders from the public, Malaysian lecturers are also concurrently facing pressure in preparing students to face a future rapidly moving towards a knowledge-based economy. Unfortunately, they are surrounded by demands and challenges such as covering the syllabus (subject oriented learning), cramped teaching schedules, large class size, and limited class time, which also occur frequently in a Malaysian classroom environment. “Maintaining control in the class” would also be included as one of the challenges as we have students with each having their own personality and beliefs. Lecturers need to cater to various preconceived ideas and questions on the courses which students are about to embark upon such as “Is it difficult?”, “Will the course be too hectic?”, “Hope the class will be enjoyable and fun.”, “What will we gain from the course?”, “Will I be competent in the course?” Therefore, the lecturers face difficulties in adopting and implementing the most apt pedagogy for active and engaged learningn order to produce learners who know how to think while at the same time having to balance teaching with other uphill administrative tasks. This qualitative research discusses how “communities of practice” concepts are applied to create significant learning among students. Thanks to the technological options available today, students can enhance the opportunity to engage in learning through the use of online communities. For this case-study, the platform of online communities used is web-log. Research Context Firstly, the study was centred in a higher education institution, drawing on a sample of third year pre- service teachers who enrolled in the ‘Technology in Primary Education’ course. This course introduced students to the concepts of technology and its applications in teaching and learning in primary education. Students also examined some aspects of technology use, focusing on information and communication technology, hardware, productivity software, computer skills, information delivery techniques and integration of teaching and learning. From the start of the semester, the class of seventy-five (75) students was divided into groups of six or seven. Each group was given the flexibility to choose their own group members. Later, to evoke the element of ownership, each group has to create their own group name. These groups would be maintained until the end of the course. In this course, weblogging was an integrated activity throughout the semester which was equivalent to fourteen (14) weeks.
  • 2. 2nd International Malaysian Educational Technology Convention The weblog had to be kept on-going throughout a semester and would be given feedback by the lecturer. The weblog of each student functioned as an educational resource a) providing online information for the students to read and respond; b) gathering and organizing internet resources for the specific course and topic; c) providing links to appropriate sites and annotating the links to highlight their relevance; d) post photos and comments on class activities. Theoretical Basis: Research Underpinning A. Commmunities Of Learning Community, described by Wenger (1998), is similar to learning as belonging, where the community is the learning context and has three essential components; mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. Learning communities was first initialized when Carl Rogers (1969) wanted to establish a ‘community of learners’. Jean Piaget (1976) and his notion of active learning also believed that students perform better when they think together in groups, record their thinking and explain it by presenting an exhibit to the class. As they actively engage with others to think together, they become more interested in learning. This is further justified as Vygotsky (1986) introduced the notion that learning is a social experience. Individuals thinking alone first make personal meaning. Then they test their thinking in dialogue with others to construct shared meaning. Finally, they construct collective meaning by reviewing shared meaning in a larger community. The individual-students that make up one community are different yet the same. The communities are not homogenous. Difference here reflects different characteristics, traits, behaviours, beliefs, age, and background. No doubt, these varieties will lead to disagreement and argument. What reduces the varieties will be the similarity on the common goals they aim to achieve. This was further proven in a study by Moule (2006) on developing the communities of practice for on-line learning. “It is anticipated that the community would not necessarily live in harmony, but that there can be disagreement and conflict, yet there is concern that if commonality is favoured, this may limit diversity and conflict may be ignored.” B. Web-Log The blogging phenomenon has indeed evolved from its early origin as a medium for the publication of simple, online personal diaries, to the latest disruptive technology, the 'killer app' that has the capacity to engage people in collaborative activity, knowledge sharing, reflection and debate (Hiler, 2003). Compared to asynchronous discussion forums such as newsgroups and bulletin boards, Ferdig & Trammel (2004) compare discussion forums to blogs and point that blogs are more successful in promoting interactivity that is conversational; a mode of interaction more conducive to improving student and teacher relationships, active learning, higher order thinking, and greater flexibility in teaching and learning. Ferdig and Trammel also noted four distinct learning advantages for blogging: the use of logs helps students become subject-matter experts, increases student interest and ownership in learning, gives students legitimate chances to participate, and provides opportunities for diverse perspectives both inside and out of the classroom. Bausch, Haughey and Hourihan (2002) argue that web-logs provide an opportunity to capture knowledge where it is created in an organisation, sharing that knowledge throughout an organisation. Further research by Pór & Molloy (2000), cited in Willims and Jacobs (2004), also supported that personalised responses to news and messages are a simple means of developing an understanding of the collective knowledge of an organisation and a means of broadening that knowledge, thus creating 'intelligence' from 'knowledge' Moreover, the current generation of college students (ages 18-22) is community-oriented whereby friends, relationships and contributing to the community are important (Oblinger, 2004). Therefore, Allen (1999) supported that blogs are perhaps the most obvious in providing a forum for academic discourse that reaches beyond the scope of a university subject and which augments the knowledge creation occurring throughout a student's enrolment in a higher education program (Allen 1999). Research Findings: Communities Within Blogs As mentioned earlier, web-logs provide an opportunity to capture knowledge where it is created in an organisation, sharing that knowledge throughout an organization (Bausch, Haughey and Hourihan, 2002). 116
  • 3. 2nd International Malaysian Educational Technology Convention The issue is seen in the entries for this course. One example is depicted in Student A’s entry. Student A used her web-log to inform her peers about a learning platform system similar to Moodle. Its functions are more or less like the moodle – that we are using now … where we will be provided with class notes, class readings, announcement for assignment and others. … you actually can create your own Moodle for free :) I repeat. There will be no charges, no any terms and condition. First, visit the Nicenet homepage at http://nicenet.org To retain the knowledge received, the student explained to her peers on how to use the platform by illustrating with step-by-step instructions. go to new users start here – teachers. Click - create a class. Second, fill in your particulars such as username, password, class name (your own classname E.g. Year 4 Dynamic), email add, email confirmation, first name and last name. Click - create a class after you filled up the spaces. You are now successfully got into the Nicenet! 117
  • 4. 2nd International Malaysian Educational Technology Convention Entry written by Student P on August 17, 2007 Based on the comment received, the knowledge was well received by the organization. “plenty of useful information and thank you for the post on nicenet.org. it did help me though …great guidelines!” Comment on August 23, 2007 9:40 PM At the same time, collaboration among students was equally distributed in this course as every student of a different level shared a common goal. Therefore, various individual functions existed within communities of learning to achieve common goal. Due to the lack of understanding from Student A, there was a question posted via web-log. Requesting for assistance from other peers clearly indicated there were other peers of the same community who obtained advanced level of knowledge who in-turn can help Student A. Student A recognized the functions of her peers in assisting her. This peer learning has moved the learner beyond independent to interdependent learning or mutual learning (Boud, 1988). Well, before I end, I have a query here regarding the saying in your blog that, “we can easily crop the picture in any shape you want without having to go to programmes such as ADOBE PHOTOSHOP”. I know that we can crop pictures according to its shapes on the smartboard easily using our fingers as demonstrated by Ms. XXX. …Anyone knows about this…please let me know oo…your enlightenment will be very much appreciated… (Well, with regards to my query on this, please send me your response to my comment box in my blog) Entry by Student A, August 24, 2007 9:45 AM Moreover, the bond which formed among the students within the organization was seen to be encouraging each other. The common goal which bound them so strongly would establish strong influence on each other. Indirectly, this shapes the individual. A negative entry would spark immediate responses from fellow friends as illustrated below. Feeling very inferior to present my project, plus, it would be THE FIRST TIME I use the SMART board, I marched un-confidently to the front escorted by one of my group members, Ermi, who would help me if anything turn not so ok. The show began. Nervously, I knocked and knocked on the board (actually, I was demonstrating my activities). Entry by Student Z, September 12, 2007 6.31PM The comments which ensued are encouraging, motivating allowing for learning to take place in a safe environment. Student Y said Relax, Bro!! most important is, you have tried the best... and just be proud of your pieCe September 18, 2007 10:27 PM Student Z replied Student Y, thank for the words of encouragement... September 19, 2007 4:21 PM Student O added a personal opinion and positive comparison. Hey Student Z, I personally enjoyed your piece of work yeah! it holds originality, creativity and most important of all, YOUR EFFORT! And I thought it was nice to "knock" the board like you did. Haha.. It looked pretty cool compared to plain touching. Yeah, that's that. All the best! September 24, 2007 10:22 PM Student Z answered Student O… thank you very much for your comment or i'd rather say, words of encourgament.. since i'm not a techno savvy, i don't really expect to get such comment.. your comment has really motivates me in a way.. thank you very much... September 25, 2007 11:17 PM The unexpected supportive comments came as a surprise for Student Z. Such entry which if left unattended would have caused Student Z to wallow in his doubts. 118
  • 5. 2nd International Malaysian Educational Technology Convention Fowler and Mayes (1999) convey this view as social anthropological, where a wide social context is expounded and communities of practice emphasises the relationship of the practitioner with members of communities of practice, which ultimately shapes the individual’s identity. A study by Brown and Duguid (2002) cited in Moule (2006), also agrees that situated learning is ‘knowing how to be in practice’, instead of ‘knowing about practice’, and henceforth, involves a process of identity development for the newcomer through participation in the practice of the community. Conclusion This study has illustrated that the communities of learning which formed among the individual- students can result in significant learning. The student took on the roles of teachers and comrades, pushing each other to strive for the common goal. With the help of web-log, learning transcends all boundaries. To achieve that outcome, the lecturer or better known as the facilitator has to constantly monitor the growth of the organisation. No doubt, issues such as the importance of web-log for the student and how the implementation is being carried out should also not be ignored. References Balcaen, P.L. & Hirtz, J.R. (2002). “Developing Critically Thoughtful e-Learning Communities of Practice.” The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 5(3), pp. 173−182, available online at www.ejel.org Brescia, W., Swartz, J, Pearman, C., Williams, D. & Balkin, R. (2004). Peer teaching in web based threaded discussions. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 3(2). Retrieved from: http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/archives/2004/fall/toc.html on 8 Oct 2007 Bruffee, K.A. (1999) Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence and the authority of Knowledge The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. Chou, E. (2003). “BLOG: The Implementation of On-Line Publishing, and Weblog. Taipei: Grandtech C.G. Systems Inc., Coutinho, C.P. (2007). Infusing technology in pre service teacher education programs in Portugal: an experience with weblogs. In R. Craslen et al (Eds.).Proceedings of the 18 th International Conference of the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education, SITE 2007. Chesapeake, VA: AACE, 2027−2034 Ferdig, R.E. & Trammell, K.D. (2004). Content delivery in the 'Blogosphere'. T•H•E Online Journal, Feb. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/16626 on 25 April 2008 Fowler, C. & Mayes, J. (1999) Learning relationships from theory to design. Association for Learning Technology Journal, 7(3), pp. 6−16. Harada, V. (2003). From instruction to construction: Learning in the information age. In M. Fitzgerald, M. Orey, and R. Branch, Educational Media and Technology Yearbook 2003. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, pp. 40−48. Du, H.S. & Wagner. C. (2205). Learning with Weblogs: An Empirical Investigation Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Kimble, G.A. (1961). Hilgard and Marquis' Conditioning and Learning. New York: Appleton-Century- Crofts. Laird, F.N. et al (2007). The Effects of Discipline on Deep Approaches to Student Learning and College Outcomes. Springer online Journal. Moule, P. (2006). “Developing the Communities of Practice, Framework for On-Line Learning”. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 4(2), pp. 133 −140, available online at www.ejel.org Oblinger, D. (2004). The Next Generation of Educational Engagement. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2004(8). Special Issue on the Educational Semantic Web. Retrieved from www.jime.open.ac.uk/2004/8 on 24 April 2008. Piaget, J. (1976). Psychology of Intelligence. Totowa, N.J.:Littlefield Adams. Richards, S.L.F. (2001). The interactive syllabus: A resource-based, constructivist approach to learning Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EDU01108.pdf on 7 Oct 2007 Rogers, C.R. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill. Schunk, D. (1996). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective, Prentice Hall. Wagner, C. (2003). Put another (B)Log on the Wire: Publishing Learning Logs as Weblogs. Journal of Information Systems Education, 14(2), pp.131−132. Williams, J.B. & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), pp. 232−247. Retrieved from http:// www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/williams.html on 25 April 2008. Winer, D. (2003). "What Makes a Weblog aWeblog?" Weblogs at Harvard Law. Retrieved from http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/whatmakesaweblogaweblog.html on 25 April 2008. 119
  • 6. 2nd International Malaysian Educational Technology Convention Wrede, O. (2003). Weblogs and discourse: Weblogs as a transformational technology for higher education and academic research. Blogtalk Conference, Vienna, 23−24 May. Retrived from http://owrede.khm.de/publications/weblogs_and_discourse_backup on 6 June 2004. Vgotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and language (A. Kozulin, Ed & Trans) Cambridge: MIT Press. 120