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Social Computing enhancing learning in remote Australia

Project Title Social Computing: Enhancing learning in remote Australia
Project Coordinator Professor Sue Trinidad
Period 2007-2008
Funding Agency SiMERR National

Background

The project "Social Computing: Enhancing learning in remote Australia" was a collaboration between SiMERR Australia and SiMERR hubs in the various states and territories. The project aims were to raise awareness of how social computing can be applied in the learning context, and its potential impact on student learning. This was achieved through providing a supported professional learning opportunity for teachers to implement action learning, via Web2.0 technologies, in their own schools, and to participate in a community of practice.

Three main research questions framed the national project with regard to student learning:

  • What benefits do teachers and students say social computing brings to student learning?
  • What supports the use of social computing for student learning?
  • What are the challenges with the use of social computing for student learning?

Description

The two Western Australian case studies investigated the implications of the use of social computing for literacy learning in the classroom and the development of students' IT skills and knowledge. In focussing on the learning experiences of small groups of learners in particular geographic and educational settings the study provided 'snapshots' of how these learners responded to the challenges of incorporating social computing into their learning, and indicated the potential for social computing to enhance learning in the classroom.

In the two case studies the same social computing tool, blogging, was utilised and examined to determine the extent and ways in which it enhanced the students' learning experiences. The learning contexts of the two Western Australian education centres participating in the national project were very different, both in terms of participant demographics and geographic location. Case Study One was located in the state's south-west at a small Catholic Education school. Participants were fourteen Year 6 students, the classroom teacher and the support ICT teacher. The Case Study Two site was almost 3000 km away in the state's far north-west Kimberley region, and integrated blogging into the literacy training of a group of Indigenous health care workers. The six staff members who participated in the project were of varying ages (16 to mid-40s), life experience and school experience.

On analysing the data four key areas emerged as being common between the two projects' use of blogging to enhance learning: engagement with learning; awareness of audience and development of writing skills; development of personal skills; and the integration of ICT into learning and development of ICT skills.

Benefits to Rural and Regional Education

Although it has been particularly popular with students and young adults since the explosion of Web2.0 application tools in 2004, many teachers have not had the opportunity to use blogs as part of their classroom teaching. Blogs are easy-to-use tools which can offer teachers and students the opportunity to create shared understandings through self-editing and creation.

This project was a valuable exercise in demonstrating some of the ways in which blogging tasks can be integrated into everyday learning experiences. The adaptability and flexibility of blogging means that blogging tasks can be designed to accommodate most, if not all, learning outcomes, with students developing a range of valuable skills in the process. Rapid changes in the uses of new information and communication technologies (ICT) present both challenges and exciting possibilities for education in rural and remote Australia. Learners need to be able to contribute and respond to a society increasingly shaped by the use of ICT, and literacy skills in particular can no longer be practised in isolation from the computing tools being used in everyday life. Those not able to access or effectively manage these new technologies can be placed at a distinct disadvantage. The success of the Social Computing project raises exciting possibilities for not only reducing the 'digital divide', but for addressing the wider needs of learners in regional and remote areas.

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