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Enhancing Student Learning Through Web 2.0 and Social Networking Technology


Reinventing Liberal Education
A National Symposium
November 22-23, 2013
University of Miami
Miami, Florida


Aditi Pai, Spelman College
Jim Stenerson, Pace University
Michael Gaines, University of Miami


It is well documented over the years that technology has impacted education and changed the landscape of teaching and learning. For the most part information technology has been credited with making teaching and learning an active and engaging process for both the students and the faculty (Redecker et al 2009). Since the beginning of the millennium, Web 2.0 tools were cited to be the largest change-agent in education (Redecker et al 2009). It removed the sage on the stage and introduced the mentor on the side. During the last decade, mobile technologies and social media changed the paradigm of teaching and learning by enhancing the pedagogical interaction between students and faculty and also among the students themselves (Redecker et al 2009, Moran et al 2012). Joosten (2012) outlines the relationship between Web 2.0 applications and the resulting social networking, creating a virtual space for collaboration and sharing. Social networking sites consist of Web 2.0 tools and social media applications; they enable an individual student or even an entire class to create a personal profile, bridge connections, and share information, including course assignments/outcomes.

EDUCAUSE’s Center for Applied Research (Dahlstrom 2012) documented the increase in student ownership of mobile technology, especially smartphones and laptops with a rate of ownership of 62% and 85% respectively. Truong (2013) reported on the preference of students to use mobile devices and social networking platforms to communicate and do various course assignments. Faculty need to “harness” the potential of mobile technology and social networking and create an active learning environment. Citing Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education, Joosten (2012) offers insight and research on the positive impact various social networking sites have on the learning process in undergraduate education. Joosten incorporates various social networking tools into her argument and highlights various best practices.

Here, we focus on examples of different web 2.0 tools, including social networking platforms and how they have been incorporated successfully into undergraduate courses. Our goal is to provide very general information about the possible uses of these technologies and the ways they enhance teaching (Table 1) and learning (Table 2). Accordingly, we discuss tools that are single student-centered and as well as those that are whole class-centered.

Student-Centered Tools

In the examples below, the Web 2.0 and social networking tools are mentioned primarily as means of enhancing interactions that enables instructors to assess student learning (Tables 1 and 2).

Clickers: Traditional clickers or personal response systems are hand held devices that enable students to respond to questions posed by the instructor in the classroom. With clickers, instructors may test students’ “on-the-spot” understanding of the materials being discussed in class, students’ preparation for class, or survey students for various formative assessment purposes (Bruff 2009). The information provided by students’ responses may be used by the instructor in several ways such as to determine whether students need more explanation of a concept, as means of assessment for grades, and for information to plan future classes. Current mobile technology allows faculty to bypass the traditional handheld clickers for student polling through tools like PollEverywhere, Socrative, and GoSoapbox. PollEverywhere is a web based clicker which allows students to respond to questions posed by instructors via their cell phones, Twitter or a website. Because it relies on technology students already own, it is both cheaper and more convenient compared to hand-held clickers. Also, PollEverywhere, unlike traditional clickers, allows users to write long answers to questions posed by the instructors.

Digital Storytelling: Digital storytelling involves constructing a narrative with photos, videos, audio, text, and the users’ voice. A variety of free storytelling tools are available online such as PhotoStory, Storybird, Animoto, and Pixton (Matthews-DeNatale 2008). Instructors could use this technique to personalize certain class topics or semester assignments. Students who use storytelling create a presentation that personifies their own experiences related to the topics they have been assigned. Digital Storytelling at one time was an expensive proposition which required audiovisual equipment that was not necessarily portable. With Web 2.0 technologies, there are now ways for students to create their stories by using mobile technologies such as a camera in smartphones. Storytelling is an excellent formative assessment tool to demonstrate and document a student’s critical analysis skills.

Web conferencing: Web conferencing involves real-time communication between entities at different locations and multi-cast communication. Some commonly used providers include Adobe Connect, Google, Microsoft Office, and Skype. Instructors could deliver their lecture during the regular class time to remote or absent students, run lab meetings with students or even hold office hours to review materials with students. Another use of this technology is to “invite” experts from other institutions/corporations to give a talk on their expertise. Many Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Blackboard, offer web conferencing “plug-ins” (Collaborate) that enable the user to stay within the LMS environment. Though some systems are a bit technical and require extensive faculty (and even student) training, there are many such as Skype, that are easy to use and do not require technical expertise.

Word Clouds: Word clouds are visual representations of text data that students can employ to represent their ideas, research or personal profile. The clouds reveal key themes by taking text such as essays, research papers, surveys or other documents and scanning for repeated words/themes. A “cloud” is then visualized and the repeated words are represented by larger text. When students create a word cloud it becomes a representation of their critical analysis of a project or a personal reflection. A world cloud could also be generated from various papers/reflections representing a collective visualization. Various tools such as Wordle, ABCya, Tagxedo are easy to use and create word clouds by scanning documents.

Class-Centered Tools

In the examples listed below, though the instructor was interacting with the students, the primary objective was to facilitate discussions and collaborations among the entire learning community (Tables 1 and 2). Additional discussions on educational uses of social networking can be found in Bowen (2012) and Woodley and Meredith (2012).

Twitter: The social networking site Twitter allows exchange of short (140 character) text messages among users and is often used as a microblogging tool by instructors. Instructors may create a hashtag (#) for their class and solicit feedback on class, such as asking for the “take home” message, “reaction” or the “muddiest point” of the class. Twitter can also be used to extend class time by being a venue for discussion on class topics or to deliver information whether announcements about class, links to articles and videos etc. Finally, another use is for students to tweet assignments where the faculty member deliberately wants students to create short concise responses to assignments. One example is assigning students to tweet their thesis statement to a composition paper limiting them to 140 characters.

Facebook: This is at present the most popular social networking site accounting for >20% of all online time of internet users. Facebook users create a profile and build a network of “friends” among other users. This can be used as a supplement or substitute for LMS, as the Facebook Group feature can be used as a “closed” group of users, much like a shell for a course on an LMS. With the closed group, instructors can use this group feature to make announcements, share content as well as initiate discussions. The advantage of this medium is that students are more likely to visit this site unlike traditional LMS and more importantly, students have ownership of this site and are able to share content themselves (Pai et al 2014).

Wiki: Wikis are a collaborative tool that can be used as a class project with each student collaborating by editing the same document. Wikis can be used for a class project to build on ideas or to use a collective assessment tool. A faculty member can place a sentence or two as the beginning of the wiki and then ask the class to build on it. Likewise a faculty member can put up a wiki with factual or maybe grammatical errors and ask the class to correct them. All edits are identified with the student’s account name. Some popular wiki tools include Wikispaces, MediaWiki, and ZohoWiki. Wikispaces is a web hosting service, which educators can use to host discussions. An entire class can access and edit the materials on Wikispaces site for free. In addition, the most popular wiki is Wikipedia – the online encyclopedia. Faculty do not have to fear this tool, but can use it for assignments and teach students to understand the fluidity of the information while also acknowledging that Wikipedia can be a useful resource to get students started on a research question.

One last tool that is maturing and emerging in popularity is Analytics. Analytics is the practice of finding patterns in data, for example, in student use of LMS features. Data driven insights from analytics can be a powerful guide to determining instruction design and delivery. Faculty can use the data to obtain information on student interaction with the course content and participation levels in discussion boards (number of posts vs. time on task). The data also provides important information that can serve as an early warning mark for faculty to intervene with a student’s lack of interaction.


Current times in higher education are marked by a lively debate on the value of technology and its effectiveness in educating students. Most recently, efforts like Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) have changed the discourse on education. Many still want extra scrutiny for different online course initiatives and social media platforms (Joosten 2012). Educators remain unsure about the changes and the rigor that technology will bring to the “business” of higher education in the future (Heller 2013). However, it is clear that interactive technologies are changing the nature of education by enabling instructors to make class time less centered on content delivery and more focused on practicing higher order skills required for problem solving or “flipping” the classroom (Bull et al 2012). Information technologies and mobile devices are making education a more inclusive field for example by being able to accommodate students with different learning styles or with disabilities and by enabling or increasing access to information for various types of students (Redecker et al 2009). Thus, we predict that education will continue to benefit from and change from the advent of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies in future (Delblanco 2013).

Table 1: The functions of various Web 2.0 and social networking technologies used in education and how they enhance the teaching experience (based on the experience of the authors).

Function/tool Clickers Facebook Twitter Word Cloud Digital Storytelling Wiki Spaces Web Conferencing Analytics
In class delivery of content Gauge student learning immediately Visualize student’s critical analysis Visualize student’s critical analysis Witness collaboration on written projects Extend teaching and learning beyond the 4-walled classroom
Out of class management of content Post videos, links and documents Share videos and links Collaborate and edit assignments
Housekeeping type communication Quick and instant assessment of student knowledge Post announcements Make announcements
Assignments and assessments Quick and instant assessment of student knowledge Grade discussions Grade student responses to questions posed by the instructor Students can visualize writing assignment Allows student collaboration Allows student collaboration Assess a student’s interaction with the LMS
Extension of classroom discussion Students and instructors can continue to discuss classroom topics Comment on class discussion Students discuss topics with each other and the rest of the world Office hours
Analytics Explore for major patterns Explore for major patterns

Table 2: Web 2.0 technologies and how they enhanced the learning experience of students (based on “The Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” described by Chickering and Gamson (1987)).

Principle/tool Clickers Facebook Twitter Word Cloud Digital Storytelling Wikis Web Conferencing Analytics
Encourage contact between students and instructors Gauge student learning immediately Extends contact beyond class period Extends contact beyond class period Extends contact beyond class period Extends contact beyond class period
Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students Peer instruction Venue for student discussion Venue for student discussion Collaborative group assignments Collaborative group assignments Venue for student discussion
Encourages active learning In class use Students respond to class topics Students respond to class topics Collaborative group assignments Collaborative group assignments Collaborative group assignments
Prompt feedback Students and instructors get instant feedback on their performance Peers or instructors respond to queries and comments on this venue Peers or instructors respond to queries and comments on this venue Instructors detect major themes in student generated text Peers or instructors respond to queries and comments on this venue Visual contact and feedback Instructors use this to get prompt feedback on their class
Emphasizes time on task Requires students to answer in a short time Synchronous communications Tracking student interaction with LMS
Communicates high expectations Students see that they are expected to know the materials Example inviting ‘experts’ to be a part of the venue Example inviting ‘experts’ to be a part of the Example inviting ‘experts’ to be a part of the venue Example inviting ‘experts’ to be a part of the venue
Respects diverse talents and ways of learning Students respond at their own pace, at their convenience Students respond at their own pace, at their convenience Represents all themes in the text Represents a personal story/response connected to an assignment Collaboration



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