Enhancing students' sense of community in online environments

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  • Enhancing Students' Sense of Community in Online Environments

    Authors

    Yunfei Du

    University of North Texas

    College of Information, Department of Library and Information Sciences

    Email: ydu@unt.edu

    Thisposter sessionpresentsan information use model on how Wimba and Scond Life can

    facilitate collaborative platforms for users to build sense of communities in distance learning, and

    to extend their real life experience into virtual learning environments.

    Introduction

    Web-based distance education, or online learning, provides a practical and sound approach to

    recruit and retain high quality library and information science students. Online programs are

    realistic solutions to most librarians and information professionals to further education while

    practice at local information agencies. However, some students might find difficulty in adjusting

    to online learning environments when they feel isolated from campuses hundreds of miles away.

    Thus, an essential ingredient to the success of distance learning programs is the ability to build

    the sense of community (The Sloan Consortium, 2008). In recent years educational institutes are

    using Wimba live classrooms to provide synchronous communications with audio and visual-

    based interactions between students and instructors (Reyes, 2008). Some educators began using

    3D multiple user virtual environments such as Second Life in distance education (Luo & Kemp,

    2008; Kemp, 2008). Communication tools such as Second Life and Wimba can serve as part of

    personal information infrastructure (Marchinini, 1995) to facilitate learning in real world

    environments, and students sense of community may be enhanced since learning takes place in

    game-playing environments, where visual, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences are engaged.

    Significance

  • While many online classes have been delivered successfully through text-based discussion boards

    in WebCT/Blackboard, little is known how audio/visual-based Wimba Live classroom and 3D

    Second Life (SL) virtual classrooms can enhance student collaboration and sense of community,

    particularly on how a students experience at virtual environment can influence their real life

    performance. The goal of this project is to identify methods to enhance students learning

    effectiveness in virtual environment through carbon neutral approaches, particularly by

    examining Wimba live classroom and Second Life virtual environment. Specifically, the project

    intended to conceptualize a information use model for online instruction using Wimba, Second

    Life, as well as traditional discussion boards.

    This project will answer the follow research questions:

    1. To what extend do students have different sense of community in Wimba Live classroom and

    Second Life virtual environment?

    2. Can students sense of community change over the time as a result of the information use of

    Wimba and Second Life communication tools?

    Methodology

    Nine graduate students from a southwest state university participated in this experimental study

    in Spring 2009. Students were given 15-minute lecture and live demo on a SL classroom and

    then they filled out a pre-test questionnaire on their acceptance of such learning environment.

    The survey demonstrated high reliability in previous studies by the author. Students meet in a

    regular basis at the computer lab. They gathered regularly to complete learning tasks using

    Wimba and SL learning tool. Wimba tool is integrated into local Blackboard learning

    management system and Second Life was installed at classroom workstations. After three

    classes meetings students completed a post-test survey on their acceptance of the learning

    environment and reported their collaboration and sense of community. Class observation and

    qualitative feedback was collected and was used as data source to build a conceptual model

    describing how students learning experience can be transferred from virtual environment to real

    life experience.

    Conclusions

    This pilot study presented an information use model on how Wimba and SL can facilitate

    collaborative platforms for users to build sense of communities in distance learning, and to

    extend their real life experience into virtual learning environments. Both Wimba and 3D SL

  • learning environments provides effective new communication tools for LIS educators to design

    interactive course modules and better facilitate students information needs. Second Life as an

    educational tool is still at its initial stage and more research studies are needed.

    References

    Kemp, J. (2008). Avatar in the classroom: Teaching the nations first MLIS class in Second Life. In

    L. Bell and R. B. Trueman (Eds.), Virtual world, real libraries: Librarians and educations in Second

    Life and other multi-user virtual environments (pp. 199-205). Medford: NJ: Information Today.

    Luo, L., & Kemp, J. (2008). Second Life: Exploring the immersive instructional venue for library

    and information science education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 49

    (3), 147-166.

    Marchionini, G. (1995). The continuing evolution of information seeking. In Information seeking in

    electronic environments. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Reyes, M. E. (2008). The WIMBA experience: Technology in the Rio Grande Valley. First Monday

    13 (5). Accessed May 25, 2009 from

    http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2081/1958

    The Sloan Consortium (2008). NASULGC-Sloan National Commission on oOnline learning

    benchmarking study: Preliminary findings. Accessed May 25, 2009 from

    http://www.sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/nasulgc_prelim

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