In a traditional university setting, a lot of great discussion and valuable knowledge sharing take place within the lecture hall. But how can educators ensure the learning continues when students leave the classroom? What can be done so key points are not forgotten once the class ends? Eric Tsui, Professor of Knowledge Management, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University reveals how his students are reliving the experience of the lecture.
Currently tested on a class of 37 students, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) has proven to engage students on a level unattainable in a conventional classroom, among other benefits.
“We use free Google components – namely Address Book, Reader and Buzz – to create the PLE,” Tsui explained how PLE works in the Business Process Management class he is teaching. “Google Reader pushes relevant articles and news to the students. On top of those resources, whenever I come across an article that substantiates a concept taught in class, I make a comment and post it on Google Buzz.”
Over 60 per cent of students have set up their individual PLE. This is easily done by signing up for a free Gmail account, importing the addresses of their classmates, Tsui and other lecturers, then calibrating Google Reader feeds to receive articles on Business Process Management.
By ‘following’ Tsui and the rest of the course mates, students are connected to one another in a virtual learning community. “When I post an article onto Google Buzz with my comments, a bulletin board discussion starts. Students read the article and comment on it,” Tsui added. Some highly rated articles are read by more than 60 per cent of the learning community.
Unlike the normal electronic bulletin board which is available on some learning management systems, PLE brings the subject closer to reality.
“You need to create everything on a normal bulletin board. With the Google services we are currently using, everything is set up within minutes. More importantly, our internal learning management system, WebCT, does not receive external feeds. We use it mainly for the sharing of files. GoogleBuzz, on the other hand, is great for discussions.”
PLE facilitates ongoing, lifelong learning. Hong Kong PolyU closes the learning network at the end of every semester to prepare for the next batch of students. PLE survives even after the semester is over, which makes sure that valuable discussion and content is available for students to refer to down the road.
Another benefit of using an external PLE is the ease of bringing in external experts, according to Tsui. “I plan to progressively introduce guest lecturers and other subject matter experts into the PLE so that students can interact not just with me and among themselves, but are exposed to perspectives outside the university and the country.”
The pilot test has highlighted several limitations which Tsui is still working out. There is a need to sort out how best to manage multiple subjects in the PLE simultaneously since Google Buzz currently does not support any tagging or labelling function.
“We also want to integrate PLE into other platforms so that students are not compelled to use Google. There are other platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MSN or Yahoo, which others might prefer,” concluded Tsui.
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