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MERLOT 2008 – Web 2.0

August 9, 2008

MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) is an interesting organization, made up of people from a variety of disciplines, focused largely on distance learning. It is the first academic conference I have attended with a strong focus on the use of Web 2.0 in teaching – something I’ve been looking for.

So I’m here in Minneapolis, where I admired the architecture Wednesday, and I’ve been attending sessions since then. Darcy Hardy was a good and interesting speaker yesterday morning, talking about online education, leadership, and success. She shifted my attitude on distance education and online learning.

The session, MERLOT Introduces Web 2.0 Friday morning, demonstrated the new MERLOT social network, set up on Ning, called MERLOT Voices.

This should give members a place to play with/in a social site and connect with others of similar interests. MERLOT Voices combined with the resources of the original MERLOT website, gives teachers access to a huge repository of teaching resources.

In No More Traditional Classes, Dr. Dan Lim looked into a future where iPhones would be part of mobile learning, and game-based education would be far more common. Michael Scheuerman, in Report on a Longitudinal Study – comparing synchronous and asynchronous elements in online courses, came to the interesting conclusion that synchronous elements required less faculty time than asynchronous.

Neil Griffin described a number of examples of free software available to teachers (or anybody). He mentioned exe for learning packages, Match-up for quizzes, Audacity for audio recording, Media Coder for converting file formats, –  and others.

Saturday started with a plenary with Bernie Dodge, the originator of WebQuests, speaking on “What Would Dewey Do?” His thesis was that technology is where our society, and our students, live now, and what they need to learn about experientially. As I’ve used the concept of WebQuests since the late ’90s, I was delighted to meet him in person. What he had to say about the Web 2.0 environment and teaching and learning matched my views. I, too, see wikis and podcasts as very useful learning tools, and VoiceThreads, but, like Dodge, am not sure of Second Life which seems to demand too much energy for the technical details, leaving not enough for the content.

I’ve attended Web 2.0: What is it and why Use it? which was a good basic introduction and VR3 – Virtual Reality: Vehicle for Recruitment and Retention describing East Carolina’s experience of having a virtual campus and classes in Second Life, another introductory taste of a tool.

So far, I’m having an interesting and educational time. As often happens at a conference, my informal conversations are among my richest learning events, whether I’m talking to young web, learning and graphic designers in a Japanese steakhouse, vendor reps at lunch, or other teachers at coffee breaks.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the conference.

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