WeCast is a website that presents news and views on some of the things that make the world go round: music, theatre, sport, studying, nature, and city life. What makes this website stand out though is the fact that this Web 2.0 experience has been crafted by young teens; it is all their own work. Self-directed learning was at the heart of the project, and it is a study that shows how learners create interactive learning communities on the Internet. The work will be of particular interest to teachers seeking fresh insight into didactic techniques for the e-learning environment. By Prue Goredema
Thomas Köhler of the Institute for Vocational Education at Dresden University of Technology and Jens Drummer of the Saxony Education Institute have worked on a longitudinal study that looks at learner output in self-directed e-learning exercises. The project was launched in Saxony at the beginning of January 2009 and ran until Spring 2011. In principle, the design was a simple one: Take 86 Year 8 learners from five different schools (including one for the disabled) and give 50 of them a hands-on task to awaken their media literacy, to increase their motivation for the learning process, and to help them develop lifelong social skills in an e-learning environment.
For the first two months of the study, the 50 learners in the study group received comprehensive training on how to use media technology. They then worked in groups, collaborating for an hour or two a week over the WeCast web platform and also via Facebook. They created an impressive collection of articles, photos, video clips and podcasts which they also edited before uploading them to the website. The material covers many themes—from humorous advertisements for fictional products, to mini-documentaries on the sights and sounds of nature, and much else in between. Web 2.0 is something the entire group fully engaged in.
Drummer explains, “The exercises encouraged self-responsibility, creativity and critical thinking, and by all accounts the project was indeed an engaging and enjoyable one for the study group.” Although the students worked independently, their work was of course monitored, and there were three main data collection points for the researchers to administer questionnaires: at the start of the study, after the two-month training course, and at the very end of the project. Over the course of the study, the students’ competence in media production improved, as did their adeptness at operating within the e-learning environment. Drummer says, “The results of the study also indicate that there are some marked gender differences in the progression of media literacy and the development of social skills within the group.” This is but one dimension ofwhat was gleaned from this study into self-directed learning in the e-learning environment. Teachers wishing to incorporate targeted e-learning exercises into their classroom routines will draw insight from the WeCast approach. Köhler explains that this study presents a rich source of data on informal, “self-steered” learning in young students.
Thomas Köhler’s OEB 2011 presentation is entitled Generation Web 2.0 @ School: How Pupils Create Online Learning Communities. He will present his findings in the “Web 2.0 Tools in Education: User Competencies of Student and Educator” session on Thursday 1 December at 11.45-13.15.
The project was supported by W + M 2000 GmbH and was funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Free State of Saxony. The material can be seen here.