Academic Exchange Quarterly      Winter  2010    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  14, Issue  4

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Increasing Motivation Through Web 2.0

Monica W. Tracey, Wayne State University, MI

Kelly L. Unger, Wayne State University, MI

Tracey, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Instructional Technology with interest in Instructional Design, and Unger, PhD student, with interest in Technology Integration Professional Development.  Both are active members of AECT.  


In higher education, it is imperative that professors who are required to become course designers and facilitators in online environments are aware of emerging technology tools and have an understanding of ways to motivate students through the use of these tools.  This study reports on one professor’s use of the constructivist instructional design (ID) model, Layers of Negotiation, in the design of a blended learning approach incorporating an online social networking technology tool, NING and its effect on student motivation.


The influx of the Internet and Web 2.0 tools in education combined with increased interest in online learning are driving universities and K-12 school districts to meet the desires and needs of their student populations.  In order to adapt, faculty are now encouraged or required at a minimum to incorporate an online learning component into courses.  When designing courses, faculty should choose easy to use technological tools that assist in online facilitation of strategies and activities that have been designed for increasing student interaction, collaboration, and motivation.  No longer are slate and chalk and paper and pencil acceptable technology tools to support collective intelligence in education.  When choosing tools, educators need an open mind to move forward with social and technological trends. Social networking tools (SNT), allow for imaginative course design (Mason & Rennie, 2008). 


One way universities have selected to facilitate online learning activities is through the use of a learning management system (LMS).  Most universities recommend their faculty use the licensed specific packaged LMS that they own.  Most LMS’ provide an online location for professors to post lectures, assignments, and course materials for students.  Students can submit work and interact with the professor and other students through email and discussion boards.  Along with these online learning management systems, there is another area of online learning tools that are transitioning from entertainment and for strictly social purposes toward education.  These include “Read-Write Web” tools, also known as Web 2.0 tools.  DiNucci (1999) was the first to use the term Web 2.0 when he was discussing the web in its infancy stage as pages of content loaded into a browser window, usually known as Web 1.0. The term Web 2.0, however, did not find popularity among the masses until it was used by Tim O’Reilly at the first Web 2.0 conference in October, 2004 (O’Reilly, 2005).  These tools are distinguishable from Web 1.0 tools, because they allow users to interact with the web without having any computer programming knowledge or experience. Average or novice users can participate by creating and sharing their thoughts and ideas directly to the web and with others.  O’Reilly (2005) states that “One of the key lessons of the Web 2.0 era is this: Users add value.”  While allowing users to share their own content, and add their own value to the social tool is crucial for collaboration and interaction, from an educational aspect, the design of the course is a necessary component for a successful collaborative online learning experience (Mason & Rennie, 2008). 


In this article we lead you through one professor’s journey of blending face-to-face and online instruction, coupled with a constructivist approach to course design, which led to the migration from the university LMS, Blackboard, to the Web 2.0 SNT NING.  This migration resulted in studying graduate student perceptions of the NING compared with Blackboard and how it affected their motivation in the course.  The data from this study demonstrates how Web 2.0 tools can be used to facilitate and motivate in higher education.   


Preparing for the Blend

Transitioning to online instruction is not always the easiest task, especially for a professor who is a novice to online instruction.  The professor in this study used a “blended” approach to courses to assist both herself and her students with easing into online teaching and learning.  Blended instruction even though the term is used widely in education it has been noted to be ill-defined (Oliver & Trigwell, 2005).  Three commonly used definitions include:

1)     the integrated combination of traditional learning with web-based online approaches (drawing on the work of Harrison);

2)      the combination of media and tools employed in an e-learning environment; and

3)     the combination of a number of pedagogic approaches, irrespective of learning technology use (drawing on the work of Driscoll) (as cited in Oliver & Trigwell,

2005, p. 17).


Of the three definitions above, this study defined “blended,” similar to the work of Harrison, and references it as a style of teaching where the class sometimes meets face-to-face, and other times meets in an online environment.  Those who select a blended approach to instruction typically find benefits in both the face-to-face and online environment for learners and instructors (Ogusthorpe & Graham, 2003).  Selecting specific weeks to facilitate class online allowed the professor to dabble in some of the online pedagogy and features without feeling overwhelmed by moving their teaching completely online.  Students, through the blended approach, had the opportunity to learn how to work with a learning management system (LMS) and experience online learning at a slower pace; not to be overwhelmed with the soft skills necessary to be successful in online learning. This professor, at the beginning of the Fall, 2009 semester, blended two of her courses, to meet students face-to-face seventy five percent of the semester, and twenty five percent in the online class environment.  In this blended approach, the face-to-face meetings at the beginning of the semester helped to establish social presence and identity with others in the class, and provided an opportunity for the professor to discuss how the online sessions would be facilitated in Blackboard.


During the first online week which was week three of the semester, students logged into Blackboard to participate in the class discussion.  Class discussions for online learning in higher education are a standard practice throughout universities (Mason & Rennie, 2008). Two discussion prompts and questions were created to stimulate thoughtful discussions about the weekly readings and content.  Students had 7 days to complete an initial posting and respond to two other students’ postings.  All postings were to be completed by Saturday at 5:00pm of the online week.  The professor was astounded by the difficulty in reading the responses.  The discussion board function in Blackboard was challenging to use as it allowed the professor to read only one student posting at a time.  The challenges experienced with the technology reduced the quality of responses and were extremely time consuming.  The professor concluded that if it was difficult responding to the student postings, students were probably feeling the same frustration, in turn reducing the quality of their responses to other students’ postings. 


Utilizing the Layers of Negotiation Model, a constructivist instructional design (ID) model, the professor elicited feedback from the students during the next face-to-face meeting. The Layers of Negotiation Model is a model that incorporates all stakeholders in the process of knowledge construction using reflection and the examination of information multiple times for multiple purposes, and the social negotiation of shared meanings (Cenamo, 2003).  This model, used throughout the rest of the course, provided a way for the professor to gather input regarding the online activities and instruction from the students, and adapt the instruction to fit their needs and desires.  It also aligned with Duffy and Cunningham’s (1996) components of constructivism in that the altering of the instruction, based on student feedback, supported the students’ active process of constructing their own knowledge and experiences rather than acquiring it. The feedback uncovered their frustrations, so the professor extended the time requirements for the next postings, and altered student response requirements to one other student instead of two.  Another iteration of the Layers of Negotiation Model exposed continued frustration from students with Blackboard, leading the professor to redesign the discussion process to solve for user constraints.  Not wanting a reduction in learner motivation for the course, the professor needed to assess whether to change learner attitudes and behaviors, or the environmental conditions (Keller, 2009).  Knowing learner motivation is affected by internal human behaviors and external environmental conditions (Keller, 2009) it became clear that the external condition, the current LMS environment, was deterring learner motivation. In an effort to solve this problem, the professor migrated from Blackboard to the Web 2.0 SNT NING for the remaining online weeks. 



NING is a SNT with similar features of other social networking sites, in that users have the their own profile that they can customize by adding pictures and videos, listing personal information, such as interests and hobbies, and changing the background to a design they prefer.  It is appealing to students because it provides a level of personalization, socialization, and opportunities for communication and interaction (Karabult, Lindstrom, Braet, & Niederhauser, 2009; Martinez Aleman & Wartman, 2009; Mason & Rennie, 2008;Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007).  This personalization component is currently not capable in Blackboard.  When creating the NING the professor had control over the design and who had access to it and its content and discussions.  Educators like this feature because it keeps the network private to those involved in the learning.  The discussion forum was used for collaborating on various course content related topics.  The chat feature provided a means for instant professor-to-student and student-to-student communication. 


The professor watched as the NING became a central focus of the course, not only for the online discussions, but for personal interaction among the students.  Students began taking pictures of the face-to-face classroom activities and posting them for studying purposes, and when working on online assignments.  One course required a group project, and students established their own groups within the tool in order to share, collaborate, and work on their projects.  One of the assignments required students to find an online video that demonstrated a learning theory.  Students were able to embed the videos directly on the NING.  One student then posted a voting tool so students could vote on the best posted video.  Using the Web 2.0 tool served a multiple purpose as it allowed the professor to model the use of the SNT to facilitate learning to students who are practicing instructional designers and educators.


From the informal and formative assessment throughout the first semester of using the blended approach with the NING, the professor questioned if this SNT was increasing student motivation during the online weeks. 


NING Compared with Blackboard

Data was collected from three courses in which the professor utilized the NING, and 24 students (n=24) responded to a voluntary survey.  Students were asked if they had experience with the LMS, Blackboard, and if so to compare it with the NING environment.  All 24 students reported having exposure to Blackboard, and 67% (n=16) of the students indicated the NING was superior over Blackboard.  One student commented, “The NING is very user friendly, easy to navigate and the layout of the NING is less complicated than Blackboard” (Student 5).  Another stated, “The discussion threads were much easier to follow and read in the NING than on Blackboard” (Student 11).  Another student went further to say:

NING allows for more personalization and socialization between the students and instructor. It is easier to find and locate information, and the discussion threads were much easier to follow than Blackboard. Blackboard is quite boring and was difficult for reading and following discussions (Student 15). 


A fourth student agreed with finding the NING “easier” to use than Blackboard, but also added, “It's a current…tool that I not only learned the course content on, but also learned a new technological tool that I can use in my own practice” (Student 22). 


While the majority of the students responded in favor to the NING over Blackboard, 4 students liked the Blackboard platform better.  Of these 4 students, 3 of them liked the discussion feature in Blackboard better finding it “easier to see and read” (Student 20), and found the NING “somewhat tedious with scrolling through all the repeated responses” (Student 8).  A student who liked Blackboard better claimed, “I see Blackboard as school and NING as social” (Student 12).    


NING Increases Student Motivation

To gather data on overall student motivation while utilizing the SNT, students were asked survey questions applying components of Keller’s ARCS model of motivation.  The acronym stands for attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction, and should be used when designing learning environments to stimulate and maintain students’ motivation throughout the learning process (Keller, 2009).  While discussing each area of the ARCS model in detail is outside the purpose of this article, we do discuss the questions from the student survey and provide the results related to each area.


Attention.  Describe how the NING environment gained, increased, or held your attention throughout the course. 


83% (n=20) of the students responded to this question, and 90% (n=18) inferred that the NING had a positive effect on gaining, increasing, or holding their attention.  One student commented that it, “Gained my interest because it was a new tool that I heard about it but never had experience with.  I was excited to check out its features” (Student 22).  Another student shared that it “Held [my] attention better than Blackboard because it was easier to use and had better functionality” (Student 16).


56% (n=10) of the students, who said the NING assisted in gaining their attention, referenced that the main reason it did was because of the platform’s features for communicating and interacting with other students.  A student discussed how it assisted during group work by being, “the primary communication tool for my group.  Without it we wouldn't have gotten very much done (Student 4).  Students also claimed the personalization and interaction of the SNT assisted in gaining, increasing, or holding their attention.  One student said, “The fact that we all put photos in and some people made really nice pages about them gained my attention” (Student 7).   Another remarked they, “Enjoyed the social networking aspect of the NING (user profiles, photos, becoming 'friends' with classmates, etc.).  Combining class lessons with social interaction made it fun to learn” (Student 16). 


Relevance.   How was the NING environment relevant to the course (i.e., course content, objectives, learning, and discussions)?


Of the students who responded to this question, 100% (n=18) found the environment to be relevant in some way.  78% of the respondents (n=14) commented that it was most relevant for communicating with classmates and responding to the posts.  One response indicated:


It was relevant because it integrated technology and traditional learning in one setting. We would take discussions or lectures from class and then further discuss them on the NING instead of having to wait until the next class meeting to discuss (Student 6). 


One student commented that online discussions helped with understanding course content stating:

The class was about understanding the theories behind instructional technology and so I believe that using the NING helped many students come to a complete understanding of the material after having time to review classmates’ posts, reflect on them and then post again (Student 12). 

A third student found the discussions more relevant on the SNT than on Blackboard, “…due to less clicking around. This helped promote more discussion, learning and retention” (Student 23).    


Confidence.  How did the NING environment affect your confidence level with interacting with the content, professor, and other students?


83% (n=20) of the students responded to the confidence question of the survey, with 65% (n=13) stating that it increased their confidence in the course.  Student 14 found the NING’s “Ease of use really boosted my confidence in navigating course content.  The informal, social feel of the site boosted my confidence in interacting with classmates and instructor.”  Three of the 13 respondents commented on their confidence being increased because of the photos associated with each person’s post.  A student noted, “I was much more confident using the NING because I could visualize the classmate responding to questions in the discussion because of the pictures next to the posts” (Student 21).  Another student elaborated on this feature by explaining, “It helped my confidence with interacting with the other students in the class. I could answer questions with my classmates and see their pictures and response together. It helped me put a face with a response” (Student 13).


The 7 students who responded that the NING did not affect their confidence level should not be ignored.  One student did not have immediate access and stated:


I felt like an outcast when I couldn't get on the NING, and also because I didn't really love the NING as much as everyone else did.  I mean I liked it, but just didn't love it the way everyone else did.  Blackboard was just fine for me (Student 18). 


Four other students simply said that it did not affect their confidence.  Another student pointed out that while making communication easier, “It did not directly affect my confidence. If there was no NING, then I would have found another way to communicate - email or Blackboard” (Student 2).  


Satisfaction.  Describe your overall satisfaction with using the NING, and how it’s assisted you in achieving your learning goals.


86% (n=18) of the students who responded to this question, report feeling satisfied with the SNT for achieving learning goals.  Student 22 wrote:

I was very satisfied with using the NING for achieving my goals.  Some students during the face-to-face sessions were not as talkative or open with discussions, so this allowed them to communicate and share their ideas in a safe environment.  I believe I learned more sometimes through their writings and postings than I did in the classroom.


Another found satisfaction with it “as a classroom collaborative tool [because it] helped with the overall learning experience” (Student 16).  Two students found satisfaction over Blackboard because it didn’t have as many technical problems.  One commented “Blackboard is usually unreliable and the NING was always very reliable. Also, I liked how you could customize your NING page. You were able to show off your individual personality” (Student 6), while other suggested, “Until Blackboard is streamlined and technical problems are fixed, I highly recommend using the NING” (Student 23). 


Similar to the results of Hadley’s (2010) informal open ended survey of 43 students at Brigham Young University, the NING was found to be a useful tool in higher education courses.  The NING proved to be a more conducive environment, over Blackboard, for the professor and the students, due to its visual appeal, ease in use, and increased ability to interact and communicate.  The constructivist ID model, Layers of Negotiation, was an effective model for this professor to use as a novice to blending instruction.  The iterative process of collecting feedback from the students multiple times throughout the semester demonstrated the need to change an external condition, Blackboard, to another online learning tool.  Migrating to the NING assisted in preventing a drop in student motivation for the course.  Habeeb (2009) also found that through incorporating students in the design of the assessment, NING can increase the motivation of students.  The increased personalization of the student profile provided an effective environment for increasing student motivation in the online portion of the blended course.  Martinez, Aleman and Wartman (2009) found similar results through their ethnographic study of college students and their use of SNT Facebook.  A student in their study claimed, “I don’t often walk around with words printed on my body about my interests…but Facebook is an extension of me...through photos of myself and the way I word things, I can present my personality in my page” (p. 1).  Mazer, Murphy, and Simonds (2007) discovered when higher education professors of undergraduate students incorporated more personal information, or increased levels of self-disclosure, on Facebook, students’ motivation levels increased. Their results are seen in the personalization of the profile of the professor in this study as well.  An additional benefit of using the NING was the opportunity for the professor to model the use of a Web 2.0 SNT for future instructional designers and educators.  The results of this study demonstrate positive outcomes in the application of a constructivist ID approach when designing blending instruction. Furthermore, this study illustrates the benefits of using Web 2.0 tools to increase student motivation. 


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