Kate Ames is a senior lecturer in professional communication at CQUniversity, Rockhampton, Australia. She lectures in journalism and public relations, and is a passionate educator of distance students who ‘keep me on my toes’: “If you can find a way to impart a difficult and complex concept to someone floating on an ice-breaker in the Antarctic region so that they ‘get it’, then you can teach anything, anywhere.”
I have been exploring and using Wiggio for a while now. I’m a senior lecturer in journalism and public relations at a university in regional Australia (CQUniversity) that has a long history of distance education. There are four factors that significantly influence my approach to teaching and adopting technology in my courses:
- Approximately 70 per cent of my students are off-campus, of which many are in very remote parts of the country (and the world), and telecommunications technology (specifically internet access) is a particular challenge.
- I believe it’s imperative that students learn to engage with one another meaningfully in an environment that’s potentially ‘global’, so on-campus and off-campus students are regularly required to work together in groups.
- Most of my courses are based on authentic learning, so students are doing real things for real clients, or working on real projects.
- I believe students are engaged when they see ‘relevance’, so any technology that we spend time teaching has to be relevant and useful for the longer term.
So, while I would never tell the students I’m helping them set up a ‘personal learning environment’, or PLE, as is the term most embraced in educational circles, it’s in my thinking when I’m designing a course.
On the 14th of April this year, I posted a critique of Wiggio as a PLE on my own blog http://onlineedreflections.wordpress.com/. In this, I reflected on Wiggio’s usefulness as a collection of tools we use on a daily basis for learning. While I recommend you read this blog for the ‘academic’ perspective on Wiggio, in summary, I suggested that Wiggio meets the criteria of a PLE in a formal sense: it provides a collection of tools; it’s a personal learning and networking space; it allows students to access material regardless of location or stage of life; and it enables learning within formal or informal settings.
I also argued that the benefits of using Wiggio as a PLE are that it’s free and intuitive; it doesn’t add anything new but brings together platforms that are familiar to students. The concept of ‘sharing’ is a core element of Wiggio’s setup; group spaces can be based on employment, education, social or other bases. The way in which Wiggio is designed, allows users to access material within different groups (which allows break-out groups from within one larger group to form, with no impact on their ability to access a larger pool of information).
Wiggio enables students to build spaces as they progress. A group area for one course, and then a group area for another, even if they’re only working in pairs. Many of my students are already working in the communications industry (including media). We haven’t been using Wiggio for long enough to do longitudinal research, but anecdotal evidence suggests that students are then taking what they learn in class, developing Wiggio groups with work colleagues, and then sharing their knowledge. Other students have recommended Wiggio groups for social purposes, such as with their martial arts training team, or soccer club.
So they’re embracing Wiggio as a PLE, even if they don’t know they are.
While my critique on my blog goes into some academic depth about why Wiggio works as a PLE, in the simplest terms, it’s extremely easy to use. It doesn’t seem to draw on bandwidth, which is an issue for our students, and it’s related smartphone applications allow mobile connection. As a teacher, I simply introduce students to Wiggio.com, demonstrate how it works, and away they go. Students find it relevant because they are located all over the country/world and must communicate with one another and work on collaborative projects. It appears to have been embraced by them in their educational, work, and social environments. In the longer term, I get a sense that it will be used as a networking space between industry representatives and students.
I’ve become so reliant on Wiggio for teaching, research, and communicating with peers that I sometimes wonder what I used, or how I worked before. But that thought is fleeting. It’s certainly changed the way I work, and it’s changing the way students work because they’ve embraced it. Group work is always challenging for students, but a tool like Wiggio reduces the potential for problems in communication, and that’s half the battle won.