Tools for hybrid synchronous / asynchronous interaction

Learning communities such as courses and study groups usually need to combine different types of resources and interaction spaces. In support of this there are course/learning management systems and community management systems that let faculty and students benefit from a variety of opportunities.

Course delivery systems

Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Content Management Systems (CMS) are used to support course activities (e.g., instruction delivery, students’ interaction, knowledge building, testing) and to simplify administrative tasks such as grade management.

Each of these systems include forum management utilities. Discussions are conducted in global forums (involving all community members) or group forums (involving only select members from the community of learners). Some of these forums are moderated (a facilitator helps to maintain the focus and deepen the discussion) and others are open, un-moderated (e.g., social or technical ) forums. Most of LMS and CMS also allow blogs and wikis to be included to support reflection on learning objects with blogs and/or collaborative creation of knowledge with wikis.

­­­­­­­­MOODLE, acronym for “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment”, is an open source solution that has garnered wide popularity within the community of users who utilize, maintain and improve it.  The same situation exists with SAKAI , an open source environment used to foster collaboration and learning in education.

Commercial LMS, such as BLACKBOARD and WEBCT are strongly supported due to their high quality applications and support services.  Recently, these two companies merged in order to make their LMS capabilities even stronger.

Community management systems

Professional development does not always occur in terms of courses but through voluntary participation in learning communities, in particular, communities of practice. Social networking can be a solution particularly when it is driven by the participants; that is, when they have the opportunity to co-lead the effort by having full control of technologies in use.

DIIGO, abbreviation for "Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff" is a social bookmarking tool that allows signed-up users to bookmark, highlight with sticky notes, tag, and share URLs. These annotations can be kept private, shared with a group within DIIGO or a special link forwarded to someone else. DIIGO allows to create or participate in special interest groups.

Solutions such as NING can be useful to handle online communities. The creator of the community defines what resources s/he wants to encourage participants to use (e.g., forums, blogs, pictures, videos), and invites initial members. Each person can invite other people and the network grows as the voice of its relevance is spread.

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