Digital Learning Environments beyond schools

It is not only educational institutions that seek out user-friendly apps and software to allow students and staff to connect, not just within classrooms and across schools, but also across borders and oceans. Volunteer not-for-profit organisations also need ways to develop projects and partnerships, and it’s more likely they are dealing with people not even in the same industry.

oldsite

The Children’s Book Council of Australia is about to launch its new website. All the content remains essentially the same, but we are aiming for a fresh look, an easier environment in which to work, and a better way to link into the numerous social media accounts we have built up over the years. I have been part of the National website team since about 2008, and it wasn’t much later than that, we started talking about upgrading, up-styling, up everything.

(If there’s one thing annoying about technology, it’s the need to keep upgrading constantly. Nothing stands still.)

As with most not-for-profits, money is tight, so the website stayed as is for many years, longer than it should have, to be honest. While others moved on to weeblys, or wordpress sites, we maintained our site as best we could, and started using other means to communicate with members and interested parties. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (admittedly, that is my Qld Branch Instagram account).

We also moved into the digital world with our printed journal ‘Reading Time’. Subscribers dropped to below 1 000, and it wasn’t financially viable for us to continue. We set about creating an online review site, that after two years, boasts an audience of over 10 thousand page views per month.

RTOstats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(statistics via Google Analytics)

While it hasn’t been a decision that everyone liked (Disappointed to have lost access to our printed journal was a typical response in the early days), we just couldn’t justify such an outlay, given how few people were reading it. We now appear on Google searches, we have an email for subscribers, and people can comment and link back to our reviews from their sites. This has such potency and such reach only afforded by a thriving digital environment (Ito, et. al., 2012).

RTOBack to the website. Over the past 6 months, I have been part of a team that stretches from South Australia to Queensland. Deb is in NSW, and the two web consultants who have been with us from the beginning, Murray and Dave are based in Melbourne.

newsite1

newsite2newsite3

newsite4

Initially we communicated primarily through emails, but the threads reached so far back, it was impossible to keep track of who was attending to what, and precisely which tasks had been completed by whom. We then included skype meetings once every couple of weeks, where we able to talk, and view the website on our own screens, as we discussed various design issues, and the implementation of features that allowed best viewing on mobile devices.

The Object Media team also introduced us to Trello.

Trello

This collaborative platform made it possible for us to target specific jobs and allocated relevant persons, who could then update the rest of us on progress without needing to send emails. Its layout design is user-friendly and it’s easy to see all the elements at a glance. We could also ask each other questions, and if anybody made any changes, an email notification ensured I was aware, allowing me to choose a time to view the Trello board at my convenience.

These digital environments are only just a few that can be accessed while working through a project. This example demonstrates why it is necessary to use collaborative online web 2.0 tools with students. They will be required to work on them after leaving school, so anything educators can do to ensure students learn to communicate appropriately in the virtual world, will assist them, and make their working life better (Greenhow, 2012).

Our new website is now live.

It has been a lot of work behind the scenes. One of my main jobs has been to insert the last three years (2013 – 2015) worth of Book of the Year award winners into a searchable database. It is hoped that with continued entry of backdated awarded books, this will have the potential to be invaluable to librarians seeking quality Australia literature within a defined subject category. A long term goal.

References:

Cyberlearning Videos (2012, February 6). Christine Greenhow: Help from my friends: Social network sites and the future of cyberlearning [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/zk9GA1KErc4.

Ito, M., et.al. (2012). Connected Learning Summary. Retrieved from DML Hub: http://dmlhub.net/sites/default/files/ConnectedLearning_summary.pdf.

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