Many varieties of web 2.0 tools have been available since the late 1990’s; these tools are all designed to make it easy for users to publish information to the web and to interact with others via posts and responses. Many of these are built into LMS, so can easily be incorporated into virtual classrooms. The choice of which tool for interaction to use often depends on the purpose of the tasks and the nature of the interaction the teacher seeks to facilitate.
Threaded discussion boards are used in situations where the teacher provides a prompt and then students compose responses. Others can reply to any response, and each reply is indented under the response (or reply) to which it replies. The result is an outline-like organization with levels containing the responses to the same response or reply. Many find the interaction on threaded discussion diverges from the original prompt. In some situations that divergence is distracting and contrary to the learning goals, but in other situations, that divergence is the intended outcome. This can also lead to meaningful explorations and connection making.
Blogs are used when the teacher seeks to have students post in response to an initial prompt, and then encourage dialog that is focused on each individual’s response to follow-up. With blogs, the discussion tends to focus on one individual’s response, and others add comments to blog entries. Many students and teachers find the blog interface can be much easier to follow and leads to deeper discussion than the threaded discussion board. Many LMS’s also provide a private blog tool that can be seen by the student and the teacher; these private blogs can be used a journals for individual learners.
Wikis are tools that allow for a group to compose and edit a file or collection of files. Often these are used if a task has been divided among individuals or groups and each is contributing a part of the whole. Wikis are also useful for idea improvement tasks. In this situation, a partial answer may be provided and individuals or groups edit the answer to make it more accurate or clearer. In many LMS systems, the instructor can lock a wiki once a “good” solution or answer is provided.
Chat provides a synchronous method of interacting via text. When chatting, individuals type a message, which is sent to the chat room where others can read and respond. When the chat contains many participants, there can be multiple connected (or disconnected) conversations on-going. Just as with threaded discussions, this can be distracting or it can be desired. Most chat platforms include an option for recording a transcript; many educators find the transcript of a chat can be used for other activities. For example, the transcript of a chat regarding the characters in a novel can be used as a source for writing profiles of the characters.
As broadband video and computers with web cameras built in have become widely available, video chat is also arriving in LMS courses. Video chat can be quite sophisticated and include capacity for many sites or users to connect. Once connected, participants typically have access to chat, and they may have options for participating by voice or even sharing their screen with the group or controlling a computer located at another site through the video chat site. Video chat does require significant bandwidth, and the services can be very expensive if one purchases access to systems designed for enterprise level video chat.
Teachers also have the option of creating groups of students within an LMS. Depending on how the groups are configured, the members can have their own collection of information and interaction tools that are available to group members by no others, and assignments can be given to students based on their group affiliation.