Author of IGI Global’s February Open Access Article

Interview with Edward Dixon: First-Hand Insight for Online Learning

By IGI Global on Feb 28, 2013
Edward DixonIGI Global recently met with Edward Dixon, language lecturer at The University of Pennsylvania, to discuss and explore the technologies and social media networks utilized in the Elementary German courses he instructs at UPenn. In support of his research, Dixon’s article “Building a Model for Online Distance Courses through Social Media and Networks” is currently being featured in IGI Global's Open Access Research Program for free download. Access the complimentary article at "Trading Textbooks for Facebook? Social Media and Distance Education."

IGI Global: How do you think your article identifies with ever-changing learning environments?

Professor Edward Dixon: Online courses come in several formats, but I think this article addresses a particular growing trend in online education that is not only just self-paced or student-centered, but rather also community-centered and live. What I try to provide through the model are ways for teachers and students to engage with each other synchronously and asynchronously through social media as a means to learn through interaction rather than just through obtaining feedback from a computer.

How does social media play a role in the Elementary German course at the University of Pennsylvania?

Social media has been widely practiced in the Elementary German courses since at least 2004. In those early days, chats and threaded discussions enabled students to interact with each other online, but only through written practice. Gradually, voice tools were introduced for students to practice speaking. The next logical step was to take the hybrid version of the f-2-f course that was already using blogs, wikis, threaded discussions, Facebook, the learning platform Blackboard, and web conferencing software, and design it in 2010 for complete online delivery.

What are the advantages to online course study vs. face-to-face interaction?

Good question- and the answer really requires research to back it up- which is my next project. However for the moment, I think I can safely say that the affordances of the online classroom for engaging students through social media and using simultaneously different modes of communication – both written and spoken - maximizes participation in a way that traditional classrooms are unable to achieve. I feel that the absence of the students’ physical presence in the online environment is offset by the development of a social presence that is unique to the online experience. It is the different social character of the online learning environment that requires further discussion and research.

How do you think the growing impact of social media and online courses will change the way students and instructors interact?

The implications of community-based language instruction made possible through the affordances of social media and the development of online communities without boundaries are widespread and range from experiencing language learning as a social process – rather than merely a subject that one studies – to potentially providing students with access to cultural exchanges with their peers worldwide. An example of this occurred when American students enrolled in the course in the US interacted with a student enrolled in the course from China during which the students used German to learn about each other’s daily lives in cites from across America and in Hong Kong. In this way, online courses do not only just afford students access to speakers of the target language living in the culture in which the language is spoken, but also to peoples and their culture from across the globe who are interested in communicating with each other in a language other than their own. I would call this globalizing the language classroom- a trend which we will be seeing more of in the future.

Ed Dixon, PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures, is a Lecturer for German and the Technology Director in the Penn Language Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He is active in a variety of areas related to classroom instruction and faculty training with technology. He presents regularly on panels and presentations at regional, national, and international conferences. Professor Dixon is president of the Northeast Association for Language Learning and Technology and taught in summer 2010 the first fully online distance learning course in a foreign language for credit from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2011, Professor Dixon received Penn's affiliated faculty award for distinguished teaching in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies.

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