Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Paul Sparks

Paul Sparks is the Program Director for the Education Technology doctoral program at Pepperdine University. The program attracts students from around the world and relies heavily on communications technologies to enhance interaction between students and faculty.

Paul's Perspective

TAPPED IN is a wonderful tool that allows us to create a sense of shared learning space for our students. I have always enjoyed creating imaginary backdrops for each class session. For example we have held class respectfully in John Dewey's study, weightless aboard the Space Shuttle, and even with trepidation riding burros into the Grand Canyon. The settings create a unique atmosphere for discussions and often serve as a powerful metaphor for big ideas (think of data gathering for action research as a crime scene investigation). The shared space acts as a catalyst for focusing energy and creative thought and some very interesting insights.

The new TI2 extends the ability to create more tangible learning spaces with rooms complete with files, links and discussion boards. The rooms work great for projects. We humans are still very perceptual beings and we work better having places for things and interactions. Our recent trips to Cambridge and MIT Media Lab have reinforced for us the importance of space to learning. Think how important the 'Eagle and Child' tavern was to Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as they critiqued each other's great literary works.

A final personal interest is the private message capability. We have discovered and have begun research on the apparent need of students to hold private conversations akin to whispering in class or passing notes. On first glance this capability appears to be disruptive to synchronous group sessions, however we have documented many instances of very productive communication in these chats or sub channels. For example in one case a student giving a virtual synchronous presentation used a sub channel to get live feedback from classmates and adjusted her delivery accordingly. Using the framework of social learning theory it becomes interesting to wonder if additional communication channels, like private messages, will ultimately increase learning. The expansion and student control of virtual learning space is quite exciting.