K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25/The eLearning Pentad - Learning without the eBox

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The Elearning Pentad - Learning without the Ebox


            We’ve all heard the cliché “thinking outside the box”, but when it comes to elearning, the saying may have some substance. The eBox comes to mind when I think of traditional methods of online learning such as learning management systems, discussion threads, and posted lectures. The eBox is where we place courses with relevant documents, quizzes, discussion forums, exams, and other information. Students primarily interact by reading, commenting on discussion boards, and uploading completed assignments. Students mainly communicate with instructors via email and sometimes by using discussion boards. Typically, discussion boards are places where students communicate with classmates by responding to discussion threads posted by the instructor. This type of learning reflects the typical eBox – the course structure is fairly well laid out without much room for variation.

            However, if we think outside the box, the eBox that is, we find that there is an emerging new way of learning online because of Web 2.0 tools. Tim O’Reilly (2003) coined the term Web 2.0 to describe using the Web as a platform in which participation is encouraged. Linda Wallace (2008) describes some of the more common Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, file sharing places, mashups, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking communities, web conferencing tools, and wikis.

            How do these new tools fit into the eBox, or perhaps the better question is, is it even necessary that Web 2.0 tools fit into the eBox? If you are responsible for choosing systems and tools to provide elearning for your school, you will need to consider all of these options. I think it is helpful to strip away any extra layers that might get in the way of seeing our objectives. I think we will then be able to see that sometimes we have restricted our learning methodologies based on the constraints of the eBox. In other words, we will find that we have let the “terrain determine tactics”, when we should be determining our own tactics and building a terrain that suits our learners and our tactics. That is much easier to do, with the openness of today’s Web.

Elearning Pentad

            To start the process, I will build on the work of Alison Ruth (2008) using Burke’s Pentad to explore how elearning works. Burke (1969) looks at how five elements (i.e., act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose) shape drama. These elements answer the five questions of “what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency) and why (purpose).” At its core, learning involves similar concepts, so this seems like a great place to start.

            Let’s look at each of the elements and how they manifest themselves in elearning both within the eBox and outside the eBox in the Web 2.0 world.

Burke’s Pentad Elements defined in elearning terms Traditional eBox Web 2.0
Agents - who did it? Those who may have access to a course:



Those who may have access to a course:



•Teacher (s)

•Peers (outside current course)


•Virtual teaching assistant

Act – what was done? •Formally registering students

•Taking attendance  

•Posting grades

•Posting lectures

•Posting links to other learning materials

•Posting discussion topics

•Posting discussion topics

•Posting announcements

•File Sharing

•Taking attendance

•Posting grades

•Posting lectures

•Posting links to other learning materials

•Posting discussion topics

•Posting announcements

•File Sharing

•Web Conferencing



•Web Conferencing

•RSS Feeds


•Collaborative document creation

•Social networking for learning purposes

•Video blogging (e.g., vlogs)




Agency – how the agent did it? •Web enabled computer



•Web enabled computer

•Web enabled phone


•Portable electronic devices

•Interactive TV

Scene – when or where it was done? •On a discussion board

•Via email

•On a discussion board

•Via email

•Via instant messaging space on web or phone

•Via SNS text messages on a phone  (e.g., Twitter)

•Via a blog comment space

•In a virtual environment (e.g., Second Life)

•Via a portable electronic devices

•On a podcasting site (e.g. ITunes U)

•On a video blogging site (e.g., Teacher Tube)

•In a collaborative document

•In an interactive repository (e.g., Video Interactions for Teaching and Learning - VITAL)

•In a synchronous conferencing rooms (e.g.,  Wimba Live, Adobe Connect, or Elluminate)

•In a chat room

Purpose – why it was done? •To plan course offerings

•To track student progress

•To share an instructor’s expertise

•To encourage student discussion

•To demonstrate knowledge

•To provide multiple perspectives

•To experiment with models and simulations*

•To ethically use information*

•To process data and report results*

•To plan course offerings

•To track student progress

•To share an instructor’s expertise

•To encourage student discussion

•To demonstrate knowledge

•To provide multiple perspectives

•To provide authentic learning experiences

•To provide real world examples

•To allow students to initiate questions

•To self direct learning

•To generate new ideas, products, or processes*

•To create as an individual or as a group*

•To experiment with models and simulations*

•To identify trends in data* •To forecast possibilities based on data*

•To interact with peers/experts in a community for informal learning

•To collaborate with peers and experts*

•To publish media*

•To develop cultural/global awareness*

•To plan strategies to guide inquiry*

•To ethically use information*

•To process data and report results*

•To work out authentic problems*

•To plan and manage activities*

•To collect and analyze data*

•To explore alternative solutions*

•To develop personal responsibility for learning*

•To transfer knowledge to learning of new technologies*

Note: *Indicates item is adapted from International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students.

Participatory Learning Model

            Vossen & Westerkamp (2008) promote a turning from the closed communities of traditional elearning and a moving to open communities that utilize web services. They argue that the open communities will allow learners to include resources that are personally preferred or otherwise desirable for the learning objectives. This will be increasingly important for teens and adult learners.

“In a world where learning-in-advance is more and more replaced by learning-on-demand, where tertiary learning is hence gaining importance, and where even university-level training is more and more blurred, for example, by the necessity for a student to provide for his or her tuition themselves, the current situation with e-learning systems is no longer appropriate.” Vossen & Westerkamp (2008)

            Simões & Gouveia (2008) argue that the use of Web 2.0 tools in elearning builds on Roberts’ view of the active learner which is deeply rooted in the pedagogical ideas of Vygotsky and Papert. Additionally, according to The Pew Internet & American Life Project, a majority of students are using such technologies.

            So what does this mean for e-learning? McLoughlin and Lee (2008) think that online learning environments must take advantage of Web 2.0 tools. They call for a new Pedagogy 2.0, which is a model of learning based on connectivist pedagogy that will empower learners “to participate, learn, and create knowledge in ways that are personally meaningful and engaging”. The authors define connectivism as a process of creating a network of personal knowledge. Some of the pieces that makeup the Pedagogy 2.0 model include calls for instructors to create Microunits (small pieces of digital content that can be used to augment thinking), to use dynamic syllabi and to scaffold student learning from a wide network of peers, experts, and communities. This model is consistent with Sfard’s (1998) participation model. According to Sfard, knowledge exists as an aspect of participation in cultural practices. Students move into the role of prosumers – both producers and consumers of knowledge (Paavola & Hakkarainen 2005).


            We started with a worn cliché and the suggestion that the cliché might have substance as we ponder elearning and Web 2.0 tools. What we have discovered is that the tools don’t have to fit in the old toolbox. New wine needs new wineskins.


Ginsberg, H., Cami, A., & Schlegel, E. (2008). The use of video in teaching psychology and education: Theory and a case study. Retrieved October 29, 2008 from http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/vital/nsf/VITAL_AERA_2008_GINSBURG.pdf

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Ruth, A. (2008) ‘Learning in a mediated online environment’, Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, Vol. 1, Nos. 1/2, pp.132–143.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 4-13. Retrieved November 19, 2008 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176193

Simões, L. & Gouveia, L. (2008), “Web 2.0 and Higher Education: Pedagogical Implications”. Proceedings of the 4th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, Vol. 2. Knowledge technologies for social transformation. Barcelona: GUNI. Retrieved November 28, 2008 from http://www.guni-rmies.net

Vossen, G. & Westerkamp, P. (2008). Why service-orientation could make e-learning standards obsolete, International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning (IJTEL). doi: 10.1504/IJTEL.2008.020232

Wallace, L. (2008). What is Web 2.0? Retrieved October 29, 2008 from https://wikis.pepperdine.edu/display/GSBME/Blogs%2C+Podcasts%2C+and+More+Web+2.0