a monthly report on technology
LearnLink: A tool for teaching and discussion
As faculty and students look for enhanced communication and innovative teaching
methods, the LearnLink system continues to expand at Emory. With more than
300 courses this semester now incorporating LearnLink, daily system use
is up 50 percent to 80 percent over last year. LearnLink accounts are now
available at no charge to most Emory faculty and staff, and are generated
automatically for all Emory students.
What accounts for the rapid growth of LearnLink? One reason is that LearnLink
is easy to use. LearnLink combines a range of features, including local
and Internet e-mail, public discussion areas, access to Usenet Newsgroups
and Listservs (two types of Internet discussion groups), simple file transfer
procedures and more. Because LearnLink utilizes client software on each
users' computer, many functions such as printing e-mail or saving messages
electronically are simplified. All these features are integrated in an easy-to-use
package, which is intuitive for people already used to a Macintosh or Windows
Features that make LearnLink so friendly include LearnLink's built-in name
recognition, which allows users to send messages to others on LearnLink
based on their real name rather than an e-mail address. With LearnLink,
users can also use "Copy" and "Paste" from their favorite
word processor to move text into LearnLink messages, allowing a professor,
for example, to easily send a syllabus to a group of students.
Because of such features, increasing numbers of people within the Emory
community are choosing to forward their mail to LearnLink, and use it as
their primary e-mail account.
Classroom uses of LearnLink vary. Most classes set up conferences that work
as public mailboxes, where faculty and students can check in, leave messages
and respond to one another. These conferences are often subdivided for specific
purposes, creating separate areas, for example, for question-and-answer
groups, class announcements, handouts and sample test questions.
Some innovative uses of LearnLink include professors who have used LearnLink
as a way to break down large classes into small groups. In one large class,
students were divided into groups of five and assigned a position on a particular
debate issue. Each group was provided with a space on LearnLink for debate,
and all students could look in on others' debates. This arrangement involved
all the students actively researching and participating in their learning
in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.
An additional benefit of LearnLink for many professors is the time it can
save. Often, faculty are faced with the same questions by several students.
By replying to a public conference on LearnLink, professors can give a detailed
answer once that is available to the whole class. Faculty can also provide
copies of lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations and images from lectures
on LearnLink, where they are available to students at any time. Others use
LearnLink's file transfer capabilities to send and receive student papers.
Uses for LearnLink outside the classroom are expanding as well. The political
science department, for example, has set up a conference on LearnLink. Their
conference includes areas for dissemination of information to students,
discussion areas for majors, a question-and-answer conference, and a restricted
area for faculty and staff within the political science department.
Student organizations, ranging from the College Republicans and Young Democrats,
to fraternities, sororities, cultural groups, philanthropic organizations
and various other clubs, are getting online as well. Here, they are planning
meetings, debating current issues, posting announcements or just "talking"
with one another. In many cases, LearnLink has been a bridge connecting
students on Emory's main campus with their counterparts at Oxford college.
On Dec. 11, LearnLink and the Center for Teaching and Curriculum will co-sponsor
a meeting for faculty interested in LearnLink. This short workshop will
focus on how LearnLink can be used as an effective tool in the classroom,
and is geared both toward experienced users, and faculty or graduate students
new to LearnLink.
For further information, call the LearnLink office at 727-2817, or e-mail
Gary Falcon is a system administrator for Learnlink and a former biology
to the October 14, 1996 contents page