Technology Source
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 environment.

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 instructor.

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