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Special Events 2013-2014

Graduate Student-Led Talks hosted by the Education Commons

The Value of Social Media Use in Online Learning

Cobwebs in a Virtual Brain (at KMDI)


Fall 2013

The Value of Social Media Use in Online Learning

Thank you for your participation in our Fall 2013 Special Event!

It can now be viewed online:
Part 1 (before group activity)
Part 2 (after group activity)

We hope to see you at a future event or workshop.


Alexandra Makos
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning

Dr. Jim Hewitt
Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning

Dr. Clare Brett
Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning

Date: Monday, November 11

Time: 2:30 - 4

Location: Knowledge Innovation & Technology Lab, 3rd floor
OISE Education Commons, 252 Bloor Street West


Register: Registration required, as there is a limited number of spaces available.


All University of Toronto Faculty, Staff and Students (all programs, graduate and teacher candidates) are welcome.


Synopsis: One of the most commonly cited problems in online education literature is the challenge of nurturing open and constructive discourse. This is in part a result of the focus on text-based communication between students and instructors. However, the integration and use of social media and multimedia content available on the Web is causing online learning environments to evolve. Now these environments include tools to create and embed a variety of media rather than relying on text. The use of social media tools can help in the challenge of creating and nurturing open and constructive discourse.

This workshop focuses on the integration of social media in online learning environments to enhance both the students’ and instructor’s experiences. Whether you are an instructor, a TA or a student, you will find this workshop helpful. You will learn how to use a wide variety of online tools that will help make your courses more inviting and interesting. We will be using Pepper as our demonstration environment, but many of the principles are applicable to other types of software as well. 

Connections will be made to instructional rationale and student use of these tools. A discussion of best practices will provide both students and instructors with key take-aways for the integration of social media into their online courses. We will share a wealth of ideas and techniques used by experienced online educators and students at OISE to answer the most common questions about online learning:

  • How do you set a positive tone in your online class?
  • How do you nurture trust?
  • How do you get to know everyone in your class?
  • From a student's perspective, how can you make more valuable contributions to your class?
  • How do you contribute to a student group discussion without shutting down that discussion?
  • As an instructor or TA: What are some creative and simply ways to provide feedback for students?
  • Why is it important to have a collegial, supportive environment?


Presenter Bios:

Image of Alexandra Makos

Alexandra Makos

Alexandra is a doctoral student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Her research interests are: social media tools, intelligent recommendation systems, the design of online learning environments, and educational mobile application design.


Alexandra has been an active member of the PeppeR Project Research Team for three years.  She is currently working on the development of social media tools that help students interact with notes created in an online discussion. One of the tools on which she has has conducted extensive research on is the “Like” button (a replica of Facebook’s), to understand how it supports social interaction in online discussions. The social media tools I am designing are integrated into PeppeR, a proprietary online learning environment developed by Jim Hewitt, my supervisor, at OISE as a part of his SSHRC funded research. PeppeR is central to my research on the personalization of student learning in online learning environments through the use of interactive tools. My broad research question is: What pedagogical value do social media tools have when used in online learning environments? Specifically, I will focus on the two sub-questions: 1) How does the use of a Like button support student learning?; and 2) How does the use of a Share button support student learning?

View Alexandra's complete profile.


Jim Hewitt's picture

Jim Hewitt

Jim Hewitt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. His research focuses on the educational applications of computer-based technologies, with a particular emphasis on discursive processes in collaborative learning environments. 


Dr. Hewitt's publications include studies of thread development in asynchronous distance education courses, sociocultural supports for knowledge building in elementary science classrooms, and uses of multimedia and online technologies for teacher development.  His research suggests that traditional threaded computer conferencing software lacks critical supports for knowledge building and promotes diverging, add-on style discourse rather than the more sophisticated operations (such as synthesis and superordination) required for sustained, progressive knowledge work. Recently, Dr. Hewitt designed and developed an open source web-based environment called Pepper.  In Pepper, students work together in a learning community to study challenging problems, identify important ideas, and progressively work to improve those ideas.  Through these and other research endeavors, Dr. Hewitt hopes to discover new ways to help students work together creatively to build knowledge.

View Dr. Hewitt's complete profile.


Clare Brett's picture


Clare Brett

Clare Brett is currently the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department, and Associate Professor in the area of Education and Knowledge Technologies. Her research and teaching focus lie in the area of education and knowledge technologies.



Clare has been involved in research in the design of blended learning environments in classrooms for the last 20 years, and has been teaching in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE since 2002, offering many of her graduate courses fully online. Clare’s research interests are focused in investigating technical and social supports, as well as challenges, for collaborative online learning and their application for online graduate apprenticeship. She has taught in both the pre-service and graduate programs, offering courses in educational psychology as well as online graduate courses: Theories of Learning and the Design of Online Learning Environments, and Educational Applications of Computer Mediated Communications.

View Dr. Brett's complete profile.


Cobwebs in a Virtual Brain

KMDI SPEAKER SERIES: DR. TOM FURNESS – Cobwebs in a Virtual Brain

Monday November 11, 11:00am -12:00pm

Auditorium 1160 - Main floor Bahen Building, University of Toronto

Dr. Furness  has spent his career exploring and developing technology for getting bandwidth to the brain and between brains.  His work has encompassed fighter cockpits, virtual reality, retinal displays, educational tools, medical simulators, pain, phobias, molecular modeling, scanning fiber endoscopes and entertainment systems.  This quest has been punctuated with side trips and ‘aha’ experiences that have led to unanticipated destinations.  Dr. Furness plans to talk about lessons learned on his journey including unexpected delights…with an aim to inspire, entertain and challenge.

More information about "Cobwebs in a Virtual Brain"