Good review of some online tools for students, instructors and others who organize their work on computers and online from the Read Write Blog.
I think that there are many good arguments for allowing students to choose their own learning environments, and they aren’t difficult to find. Students can customize according to their own learning objectives or preferences. There is not a financial overhead for the free tools (it’s not incorporated into university fees, nor are their signup charges if you choose free software). There is more choice for students, they can take more responsibility for their own learning, and it’s something that will (probably) continue to be accessible for themselves after they graduate.
On the other hand, not all students will want this array of choices. If they are a basic user, it can be overwhelming to have to choose from several blog providers. Centralizing some services (blogs, learning management systems, synchronous communications tools) can help streamline communications and collaborations. I think there is value in having one place to access all online course materials, instead of logging into different systems, or tracking several new URLs each semester. Having a portal to one location for online discussions, materials, and assessments leaves students more time to study. If they are on the same system, then they are more likely able to help out with technical hurdles or other learning curves. I realize that this assumes that there is a portal that does all this, and we don’t have a portal that acts the way that I’ve described yet).
That being said, I use several of the tools lists. I’m a big fan of Google Docs (used to collaborate with my sister on our traveling plans), wikipedia (which is my jumping off point for so much peripheral or spontaneous learning) and del.ici.ous (in which I enthusiastically tag sites, explore other users sites, and send sites to my colleagues who are on the same system).
Actually that last description argues my point for universal platforms. I share sites via del-ici.ous almost exclusively with colleagues that are also members. I often don’t make that extra step to email an interesting link…
Right now, we’re mostly relying on word of mouth (blog postings count) to relay this to the students. Who’s targeting the students who don’t find these resources?