The everyday availability and use of technology has changed education as much as it has changed everything else. Since 2006, we use technological interventions to change a setting where we teach up to 800 participants per semester in a class, in order to make it more interactive, engaging, and interesting for the students.
Aurora is an online system that has been developed from simple experiments with existing tools and software to bring interaction to the crowd of learners. Over the years, it has turned into a solid and extensive collection of tools for online teaching, learning, and communication.
The Web 2.0 changed online culture and transformed it from a passive consumer culture to a participatory culture. This shift also influenced the process of teaching and learning, which is since referred to as E-Learning 2.0. The notion of E-Learning 2.0 is that Web 2.0 technologies are adapted and integrated in E-Learning systems. Knowledge can be created, shared, remixed and re-purposed by communities of practice. Students are part of this process, collect sources and participate in the communities, by sharing their own ideas and findings. Brown and Adler describe a new age of education, in which lifelong learning is not only needed but also supported by the participatory architecture of the Web 2.0. They speak of a new learning approach, ’...characterized by a demand-pull rather than the traditional supply-push mode...’ of obtaining knowledge. They emphasize the importance of social learning in the new online learning environment, pointing out, that the traditional teacher-student relationship is exchanged by a peer-based learning relationship.
Siemens  built on this change of learning culture and devised his theory of connectivism. He states that learning in the digital age is the self-driven process of building up net- works of knowledge. Nodes in a network can be data sources,
communities or people and are connected to the network with strong and weak links. Weak links are more interesting since they can open doors to new areas of knowledge, diversity and innovation. Siemens points out that the life-cycle of ’correct’ facts is getting shorter, and new knowledge is created faster, so memorizing facts is not yielding desired results anymore . More important is the ’Know-where’, which describes where knowledge can be found quickly rather than learning the knowledge itself by heart.
In this paper, we present an E-Learning System with the aim of letting students take responsibility of their own learning process. The system is an attempt to create a holistic learning platform, valuing not only assigned course work, but also social interactions and additional content students create or discover over the course of a semester. We wanted to avoid to develop another system increasing the distance between teacher and students. Instead, our goal was to start from the rather difficult situation of very large classes, where contact between teacher and student is short and rare, and transform it so that students have a feeling of more immediate involvement, more contact, and more personal mentoring. To achieve this, we put concepts such as social interaction, participation, and exchange at the center of our design efforts.
Aurora is a learning platform that consists of three modules that can interconnect with each other. Firstly, the Dashboard is an administrative tool, containing an administrative Newsfeed as well as widgets to enhance communication between all participants of the course and maintain an overview of the course progress as well as interesting developments around the course topics. Secondly, the Slides module is used during and after lectures as backchannel and basis for upcoming discussions around course topics. Thirdly, students are pro- vided with a pool of activities they can choose from in the Portfolio. We chose the word ’activity’ rather than ’exercise’ for work assignments, since we want to motivate students to actively pursue their work for this course and we want to avoid the vocabulary usually associated with course work to try to increase motivation. The Discuss module is used for discussions surrounding the topics that are covered in the courses. The name Aurora is not an acronym, nor has it any deeper meaning. We used the name because it refers to something beautiful, and because it sounds appealing.