Social Software for Learning


I had the opportunity yesterday to participate in an online forum using Elluminate as part of The Social Software/Web 2.0 Technologies Research Project which is funded by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework’s Knowledge Sharing Services and Research and Policy Advice Projects.

It’s really great to be able to be a part of this sort of forum and participate in discussions focusing on research around this emerging area of interest and activity in the online world – particularly as it pertains to education.

There were some really interesting examples of the educational use of Social Software being shared in the forum – and a whole lot more shared on the wiki, some relating to the use of SS with students, and others in relation to the use of SS for professional development. It always impresses me how creative and imaginative some teachers can be with new tools and environments like this.

I can’t help but observe, however, the ongoing point of tension in these sorts of discussions. The very fact that we are looking at how to integrate the use of SS into our teaching and learning programmes assumes that this is (a)possible and (b)desirable.

Social software, by its very nature, is essentially about providing forms of expression for individuals who are then connected with other individuals to form multi-layered networks based on common areas of interest or concern. These networks thrive on the contributions of the individuals, both to their personal environments and to the environments of others. The networks tend to be very democratic and fluid, with structure and form being determined by the participants.

Contrast that with the adoption of such environments within formal education processes. Regardless of how well intentioned the teacher/tutor may be, there is inevitably a level of imposed structure and expectation brought to bear. Formal education experiences are by nature characterised by being time bound, requiring assessment and adhering to a curriculum. All of these parameters are (generally) established externally to the participants. Further, choosing to become a participant in a course does not automatically assume one might choose to become a ‘blogger’ for instance – and we observe how important personal motivation and ‘ownership’ is in maintaining a profile within the social networking space.

The relationship between the use of social software by individuals and its appropriation within formal teaching and learning situations is what I’ve tried to illustrate in my recent post on MLEs and PLEs, and also in my paper on the scope of the PLE.

Our use of these environments is still at an emergent stage, and research such as this will provide some much needed insights into what is working well – and what isn’t. The research team of Val Evans, Susan Stolz and Larraine Larri have also established a blog in which they invite people to contribute thoughts and ideas connected with their research questions. With an increasing number of people becoming interested in making the use of social software a focus of research, this might be a useful forum to become a part of. Although it is focused on the post-school sector (VET), there are plenty of lessons that could be learned (and contributed) from those who are using social software in other areas of the education system.

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