26 April 2007

Networks, Connections and Community: Learning with Social Software

Mindmap ... Learning with Social Software in VET (Evans and Larrie, 2007, P 50)

Well, it's been an interesting journey as we sought to discover how social software could best be used for knowledge sharing, capability development and in teaching and learning in Vocational Education and Training (VET). The research report has now been published - you can check it out at http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/flx/go/pid/377.

The mindmap above represents the key findings - the supporting themes, pre-conditions, enablers, contexts in VET, and the theories informing the use of social software that emerged through this research. There was substantial evidence that the use of social software can be an effective strategy for knowledge sharing, capability development as well as a strategy that can enhance and enliven the teaching and learning experience in VET.
If you want to pursue the use of social software, the report contains case studies/stories that demonstrate its use, strategies for implementation as well as hints and tips contributed by the research respondents.
The Learning with Social Software wiki is still alive - social software is a dynamic area! If you have something to share - a story, an insight, a vision - add your link to the wiki at http://socialsoftware-research.wikispaces.com/
This will be my last post to this blog - thanks to all of those who supported me as I discovered how social software works as a user and a researcher.

22 December 2006

Merry Christmas Everyone

Well, I've had my head buried in analysing and synthesising all the data captured for this research project - phew!

The draft report has just been sent off (5:30 pm on 22 January) so I am looking forward to relaxing over Christmas and the New Year now.

The report is to be finalised by late January - it will be good to have the time to reflect - I'm sure the draft will change!

The research wiki will be updated before then with a wonderful selection of research stories to be added. I was hoping to do this before Christmas but just not enough hours in the day I am afraid. I will post a message when it has been updated though.

Thanks everyone for your wonderful contributions to our research - you've given us lots to think and write about!

Merry Christmas and all the best for a wonderful New Year.

06 December 2006

Bingo! Capturing Management Interest

The idea that the use of social software by organisations improves workflow and productivity has to capture management interest don't you think? I have been reviewing the 'stories' of several research contributors who use social software for project management, knowledge sharing and organisational learning and this common theme is emerging as a result of the freedom of rapid publishing and subsequent empowerment of project/team managers.

I feel as if I have stumbled over an absolutely critical finding if management buy-in to using social software is to be encouraged! I've always believed in the power of using the language of your intended audience and despite managers of educational institutions seeming interest in teaching and learning, the ever-tightening budgets keep them firmly focused on $$$$, in public education at least.

So, what examples can you provide of improved workflow and productivity through using social software in your workplace?

29 November 2006

Are we still in teacher-driven mode?

One impression forming from feedback so far is that we are continuing to perpetuate a teacher-driven rather than student-centred mode of delivery by using social software. With the excitement of using new technologies is it an assumption that students (particularly young students) and staff really want to use them for learning and knowledge sharing? What evidence have you got that suggests this is really what our clients want?

We're really interested to get some additional feedback on this one so have your say by commenting.

19 November 2006

Where does Virtual Conferencing fit?

In analysing some of the responses to our recently released social software for learning survey, I noticed a comment questioning the inclusion of virtual conferencing under the umbrella of social software. Interestingly, this had been an initial concern of mine when I began this research project, mostly because I understood social software to be 'free' and available so that communities could be built bottom-up.

At that time, I referred my concerns to Michael Coghlan, who is recognised in Australia for his knowledge of and expertise with virtual conferencing, and Michael referred me to the wikipedia definition of social software:

"Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities. ..."

Certainly, with that part of the definition, virtual conferencing fits under the umbrella of 'social software'.

However, Michael pointed out that Wikipedia's definition continues with "...Common to most definitions is the observation that some types of software seem to facilitate "bottom-up" community development, in which membership is voluntary."

Well, perhaps it is questionable whether virtual conferencing fits that part of the definition, although perhaps I could now argue that it does. There are free virtual conferencing tools coming onto the market (check out 'Dim Dim' (http://www.dimdim.com/), and what is stopping anyone from having open meetings, voluntary memberships etc using these tools. In fact, I believe I participate in just that at the moment through the Connected Community Network - membership is voluntary and it has evolved to become very "bottom-up".

So, acknowledging that not everyone will agree, for the purpose of our research we have chosen to include virtual conferencing under the umbrella of social software.

What do you think?

06 November 2006

How ready are we to change our practice?

Okay, I'm pondering again! I mentioned in a forum the other day that I like blogs that offer FeedBlitz or similar tool so that I can get updates to blogs in my email. That's because I can't get into the habit of going to bloglines to check updates - it seems another chore - but I read my email almost every day - not all in my professional and personal networks are bloggers. I also subscribe to Stephen Downes' OLDaily and to George Siemens' weekly blog summary email, and I get Nancy White's FeedBlitz update and they all come to my email.

I was checking FeedBlitz yesterday and it seemed to be saying what I have been thinking - email is ubiquitous. Everyone has email and everyone is familiar with it (well almost everyone - my 82 yr old mother doesn't want to know about it!). I know FeedBlitz is marketing a product but I connected with the words.

So, I'm not ready to change my practice - I can't see the point! It was mentioned to me that blogs are more personal - you can see what people look like, their interests etc. Mmmmm - you won't find that on my blog although you will find the blogs and links I'm interested in professionally.

And what about interaction. Web 2.0 technologies are meant to be about 'connecting' and 'networking' but a blog seems to me to be a one-way conversation. You blog it and invite comments - sometimes you get some, sometimes you don't (boo hoo - see the lack of comments on this blog!). I agree with the networking - you can find all sorts of contacts out there through blogs and wikis, but I see most interaction happening on listservs and forums, eg teachAndLearnOnline and edNA Framework Community Forum. So, if I want to interact, to enter into dialogue, discuss and debate issues, I'm going to probably choose a forum where people are going to respond and I can respond to their response. I could use a wiki forum of course!

So, how ready are VTE practitioners and other professionals to make the shift and what motivated those who have?

31 October 2006

Benefits of Using Social Software for Young Learners

Something new for me to ponder this week and linked to a previous post relating to selecting the right tool for the job ...

The question was raised this week as to whether it is a myth that the young are all technology savvy and will easily pick up the use of technology for learning. One lecturer noted that the young are great at SMS and mobile technologies, but trying to engage them with a blog or a wiki and sitting down at a PC is not so easy. I noticed an earlier comment on this blog also drawing attention to the age factor.

So, is age a factor that we should be considering more when we choose technologies for learning? Perhaps moblogging, podcasting, and mobile learning are better suited to the younger students and wikis, blogs and forums are better suited to the more mature student.

The benefits of using the technology for learning for the clients has to be paramount when we select different technologies. So, what are the benefits for young learners if social software is used in their learning experience? And what about the more mature student - what are the benefits for them?