SocialLearn: Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education

This is a guest post by Martin Weller for the On the Horizon series on distributed learning environments. Martin is Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University in the UK (OUUK). In 1998 he created the first major elearning course at the OUUK, which attracted over 12,000 students annually. He then went on to be the OUUK’s VLE Project Director for two years, which resulted in the adoption of Moodle. He is the author of two elearning text books, and blogs at http://edtechie.net. His current interests are in emerging technologies and their implications for higher education. He is the academic lead on the OUUK’s SocialLearn project which is developing a social network for learners.

Higher education faces a challenge. It may not know it yet, but it does. And the challenge is this – when learners have been accustomed to very facilitative, usable, personalisable and adaptive tools both for learning and socialising, why will they accept standardised, unintuitive, clumsy and out of date tools in formal education they are paying for? It won’t be a dramatic revolution (students accept lower physical accommodation standards when they leave home for university after all), but instead there will be a quiet migration. The monolithic LMSs will be deserted, digital tumbleweed blowing down their forums. Students will abandon these in favour of their tools, the back channel will grow and it will be constituted from content and communication technologies that don’t require a training course to understand and that come with a ready made community.

This may seem like just a technological issue, but it runs deeper than this. If we add to the technological experience, the user participation one they will have had through social tools such as Flickr, YouTube, blogging, wikis, etc and compare this with the top-down, pre-filtered experience they have in courses and selected resources, it becomes obvious that this is about more than just technology, it is a social change.

And yet it is still the case that most students want the structure, the support and the filter that higher education provides. Technology isn’t the solution, or the problem here, but we can see it as the medium through which the cultural differences between traditional higher education and web 2.0 will be realised. We can think of the learning systems we use as the metaphor for the way we approach pedagogy, the learner experience and the role of the educator.


Let’s take an example – at the Open University in the UK we are developing a social network oriented approach to learning, in a project called SocialLearn. The concept is that learners have a central profile where they list their learning goals, contacts, resources, and tools. The system uses an open API, so any third party application can write to it. In essence this allows any application to become a learning tool. We are also developing a number of applications that we think will be useful for such learners. And who are ‘such learners’? Well, everybody, because as soon as you conceive of learning as something that is in the control of the learner, rather than the institution, then ‘the curriculum’ becomes ‘whatever it is you’re interested in.’ That could be quantum physics, it could be the world of Harry Potter. By being part of a network, you create your own cohort, and pull in the resources that are relevant to you (which will be recommended by the network). You may want the structure and motivation a course offers, which could come from a recognised institution, or could be a user generated ‘course’ that is taken just for fun and run by an enthusiast.
The key point is this – most LMSs are based on a centralisation philosophy, and as soon as you disaggregate the technology, you also decentralise control. With SocialLearn we found that very soon we weren’t considering tools just for students in higher education, but for informal learners also. Once you do this for technology, it quickly follows that a similar disaggregation, and then reaggregation, of the various parts of the education system follow – accreditation, support, expertise, teaching. So, in SocialLearn we have begun to consider not only the technical system required, but also the business, support and pedagogical frameworks that might follow.

When it was necessary for education to be performed face to face, a number of services were bundled together. When it becomes digital and online, this may no longer be the case, as we have seen in most content industries, such as music and newspapers (education has some similarities with content and also some significant differences).  The first round of learning tools replicated the centralised model, but as the tools have become easier to use, and the methods for integrating them simpler, so this centralised approach seems less applicable. In ‘Here Comes Everybody’, Clay Shirky argues that the ‘cost’ of organising people has collapsed, which makes informal groupings  more likely to occur and often more successful:

By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management, these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort

Part of the function of universities is to provide this organisation, for example by grouping individuals together to form a student cohort who are interested in the same subject. But as this grouping becomes easier to do online, it becomes less of a valued function of the university – ie you don’t need to go to a university to find like minded people. Shirky’s argument might also apply to the technology itself – not only is it easier to group people, it’s easier to group tools also.

In my article I will expand on this relationship between the technology and related educational framework, using the SocialLearn project as my main example. I would suggest that the reason the centralised LMS is not the answer to the ‘web 2.0 problem’ for education is because in its software DNA it embodies the wrong metaphor. It seeks to realise the principles of hierarchy, control and centralisation – the traditional classroom made virtual. This approach won’t help educators understand the new challenges and opportunities they are now facing.

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40 Responses to SocialLearn: Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education

  1. So what is the address for SocialLearn? I tried googling it, but couldn’t seem to find the actual service. Is the software opensource?

  2. Alex Reid says:

    Thanks Martin. It looks like an interesting article. I strongly agree with your fundamental argument about the fate of the centralized LMS. I have two questions.

    1. My experience is that students are not always as digitally literate as we might hope. Blogs and wikis are still new things to my students. They’ve heard of them and used wikipedia, but they’ve never been contributors. I wonder about the scaffolding here.

    2. I think Shirky makes a good point, but I wonder about the externalized costs. What costs are hidden in this shift I wonder. How do we try to imagine what we are missing?

  3. Martin says:

    @Nathan – we will go to invites in July (the project blog is here: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/socialearn/index.php). At the moment (mainly due to constraints on time), it is open API, but not open source, but we hope to move towards that.

    @Alex – I think there is some truth in what you say and often people such as myself are guilty of thinking all teenagers are busy mashing up, remixing, etc. But I think that most of the new tools are very easy to use from a technical perspective – nearly all kids could just take to Facebook, Flickr, etc. The difference is, as you suggest, in becoming proficient users – and here is where a learning context for these tools could help. If you don’t have an aim or audience for your blog then it may become ‘Went out and got wasted’ type content – but if you begin to use it as a learning tool, then its affodances encourage reflection, discussion, etc.
    Re. Shirky – I think you’re right, and Shirky admits this too. We don’t know what the impact will be. It may not always be good. His argument is that the organisation finds it difficult to compete against the masses because of the costs it incurs – but that doesn’t mean we want to lose organisations. I don’t really have the answer to this – I just have a belief that you only find out by doing it.

  4. Hi Martin,
    Great post, which fits closely with our thinking on learning environments and workplace learning. You mention that the SocialLearn profile will allow learners to list their learning goals. Have you considered how learning goals might be shared and updated? We feel learning goals are particularly important in informal learning – see our post on charting at http://caledonianacademy.blogspot.com/2007/11/collective-learning.html. I’ve always been attracted by the idea of a 43things type approach – see http://headspacej.blogspot.com/2006/01/concept-map-social-software-and.html – embedded into the learners personal learning space so that they can constantly refine and reflect on these goals.

  5. Martin says:

    @Colin – yes, yes, yes – exactly what we are after. Goals are fundamental, and the 43things approach is what we are aiming at, but so that it pulls in learning content, structure, support services etc. Thanks for the links. We should chat sometime.

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  7. Great post. I love the vision behind social:learn and the fact that you all have a strong team with real world experience at the Open University. Definitely an exciting project.

    A few quick questions:
    1. Is your profile essentially an ePortfolio? If yes, then are you using the term ‘profile’ because it is more easily understood. If no, then what are the main differences?

    2. You contrast a typical course led by an instructor and a course run by an enthusiast. Would the functionality b/n these 2 courses differ or would they essentially be the same?

    One thing that we are working through is how to find the balance that you are describing in being optimized for both top-down and bottom-up learning. Wikipedia really gets at this well, but I think it is a bit more challenging for learning objects. For example, in the enthusiast course on say ‘remote control airplanes’, can anyone upload lessons or can just the course leader?

    3. I really like the idea of organic developments – almost like Amazon.com – where the network knows what I’m interested in and then makes recommendations for me. Am I understanding this correctly? If so, then how do you imagine that playing out?

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  9. Matt Kushin says:

    Great post. Will be interested to see what evolves.

    Found the following quote very interesting:

    Part of the function of universities is to provide this organization, for example by grouping individuals together to form a student cohort who are interested in the same subject. But as this grouping becomes easier to do online, it becomes less of a valued function of the university – ie you don’t need to go to a university to find like minded people. Shirky’s argument might also apply to the technology itself – not only is it easier to group people, it’s easier to group tools also.

    Am wondering how the role of the university will change, and in some ways how it will react to this ‘subversion’ for use of a sinister term??

    I’m attempting to address social learning via MS Sharepoint, and your points are taken. There is a lot of structure in the equation. Given their history, I wouldn’t count on microsoft to really break the boundary but I’ve found that Sharepoint offers a lot of opportunities to get moving in the direction you envision (admittedly, distant).

    Here’s what I’ve got going on so far, granted we’re only 4 days into the summer semester:
    https://mysite.wsu.edu/personal/mkushin/com420/course_site/default.aspx

    To Alex’s point about the wikis… you are right. Often time they aren’t as immersed as we think they are. But, I threw my kids into the a wiki assignment giving them only these directions :(https://mysite.wsu.edu/personal/mkushin/com420/course_site/Assignments Library/Assignment – wiki study guide.pdf)
    And, although they expressed some trepidation, especially towards the concept of self-organizing (a cultural aspect of learning I thought they’d have down given my assumption they’d all done this informally), they jumped right into it and I’ve no worries that with a little experimentation they’ll be just fine.

    Anyhow, just my 2 cents. I’m interested to see your thoughts.

    Matt K
    Grad student & new media learning enthusiast
    Feel free to drop in, anyone… I’d live to get a discussion going: http://interrobangblog.blogspot.com/

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  15. Lawrence says:

    I read the article above and many of the comments and am left with an impression that what I am reading is very similar to the techofuturist argument that technology will save the world (put forward by interest groups such as Microsoft).

    Specifically I refer to the belief that technologies such as LMS have the ability (which in a sense they inherently must) to undermine the status quo of the university and educational structures that currently exist.

    Although the LMS technology has that potentiality, I suspect that it will not devastate the existing university structure for sociological rather than technological reasons. That is not to say that change won’t occur but given that the university structure has really changed very little in essence since it’s inception, I doubt that the change will be devastating. I doubt that the changes will impact on the university, polytechnic, college or school any where near as much as the change from a theological to an empirical base impacted on the university for example (thanks to double entry book keeping) or the educational embrace of globalism (full fee foreign students and the embrace of capitalism over the pursuit and preservation of knowledge) which has seriously undermined and devastated many universities and educational institutions.

    Technologies like LMS are a complimentary tool to the existing systems that exist and while it is clear that they do to some extent subvert the current system (which they also compliment), it is by no means certain that they will deconstruct those systems to the extent projected in the article above.

    Home learning by radio encountered similar hopes, fears & arguments (when it was conceived of as means of mass education) those fears eventually fell away due largely to sociological reasons; the human desire to form physical groups for example (the exception was Australia where actual physical distance maintained the integrity of the tool and did change the way that education was delivered and also the delivered content to some extent).

    It is clear to me at least that we are beginning to enter into a settling phase with the very new technology of the internet & the personal computer, it is also clear that it those technologies have wrought massive social changes in the western world. It is far less clear that the technology will develop into radically new metaphors for social institutions (which is how I read what is being put forward in the article above).

    It is interesting to read these predictive articles, but it is my understanding that Universities are sought out not primarily for learning outcomes (by the majority of students) but for reasons of class, social status & social exposure (networking for fun and profit, social status, kudos, exclusivity etc).

    Human nature rather than technology will be far more conclusive as to what actually occurs and what changes are made. As computer systems become more user friendly and interfaces more transparent this clash with sociological issues might become less predictable & possibly less easily defined but I don’t think that the technology that the LMS will develop into under web 2.0 is going to redefine human nature as such in spite of what many (marketing executives) are predicting (They made the same argument for multimedia and what we ended up with was a bunch of dvd’s with music and multiple options to quit). Global and social environment on the other hand might be a better weather vane…

  16. John M says:

    Oh dear: “Higher education faces a challenge. It may not now [sic] it yet, but it does.” That’s a problem, right there.

    Content-wise, I agree. But why is this such a contested issue? Why can’t universities just embody the change they are so quick to study?

  17. You say “as soon as you conceive of learning as something that is in the control of the learner, rather than the institution, then ‘the curriculum’ becomes ‘whatever it is you’re interested in.’” As some of your commentators note, there are challenges here for the University. I think we have been working along similar lines, when we about talk about “learning inside and outside the university” and explore some of that landscape with our recent ePortfolio contest and results.

    Your ideas about changes in store for the LMS also ring true for us. We are thinking about how the ePortfolio is really the core system and not the LMS

    This work has connected our thinking with Stephen Downes’ ideas of Open Source Assessment where he says “What we can expect in an open system of assessment is that achievement will be in some way ‘recognized’ by a community.” and “When posed the question … regarding what I thought the ideal open online course would look like, my eventual response was that it would not look like a course at all, just the assessment.” I think Downes’ idea is what gives substance and “rigor” to your ‘whatever it is you’re interested in.’

    Building on Downes, we have been exploring how learning inside and outside the university and open source assessment transforms the grade book and this week have been building a first implementation to demonstrate how that might be done.

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  19. Jon Mott says:

    Thought-provoking observation. . . The transition to social computing in higher ed is at least as much a “social” problem as it is a technical one. My two cents’ worth is that while change will certainly be driven “bottom-up” by student practice and demand, there will also be a generational component to it as younger faculty embrace social learning technologies and change the practices of teaching & learning at colleges and universities.

    The role of innovators in higher ed will be to facilitate the implementation and effective use of social learning technologies in ways that are so simple and easy that they’re transparent to learners and teachers.

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  21. Martin says:

    @Glen – there is an eportfolio element, but think of it as more socially powered, so it has your contacts, groups, and also your learning events – ie all the actions you take in your PLE write to your profile.
    Re. the difference – the functionality would depend on what the instructor wanted, so could be different, could be the same.
    Re. like Amazon – yes that’s the idea, use the social data to help improve learning for all.
    @Matt – Sharepoint? I agree that MS probably aren’t the best 2.0 company, but really it’s about approach and if you can turn it to your use, that’s fine. There is also the advantage that people know it so there’s no IT hurdle.
    @Lawrence – one always runs into the technology determinist argument when you write about the potential of technology. I am not saying that the technology will itself cause change, but it is a dialogue between society and technology. No-one argues that the train, or the aeroplane didn’t influence society. But it is complex and so predicting the future is always a foolhardy enterprise. What I am arguing here is that there are several forces at work, some of them technical, some of them economic, some social, which might create a ‘perfect storm’ for change in universities.
    @John – oh dear, rather shamefaced about that. Can I plead the urgency of deadlines as mitigating factor?
    @Nils – you are absolutely right – assessment/accreditation is really at the heart of the whole issue.

  22. Steve says:

    Very interesting post. I would have to agree with the comment left by Alex Reid in that my students have also shown very little experience and history in new Web 2.0 collaborative environments. I have really had to prod to get more activity on the class Wiki for example. The students are still much more comfortable using e-mail to communicate with me and each other. I know this will change over time, but for now (at least from my small corner) it is I who are pushing them to new technologies and strategies, not the other way around.

  23. RayMosteller says:

    Ditto to Steve and Alex,
    I’ve surprisingly found that first-year medical students are not that adept at Web 2.0 technologies (wikis, blogs) but rely heavily on email, texting, course material downloads, Google, Wikipedia, etc. They seem to think that it is an additional burden for them to contribute to the assimilation of their own learning resources through a process of discovery, critical evaluation and posting on the web. Last year, I didn’t find anyone who had even heard of SecondLife. Obviously, I’m sure that many use Facebook and Flickr for personal but not educational purposes.

  24. Ray just noted “I’m sure that many use Facebook and Flickr for personal but not educational purposes.” It might be worth introducing the term creepy treehouse to this discussion. It might help us talk about ‘educational’ purposes, which might come out meaning something a bit different than I think Martin is talking about when he says “And who are ’such learners’? Well, everybody, because as soon as you conceive of learning as something that is in the control of the learner, rather than the institution, then ‘the curriculum’ becomes ‘whatever it is you’re interested in.’”

  25. Interesting ideas, certainly is present in educational activities. However, as others commented, most of students and faculty are still unaware that LMSs -al least- in the current form are extinguishing, and eventually will disappear.

  26. @LuisM – You might be interested to read the new ECAR report Web 2.0, Personal Learning Environments, and the Future of Learning Management Systems by Niall Sclater (The Open University) at http://connect.educause.edu/Library/ECAR/Web20PersonalLearningEnvi/46952

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  29. Higher education faces a challenge. It may not know it yet, but it does. And the challenge is this – when learners have been accustomed to very facilitative, usable, personalisable and adaptive tools both for learning and socialising, why will they accept standardised, unintuitive, clumsy and out of date tools in formal education they are paying for?

    Thank you for this. I’ve been thinking about this challenge a great deal recently. I came to education recently and late in my career, having spent most of the past two decades as a participant observer in what some call social media or participatory media, starting with what I called “virtual community” way back in the Jurassic era of online culture. I started teaching classes on Virtual Community/Social Media, Participatory Media/Collective Action, and Digital Journalism because I had become convinced that the answer to the question my decades of writing about cyberculture kept raising — Is this (digital media, online communication, mobile media) good for us as individuals, communities, societies? — is: “It depends not on the technologies, but on the literacies around their use, on who knows what to do with these tools, how many people gain that knowledge, and how they put it to use.” Perhaps naively, I reasoned that the place to intervene was the educational institution.

    My encounters with students at Berkeley and Stanford, and with their teachers, surprised me in two ways: First, the digital natives I had heard so much about, as adept as they are at Facebooking, text messaging, and instant-messaging, do NOT necessarily know how to exercise blogging rhetoric effectively, to use forums for group formation, enlist wikis in collaborative work. Second, not that many of their professors integrate Web 2.0 tools into the curriculum. When I asked around about this, I was told that [universities like these] “are knowledge factories — if you work here, you are rewarded for creating new knowledge, not for advancing pedagogy.”

    There are great lecturers, of course, but there are too many who are delivering the same lectures they gave ten y ears ago — except now their students have laptops and the Internet to distract them, a seductive distraction far more powerful than old-fashioned woolgathering and doodling. And the students are grade-making machines who have been trained to recognize the phrases likely to be on the exam, to note and memorize them, and to replay them in the acceptable manner when asked to do so.

    So I introduced forums, blogs, wikis, twitter, Second Life, and found that the students became fascinated and engaged — but also confused and overwhelmed. So I set out to create an integrated collection of free and open source tools and a curriculum for using social media to teach about social media. Here is a description of that project: http://www.smartmobs.com/2008/02/23/howard-rheingold-one-of-17-winners-of-hastacmacarthur-foundation-competition/

    The curriculum development is really the place where I hope to be able to answer the obvious question: “Why bother?” There is an abundance of social media, course management systems, etc., out there. But because I started out using social media specifically to add hands-on practice to the study of the theory of social media, and because I’ve engaged my students in ongoing discussion about which of my experiments engage their attention and stimulate learning, I’ve become convinced that the media themselves are best used in a pedagogy in which collaborative inquiry replaces the delivery of knowledge. Unlike many other fields, and probably because it is so new, cyberculture studies has a number of classic works, but there is no canon. Instead of standing in front of the class, telling, showing, and talking, in attempt to get across what I believe to be the essential elements of a body of knowledge, I intend to sit with the students in a circle and engage them on a collaborative co-creation of knowledge, centered on critical inquiry — we start by asking questions, and then move to the texts. Student teams will volunteer to co-lead future classes and work with me prior to sessions. Teams will make their own initial pathways through suggested collections of texts on each class session’s theme, will lead small group and whole class inquiry, and will initiate construction of a wiki page for their session’s theme. Only teaching teams (3-5 students, depending on the size of the class) will have their laptops open (this is part of the attention training that I’ve documented in two previous videos, Attention 101 and Attention 102). Students in the team have forty minutes to teach. Two teams will teach during each three-hour class session. Students in each team rotate through the roles of discussion leader, note-taker, keeper of the lexicon, and link-finder. The team sets up a wiki structure before the class session, based on their choice of readings and the pathways of inquiry they choose to explore the texts. During class discussion, the note-taker records live notes on the wiki, the keeper of the lexicon identifies key words and phrases, the link finders search and add links. During the week following each class session, all students who were NOT on teaching teams are required to add to the wiki — flesh out notes, make corrections, add new material, pose questions, add links. Each team is required to meet face-to-face with the instructor at least a week before their class session. For the first third of the course term, we will use a forum for asynchronous group discussions between class sessions, and part of each session’s discussion will be devoted to selecting questions to pursue online during the following week. During the second third of the course term, we’ll use blogs for students to discuss the issues and questions addressed in their individual voices — and to comment on one another’s posts. The wiki will be enriched with links to relevant blog posts and/or comments. During the last third of the course term, we’ll use synchronous media — chat and Twitter — during class. At this point, all students can keep their laptops open, but those who choose to keep their laptops open are required to contribute to the online chat, the oral discussion, or both. The final exam will be based on the wiki knowledge that the students co-construct. And the wiki won’t go away — the second year that this course is taught, the students will begin with the wiki inherited from the first year cohort, and will be assigned to augment, challenge, add, enrich, change the ongoing knowledge repository.

    That’s the idea. We’ll see how it works out in practice. But my strong feeling, reinforced by your blog post here, Martin, is that the technology, powerful and freely available as it is, can afford a more student-centric, participative, inquiry-based pedagogy — but that doesn’t mean that the media and the methods are going to be embraced quickly by institutions that still has old guys standing at podiums because a thousand years ago the books were priceless, chained to the podium, and had to be read aloud by experts in the days before punctuation. Open University, of course, is the outstanding counter-institutional answer to the conflict between new ways of learning and old educational institutions.

    I’m not inclined, personally, to tackle institutional change. But I’m doing my best to provide and to test in practice good tools for other educators who want to experiment ways to get their students as engaged in learning as they are in MySpace or World of Warcraft.

  30. Alex Reid says:

    Howard, your class sounds interesting and workable. At least I hope its workable as I’m trying to do similar things, and I find similar things with my students in terms of the challenges of trying to translate a certain kind of literacy with social media into more intellectual/academic/pedagogic literacies. Part of the challenge, and part of what makes this interesting, is that I don’t know what the latter will look like. It’s all unfolding around us.

    Anyway, I certainly agree with your assessment of the situation with the university. Before you have educational reform, you first have to identify a problem. I think faculty are like most folks in their resistance to change. If my lecture isn’t effective anymore it’s b/c the students are worse or mobile phones and laptops are distracting them or the college has done something wrong or the whole culture is going to hell. The thought that maybe there’s something wrong with the lecture or lecturing in general is unlikely to be raised.

  31. Howard Rheingold describes above a very collaborative, generative curriculum for his course. There is a power to using social media in a course on social media, and having the students playing roles as contributors, learners, researchers, and experimental subjects all at the same time. If students feel a little overwhelmed at times, as Howard reports, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at some stages of learning.

    Howard says “I’ve become convinced that the [social] media themselves are best used in a pedagogy in which collaborative inquiry replaces the delivery of knowledge.” It could equally be said that LMS systems are best used in a pedagogy of collaborative inquiry. In fact, all the major LMS systems are adopting social media tools as part of their toolkit. We are already seeing class wikis (or at least, wiki pages) at Washington State University, where I work. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that collaborative inquiry is the core pedagogy; assessment is still at the heart of the issue. A class wiki does not necessarily exclude a multiple-choice final exam.

    If technological tools can encourage rethinking of pedagogy, that’s very well. However, my experience over the past 15 years suggests that faculty (especially Ph.D. faculty) are expert at subverting systems for their own purposes. When those purposes focus on minimizing the amount that teaching distracts them from their research, Web 2.0 tools will not help.

    Howard’s description of his class is inspiring less because of its use of social media and more because of its collaborative and collegial structure. While the tools can provide some logistical lubrication, it is Howard’s attitude toward his students that makes me wish I could take his course. I’m sure we’d learn a lot.

  32. @Howard
    I saw your comment followed your link to learn more about your course. You might be interested to look at Dave Cormier’s Rhizomic Education where I think he addresses some of the Learning 2.0 ideas that you are exploring in your social media course.

    What I don’t see you describing about the course is the process of assessment. By ‘assessment’ I mean something more far reaching and transformative than ‘grading,’ something more like ‘how is assessment a social process and how is it conducted in social media.’ Let me point at several ideas.

    You say, “although a willingness to learn new media through point-and-click exploration might come naturally to today’s student cohort, there’s nothing innate about knowing how to apply their skills to the processes of civil society, scientific or scholarly innovation, or economic production.” To talk about learning those skills, I refer you to Grant Wiggins’ Assessing Student Performance, Jossey-Bass, 1993, in Chapter 6 on Feedback. He differentiates ‘feedback’ from ‘guidance’ in several examples and defines feedback as “information that provides the performer with direct, usable insights into current performance, based on tangible differences between current performance and hoped-for performance.” I note the bulk of comments to your blog post, which are neither feedback nor guidance. I think your course is striving to help students learn to ask for and give more useful assessments – in order to move their collective work forward.

    Stephen Downes in Open Source Assessment says, “When posed the question [about what] the ideal open online course would look like, my eventual response was that it would not look like a course at all, just the assessment.

    “The reasoning was this: were students given the opportunity to attempt the assessment, without the requirement that they sit through lectures or otherwise proprietary forms of learning, then they would create their own learning resources.” Perhaps your course could similarly pose an assessment for successful use of social media.

    At WSU’s Center for Teaching Learning and Technology, we have been exploring ePortfolios for learning using some case studies drawn from our recent ePortfolio contest. In particular, El Calaboz ePortfolio will interest you because the author is using social media to organize a resistance to the border wall being constructed between the US and Mexico. A recent outgrowth of our thinking about these ideas is a transformed (transformative) grade book. It would seem your course is well suited to be implemented using ideas from our first or second variation.

  33. Thank you, Nils. I’ve been reading both Cormier and Downes and will read your e-portofolios material with interest. Yes, I’m interested in peer assessment and self-assessment — I have as more or more to learn than my students.

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  36. Pingback: Teaching + Learning Centre » Blog Archive » Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education

  37. Ryan says:

    I think there needs to be elements of both. I have taught some students that would take to this approach like a duck to water and go very very far. I have also taught other students that didn’t have the motivation or couldn’t effectively work out and follow their own paths.

    Ultimately I think some sort of hybrid of both would be ideal. I would however love to give such a system a go in some of my classes and see how it goes.

  38. Laura says:

    Just to let you know you can sign-up for early access to the SocialLearn beta at: http://www.open.ac.uk/sociallearn/
    We plan to launch this in the Autumn.
    Laura

  39. Amy Tuttle says:

    I totally agree with you that centralized LMS is not the answer to the Web 2.0 program for education. I have just completed two online courses; one using a traditional learning management system (LMS) and the other driven through a wiki. The only thing these two classes had in common was that I was able to access them through the Web. I totally agree that the LMS is clumsy, standardized, and quite honestly, out-of-date. It was a very hierarchial class. The social aspect was non-existent; I did not talk with any other student throughout the six week class.

    However, the class delivered though the wiki was very social, and offered lots of interaction. Classmates were able to contact other students through a variety of options and ask questions. It personalized the class and offered more interpersonal contact than even a traditional face-to-face classroom.

    It will be interesting to see how higher ed classes begin to morph to meet the needs of students today and in the future. I am excited to see how the educational framework will change to encompass all of the benefits of Web 2.0. Universities typically lag so far behind the technology already offered in the outside world. Those that thrive will be the ones that buck the mantra, “But we’ve always done it this way before.” Here’s to the future and all of the changes to come!

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