Friday, June 30, 2006

Issues for University's in using social software

One of my colleagues at Glamorgan made a fascinating comment in a discussion on our work blog. We were discussing social software and he said:

I imagine there are a range of questions/filters Glamorgan, or any other institution, would need to apply: (1) Learning & Teaching (1) what kind of learning are we trying to promote? What instructional approaches best meet these needs? Is social software the best way of supporting these needs? (2) Is social software really accessible to learners? Given the range of learners we have, and our mission to promote equity in learning, how flexible is social software for a particular target group? (3) What about the organisational implications? (4) How quickly can courses be mounted that leverage onto social software? (5) What kind of interactivity does social software enable? Can it really stimulate "higher-order" thinking skills and critical inquiry (I would posit that this should be the mission of a good university)(6) and from a uni perspective what's the cost structure?/cost per student?

I bet those of us who have been promoting Social Software have heard similar questions time and time again. Though in my experience they normally come from technical support staff not from the research community.

So some answers:

(1) Learning & Teaching "what kind of learning are we trying to promote? What instructional approaches best meet these needs? Is social software the best way of supporting these needs?"

I guess those from the social software community will think this has an obvious answer. Yes three years ago we might have been able to ask this, but with a plethora of evidence in Schools, FE and HE I thought the answer was already well evidenced.

I notice the issue emerging in the policy debate on Personalised Learning. Where it is argued that personalisation comes from addressing the student where they are, not us delivering in our preferred method. So is it the best way, well ask the learner, and try and offer more than one way. But the range of examples of changing forms of engagement achieved by these methods are all over the blogospehere, the blogs.ac.uk site being an example of a UK learning and teaching agenda around blogging.

(2) Is social software really accessible to learners? Given the range of learners we have and our mission to promote equity in learning how flexible is social software for a particular target group?

Again this question took me by surprise. I thought anyone who has looked at social software would know that it is as accessible as access to any Internet enabled PC, or indeed increasingly to any enabled mobile device. Personalisation again points us to more not let use of this. See the FutureLab report. Therefore as an HE which expects students to be able to access a VLE we already assume they have sufficient access for the use of social software. Yes there are equity issues, especially in a socially marginalised area like the South East Wales Valleys, and these should not be ignored, but these are already being addressed in the debate on the use of any technology among socially marginalised groups or communities.

(3) What about the organisational implications?

This is the area of my current research. Yes new technologies always lead to change, but any improvement/enhancement agenda in learning is always going to lead to culture change. Advantage here is that the culture change is more institutions (internal) than on our students (external) as they are engaging in social software use long before they come to us. Ewan puts this so well in his podcast when he shows we can use the tools that pupils, in his case, already have. If this can happen in the school sector, how much more will we need to be able to do it in HE.


(4) How quickly can courses be mounted that leverage onto social software?

10 minutes to as many hours as you have?? When the course is about reflection and thinking, then setting up a blog and offering a task, I find a deadline also helps, can be enough to start the learning process. When creative industries are looking for sound of image develop it can take longer but the tools enable interaction which was not possible in the past.

At Glamorgan have some people already doing this. For most academics it has been easier to adopt to social software than to learn a VLE. Largely because this approach is more accessible, i.e. it feels more like products academics are already familiar with (e.g. Word etc).


(5) What kind of interactivity does social software enable? Can it really stimulate 'higher-order' thinking skills and critical inquiry (I would posit that this should be the mission of a good university)


At the recent Blended Learning Conference at Hertfordshire more than half of the presentations were about the use of Social Software as tools for learning. Gilly Salmon keynoted the event showing how some of these approaches were being used in recent post about a presentation I gave to the HEA Business and Management Subject Network


(6) From a university perspective what's the cost structure?/cost per student?

This depends on the approach taken. Indeed the debate of housed and managed by the University or using sites provided by companies for free is currently one I have been raising with members of the corporate and network teams in our Information Services Department.


1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the "accessibility" question was not merely about income / PC availability, but also about accessibility for people with disabilities...

I have no idea how accessibly MySpace and Facebook are, but judging by the rather horrible personalisatiosn of the former, I wouldn't expect much.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 6:07:00 pm  

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