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Where We Are Now

July 7, 2006

Social software and learning: An Opening Education report from Futurelab
By Martin Owen, Lyndsay Grant, Steve Sayers and Keri Facer

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning


For anyone who wants to understand the implications of what is happening on the Web now for education, this report is essential. It is clear, easy-to-read, long, and filled with information and ideas. I cannot recoomend it too highly as a foundational overview.

Here are some quotations from it, (collected by using WebSnippits, part of the Flock browser, which I am more and more impressed with.)

If learning to learn, if collaboration, and if the personalisation of educational experiences are at the core of current educational agendas, we need to find ways of enabling young people to come into contact with, collaborate with and learn from each other and other people. Social software is about bringing minds and ideas into contact with each other and is already, in the world outside schools, creating what was described by McLuhan as the global village.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

New forms of collaboration tools are also emerging, based on collaborative document building rather than individualist blogs. We are also seeing a shift in the ‘modality’ of communication away from text alone: podcasting or audio publishing via the net is a growing movement and it will be relatively a short time before there is also good support for video publication on the net. Locative and geographically mediated activity is also a likely area for growth.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

… there is a shift in the nature of knowledge and how knowledge is created and organised, and secondly there is a cultural shift growing from the use of information and communication technologies, the so-called cyberculture. These two strands mirror the twin concerns of those arguing for a shift in educational processes to align with the perceived demands of a knowledge economy: namely, the concern with developing young people able to act as innovators and creators of knowledge; and the concern with developing young people able to operate effectively within digital and information-rich environments.Identity, space, attention and creativity are all clearly central to the question of how we learn with digital technologies. These are not marginal questions to be relegated to the ‘out of school’ world, but are intimately bound up with the ways in which young people may be coming to expect to learn in a digitally rich environment.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

Digital technology allows easy peer-to-peer exchange and amateur cultural production. Consumers can easily become producers. Mass market and user-generated cultural media is appropriated and critiqued, adapted and remixed allowing users and consumers to change the meanings intended by the original producer. This critical culture of consumption and remix blurs the line between consumption and production.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

The researchers suggest that what these young people are doing is creating and projecting their emerging identities within a group of friends. Blogs, as with mobile phones and other technologies, facilitate a range of social and emotional work for young people (Ito and Okabe 2003, referenced in Carrington 2005).

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

schoolsshould not expect students to leave the 21st century in the cloakroom,for example, many schools do not allow e-mail, instant messaging,mobile phones or blogging. As a corollary there is an imperative toteach appropriate use and appropriate behaviour for ICT. This shouldinclude protection of students’ own identity.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

There is a “substantially more subtle shift” pertaining to forms of reasoning. “Reasoning, classically, has been concerned primarily with deductive, abstract types of reasoning. But what I see happening to today’s kids as they work in this new digital medium has much more to do with bricolage than abstract logic. Bricolage, a concept originally studied by Levi Strauss many years ago, relates to the concrete. It has to do with the ability to find something – an object, tool, piece of code, document – and to use it in a new way and in a new context.”2

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

Contemporary creativity may no longer be focused towards creating original content, but is a practice of rip, mix and burn, where content is taken, appropriated, adapted, mixed, and distributed in a way in which consumption of media and information also becomes a productive act. Digital technology can, then, give young people the opportunity to take control of information and media to consume and produce cultures of importance and relevance to their own lives and identities. Social software adds to the ways one can be creative and it has changed and expanded the audience for personal and social creativity. [Emphasis added]

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

Students who pool their research (in a bookmark tool or in a wiki) can clearly help each other do better. Students who peer assess their work can clearly help each other. Students who can work in different media extend the range of their thinking. Students in contact with people outside the school can learn more. Students who have a sense that their work is for a wider audience may be better motivated.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

4.7 Conclusion: e-Learning 2.0?Our discovery of new ways to transform our lives using digital technologies is not slowing down. In recent years we have witnessed the emergence of new tools and services. Some of these have been characterised as Web 2.0, some of them have been characterised as social software. The significant attributes that these new tools and services display are that they are about knowledge creation, knowledge management, knowledge sharing and knowledge dissemination. Keywords have been creation, collaboration and communication. These technologies are changing the way we are able to deal with knowledge. This raises two issues for those engaged in education. Firstly they supply the enterprise of learning with new tools and new and useful ways to go about learning. The second suggests that because of the changing nature of human knowledge management we need to change priorities in what we need to learn.The individual learner has many choices available for their personal learning. The list of social software activity is long and is growing. However, there is also a need for a response in formal education. These technologies do provide a mechanism for transformation in education that appropriates these technologies for educational advantage. This includes a change in our vision of e-learning to a more open approach to the acquisition, organisation, creation and assessment of knowledge: e-Learning 2.0.

Futurelab – Research – Publications – Social software and learning

All teachers at all levels should be reading this and responding to this paper, IMHO!

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