Extract from Chapter 2 of Final Report - Pages 31-34

Contribution to good teaching and learning practice – benefits to clients

The material presented in the Literature Review shows that there has been a growing interest in the use of social software for knowledge sharing in teaching and learning over recent years. Driving the interest have been:
  1. the rapid (somewhat exponential) growth in the use of social software generally by all age groups, but specifically by the ‘Net Generation’20
  2. the realisation by educators and organisational learning specialists that social software tools are valid and useful in providing virtual learning environments that enable the social interaction necessary for knowledge creation, sharing, and project collaboration.
Critical to those professionally involved in teaching and learning have been:
  1. a new understanding of the distributive nature of knowledge through the theory of Connectivism. Social software enables connections to global networks in vibrant and engaging ways that promote knowledge sharing
  2. an appreciation of the ways in which learners can effectively use social software tools to construct knowledge. This is based on a Constructivist approach to learning where the teacher’s role is to facilitate and design learning environments that challenge people’s thinking and recognise individual mental models in making meaning through the interaction21
  3. the development of "ad-hoc learning communities" (O’Hear in Downes, 2006) where social software is becoming a preferred learning management platform. For example, White’s (2006) three types of communities now operating within the blogasphere
  4. the relative ease of use, access, and minimal cost of social software.

A strong case for the use of social software in education is emerging. Examples of this are provided in Box 1.This material highlights the perception of some educators that these tools provide environments for learners that are engaging, fun, and adaptable to meet individual learner styles, and where that learning is assessable (both formative and summative). The nature of social software as providing platforms for ‘user driven content’ in multimedia formats is beginning to be recognised by innovative practitioners as a strategic way of achieving learner autonomy. The indications are that the application of social software to teaching and learning can achieve greater fluidity and authenticity in social interaction than have been previously possible with learning management systems.
Box 1: Examples of reasons for sound educational use of weblogs and wikis

In relation to weblogs, Suarez (2006) points to Warburton’s slide presentation in which he notes their versatility in :
//* Providing a rich set of writing techniques: writing as a process of self discovery
  • Supporting conversational learning
  • Creating or augmenting social presence
  • Encouraging reflective practice (through an inherent reflective, informal tone)
  • Developing a "critical voice"
  • Providing a record or portfolio of learning
  • Developing a community of inquiry
  • Creating learning networks, social networks
  • Developing and understanding one’s identity as a learner (autonomy and ownership)
  • Tension between self and reader necessitates learning to trust and understand one’s own perspectives.//Similarly, Fountain’s Wiki Pedagogy offers the following features of wikis in education: # Wikis maximize interplay # Wikis are democratic
  1. Wikis work in real time
  2. Wiki technology is text-based
  3. Wikis permit public document construction, that is, distributed authorship
  4. Wikis complicate the evaluation of writing
  5. Wikis promote negotiation
  6. Wikis permit collaborative document editing, or open editing
  7. Wikis permit the public to publish - public as publisher
  8. Wikis make feedback intensely public and potentially durable
  9. Wikis work on volunteer collaboration
  10. Wikis endorse particular ways of writing
  11. Wikis enable complete anonymity.

Bartlett-Bragg (2006) has developed a pedagogical framework for introducing learners to the use of social software which contains five pathways to the development of learning networks. (See Figure 2) The framework is not intended to be linear and Bartlett-Bragg identifies three types of inhibitors which may impact on progression through the pathways: organisational technology infrastructure; individual/learner; and pedagogical. The Establishment Pathway "is continuously present at all stages of the framework" and Bartlett-Bragg stresses that

Guidance and support from the educator is essential throughout this pathway, as any technological challenge or miscomprehension of concepts can dominate the learners’ attention and become an impassable barrier unless addressed. (p 10)

(Refer to Page 33 for Figure 2)

Gotts (2006) tested Bartlett-Braggs’ pedagogy with her Diploma of e-Learning students delivered through the Tropical North Queensland TAFE. She notes its usefulness, particularly at the beginning of the course. Only a few students reached Stage 5 of Bartlett-Braggs’ framework with the majority of student blogs fitting into Stage 3.

At this early stage of use of social software in VET delivery there are indicators of it still being somewhat teacher-driven. VET practitioners are confident however that social software provides an opportunity for learning to become more student-centred. It was agreed in focus groups that this should be a negotiated and collaborative process which is best viewed on a continuum. One end of the continuum depends on the ability of the students to take responsibility for their learning, with many students needing initial direction, and at the other end they become more confident learners and more confident with the technologies; they take more responsibility.

It was considered that some of the younger technologically savvy students might well become the teachers in regard to best use of social software technologies.This relates to the concept of ‘reverse mentoring’ which is a corporate practice that has been used since around 2000 in traditional USA based companies (eg Proctor and Gamble); middle-aged executives are tutored on the mysteries of the Internet by younger newcomers.(Greengard 2002 p 77).

Appropriate, authentic, and relevant were key words used by focus group participants about the contribution of social software to good teaching and learning practice. The situation needs to be real and not contrived and social software should be appropriate for the context – the learning activity and the target group.

Speaks to students in the way they learn. (Respondent )

Social software is helping to overcome the barriers of distance and isolation for students who cannot readily access campus support and services. Social software is opening up their access to the social connectiveness of learning which they have previously missed. (Respondent)

Other contributions of social software to good teaching and learning practice valued by clients cited by research participants included:
  1. for indigenous learners it enables greater participation in learning activities. The use of audio and introduction of image/text story work encourages and develops their literacy skills
  2. increases flexibility for students and teachers
  3. appeals to ‘Net Gen’
  4. offers choice and variety in how students present their work
  5. reinvigorates teachers and their attitudes
  6. provides access to collective knowledge
  7. connects distance learners
  8. allows an ease of tailoring to learners’ needs
  9. provides alternative assessment methods, eg the use of moblogs suits learners with low literacy and numeracy skills. They can tell stories (gather evidence) through the use of a series of pictures23
  10. provides access for the disabled
  11. extends students’ and teachers’ technological knowledge and capabilities
  12. inspires lifelong learning.
Some further comments made by the survey respondents include:

I believe that the most valuable outcome of my use of social software has been in engaging my students. They love sharing their work and publishing online, and have been able to engage in the process of networked learning - too valuable from a lifelong learning perspective to even quantify!

The quieter students were able to contribute better online. I have evaluated it by observing the number of responses given by students in a class discussion.

Podcasting assisted adult students with concentration difficulties to focus. It also increased their confidence to the point where previously non-participatory students began to offer comments and ideas in the class.

Creating a Digital Story about his life in a School Holiday Program transformed an 11 year old autistic boy from virtually no interaction with other children to steady interaction.

Perhaps Rosa Ochoa’s comment sums up best the benefits to the client:

It has become an extra dimension, a fifth skill (listening, talking, reading, writing and blogging/podcasting) and an extra medium. I haven't changed the way I teach much. I always tried to integrate topics/genre/linguistic characteristics in my teaching. Blogging/podcasting is integrated into the teaching and learning process.