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NERSIG 2006 SSTL: 1, Social Software in the Classroom November 17, 2006

Posted by ficial in conference, SSTL2006.

This is a recap of and reaction to the first of four presentations at the NERCOMP Conference from November 14, 2006, titled Social Softweare for Teaching and Learning (SSTL).

“Social Software in the Classroom: Happy Marriage or Clash of Cultures?” by Eric Gordon of Emerson College

  • Talking about leveraging MySpace (and other system) familiarity towards academic purposes, and some consequences (good and bad and indifferent) of that.
  • Young people [i.e. college and highschool students] are not just using media differently, they’re using culture differently [I don’t think this is really as profound as it sounds. The people of ‘the next generation’ are always creating their own culture, using the tools (and larger context) of their times.]
  • “Chat” has become the primary discursive medium for the new culture. There are different kinds of discourse, and Chat doesn’t necessarily match well with academic talk / style / approach. [he has a lot more to say about Chat later]
  • “Colleges and universities should appropriate, not capitulate” [another good sound bit, and a succinct summary of the whole talk, I think.]
  • When students come into the classroom they have more of a claim to it than they did in the past. Students are being trained that their whole world can be customized and personalized.
    • students rely more on personal stories and anecdotes
    • students demand that course materials be directly relevant to their lives
  • post-lawsuit napster: “Own nothing, have everything” [the latter clause is a major culture change – not necessarily in desire, but in capability. Students (and people in general) now have the capability to have almost everything almost all the time for things that data based. In many ways this makes things harder because availability no longer is a factor in descision making – if you can have anything then you need to make choices about which things you actually want (and why).]
  • students want to be fully connected all the time
  • Users want access to everything with out the liability of ownership [the adolescent dream of power without responsibility – Spiderman is the parable for our times]
  • ready, no-effort access has become a necessity, not a luxury. [well, there’s necessity and then there’s necessity. I’d say maybe it’s become more habit or expectation than necessity, but the larger point is still valid – it’s no longer a luxury / special case]
  • “Users locate themselves in networks by customizing personal spaces, much like an unfurnised apartment in the physical world” The capabilities of MySpace outside the classroom are being increasingly demanded inside the classroom.
  • Privacy vs Publicity
    • perceptions of privacy maintain distinction between social and academic spaces
    • student assume privacy [or rather, anonymity] in MySpace, Facebook, et al [not just students, seems to be a general thing. People are used to the idea of being anonymous or lost in the crowd, but modern search / data-discovery tools mean that finding needles in haystacks or people in crowds is actually a relatively easy task.]
    • students in academic settings assume NOT private
      • the audience is identified, and knows the student
      • [interesting conflation of privacy and anonymity]
      • [this is kind of fascinating to me because it’s almost backwards from what’s true – posting in a class actually gives more security and privacy than posting on the larger internet
  • Chat is different than a dialogue
    • verbalization for reassurance of presence (e.g. hey, what’s up, etc.) makes up a good part fo the conversation [but no stats to back that up were presented – it’s certainly plausible, but it’d be good to have some analysis of a large set of chat logs (and forum and comment) or some such. It’d also be interesting to see how those stats change in different contexts.]
    • ‘hanging out’
    • sharing and acknowledging receipt: “look what I did” “Cool”
      • e.g. 1000s of YouTube comments that just say ‘cool’
    • E.g. in the American Idol board an attempt to move a forum discussion to a more serious level failed.
    • What does that failure mean for the goal fo forum as a serious discussion format for the classroom? [unanswered, but I think it’s all about CONTEXT – in some forums it would have worked]
  • Humor plays on YouTube, and also in the classroom [again, no stats presented]
  • [typical response/comment is a demonstration of presence as much as an acknowledgement of receipt]
  • Chat is important for community cohesion:
    • neighborhood groups
    • political groups
    • friend groups
    • etc.
  • How is academic dialogue different from Chat?
    • self-reflexive
      • all comments / contributions are scrutinized by and reflected upon by the whole community
    • built-in, known audience, lack of privacy [lack of anonymity really]
    • delimited, the network scale is local and defined/bounded
    • contributive, content is added to a predefined framework
    • self policing [not so much self policing as just plain policing in my view]
      • established hierarchies maintain standards of conversation [this seems to argue against calling it self policing, unless you take ‘self’ to mean the community as a whole rather than the individual]
  • Chat and academic dialogue are not mutually exclusive, BUT they have different goals
  • “Satire and parody get the most traffic” [no stats presented to back that up]
  • Emerson College is trying to get a community space up and running into difficutlies. The problems are not technical but social.

Various commentary from the audience:

  • Demarcate which settings/approaches are appropriate to which discourse. Wellsley has a published guide of how to talk to professors in various mediums.
  • Unless you make a minimum requirement, students will do nothing. There is too much competition for their attention / time.
  • “We’re trying to blend the exploration in their [the students] personal. digital lives and their academic lives”
  • Social space is student space, and if we want that space we have to conform [at least somewhat] to their world rather than trying to force them to ours.
  • Rewards for interactions are greater on myspace [and other open social networks] than in the classroom. [are grades more carrots or sticks? probably depends most on the student…]
  • NOTE: Wellsley has good online community usage. They use FirstClass. FirstClass differentiates by NOT being primarily web based (though it does have a web interface, there’s significantly less functionality there than in the client). Since there is no channel to other online identities, that becomes it? [Adam notes that FirstClass was (originally, anyway) software for conferences]

[Consider the role of multiple identities. People on line often have multiple ‘faces’ for different contexts – facebook, forums, personal vs professional blogs, at work, at home, on vacation, etc. Can the participation in the college community be a new identity? Might have better success appropriating the model rather than trying to claim the complete online identity?

I talked with Eric after the presentation. His take was that there was a general consolidation going on in online presences, but I don’t think I agree. Certainly in some realms (e.g. MySpace ate Friendster), but not all realms are integrated and I don’t think they ever will be. New ones are being created all the time. It would be interesting to see some statistics and find out whether it’s especially heading one way or another.]

  • Restricted and/or topic-based communities tend to have a higher level of discourse – not just Chat.
  • Someone has had success shifting online community to classroom community by shifting the approach from 1-many to many-many. [however, the more common problem is shifting classroom discussion/action online. Still useful to consider: first shift the class mode to a more many-many approach, then the transition online is easier]
  • To be effective social software has to be built in to the pedagogy, and vice versa. Starting with a ‘normal’ class and just throwing socila software at it is highly unlikely to produce anything useful.


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