Monday, 8 December 2008

Review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education

I just finished reading this review of social networking in HE. After the previous Franklin Consulting review of Web2.0 for content for Learning and Teaching my expectations were raised. The key outcomes for me are as follows.

  1. The Executive Summary notes that the report provides " an assessment of the relative position in the UK and the likely attendant consequences". It's a real shame then that the UK report focuses upon the usual Web2.0 suspects in HE and shows an obsession with UKOLN events and reports, like they are the only game in the read/write web town. It was particularly disappointing not to see the outcomes from HEA-JISC Pathfinder or Benchmarking noted here, or links to the plethora of other read/write web reports that are out. Given the limited data and context, and the lack of student input, the assessment is very relative.
  2. I also despair that assertions like " Facebook, it seems, is becoming a mainstream service for use by institutions", are made based upon the numbers of fans of universities on Facebook. Isn't this lazy research?
  3. The report clams that HEI "Usage to date has been driven primarily by the particular interests of individual members of staff rather than institutional policies" Again with no reference to projects arising from the JISC e-Learning Programme or HEA-JISC Pathfinder or Benchmarking, this statement appears to be an assertion. Not sure that it is true here at DMU for example, where there is a mix of academic and institutional drivers.
  4. The report clams that " The mind sets and frameworks of reference that we have used hitherto are no longer adequate". In part this is because of the impact of Web2.0 tools on: social and professional lives; privacy and safety; user identity; institutional policies; a lack of new pedagogic models creating uncertainty; time constraints; a culture shift for academics; and issues for students. Actually, I reckon the issue is less in terms of the creation of uncertainty for users and HEIs, and more the use of these tools for managing uncertainty in the world. This type of research needs to be underpinned by Barnett, Friere and Illich.
  5. There is also a focus on informal learning, whatever that is.
  6. There are apparently three key advantages of the read/write web: affordances that are not found in other technologies around the co-creation of knowledge; students are already using these technologies and are therefore engaged with them; and, many tools are free to use and come without the restrictions found in many institutional systems. Now the first of these runs the risk of becoming an extension of the old, conservative, empty-vessels-to-be-filled-up-with-knowledge model of education. There are other, progressive pedagogies on offer that focus less on content and more on power, like the empowerment work of Mike Wesch, the TESEP project, and that noted on this blog last month in the wake of Obama' victory. There has to be more than content, surely?!
  7. The report notes the fears that some technologies will disappear "giving concerns over the longevity of others". I've never really understood this argument, for two reasons. Firstly, staff here generally use: Facebook; MySpace; wikispaces; WordPress; blogger; YouTube; Twitter;; Why are these any less likey to be around in 5 years than Blackboard? Secondly, aren't we all in game of trying to empower people (staff and students) to make decisions from which mortgage to take, to which tool to use, and what to say/do in the world? So what if tools die? That's life - flexibility in managing content, materials, identities and PLEs is part-of-life.
  8. "The rate at which technologies and products are appearing is difficult for people to keep up with." Is this really true? This strikes me more as perception than reality. The core tools are pretty steady - see 10 below. However, I will buy the argument that staff are still concerned about how they can be used effectively in learning and teaching.
  9. "Use of external systems can mean that students have to make use of many more user names and passwords and that their learning space becomes atomised." Given that there is no student evaluation data in the report I struggle with this assertion. It is certainly not the case with the students I have interviewed here at DMU, where students have a keen sense of their own PLEs. The Ravensbourne Learner Integration model highlights one cognitive model.
  10. The authors' highlight that Gartner's emerging technology hype cycle suggests that Web 2.0 is falling into the "trough of disillusionment". It has broken out beyond the enthusiasts and is being more widely taken up. Whilst wikis have entered the "Slope of Enlightenment", no tool has yet made it to the "Plateau of Productivity". I love this stuff.
  11. I did like the focus on a lack of social capital as a barrier, and the fact that HEIs need to engage with read/write web tools and cultural approaches in order to build the social capital that they need to overcome uncertainty and innovate.
  12. The South African report is really interesting in terms of highlighting a clear pattern of division between those that are connected, and those that are not, and that the mobile phone might provide a more promising trajectory for integrating the social web into education. A key question for me is how the West is helping developing nations engage with new tools and ways of working, to enfranchise the dispossessed on their terms and NOT ours. As Czerniewicz & Brown (2005) note "by coming to grips with the digital identities of local youth and by understanding what kinds of new practices students bring, we can better design appropriate educational interventions." [Czerniewicz, L. & Brown, C. (2005). "Access to ICT for teaching and learning: From single artefact to interrelated resources." International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, 1(2): 42-56.]
  13. "Lecturers on the other hand lack some of the social drivers for familiarising themselves with these new tools, and given their teaching and research loads, may not invest in learning new tools if their relevance and use is not immediately obvious. Typically, lecturers rely on their institutional e-learning support departments to identify suitable tools, and provide training and ongoing support. However, not all institutions have the capacity for extensive training and support or the ability to support newer Web 2.0 tools. While students will develop the needed skills to communicate with their friends, lecturers are not as likely to use Web 2.0 tools for social uses and will need to expend more effort into familiarising themselves with these technologies." Fair point.

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