Regular readers of this blog know that I teach an online course about Instructional Technology for an audience of pre-service teachers at Brigham Young University. I’ve taught the face to face version of the course twice before and have been interested to see how this couse would unfold. Instead of a traditional course management system, I’ve been using a combination of a PBWiki, a Ning network, and various Google tools to administer the course. My students won’t start making their own contributions to the wiki for a few more weeks, but my students have already started to use Ning and Google Reader for their own purposes.
The first week of the course, two or three of my students used the features in Ning to personalize the layout of their Ning profile pages and one student created a group called “Dino Maniacs” for “people who love dinosaurs.” The Dino Maniacs group currently has 3 members (out of a class of 16) and has had some limited discussion about their favorite dinosaur (pteradactyl or triceratops seem to be the front runners, in case you are curious). Last week, some students made contributions to a Ning discussion on “Gospel Perspectives on Teaching with Technology” (Brigham Young University is sponsored by the LDS church),even though everyone completed the official assignment before September 5th. This morning, I woke up to find that a student had shared an article about a scientific study on Facebook profiles and narcissism with her classmates simply because she found it interesting.
This is what Web 2.0 tools are supposed to do, isn’t it? Web 2.0 is supposed to get students engaged and put them in control of their own learning. Three weeks into the course and about half of the students have already made at least one “extra” contribution to the course.
Last night, I stayed up late reading and listening materials about social objects and educational content. I’m looking over David Wiley’s list of prompts and wondering if the educational content that I’m providing my students can be considered a social object or not. I provide my students with links to web 2.0 tools and the best how-to information that I can find already in existence on the web and then I ask them to complete tasks using the tools in ways that I think they might want to use the tool with their future students.
Martin Weller suggests that we need three things for a social object driven mode of education:
- Content that acts as a social object
- Tools that facilitate social interaction around these objects
- A community of learners who find the social objects engaging
Is this what I’m doing? If you use Hugh MacLeod’s term of “Sharing Device” instead of “Social Object”, it seems obvious to me that it is. The content that I’m providing is generating spontaneous social interaction between students for the purpose of share information. It appears that I unwittingly adopted a “social object driven mode of education”. If this is true, then my assignments and assessments (at least the ones that generate spontaneous student-initiated interaction) can be considered social objects.
I don’t think that learning management systems are as compatible with the idea of social objects as the distributed Ning/Wiki/Google solution that I’m currently using. LMS are a top-down systems. Though instructors can set up an LMS course to have many of the features that I’m providing through my distributed system, most don’t and most students are unaware of the level of interaction that could potentially take place within an LMS.
David Wiley asked my classmates and I to think of metaphors for social objects. To me, social objects seem a little like a flea market or a swap meet. Masses of people congregate at flea markets or swap meets to trade a wide variety of sometimes bizarre goods. In my class, students have started congregating to share information as varied as favorite dinosaurs, the results of scientific studies, and religious ideas. That’s a bizarre mix of topics, especially for a technology course.