Dino Maniacs and Social Objects

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: 

  1. Content that acts as a social object
  2. Tools that facilitate social interaction around these objects
  3. 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.

About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
This entry was posted in Graduate Work, Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Dino Maniacs and Social Objects

  1. technologymavin says:

    One of the things that I thought of as I read Weller’s post was about time. Since students have so many demands on their time, I wonder if that has an impact on their use of social media — as it relates to education.

    Students might feel like they don’t have time to participate with social objects unless assigned as homework to do so. On the other hand, they might view that 30 minutes spent on Facebook at 11:00 p.m. is a reward for studying hard or is a way to unwind after a hard day.

  2. Great post. I’m really enjoying reading about your course & how you’re getting on. I am about to start my reflective course on MOnday, so you’ve given me lots of food for thought.

  3. That’s cool that you use Ning! Why did you choose that particular technology over others? Have you tried any other? I’m glad that you are creating an educational social object for your students!

  4. Cheryl Morse says:

    In teaching IPT 287 this semester, I am having the students use wikis to create their final projects. As a I think about social objects in light of this assignment, I am wondering if I have created a social object in education. A project based assignment seems to have some of the elements of social objects: the IPT students contribute and collaborate on a special needs student and his/her learning need using learning strategies and technology. I thought that the social object was the project but it seems to me that the social object is the student, not the project based assignment. Can a person be a social object? What do you think? Can a person be “content that acts as a social object”, as Weller defines a social object? Just food for thought.

  5. David Wiley says:

    “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.”

    In most courses, students don’t even complete the required assignments, let alone engaging in any extra-syllabic work on the topic. This seems like a major win for you! But even while this seems to me like such a great success I sense some hesitation in your assessment of your work in this post… Whither this doubt?

  6. @technologymavin – I believe students are fairly rational creatures (in the economic sense). They’re going to invest their time and effort in whatever brings them the greatest utility. For most students grades and learning are in their “utility function” somewhere. If educators can provide a convincing argument linking the use of social media to grades and/or learning, students will use it as long as the benefits outweigh the costs.

    @Sarah – I’m glad my course is giving you something to think about. Your posts give me plenty to think about as well.

    @Linda – Do you mean why I chose Ning as opposed to other SNS like Facebook or why I chose Ning over other Web 2.0 technologies? I chose Ning over Facebook because I didn’t want to deal with the “creepy tree house effect” and also because I wanted to model a tool that k12 teachers could set up as a “closed system” for use with students who are minors. I’m using Ning with a number of other Web 2.0 technologies, most notably a pbwiki and Slideshare.

    @Cheryl – I don’t think a person can be a social object, mainly because I don’t like thinking of people as “objects”. I prefer to think of people as individuals, or even agents. I really don’t want to be objectified.

    @David – The hesitation comes because I’m only 1/3 of the way through the semester. It seems way too early to declare my course a success. It’s possible that the somewhere between now and December, either my plans or my execution of my plans could go horribly wrong.

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