In teaching an undergraduate course in Integrating Technology into Teaching 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? Can a person be “content that acts as a social object”, as Weller defines a social object? In structuring my course instead of thinking about assignments and assessments, maybe I should be thinking about the objects that my students can get engaged in, the tools that facilitate the social interaction could be the assignments as well as the wikis or blogs. It seems to me that students would find a person (a special needs child) far more engaging than a project assignment. Just random thoughts about how I am designing my course. . . or how I can do it better.
I tend to disagree with the author that mentioned that it is not about the object but the conversations that happen around it. Well that depends on if the conversations are about the object itself and not just random conversation. This is where the metaphor of the campfire breaks down for me. Although a campfire is an object that draws people in, usually the conversations that happen around a campfire are not about the campfire. Shared content (the object) is the conversation. When you post a picture on Flickr, there is an initial message in the picture that you send (a probe you could say), then the subsequent conversations(feedback and probe cycle) that follow as long as the conversation is about the object, in this case, the photo. The act of sharing content is the initial conversation.
A book club may be a better analogy because the book is the object that the conversation is about and the book creates the conversation. A study group may be another example. A better analogy might be found in the theory of Communities of practice. Wenger on his website Communities of Practice defines what a community of practice is. It must include a Domain, A Practice, and A community. The domain is a shared competence or domain of interest (an object). A Practice is a group of practitioners developing a shared repository of experiences, tools, stories about the object. A Community are members building relationships, helping each other, and sharing information all around the object.
Martin Weller, in his article Social Objects in Education mentioned that “the educational value is not the content, but the social interaction it begets.” I disagree. Some objects have an inherent social-ness about them. I believe that the value lies in conversation that is inherent in the object itself.
Can educational content, assessments, or assignments be a social object? Educational content is a very broad topic. I might ask what kind of education content “begets” social interaction? Maybe it depends on how complex the object was. The more complex the object, the more points the object offers for discussion. Some educational content may offer this and some may not. I wonder what kind of social objects teachers talk about in the teachers’ lounge. This might offer an interesting answer to the question of “can educational content be a social object?” I believe that assessments or assignments narrows the field down. I do think that assessments or assignments can be a social object as long as they are not too specific. Again they need to offer enough handles for discussion. Assessments can offer how to write them, how to grade them, how to handle reliability and validity, kinds of assessments, alignment with outcomes, etc.
In my experiences with Blackboard, I have never had a conversation about an assignment or an assessment. Assignments and assessments are posted there but no conversations happen about them and there is very little social interaction around them, at least not on Blackboard. Blackboard (whether its intended use is like this) is a one way interaction for me. It is also not an open system. Sharing is limited to those in the system. Once you leave the system, you don’t take those conversations with you, nor those social interactions.
I found two articles that helped me understand the concept of social objects better.
Cultural-Historical Activity Theory .Although this article is a little heady, it discussed the generational development of social activity theory. Concepts of Vygotsky and his colleagues created the concept of artifact-mediated and object oriented activity and collectivity activity collectivity activity is driven by objected-oriented motives. Interesting article as it relates to social objects.
On the Life of an Object. This article is written by
If we want to use new media to spread the gospel, think about a place individual users constructed activities, show the process they went through to gain their understanding, see some of the learning objects and resources they used, invite friends to participate, rather than subscribing to courses or having courses allocated to them. I can see a convert to the church explaining how he/she learned about doctrinal concepts and how they applied them and gave others ideas on how they can apply them. Think using PLE to model a certain way that students learned a topic. . . learning objects and resources he/she found valuable. I am kicking around the idea of how PLE relates to life long learning and what it would look like. Also, I came across a diagram by Stephen Downes about PLE which I am not sure I understand http://www.gliffy.com/pubdoc/1092065/L.jpg . Can someone shed some light on it?
In searching for information about educational uses of wikis, I came across Educational Uses of Wikis that offers excellent references and a good comprehensive list of literature written on educational uses of wikis. There were two references that describe a similar project to our class project.
- Bruns, A. & Humphreys, S. (2005). Wikis in teaching and assessment: The M/Cyclopedia project.
- Lund, A. & Smørdal, O. (2006). Is there a space of a teaching in a wiki?
Another article by Peter Duffy and Axel Bruns entitled The use of blogs, wikis, and RSS in education: a conversation of possibilities offers a overview of the concepts of wikis, Blogs, RSS feeds, the educational benefits and the educational uses; however the thing that I find most interesting is the “Further questions to explore” sections of the article for Wikis, Blogs, and RSS. One of the questions is about the process of teaching students authorship of wiki writing which is different from the genre of essay writing. Will this change or alter the requirements of writing in our schools in the future? How will the process of writing changed due to the influence of wikis and blogs?
In exploring the wikipedia entry for The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, I was struck with how strange the Mormon theology must be to those not of that faith. It is interesting to me to see how people see our religion. In an effort to objectify it, it sounds very cult-ish. No wonder people have the impression that Mormonism is a cult. The difference between objectivity and revealed truth stood out very clearly. I did make one small change to the entry. The changed the date of when the church was founded. Before it read “in 1830” and I changed it to April 6, 1830. A small change and maybe insignificant but to those who are of the Mormon faith, this date has very symbolic meaning. As I made this change, I thought to myself “do I have the right to make the change?” as if I needed permission to make a contribution. The idea that anyone can make a contribution to a body of knowledge is very freeing.
When I think of integrating technology or new media into teaching, I ask myself “Does the new media facilitate learning that would be more difficult or impossible without the technology? In reading an article by Stephen Downes entitled Educational Blogging, I found some answers to this question. A 5th grade student writes, “Blogging is an opportunity to exchange our point of view with the rest of the world not just people in our immediate environment.” This seems to me the most compelling answer to the question. Downes mentioned that it “offers students . . . a support tool to promote reflective analysis.” I believe it would be just as easy to use paper and pen to reflect but the one thing that would be more difficult without the blog technology is “a learning community that goes beyond the school walls.” I also think that it allows for personal publishing which would be difficult without blogging technology.
I am not clear about what the advantages are for teachers using blogs to replace their class web pages. I am not sure how it simplifies the task. I am also not sure that they are the best technology to use in organizing in-class discussions. Will Richardson stated in the article that “The blogging process just seems to .. . be closer to the way we learn outside of school.” There has been a lot criticism leveled at situated learning and communities of practice in traditional schooling. The traditional school structure does not lend itself well to these concepts; however, blogging makes that more possible and even less difficult.
The concept of new media and social media has taken off as quickly as the Internet itself. With all the hipe about new media, I wonder what’s all the fuss about. Well, I figured out that it is all about OPPORTUNITY. The opportunity to explore the world outside of our town, school, or home. It is a chance to exchange our point of view with the rest of the world. The new media breaks down barriers, which in the context of Elder Ballard’s talk about students using new media offers multiple avenues for talking about the gospel. I sense (although I have no data to back it up) that time is accelerating. The increase of temples being built, the need for more missionary couples are just a few examples of how events are speeding up as we near the coming of Christ. I think that the acceleration in which the Internet and now, new media have caught on seems part of the events that will usher in the Second Coming. Of course, this is not Mormon doctrine, merely my opinion. There is the opportunity to hear the thoughts of people who we might not otherwise hear; like people in private industry and in government. The writing factor aside, I believe that it gives students a chance to understand human connectivity. That we are all connected globallt to one another through our ideas, our thoughts, and our human-ness.