Monday, May 29, 2006

Let's Face(book) It

Good post on the growing desire for schools to integrate (co-opt?) technologies students are already using on their own: Let's Face(book) It. As I've said before, I think this strategy is doomed. Institutions creating their own social software spaces (blogging apps, e-portfolios, social-networking systems) to try to harness student interest will soon see tumbleweeds rolling through and not much else. Even educators who figure out how to use the tools for meeting curriculum goals will only ever get students to jump through hoops with these apps -- the needs of the institution and the real goals of students are too different. Stephen's comment is spot-on, and he also links to some further discussion.


dave said...

"Institutions creating their own social software spaces (blogging apps, e-portfolios, social-networking systems) to try to harness student interest will soon see tumbleweeds rolling through and not much else."

This seems a touch negative to me, if institutions try to recreate MySpace they will be doomed but the secret to all of this (IMO) is to create a good reason to visit a service in the first place. Therefore, if institutions can foster an environment within which learners can find things that will actually be interesting and/or of benefit to them, at that moment, then they will use the service (this could include study tips, employment help, career planning etc etc). People can have numerous online personalities and use a whole range of different services for various things - the more rubbish that goes up on Facebook and MySpace the less likely certain demographics will be willing to sign up or at least sign up with their real details.

If learners move on after 3 years, or their course, to something else, does that matter? People join all kinds of online networks for short periods, get what they want, contribute a little back and then move on.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for this comment, Dave. Agreed, my quick post was probably too strongly worded and a bit on the negative side.

In the bit you quoted from my post, notice that I wrote "institutions creating their own..." -- in my experience, large organizations like universities are rarely successful in launching in-house software initiatives that actually meet student needs. They certainly increase their chances of getting something useful by adopting technologies that are already proven to work and have appeal to students (elgg would certainly fit this latter description).

That said, I'm still skeptical that universities will be able to provide social software systems that students really embrace on a personal level, especially if the systems are owned/monitored/policed by the institution. Like I said before, if these tools are used effectively within the curriculum (assigned work), many students will learn better and they may help connect learning across courses. Those are worthy goals, and I was not being entirely fair by dismissing that process as "jumping through hoops" -- all education could be viewed through that somewhat cynical lens, but it's probably not very fruitful to do so.

I should have made it clearer that I was focusing on the idea of real, personal engagement in these virtual spaces, like what we see in our own blogs and in social communities like MySpace. I think there are people in institutions who see that success and engagement and think they can bottle lightning -- "if only we could get them doing this in class!"

Although the platform could be similar, the purposes are completely different -- students are using these tools to connect with their friends (primarily) and we tend to use the same kinds of tools to learn. Some highly motivated students will take advantage of the tools to learn as well...but I'm thinking that the percentage will be very, very low. As long as the expectations for that ratio are realistic, there could be “successful” implementations...but probably not nearly as successful (measured by usage) as they hope.

I'm just speculating, though. You're the dude with the PhD research into student engagement with e-portfolios, which are definitely related. What are you seeing in the data (or in the field) that encourages you to believe that students will engage in university-provided learning environments?

Jeremy said...

Discussion continues on Dave's blog...