For me Web 2.0 is a philosophy – a way of working and living, as much as it is the software and services commonly expressed as web 2.0
It is this concept that the Student Learning Community aims to capture when the concept is realised.
Starting from the basics. There is now an ever increasing number (on a daily basis) of services, software and facilities that can be run or accessed over the web. Many provide additional functionality beyond what is available via the desktop on a PC or even a Mac. And an additional appeal is the zero cost of many of them. Because they are online they are easily accessible from different devices; anytime, anywhere. And they can allow collective or collaborative working, or sharing of resources.
This vast host of services and functionality can enable quicker, smarter, easier, more creative and imaginative ways of working. And it is this specifically I envisage the Student Learning Community fostering amongst individual students and the student body more collectively. But another important factor is (as already mentioned) that there are far too many services and software for any one person to keep pace with, and a community approach is, I believe, required to enable groups to really take advantage of what the technology offers. Similarly, as the quantity of information mushrooms, there will be an increasing reliance on others to act as filtering mechanism for us, and a need to cultivate learner discernment of information quality.
Inquiry Web 2.0 technologies allow for new ways that learners can undertake their personal research. New structures for organising data are created, along with new sources to refer to, new forms of authority, and new tools to interrogate this rich space of information. This can enable students to become empowered as independent learners. But it also brings challenges to both learner and academic colleagues. Web 2.0 knowledge structures are not navigated with the same tools or the same ease as more traditional documentary collections. And students will encounter problems of authority and the ephemeral nature of web ‘knowledge’.
“… [it] require[s] us to see learning as … something that is done peer-to-peer, without a traditional teacher … We are just at the start of exploring how we can be organised without the hierarchy of top-down organisations. There will be many false turns and failures. But there is also huge potential to create new stores of knowledge to the benefit of all, innovate more effectively, strengthen democracy and give more people the opportunity to make the most of their creativity”. The Observer, March 9, 2008
Why should the University be interested in something that it won’t necessarily be formally supporting or receive credit for?
The philosophy of the Student Learning Community is that it enables students to study in new ways preparing them for a different marketplace for graduates and a changing world. The University is supporting the idea of students and the student body, possibly via the Students’ Union, developing this for themselves. Students may want to use it to integrate their study activities with more social aspects of life and this could provide a middle ground.**** Paul – the middle ground clip ****
We are solidly behind what the community could provide for our students.
They become familiar with concepts:
- of working co-operatively and collaboratively to achieve something,
- that they can be responsible for developing greater things collectively without an authority setting the framework,
- that people can work for things without financial incentive **** Clay Shirkey ****
- that now we aren’t necessarily dependent on or reliant on one particular way of working with a specific set of software, but that we should be developing a more fluid approach, as Martin Weller puts it **** Slidecast ****
- and that they become familiar with different forms of literacies to express themselves, particularly Digital or Media Literacy.
From the Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning, Teaching and Learning Research Programme:
“Literacies Culture stimulates a form of intelligence that is ‘literate’. Schooling cultivates a distinct orientation towards language, to which interactions with writing are crucial. Digital media stretch this tradition by offering new modes of representation and expression. Even the term ‘literacy’ now has to be stretched to admit other forms of representational fluency than those associated with the printed word. As learners engage with digital artefacts through web 2.0, so the curriculum must address the challenge of developing their confidence with new literacies and their increased potential for creativity.” p9Expressive activity with digital material has become a realistic ambition for users, and the activity has been socialised through the growth of internet outlets that permit sharing, publication or broadcasting.
In which case, shouldn’t these services and software be integrated into the curriculum?
Well some of that is happening to some extent in areas across the University. But there is a lag with how quickly the technology can be implemented across an institution. And, quite frankly, universities can’t keep pace with the speed of technology innovation. There are pockets or excellence, examples being the work of Howard Rheingold at Stanford, Michael Wesch at Kansas State, and Stephen Downes in Canada; all of whom are incorporating interesting aspects of web 2.0 directly into the curriculum, in parallel to researching its educational potential and investigating novel learning and teaching processes.
**** Michael Wesch clip – new media in education & portal **** 1:11
As was reported by JISC in March 2008:
“New pedagogical approaches can evolve in isolated pockets within institutions and are not always embedded into wider institutional practice, or shared more widely across the community.” JISC – Student Experiences of Technology and e-Learning, March 2008
So, we are taking about graduates increasingly competing in a global marketplace. Here at Sheffield we are looking to emphasize what sets the Sheffield Graduate apart from other graduates, the skills that this Student Learning Community can provide to students has enormous potential, beyond what could be provided within the undergraduate or taught postgraduate curriculum. There are other aspects, like the Open Science Notebook concept, which are gaining ground across the academic community that could influence research postgraduate practices and act as an extension to their CV online. I did submit a paper into this conference about that, but it wasn’t successful – perhaps a little too radical. But if you have an interest, please do follow it up and contact me.
If the students are interested in this thing, why haven’t they created a community themselves already?
Well there are examples of individual students investigating, working with and being creative with these types of technology and services; I’ve had the pleasure to work with some.
I’ll let Michael Wesch tell us about the demographics of YouTube from his research.
**** Michael Wesch – demographics clip **** 31sec
You see that the majority of our students fit into the largest portion of this demographic.
Here’s and example from a student studying at Sheffield.
***** Ben Marshall clip ***** 1:47
YouTube or Daily Motion or whatever video hosting site is just one aspect of this concept.
But with regard to setting up a large student community to promote these practices, well the fact is that it is really quite a revolutionary idea so it’s not necessarily something that people would think of doing.
Also students won’t necessarily, without being shown it, see the benefits of what a community that focuses on what technology can provide for them in their studies.
That’s where the project comes in.
- We can provide a platform and environment to host the community.
- Then we need to seed the environment to get things started. As with all communities, as you are probably aware, they need a significant initial input to make them successful.
- We then need to capture students’ imaginations to make them see the benefits and use the service.
**** me – audio – benefits to students – what is the hook ****
If it was going to happen on its own, let’s face it, it would probably have happened already.***** Alistair – sense of community & catalyst ***** 2:31
Couldn’t this be done on existing social networking sites, for example Facebook?
Well, yes it could. There are a number of platforms that such a venture could be hosted on. Indeed, prior to the inception of the Student Learning Community I played around with developing such environments using a mash-up of services. Some of those investigations I presented jointly with Jamie Wood at a workshop on e-Research as part of an international conference held in Manchester. A slidecast of that presentation can be seen online. This was partly responsible for how I originated the idea of the Student Learning Community.
Here’s a clip from that regarding my use of communities for technology and software.
***** Clip from Slidecast *****
As Edward Maloney stated, “social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have shown, among other things, that students will invest time and energy in building relationships around shared interests and knowledge communities”. The Chronicle or Higher Education, 53, 18, p.B26
**** image *****
Joseph talks about how Facebook could now be integrated into other services using mash-up.
**** Joseph – Facebook clip ****
However, a recent survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of JISC, of UK undergraduates found that over half regarded social networking sites as potentially useful in ‘enhancing their learning’. However, only a third thought that their lecturers or tutors should use social networking sites for and over a quarter said that university staff should definitely not use social networking in their teaching. As the authors concluded, “evidence shows that using these sites in education is more effective when the students set them up themselves; lecturer-led ones can feel overly formal”.14 p21
**** Joseph – Staff not provided *****
So this information influences the shaping of what is provided.
Consequently, the project group that was set up looked at a number of possible platforms. After a lot of thought and investigation it has been decided that the ClearSpace platform that is being rolled out across the University for a number of functions; including learning, teaching and research. This means that we can support the platform more easily. However, the section of ClearSpace that is given over to the Student Learning Community won’t be open to everyone, particularly staff, unless the community want them to be.
Hold on, will there be separate sections for different levels of study?
Well this conference is specifically aimed at the postgraduate student experience. But as you can see the Student Learning Community is not separated into different years or levels of study, and this is intentional. There is an initiative within this University to encourage the use of research practices and higher level study approaches to find their way into the undergraduate curriculum. This community seems the ideal opportunity to encourage direct linkages between postgraduate activities and undergraduates.
Indeed, when I am looking at these web 2.0 tools I’m always considering their educational potential. And when I’m personally using them, it is generally more at the level of how the research student could benefit from their use. In this respect, I’m please to have the opportunity to discuss concepts directly with the research postgraduate here, Jez Cope. Jez is going to explain something of the concept from the research postgraduate angle.
**** Jez’s Spot ****
Picture + a quick description
**** Joseph – sense of community ****
School of Everything
The School of Everything is a social networking service with the motto - “Everyone has something to learn, everyone has something to teach”. It looks to connect individuals with an interest in learning with individuals who are willing and able to teach. The service is not primarily aimed at for-profit tuition and is intended to stimulate a ‘bottom-up’ supply of teaching.
An evaluation of a closed social network environment at the University of Westminster called CONNECT is due out in early 2009. Even though CONNECT parallels the more general uSpace environment we’ll have here at Sheffield, I’m hoping there may be some information addressing how students are setting up groups for work.
***** Demonstration *****
A Student driven learning community on this scale does seem to be truly novel.
The University of Sheffield really is at the cutting edge with the idea.