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December 08, 2006

MySpace - the clue is in the title

Juliette relates a nice analogy about MySpace that fits with some discussions I've had here in Sydney this week around use of Web 2.0 and social software. When we enter other people's worlds a bit of sensitivity is needed.

Going to the pub with the lecturer for a bit of freeform discussion is a bit of a tradition (in UK HE at least) however some similar groundrules apply in online social spaces.

In Colloquia we built into the P2P sharing structure the mechanism that students could form peer communities and conversations without the knowledge of or participation of teachers. (This was one of the features the LMS procurers really had a problem with, and one of the things that contributed to its lack of uptake). However this is an entirely reasonable requirement when education is viewed in a holistic fashion in terms of social activity. Sometimes you just don't want to invite Dad to the party.

However, this doesn't always square with our monitoring and assessment culture, as was discussed here at the LAMS conference in the context of using chat with students. While it may be a reasonable approach to specify some bounded, contextualized chat with teacher presence, the trap is to assume this is where all the learning is taking place and to therefore ban everything out there in "Feral Space" as being an irrelevant distraction. Scaffolded spaces and activites are very important for supporting learning with a range of age groups (not just younger kids), but form part of a wider social picture of learning, most of which is outside the scope of concern of the education system.

Faced with this distinction, one instinct is to turn all of society into a school, and construct the panopticon. Another is to deschool. However, enabling the effective coexistence of such approaches, using the advantages offered in both worlds, is a genuine opportunity that should not be missed. And we can do that without invading MySpace.

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