social software


Last week I posted my reflections on my learning this term, including reviewing the artifacts that I had created.

But yesterday, as I sat in a meeting with colleagues from across Canada looking at proprietary software solutions, I was reminded of the other part of my learning journey that was so powerful. I have already posted several times on this topic – open source, open access, open content.

As I explored “open”, I realized a difference between open source software and open content. In my first post, Free and Open Content, I started the dialogue about focusing on free content rather than the focus on the software. I was beginning to struggle through these concepts.

My next post Outside the OSS Club Looking In was a turning point for me. As I began to explore the open source space, I felt under attack for my use of proprietary software. It seemed that if I didn’t abandon proprietary completely that I couldn’t participate in an open source discussion. The comments I received to this post assured me there were others who saw the utility of both, that it really could be a both/and rather than an either/or world. Just as with our learning tools it is about choosing the right tool for the right purpose. A quote emerged that has since become a favourite:

If you only have a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.
– Abraham Maslow

Perhaps not surprising, this post has generated more comments than any other. And the dialogue that ensued helped me to know that my view was not heresy. And that was a turning point for me.

My latest post on the subject, Open Source, Open Content, Open Access, set the stage for me to explore the more important issues (at least to me) than which software is used. I described the three legs of the open stool and I believe the most contentious is not open source. Nor is it open content as I believe that will be the underpinning of knowledge today and in the future. What is contentious is open access when we are working with K-12 students. That is where I will focus my intellectual energy and welcome others to the discussion.

As I started my learning journey, I was interested in internet safety and parent engagement. I followed those interests as well, but my most powerful learning was in exploring the open world. Thanks to all who participated with me.

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Another frontier in my journey to Web 2.0. My name is Bip Wylie. For those of you who know me as rdrunner, there is some relationship between the two names. A virtual latte if you figure it out.

Thanks to Jeff Kurka, getting in started in SL was relatively painless. Jeff… er Kirk and I are in the same grad class and his class project is to create support for newbies in Moodle (which he will eventually port to Sloodle). Getting an account and downloading the software all went without a hitch.

From there it was a bumpy start. My laptop runs Vista and I wasn’t able to get past the login screen. I did a bit of trouble-shooting – system requirements, re-installed s/w – then gave up and moved over to my T&T (tried and trusty) Mac. It worked and I was in!

Twitter next came to my rescue (thanks, Jen!) and I soon had new clothes and safe landmarks to visit. Jeff Kurka found me and teleported me to the ECMM building.


Slugger Sosa dropped by briefly to bid a welcome. Jeff then took me on a tour of the building and showed me a few quick tips to control movement. He’ll be giving us a tour at our class on Wednesday – so probably the key tip he taught me was Alt/Click on the person you need to follow and your camera will follow them. Hopefully this will help me keep up with him as tour guide. We tested voice which freed my hands to move my avatar – much easier for the newbie in me.

It was fun to explore Teaching Island 6 and see the other universities that are there. With espresso in hand I flew from building to building, sat and watched slideshows, and explored various objects. It was pretty quiet there – much like most campuses on a Saturday morning!

Interior - ECMM Building in SL
I spent some time in our meeting room. Next I’d like to load a slide show on our monitor. I played a bit with it. If I’ve messed it up, my apologies to Jeff and Slugger.

I’m really looking forward to our first SL session this week!

Last night I was tweeting from my new iPod Touch and unsuccessfully typed Twitted (did you know the “d” is near the “r”?). My sister-in-law was being shown this new device, and I wanted to also show her the power of the Twittersphere. Thanks to all who answered my hello despite the misspellings. Within seconds I had responses from points near and far. I have observed others receive more meaningful information, and I have provided some myself, to this powerful network of educators online.

So the readings this week about using Twitter to create community hit home for me. This quote in particular from The Chronicle of Higher Education described my personal experience:

Mr. Parry’s first instinct was that Twittering would encourage students to speak in sound bites and self-obsess. But now he calls it “the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching. … The immediacy of the messages helped the students feel more like a community, Mr. Parry says. “It really broke down that barrier between inside the classroom walls and outside the classroom walls.”

Our grad classroom already exists online. I remember Rob Wall indicating that part of his role in the class was to help create social capital amongst a diverse, geographically distributed group of graduate students. And while we have built some social capital through our twice-weekly online sessions (thanks Rob), I would say I feel a more direct connect with those who also participate on Twitter. My anecdotal observation is that the informal chatter that Twitter supports (more so than a backchannel in class) is better at relationship-building.

Another thread I followed in Twitter was on this similar topic – is Twitter appropriate for all student levels? The consensus I observed from @courosa and @schwier was perhaps not for under-graduate but certainly for graduate students. Dave Parry suggests we need to use the tools students are using to make learning relevant, but he does suggest that there is still a line over which an instructor should not cross. I expect that the younger the students are, the more clearly the line must be drawn.

But because these are open networking sites, what is to stop younger students from joining a teacher’s network? While we would expect that they wouldn’t stay long – in many cases sheer boredom would set in – just as they don’t want the adults participating in their Facebook spaces for reasons of “it’s my space”, there are conversations on Twitter that are not meant for the students. Twitter is not designed in the same way as Facebook. Sure you can block followers. But you can’t group followers in the same ways. It is designed as a more open community. I agree with @courosa and @schwier – what may work with older students and adult learners is not something I would introduce for K-12 learners.

Perhaps Twitter is best left in the hands of the educators where learning is concerned.

[March 4, 2008: I’ve continued this thread on Technology for Learning. Please join me there.]