Social software and collaborative learning
- Memorial University of Newfoundland
Social software, known more popularly as Web 2.0 consists of an array of online tools and technologies that allows users to interact and share information, files, and resources with one another (Minocha,2009). Social software includes tools such as: Wikis, video-sharing websites (e.g.,YouTube), blogs, social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), and instant messaging. These tools and services have added increased possibilities for online learning opportunities (Capuruco & Capretz, 2009). Social software and Web 2.0 sites have marked a movement away from the initial function of the Internet as a one-way, static business tool to a rich experience made ‘by the people for the people’, allowing two-way communication and sharing (Selwyn & Grant, 2009). Learning and educating using social software and Web 2.0 technology have moved in a direction that fosters a single student’s work, but also group and partner collaboration, in a new learning atmosphere (Dorninger & Schrack, 2008). Hughes (2009) states that compared to simple communication tools such as e-mail, Web 2.0 has an intrinsic networking effect that allows individuals to connect and share with other like-minded people quickly and effectively. Furthermore, it invites a user to create or extend a whole new identity online (Hughes).
Learning using social software and Web 2.0 technology have moved in a direction that fosters a single student’s work, but also group and partner collaboration, in a new learning atmosphere (Dorninger & Schrack, 2008). Hughes (2009) found that, compared to simple communication tools such as e-mail, Web 2.0 has an intrinsic networking effect that allows individuals to connect and share with other like-minded people quickly and effectively. Furthermore, it invites a user to create or extend a whole new identity online (Hughes).
Collaborative learning has proven to lead to higher grades than learners achieve in other conditions and the means by which they learn is more constructive (Dewiyanti, Brand-Gruwel, Jochems & Broers 2007). [Li, Dong and Huang (2009) argued that collaborative learning leads to higher student performance and improved retention of the learned information for longer periods. According to Johnson, Johnson and Smith (1998), several different criteria must exist for collaborative learning to be occurring: Students must know their individual success rests on the success of the group as a whole; individual effort within the group is assessed, holding them more accountable; students teach and learn from one another while employing leadership skills; and the group must work as a cohesive unit being both critical and constructive to help achieve the greatest good for the group.
Social software and collaborative learning
Crichton and Kopp (2008) argue that social software provides the opportunity for sustained collaborative learning, expression, reflection, and a rich community of practice. In addition, Web 2.0 applications have the potential to enhance students’ future careers and can be used by teachers to supplement effective classroom practices. (Crichton & Kopp). The capacity for social software and Web 2.0 applications to result in collaborative learning depends upon how the technology is used (Thorpe, 2002). Kok (2009) posits that one of the most representative tools of the Web 2.0 is the Wiki. Frydenberg (2008) states that because students and faculty can both post information to the Wiki, the role of the instructor changes from being the single authority to being a partner with the students in their own learning. This social software is an enabler of social interaction, collaboration and information sharing, promoting the growth of communities as user groups (Kok).
Koh and Hill (2009) argue that there are several areas which need to be further researched with regards to students using online environments for successful learning: students need help and assistance with communicating feelings and opinions honestly; time and effort must be put forth in helping students forge communities online which have a rich dialogue and are supportive; and teacher planning must be focused on group work. Finally, teachers must be adept at catching problems with group communication early and have a process to deal with it. As Hughes states, it is also erroneous for educators to assume that social software alone will close the divide and disparity which exists between struggling and excelled learners (2009). Teachers need to improve their practice and expand their knowledge regarding what students find challenging, as well as beneficial, about group work in online settings (Koh & Hill, 2009). A large part of the predicament with the technological advancements is the desire to adopt them immediately without critical analysis (Lozano-Nieto, Guijarro & Berjano, 2006). When using social software for educational ends, it must be acknowledged that it has not been developed specifically for learning (Dalsgaard & Mathiasen, 2008). According to Henry and Meadows (2008), to ensure student success, the use and further development of software and technology must be handled wisely and coupled with a sense of a collaborative community. Technology, in itself, is not a solution to educational woes nor is the investment in technology (Abrami, et al., 2006); research and training have to be a large part of an overall reforming of how technology is implemented in teaching.
Dron (2007) argues that self-organizing communities do not necessarily lead to learning environments which are valuable or effective. Educators challenge themselves to create “pedagogically sound” learning environments online (2007). When using Web 2.0 applications for educational purposes, as Abrami et al. (2006) argue, teachers must keep several things in mind in order to make the learning meaningful ; instructional practices must differ online from that of face-to-face instruction; when deployed in an appropriate way, technology may be helpful in the analytical and higher-order thinking skills of students; the teacher should present the technology to the students as a challenge and allow them to be the ones who make and alter the technology, in a hands-on approach to learning.
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