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Pedagogy 2.0

This Friday morning at AoIR 2007 I find myself in a pedagogy session, and Gary Natriello and Anthony Cocciolo have made a start. Their interest is in the effect of Web 2.0 learning environments on student learning. PocketKnowledge is one project which they've designed, in which users maintain a high level of control of their information, a high level of community trust, and a non-authoritative organisation of information, which ideally generates a playful attitude. Users create 'pockets' of information, and get to determine organisation, access and copyrights for this material, but user-to-user comments are also possible.

A second site are the Community Program Collections; these, too, allow for the creation and sharing of resources, but are organised more hierarchically by academic fields and departments. User control over collections is much more limited, and any contributions made are policed far more stringently for copyright adherence. The same community of staff and students used both systems (CPC from November 2004 to August 2006, PK from Sepember 2006 to January 2007), and Gary and Anthony conducted a social network analysis on usage data.

Overall, some 500 users engaged with PocketKnowledge, and some interesting trends were discovered here - a number of close-knit but isolated teams interacting with one another but not anyone else; a number of isolated individuals using the system simply as a Web hard drive; and a large central core of well interconnected actors. Additionally, the team identified what they call cutpoints - users whose absence would significantly undermine interconnection within the overall network. The distribution of these key nodes, measured by their role (doctoral, masters student, faculty, librarian, staff, etc.) is largely proportional to the distribution of roles overall.

This is different from CPC, where faculty made about twice the number of suggestions for additions to the collection compared to students - indicating that PocketKnowledge, designed much more strongly to make use of Web2.0 design patterns, better mirrors a collaborative community of practice, and better managed to harness the knowledge of all participants than did the more hierarchical, more Web 1.0, Community Program Collections. At the same time, what features of PK were particularly impactful in this context - the tagging, the social interaction?

The next presenters are Shanly Dixon and Kelly Boudreau, whose focus is on course Websites and their role in developing a sense of community amongst students and staff (most recently, using Moodle). One aspect of such sites and their ancillary technologies (blogs, mailing-lists, and other social spaces) is also the blurring of spaces of work and leisure, of formal and informal interaction which contributes to a flattening of hierarchies. Shanly and Kelly examined the content of Web spaces within which staff and students interacted, as well as conducting ethnographic studies of this community. The community has shared interests, is largely co-located in geographic terms but also acts as a virtual community - but overall, as Borgmann has said, "community gathered around reality".

Types of interaction here, then, were academic, discussing course material for collective inderstanding and/or bringing in external course-related materials, as well as social, constructing understanding and meaning through a collaborative process. Students visited and posted their Moodle site because it was an assessable element of the course, yet also ended up spending more time on the site than was strictly required for their assessment; the Web space was open-ended enough to allow for student-driven interactions and an open sharing of ideas, understandings, and meanings. This created an academic community interacting in the spirit of inquiry, and indeed expressed an interest in more interactive features to be embedded in Moodle (failing this, they moved to Facebook and other spaces for further interaction).

There was generally a blurring of boundaries between online and offline, between academic and social, and between work and leisure. Especially the latter is problematic, as students' non-academic lives intrude into the academic space, and as they expect the teaching staff to act in similar ways, putting new demands on teachers' time and commitment to interaction. However, students also did want to maintain a division between academic spaces and social spaces; they did not want their academic lives to intrude too far into Facebook, for example, and expressed concern about their teachers interacting with them on Facebook.

The question, then, is not whether online sites cause students to learn more, but how they transform the learning process. Students are largely happy to engage in new social online spaces as part of their learning, and are happy for their learning spaces to feature social software elements, but are concerned about academic elements intruding into their existing social environments. This may indicate a good level of understanding about identity and privacy elements in social software environments.

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