Social Learning Software as it relates to the social theory of learning

OK. I am sufficiently impressed. Christopher Sessums has created a wiki about social software and asked for opinions, so I took a look.

As a technical person who went to an engineering school, I like to base things on research. Christopher does a beautiful job of relating social software to Etienne Wenger's concept of community of practice. Sessums has created a chart relating Wenger's initial inventory of the components of a social theory of learning (Wenger, 1998, p.5) to social software. This chart and Sessums' writings make a lot of sense to me as a classroom teacher.

I would like to take this insightful message and relate it to what I've seen in my classroom:
  • Identity - learning as becoming.
When students create a wiki together, that page becomes their page. Their space! (My space -- ha ha!) They identify with their page. I've seen this when a team member from another team happens onto another team's page and edits incorrectly. The most vitriolic of discussions happen in such incidences. The wiki page project of the student has truly become identified with that student. I've seen this as my students have created a studyhall wikipage -- that is theirs.
  • Meaning - learning as experience
When students research a topic, they immerse themselves in the topic. In the case of my computer science topics, it is very easy for them to experience it on the net -- from programming to simulations, there are so many tools that I can use for the students to experience the topic at hand. With the increase in video and interactive activities -- this is spreading to science, math, history, and more. All the tools of entertainment and computing are merging.
  • Practice - learning as doing
By using online interactive activities, students can practice their skill. They can create links on the wikispace to relevant "practice places" for other students to quickly find places they can go to learn the skill as well. This was apparent to me earlier in the year when some of my students found a binary number game that helped them learn the binary number conversion process and practice it more easily. They loved it and had contests as we prepared for our test. Mastery was easy. They did the conversions and it was fun.
  • Community - learning as belonging
The binary number game was so much fun because we posted scores and students helped one another master the game. Wikis are so much fun because we do it together. We share what we've done. Students talk about what they've done. This is something only the students in my classroom can do but others can comment. They have a community that has extended to the classroom. This is essential. Students have a social use for social software but we must extend that to the classroom. We must use student proficiency with social software to excite them about our subjects.

Sessums also has a great page on the types of social software. I encourage all of my readers to take a look and post your comments. (He says: "I live for feedback so any and all comments are welcome.") Well written pieces like his deserve feedback.

We need educational information that correlates the use of these technologies with research and modern educational theory. I am going to look at what I'm doing and ponder his wiki a little bit longer. I will be looking for more across the net like this!

We shouldn't do stuff just because we can, but because it is the right thing to do to increase student learning.

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