A preview of things to come

It’s almost 11 here in Atlanta at ELI 2007, and I’m just jotting down some final thoughts for the presentation that Steve, Jerry, and I are giving tomorrow on Steve’s globalization freshman seminar.

The outline for our presentation includes a large portion that we’re hoping will consist of us talking more or less informally about some general “themes” that we took note of during the semester. (The whole informal conversation thing in front of an audience has me a bit panicky, I must admit, but I’m just trying to give myself over to the process.)

There’s one particular theme that I’ve been struggling with for the last few days, and I finally feel I’m wrapping my head around it at this late hour.

So, for anyone out there, here are my random thoughts and musings about how we deal with the messy “socialness” of using social networking tools for teaching and learning. . .

To start, I wonder if there is a price we pay when we engage with students in “social” networking spaces? These tools are inherently social — for them to work they need to capture the social dynamic of the group. How comfortable are we with this?

Early on in Steve’s class, we conducted an informal discussion to guage students’ comfort with the various technology tools. Many students reported struggling with editing the wiki. They weren’t comfortable editing each others’ words. Not a huge surprise. I struggle with editing the wiki that we use for our own department. Why? Because I have relationships with the people I work with, and on some level, when I edit the wiki I feel like I’m editing those relationships.

These students have relationships with their classmates. They’re also freshman, in the early stages of their college career, and they are developing a social persona for themselves. When we ask them to now engage in learning using tools that are inherently “social” we should expect pushback, even angst. How do we address that without crossing any strange boundries?

Sometimes we talk about establishing rules. And rules can be highly effective delimiters of the experience of engaging with a tool. However, if we take rules too far we run the risk of violating the social dynamic of the space — part of what makes social networking tools work, after all, is that, ultimately, users have some say in how the tool is used.

Seems like there’s an inherent tension here. Another example: the backchannel shoutbox we set up for Steve’s class in the blog. Steve established rules. (He asked them to actually use the shoutbox to do something during class, although he didn’t tell them they couldn’t use it for other things, too.) Ultimately, the students completely ignored his request and used it like they would any IM tool — to conduct an informal, backchannel chat. It had virtually nothing to do with the class and, really, crossed some boundries. They were completely oblivious to this, however.

I’ve got no answers to any of this, just lots of questions. I’m still not sure this particular theme is ready for primetime tomorrow. We’ve placed it at the bottom of our list, and we may not even get to it. But, I do feel like there’s something there. . .