Saturday, April 15, 2006

Online social networking tools for communities

Mark Berthelemy has posted this paper, part of his Master of Education course in e-learning, to his ELGG site.
The paper, "Using online social networking tools to support the continuing professional development of teachers" presents research in support of learning which occurs in a community of practice where learners are able to contribute to their own learning rather than a 'top down' approach. Learners can choose to connect with others in a group (friends of friends - FOAF). Connection and interaction is facilitated by use of emerging technologies.

The growth of Web2.0 has spawned ever increasing numbers of social software tools with social bookmarking, blogging, clever use of tagging and RSS feeds connecting people . Files eg photos can be shared easily and reflection and rich discussion can occur at any time and almost anywhere. Web2.0 has provided a flexible dimension in developing and supporting communities of practice, particularly with individuals in disparate locations.

A "shared context or common language" enables members to connect with "people and ideas" through a "shared repository" ... "using a common taxonomy." Elgg is an open source example, which I have experimented with, which supports trusted community building. There are others, commercial and open-source, mentioned in the paper. He provides a useful matrix of online tools and evaluates their role in supporting the learner and communities of practice in three identified dimensions, structural, relational and cognitive.

Tools include IM, forums (eg Moodle, Sharepoint), e-mail newsgroups, blogs (including WordPress, Blogger and Elgg with tags and RSS feeds) and social networking tools (including, furl, Elgg).

Blogs are highlighted as "enabling learners to ... reflect on their learning"... and "become part of a reflective community".Berthelemy concludes that careful choice of tools supports the structural and cognitive dimensions but the relational dimension requires nurturing support "by people demonstrating how the community will work."
This paper provides the contextual information around the DfES National Strategies, detailed analysis of the dimensions and an extensive bibliograph

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