The project is now into the practical stage of seeding, animating and growing a group. However, choosing where the ‘virtual’ space/s will be is tied closely to what social networking sites are available and on what basis, incorporating another question of which tools are available, followed by who to invite, how to go about it, and ultimately these choices must consider the purpose… why is the group being set up?

Participatory action research (PAR) by its nature calls for an egalitarian approach to the ways such choices are made. This helps to answer both the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions: PAR typically involves collaborating to explore solutions to shared problems, challenges or questions. It works by reflecting on actions/initiatives to then revise/refine further actions… in a journey in, around, through, to and hopefully, beyond the shared goal. In our case this is developing our professional capacity to design and offer effective learning support in tertiary education that is relevant for the twenty-first century.

Sarantakos (2005, p.333) describes PAR as “the application of fact finding to practical problem-solving in a social situation with a view to improving the quality of action within it, involving the collaboration and cooperation of researchers, practitioners and laymen”.  Walter (2006) also sees this methodology, associated with the qualitative approach, as providing an opportunity to critique conventional theoretical and methodological social research which aligns with this project’s search for theoretical frameworks emerging as relevant to web 2.0-based learning.

Grainne Conole, Juliet Culver (2010) and colleagues launched a professional social networking site called cloudworks in 2008. It opens and facilitates a space for informal social learning, an opportunity to connect and converse about shared interests on a global basis. It has helped to inspire this project which begins on a micro-level and anticipates movement to participation in macro-level networks such as the cloudworks communities, academia.edu and LinkedIn.

Preliminary discussions among our small academic language and learning support team have led to the establishment of a private group, connecting2supportlearning, using the free, but basic,  Wiggio application (the ‘where’). It can be conceived as a scaffolded experience for the team in that it allays concerns about the public profile a Facebook account represents for people who are as yet  unfamiliar with the privacy options now available. This original small group membership will now extend invitations to join this group to workplace colleagues involved in related learner support such as library services and the VET sector (the ‘who’). There are a number of free social networking sites (SNSs) available but I have loosely evaluated these on behalf of the team and selected wiggio as a starting point. The wiggio space presents a limited array of tools (the ‘which’). However, learning by playing, homo ludens, as advocated by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas (2011), in a safe ‘space’ such as this group, still offers opportunities to consider essential features of SNSs and the benefits and challenges they present for supporting learning (some of the ‘what’).

A partial snapshot of our group wiggio space.

Apart from playing with the tools available, group members can connect and converse about key questions this research project seeks to answer. These include developing shared understandings and vocabulary around web 2.0 based learning options, including notions of digital literacies, sharing and reflecting on experiences with different social media initiatives and relating to emerging theoretical frameworks to inform our practice. Our own team is exploring Facebook, currently just a profile and a page, with a view to designing a group. A small number of students have been invited to ‘friend’ us and/or ‘like’ us, with intentions of extending this to our full mailing list recipients. We have ‘liked’ some related pages and have posted events (our free workshops) and some status updates. The team is considering how our ‘wall’ might be moderated in terms of current automatic feeds from ‘friends’ or ‘fans’, as well as further content we’d like to contribute (more of the ‘what’).

Recent and upcoming posts will revolve around this research project, Connections, conversations and co-design: exploring the benefits and challenges social software presents to support learning for the twenty-first century.  This blog will function, to some extent, as a research diary over the next few months.

Janice

References

Brown, J. S., & Thomas, D. (2010). Learning in/for a world of constant flux: Homo sapiens, homo faber & homo ludens revisited. In L. Weber & J. Duderstadt (Eds.), University research for innovation (Ch. 22, pp. 321-336). London: Economica Ltd. Retrieved from  www.johnseelybrown.com/ Learning%20for%20a%20World%20of%20Constant%20Change.pdf

Conole, G. and Culver, J. (2010). The design of Cloudworks: Applying social networking practice to foster the exchange of learning and teaching ideas and designs. Computers and Education, 54(3), pp. 679–692. Retrieved August 18, 2011,  from http://oro.open.ac.uk/18384/

Conole, G., McAndrew, P., & Buckingham Shum, S. (2009). A new approach to supporting the design and use of OER: Harnessing the power of web 2.0. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.e4innovation.com/share/conole_mcandrew_shum_chapter_edner_book_v3.doc

Sarantakos, S. (2005). Social research. (3rd ed.). NY: Palgrave Macmillan

Walter, M. (Ed.)  (2006). Social research methods: An Australian perspective. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

I’m gearing up in my quest to become a reliable blogger, particularly now I’m starting a research project to complete my current formal study (M. Education) online through the University of Southern Queensland.

‘Nailing down’ a useful, focused research problem that might bring new insights to the teaching and learning support knowledge-base has been a challenging task. ICTs and associated practices of their users appear notoriously volatile and fluid, reinforcing both emergence and complexity themes for both the theoretical and practical dimensions. Much as a river delta broadens and flows into multiple channels, so too the research, applied projects and literature revolving around new media, web 2.0 and informal learning present a vast array of options.

The risk of a split focus for this project has become clear and I’m still considering how the two dimensions can be successfully connected to enhance each other. One aims to explore informal professional learning around sharing individual initiatives via social software mediated online community ‘space’ or ‘spaces’; ultimately to have a coherent, interconnected approach to learner support. The other aims to enhance the particular role of academic language and learning support offered by exploring the potential of informal learning in a social network shared with students, as well as expanding communication channels about events for example. Perhaps the latter is a particular within the whole of the former. Microcosmic and macrocosmic perspectives?

I’ll be using this blog to relate to that research and hope to make it interesting and/or useful for others. It’s been fascinating to reflect on the ‘path’ of interest I’ve followed, as revealed in the foci of my many papers/artefacts submitted in this M.Education course. The keywords evoked include informal learning, social media, emerging technologies, nomadic learners, mobile learning, professional learning, virtual worlds (Second Life); sustainability; communities of practice/interest/inquiry; learning ecologies; connectivism; complexity and chaos theory; academic learning support; web 2.0; personalised learning networks…  looking a bit wild and random in places but it’s been fun and in many ways, serendipitous.

I also connect to metaphors for learning (which could be one of the reasons I’m such a fan of John Seely-Brown and friends).  Others come to mind… Dave Cormier’s ‘rhizomatic education’ (2008); David Weinberger with his ‘small pieces loosely joined’, George Siemens considers metaphors of educators (2008) and reconsiders metaphors of change (2009)  in his brilliant connectivism blog. Ah… but I digress!

The original focus began with my interest in researching learning on the move, particularly for those who live aboard and cruise on boats. My own ‘problems’ in engaging in formal learning whilst doing that triggered this interest, but also the awesome volume and range of informal learning involved in the cruising lifestyle. Pat Danaher, (one of my lecturers at USQ), has written extensively on ‘traveller education’ and related issues. I also found some research on cruisers, with sociology and psychology foci, from Jennings more recently, and Macbeth preceding that. Neither of them investigated learning which suggests I could still check out this ‘gap’ in the research in the future.

I see Curt Bonk has explored this area of interest – read one of his articles  The wide open learning world: sea, land, and ice views in the Association for Learning Technology newsletter and/or visit his TravelinEdMan blog. He has a new book out titled The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education. Informal learning is, as I mentioned, especially relevant for those learning on the move. Bonk has included the experiences of some young sailors.

I’m enjoying the apparent renaissance of interest in informal learning. Jay Cross is a name I associate with informal learning – get a taste of his 2007 book Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance at http://internettime.pbworks.com/The-Book.   Brown and Thomas (2010) have been playing with conceptions of  neo-human-learners as homo sapiens (knowers), homo faber (makers) and homo ludens (players) – see Chapter 22 in University research for innovation (Glion Colloquium). delgiorgio shares a review of their book A new culture of learning, cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (2011).  Jane Bozarth (2010) also considers informal learning as it happens between formal learning events, among other things, in Social media for trainers.

A persistent thread in the weaving of my learning has been focused on harnessing social media for learning in communities: the expansion and evolution of this area of interest in education and training is testament I believe to its value. I’ll explore this thread and those others I presented as keywords above in further posts.

Meanwhile, dare I say any leads to emerging theories and/or initiatives relevant to social media and informal/formal learning would be appreciated. The literature review is a work in progress for this project, but at some point I’ll just have to cut off the reading and save it for future pleasure and enlightenment. Your comments are similarly most welcome.

Janice