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.

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Life-long learning and mobile technologies appear to be moving towards a ubiquitous state… but not for all. Nomadic and/or isolated learners appear to be under-represented in current conversations: access, feasible learning designs (if indeed there are any) and theoretical underpinnings, the users themselves, sustainability and equitable education for all are just some of the less-charted waters to be explored. This is encouraging in terms of scanning for research potential in my current formal learning (Masters of Education) but presents some challenges for my own future as one of many nomadic learners!

Who are they? Where are they? How/are they learning? What enabling technologies are available/not available? Can they afford them? How do they learn to use them? Which learning design options are feasible? What theoretical frameworks and approaches are usefully applied?

Jan and Anthony Herrington have explored “Authentic mobile learning in higher education” in an excellent paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2007 Focus Conference.

In general, mobile learning—or m-learning—can be viewed as any form of learning that happens when mediated through a mobile device (Winters, 2006) and a form of learning that has established the legitimacy of ‘nomadic’ learners (Alexander, 2004)” (2002, P3).

It’s not just generational differences to consider in mobile learning, but also the sub-cultures, the diverse communities existing under the umbrella term ‘nomadic learners’. The Herringtons refer to Reeves’ findings that “differences within these generational groups are greater than differences between them” (P 6). It’s not just traditional nomads: some contemporary versions include itinerant workers and their families, Recreational Vehicle (RV) nomads, corporate nomads, liveaboard boat cruisers and technomads (the latter two will be me!).

Mobile technologies are evolving rapidly, encompassing mobile phones (particularly multimedia and web enabled), PDAs, portable media devices (such as iPods) and smartphones that converge these capabilities, epitomised by the new Apple iPhone3G (a mobile phone, a touch controlled wide-screen iPod, and an Internet communications device all in one). Prensky (2005, cited in Herrington & Herrington, 2007) urges educators to recognise and design to realise the potential for more than just transmission of information. Communication and social networking, user-generation and sharing of digital artefacts, collaborative projects and complex problem-solving offer rich media choices and channels for engaging, authentic, situated, networked/connected, distributed learning environments and experiences. We’re talking ‘2.0’ and beyond here: web 2.0, pedagogy 2.0, learning 2.0, and Bruns’ pedagogy of produsage.

There are and will be many ‘conversations’ to explore apart from those touched on in the Herrington & Herrington paper (that appropriately looks to Lave and Wenger; Brown, Collins & Duguid, George Siemens, Prensky, and Lee & McLoughlin among others). Jay Cross, Stephen Downes and Axel Bruns are further sources of enlightenment and are sure to lead to more again.

I’ll be back living aboard an Adams 49 steel sloop soon and technology options are a huge consideration, specifically, access to the internet. Once cruising the options and expenses make decisions critical. Some in mind to date are mobile wireless broadband (better when in metropolitan areas but need something for when up and down the east coast and eventually further abroad) or mobile phone as modem (3G or GPRS). Back-up or supplementary options include internet cafes and libraries. There’s also marina net, and I’d like to check out ham radio also. All ideas or information welcome.