Creating learning communities: three social software tools
AbstractUse of the web today, particularly amongst young people, is now more social and participative. Collectively known as Web 2.0, freely available tools have emerged that facilitate communication, user-generated content and social connectivity. Facebook and MySpace have become the most popular forms of this kind of online activity and networks are formed around all kind of interest and issues whether they are political, educational, professional or hobbies. In a recent survey of 500 students, 80% claimed that they regularly use social networking tools to communicate with peers (JISC, 2008). This pervasive use of Web 2.0 technology for everyday interaction has yet to see its potential fully recognised and integrated into Higher Education pedagogy. Despite 73% of students using such tools to 'discuss coursework' and 75% of these students recognising their value for enhancing learning, only 25% were encouraged to use such social software by academic staff (JISC, 2008). This raises the question as to whether Web 2.0 technology can promote social learning within educational contexts and how this might be realised in practice. In a bid to harness this creativity, energy and sociability, the Academic Skills Tutors (ASTs) at the University of Huddersfield have been exploring Web 2.0 technologies to investigate how such tools might enhance teaching and learning. This paper introduces practical examples of social software tools; how these are currently used to foster learning communities and promote academic development. Three distinct social software tools are discussed (del.icio.us, PBwiki - now PBworks - and Ning), illustrating current use of these with students and their initial evaluation.
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