Freedom for Creativity

Can Social Software Change Teaching and Learning?

London (UK), August 2008 - Robin Mason is Professor of Educational Technology at the UK's Open University. Kirsten Seegmüller interviewed her for CHECK.point eLearning on how social software in higher education could change the way teachers and learners interact. She will give a Key Note on this topic on Wednesday, September 17th 2008 on the GMW08 Conference.

Robin, which elements of social networking do you find most important?

Robin Mason:
Blogs have become an acceptable educational tool; they are more reflective than MySpace, for example, which has a strong relation to leisure. Wikis also fit quite well into collaborative projects and are common in higher education today. Students share their work in Wikis, which is very useful in distance education, but even in campus education. The third important element is social bookmarking. After their research, students share bookmarks of good sites, and RSS feeds make it easy to track these pages. Last but not least, communication tools like Skype enable the students to communicate for free and share their results, even in groups.

And how will social software change the way of learning and teaching?

Robin Mason:
I hope that social networking will lead to a more student-centred teaching and learning approach. Education should not be too prescriptive. Instead of memorizing, students should gain more freedom for creativity. A lot of content can be created during projects, especially at university. The teachers will design the framework in which the students can adapt the courses according to their needs.

How much do teachers like this idea?

Robin Mason:
Many teachers are afraid to give up their power. They are not confident enough or they don't want to deal with social software. Others welcome social networking because it builds on existing student enthusiasm. Benefits for the students should convince teachers, even though the benefits for themselves will not show right off.

The crux: For teachers the integration of social networking means more work, more time for planning, and more time spent with software. But if they take this challenge, they can see their students grow.

So the students should love the concept.

Robin Mason:
Of course many do, but there is a big problem: Some want the freedom, but they are not willing to take the responsibility.

But how can you hold young children responsible for their own education?

Robin Mason:
Creating content sounds more demanding than it is. Even younger children in primary and secondary schools can have a curriculum open to changes and integrate project work. And the children possess mobile devices to share photos and data, and that can be used for education as well.

Does this concept work in all countries and cultures?

Robin Mason:
No. In developing countries it is harder to implement student-centred teaching because there is a lack of books and poor internet access. But the more resources become available, the more teaching with social software is possible. It also depends on the political circumstances.

In China for example, people use the internet mainly for fun, but not for learning. Teachers have little interest in using integrated social software; the education system is very authoritarian and gives only a very restricted access to information.

How will the "free world" learn in three to five years?

Robin Mason:
Even though the tools are available, the changes happen slowly and gradually. There will be no revolution; we will be lucky if we even see evolution. But I am convinced that we will not only see an increasing use of social networking but also open software like Moodle. Universities will publish their content online and offer it for free. Good teachers will not see their task in creating good content but in teaching their students how to distinguish good content from bad.