Thursday, June 03, 2010

Object-Centred Networks as the Mother of All Swiss Army Knives

Swiss army knife Following last week's discussion, we decided that we are going to roll out social network portfolios for our first year students at the start of Year 1 rather than waiting until the second term as we originally planned.

One of the issues we have struggled with in introducing PLEs/portfolios is creating sufficiently convincing authentic assessment to carry students along. Consequently, while we will still require students to create delicious/Google Reader accounts as part of their PLE, the output from these accounts will fed into Friendfeed and assessed there as part of an overall pattern of activity. The tools will remain in the background, but the focus will be on the network. In (partially) conceding Cameron Neylon's contention that Friendfeed (and increasingly, Facebook) are primarily object-centred networks, we are searching for the sweet spot that the network approach provides.

Apart from engagement, there are other advantages of basing a PLE/portfolio on a social network. Student (and staff) weariness with having to sign up for yet another online service is all too evident. There are also problems in terms of tracking usage across various services (in particular Google Reader). While building a PLE based on a distributed toolset is optimum in terms of the tools available, it sacrifices the convenience of doing everything inside a big-box VLE. Social network portfolios offer some of this convenience back, while allowing students to retain ownership of their network and associated tools during and after formal education, and offering better data to track continued usage was that after courses have ended, all problems which arose previously with a distributed toolset PLE. One remaining issue to solve is whether the operant conditioning of link sharing and reflective status updates overcomes the perception of network creation and curation as authentic learning rather than simply a social distraction.