Web Wednesday: On the horizon and right now, social software in higher education

Web Wednesday: On the horizon and right now, social software in higher education

From Information Resources and Technologies

Although podcasts, blogs, wikis, gaming and virtual worlds, Web conferencing and other social software tools have separate and distinct features, they all share a common purpose: to enable people to connect, communicate and collaborate with each other via the Web.

As higher education looks to address the impact and influence of these technologies on teaching, learning and research, the hope is that these tools will “… provide important ways for people to discover each other, make connections, and foster conversations that will grow over time.”1

According to the 2007 Horizon Report:2 “Collaborative work continues to be a critical component of scholarly activities. The phenomenon of social networking is a direct response to this challenge, as the educational community is finding ways to connect and contribute using social networking tools. Collaborative experiences in virtual worlds, massively multiplayer games, and emerging forms of scholarly work are also on the horizon.”

Below, we highlight several ways in which St. Thomas is exploring the growing interest in various types of social software tools.

Web and video conferencing

In videoconferencing technology, two or more people at different locations can see and hear each other at the same time, sometimes even sharing computer applications for collaboration. Videoconferencing offers possibilities for individuals, colleges and libraries to use these systems for a variety of purposes, including formal instruction (courses, lessons and tutoring), connection with guest speakers and experts, multischool project collaboration, professional activities and community events. St. Thomas offers two types of conferencing options: Adobe (Macromedia) Breeze and Internet2 Commons (I2).

In a fall Web Wednesday Bulletin article, IRT announced the availability of the Adobe (Macromedia) Breeze Web conferencing software. Breeze offers a way to bridge the physical and virtual classroom space by using audio and video, chat tools, and application and file sharing. Virtual meeting spaces can be used for lectures, discussions, tutoring, collaborative workspace, and for a variety of real-time, interactive activities. A Breeze meeting can be held anywhere a computer and Internet access is available. For more information click here.

Internet2 (I2) video conferencing provides large-scale deployment of tools for one-to-one, one-to-group, and group-to-group collaborations enabling the I2 research and education community to hold distributed working groups, classes, meetings and events. St. Thomas has two general purpose spaces for video conferencing. In addition, the College of Business and the Law School each have a dedicated room for videoconferencing. For more information see the Dec. 5, 2006 article in Bulletin Today.

In the past decade, the experience of "audio or video on a computer" has moved from novel to common. To address how this change in technology and culture is influencing the changing opportunities for teaching and learning, IRT has sponsored a project to investigate podcasting of instructional content. This offers the opportunity for faculty to experiment with various technologies to discover if these technologies prove beneficial for teaching, learning and communicating. For more information about podcasting at St. Thomas, click here.

Blogs and wikis

In 2005, the Journal (blog) and Teams (wiki) tools were added to Blackboard course and community sites. Many classes are using the Journal tool for student reflection and the Teams site to facilitate collaboration among students. Recently, IRT implemented Movable Type blog software for public Web blogging at St. Thomas. Much of what can be done with Movable Type (easy Web publishing, RSS, calendaring and archiving) can be done with other technologies on campus such as Collage and Blackboard; however, other functionality – such as public commentary, subscription, communication and collaboration between UST and non-UST communities – cannot. To see if a blog is right for you, contact your Academic Technology Consultant/Administrative CORE Consultant.

Wiki technology allows users to add, remove, and collaboratively edit content on a Web site. St. Thomas is currently in a pilot project to gather requirements for wiki use, evaluate wiki tools, and make a recommendation for implementation at UST.

On the horizon: Educational gaming and virtual worlds

“Serious games” are games that are used for an educational purpose rather than for entertainment.2 Many institutions in higher education, as well as national organizations, are researching the potential that “massively multiplayer online” (MMO) games have for teaching and learning. Research from the Horizon Report 2  suggests that mainstream adoption of MMO games in higher education is four to five years out.

In the coming year, IRT will continue to partner with interested members of the St. Thomas community to adopt and apply the social networking technologies mentioned above, and research how these and other educational technologies will impact teaching, learning and scholarship at UST.

1. Sreebny, O. (2007, January 16). Digital rendezvous: Social software in higher education. Educause Center for Applied Research. Retrieved February 12, 2007 from https://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ecar_so/erb/ERB0702.pdf.

2. 2007 Horizon Report. New Media Consortium. Retrieved February 12, 2007 from https://www.nmc.org/pdf/2007_Horizon_Report.pdf.