Using social software for teaching and learning
Client: NFER | NFER Contact: Peter Rudd
Social software has the potential not only to enhance particular aspects of teaching and learning, but also to contribute to the creation of completely new forms of these activities. In particular, it is likely to contribute to substantial increases in ‘anytime, anywhere’, user-directed, peer and community learning. One leading author in this area summarises potential developments as follows: ‘The adoption of social software tools, techniques and ideas will be the most important and visible example of the use of emerging technology in education over the next few years’ (Bryant, 2007).
The term ‘social software’ is normally applied to a range of software programs and tools that enable users to interact and share information. The term overlaps with ‘social media’ and the technology and tools used to facilitate these interactions is often described as web 2.0 technology. Examples of social software include online community websites, such as MySpace and YouTube, emails, blogs, wikis, instant messaging and RSS news feeds.
There are three reasons why it would be timely and useful to carry out a research development project relating to this area of information and communication technology (ICT).
- Firstly, this is an area for which the Foundation needs to develop its skills and knowledge base further, and the study would place us in a strong position for making bids for projects in this expanding area of ICT use in the future. A Thematic Interest Group (TIG) for ICT, Teaching and Learning, which includes colleagues from several NFER departments, has assisted in building the Foundation’s reputation and obtaining work in this area, but there has been little opportunity to review and reflect on developments in social software.
- Secondly, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of social software as a resource and a technology for teaching and learning, especially with respect to informal and home-accessed learning: indeed, it was flagged up as one of the three key research themes for 2008 and beyond at the recent Becta Annual ICT and Education Research Forum. The use of social software is also likely to become increasingly important as a research methodology.
- Finally, there is a distinct lack of practical guidance for school staff on how to use social software. Of the studies that have been carried out in this area, many have been expressed in technical or ‘provider’ language, rather than in terms that are of immediate and practical use to educational practitioners. The Bryant paper quoted above, for example, provides an excellent technological overview, but contains only a short, very generalised, section on the implications for education.
The project will be based around three key research questions:
- What forms does social software take in an educational context?
- How can social software contribute to teaching and learning, and to educational research?
- What practical suggestions and guidance can be given for its use in teaching and learning?
Question 1 is largely to do with definitions. As a first step, researchers will need to look at the literature to clarify what ‘social software’ and closely-related terms mean and how these apply to educational contexts. Question 2 is more analytical and asks ‘what works’ in terms of the contribution of social software to teaching and learning. It also asks how researchers at the NFER might best make use of social software. Question 3 is about communicating the findings from the project, and forms the basis for the development of some practical suggestions about maximising the contribution of social software for educational purposes.
Impact and outcomes
One outcome from the research will be a TIG meeting, funded by the TIG itself and facilitated by the project team, which will have the dual purpose of informing members of the TIG about current uses of social software, and collecting their ideas about maximising the benefits of these technologies in education (interested non-TIG members will also be welcome). It is also proposed that there should be internal and external presentations of the project findings, for example to the Research Seminar Group and to one of the main ICT and education conferences. Two days of web development has been included in the project costs, in order to showcase the types of social software that can be used.
The main substantive outcome from the research, however, will be a concise and accessible ‘What works?’ guide for practitioners, with examples of practical uses of social software for teaching and learning. This could include, for example, ‘20 ideas for using social software in your teaching’. The project costs include funding for CMIS to design and print 300 practitioner guides plus the same number of four-page glossy summary sheets.
Research design and methods
The proposed research will have three main strands, with a literature review forming the central methodology for the project:
- literature review: defining and clarifying terms
- literature review: summarising the research
- discussion and reporting: leading to the production of a practical guide for teachers.
Colleagues from the library will be enlisted to assist with the literature review. Search parameters and appropriate databases will be identified and both paper and electronic sources will be used. The research team will write up the reviews using an agreed framework and these will be synthesised to produce the practitioner guide described above. The discussion will involve members of the ICT TIG, along with any other colleagues who express an interest in this area.
The primary audience for the research and outputs will be practitioners, notably school leaders with responsibilities for e-learning, and school ICT coordinators, others will include heads of department, subject teachers and support staff. The practical guide will also be of interest to the research community and policy makers and the key findings from the project can also be disseminated, for example, via the Becta online research forum.
Time scale: January 2008 - June 2008
NFER Project Code: STL
Bryant, L. (2007). ‘Emerging trends in social software for education.’ In: British Educational Communications and Technology Agency Emerging Technologies for Learning: Volume 2. Coventry: Becta.