Thursday, November 24, 2005


I have experienced distance learning environments as student and as a developer. While many things perplex and please me about the distance learning experience, my main concerns revolve around the personal and the social. From the personal perspective I want freedom. I want to set my own course of learning, share and explore with many, not one, and pace myself and set my time as required by my personal needs. On the social side I want to experience the sharing of learning with like minded individuals, work collaboratively and build professional relationships. In short I want distance with freedom and society. Can it be achieved? Well, my continuing research into social software suggests that there is a growing number of us who are trying to achieve the “personal and the social learning experience” through distance learning. In the next few installments I will be posting sections of a paper I am preparing on social software – an environmental scan of where we are and what is available. Here’s the first instalment.

What can be done to make software serve social needs is under scrutiny and active development by those involved in its ideation, conceptualization, design, development and implementation. There is an increasing realization that the approach, the users, and the design processes are in a continuous flux, and to take a stand is to discover the shifting sand beneath your feet.

Most of the discussion about social software is taking place through social software tools – primarily blogs, wikis, and videocasts. By its nature “blog talk” is conversational, minimalist, with many links and trackbacks to previous comments. These installments are an attempt to provide an environmental scan the postings on social software – as they inexorably meander through the minimalist scripts of blogs and wikis.

The discussion about social software is particularly passionate. Comments of dismissal, of encouragement, of praise, condemnation, debate, and advice course through the blogs. Many tout it as the next big thing; others contend it is an overhyped term for the tools that we’ve always used for social interaction - Usenet newsgroups, chatrooms, instant messaging, bulletin boards, and multi-user games and more. Others focus on how social software is a way to envision a new model of social interaction –on and off/line – that is enhanced by computerization.

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