Archive for July, 2007

Social Capital and Community Development in the Pursuit of Dragon Slaying

Monday, July 30th, 2007

What can the massively multiplayer game ‘World of Warcraft’ teach us about how to facilitate learning communities? Below is a video of the talk I gave at the Games Learning and Society conference in Madison Wisconsin. (Running time 26 minutes)

If you want more details before watching here is the abstract…

This presentation is an evaluation of ethnographic field work conducted in and around the World of Warcraft MMO. The study focuses on the motivation of guild members to construct communities of practice both to learn and to socialize. This suggests that the guilds can act as useful models for understanding how online social networks function and how they could influence the ideology of next generation e-learning services.

Successful collaborative learning can only be sustained if the individuals involved feel part of a group or community in which they can trust. The most robust communities tend to be those that form via a collective aim or interest; their formation has a social underpinning and is not totally utilitarian.

If an aspiration of e-learning is to move away from simply providing online programs of study, demarcated by subject, to increasingly fluid spaces in which students can build social networks, then we need to understand how contemporary collaborative and participatory environments encourage the formation of these types of groupings.

Some of the most sophisticated examples of online community creation and management take place in and around MMO environments. The current apex of this field is the ‘guild’ system which suffuses the World of Warcraft MMO. Guilds are effectively goal-oriented clubs or societies, many of which utilize the latest Web 2.0 technologies out-of-game and multi-channel text chat and VOIP systems in-game both to organize and to socialize.

This paper is based on data collected over a period of six months from an ongoing ethnographic study comprising self-reflexive observation and semi-structured interviews conducted in World of Warcraft and face-to-face with guild members. This extends into a study of the social software used out-of-game by community members that acts as a communication base for the guilds.

The data is evaluated using Wenger’s notion of communities of practice, which highlights the interweaving of goal-orientated learning and the immersion of those participating in trusted social networks. This has the effect of generating and communicating what Bourdieu calls cultural capital, the lack of which often makes online learning a poor second to traditional face-to-face learning.

The challenge here is how to abstract underpinning principles and practice that will be of value to e-learning away from the immediate goals or ideology of a particular MMO. This is not to suggest that killing dragons in collaborative groups is the future of e-learning. Instead it proposes that much can be gained from reflecting on the success of MMOs in motivating the formation of vibrant online communities and the ways in which these communities interweave socializing and learning.

Pedagogical Planners of the future

Friday, July 27th, 2007

A couple of weeks ago I went to a very interesting meeting in London organised by James Dalziel of LAMS fame. Bringing together people working on Pedagogic Planners from all over the world it included Phoebe, the project we’re working on, the London Planner, Compendium at the OU, LAMS Lite, Remath, among others.

What was fascinating was both how different the planners and the problems that they were trying to solve were, but also how much common ground there was.

We have been working on the Phoebe pedagogic planner for 18 months now and in that time it feels like the amount of people looking at this space has grown immeasurably. There is no question that there is something very attractive about the idea of a tool that can help people design effective learning experiences (whether supported by technology or not) but what this should be is still the million dollar question.

I am more convinced than ever before that there is never going to be one tool that solves everybody’s problems – if only because we already know that everybody does not want the same thing from a tool operating in this space, and that people will only use a tool that does what THEY want it to do. However as existing projects address different parts of this continuum what is clear is that we need to find a common language to allow these tools to join up. Perhaps this is IMS LD but I think at the moment it is far from clear that this really addresses the issues at hand.

Interesting themes coming out in initial discussion are:

  • The levels tools operate at: Organisational > Course/Unit/Module > Session/Week/Lesson > Activity/Learning Object/Simulation
  • The types of support they provide: Ranging from “smart” systems that provide guidance based on your input to those that allow the practitioner more freedom and access to information but may not be supportive enough.
  • The examples they point to: where are the good learning designs and who judges what is good?
  • The role of theory: can this be made really useful to practitioners?

A final output of the meeting was an attempt at some sort of domain map with the various projects we knew about placed onto it. This posited

Information and advice > Reflect and decide > Automated implementation

fed into by various conceptual frameworks (including pedagogy and attitude change as well as LD structures)

I think the 3 broad areas simplify what is in reality some very complicated processes and these may need to be broken down further to be in any way meaningful, but not sure I am yet ready to suggest how.

Incidentally in the categories above, Phoebe deals with the Session/Week/Lesson > Activity/Learning Object/Simulation level of design, is more free than smart and supports the information and advice and reflect and decide stages of the continuum above.

Web 2.0 Analysis and Statistics

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

You may be interested in my report on Web2.0 take-up and usage which I submitted to JISC a few weeks ago. It’s analysis of some data that blogged back in March. I included the responses to the data in the report. It was all very ‘participatory’. The report can be downloaded from here:

Unruly students’ Facebook search

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

The BBC has reported on the University proctors using Facebook to track down students involved in “unruly post-exam pranks” as TALL is actually located in one of the Universities two main exam buildings we have more experience than most in what these involve….However for isthmus I think it is a telling example of why students may not want their online social spaces used for learning.