Facebook for teaching and learning

co-authors: Peter Bihr and  Thomas Praus

Introduction

Social Communities have grown rapidly over the last years, offering people the chance to publish personal information and connect with each other. The biggest social community today is Facebook with more than 120 million members. Due to the myriad possibilities to use Facebook, there many ways to support teaching and learning.

Facebook started in 2004 at Harvard University and was aimed at connecting students. Now, almost every American student and many Europeans have profiles on Facebook. They use it to share information, such as links, photos and videos, to arrange real life events and to communicate in groups.

The use of Facebook also shows the current cultural differences between teachers who slowly have to adapt to new technologies and students who grew up with digital communication. The differences in media use and learning behaviour between so called “digital native learners” and “digital immigrant teachers” are shown below. Understanding how to use Facebook opens up a way to stepping closer to actual student behaviour and to create a more appropriate way of teaching.

From: http://www.apple.com/au/education/digitalkids/disconnect/landscape.html

Use at Universities

Teachers

Facebook is already carefully used at universities, as a subject for research and as a tool to support learning. Yet these developments are mainly driven by individual academics keen to find out how to use social media in higher education, rather than institutional approaches by teaching organizations.

In Facebook, there is a group of almost 900 academics and students who in engage in teaching and learning http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2408370557. Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab teaches a course about the psychology of Facebook http://credibilityserver.stanford.edu/captology/facebookand develops applications with considerable success http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/11/19/stanford-students-facebook-application-crosses-1-million-installs

 

Students

Most of all students use Facebook amongst each other, not only to chat or leave personal messages but also to communicate about educational subjects. Many groups concentrate on university courses, study groups and help with homework are organized via Facebook. There is a group for students who study at the UOC, too: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6048751458

 

Applications

Moreover, there are applications that run within Facebook which can support learning, such as wikis or groupware for studying are being developed for the sole purpose of education.

One example is “courses” http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=2791815712&ref=s, an applications that lets people share their schedules and organize around classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study groups is a groupware-like application which features to-do lists or sharing of notes and files in one place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find more e-learning apps in Facebook on  http://www.didactalab.de/wp-main/?p=66

Concerns with Facebook


Still, many teachers, academics and universities see Facebook as a threat for teaching and the university’s image. The access to the website is blocked on many schools and campuses, professors fear the distraction in class and security issues. Students have been punished for posting comments and founding groups who violated the official codes of student conduct and even been accused of cheating for running a group to help each other with their homework http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/309855

Has Facebook Changed The University Cheating Landscape?
http://blogs.pcworld.com/staffblog/archives/006613.html

Facebook Face Off
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/14/facebook

Copyright issues are other justified concerns for teachers and faculty members. Facebook is a private company and essentially can do whatever it likes in regards to changing its Terms Of Service and intellectual property and privacy policies. This puts any instructor or institution that is relying on their environment at a disadvantage. Additionally, relying on a third party to host student material (which will be graded) is awkward, given that it may or not be archived and could disappear at any time.

Most of all privacy issues and confusion about what information to reveal to which persons creates concern amongst teachers about how to engage in Facebook. To help students and teachers consider how to act on Facebook, Tracy Mitrano, Director of IT Policy and Computer Policy & Law Program, at Cornell University Cornell published some thoughts on Facebook especially regarding privacy and legal issues  http://www.cit.cornell.edu/policy/memos/facebook.html.

Last but not least there is the uncharted territory of “friending” between instructors and students. Some instructors fear it leads to problematic familiarity; some students think it’s creepy. There are several groups that utter disaffirmation with teachers going to Facebook like “Teachers – please stop going on Facebook”.  http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2301537792

Summary: Teaching and Learning opportunities

Facebook and social networks can be of use for education in many ways and taking justified concerns into account be a valuable tool for everyday learning. There are several possibilities for educators and institutions to engage in an appropriate way.

  • Teachers actually can have their own profiles on Facebook and easily publish learning material and run groups about their subject. They don’t have to reveal much information about themselves and choose to be friends only with people they are friends with in real life or even have different groups of friends which they share only certain information with.
  • Students can use social networking to find experts and fellow students to discuss and investigate about a subject. Especially for ‘inquiry based learing’ or ‘learning through research’ social networks are a great tool to find people who will help to solve a specific issue or learn more about a given subject or find instant communities of practice.
  •  With applications in Facebook being more powerful they can actually support other online e-learning systems or even be integrated with each other.

How to make online learning livelier

True, the manual of your mobile phone contains a lot of information about how to use that device. But are you going to learn to use it by reading through this long-winding technical gibberish? Most likely not; Most people will experiment and explore what they can do by themselves, and possibly ask their friends in their social network.

For some reason most elearning courses still resemble manuals rather than social learning environments that allow students to explore subjects and learn what is meaningful to them.

Cathy Moore has shared a presentation that contains a lot of very useful hands-on tips and  encourages course authors and educators to give their learners what they want:

Dump the Drone: Livelier Elearning

Cathy also maintains a great blog with more ideas @ http://blog.cathy-moore.com/

Live Video via Internet for educational purposes

A Vision of live video

Only 15 years ago, only big tv stations could afford to transmit a live video signal via e.g. satellite from a live venue (e.g. a football stadium) to a studio from where it was broadcasted via antenna or cable to a range of spectators.

Now, live video has become one of the biggest internet trends in 2008. There are websites and services that allow for users to stream live video from webcams or even mobile phones over the internet to websites or applications. Although the quality is far from being perfect and many problems like data transfer via mobile networks or lacking common standards prevent the broad use of mobile live video, the estimation of this article is that now is the perfect moment for educators to start experimenting with live video, easily transmitted via webservices.

How can live video be of use for education?
While many teaching institutions already publicate educational videos on the net (e.g. UC Berkley or the MIT) little experience exist with the use of live video. Still, possible use cases are myriad in different scientific fields. Starting from setting up whole classrooms via webcams to virtual labs where educators can transmit live video from experiments to students who are not able to take part directly or time consuming experiments which can be supervised via webcam (cf. Rohrig & Jochheim 1999). Especially in distance learning the implementation of live video can be a very effective way to communicate with students – be it classes, workgroups or consultations.

Current examples especially exist in the field of medical education where video material (e.g. about surgeries) has been an educational tool for a long time already (cf. Mary Ann Liebert 2002). Live and pre-recorded surgeries are of use for medical students. In biology, educators could teach in real time about biological facts from the actual living environment while using a mobile phone camera or preinstalled webcams (there is even a list about webcam sites for teachers). In media studies and journalism students can practice news production under live circumstances and at low costs, and finally, discussions can be set up and recorded in video.

Which tools can be used for live video education?

Seesmic.com ist the perfect platform for discussions. Ordered like a conversation, users can ask questions while others can answer. Seesmic is like a forum with videos instead of text.

SeesMic.Com
Figure 3: SeesMic.Com

MeBeam.com works for live discussions on a simple webpage. It’s like a video chat for many people. Everyone can create a room and invite people to it, so all the webcams streams to one site. MeBeam is the perfect tool for work groups.

SeesMic.Com
Figure 4: MeBeam.com

Mogulus.com is a bit more complex. Here, we will find the role of a “director” who can control which stream or which recorded video is put live on a certain channel at a given time. Meanwhile, there is an open chat for everyone to discuss in text what they are watching. So Mogulus in the educational context is suited for prepared classes, for mixing recorded video with live material and for enganging students to take part in the class via chat.

Mogulus Directors view (Fig. 5):
SeesMic.Com

Mogulus Spectator’s view (Fig. 6):

 

Finally, Qik.com (Fig. 7) and kyte.com are services based on an applications which need to be installed on a mobile phone and the let the user stream video via 3G transmission.

Qik.com
Figure 7

Here, a simple mobile phone becomes the camera which transmits video to the world. Whenever a class should take place from a certain event, these services could be of great help.

Boundaries and problems of live video use

With all developments we have seen in recent years, there are still many boundaries that inhibit the broad use of live video in general:
• The technical infrastructure of the internet is overstrained by the requirements of live video and will be ever
more with expanding use. Transmitting quality is poor, slows down computers and produces a lot of errors
• Many computers and mobile devices are not equipped with the right equipment: Cameras, processors that are able to reproduce streamed video via flash and so on.
• Different standards of mobile phones make it difficult to develop applications that run on most of the devices
• Cameras are of poor quality
• Users fear costs when transmitting video from mobile phone
Right now, live video is a media practice which is only used by technology enthusiasts and innovators. Still, it is an interesting field and will certainly be used a lot in the field of in distance learning. Especially the mix of different services like Mogulus, Qik, Mebeam and Seesmic provides educators with many possibilities to engage and reach out to people via internet video.

Further Services and resources
Inspired by the success of YouTube, sites like teachertube.com or howto.tv provide thousands of videos aimed especially on explaining and educating. Delicious collects many pages that link to educational video resources. The following websites provide services which are similar to the ones described above:

http://www.ustream.tv/
http://www.viif.com
http://live.yahoo.com/
http://www.stickam.com/
http://alpha.bambuser.com/
http://www.justin.tv/

Connecting the conversations: syndication & aggregation

Web 2.0 is all about community, collaboration and conversation. It is for this reason that another term for Web 2.0 is social media. Conversations online are not new: Forums and discussion boards have been places of discourse for years. However, within Web 2.0 discussions are not longer bound to one space, they can travel freely between different services and spaces. That way, discussions can jump from blog to blog, they become decentralized. As a side effect, they get archived and can get tracked easily. The push technology behind all this are RSS feeds (“Really Simple Syndication”), or what can be described as the glue of Web 2.0.

How does it work?
The RSS feeds most blogs and web 2.0 services produce are not just sent to a feedreader (like Google Reader) to be read by a person, but they are sent to other services. Those sites combine several feeds to create extra value. Combining several services is called a mashup. How does RSS work? Watch this brief introductory video (licensed under Creative Commons by-nc-sa, author Lee Lefever):
Video: RSS in plain English

Featured application: Friendfeed
One application that excellently uses RSS feeds to foster conversations is a relatively new service called Friendfeed. What Friendfeed does is take all kinds of RSS feeds – your blog’s feed, your Twitter feed, the feed from your social bookmarking service (like del.icio.us) and more – and combine them in one space. All items from all those feeds are displayed within your friendfeed. What’s more, every item that is imported into Friendfeed automatically can be rated, commented and discussed.

As you can see in the screenshot, a brief Twitter message by Nico_Lumma is “liked” (i.e. marked as favorite, indicated by the smiley icon) by one user, two more have replied with comments. All this happened within a few minutes. Without any extra work, all your online activities are gathered in one feed that automatically becomes subject to your peers’ scrutiny and discussion. It all happens in near-real time, but is also asynchronous. That way, it is possible to get instant feedback, but also to have a longer discussion. Of course, a very brief item of information is more likely to trigger a number of equally brief comments than an in-depth discussion. Note that Friendfeed feeds can also be generated for those people who are not actively using the service. To do this, any RSS feed can be put into Friendfeed, which creates a so-called virtual friend.

Track topical discussions through feeds

Friendfeed allows to track feeds about a certain topic and aggregate them into one space (called a room in Friendfeed). As an example, we set up a room called “education 2.0” which automatically collects the following feeds (and will be expanded step by step): weblogs@UBC, the Digital Media and Learning blog by the MacArthur Foundation and Not So Distant Future, a blog by American librarian Carolyn Foote. Also, it collects all bookmarks Howard Rheingold collects about educational technology. All these feeds are collected in the Education 2.0 room on Friendfeed which also means that all the posted items can easily be commented and tracked. It’s possible to import basically all kinds of information as long it is provided in a RSS feed.

Individual items or whole rooms can also be shared with other users, so this is a simple yet powerful tool for online collaboration. Note that the strength of Friendfeed is not in creating new information, but in filtering: By very selectively watching a small number of information sources recommended by peers and experts, information overload can be more easily managed and handled.

How to know whom to track?

Often, but not always fellow researchers and peers will be able to point you to recommended, high-quality sources that are guaranteed not to waste your time. However, sometimes a topic is too obscure to have an expert at hand. Here, other services can help to identify sources, and thus explore a certain field of expertise.

One such service is called Summize. It specializes on searching Twitter for certain keywords. (Note: Summize was recently acquired by Twitter and is now part of Twitter’s service.) By just entering a keyword, Summize collects the most recent mentions of said keyword. In the screenshot, you see the most recent posts about “education 2.0“. Note the RSS icon on the right side of the screenshot: Here you can get the RSS feed for this particular search query. This feed can be imported back into Friendfeed, so that automatically every mention of “education 2.0” on Twitter will be displayed in the Friendfeed room “education 2.0” introduced above.

Other sources to import into Friendfeed could include: Links from Digg, news from your Google Feedreader, any Blog, Flickr photos or even an Amazon wishlist. What other sources are there? Please share your ideas in the comments!

Collabowriting & Self- and Peer-Assessment

To work in teams and being evaluated by your peers are two practices with an enormous potential and relevance for individual motivation as well as for being able to contribute value to an organisation. Both practices are being used in e-learning and the following paragraphs will introduce some approaches and cases. Stanford considered collaborative writing (here refered to as collabowriting) so important they ran the Collaborate project in order “to encourage institutional change at the level of the department, college, university, and profession–change that will foster the development of collaborative writing and research.

Why consider collaborative writing assignments?

Kate Kiefer from Colorado State University’s suggests several reasons:

  • Collaborative groups draw upon the strengths of all their members. Although one student may be stronger in critical thinking skills, another may excel in organizing. By working in groups, students learn from each other while they complete assigned tasks.
  • More and more workplace activities involve project teams. Giving students opportunities to work collaboratively on academic projects can help prepare them for the advantages and pitfalls of collaborative work on the job.
  • Students working in collaborative groups can take advantage of group members for built-in peer review as they complete writing projects.
  • Not least important, collaborative writing assignments usually entail much less grading time for the instructor.

How to Collabowrite?

People have been writing texts together for a very long time, but the computers, the internet and wiki technology in particular allows for a more efficient practice Most collabowriting today is probably done by sending documents back and forward by email (and if you endulge in this practice please take two minutes to learn how to Track Changes), wikis are really much more efficient because of version-control, online availability and much more technical reasons. But wikis are also the weapon of choice because they allow for a more transparent practice when it comes to showing who contributed how much and what to the writing process. However collaborating is a very complex effort that has to be learned and trained. Hence we recommend some work on the subject:

Bruce Speck has done very interesting research in the field of collaborative writing. His book
Facilitating Students’ Collaborative Writing (2002) is an academic publication that introduces the topic and discusses the whole range of collaborative writing opportunities that can be offered, ways to form groups, and approaches to integrate technology. A final topic is grading, which is particularly difficult for collaborative writing projects.

Also
Connery & Vohs @ UC Davis have developed a comprehensive guide to online collabowriting, and they find: “when students are asked to list problems they have encountered in previous project groups, the most commonly cited difficulties can be traced to a lack of leadership and coordination: defining/assigning tasks; enforcing participation, scheduling meetings, setting and agreeing upon group goals”. They suggest to assign the roles (Initiator, Opinion&Information seeker&giver, Clarifier, Elaborator, Summarizer) to the different team members.

Virginia Montecino and Ashley Williams from the New College have developed a guide particularly targeted at supporting students in their collaborwriting projects. Especially the section on collaborative strategies as well as the section on collaborative roles are useful.

Last but not least an example from the UPC. Professor Marc Alier (who is also responsible for the development of the new Moodle Wiki) is using wiki based collabowriting for several iterations of the History of Informatics course. He allowed students to organize their team work themselves, which allows for a much more intense learning curve. The fact that his class is semi-precential and that the students have it much more easy to meet to coordinate efforts makes this approach less attractive for pure e-learning.

What Tools can be used for Collabowriting and How to get started @ UOC

The most common tool for collabowriting is a wiki. By far the most widely used wiki is MediaWiki but there are good alternatives such as SocialText or PBwiki. Kolabora has compiled a pretty useful list of collaborative writing tools, which covers many non-wiki services available outside of an educational institutions virtual campus. Most of today’s universities offer a wiki as part of their online learning environments (to request and explore the use of a wiki @ UOC please write to Pepe Mora @ jmora@uoc.edu)

As raised in the Speck’s book, evaluation of collaborative work is particularly challenging. One of the best methods to “crowdsource” the problem is to have students engage in self- & peer-evaluation, which is covered in the following section:

Self- & Peer Assessment

Even though self- and peer-assessment are around for many many years, no standard has developed for e-learning environments to integrate the practice. Nevertheless, there has been quite some interest in the subject resulting in extensive publishing () and some Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard have a self- and peer-evaluation feature (see video) integrated. However most solutions are rather rough homegrown (iPeer or peerScholar) or more slick and advanced comercial add-ons such as Turn-It-In. But let’s start off with two hands-on examples:

At the University of Florida the online MBA uses a very simple word-doc based peer-review system in a course designed to train students in “acquiring and practicing traditional business writing skills”. This is how it works: “Students actually download the report from the discussion board, mark it up with their comments, and upload it back to the board…..only faculty can see the actual names of the reviewers…the blind answer format thus enforces original critiquing…The professor grades the original writing and grades the efforts of the peer reviewers.” The report that “students indicate their enthusiasm for this kind of activity, and the ensuing class discussions related to these peer evaluation activities reflect the students’ increased engagement with each other and with the course material” (Fisher, 2003)

Here is another story of a Professor from the University of Toronto who had the custom system peerScholar developed in which the students review and evaluate their peers answers in exams: “There is no way I could mark the written work of even 100 students, let alone 1500…The original reason for seriously considering a peer-to-peer evaluation process was financial. We cannot afford to pay a large team of TAs to mark written answers for large classes…[But there are substantial benefits as well:] peerScholar gives you feedback in a matter of days, while the papers are still potentially on your mind….With the peer-to-peer evaluation, you think about good writing both when you write your answers AND when you are evaluating the answers of others. Moreover, because the answers are not your own, you will be better able to look at them critically and think about what they are doing well, and what they are not doing so well. In doing so you may actually be learning more about good versus poor writing that you do when you write your own answers. Thus, when you are evaluating others, you are also learning yourself…..[The system has some build in functionality to assess whether the peer is working fairly:] By examining how long they actually spend on marking, the variability of the marks they give,and the correlation of the marks they give with the marks that others give, we can detect “dud-like” behaviour and, when it is detected, the person will be warned and the marks they gave not included” (Joordens, 2006)

Exploring the Practice

A) Self-Evaluation

Overall Learning Experience: When students apply for the class have them define their personal learning goals (depending on the subject you might want to consider having them refine their goals after the introductory part of the course). Hence when the class is over they should review their original objectives and comment on how the class allowed them to learn what they wanted (and how they performed).

Learning-Journal: Have students continually write and reflect about their learning experiences. A private individual blog is commonly used as tool to have students record interesting insights and reflect upon their learning in general.

These practices also produces very relevant information for the improvement of the course content and teaching method.

B) Evaluation of Team Dynamics

Have teams assess their own dynamics and performance. See e.g. fig. 1 http://www.educ.dab.uts.edu.au/darrall/sparksite/Screen2.html for an example for “teacher-like” grading. Another solution would be to have the professor grade the overall performance of the team in form of reached points, while the team members themselves distribute the points (Winchester-Seeto, 2002). E.g. the team is assigned a percentage of the maximum score (= number of team members x 100) which the team then decides to divide amongst themselves. A robotics course at the University of Calgery uses the first version of the Team Dynamics Evaluation with a particular twist. All students have to hand in a 1/3 page evaluation of each of their team mates and while doing the peer-assessment only contributes 1% to the overall course grade, failing to hand in the team mate evaluation results in failing the course (Kermer 2008)

C) Peer Evaluation

A discussion in an online forum can be seen as a constant qualitative peer evaluation, and many online environments have the functionality to leave comments about content items. These tools can be used as qualitative non-explicit evaluations from peers. A more quantitative and explicit peer evaluation technique that is spread widely is the star rating system, allowing peers to grade the quality of a contribution e.g. from 1 to 5 stars. In order to deploy these tools pedagogically their use has to be explained and they have to be made mandatory. One interesting use of peer-evaluation can be observed on www.plastic.com (or slashdot.org) where (expert)users on the one hand peer-review & evaluate the submitted articles, but on the other hand all readers evaluate the quality of contributions to the discussion and thereby allow the most valid arguments to prevail.

Peer evaluation

Micro-Blogging

Named after blogging, micro blogging – or micro media – has evolved into the Next Big Thing within the internet scene. Micro blogging means posting extremely short snippets of information – just like in blogs, the most recent post is displayed at the top of the page, the older ones are displayed below.

While there are a number of micro blogging services, the two most notable are Pownce and – much bigger! – Twitter. (For our purposes, most examples and use cases will Twitter-related if not noted otherwise.)


So first up: What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro blogging service where users post information snippets with a maximum length of 140 characters. (Yes, characters, not words.) This equals the length of a SMS message (160 characters) minus 20 characters to enter text commands. Twitter can be accessed from the web, through a client software or from practically any mobile device like mobile phones, PDAs or iPhones. Imagine micro blogging as the missing link between instant messaging (for example ICQ, MSN, AIM, Yahoo Messenger etc.) and blogging (Fig. 2). Users are prompted to simply answer the question “What are you doing?”

Figure 2: (Tom Barrett)


Quick facts about Twitter
Website:http://twitter.com/
What is it: A micro blogging service
What does it do: Allow to send brief messages of 140 characters max (from any device to any other device, or to the WWW)
Users: Roughly 1 million in April 2008 (estimated, figures not officially disclosed)
Who uses it: A mixed crowd, with lively communities of internet and IT consultants, designers, and educators
Company:Obvious, San Francisco, USA
Founder: Evan Williams, founder of Blogger.com


Why would that be useful? Why would anyone want to read what I’m doing right now?

Excellent question, and also the main point most users (including the authors of this newsletter) cannot understand when they first look at Twitter. Twitter allows – once the user’s network has reached a certain critical mass – to gradually build, foster and extend relationships; to evaluate, judge, and build personal reputation; to stay connected with a large social network through ambient intimacy, i.e. getting an intimate impression of other users daily lives through “passive” communication. Says social media consultant Laura Fitton: “For a contrived, weird and techy way to communicate, Twitter’s “passive conversation” fosters very natural, gradual relationship-building.”

 

This brief video by Common Craft Show gives a great overview.

 

Strengths Problems
  • Great way to extend your social network
  • Profit from exchange with others in the field
  • Peer-filter provides relevant information
  • Very engaging
  • Communication may seem superficial and irrelevant in the beginning, and it can indeed be.
  • Due to its “live” nature, Twitter has quite a potential to distract.
  • Information overflow.


What are the challenges when introducing micro-blogging to the classroom?

There is a number of issues you should be aware of when introducing Twitter to the classroom:

  • Twitter is distracting
    One of the main problems with Twitter is that the constant stream of information and conversations can be quite distracting. It takes time to get comfortable with Twitter and to use it efficiently. Also, some teachers won’t be comfortable with the idea of a backchannel where their students can exchange notes and chatter during class.
  • Using Twitter via mobile phone costs money
    If your students use Twitter via their mobile phones, they might be charged for their text messages. Consider using a computer-based Twitter client instead.
  • The Internet doesn’t forget
    Just like blog conversations, Twitter messages get archived and syndicated. This also means that everything posted on Twitter could – potentially – stay available on the web forever. Keep that in mind when posting.
  • Twitter isn’t for everybody
    Some love it, some hate it: Twitter is one of those tools that not everybody is comfortable with. Some won’t like the way information flows by, some will have concerns about privacy implications (please keep in mind that you can protect your posts so only your friends can see them). Both are valid points. Forcing students to use Twitter wouldn’t lead to good results. Experiment together with your students to find out what works for you and them.

How can micro-blogging be useful for education?

  • Exchange ideas with other educators
    With a quickly growing community of educators on Twitter, you can easily exchange ideas with other educators. No matter if you are looking for ideas, a solution, literature recommendations or teaching materials – one of your Twitter colleagues might just have the answer or know where to look for the right solution. It’s as easy as watercooler talk.
  • Follow professionals
    “Students can follow someone else who is on Twitter, who interests them. For example if they are thinking about journalism they should follow NewMediaJim who works for NBC and Tweets about being on Airforce One, covering the Middle East etc. This is a rare inside, “real-time” view into journalism,” says University of Texas’ Professor David Perry. He presents more useful usecases for Twitter on academHack.
  • Get instant feedback
    Through Twitter, you can stay in touch with your colleagues and students – and thus get instant feedback. Looking for an informed opinion about your curriculum? Ask your colleagues in your own or another school. But you can also use Twitter as a backchannel to an ongoing presentation. Even while presenting yourself, your students might share interesting ideas or feedback through Twitter. Admittedly, watching a Twitter stream while teaching a class that might need quite some practice, and it certainly isn’t the right thing for everybody.
  • Foster exchange of ideas with researchers around the world
    Through Twitter, it’s easy to follow loosely what other research teams are focusing on. Since communication via Twitter is so light-weight and non-intrusive, it’s much easier to follow discussions and status updates from other researchers than one-on-one communication. Thus, opportunities for collaboration as well as synergy effects are more easily discovered and exploited.
  • Coordinate spontaneous events
    You are thinking about calling a spontaneous meeting, or just noticed there’s something interesting on TV? Just twitter it and your students, colleagues or co-researchers know what you’re thinking about. This is just the first step into the conversation.
  • Stay in touch with your students
    Twitter allows for a very easy, simple way to keep students updated on homework, assignments, events and notifications without knowing their mobile phone numbers. Students can control the communication, so it’s very non-intrusive. Students can also easily get feedback from their educators or each other, and they can set up spontaneous meetings or study groups on the go.


A perspective: Teaching With Twitter

Introducing Twitter to the classroom was “…the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching,” says David Parry, a professor at the University of Texas, Dallas. “The more we can reach out and use the communication tools students are used to using, the more we can show the students that education actually does matter and that what goes on inside the walls of this institution matters for the rest of what’s going on in their lives.” Watch a brief introductory video with David Perry on Chronicle.com (2:30min).

Recommended resources:

Playing to Learn – Learning to Play

There are many arguments for games in education; so called serious games are engaging, they provoke applied or contextualized knowledge (problem solving) and they are good for meta-skill learning (explore choice and consequence). And don’t be fooled by the title, educational games don’t necessarily have to be “serious”. In fact one learns best in informal and joyful atmospheres, so the title is more geared towards the finality than the experience. When I bought my 92 year old grandmother a Nintendo Wii for Christmas the finality was even double “serious”, on the one hand she will train her reaction and fitness, but as importantly, she has a shared point of interest with her great-grandchildren who love to play the Wii and hence come over and socialize and spent time with their great-grandmother.

Rather than theorizing & philosophizing, I would like to review some of the “action on the ground”. So in the following paragraphs you will find a selection of what is being done in terms of serious gaming today. But before I start my “state of the art” selection, allow me to raise that offline games like Monopoly serve to learn about, and experience capitalism since 1935, and that many classic computer games like Civilization (1991) or Railroad Tycoon (1990) also have a didactic setup. Hence I guess it is fair to disclose I am a constructivist, and thus believe that one always learns “something” when playing, the question is how central and serious the learning is for the game author.

Serious Games for Language Learning

One very powerful application for serious gaming is to immerse the player into a environment setup in a foreign language, but stacked with explanations and study aids in the learners mother tongue. In setups like the Tactical Language Training System (TLTS) the learner is situated in a game world where s/he carries out a mission and gets involved in pedagogical dramas (Johnson, Vilhjalmsson, & Marsella, 2005). In open virtual world environments like SecondLife educators are experimenting in collaborative peer-produced learning scenarios such as Central Missouri State University’s German Room (part of the english OER version of UOC’s SecondLife Summer Course; Senges, 2007a). It will be interesting to see whether specialized ‘closed’ settings that offer the advantage of a more controlled learing experience, or open virtual worlds will prevail because of their advantages for collaboration and the excitement of a “live” and more social experience.

Training through Role-Play & Simulation

However it is the trajectory of the traditional gaming sector of (technology) simulations and social role-playing that is applied most in private professional education (which is generally leading the experimentation and integration of innovative learning practices vis-à-vis public educational institutions). Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness, states that to stay globally competitive requires companies to train their employees in “deep creativity and imagination, strategic and analytical thinking, decision-making, excellence in planning and execution, and adaptation to rapid change. These key skills are the skills people exercise when they play sophisticated digital games.” (BusinessWeek, Aug, 2007). Following a 2007 survey (eLearning Guild) 38% of US insurance companies and more than 50% of financial service providers are investigating the use of games for training purposes. The definition of what constitutes a game is by nature very broad, and hence the spectrum of what is understood as “serious” professional training games reaches from having a competition on who gets the best score in a multiple choice test (at Phillips)

One example is a conglomerate of top companies (incl. McKinsey, Siemens, Credite Swiss) that uses the management simulation “CEO of the Future” in which participants have to lead a solar panel company to success, as pre-selection tool for high potential employees.
Eliane Alhadeff does a really good job in reviewing an additional number of game based training initiatives at her blog Future Making Serious Games.

However diverse the current scenario for professional game based training might be, Stanford D.school professor and partner at IDEO Diego Rodriguez says: “The future of work is here; it’s just disguised as a game”.

Playful Value-Education

More serious themes are tackeled, and even softer skills and values are trained, in a genre that describes itself as “Games for Change”. Possibly the most eminent game in that catergory was developed by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). In Food Force, which has been downloaded more than three million times, the player is sensitized and learns about the daily challenges of the missions of the WFP. Encouraged by this success the UN has recently launched a game meant to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Dafur (Sudan). The game with the dramatic title Dafur is Dying is played online and does not convince me as much.

Co-Creative Serious Games

While I highly appreciate the innovativeness of using games and simulations as learning environments, I believe learning environments where users are prosumers and become engaged not only in “following” a pedagogic experience but are entrepreneurial contributors in a community of practice (CoP) or interest (CoI) that explore and co-create knowledge by constructing the virtual environment (as is the case in SecondLife) or engage in discussion and knowledge sharing (for example in virtual stock market games). I elaborate on one of the most disruptive innovation using serious gaming I found at the University of Vienna on www.knowledgeentrepreneur.com . “Prof. Hrachovec has used the text and scenario of Nitzsche’s Zaratustra to create the basis of a virtual reality. This virtual reality is now populated by students who are free to interact with the locations, actions and persons present in the virtual reality” (Senges, 2007b).

Serious Games & Educational Institutions

A serious challenge is posed to educational institutions interested to really integrate and institutionalize games as part of their teaching & learning practice. The first most pressing formal question is how to make gaming compatible with the standard evaluation criteria? How to assess student performance? And how can one guarantee the safety of students in open environments? Won’t they stroll of and “explore” unintended aspects, experience non-pedagogical content? And an even more fundamental problem of computer aided learning: How can we design educational experiences and environments with a stringent engagement so learners truly immerse in pursuing the hyper-info-trees of learning opportunities rather than floating on the multitude of distributed conversations and other virtual distractions simultaneously available?

References

BusinessWeek (2007) Special Report: The Power of Gaming
Johnson, W.L., Vilhjalmsson, H., & Marsella, S. (2005) Serious games for language learning: How much game, how much AI? In, Artificial intelligence in education; Looi, C.-K., et al (Eds). IOS Press
Senges, M. (2007a). SecondLife. Barcelona: UOC Editorial. Also available in english at

Senges, M. (2007b). Knowledge Entrepreneurship in Universities: Practice and Strategy in the case of Internet based Innovation appropriation., UOC, Barcelona.

Further recommended sites

The Education Arcade explores games that promote learning through authentic and engaging play. TEA’s research and development projects focus both on the learning that naturally occurs in popular commercial games, and on the design of games that more vigorously address the educational needs of players.

The Ludology blog deals with the discipline that studies games, play, toys and videogames.