CADE National Conference, Winnipeg, Canada

Applications and Theory of Educational Social Software


In this panel discussion we overview the emerging pedagogy and applications of social software for use in distance and blended education contexts. The panel begins (Terry Anderson) with an overview of social software highlighting its capacity to enhance social presence and motivation among learners. Terry will also present data from a pilot comparison study of the use of blogs as compared to threaded discussion to facilitate socially enhance learning. George Siemens (U of M) will then overview the compelling pedagogy known as connectivism, that drives the application of these tools in both formal and non-formal education contexts. He will also discuss the use of social software tools for on-campus learners at the University of Manitoba Finally, Dave Courmier (UPEI) will present the use of webcasts as a tool to build emergent training communities.

Each of the presenters has a distinguished history in innovation and leadership in College, university and training sectors and will share both theoretical and practical experiences The presentations will be followed by opportunity for the audience to participate by relating their experiences, concerns and problems using social software to enhance their educational programming.

Presentation 16:15 May 15th.

JISC – Next Generation Environments Conference – Birmingham UK.

The Next Generation Environments Conference will explore the role of new technologies and next generation environments in higher education. The conference is aimed at senior policy-makers and influencers in the area of learning, teaching and research within higher education institutions.

The Development, Deployment and Take-up of New Technology: Challenges and Inspirations – Dave Cormier, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada

A reflection on the experiences of the implementation of technologies at the University of Prince Edward Island, including the development of Virtual Research Environments, Virtual Learning Environments, the facilitation of Academic Networks and adventures in an Immersive Environment.

Actually… I’ll be in the UK from the 25th to the 6th of May.

Disposable Learning Objects

I’ve been spending much of the last eight months working on two, interconnected projects. The one, the Virtual Research Enviornment, is an attempt to create an open source cocktail of software, grounded by an institutional repository, that can integrate the research interests or a given researcher with their educational and collaborative needs. The other (still pending final funding approval) is an attempt to use that very research environment to support a K-12 project where kids will be doing historical, archival work and taking the fruits of that work to a virtual world.

Big bites. both.

As you might imagine one of the big issues that we’re confronting is training. And not, as too many training systems do, stop at simply ‘demonstrating the tools’ but actually showing how to use them effectively in a context. This problem is further complexified by the fact that we are following an iterative development model. We aren’t going to know 6 months ahead of time, what’s going to be needed. A well designed, well thought out piece, might get designed and then not needed. Which either means that your goals change to fit your objects or you just have to start over.

The solution? The disposable learning object.

Create a training system so simple, so semantically automated, that in the time it takes to explain a concept you have created the learning object for it. The system to cataloguing those learning objects, then, also has to be simple enough that storing it takes little to no time at all.

So, if you have just learned how to do something, lets say create a account, you then do it one more time (to reinforce the memory) and screencast the process… talking your way through it. You then upload it (hopefully point and click) to your educational site giving some basic information. (URLs description some free tagging) and then the server gets to work. It should strip the available metadata from the file, convert it to a usable format and semantically tie it in with like objects. (we’re also contemplating a workflow that then has an ‘expert’ (whatever that might mean) who will leaf through those for potential adoption into a more permanent life in the more traditional archive.

All that babbling and only five minutes of work. It becomes part of the student’s job to contribute to the curriculum. The pedagogical advantages to this are obvious. Besides the advantage of just doing a training piece more than once, you end up with curriculum created by students for students.

This works the same for podcasts… detailed wikilike copy and paste directions… any number of things. The key is to have an infrastructure that allows you to do it fantastically quickly and be willing to throw it away when the technology changes…

build your own youtube, build it into an OS content management system, blah blah blah… all possible. Just a question of being able to build quickly and not be too attached to the stuff you make.

Now, there still needs to be solid overall curriclum. It also means that you can create very nice, fleshed out pieces using those disposable learning objects as models.

Degree is Social Networking – debate in Will’s comments

Well… this is an interesting conversation.

It seems that there is some debate over whether there should be a ‘university degree’ in social computing. Quite a good debate over there with many of the standard position being taken on both sides. In short, I kinda agree with parts of what most people are saying… but think that the institution/no-institution dualith seems a little tired. It really has nothing to do with whether or not these things are taught in institutions but whether they realize that we now REALLY have to be teaching and learning a moving target. Our hierarchical power structures need to be constantly moving (teacher/student for instance). We need to move more towards distributed knowledge bases and a new critical analysis that takes the new framework of knowledge as its starting point… Here’s a little breakdown of how I saw it.
Will Richardson says

I mean how in the world would this particular degree “certify” anyone as a social computing specialist any better than, um, spending a year or so just actually becoming a part of social learning network, learning from the various teachers and conversations within it, and building a rich, online portfolio that illustrates your ability to be an online community manager, social network analyst, community organizer or any of the other job descriptions they list as possible outcomes? For, um, zero dollars?

Harold Jarche says

How in the world would any degree “certify” anyone as any kind of specialist? It’s called “book learnin’” amongst more practically minded people.

Our society & economy place a higher value on degrees than on experience (for now). The university is taking advantage of a market opportunity as well as its market position in providing certified education. Would you expect anything else?

And Liz Lawley says in reply (if not directly… but she does sorta represent the other side

…There’s also a big difference between being able to do something, and being able to analyze and assess it critically. The reason people listen to and cite danah boyd and Lee Rainie (of Pew) is because they bring an analytical research approach to subjects that most of us have only an anecdotal understanding of. That’s what a graduate degree seeks to accomplish–to provide people with a broad-based understanding of a topic, to push them to see different points of view on a subject, to assess analytically and critically….

And so we have the three sides of the debate. The one (Will) who seems to claim that social networking is different than other, more traditional academic disciplines, and is one that needs to be learned by experience. Harold’s position, which seems to be all things are better learned by experience. And Liz’s position, which seems to be that all things benefit from the academic, analytical remove that can usually only be found in a graduate degree. (I have probably butchered those for simplicity… but this is my blog damnit 🙂 ) Let’s take these one at a time

Social Networking is different

My feelings of agreement here have to do with the way that Will talks about knowledge production and dissemination. In a traditional university environment, the professors are seen as the final arbiters of whether something qualifies as acceptable ‘knowledge’. His framework for knowledge is a community created one. A distributed vision. I like that.

Where I part ways with Will is on the idea of the privilege of the first wave. Will is a top tier blogger in this community, and people pay him to speak and participate in their social networks. Most social networks would be ecstatic to have him join their communities for free. He has almost total access. This is not the experience of those of second wavers who are moving into the community for the first time. I’m often reminded of how many times Linux admins have told me to ‘just read the manual’ when i have a simple question about how to do something. For year i didn’t understand the manual! An MSI is a great short cut for that.

What do we need the whole university institution for anyway?

My provincial neighbour to the south has often expounded on how he thinks that in ‘experience’ lies the way to wisdom. In a sense, I agree with him. I have been in many situations over the years where the educated have fallen flat on their face concerning anything practical. I have also seen many degree courses that amount to little more than navel gazing.
Where I part ways with Harold is on the idea that their is no intrinsic value to the navel gazing. And, what’s more, I think that people who have had graduate school education forget all the skills that they learned during that process… and perhaps don’t realize what they picked up during their university experience that was of real value. Yes… much of it needs experience to temper it… but the university experience often contributes the raw materials.

Critical Analysis and assessments in academia

I’ve never spoken to Liz… but according to her website she is “an assistant professor of Information Technology at RIT in Rochester, NY. She has master’s and doctoral degrees in Library & Information Science.” Where I find myself wholly onside with Liz is in her belief that all things do well by mixing the experience factor with ‘broad based understanding’ that comes with the time and space that can be used at an academic institution. There is a solid spectrum of our society that does not seem interested in developing the analytical skills that would allow them to hypermediate their social and political lives. I do not, however, include Will in that category of anti-intellectuals.

While I shuddered slightly at the phrase “an analytical research approach” which seems to imply that analytical research is the only thing that happens at a university (please… no. no more analytical research of society. It really hasn’t served us all that well. new research method please!) this is not the core of my objection. My problem here is in the hidden premise in this phrase; “what a graduate degree seeks to provide”. This implies an objectivity of framework and viewpoint that is sorely lacking and, indeed impossible, in the mainstream educational system. Knowledge is broken down into ‘courses and degrees’ that are often decided upon at the administrative level without any real ‘analytical research’. What is this “graduate degree” that is providing something. There is something in the expression that seems to imply an authority to academia that I don’t think it deserves.
I also notice, at the risk of being picky, that in her third paragraph she uses the phrase “only an anecdotal understanding” to separate ‘real understanding’ reached at the university from experiential knowledge but then goes on to support her own argument in her last paragraph she uses a different expression my experience has been to make a general claim about the viability of distance education as a replacement for RL interaction.


This need not be a simple in/out debate about universities. This is about what we consider valuable in our culture. Will’s point regarding how distributed knowledge is different is well taken, Harold’s about experience more than valid and Liz’s about the need for critical remove right on the mark. But they don’t really disagree. I think that there are mores and strong emotional and historical attachments at play… we need all of these things in the new world that is building. We can either be part of that new construction by identifying what we want to keep from the old and incorporate it in the new… or… not. If we allow ourselves to get lost in the dualith, in the two solitudes as it were, we’re missing a fantastic opportunity.

Embedding Flash into Moodle (or whatever)

At the risk of giving my readers whiplash from the topic changes… I saw on twitter (who says twitter doesn’t work) that bud is looking for a flash embed into moodle solution. This is something I swore I would post just to try and save the pain and misery to the next person who came along trying to do this. A friend of mine asked for a solution for embedding video into his first year class. He wanted to see what would happen if he replaced his lectures with video and stuck to oral exams and tutorials. The response has been VERY positive. As always… the same warning… there’s probably (almost definetely) a better and easier way to do this. This is the way i sorted out.

(I would also like to formally apologize for using youtube as a common noun.)

Why exactly would i want to do this in the first place?

A professor at my university has started using flash video in his classroom moodle to replace his first year lectures… His students have the option of coming to pretty much as many small tutorials as they like, but for the lectures they get his video, which they can watch as many times as they like and which he can track. Surprisingly, many of the students are watching the video 4 and 5 times… it gives them a chance to review the content and match it against other things they have (textbooks… documents… wikipedia…) This is a very nice solution for the delivery of content, particularly when matched with online discussion forum and chat and live face to face tutorials. Thus far… a very nice solution. Looking forward to the teacher assessments. (his have been fantastically high before this little adventure)
There are alot of advantages to choosing flash as the solution for your video needs.

  • It is almost universally accessible across all browsers on all systems (assuming people have the plugin in their browser).
  • It is lightish in terms of space and loads very nicely.
  • You can have very direct control over the look, feel and size of your video display and can quite easily adjust the way it gets taken in.
  • An flv (flash video) file can very easily be sent all over the place.
  • It’s what all the cool people do (see youtube and googlevideo)
  • There are ways to do serverside conversion INTO flash so that your users can post whatever they like to your server and you can convert it to your preferred format (flash)
  • meh. i like flash.

What you need for just embedding my flash into moodle

  • Jeroen Wijering Flash FLV Player – a simply fantastic piece of coding.
  • A moodle (and as you can see on Jeroen’s page, it will work for all kinds of stuff drupal wordpress and you only need one installation of this software to work EVERYWHERE) For installation instructions see the fine work done at
  • A way to make an flv file.

One way to do it

  1. The first thing to do is download the FLV player.
  2. upload it to your server somewhere that is web readable… (that is, that can be accessed by
  3. Copy the code from the flvplayer.html file and paste it into a topic or something in your moodle installation and change the following variables so that they point to your directory_of_flv_player. You’ll see that there are a few ‘files’ in there… the ufo.js, and the others listed below.

  5. Edit your ‘playlist.xml’ so that the link points to your flv files. This is the only thing that you need to change in order to update the content in your media player that you’ve created with camtasia, camstudio or something…

NEXT STEP Go all the way to building a youtubeUsing this drupal/youtube

And/or this phpvideo

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