Distance Learning – Social Software’s Killer Ap[p]?
Athabasca University – Canada’s Open University
Presented at Breaking Down Boundaries: A Conference on the International Experience in Open, Distance, and Flexible Education, Aldelaide, Australia, November 7-11, 2005.
This paper discusses the challenges of developing modes of distance education that afford maximum freedom for learners—including the ability to enroll continuously and to pace one’s own learning—and yet still create opportunities to work cooperatively in learning communities with other students. To resolve these often conflicting priorities, a new genre of networked-based learning tools known as educational social software is defined, described and its attributes discussed. The paper concludes with a description of the design-based research work begun at Athabasca University using an instance of the ELGG open source, social software tool set.
"This overview of [Educational Social Software] (ESS) tools is perhaps yet another instance of ‘it will be perfect when. . . ’. ESS tool development and application is in very early stages and doubtless there are many blind alleys as well as very productive avenues yet to explore. I remain convinced that using the tools and affordance of the emerging educational semantic web will result in very significant improvements ... to our current practice and theory of distance education. Social software needs a ‘killer ap’ and distance education needs new cost and learning effective tools to develop and enhance the creation and maintenance of social presence. These are indeed exciting times!