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EDUCAUSE Western Regional: On the Cutting Edge with Social Software in the Learning Process

On the Cutting Edge with Social Software in the Learning Process
Peter Beyersdorf, Assistant Professor, San Jose State University
BJ Fogg, Director, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University
Nancy Mackin, Adjunct Professor, The University of British Columbia
Sandra Rotenberg, Access Services Librarian, Solano Community College
Session moderator: John C. Ittelson, Professor, Director, California State University, Monterey Bay.
2007 EDUCAUSE Western Regional Conference
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
San Francisco, CA
Social software has created exciting new dynamic possibilities for teaching and learning. What are the uses of wikis, blogs, podcasts, Facebook, and the like, and how is academia incorporating them into teaching? This faculty panel will address social software and pedagogy while sharing their experiences from the point of choosing a software, implementing it, and assessing its value to the learning process.
Session Notes:
John Ittelson began by saying that the future is coming faster now and it is harder to predict the future. He recommended that attendees review the NMC/ELI Horizon Report which can be downloaded from
Peter Beyersdorf
Peter is a physics professor who podcasts all of his classes and is responsible for helping other faculty use podcasts to enhance their courses. He is always trying to find ways to get content to students 24X7. Students do attend the classes and the podcasts are used to enrich the class. The podcasts are engaging and the students appreciate their ability to interact with the topics. The enhanced audio files have drawbacks such as still images and the fact that pointing to points on the slide can’t be done so he supplements with small videos on experiments and lab work. Peter has been using podcasts for the past year.   A student survey indicates that they rate the podcast above the value of the textbook and just slightly below the face-to-face.   
BJ Fogg
BJ is the director of the Persuasive technology lab at Stanford and is a psychologist
He is most interested in how computers can change what we can do and how people interact emotionally with the computers. BJ has invented “YackPack” that has a widget-like intercom on the webpage via a wiki page.   The walkie-talkie channel has a push-to-talk feature. His students use the “YackPack” to communicate 24X7 rather than email. BJ believes in the power of voice in connecting people.  
Nancy Mackin
Nancy teaches in the First Nations Studies program where she has a tremendous amount of information that is oral or visual based.  She finds students are more and more interested in anything “not print” and so found that teaching with a 3D open source metaverse has been ideal is engaging her students. With her course content and interviews with tribal elders, the students create buildings in the metaverse. The students are more engaged and their work captures more content throughout the course which is shared via the metaverse development. Students had a wide range of technical capabilities but the “ancient spaces” software allows different expertise levels and supports the interdisciplinary aspects of the course. In addition, there is a strong inter-generational aspect with the tribal elders sharing with newer generations. (
Sandra Rotenberg
Sandra is a community college librarian who has been teaching online for six years in an asynchronous environment. She and her students missed face-to-face interactive and so she added synchronous spaces such as chat space and conference meeting rooms. She described her experience with CyberOne, where Second life was used as a teaching tool. The whole class was online in Second Life. (It was aimed at law school students, extension students, and anyone else – Sandra was one of the “anyone elses”)   Describing herself as a generation past ‘gaming,’ she was surprised by her experience in Second Life. It was intimate and seemed to work as a tool to replace the usual face-to-face interaction. Sandra began to do her “office hours” in Second Life and found that as many students came to office hours in Second Life as come in person – about 25%.   Her surveys show that students are excited about the Second Life component and the ongoing interactivity via it.
Sandra did indicate that there are some negatives. There are students who don’t participate because they “don’t have time,” the learning curve is steep for many, and they need a good computer and good broadband and graphics card that they may not have. The college has a 60 seat commons where they can use an appropriate computer but many of the online students do not come to the campus.
John Ittelson
John talked about the wide–range of technology and the use of it in the classroom.
He felt that, as educators, what are we trying to do is to take the class outside the room and work towards life-long learning. Much may have started as entertainment but has been found quite useful for education. 
The way students can have an experience in a different time means that we’ve made geography less important.   Is there a way that these tools can give students an experience that they can’t get otherwise?
Nancy Mackin responded that the intergenerational aspect is supported in her situation is a way better than the traditional classroom.
Peter Beyersdorf responded that they can recreate experiences they have in the real world
Accessibility, in the use of YackPack and other technologies, how do you integrate a deaf student? Also, 40% of the adult population in the US is illiterate/semi-illiterate so one has to make anything/everything simple.
Sorenson Media (translation tool) is helpful
A student with disabilities loved Second Life because he could do everything anyone else could do.
Peter mentioned that all of his videos had to have text and that it became very useful for others as well.
It was agreed that addressing access issues helps everyone.
Re: podcasting and augmented classes – why do the students still come to class?
Classes are more engaging with these tools. How do you motivate students to come to class and, if they aren’t coming to class, how do you motivate them to use other resources? 
Re: Second Life allows Sandra to have office hours 35 hours a week when she’s at her desk and there is a real sense of community among the students who meet with her there.
What kind of overhead do you have doing the podcasts?
Peter wrote scripts to ‘alarm’ 5 min before class so the software automatically launches. It does take time. The first semester he recorded but didn’t tell them he was doing so. If they missed a class he’d send them a link. That was the start – then he built up
 Most faculty think technology gets in the way. How do you communicate the power of social software technologies to faculty directly? How to help them experiment and use them?
Faculty should remember that teaching is about curiosity (life long learning), collaboration (let the students help build the systems), and critical thinking. Students put their work on the web and others critique it. 
The overhead can be heavy as was the case in building the metaverse space. Both faculty and students need to acclimate to the technology. Faculty might meet the students in Second Life and walk into walls together with them in the beginning.  Faculty should start small and build from there. It is important to expose both faculty and students to the new technologies and prepare them for the new and constantly changing world. 
How do you way process what you are doing with the social networking technologies? Which part is the important part of the learning?
Critical thinking skills are the most important – over content.
Re-assess what you want students to get out of the class – and teach them how to learn. Show them the process for how to do it.
Content is really important – but at the same time the process is important and faculty should look to their IT partners for significant support.
Teaching life long learning and critical learning and IT fluency.
Regarding social spaces:  learning is a very social thing. Where is the social aspect of technology going? web2? Free tools?
There is a lot more coming in the next 6 months.
There is excitement about seeing the newest technologies and cooperatively/collaboratively finding the best solutions for learning.
International collaboration and looking at bigger issues across the world and across time is more and more important.
Students will be able to choose materials to match their learning styles and needs and that will make them more successful which is our collective goal.
Unanticipated things will make a difference. We don’t know what will happen in the space so we are obligated to be working with our students in these spaces.
The session was recorded for podcast as well.