Here are my comments in response to George’s interesting post on Online Social Networks – Formal Learning Environments. I would like to refer to Assumption Theory in my postulation of assumptions.
There are certain assumptions relating to whether “students tend to mix social and educational participation.”
Assumption 1: the setting up of criteria of assessment would impact on how and why students would post and comment on those site. For instance, students may be expected to discuss only course related posts, and be focused, and so their comments would be assessed too in terms of relevance, evidence collected to support their arguments.
Assumption 2: Students are expected to follow the norms set up by the fellow students, and such norms including the setting up or negotiation of rules, such as how long should such a comment be made – one paragraph? Or whether one could be allowed to share ideas tangentially (which normally is not viewed as a good idea), despite that some brainstorming of ideas could lead to improved creativity and connectedness.
Assumption 3: How the teacher and fellow students would role model such behaviors would set the precedence for others? This is especially important to encourage everyone to participate, especially in a traditional online course, where the students would like to wait and see who would be leading the conversation (especially if the instructors would likely be posing any challenging questions, or be part of the conversation).
Assumption 4: Whether the students are more interested in getting good grades as a result of participation and interaction, and thus collaboration, or they would really gain a lot of learning through those interaction, and collaboration, as perceived by the students. Here educational activities and social interaction might be blended together, as questions and responses may relate to the assessment activities, and or the academic advice, and emotional support that are given and shared by instructors, peers and other support staff.
Assumption 5: To what extent would the participants (the students) fully reflect on their feelings and perceptions in a research study? Most students do like to share the great learning from their course, but may be hesitant to reflect on the social sides of their learning, mainly because they are looking for achieving the learning outcomes from the course. For instance, in the case of the traditional courses, is the assumption that:”Nearly all students are looking for a qualification, not the “social learning” that informal learners or lifelong learners are looking for, as in the case of learning via FB or Twitter”.
In summary, I think your study reflects what may be typical with University students doing an online course with specific learning goals, in order to complete a formal qualification. How far would that be reflective of the situation of online learning for other sorts of learners – like those learning not for the degrees (like the MOOC) or the informal learners on the networks?
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