Caroline Casey   MA Education

U9451121

Understanding e-learning

Word count: 509

Mini Project 12 - Social Software 

This mini project is an analysis of the course blog ‘exploreandlearn.wordpress.com’, and is focused on the structure and use of the blog and its ability as a  tool to build community .    

When we talk of the ability of the course blog to build community, what is meant is a knowledge building community.  The blog provides a virtual community, and in terms of the course this is a community of practice.  In applying socially situated learning principles from Vygotskian thought (1978, 1981a, 1981b, 1997, cited by Hung 2001), ‘Learning is an identity formation or act of membership encultured within stipulated zones of proximal development’.  In consideration of this principle, the course blog should allow for the structural dependency between individuals, in particular between novices and more capable peers, to enable capitalisation on the ZPD (Hung, 2001).

Lave and Wenger (1991, cited by Hung, 2001) discussed membership of communities of practice with peripheral  and central participants, with varying levels of expertise along a continuum of participation, made up of Novices (being peripheral participants), Regulars (regular contributors), Mentors (assist other participants and try to resolve problems), and Experts (pass on the culture of practice to further generations of participants).

In analysis of  the course blog, the course cohorts are the participants, with evidence of historic participants from previous cohorts.  Most participants have addressed the initial blog tasks that were assigned in the course but there is little evidence of any other activity.  It may be that current participants are novices, acting as peripheral participants, and do not consider themselves to have the requisite degree of knowledge or expertise to move along the participation continuum to being regular contributors but still value the blog.  Examining the previous cohorts’ participation on the course blog indicates a slightly greater level of participation in that many participants shared their work through the blog, however, there was either limited or  no apparent discourse between the participants throughout the lifetime of the blog.  This apparently rather limited participation in the course blog could be due to a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond the scope of this mini project, but where there is evidence of activity it occurs where the participants perceive the activity as a requirement of the course.  

Additionally, in discussing Vygotskian thought and synthesis of situated cognition, Hung (1999) asserted that the use of tools (eg. blogs) ‘are meaningful only in the context of situation and use’, and that an ‘understanding of the cultural structuring of an activity’ is crucial to an understanding of the evolution of meaning in different contexts.  Therefore, participation in the course blog should be fundamentally meaningful to participants, if not then then this may account for lack of engagement, however, this would require specific research.

Blog tools can and do enable the building of communities but it is down to the inclination of the participants whether  or not to participate that affects whether a community is actually built at all.

References

David Hung (2001), Design Principles for Web-based Learning: Implications from Vygotskian Thought