Social networking – technologies with the most promise for educational application

Social networking technologies are not the panacea for all education methods and do not replace traditional face-to-face teaching/learning, but they do provide an additional format to work together and engage learners who might otherwise not be interested (Johnson & Dyer 2006).

These technologies work on a number of levels, for example Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn promote the notion of connecting people and sharing information whereas YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare are more geared towards offering different ways to express ideas and share information. Then we have blogs and wikis that can mash much of this media together so that it represents a digital storyboard of expression (Chin 2006). Such storyboards allow for multiple authorship viewable privately or publically with the additional ability to comment on entries.

My own experience of using social networking tools in education extends to belonging to a Twitter network of people with an interest in elearning and educational technologies so that we can share and recommend interesting information, in other words act as a filtering service and share with our network what we think is worth reading. With LinkedIn, the medium is less powerful and it consists of a directory of career profiles and who-knows-who. Each profile is self-made requiring no validation – but the fact it is pubic will deter most honest folk from telling porkies. LinkedIn requires no premise to activity engage in any type of dialogue, many entries are dated, as the network is just another space to promote yourself and stay connected.

I have worked on a number of student projects using the Campus Pack collaboration tools, which integrate into Blackboard’s courses well and sync into the cohort’s roster including instructors. These blogs and wikis are extremely simple for people without technical know-how to create, they also empower faculty to tailor learning activities according to intended outcomes. Settings (individual/group, private/open, comments, deletion, history, etc.) can be easily applied and modified. The assessment report (see image below) details the level of engagement from each learner and the overall contribution made in the wiki – as illustrated below. This bespoke set of tools sets it apart from free blogging tools and wikis such as wordpress, blogger, google wikis etc. as they do not have this kind of educational reporting ability.

Campus Pack wiki assessment report from a group activity

Campus Pack wiki assessment report from a group activity

This wiki assessment report shows the activity of 4-second year degree students studying a specific unit on a (face2face) Fashion Promotion course. The unit (worth 30 credits) has an expectation of 300 learning hours, its aims:

  1. To understand the importance of the moving image as a promotional tool.
  2. To develop an understanding of how fashion designer brands are promoted.
  3. To build on existing promotional techniques and research skills by promoting a fashion designer through visual imagery.
  4. To respond intellectually and target a campaign to a specific market.
  5. To be proactive in working in a creative team and taking an increased responsibility in your own learning.
  6. To effectively and clearly communicate ideas within a team and to others.

The wiki allowed learners plan and document their research and organise their planning for the final output. This central space allowed everyone to pitch in with ideas and the format allowed people’s individual strengths to shine through. The task of assessment with such a group project (there were 22 wikis/groups in total) makes the process far more flexible and manageable. Having the online environment as institutionally owned also makes the logistical issues such as IP and privacy a far safer experience for everyone (Cook & Light 2006).

So for me, I think the wiki has the most mileage and promise for education and that makes me think of McLuhan’s mantra The Medium is the Message (or Mass Age) which then opens up another new debate about how the symbiotic relationship between the medium and message, and its influences into how this wiki storyboard is perceived – the product of co-creation is almost more enchanting than the final output (the film in this case).

There are, of course a thousand other reasons to support online co-created activities using wikis (inclusiveness, adaptability, flexibility, ownership, empowerment, accessible) and this is just a few!


Johnson, J. and Dyer, J. (2006) ‘User-defined content in a constructivist learning environment’ [online], elearning papers,

Marshall McLuhan

Cook, J. and Light, A. (2006) ‘New patterns of power and participation? Designing ICT for informal and community learning’, E-learning, vol.3, no.1, pp.51–61; also available online at

Chin, P. (2006) The Value of User-Generated Content, Intranet Journal, (part 1) 


Wiki Wonker Tool Factory

Perhaps Wikipedia depicts best how wikis work as a collaborative platform to collect and share knowledge. Indeed they provide opportunities for groups of people to build many kinds of information sets. From my own experience, here’s how wikis can be used within a university’s VLE (virtual learning environment):

Collective research tool to source and share information
Wikis can be assigned to select students so they work in groups to research a subject and share their findings. Comments can also be added to wiki pages to provoke further activity or highlight certain aspects or provide collective feedback from the tutor.
Watch Wikipedia in action with Motorhead’s Umlaut

Wikis develop leadership, communication and negotiating skills
Students not only learn how to collectively work together on a research project, they also have the opportunity to fine-tune their leadership, communication and negotiating skills, all vital with regard to employability.
Watch how a wiki develops organisation skills

E-portfolio of students’ work
Within the creative disciplines, ownership of student work together with the flexibility of web 2.0 technologies, a wiki provide the perfect tool whereby students can place links to their digital portfolios and learn from each other. This practice allows learners a greater freedom to use the technologies they prefer, and the wiki provides a collective gallery of linked portfolios. This wiki then goes on to make a great archive for the university to showcase student work and cascade this model of learning to other academics.

Tutorial sign-up tool
Wikis are great tools to use for a quick tutorial sign-up list. Simply create a one-page wiki with a table of time-slots and ask students to put their name against their preferred time. This gives students greater flexibility in planning their time (around other responsibilities such as part-time work) as well as signing up remotely and saving a trip into college – just to sign-up.

wiki used for recording team meetingsWiki Meeting Record: agendas, detail, actions and notes

We use a wiki to record the activity of the Learning and Teaching team meetings. Each meeting is given a new wiki page and the agenda is put up in advance where the team add items. During the meeting notes are put directly on the wiki alongside and key points and actions. The first agenda item on each page always links back to the previous meeting notes. Using a wiki instead of the traditional agenda and minutes (in document form) means everything is held in one place remotely.

Collaborative Learning

Wikis combine a number of learning theories such as vicarious learning (also known as observational or social learning) which is learning that occurs through observing, retaining and replicating how others do things. It is closely associated psychologist Albert Bandura’s work, who carried out a number of seminal studies in Vicarious learning and initiated social learning theory. Kolb’s experiential learning theory is another that is highly regarded in collaborative learning. This four-stage learning cycle (or ‘training cycle’) represents a learning cycle or spiral where the learner ‘touches all the bases’, ie. a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting.

Kolb's Learning Styles

Kolb's Learning Styles Diagram

Finally perhaps the most influential learning theory associated with wikis and collaborative learning is Wenger’s communities of practice. Although the notion of working together is not new, the practice of working together in collaborative communities is and in particular Wenger speaks of the power it can brings with regards to developing strategic capabilities in organizations. For example communities of practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need. Wikis provide the ideal platform to deliver this premise. These communities are not limited by formal structures but moreover; they create connections among people across organizational and geographic boundaries.

The professional network LinkedIn has a similar function whereby the collective contributions of individuals grow to make up a network of professionals that each has some kind of connection. The difference here is that the individuals only manage their own profiles and it is the profiles and groups that create these communities or practice.


Personality Theories by Albert Bandura

David Kolb’s learning styles model and experiential learning theory (ELT)

Communities of practice by Etienne Wenger