Social objects for sharing designs

I’ve currently writing a paper to submit to the ASCILITE conference. The paper describes how we are using the notion of Social Objects as articulated by Engeström and others as a theoretical basis for the developing of a social networking site for sharing learning and teaching ideas and designs (Cloudworks). Thanks to Martin Weller for pointing this reference out to me, Martin has also blogged a number of times about how the notion of social objects might be applied in an educational context. Below is an extract from the current draft of the paper, would welcome thoughts!

Why do some social networking services work and others fail? Can we apply the best of web 2.0 principles to an educational context? More specifically can we use this as a means of shifting teaching practice to a culture of sharing learning ideas and designs? Can we harness the potential of technologies to create more engaging learning experiences for students? These are the key questions this paper addresses. We describe how we are using the concept of ‘object-orientated social networking’ to underpin the creation of a social networking tool, Cloudworks, for sharing learning ideas and designs. 


There have been countless examples of learning object repositories, open educational resource repositories, and databases of case studies and examples of good practice. However their impact on changing practice has been limited. A key issue is sustainability, end-users rarely add resources; the sites usually require an investment in terms of someone entering resources and maintaining the repository. In contrast, user generated content is a key principle of Web 2.0 tools such as Flickr, youtube and Slideshare; users add content because they want to share their photos, videos or presentations with others. Can we apply such principles to an educational context and create a social networking site for sharing learning and teaching ideas and designs? We believe that effective application of web 2.0 principles can provide a means of addressing the lack of uptake and sharing of learning and teaching ideas and designs.  This paper focuses on the Cloudworks tool and in particular how we are applying web 2.0 principles to encourage end-user participation. We will describe the current functionality of the tool, along with planned future developments and will make reference to findings from empirical data we have gathered from end-users in terms of their design behaviour and what kind of features they would like to see in a site like this.

12 Responses to “Social objects for sharing designs”

  1. Suzanne Aurilio Says:

    Grainne, I have some unanswered questions in this arena too. This paper provided some insight.

    Moving away from the systems-thinking of repository building, we’re still left with the same problem that makes repositories less than effective with educators. We cannot really “agree” what the objects are. Isn’t there is something fundamentally intuitive about teaching that can’t be objectified and thus programmed for?

    I don’t think the objects I’ve been observing are seen as such by faculty. They include: “I’m teaching 100 students all of a sudden, how do I do that?” “My chair wants this course online in the summer, what does that entail?” “Half of my students can’t write to save their lives, I teach philosophy, not writing.”

    Where does the problem-based orientation to teaching that faculty have fit in? I think it fits in with what we know about how adults learn (change their behaviors). I wonder if we’re abstracting too much with our tools and thus leaving them in the white water. Just some thinking aloud. :)

  2. Gráinne Says:

    thanks for the link suzanne - i agree with you there is a delicate and difficult balance between trying to objectify, make explicit practice and the tacit nature of that practice. However i think we need to try whilst recognising it for what it is - a representation not the original ‘real practice’. We too have observed the very problem focussed approach adopted by teachers in terms of how they go about design. We want with cloudworks to try and emulate that - the notion of ’stormclouds’ is very much about that - ie hey guys i have got this problem anyone got any ideas of how to solve it??
    Lots and lots to ponder on and no perfect solutions i fear but i do have a feeling that good application of web 2.0 in an educational context could take us in the right direction….

  3. Suzanne Aurilio Says:

    Yes agree agree.And I think the web 2.0 approach to design may add that level of humanism that our technologies on the whole tend to exclude. I’m looking ahead too, as I’m sure you are. Future faculty will likely approach these ideas differently.

  4. Ann Jones Says:

    Hi Gráinne
    You ask
    Why do some social networking services work and others fail?
    I am just starting to draft the introduction to the paper that Jenny Preece and I (and Gill eventually) are writing drawing from the recent workshop on Stages in web community participation - which looked at features of different stages of participation, in order to consider what motivates people to engage and interact in such communities (we used Geocaching as a case study) - so a very related issue. Hope to read your drafts later


  5. Gráinne Says:

    excellent ann - yes i think there are probably alot of synergies between your paper and this one so looking forward to chatting with u in more detail about this


  6. Catherine Howell Says:

    Hi Grainne

    Engeström - great stuff. Will look forward to reading your paper.

    I’ve recently been looking at ways to bring activity theory to bear on human-technology interactions, including Bonnie Nardi’s work. My sense is that so much of this (HCI and related) discourse is cognitivist to the exclusion of social and organisational practices. Perspectives from activity theory are a seriously useful counterbalance.

  7. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Catherine will welcome your thoughts - its not AT Engestrom its Juri very confusing!


  8. ailsa Says:

    Hope I get to hear your paper at Ascilite, your concerns overlap with mine. Have just had my own draft accepted, my study is about how counselling is reconfigured with the emergent technologies being used.

  9. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Alisa

    thanks for the comment, just heard mine has been accepted too - so see you in Melbourne!

  10. Social object theory -interesting! « Research Diary Says:

    […] social object theory because it sounded so appropriate for my purposes. I found a few references: Social objects for sharing designs by Graínne Conole and a comment for her by Ann Jones. This path demands absolutely a closer […]

  11. Miia Äkkinen Says:

    Interesting! I am a PhD student from Helsinki School of Economics (Finland) and my research is related to the theme how companies can use online communities so that they are valuable both for the company and for the customer. First I have looked the question from the consumer perspective: why people join online communities? So I consider your studies very interesting, and I am looking forward to reading those Ascilite conference proceedings very closely!

  12. Gráinne Says:

    Hiya Miia your research sounds really interesting - god luck with it!

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