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SOCIAL SOFTWARE: An Educational Tool for College Students

Esperanza, Jeffrey Ian Go, Jeatte Christel Sioco, Louie Albert So, Renrick Gerald

ABSTRACT In today’s IT-enabled society, there is no doubt that social software, such as wikis, and blogs have created a major role in the field of education, as it has created a new environment for college students to leverage their learning outside the traditional classroom. Benefits of such software include knowledge sharing, and timely access to research information. Inevitably, issues have also arisen, mostly on the credibility, authorship, and interactivity of social software. With regards to these, it is recommended that schools must first analyze their situation before pushing through social software. INTRODUCTION Indeed, social software has provided a new paradigm in the field of education. From various surveys and studies, it was indicated that more than 50% of American teenagers communicate with their peers regarding schoolwork through the use of instant messengers, blogs, social networking sites, or text messaging. In addition, studies claim that social networking sites will be key assets in future job interviews as it is capable of providing information, as well as connections to its members. The Philippines are no different from these findings, as almost any Filipinos who are knowledgeable in using computers, have a Friendster account, as well as a Yahoo Messenger account. Therefore, it cannot be denied that social software has a future in the field of education. However, despite the possible benefits of social software, this research was also able to identify possible problems in different aspects, which will be discussed in the latter part of this paper. In order to further understand the topic on hand, it is best to first establish a definition of what social software is, as well as the nature of such software. In relation to this, Clay Shirky defines social software as any software that promotes group interaction [2]. Another definition given by Boyd states that social software must be capable of providing interaction, feedback and expressions for its members and at the same time greatly benefit its community; in this case, the students who are using this tool [4]. It is basically not just applications but is the combination of various social applications and tools governed by common

protocols and principles that enable people to collaborate, share, and become more productive in cyberspace [7]. Such traits are very beneficial to college students because it promotes teamwork through collaboration, as well as increased knowledge because they are able to hear out the comments of peers. SOCIAL SOFTWARE IN THE ACADEME In an educational setting, there are several technologies that experts can implement, all of which are under the platform of the Web 2.0 standard, which signifies the use of online collaboration tools, such as blogs, wikis and other related sites to stimulate dynamic user interaction and concept sharing among its users. In today’s environment, education can now be at anywhere, it’s not like the old concept where people were used to learning only within the four walls of the classroom. Now, with the advent of both the internet and the dynamic pacing of information, social software can be used to encourage student participation, in such a way that they are free to express themselves without being seen physically [9]. One particular group of social software that is gaining popularity in its academic use are the collaborative and dynamic knowledge and learning platform of the wikis and blogs, and combining this with the management capabilities of RSS and Social Bookmarking, the web can now be used as a powerful tool for both outside-classroom sessions as well as for distance learning programs. In combining these technologies for the use of students, not only higher education based students, but also for all students in all education levels, the use of blogs and wikis would allow students to have a broader scope and perspective in terms of group sharing and dynamics, by allowing them to have a “free expression” through the use of blogs for social interaction and discussion activities, and for the wikis, to allow students to be flexible in their research agendas by allowing them to edit and contribute to a particular set of terminologies based from their learning inputs. As for both social bookmarking and RSS feeds, a good advantage of these two technologies is that students can now share their own research weblinks over the internet, and allow other members of the community to look into these data, see what people have read through, and give feedbacks based from

inputs, and for the RSS feeds, this will allow students to be abreast with the latest development in their research interests, by way of the RSS feeds, they will be constantly updated on the latest updates from RSS-supported websites, which can be very useful especially for real-time updated research links and sites [10]. A good example of the application and combination of wikis, blogs, social tagging and RSS feeding is the “Elgg”, which basically provides a blog, file storage, profiling and RSS feeds. Based from the founder’s transcript, elgg allows one user to have his / her own working space over the internet, and control its publicity, meaning he / she can set privacy levels to ensure that only those who are affiliated with his team can view his research data. The software that is used by elgg is open-source in nature, meaning other programmers and developers can also contribute to the development of the program, and it is available both in a free version and a premium version for both individual and large users [13]. A sample screenshot is shown below.

create their personal digest of the web which can be shared not only from any PCs but even iPhones. Diigo has also established a reliable repository of any subject one has in mind which allows the users to easily find the articles they need in lesser time. Finally, Diigo also allow users to connect with other people who share similar interests [3]. ISSUES This will be a discussion of the issues related to the emergence of social software in the field of education. 1.1. CREDIBILITY The internet is now regarded as one of the primary data sources for research, with one study (2007), citing that at least 75% of the population (respondents tested) now use the internet as their primary source for information research. With the rise of social software, there have been a lot of issues that emerged with regards to the sharing of ideas and identities online. Since these software allow for easy publishing and viewing of data, there has been a bigger possibility of hoax and cyberbullying. Hoax is an attempt to making an audience or a group of people believe that something is real when in fact, it is not. With people now being more dependent on electronic sources of information, the question now comes to us, “How do we know which is “fact” and what is “fiction””.In a related research conducted by West (2004), information credibility in blogs, as an avenue for online group collaboration, blogs are generally less monitored by the concerned agencies, and since most of the available blog journals are open for viewing by the general public, there are instances where bloggers may anonymously post malicious data, and anyone who has access to the site, without any prior knowledge on the discussion, will instantly believe about the rumor, and will now spread around the internet, and it may take some time before the person concerned could actually detect and remedy the situation. There are times wherein there is the proliferation of “biased” data being uploaded by companies aiming to manipulate the facts in favor of these individuals. One of the famous examples of this would be where entries are routinely vandalized, in some cases, erroneous entries are randomly posted by unscruoptious individuals, some of them, by accident, and some, intentional. On one occasion, Seigenthaler (2004) published an article emphasizing the quality assurance flaws of Wikipedia in portraying his own biography, wherein an anonymous editor (according to Wikipedia’s administrator, they do not yet have the capability to track and log changes initiated by web ‘editors’) made a malicious entry on the site, stating there that he had a role in the assassination of JFK, that he used to be a Russian spy (KGB), and even though there are ‘limited’ safeguards to prevent such attacks, the internet is so broad, that given the current privacy laws governing the service providers, it may take a while before the true identity of the

An eLGG Log-in Screen

Another example of a social software used for educational purposes is Diigo. Diigo is an abbreviation for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.” It is a social software with “two services in one -- it is a research and collaborative research tool on the one hand, and a knowledge-sharing community and social content site on the other.” It is where registered members can use as a personal research tool which can help improve a student’s research productivity; it also has an application which allows registered members to highlight portions of web pages that are of particular interest to the users. It is also capable of allowing the users to attach sticky notes to specific parts of the web pages which can be helpful in research or studies. Diigo is an effective research tool in the sense that it is persistent wherein whenever the user returns to the original web page, the highlights and sticky notes are still imposed on the original page. All the information such as the highlighted paragraphs, sticky notes, and url of the websites are saved on Diigo servers. Thus, allowing the users to

‘biographer’ maybe revealed [6]. Another general problem that is common in wikis is the editorial biases that the contributors may have against an article or fact. Take the case again of Wikipedia, as mentioned by Oswald (2005), the founder himself, Jimmy Wales, changed his own biography at least 18 times, and even changed the wiki entry for one search engine to remove its “former bad image” [5]. Another possible issue, in relation to the editorial biases of wiki and blog entries would be the educational background of the editors and contributors. Wikis and blog entries are written and shared over the internet, and people may not fully understand and/or comprehend the true meaning of the definitions and terms stated there, and verify that it is an authentic reference source. To further illustrate the point, let’s say a person has a choice between the book, which is of credible source, and a wiki entry posted over the internet with no information on who authored and/or ‘of good looking words that are too good to be true’. Another example related to the editorial biases, as pointed by Wilson (2007), would be the controversial diebold election machine scandal, where an anonymous editor deleted critical sections of information about the controversy, and what’s worse is that the “editors” themselves are those coming from known institutions, from Microsoft, going all the way to the CIA. This discovery was made through a software (refer to the left image ) developed by a California Tech Student, Virgil Griffith, who was WikiScanner Web User Interface able to trace and confirm the IP 2007/fortune/0712/gallery.101_dumbest .fortune/images/096_wikiscanner.jpg address of the editor working on the diebold case, and it really came from their own corporate office [14]. Administrators of wikis and selected blog sites (for education purposes), counter these alleged “anonymous” editing of wiki / blog entries, saying that they have a “tracking system” for tracing entries, and in

addition to this, they say that users can also conduct “live chat sessions” with other editors. However, a particular law in the US constitution, Communications Decency Act of 1996, shields online content providers from libel should there be any “libelous content” that is posted on their site, and other laws, such as related privacy acts in the US, limits the ability of ordinary persons to sue the “defamer” who defamed them (IP Addresses (only way of tracing online editors) cannot be obtained without a court subpoena). Moreover cyberbullying is another case that may affect the teenagers due to the fact that it allows others to engage in cruel actions in order to attack another person. [5] An incident of cyberbullying happened on October 2006 when a thirteen year old Megan Meier was found hanging in her bedroom closet. This particular incident happened because of Lori Drew who made a fake MySpace account and used John Evans as his name while at the same time pretending to be a sixteen year old boy who was interested with Megan. The term being used today for the incident that occurred is known as cyberbullying. [6] In relation with that identity theft also happens, wherein people steal the personal information of an individual and impersonating as that individual. There have been a lot of students engaging with social software who became victims of either identity theft or identity fraud wherein an unknown individual used their personal information to perform illegal activities. [2] But it is not all bad; since sometimes with these functions available for users, credible and reliable people can easily upload their researches for the benefit of the learning of others. Moreover, since students who wish to learn can easily access the data presented and thus social software is promoting education to people, not just to students. 1.2. AUTHORSHIP With the emerging of social software, people are now capable of sharing or posting their ideas or opinions around the world. The main advantage of social software is that unlike blogs, or wikis which communicate with individuals one-way, social software are for sharing information in all directions. Social software themselves have become an online community which made millions of people easily and efficiently communicate with one another. Also with the help of social software, students can now contact people all around the world whom they share the same interests. This in effect would allow them to acquire information on different subjects faster and easier [20]. According to Torrey, one of the key techniques in social software is to network with people whom an individual can learn a lot from [21]. In short, anybody can post their ideas, opinions, or advocacy. But with this came a problem. Social software have made it even easier for student to plagiarize the works of

Track Editing History Changes ory_comparison_example.png

others. It also gives the students wrong understanding that unpublished materials does not require quotations. According to a study conducted by Jessica Shepherd, plagiarism experts have already warned universities to be aware of students who copy coursework on social sites. A survey conducted in Cambridge University in a poll of 1,000 students showed that 49% of the undergraduate admitted that they passed projects or papers of other people’s work as their own. The law students were even worse wherein 62% admitted that they broke university rules. 82% of the students are plagiarizing admitted that they take information from Wikipedia. Finally out of the 82% that were plagiarizing, only 5% of these students admitted that they had been caught [22]. 1.3. INTERACTION Social software has the basic purpose of dealing and interacting with groups [15]. It has a variety of functions that support interaction such as presence notification, referral tracking, mentor referrals, push and pull notification, user profiling, relating with others of the same interest, establishing directories, inviting others to join networks, permissioning, connecting, communicating, managing relationships across media, cooperative learning support, content storing, publishing, sharing, and filtering All of these functions contribute to the possibilities of distance learning [17]. Through the proper usage of social software, students can maximize their learning experience through the web. It was found out in a study conducted in UK that these tools help students gain transferable skills of team working, online collaboration, negotiation, communication, managing digital identities, individual and group reflection. Thus here the role of the teachers shift from being the provider of information to a facilitator or moderator, thus causes issues on the side of the training needs, workload issues, adjustment to the new way of teaching [16]. But on a personal level utilizing social software may bring about an increase in the isolation level of the student since they are encouraged more to express their thoughts online than do it personally in class. This somehow minimizes the level of intimate interaction with other people. Things can turn to be difficult if the student always relies on the social software and networks he has and never actually stand out in the real world, it may be difficult to make a child so used to the anonymous-ness of the web and simply expose him to the outside world wherein people may act differently. However, as discussed social software does still have benefits with regards to its convenience for students since it is easily accessible, also it breaks down the walls of peer pressure for shy students since they can easily express their ideas. As discussed by an introvert guy who calls himself 12 frogs, he claims that social software enables him to have several benefits such as meditated communication, maintains the strength of weak ties, and creates pockets of quiet and focus in the noise [18]. This just goes to show that

social software can indeed be a great tool for introverts to express their own being without being afraid of judgment like that of in the real world. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS As a closing argument to this research, the proponents agree that social interaction with members of the academe through the use of online-based tools can be very useful in promoting dynamic discussions and collaboration within the team members. The group firmly believes in the power of social software, most especially the ability of blogs and wikis, to share information, as well as promote group collaboration and sharing among members. However, with the vastness of the internet and its resources, these sites will always be prone and vulnerable to vandalism, false information and tampering of facts. As a general recommendation, the team suggests that each school must first analyze and study carefully each of their situations. After which, from the inputs gathered, they should implement a standardized set of guidelines governing the use of blogs and wikis, in order to minimize the complications that were stated earlier. On a much larger scale, the group also suggests amendments to the current laws regarding information secrecy and content quality, in order to be stricter in terms of information in Internet resources from people who are not credible. In doing so, it is suggested that further research should be conducted on this in order to identify what the government is doing to resolve such problems. Finally, educate the general public about the significance of wikis and blogs not only in the academe, but also in everyday living, in order to raise their awareness on the possible implications of false information, as well as prevent the circulation of these sorts of bad information in cyberspace. REFERENCES [1] Burleson Consulting (2007), “Online Wiki Web Pages Suffer Lack of Credibility”, Retrieved March 6, 2009 from [2] C. Shirky (2003), “Social software and the politics of groups”, Retrieved March 3, 2009 from [3] Diigo Inc. (2009), “About Diigo”, Retrieved March 8, 2009 from [4] D. M. Boyd (2007, “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship”, Journal of ComputerMediated Communication, 13, article 11, Retrieved from March 5, 2008 from

[5] E. Oswald (2005), “Wikipedia Credibility Under Fire Again”, Retrieved March 6, 2009 from [6] J. Seigenthaler (2005), “A False Wikipedia ‘biography’”, Retrieved March 3, 2009 from [7] L. Bryant, “Emerging trends in social software for education,” TechNews, Becta, 2007. [8] L. De Rossi (2007), “Online Social Networking And Education: Study Reports On New Generations Social And Creative Interconnected Lifestyles,” Retrieved March 6, 2009 from chnologies/social-networking/social-networking-ineducation-survey-on-new-generations-social-creativeand-interconnected-lifestyles-NSBA-20071109.htm. [9] L. Spiro and C. Solis (n.d.), “Social Software and Education,” Retrieved March 1, 2009 from e_guides/using-electronicresources/Collaborative%20Software. [10] M. A. Pérez-Quiñones (2007), “Social Software and Education,” Retrieved March 2, 2009 from education?type=powerpoint. [11] N. Willard (2006), “School and Online Social Networking”, Retrieved March 5, 2009 from [12] R. West (2004), “Blogs &Wikis: How is Credibility Established?”, Retrieved March 7, 2008 from [13] S. O’Hear (2006), “Elgg - social network software for education,” Retrieved March 7, 2009 from [14] J. Wilson (2007), “The Irony: Reuters Slams Wikipedia's Credibility, Issues Own Correction”, Retrieved March 4, 2008 from

[15] J. Furness (2004), “Social Software: Definition and Characteristics.“, Retrieved March 9, 2009 from [16] UK FE & HE to Support Student Learning and Engagement (2009), “Study on the Effective Use of Social Software “, Retrieved March 9, 2009 from [17] D. Pollard (2005), “Functions of Social Software”, Retrieved March 9, 2009 from [18] 12 Frogs (2006), “Why social software is good for introverts”, Retrieved March 9, 2009 from [19] C. Peebles (1994).” Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth”. Smithsonian Institution. [20] Hub Pages (2009), “Social Networking Tip: The Pros and Cons of Social Networking Sites”, Retrieved March 4, 2009 from [21] Torrey (2009), “Use of Social Networking”, Retrieved March 6, 2009 from etwork.htm. [22] J. Shepherd (2008), “Universities review plagiarism policies to catch Facebook cheats”, Retrieved March 1, 2009 from ok-cheating-plagiarism-cambridge-varsity-wikipedia\. GLOSSARY OF TERMS Blog. Aka weblog. Is a basic social tool used to narrate or share opinions and experiences by the writer. Usually it is maintained by an individual, but in the field of education it is growing to be a portal used for personal portfolios, group projects and explorations. Also since blogging mainly focused on the expression of one’s ideas, it is growing to be a key tool in developing literacy and confidence in expression. As perceived by Mark Ahlness, blogging is a very strong force that motivates people of all ages to write since there is the factor of an audience reading. This then suggests that the blogging is very well accepted by people since it retains the interpersonal, free, and critical relationship of communicating people [7].

Wiki. Is a Hawaiian word that means fast. It is basically a page wherein collaboration is always ongoing. It is another tool used for collaborating ideas and knowledge between a group of people. In education, it is used to share, organize and construct projects accessibly. Also it is through the wiki that students gain important insights and skills through collaborating with people and enhancing drafts. But due to this unauthorized access to the edit functions of the wiki, there have been issues with regards to its reliability and vulnerability to vandalisms. Since the wiki, most especially the Wikipedia is becoming the major reference of people; it is alarming that people can be misled by the minor errors in the information being fed [7]. Online bookmarks. It works just like the typical bookmark wherein it leads the user to a specific noted item. Online bookmarks supported by social networking does not only gather and organize bookmarks, instead it allows people to collaborate with other people through similar bookmarks. This is related to “tagging”. In education, this is very practical in projects and collaborative works since it enables the class to build up a collection of resources and references that can easily be tagged, sorted, and accessed. Also in relation with this, tagging supports the natural labeling of objects since it allows people to tag a particular item that reflects the current thinking, behavior, and interest of the author; thus making the specific item more reliable and more human [7]. Podcasts. Are generally sound files that provide insights and knowledge on a particular topic. This has become a very well known trend in the field of education since there was a rise in the usage of MP3 players and Ipods. Professors and students use podcasts to share their lectures and assignments easily. There is also a new kind of podcast called Enhanced Podcasts wherein it merges images and slides with audio [7].