Work in progress

A key feature of social media is its open architecture, because it allows all members of a community to easily modify, extend or delete content. Nothing is permanent, content is iterative and everything is a work in progress. Wikipedia is a classic example of this kind of open space editorial freedom. Although potentially divisive, such activities can produce content that represents more lucid thinking, judicious correction of errors and clearer elaboration of content. It's a fine balance. More importantly, such activities have been shown to be very beneficial for all those who participate  to learn together (Wheeler et al, 2008).

But it's not easy. The division of labour required to engage an entire community of learners in these activities is often uneven and can be explained within the activity theory framework proposed by Engeström (1993). Division of labour in this context refers to the horizontal, heterarchical relationship between member of the community as a result of their mutual actions and exchanges. Wikis for example, can subvert traditional values such as personal ownership and intellectual property (Richardson, 2006) but community ownership of the content becomes an equalising factor. If there is a vertical, hierarchical division of labour, where some members of the community exert greater power over others or attempt to assume a higher status, conflict may result (Thorne, 2000).

It's therefore important for those who organise such spaces - especially shared learning environments - that content remains within the reach and control of the community that has created it. In an organisational sense, this means that students should have full reign over wikis and other shared, collaborative online spaces, while educators would be advised to step back and maintain roles as observers. Maintaining equity between all contributors is a priority. Finally, it's highly appropriate that content within social media remains work in progress, because it reflects the fact that learning is never ending.

Engeström, Y. (1993) Developmental studies of work as a test-bench of activity theory: The case of primary care medical practice. In Lave, J. and Chaiklin S. (Eds.) Understanding Practice: Perspectives on activity and context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Richardson, W. (2006) Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Thorne, S. (2000) Second language acquisition and the truth(s) about relativity. In Lantole, J. (ed.) Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wheeler, S., Yoemans, P. and Wheeler, D. (2008) The good, the bad and the wiki: Evaluating student generated content as a collaborative learning tool. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39 (6), 987-995.

Image by Jakob Montrasio on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Work in progress by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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