The Use of ‘Web 2.0’ and Social Software in Support of Professional Learning Communities

The Use of ‘Web 2.0’ and Social Software in Support of Professional Learning Communities

Alan Eardley (Staffordshire University, UK) and Lorna Uden (Staffordshire University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-783-8.ch316

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Introduction

Social software is normally defined as a range of web-based software programs that allow users to interact and share data with other users (i.e. computer-mediated communication of CMC). Social software supports a ‘lifestyle’ in which users employ CMC to maintain virtual contact and maintain social relationships. ‘Social’ sites (e.g. Facebook and MySpace) ‘personal media’ sites (e.g. Flickr and YouTube) and a variety of on-line forums and discussion groups are enjoying a rapid growth in use, firstly for social networking and then as professional and learning support tools. Social (or conversational) technologies are now used in many organisations to enable the process of knowledge creation and storage (i.e. the ‘knowledge cycle’) that is enacted through collaborative writing. Constructivist learning theorists (e.g. Leidner & Jarvenpaa, 1995) explain that the process of expressing knowledge in an explicit form aids its creation and that conversation based on knowledge (i.e. discussion critical review) aid the refinement of knowledge. Social software fulfills this purpose because conversations on predetermined topics (e.g. a discussion forum) become a valuable source of knowledge in a community and contributions to the knowledge base by members of the community become a useful form of reference (Hasan & Pfaff, 2006a). Social software that supports conversation and encourages democratic contribution in this way (e.g. ‘wikis’, blogs and forums) provides support to the individual ‘knowledge worker’ and to the ‘online community’ which results from its use. (Hasan & Pfaff, 2006b).

The word ‘professional’ originally had connotations of payment for work produced (this still applies in some field such as sport), but over time has gained a definition based on a body of knowledge and a system of regulation. A ‘professional’ is often required to possess a large body of knowledge in common with others in the same profession. This knowledge will be derived from training based on both experience and academic study (usually at the tertiary level), with a formal level of attainment almost always specified. Professionals are to a degree subject to self-regulation in that their professional body usually controls the evaluation processes that admit new professionals, administers the training and assessment processes and judges whether the work done by its members is up to ‘professional standard’. Thus, professionals are subject to internal control, whereas in other kinds of work regulation (if it exists at all) is imposed externally. Professionals usually have autonomy in the workplace - they are expected to use their independent judgment and exercise ethical standards in carrying out their work. This implies a tension between the self-regulated group, the common body of knowledge and the democratic rights and independence of the individual. This tension is the basis of the Professional Learning Community.

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