Social Software and Educational Technology: Informal, Formal and Technical Values

Article excerpt


The Web 2.0 was a milestone in the development of rich and innovative web systems in terms of interactivity, enabling the emergence of the so-called social software (e.g., social networks, wikis, and social bookmarking). Social software is frequently cited as determinant of transformations that are changing the way people relate to digital technology (Pereira et al., 2010). Twitter[R], Facebook[R] and Youtube[R] are examples of how information and communication technology (ICT) has pervaded every aspect of people's personal and social life. This kind of system is used not only at home, but also in workplaces, public organizations, and schools for several purposes, via different devices and with far-reaching consequences.

Sellen et al. (2009) assert that we now live with technology, not just use it. What this means is that a broad set of factors that range from emotion, affect, sociability and human values, to issues of scalability, security and performance, have changed the interaction between people and computers. In fact, interactions have assumed new dimensions and cannot be addressed only as being task-oriented. The concepts we mentioned above, such as human values, motivation, pragmatics, emotion, and affect, that were traditionally left on the margin of approaches to computer systems development, need to be moved to the centre in order to develop systems aligned with the new demands of a society mediated by ICT (Harrison et al., 2007).

Authors such as Chatti et al. (2007), Dalsgaard (2006), Dron (2007), and Klamma et al. (2007), discuss the adoption and use of social software to promote social interaction for both informal learning and distance learning--traditionally centered on Learning Management Systems (LMS). Although these authors have different approaches, and focus on different aspects of the integration between informal and formal learning, they are congruent in suggesting social software as a technical solution for this issue. However, as social software remains a quite unexplored topic by the research community, the understanding of such a complex integration still demands further investigation.

The concept of social software, and the changes and challenges it brings, are being discussed in the literature and through informal discussions in forums and blogs since mid 2004. In Pereira et al. (2010), we presented a review and compilation of discussions indicating the need for a paradigm shift in the way we understand and design social software. As social software, and web applications in general, are available worldwide, we argue that the various elements should be understood as values bounded to cultural aspects of people, groups, organizations, and their environments, which are manifested in the informal, formal, and technical levels of information. As a challenge, we pointed out the need for studies, investigations, and theories to support understanding and placing values at the core of the analysis and design of social software.

According to Rokeach (1973), the value concept seems to be able to unify the apparently diverse interests of the sciences concerned with human behavior. Boyd (2007) asserts that social software is all about the new in web applications, but the new is more related to people's behavior than to the technology itself. Social software introduces many complex issues that pervade every aspect of people's lives, representing opportunities and challenges, benefits and drawbacks, democracy and exclusion. Therefore, taking into account values in social software design is among the most complex scenarios we are facing nowadays. If we consider the design of the systems previously cited, there is little concern for human values such as privacy, reputation, autonomy, among other cultural aspects (e.g., beliefs, behavioral patterns). An evidence of such negligence of the social aspects of these applications, users have been inadvertently serving as beta testers of applications as well as subjects of implicit behavioral experiments to identify the viability of a resource or product. …


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