Electronic Books

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less
Social computing is essentially the application of computer technology to facilitate collaboration and working in groups. The emphasis is on the social part of social computing: what makes this phenomenon interesting, and what is likely to make it long-lasting, is the way it facilitates an almost spontaneous development of communities of people who share similar interests. As the typical educator’s network of contacts has grown to include colleagues who might live and work across the country, or indeed anywhere on the globe, it has become common for people who are not physically located near each other to collaborate on projects. In classrooms as well, joint projects with students at other schools or in other countries is more and more commonplace as a strategy to expose learners to a variety of perspectives. The essential attribute of the technologies in this set is that they make it easy for people to share interests and ideas, work on joint projects, and easily monitor collective progress. All of these are needs common to student work, research, collaborative teaching, writing and authoring, development of grant proposals, and more. The bar for widespread participation is very low, since the software to support virtual collaboration is low cost or free, and available via a web browser.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

  • A virtual collaborative workspace for a class or study group can be assembled quickly using tools that can pull information from a variety of sources, including Flickr, Twitter, MySpace or Facebook, news and weather feeds, Del.icio.us, blog feeds and more.
  • Teachers can evaluate student work as it progresses, leaving detailed comments right in the documents if desired in almost real time.
  • Students can use social computing tools to participate in a backchannel — an online conversation that takes place in and around a lesson.

Social Computing in Practice

For Further Reading

The Impact of Social Computing on the EU Information Society and Economy (PDF)
(K. Ala-Mutka, et al, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Center, European Commission, November 2009.) This report gives a comprehensive overview of social computing and its impact on the European Union.

Jazz as an Extended Metaphor for Social Computing
(Aaron McLeran, UC-Santa Barbara Transliteracies Project, May 17, 2009.) This unusual study looks at social computing and jazz and finds some striking — and surprising — similarities between the two.

Howard Rheingold on Collaboration
(Howard Rheingold, TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, February 2005.) In this talk from 2005, Howard Rheingold discusses the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action. His insights then are still pertinent today.