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Social Capital in Education. Is there a value? #change11

So we all know about physical capital, money, equipment, and everyone can talk with ease about human capital, education, training etc.  We all recognize that one can derive value out of both physical and human capital.  What about social capital?  Social capital is the sum of your socialness, your friends, people you interact with, you ability to influence their decisions, all put together.  Very interestingly there are several initiatives bubbling up in the market that are trying to capture the essence of social capital and to make money out of that notion. Klout and similarly misspelt, Kred are new ventures into monetization of social capital.

But what of education?  Does a student’s social capital in any way enhance his learning gains? His education? The attainment of his goals?  And if a student builds social capital, will he then derive value from it?

Hua Ai and I report on some living lab studies with OpenStudy’s 80K learners in George Siemens’ Change Mooc 11.  Interestingly, the act of building social capital alone motivated some learners to persist in the learning ecosystem.  As they solved problems, helped someone, participated in discussions and other learning related activities, they leveled up, won medals, achievements, fans, and built social capital.


I am willing to put a stake in the ground and say that the pursuit of building social capital, can lead to enhanced retention and then improved learning.  Of course the environment for building this social capital has to be about learning.  Building social capital on Facebook is a very different game!  But in a learning ecosystem like OpenStudy where the rewards, activities and conversations are about learning in Math or Biology, there is an observable correlation. And that is exciting. And it brings real value to the learner.  Whether they will recognize it or not, it brings real value to education.

This social capital can and should be valuable as badges, as documentation of skills and competencies, as an e-portfolio, all existing examples, but now ready to take on a new twist.  Whether the world of higher ed is ready or not, social capital for education is arriving and will be here to stay.

Hacking education again on OpenStudy: Communities of Practice

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Sasogeek put that comment on OpenStudy, unasked and unsolicited.  You can see it for yourself.

As I read his note, I was reminded of Lave and Wenger’s work on Communities of Practice.

I first came across Lave and Wenger’s work in the Gilfus publications (thank you Stephen Gilfus and the smart people at Gilfus Foundation) and we consciously tried to articulate and build these principles into the social learning platform of OpenStudy.

Lave and Wenger explained their concept with an example of tribes gathering to learn some skill like hunting the sabre-toothed tiger. “Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor. “ In a Community of Practice, a group of people who share a passion for something get together to learn how to do it better (see the blog, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/).

An effective Community of Practice integrates three elements:  (i) The Domain. The group has a shared domain of interest, which gives it an identity and gives rise to the concept of Membership.  Members are committed to the domain and share their competencies with others in the group. (ii) The Community. Members have to work together, help each other, and share information, interact and build relationships that enable them to learn from each other.  (iii) The Practice. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short, a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction (from Wenger’s website).

And voilá, that is what has happened in Saso’s case.

He is now a member of a marvelous, completely online community  of practice, a global, online, virtual community, where no one has seen the other, that transcends geography, race, and politics. Everyday Saso gets online from Ghana to discuss math and computer science with his online friends. Somehow through these unscripted interactions, with no “teacher” or official “advisor”, no College provided “mentor” or Advising Office, he has gained the confidence to take his test.  As an educator, I find that humbling.  This community has empowered its members in the best tradition of the “Houses” of Harvard or Yale or Princeton!

There are 70,000 registered users of OpenStudy in over 500 study groups.  Their call to action is to seek help and to give help.  And though some flit in for an answer and out again, many remain to band together and grow into a true community of practice. They help one another, advise, support, sympathize, encourage, serve as role models—in short, offer everything we would want our students to encounter.  I am convinced the online nature of this environment, the 24/7 availability of this community, the easy informality, maybe even the lack of prominent power figures all contribute to fostering this new manifestation of a community of practice.  But what blows me away is that help is now within reach for all those who cannot go to a Harvard or a Yale, who work two jobs and then go to school, who cannot linger after class to seek the advice of an instructor, or who are taking courses online with no study hall to meet friends and advanced year students.

These Communities of Practice empower the individual learner to create their own academic support, and further hack away at the establishment.  Don’t you agree?

Badges for Retention: Why not?

Let’s face it.  This is the generation that grew up on world of Warcraft and Simcity.  We gave them the pokemons, the Nintendo DSs, the Halos and the laptops. So no big surprise that our digital millenials have short attention spans and hyperactive fingers.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than in online courses.  While bricks and mortar ivies can boast of near perfect 4 year retention (>90%), consider by stark contrast retention in online programs and courses.  In a recent study, it appears that retention of 30-40% across the board would be considered good(Cite).  And this is when students have paid for the courses.  It is hardly surprising that retention in free and open courseware, where learners are accessing the content, without having paid anything, with no fear of exams or grades or other pressures to keep them motivated and in the course, retention is more like 1-2%.


There are many reason we would want to increase the retention numbers for free and open courseware: it is easy to access, completely affordable, and offers a dazzling range of extremely high quality content.  Open courses can compensate for example for  weak school systems, ill trained teachers, limited course offerings, and rural schools. Can offering badges then provide a solution to the retention problem?

Kids like badges. The concept of badges is intricately woven into the philosophy of gamefication: levels, medals, achievements, finding and hoarding “stuff” as a reward when you attain a level and more.  In a learning game framework, a badge that stands for an accomplishment, one that is not easy to attain till a certain level of competency is demonstrated could be very desireable.  If the badge can be displayed on the owner’s social networking sites to their friends, it will have even greater value.

Would badges then be the key to keeping our young learners working through MIT OCW 6.00 Intro to Python programming?  After all we trained them on World of Warcraft and Pokemon, why not take the next logical step and let them collect badges in their quest for knowledge?  Want to hear more about OpenStudy’s take on badges, I’ll be talking with P2Pu and OER U on a panel moderated by Alastair Creelman(@alacre)at the EFQUEL conference tonight.  There is a webinar at an unearthly hour for me, but it promises to be very interesting. Check it out.

GT opens the classroom doors to the world

Under the leadership of  C21U Director Rich DeMillo, current Distinguished Professor and former dean of the Georgia Tech College of Computing, GT is offering its first MOOC class.  In addition to the GT students taking it for credit, DeMillo has invited everyone and anyone to join in this learning journey with the GT students.  The GT course follows the Change MOOC being offered by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier.  What this means is that students of this course will read, discuss, collaborate and otherwise study the content being curated by the trio.  They will encounter not only thought leaders from around the world, but classmates from around the world.  How will they do all this?  Blogs, twitter, posts, emails, and all that and their very own truly global study group on OpenStudy to groupthink and share.

But what a amazingly good idea!  Take a few minutes to appreciate the magnitude of this step.  Allowing GT students, the traditional registered kind to mingle, partake of, study with, and otherwise co-learn with nonGT and folks from wherever.  Has this been done before?  Are we not knocking at the traditionally walled gardens of colleges and universities?  This folks is a true leadership moment, and both GT and DeMillo are to be commended.  It is dangerous territory for a traditional educational institution, untested waters for sure, and like with any disruption, could lead anywhere.  Where do you think it will lead?