Social EdTech and Making Stuff

There is more to social educational technology than Quora and Twitter. Some technologies have a social component that we might not immediately recognize.

Augmented reality (AR) is frequently touted as one of the hot trends in education, and with good reason. Embedding the world around us with relevant information — and making that information easily accessible in real time and in conjunction with our experience of the real world — is perhaps the next big leap forward in computing.  The educational applications of such technology are  profound. Solutions such as Aurasma — which puts accessible “auras” around real-world objects, providing access to information in context —  are already being deployed in a wide variety of educational settings. Participants in classes using such technologies are involved in a new kind of social experience, one wherein the social space overlaps with the actual space in which the participants find themselves.

Another kind of of social experience occurs when students use technology to make something new. The act of creating and sharing something in the real world is one of the most fundamental of social activities. Where a technology such as Aurasma turns the surrounding space into a platform for consuming information, a technology such as MakeyMakey enables users to turn objects in the real world into devices that manipulate the cyber world. When students make a working keyboard out of alphabet soup or a musical instrument out of a bunch of bananas (both real examples of MakeyMakey projects), they are making changes to the shared social space.

And this is true whether the technology in question produces real-world artifacts (such as you get from a 3-D printer) or purely virtual ones. That’s why technologies such as Glogster and Vine  (and Youtube, for that matter) all have a very important social component. To create something new is to introduce something into the shared space, whether that shared space is real, or virtual, or a combination of the two. A technology such as BoomWriter is particularly interesting in this regard because it involves both a creative social experience — a class writes a book by selecting chapters written by class members — and the creation of a shared space, where the book itself becomes a new world that the class members have created together.

Increasingly, technology enables us all to be makers of things — whether they be musical compositions, sculptures, or 140-character masterpieces of wit. Recognizing and leveraging the inherent social nature of all such creative activities is a critical challenge both for educators and for the producers of edtech solutions.