Monday, 23 March 2009

LMS, Facebook and weak ties

In my recent post about Facebook and LMS's I argued that most people in any groups had a few close friends and the perhaps 40-50 acquaintances, which is about a third of the Dunbar number. (The Dunbar number being a supposed upper limit on the size of a social group)

Which kind of leads to the question of what's a friend and what's an acquaintance. Facebook wraps everyone into "friends", but we know that's not true. There's the people you have a high degree of social interaction and the people some passing relationship with - weak ties - basically people you've met talked with, people you were at college with, people you rode with on a bus across Turkey, or in other words people with whom you developed some sort of bond of shared experience - and with who you have a continued consensual set of interactions.

Now not everyone is an acquaintance. We know this experientially, change a job, and you lose the majority of apparent acquaintances - because they were just that, people you interacted with in a certain context, but with whom you had no interaction outside of that context. Basically the people you were pleasant to, if for no other reason that it was easier that way. Once there was no reason to interact they ceased to be acquaintances. (But unless you actively deleted them they'd still be friends in Facebook-speak. And you probably wouldn't actively delete them ...)

So let's go back to the example of French 101. 250+ students. Probably contains the odd wierdo or two. Probably contains people you'd like to be friends with. Probably contains people you don't mind interacting with, and possibly contains people who give you the creeps.

And of course students don't just do one module a semester, they do two or three, so by the time you've added in introductory linguistics and medieval history you've probably got a pool that is way to big to be social with.

So what's my point?

Simply to reiterate that social networking is consensual, and also that not all friends are created equal. Consequently expecting that enabling social networking features within an LMS will create a vibrant online collaborative learbing experience is naive to say the least. In fact forcing people to interact may be counterproductive.

Small group chats, aka tutorials may work or may not, as has always been the way. But no matter how many widgets you get you won't get good interaction in a large group, and consequently the generation 2 features may be of little value ...

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