Collaboration tools – can we include virtual worlds and social networks?

Today I came across a question in one of the LinkedIn groups about whether we could classify virtual worlds and social networks as collaborative communication tools referring specifically to Second Life, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It was an interesting discussion topic and one which I felt the need to respond. I would like to share my response with you here.

I would say the answer is – yes. Any place where individuals can join and network can be used for collaboration. It is WHAT we use these for and learning HOW they work that will determine their success in what we want to do.
Indeed, at the moment, we see the usual suspects being used by organisations for collaboration as Valerie mentions above; and they are brilliant tools for bringing colleagues together to discuss ideas, situations and projects. However, with the emerging social learning environments such as Elgg that can be hosted within an organisations firewall or others such as Ning where organisations can create their own social platform, these are excellent tools to encourage cross-organisation collaboration to share ideas and working practices.

Areas can be set up to discuss ‘hot’ topics and they can also be restricted to particular members.
Facebook, on the other hand, initially seems like a fun place just to hang out, play silly games and ‘throw cows’ at each other. On first glance, it may seem there is little it can be used for seriously. However, if you look a little closer, there are many worthwhile groups already using Facebook to collaborate.

Take a look at Count Me In – a Facebook group set up campaigning against knife crime, or Centre for Learning and Performance Technology and, just one more for now – eLearning Professionals.

So, for instance, an account could be created whereby different conversations can be started up, ideas collated, awareness heightened and changes happening. Remember that security settings on these tools are there to help and members (or friends) may only join if the account holder approves.

Twitter is anther underestimated social tool that is increasingly being used for learning collaboration. If not in the formal sense, certainly for informal learning and there are plenty of experts out there with whom collaboration proves invaluable in persuing a goal or interest.

As for LinkedIn – well, are they doing there, if not collaborating. A topic is posted and ideas, opinions and expertise shared.

If this was a collaborative exercise with a specific outcome, then I would expect to see an objective set for the exercise, a time limit, some ground rules / guidelines and a summary giving the findings of the exercise at the end. All of that should be set for any collaborative exercise for any collaborative tool chosen, whether it is in a more controlled situation like WebEx, within an organisations intranet form or a more open platform such as Twitter or Facebook. Therefore, it is the ground rules and activities set that dictate these tools’ use.

Of course, you will have to decide which would be most appropriate for your situation but beware of dismissing them out of hand. Research them, and think creatively. After all, I’m sure there were plenty of sceptics who couldn’t see how this new-fangled gadget could at all be useful in sharing ideas without having to meet in little groups. Now we can’t live without them and even take to carrying them around in our pockets so we’re always connected. What’s that you say ….. the telephone!

Well that was my response to the post in LinkedIn but I would also be interested in what creative ideas others may have in how these social tools have been used by you for learning and collaboration and how you might have overcome the ‘security’ barriers that are often associated with them.

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