Using Social Learning Methodologies in Higher Education
Keywords:informal learning, online social networks, gamification
It is commonly accepted that contemporary cohorts of students witness and experience the benefits of information technologies in their learning processes. The so-called ``digital natives'' acquire, as a consequence of their early exposure to these technologies, different patterns of work, distinct attention conducts, new learning preferences and, generally, better skills for learning and working within rich online social contexts. So, it seems reasonable that the traditional education systems evolve and shape their practice to leverage those new patterns. Despite the fact that online social networks (OSNs) are widely recognized as a powerful tool for adding a new social dimension to the learning management systems (LMSs), OSNs do not fully integrate the specific features of the learning process yet and LMSs do not exploit the advantages of an active social environment for reinforcing the learning experience. We report in this paper the design, development and use of a software platform which enlarges and adapts the basic features of an OSN in order to be useful for very general learning environments. The software allows the creation, assessment and reporting of a range of collaborative activities based on social interactions among the students, and offers a reward mechanism by means of ranking and reputation. We argue that this approach is helpful in increasing the students' motivation, besides improving the learning experience and performance. The software has been tested in an undergraduate course about computer networks. Different tests confirm that the impact on learning success is statistically significant and positive.
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