« The Twitter commandments | Main | Facebook - the holiday romance »




Good post! Jyri Engestrom's post on what makes for a "good" social object may be of interest:


I don't get bogged down in the apparent circularity of the term. Any object, physical or not, may acquire significance for any two people, a group of people, a nation or the world. For example, the watch in Pulp fiction; the campfire in your example; Watergate; and global warming, respectively. From my perspective, the challenge is to design web services that encourage interaction between people around the service's defined social objects, whatever they may be. And as Jyri points out, some things (or ideas or experiences or events) have greater potential than others.

Just my $.02, of course ;)

Andy Lane

Good summary Martin. As it happens I am just reviewing a book on online education using learning objects edited by rory mcgreal http://www.routledgeeducation.com/books/Online-Education-Using-Learning-Objects-isbn9780415416603 which covers all these definitional issues. Personally I prefer getting away from the term to talk about the function (Stephen Downes says much the same in the book), a trait I take from my systems thinking background. Basically naming a system e.g education system is very unhelpful as it is so vague and depends on context. Thus all systems teaching focuses on identfying clearly your system of interest by using verbs not nouns e.g. an education system may be a system for teaching people how to obtain qualifications, a system for employing teachers, a system for keeping kids off the streets and so on (rather simplistic description but they show how different and specific they can and need to be). A noun is only useful for things that are relatively uncontentious. The important aspect of learning objects or social objects for me is what function do they play in the system of interest I have identified. Otherwise a learning object is no different to a cell phone: yes I might know one when I see one and they have come in all different shapes and sizes but its value is in how people use it to do things.

Moving on to objects as mediating artefacts then again use will vary enormously as the object may have more or less significance in the social interactions that comprise the educational discourse (I am making the assumption that we are talking of situations where teaching/learning are a major intent). So I agree very much with Grainne's points and that we have to look at all these things in their context because of their sociality and recognise that terms can be a poor shorthand and each meaning may need to be stated more clearly.


Thanks Alex - I agree with you, anything can be a social object, but some things more so than others. Some things are more 'social objecty' than others - so if you take this perspective in education, you want to create objects that have potential as social objects. The other element in the equation then is context - some contexts promote social interaction around objects more than others.
Andy - I think the verb not noun heuristic from systems thinking is nicely applicable here. I'm going to have more of a think around this.
PS - does this post count as a social object now we've had a discussion?

AJ Cann

Where are the boundaries - is the blog the social object here rather than this one post?


AJ - I don't know! Stop asking awkward questions. Actually I guess both are, depending on context (that old get out of jail card). For example, OU readers of say Tony Hirst's blog may form a loose community where his posts form part of Stephen Downes' shared vocabulary. On the other hand a particular posting might be just one element in a set of resources, so people discussing DRM, content etc might have my future of content post amongst a whole array of resources, e.g. Weinberger's book, Clay Shirky's posts, etc. In this respect only the post is the object.
Make any sense whatsoever? I'm making it up as I go along you know...

AJ Cann

Yes, makes sense. When I wrote my former comment, I was thinking that the mobile phone is the social object but the phone network is not, but I concede now that that is wrong.
Once again Martin, you have shown me the error of my ways! ;-)

Andy Lane

It may help to take another idea much used in systems and participatory environmental resource management activities which is the idea of the agora or forum. In other words you can have the 'place' where the social interaction is mediated through but where certain artefacts help mediate the discourse. David Wiley's campfire is more analagous to the place for orchestarting the discourse but the fire will not usually be the mediating object for the content of the discourse.

Patrick McAndrew

Good stuff Martin. Some of the discussion definitely links back to the Learning Object world and that made me think of what happened then. I was quite enthusiastic about LOs when I thought they could have an object focus in the same sense as Object-oriented. E.g. that there could be some way to draw on such concepts as methods, inheritance and so lead to the advantages that are recognised in the software world. Actually though LOs got caught up in how to describe them (metadata) and weak definitions of the sort “if it is used for learning it is a LO”. So reading the Social Object discussion above I find echoes of this and wonder if it should be related to where I (and others) went with LOs which was to switch to Learning Design as the concept that was worth investing a bit of time in. With LD the change was to think about how intent was being communicated – not necessarily wholly a good move as LD has been criticised as Teaching Design and often forgetting the learner.
For this case though I think it makes me consider two things. One is that perhaps rather than abandoning the “object” word in switching from LO to LD we could drop the “L” and end up with Social Objects. The second though is that rather than Social Objects are we really talking about Social Designs? This has the advantage that we can then catalogue the designs. Perhaps we can start with your blog and then revisit your selfies as:
1. The shared blog entry
2. Blog entry with lists
3. The great title blog entry
4. And now the sequential blog entry with social commentary!
These can all be considered as social triggers (whether or not there is direct feedback) and perhaps be part of a wider category of Social Designs (or even Social Patterns). Think there could be some mileage here.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos and videos from edtechie99. Make your own badge here.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter