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The rise of socio-technical systems and new - Tetherless World

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					     The rise of socio-technical systems and new
        social media in university education.

                               Peter Fox (Tetherless World)
May 23, 2011             11th Teaching and Learning Colloquium
                                  “The Power of Many”
             Want to try some social media?

• Not to
  this is not
  a talk
             Socio-technical systems (STS*)

• Refers to the joint social and technical
  aspects of „systems‟
• Sociological – people and groups of
• Technical – more than technology but the
  two are often conflated – of organization
  and process
              Primary contexts of STS application

• Organizations (most)
• Collaboration (more recently)

• Research and education (very recently)
  – Especially in informatics fields
          5th Generation of Work

 First generation work was essentially
  hunting and gathering;
 Second generation work started
  farming the land and raising crops and
  other food products;
 Third generation work moved to cities
  with factories and small businesses;
 Fourth generation work moved to the
 Fifth generation – technology (!)
  facilitated virtual organizations
             Virtual organizations – several defn.

• „ …a geographically distributed
  organization whose members
  are bound by a long-term
  common interest or goal, and
  who communicate and
  coordinate their work through
  information technology‟ (Ahuja)
             Roles and relationships

• „These members assume well defined
  roles and status relationships within the
  context of the virtual group that may be
  independent of their role and status in the
  organization employing them’ (Ahuja et al.,
         Virtual organizations as STSs

Technology               Organizational

       Communication Patterns
             Communication patterns

 A key feature of virtual organizations is a
  high degree of informal communication
 Because of a lack of formal rules,
  procedures, clear reporting relationships,
  and norms, more extensive informal
  communication is required
Credit: B. Rouse (BEVO) 2008
Credit: B. Rouse (BEVO) 2008
Credit: B. Rouse (BEVO) 2008
                         Technical advances

From: C. Borgman, 2008, NSF Cyberlearning Report
             Thus: 5th generation of learning

• So let‟s briefly explore teaching and
  learning groups as STSs (not the whole
  body of knowledge on this)
• Folding in some elements of social media

• … and see if our students are learning!
                                      Social media reminder

      • Reach - more decentralized, less hierarchical, and distinguished by
        multiple points of production and utility.
      • Accessibility - generally available to the public at little or no cost.
      • Usability - does not require specialized skills and training, or
        requires only modest reinterpretation of existing skills; in theory,
        anyone with access can operate the means of social media
      • Immediacy - virtually instantaneous responses; only the participants
        determine any delay in response.
      • Permanence - can be altered almost instantaneously by comments
        or editing.
Extracted from Wikipedia -
              Categories of social media

•   Communication
•   Collaboration
•   (Multi)Media
•   Review, recommendation, opinion
•   Entertainment
•   Monitoring
               Case study 1 - Xinformatics 2011

• A trans-disciplinary subject essential to modern
  information systems
• Computer, cognitive, social, library science,
  architecture, design, and „engineering‟ …
• STS is an informatics field of study, and
  informatics research and education requires
  STS approaches!
• Offered in 2010/11, ugrad/grad
         Case study 1 – Xinformatics 2011

• To instruct future information architects how to
  sustainably generate information models, designs and
• To instruct future technologists how to understand and
  support essential data and information needs of a wide
  variety of producers and consumers
• For both to know tools, and requirements to properly
  handle data and information
• Will learn and be evaluated on the underpinnings of
  informatics, including theoretical methods, technologies
         Xinformatics Course Learning Objectives

• Through class lectures, practical sessions, written and
  oral presentation assignments and projects, students
   – Understand and develop skill in Development and Management
     of multi-skilled teams in the application of Informatics
   – Understand and know how to develop Conceptual and
     Information Models and Explain them to non-experts
   – Knowledge and application of Informatics Standards
   – Skill in Informatics Tool Use and Evaluation
                  Methodology for Informatics

•   Use cases
•   Stakeholders
•   Distributed authority
•   Access control
•   Ontologies
•   Maintaining Identity
              Team: roles and skillsets needed

• Facilitator *** (usual key skills, knows method)
• Domain experts (literate, knows resources; data,
  applications, tools, etc.)
• Modelers (to extract concepts, etc.)
• Software engineers (architecture, technology)
• Scribe (to write everything down)
• The social aspect is key - it is a team effort
• Yes, it‟s a socio-technical system
        Case 2 – Research Theme „Group‟

• We have 5 projects with the related theme of
  science provenance (also 7 for escience)
• We have 2-6 (at any one time) undergraduate
  and graduate students doing thesis work,
  research or independent studies
• Virtual group is effective for student learning – as
  long as they participate
      Case 2

• Research
• Communi
• Identity*
        Case 3 – TWC undergraduate lab

• Have outstanding experiences exploring the Tetherless
• Learn how top-level research is actually accomplished
• Make real contributions to world-leading research
• Gain practical experience with rapidly evolving Semantic
  Web, linked data, eScience, Web 3.0, and related
  development practices
           Case study 3 – Expectations

• Weekly attendance:
    – Undergrad Lab team meetings
    – TWC project meetings for any projects you are associated with
    – "Auditing" of other project meetings is encouraged
• Weekly blog/wiki entries: Platform of your choice
    – Brief explorations of technical topics of interest
    – Presentation of demos/"microapps" you have created
    – Example: technical deep-dives and updates related to project work.
• Participation in other TWC activities
    – Example: Lectures by visiting scholars
• TBD: Participation in Undergrad Lab "hackathon" on specific topics
       • Blog
      • Blog
                    Ethnographic observations

• Course – definition of value is diverse
   – Learning versus performing (grade)
   – Presence of absence of incentives to participate (recall
     organizational modes)
• (Initial) Sheer terror of saying something wrong, asking
  the „dumb‟ question (yes, this persists in STSs)
• Leadership becomes a key attribute
• Personal commitments are obliterated by course
• Many more…
               Challenges and some paths forward

•   One to many, many to many
•   Artifacts, openness
•   Many threads
•   Individuals v. groups
•   Identity
•   Different views of value
•   Bias, quality

• One instructor to many in a class, after the initial
  adjustment, works ~ well
• Different instructor, different mode(s), students have to
• In multi instructor/ educator settings, we see the many to
  many problem, again students have to adapt within one
• Department level (?) dialogs on social media and STS
                What to do with the artifacts?

• In social media - we are generating a lot of
• In courses though the materials are private…
  since they are
   – Used for assessment/ grading
   – Primary – to re-weave the threads of social media
• First step, assign identifiers and (institutional)
  repository for artifacts*
                   Many threads

• A significant challenge in social media arises from the
  multiple means and modalities (let along implementations)
  and locations the media is hosted
• Leads to a very incoherent view – which is quite okay for
  purely social systems – but is a disaster for quantification,
  assessing state, i.e. evaluating learning, understanding
• Explore technical means for aggregation based on
  identifiers or annotation (dotCIO doing this for
               Where‟s Waldo, and how did he do?

• As we shifted to group approaches after they were
  shown to be very effective in learning, we
  encountered the need to assess the individual within
  a group
• Now the „group‟ and how we assess it has so many
  more aspects, especially cognitive and personality
• Educators seem to need to often guess at this
• Develop rubrics for STS individual performance

• Social media has the means to restore some of the
  lost identity that comes with groups (STSs), since
  it‟s pretty much all about who you are and who you
• Diversity of identities, check your login to each of the
  social media sites you use
• E.g. taswegian, or personal email address
• De-conflict identities, move to micro-contribution,
  identification and citation/ attribution
              Value (of outcomes)

• A lot of educational evaluation focuses on the
• Instructor wants students to learn
• Students want an A (most of them), and some
  want to learn as well
• But the value proposition is not well explored
• Examine an evaluation framework for value
                 Bias, quality (in social media)

• A rampant (problem) situation in social media – relates
  to incompleteness, biased and selective participation,
  fragmentation of content, modality switching, and more
• Partly based on the privacy/ openness but also on social
  context and do students think of learning in a social
• Makes quantitative assessments difficult: quality control
  (contributor) vs. quality assessor (instructor)
• Adapt social media analysis for education metrics
     • NSF
     • C4*
     • Umm.

*Not the explosives
            Constellation Goal* (w/ EMPAC/CCNI)

• Our long-term goal is to develop “exhibits” that let people
  develop/explore hypotheses by really interacting with data
  and information (research and education)
   – i.e. not immersion (cf. virtual reality) but experience
       • Multimodal, multimedia
       • Social and collaborative
       • Interactive, dynamic
       • At scale
   – Open world
       • New data, information, contexts
   – Teaching and learning opportunities?

• Socio-technical systems (and the theory), underpin much
  of our existing organizational entities but we‟ve not
  widely applied the ideas to teaching and learning…
• It‟s not a perfect fit, nor are the technical means mature
  in many areas, but our students are unlikely to stop
  using social media any time in the near future…
• Many modalities, incoherency and quality questions…
• Time for Assessment 2.0!
• TWC (research and curriculum) is confronting the
  coupled system (informatics and STS)
             Thanks for your attention


•   It is ~ 50 years since the term socio-technical system (STS) was coined.
    RPI has a rich history in innovative and collaborative education and
    learning, facilitated by technical means, noting that technical and technology
    have distinct but overlapping meanings. With the rise of social media, a new
    set of conversations and discourse has emerged, largely around social
    systems. However, the application and / or effective exploitation in
    education and learning settings alters some of the important factors to
    consider for learning outcomes, course objectives, and student (and course)
    assessments. This presentation will explore examples of STS in teaching
    and learning especially in technically oriented curricula and examine the
    extent to which new means of social media exhibit emergent characteristics
    consistent (and inconsistent) with STS principles and best practices.

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