Social Objects Introduction

1. Social Objects in Education

A social object is something (it can be real or virtual) that facilitates conversation, and thus social interaction. The Social Object is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. When two people meet, the first thing they try to do is place each other in context. A social context. It helps to establish a good conversation and interaction finding some borders and common nodes to talk about. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object. Another thing to remember is that the world of Social Objects can have many layers. As with any complex creature, there can be more than one reason for us to be together. 

Social objects can take dozens of forms, including links, videos, images, bookmarks, widgets, 3d-prints, events and products like the iPhone. They may also be more abstract (e.g. Christianity or Post Modernism). The more portable and concrete the object, the more likely it will succeed.

For instance, in school forms of social objects are probably pretty obvious - it can be the lecture or workshop, a book or an article. But an important aspect to take into account is content. This may seem obvious, but it's significant because poor old content is often shoved to praise dialogue, interaction, community, and collaboration. This may bring conversation and interaction to start, but won’t guarantee its profound and useful persistency. If we take the social object line, however, content isn't a nice add-on, it's the starting point for any successful social network or community.

So, in fact, content is important, and content-producers should take into account that there are a lot of implications to this. For a start, it suggests that content only matters to the extent that it acts as a social object. This means that your content has to be good social content - this is not necessarily the same as what we usually think of as good academic content. For instance, content that may be imperfect is often good for encouraging others to participate, or content that is contentious may be better at stimulating debate. The very powerful lesson for teachers and the teaching itself here is that the educational value is not in the content itself but the social interaction it begets.

It also means that content has to exist within a framework of appropriate tools which have the right affordances for the type of social interaction. Therefore, social objects have to be inserted into a valuable context for students and they have to have the tools and knowledge to achieve a successful social network or community. Moreover, social objects should be within a network of users who actually use the social objects as nodes. 

Important to keep in mind is that social objects aren’t necessarily viral or something “big”. It may be enough to simply make them tangible, useful, and “discoverable.” For instance, with topical or newsworthy objects it would be important to make sure your social object is optimized for search, so users can discover it.

So, to summarise we need three things for a social object driven mode of education:

1. Content that acts as a social object

2. Tools that facilitate social interaction around these objects

3. A community of learners who find the social objects engaging

Getting that mix right won't be easy, but our guess is that if you do, it'll take off.

It is important to stimulate students and VETs in practicing social objects and in creating a common network. Therefore, social challenges have been developed to simulate the interaction. These challenges should reinforce the communication, cooperation, and the argumentation of people involved. Moreover, the involved participants will develop a social object based on a short story that challenges finding an appropriate solution through a 3d-print.