Welcome to the #Change11 week on social networks and education. Your facilitators this week are associated with Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities (c21u.gatech.edu), Xerox PARC (www.parc.com), and OpenStudy (openstudy.com). You can find all of their bios at gtmooc.com, the C21U portal to Change 11.

The Center for 21st Century Universities is dedicated to examining change in universities. We are particularly interested in the value of universities as communities of learners -- teachers, scholars, students, and the public. Our main focus this week is on the role of technology in disrupting the very idea of a learning community. We have seen in the 20 weeks of Change 11 the ways in which individuals and groups who have never met each other collaborate, argue, and establish systems of recognition and rewards. In many ways social networking is the core idea of a Massive Open Online Course. There are other examples, of course.

Blogs, like the blogs at the University of Mary Washington (umwblogs.org), make it easy to extend the bricks-and-mortar classrooms of an otherwise very traditional campus. Virtual seminars like Godel's Lost Letter (rjlipton.wordpress.com) draw tens of thousands of participants into advanced discussions of computational theory. OpenStudy (openstudy.com) makes it easy for groups of students who are studying the same material at the same time to find each other, set up collaboration spaces, and both create and spend social capital as they learn and help others to learn. The number of examples is growing rapidly. We have included in the reading list for this week, Chapter 1 of the new book "Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities are Opening Up Access to their Courses" by Taylor Walsh (see http://www.ithaka.org/ithaka-s-r/research/unlockingthegates/UNLOCKING%20the%20GATES%20-%20text-only.pdf for a free text-only version of the books) which describes the explosive growth in open learning initiatives.

None of this happens by magic, and central to the idea of social networks is the idea of a network. We will not only review some important developments in social networking applied to learning, we will expose some of the mathematical underpinnings of an emerging area of study called web science, the underlying theory of social networking and other common web-based networks . This is necessarily an overview, but there are some high points that everyone who embarks seriously along the path of using virtual communities in education needs to understand. There will be two live guided tours of social networking.

The first, conducted by Rich DeMillo, Ashwin Ram and Mike MCracken will survery the field of hub-and-spoke, long-tailed networks of the kind used in social networks. There are several good, easily accessible treatments of these kinds of networks (most notably Bernardo Huberman's "The Laws of the Web: Patterns in the Ecology of Information" (available at http://amzn.com/0262582252) but in the spirit of requiring only openly available texts, we recommend Clay Shirkey's chapter (Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality) of a subversive little book called Extreme Democracy. It is available on the gtmooc site. Our discussion will start by following Shirkey's essay pretty closely, but will also allow ample time for free discussion.

Connecting the math of social networks with the sociology of social networks is especially tricky, and we don't have much time to do it. We recommend that everyone scan James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds" (excerpted at http://www.randomhouse.com/features/wisdomofcrowds/excerpt.html) as a basic introduction to the idea of social capital and how technology-mediated group collaboration creates communities. Also important are the technological tools that are the primary means of finding what you want, establishing trust and identity relationships and otherwise productively navigating social networks. These are commonly called "social filtering" tools and we have included a 2001 survey article by Loren Terveen and Will Hill as a basic introduction to the subject. The second live session will be conducted by Preetha Ram and Hua Ai, who will give you a guided tour of some of the exciting work that combines these ideas into working systems
We hope you enjoy this high-speed, high-altitude journey and that you find ways to incorporate this work into your own projects.