Affordances in Social Media for Education


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This presentation provides a definition for software affordances and introduces affordances that can prove useful in modules for Visual Arts education.

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  • Before I launch into this presentation, I must highlight how most of us are used to working in an education environment whose pedagogy and methods have remained largely the same, despite extensive technological changes outside it. This is reflected in the pre-web method of presenting I’m using today and the minimal voice my audience had with regards to rating, tagging, etc. this presentation. So, just as Rene Magritte highlights the difference between a representation (the signifier) and what’s represented (the signified) in this painting by explicitly writing “This is not a pipe.” (in French), I must highlight that what I’m doing is NOT social media. While my social media presentation will highlight the strengths of the digital medium, this is not possible here today due to the high cost of bandwidth and resultant limits to access that the University of Cape Town has put in place. Fortunately, the one I can give in 2011 may be very different. But I’ll explain more about that, later…
  • I believe that education can be improved by using the affordances of web 2.0 software. Since the pedagogy of visual arts is well suited for including a digital (visual) literacy component, I am working with Peter Hyslop at Bishops (Diocesan College) to introduce an online portfolio module and one in which students experiment with free, online, graphics software. I am also assisting Bishops in defining its social media strategy, with Fred Roed (CEO of World Wide Creative).
  • N.B. Add more background on J.J.Gibson! The word "affordance" was first defined by J. J. Gibson (1977, 1979), a perceptual psychologist, to refer to the actionable properties between the world and an actor (a person or animal). This definition describes all action possibilities that are physically possible in an environment. According to it, affordances are a relationship : they are a part of nature and do not have to be visible, known, or desirable. Gibson’s definition is the prevalent one in Cognitive Psychology (CP).
  • It’s important to clearly clarify the roleplayers in defining an affordance. Affordances: Clarifying and Evolving a Concept
  • In 1988, Donald Norman appropriated the word “affordances” into the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), to refer to the action possibilities of which a user is aware. He first introduced the term in the Psychology of Everyday Things (Norman, Donald A. 1988).
  • Later, he wrote that ‘in the world of design, the term "affordance" has taken on a life far beyond the original meaning’ and should have used the concept “perceived affordances”. Norman’s definition of ‘perceived affordances’ makes this concept dependent not only on the physical capabilities of the actor, but also on; his or her goals , plans , values , beliefs and past experience : Norman's 1988 definition makes the concept of affordance relational, rather than subjective or intrinsic. This he deemed an " ecological approach ," which is related to systems-theoretic approaches in the natural and social sciences. The focus on perceived affordances is much more pertinent to practical design problems from a human-factors approach , which may explain its widespread adoption. Retrieved July 7, 2009, from   The pertinence of Norman’s approach to HCI ensured that Norman’s definition of affordances became prevalent in the HCI and Interaction Design (ID) contexts. A further definition of “affordances” emerged to indicate the easy discoverability of action possibilities: designers spoke of “putting affordances” in the interfaces (Norman 1999) and evaluation methods spoke of users “missing and declining” affordances. (de Souza, Prates and Carey, 2000).
  • Just as J.J. Gibson’s imprecise definition caused confusion, so did Jakob Nielsen’s appropriation and failure to clearly define the term.
  • The invariant feature of all metaphorical uses of the term was the presence of an intended meaning, of what designers meant to say with specific interface elements. And discussions turned around the occasional mismatches between what was meant by designers and users when they referred to certain signs in the interface. Relevant issues having to do with how the designers’ intent was encoded in the interface, how users decoded (interpreted) them, and how they used them to express their own intent during interaction could not fit into the category of typical concrete artefacts. They referred essentially to linguistic processes (though not necessarily involving only natural language signs). And the kind of tools needed to support these processes are not material (like hammers, screwdrivers, paintbrushes, which all apply to concrete artefacts that we can manipulate), but rather immaterial (like illustrations, demonstrations, explanatory conversations, clarification dialogs, which all refer to intellectual artefacts we can learn). They are epistemic tools, or tools that we can leverage our use of intellectual artefacts. De Souza (2005)
  • Offers – Interprets - Invokes - Learns
  • With Dr Marion Walton’s help, I am writing a new definition of software affordances, which aims to include the following: Action possibility (or functionality) Developer’s software A system’s semiotic Interface The User Offers – Interprets - Invokes - Learns
  • The internet platform in itself offers a range of affordances: Make multimedia content almost universally available, 24/7: allows developers to integrate text, graphics, sound and interactivity in a semantic interface. Makes it very efficient to pull content: users can search for content and view it using a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) address. Content is readily accessible on a wide variety of platforms: it is much more platform neutral than earlier technologies; as the operating system and browser is less important (but the device is still key) Different implementations of internet-related technology, offer specific affordances. For example: 1 Cloud computing enables one’s personal content to be easily uploaded and downloaded from the internet. 2 File sharing allows one to easily upload and download music and video torrents. 3 Social media (web 2.0) allow you to: Maintain, grow and form new personal relationship s: Skype, chat. online dating, etc. Define yourself : use text, graphic, video and sound tools to make your history public. Learn and interact with like-minded people : research, download, share. Shop more efficiently : Compare prices, buy; music, podcasts, TV, physical goods, etc. Bank more efficiently : organise payments, create a beneficiary, manage repeat payments.
  • As the internet matures, the affordances it offers grows: This table is taken from the Centered Librarian’s blog (at http:// From the site: ), which quotes Digital Inspiration: Web 1.0 - That Geocities & Hotmail era was all about read-only content and static HTML websites. People preferred navigating the web through link directories of Yahoo! and dmoz. Web 2.0 - This is about user-generated content and the read-write web. People are consuming as well as contributing information through blogs or sites like Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc. The line dividing a consumer and content publisher is increasingly getting blurred in the Web 2.0 era. Web 3.0 - This will be about semantic web (or the meaning of data), personalization (e.g. iGoogle), intelligent search and behavioral advertising among other things
  • As the cost of bandwidth decreases, internet speed increases and access grows; the functionalities of digital media will increasingly be used by teachers to teach. But where does each teacher decide to start? Although this slide highlights a vast range of opportunities, its weakness is its complexity: teachers are already under huge pressure and don’t need further stress from complex and confusing choices!
  • The previous slide understated the complex range of options available in education: this slide illustrates the range of web 1.0, consumer, services on the left to web 2.0, producer, ones on the right. As one moves deeper into 2.0 you can see that increasing effort is required to produce content. So, the far right is usually led by the organisation for high-quality results (versus an the individual producer). Due to the complexity of the environment, it’s very important for each educational organisation to workshop an overarching strategy and produce education and guidelines for its educators and students on best-use of particular services and platforms. Most Bishops staff I met were not aware of most web 1.0 services (just the gray ones); and not web 2.0’s :(… or web 3.0’, available today: as Bishops is a well-resourced school, its examples highlights the challenge facing the introduction of broad digital literacy into South African schools: Government policy must be clearly explained. Provincial education departments must define how policy is best be put in practice. Schools must develop a cross-disciplinary strategy and showcase their digital literacy projects online. Eager teachers must be given external support.
  • Digital literacies are an important part of E-education policy and will assist the DOE in addressing several gaps. Using digital media in the classroom also leads to better results with non-conformists and introverts.
  • This table is taken from Chris Anderson’s article: “ Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It's Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity” at High Schools will need to cater for delivering a culture that inorporates scarcity and abundance; limiting access to Facebook and social media is a short-term strategy that won’t work when students have fast, low-cost access to these services on their phones.
  • There is a role for digital visual literacy modules in high school visual arts and design education: These suit OBE’s aims and can assist with bridging the relevance, partcipation and participatory gaps.
  • Once a teacher understand digital media functionality, he or she can determine the potential affordances that can contribute to the outcomes he or she wants to achieve in class. For example, an online portfolio module based on web 2.0 technology could assist the promotion of Digital Visual Literacy by exposing students to web 2.0 functionalities and attendant affordances. It can also help the school with changing its text-dominant, Visual Arts page(s) on its website!
  • This year, grade 11 students at Bishops will prepare online portfolios using their favoured digital portfolio technologies.
  • We have also used Facebook to promote an Old Boys (Old Diocesan) exhibition.
  • Facebook was very useful, given the limited resources and support we have to promote the exhibition.
  • Here are examples of other Facebook affordances.
  • The Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies has compiled the results of learning professionals, who have rated their top tools for E-Learning for 2009. In the future, I will define the affordances of the most popular tools, esp. Twitter and Delicious,
  • In marketing, functionality would be described as features, while affordances may be considered as benefits.
  • Online, the affordances of design software are nested within those of the browser.
  • Twitter Delicious Diigo
  • A similar thing happened with SMS
  • Don’t fool yourself Unknown, Ever-Evolving
  • A journey of 1,000 miles must start with one step :) ! What’s yours going to be?
  • Like Fred, I’m aiming to become a Heavy Chef! This means working in a web 2.0 way. So, feel free to; comment and rate my latest presentation and blog posts at You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Affordances in Social Media for Education

    1. 1. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes * Beware ! A PowerPoint presentation is not a social media presentation! Affordances in Social Media for Education. *
    2. 2. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes My PhD in Media Studies Research Title Understanding functionality in software: the affordances of free, web 2.0 graphic software in art education. How & Why software interfaces ? Important to communicate their affordances ? Why only to secondary school students ? Describe engaged in the online creation of ... Why specifically visual art? Research Question (in black!)
    3. 3. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Environmental scientists, ecologists, make use of the concept of niche . A given species of animal is said to utilize a certain niche in the environment. It is not the same as habitat of the species, that is, where it lives, but rather how it lives. I suggest that a niche is a set of affordances. The natural environment offers many ways of life and a way of life is a set of affordances that are utilized. J. J. Gibson (1977, 1979) What is an affordance in psychology?
    4. 4. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes … J.J. Gibson’s definition can be confusing. Discussions of Gibson's concept of affordance have been plagued by confusion about where to locate the reference of the term . For example, is the affordance that a chair provides for sitting a property of the chair , a property of the person who sits on it or perceives that he or she could sit on it, or something else ? Credit: Wayne Ho and Joanna McGrenere (2000)
    5. 5. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes There already exists the start of a psychology of materials and of things, the study of affordances of objects. When used in this sense, the term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing , primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. What is an affordance in Human Computer Interface and Interaction Design ?
    6. 6. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes What is a perceived affordance? What the designer cares about is whether the user perceives that some action is possible (or in the case of perceived non-affordances, not possible). The concept has caught on, but not always with true understanding. Part of the blame lies with me: I should have used the term " perceived affordance ," for in design, we care much more about what the user perceives than what is actually true.
    7. 7. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes … Donald Norman’s definition is ambiguous. Norman’s definition [of affordances] spread quickly and some inherent ambiguities have lead to a widely varying usage in HCI literature… Wayne Ho and Joanna McGrenere (2000)
    8. 8. <ul><li>As the concept of affordances is used currently, it has marginal </li></ul><ul><li>value, because it lacks specific meaning . Returning to a </li></ul><ul><li>definition close to that of Gibson’s would solidify the concept and </li></ul><ul><li>would also recognise that designing the utility or functional </li></ul><ul><li>purpose is a worthwhile endeavour in its own right. In order for </li></ul><ul><li>the affordance concept to be used fully in the design world, </li></ul><ul><li>however, Gibson’s definition needs to incorporate the notion of </li></ul><ul><li>varying degrees of affordances . </li></ul><ul><li>Wayne Ho and Joanna McGrenere (2000) </li></ul>09/29/09 Travis Noakes A better concept for affordances is needed in HCI/ID.
    9. 9. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Use Semiotic Engineering to define a “software affordance” Use the right metaphor - Software is an epistemic tool, not a concrete artefact. Adopt a semiotic approach - Look at software development holistically as a semiotic process and aim to include ALL roleplayers/speech makers (i.e. The Designer’s Deputy ). Narrow the definition’s focus - Focus on the perceived and real affordances of an intellectual, software artefact (versus a natural environment’s, for example). Credit: Wayne Ho and Joanna McGrenere (2000)
    10. 10. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Software application’s semiotic interface PLATFORM Base it on an semiotic view of the “speakers” in software perception invokes an action learns functionality offering feedback Browser Operating System Desktop, laptop, notebook, netbook or mobile software experience Device brand USER DEVELOPER DEVELOPER’S DEPUTY interpretation
    11. 11. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes A software affordance definition for ALL speakers. A software affordance is an action-possibility (or functionality ) that a developer’s software offers by communicating in the semiotic interface to a system and/or that a user interprets and may choose to invoke through that system, thereby learning about it.
    12. 12. What is your favourite online affordance? 09/29/09 Travis Noakes
    13. 13. 09/29/09 © Sourced from Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0
    14. 14. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes The Networked Teacher Credit Alec Couros
    15. 15. What can a teacher use? 09/29/09 © Youtube Myvideo zoopy Google Yahoo Hotmail Bing Wolfram Delicious diigo stumblupon Wordpress Typepad Squidoo Blogger ThoughtLeader (M&G) Picassa Flickr iStockphoto iTunes iLike spotify musopen lastfm pandora Share bookmarks Afrigator Amatomu Technorati Email and search  Upload a video edit SMS and chat  MSN Chat Skype MXit Blog Share photos Download music Download podcasts Upload a podcast Track your website’s popularity Advertise online Google adsense Facebook ads Run a survey Promote your blog Google Analytics Use a feed aggregator Rate, write reviews metacritic LinkedIn bigthink Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendster Orkut Social network Easy (consumer) Share a portfolio Use a CLOUD service to share files Google docs Sugarsync dropbox N.B. Just scratching the surface of what’s out there… N . N.B. Experiment with new services, different platforms , etc. Resource intensive (producer) Share shopping lists Amazon Create a group Launch software project Google Groups edgewall Take part in online forums Use newsgroups Create shared content (Wiki) Wikipedia Launch a petition Web 1.0 Web 2.0 Raise charity greatergoodsa Do search engine optimisation Share your slides and documents Slideshare docstoc Create your own social network Ning Subscribe to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds Publish website pages  Create a portfolio site omeka Outsource your research or code Innocentive Marketocracy Topcoder Learn from experts CGSociety Download from an FTP site
    16. 16. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes <ul><li>Department of Education’s National Policy </li></ul><ul><li>Bridge the digital gap </li></ul><ul><li>Address the relevance gap </li></ul><ul><li>Bridge the participatory gap </li></ul><ul><li>Web 2.0 technologies support OBE’s </li></ul><ul><li>democratic objectives </li></ul><ul><li>Accommodate special students’ needs </li></ul>Software affordances @ High School
    17. 17. 09/29/09 © Strategic thinking must factor in abundance management
    18. 18. <ul><li>The pedagogy of visual arts and visual design’s studio-based education can readily </li></ul><ul><li>accommodate Digital Visual Literacy (DVL) modules: </li></ul><ul><li>Visual literacy plays an important role in arts education, already. In particular, its focus on formal characteristics supports the understanding a communication’s form can be an important part of its content. This is seldom emphasized in text- and numbers-focused subjects; </li></ul><ul><li>The studio environment promotes better experimentation with digital media than a normal class setting. There is more scope for collaboration, peer-to-peer education and constructive feedback in a studio. </li></ul><ul><li>Successful examples of DVL modules may be readily adopted in other subjects, since using the Form, Theme and Context approach to teach DVL in art education provides a framework that’s easily transposed to other disciplines (Sandell, Renee. 2009). </li></ul>09/29/09 Travis Noakes Why trial digital literacy modules in Arts and Design departments?
    19. 19. <ul><li>Prepare a digital portfolio of one’s progress </li></ul><ul><li>- Track improvement (and be grateful it’s backed-up). </li></ul><ul><li>Experiment with digital self-expression </li></ul><ul><li>- Better understand digital affordances. </li></ul><ul><li>Provide feedback on others’ content </li></ul><ul><li>- Learn about Sturgeon’s law and the Pareto Principle first-hand. </li></ul><ul><li>- Showcase the best annual work from Bishops’ website. </li></ul><ul><li>Experience the modern, knowledge-sharing, work-environment </li></ul><ul><li>Understand web 2.0 technologies’ functions and affordances. </li></ul><ul><li>Connect with Old Boys </li></ul><ul><li>Learn from their examples; good… and bad! </li></ul><ul><li>Increased literacy in digital media </li></ul><ul><li>- Understand the benefits (and hazards) of new media early on. </li></ul>09/29/09 © Potential outcomes of a web 2.0, Digital Visual Literacy module Key functions web 2.0 supports: Flag it Tag it Share it Rate it Comment on it Subscribe to it Syndicate it Remix it Publish it Edit it
    20. 20. 09/29/09 © Pupils will learn to create online portfolios with their favoured service: i.e. or, for example. Matric and grade 11 online portfolio project
    21. 21. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes The OD See 2010 exhibition Chose Facebook initially due to: 1 At least 500 ODs are on it already 2 ODs not really a MySpace or Friendster demographic Learnt it’s: 3 Very easy to create a group 4 Cheap to advertise on 5 Must provide FAQs. <ul><li>So far: </li></ul><ul><li>26 members </li></ul><ul><li>14 links </li></ul><ul><li>6 discussion topics </li></ul><ul><li>(mostly group advice) </li></ul>
    22. 22. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes The OD See 2010 exhibition benefits from these Facebook affordances Search by name and email address (function) Connect with friends, colleagues and associates using their names (affordance) Message people irrespective of their contact details (affordance) View a friend’s friends See a person’s social network Update one’s status Share one’s activities and interests Join networks, groups, fan pages Meet like-minded people and keep abreast of events and activities Tag photos Share photos efficiently
    23. 23. <ul><li>Share coursework (function) </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook’s founder used it to share Art History course-work (affordance). </li></ul><ul><li>Add applications </li></ul><ul><li>Benefit from new affordances. </li></ul><ul><li>Easy for third parties to add new artefacts (Yazid, Idris, 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>Tailor information to specific social circles </li></ul><ul><li>Customise information for one’s relevant social circle (personal. network or pages). (Yazid, Idris, 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>Birthday notification and wall message </li></ul><ul><li>Be more pro-active in sending best wishes to friends and colleagues. </li></ul><ul><li>Define one’s location </li></ul><ul><li>Look out for friends in one’s travel destinations. </li></ul><ul><li>Customisable interface design (Yazid, Idris, 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>Customise one’s profile. </li></ul>09/29/09 Travis Noakes Some other useful Facebook affordances
    24. 24. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Top 100 Tools for E-Learning
    25. 25. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Available online 24/7 (function) Mobility (affordance). Free Inexpensive, easily accessible. Browser-neutral Easily accessible on W3C compliant platforms. No need for bloat-ware in cloud-computing Smaller, cheaper device as minimal hard-drive, storage space required. Easily updated Running the latest version. FAQs are current Latest product knowledge. Some affordances of free, online software
    26. 26. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes A few affordances of design software Select a file format (function) The image is represented in binary code and can easily be modified (affordance) Define the canvas size The area one works on can be easily adjusted. Select a drawing tool One’s mouse can serve as an airbrush, paintbrush, etc. Select a colour It’s easy to define the colour one wants, numerically. Set a drawing tool’s settings One’s mark-making can be easily adjusted. Make or erase a mark Any recent mark one makes is simple to remove. Export to curves The design can be saved for printers to develop proofs from.
    27. 27. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Which educational affordances excite you the most?
    28. 28. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes Producers create functions While the production of software functionality is easily understood, the consumption of software and adoption of affordances is a complex subject. Sometimes, functionality of perceived marginal importance becomes the most important in the market: Flickr Wikipedia In these cases, the affordances’ benefit to users are more important than the value developers perceive they create with specific functions.
    29. 29. Frissen V. 1995 Gender is Calling: Some reflections on past, present and future uses of the telephone. In K. Grint and R Gill (eds), The Gender Technology Relation, London: Taylor and Francis, 79-94 Early telephone companies did not appreciate the telephone’s affordance for intimacy, instead promoted the phone as a purely functional, instrumental device. Telephone companies issued prescriptions for how to use the telephone: during the day it had to be used in an instrumental way for business or housekeeping matters , such as ordering things… Only in the evenings was “ chatting” or “visiting” by phone permitted, although this should be restricted in any case. It took these telephone companies some to realise that these marketing strategies were not an accurate reflection of what was actually being done with the phone. The Telephone’s Affordances 09/29/09 Travis Noakes
    30. 30. <ul><li>“ The Street Finds Its </li></ul><ul><li>Own Uses For Things.” </li></ul><ul><li>Gibson, William. </li></ul>09/29/09 Travis Noakes Consumers and Prosumers create Affordances The unexpected role of the consumer
    31. 31. 09/29/09 © But we need to remember, we're only at the beginning. The epics of history are long. The cultural revolution, the industrial revolution. By comparison our information age is still in its infancy: we're only at Web 2.0.
    32. 32. 09/29/09 © Visit my blog at Message me on Facebook or Twitter . Email me on [email_address] Need help; web 2.0 me :) !
    33. 33. 09/29/09 Travis Noakes