Viewpoint

The Social Nucleus Shifts with Inigral

On Facebook, a friend recently said his university was trying Inigral. So, I checked it out, listened to an audio clip of Michael Staton, CEO of Inigral, then contacted him for a Skype call. A short time later, as I listened to Staton talk about Inigral, I realized "This is it!" This is what I've been waiting for, for 24 years! An application that recognizes a college class as a social group, helps students create and live within that group, increases connection to that class/social group, and, according to Staton, professors involved in beta testing report that "the grades seem to be going up but they don't really know why." An Inigral founding partners group is meeting June 18--colleges and universities piloting Inigral that include Arizona State University, Abilene Christian University, Maricopa Community Colleges, Stetson University, Harvey Mudd, University of Texas at Tyler, and Michigan State University.

Inigral interacts securely with the SIS or ERP on campus and, what caught my ears, allows students to start networking with their new classmates before the class begins. They can see the profiles and interests of their soon-to-be classmates. They are using a Facebook app, developed by Inigral, which is funded by the same folks who originally funded Facebook. Staton says Facebook encouraged Inigral to develop their Facebook application: "The biggest use case for students is 'I want to know who's going to be in my class and I want to know what I have in common with them.' We help students solve that question. That's the thing [the feature in Inigral] students get most excited about. You'll catch them about a week before class starts, going through everybody who will be in their class."

Now, just picture what is going on here and how absolutely revolutionary this innovation is. Students in a particular class start talking to each other a week before the class begins via a Facebook app.They are forming a social group before they even meet the instructor. Student interaction is not funneled through the teacher at this point. By the time they are in class, the conversation has already started and the instructor is a late addition.

Education has so long focused on the cognitive process while giving short shrift to the social nature of learning, to its detriment, that it has therefore found it difficult to even talk about the social nature of learning within the classroom. This is even while the rest of campus life has social learning at the center. So the appearance of Inigral--a Facebookapp--seems astounding. Obvious and inevitable but nevertheless astounding.

This simple trick of finding a secure way for a Facebook application to alter an academic class by making it into more of a social group is astounding because it can and does have these results:

1. It increases students' sense of identity with the people in the class and the instructor.

2. Students see other students and their instructor as 3-dimensional human beings.

3. It increases the chances of out-of-class interaction among students.

4. Through social affiliation, it makes students feel more engaged with the learning process their group/class is going through.

5. It acts within this social group more naturally, using ageless patterns of human learning.

6. It reduces the artificial nature of traditional classroom interaction.

7. Students can scaffold their thinking on comments from other students since the total number of classroom interactions will increase because of the Facebook app.

8. Students extend their allegiance to the students in the class even after the class has ended.

9. It reduces the segmentation of learning by keeping the conversation among students going after the class is over.

I have seen few Web 2.0 applications with such promise for educational reform at a foundational level--the relationship between instructor and student. Inigral offers the potential for faculty to increase student engagement in their classes without them having to introduce the technology. In fact, the students start the learning process even before the first day of class.

Innovations such as Inigral is why Web 2.0 is so interesting--it is a cultural phenomenon that is redefining learning without having to go through the curriculum committee.

[Image used with permission of Inigral, Inc.]

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (http://www.aaeebl.org), serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: http://trentbatsoneportfolio.wordpress.com/ E-mail: trentbatson@mac.com

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