SHIRKY -- Last year, Clay Shirky taught a class called Social Software in which the students "worked in small groups to design and launch software to support some form of group interaction." Shirky required that whatever project proposed by students had to be used by other students. "This first order benefits of this strategy were simple: the designers came from the same population as the users, and could thus treat their own instincts as valid; beta-testers could be recruited by walking down the hall; and it kept people from grandiose 'boil the ocean' attempts."
Shirky hadn't anticipated the second-order benefits. "Time and again the groups came up against problems that they solved in part by taking advantage of social infrastructure or context-sensitive information." He cites two strategies worth considering on projects set at Tipperary Institute.
The first had to do with reputation systems.
One project, The Orderer was for coordinating group restaurant orders, common in late-night work sessions. The other, WeBe was a tool for coordinating group purchases of things like chips or motors. Because money was involved, a Web School approach would require some way of dealing with deadbeats, using things like pre-pay or escrow accounts, or formal reputation systems.
Instead, in both projects the students decided that since all the users were part of the ITP community, they would simply make it easy to track the deadbeats, with the threat of public broadcast of their names. The possibility of being shamed in front of the community became part of the application design, even though the community and the putative shame were outside the framework of the application itself.
Shirky's conclusions about projects completed by his students last year should be required reading for all educators engaged in monitoring university students who work on graded independent assignments.
Clay Shirky -- "Essay: Situated Software"