Few would object to Lévy’s (1997) utopian and humanistic vision of a world in which a new generation of tools provide the technical infrastructure that allows the dynamic sharing of collective intelligence amongst distributed communities for mutual advantage. However, much of the existing research within the field of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) suggests that many learners are not so quick to engage, share knowledge and learn collaboratively with others through new media. Crook and Light (2002: 171) note that electronic seminar spaces, set up by university computer services to support taught courses, remained unused by over 90 per cent of course tutors. Of the remaining 10 per cent that were used, the online discussion was dominated by a small number of individuals. They highlight: (a) the breakdown in the turn-taking protocols associated with face-to-face group discussion; (b) the very measured style of participation attributed to the fact that posts remained open to inspection; and (c) the ‘abrasive, irrelevance, and irreverence’ that welled up when no moderator was present. Muukkonen et al. (2005: 535) highlight the ‘interrelated difficulties’ that arise when tutors attempt to integrate online discussion

forums into structured courses. Recurrent themes include: problems with intensity of participation, shortness of discourse threads and lack of reciprocity. Kreijns, Kischner and Jochems (2003) stress that many tutors erroneously take it for granted that participants will socially interact simply because it is possible. Moreover, their metareview of the CSCL literature stresses that a sole focus on cognitive processes in instructional activities neglects the social, cultural and economic circumstances that impact on students’ participation. What appears to be missing from the literature is an understanding of how learners, left to their own devices, actively appropriate social media to leverage expertise of others within and across institutional boundaries. Nardi argues:

Paradoxically, we find that the most fundamental unit of analysis for computer-supported cooperative work is not at the group level for many tasks and settings, but at the individual level as personal social networks come to be more and more important. Collectively subjects are increasingly put together through the assemblage of people found through personal networks rather than being constituted as teams created through organizational planning and structuring. Teams are still important but they are not the centrepiece of labour management they once were, nor are they the chief resource for individual workers.