I attended a workshop where the OU sought views from OU staff, students, and alumni about the Social:Learn project. I haven’t been so enthralled by a workshop in years and I have been pondering why that should be. I think there are two main reasons:
The social:learn project is fascinating. It started in response to the nightmare scenario of someone picking up the best of the free web2 tools, social networks and some dynamic Associate Lecturers to make an online university to compete with the OU. The social:learn team have tried to do the same, but for the OU, instead of against it. The result is not just another tool, but a way of thinking about higher education that provides a place for a learning network online. Martin Weller’s slideshare explains it fully. There will be tools, which I will write about in another post, but the glue is a place to organise, share and record learning online in a social way. This may sound like nothing new, but the revolutionary part, for me, was the premise that although the ‘glue’ will be OU, the tools and services interacting with the system will be chosen by the students. The big question is: will students grok it?
I had already ‘met’ several of the conference participants through twitter, seesmic and the closed ning network set up for the workshop. Meeting them in person was great, but our previous use of web 2 social networks lead to an amazing back channel during the workshop and presentations. There was plenty of social chat, mostly about the free chocolate, but rather than a distraction, this added to the general conversation and thought processes, with ideas being discussed in real time in the room and being added to the ning network or picked up later in question sessions. If we could get students this involved in their lectures could it revolutionize the way they learn? Reingold has suggested that we make use of the back channel and engage with it which is exactly what was happening here.