Social networking for practice learning project

The cloud crowd

The cloud crowd

One of my main roles is as project manager for the Social Networking for Practice Learning project conducted here at the Institute for Educational Technology at The Open University. It’s in the second part of its life, a pivotal time since we’re able to look back to what we’ve achieved and look forward to what there is still to do. I work alongside the project leader, Mary Thorpe.

In the first part we worked with a range of Associate Lecturers (ALs, or tutors) here at The Open University in using social networking and web tools. We’ve been working for several months on a range of tools – including Google Reader, Delicious, Facebook and Ning – and have collected thoughts, resources and reports on a wiki.

Ten tutors have been encouraged to create accounts in these web tools and perform some tasks and reflect on their usefulness. We’ve created some guidance materials for them, including some videos, as well as a ‘Helpdesk’ on the wiki which addresses those tips or tricks that aren’t covered elsewhere and which the tutors write themselves. Eventually, we intend to introduce new ALs to use these tools on a voluntary basis and then – well, who knows? Perhaps if they find it useful and find the time, the word will spread and tutors throughout the OU will join.

This project is significant in that it represents the tutor perspective to social networking and focuses on the needs and wants of tutors in using web tools, rather than the student perspective. That’s not to say we’ve ignored our students: indeed, the group has been inventive in suggesting ways in which the tools – and some of the processes and related ideas – might be used for teaching (here, Delicious appears to have been particularly inspiring). But the focus has often been on such things as professional development, knowledge sharing and maintaining best practice and how these tools can facilitate that.

The new strand of development (following a successful bid for funding) will see the toolkit – a collection of social networking tools along with some guidance on how to use them – distributed throughout the wider University, to course team, academics and other interested parties.

I intend to post some of the findings that have come out of the project, as well as the directions it has taken and plans to take. It’s certainly been very useful and fun to work on – I hope it proves likewise for my interested colleagues here a the OU.

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