Friday, 2 November 2012

Build it - and they will come: the challenges of building relevant online [student] spaces


Build it and they will come. Really? Will they really?
We have built a new website for students at our University – the Study Hub – it has sections on Studying at University; FAQs; Cool Stuff [yes I know – it was a working title and just stuck]; Courses, workshops & drop-ins; and Study Worries: http://www.facebook.com/StudyWorries .   

Study Worries is a Face Book page that we are trying to run as a crowd sourced supportive space for students. We have the hope that students will go in there to post advice, ask and answer each other’s questions… and generally start organically to build a supportive online community.

But, how do we get students – or anybody – to start to engage in these online spaces?

I suppose I first noticed that there might be issues with this during our student conference – Get Ahead 2012. This Conference is for students, organized by students – and with some sessions run by students. We wanted the participants to tweet about the sessions they were going to, to share their thoughts, to get a bit of interest going … Well – I think there were about three student tweets – and the rest were posted by a friend and me tweeting away furiously - and mainly to ourselves.

It was useful though, for it offered us that insight; just calling something a community does not mean that it will be owned by the people you would want to own it.

Of course the traditional thing in HE these days is to assess what you want students to do… If it ain’t assessed – they have no incentive to do it. But I wanted students to engage without using the leverage of assessment – I wanted engagement seeded by the meaningfulness or usefulness or quirkiness of the thing itself.

So – we built the Hub – with its Study Worries space and over the summer I started populating it with small academic stories that I found interesting, so that when students returned to us in September/October – there would not just be an empty space to join.

Here are some of the most recent posts that I put up:

Study Worries shared a link.
How do we promote active learning - including from tutorials? Join in the online debate today, Friday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/nov/02/university-tutorials-students-independent-learning?CMP=twt_gu

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Study Worries shared a link.
We've been talking about memory with a lot of different people today: even if you are on a course without exams - you will still want to remember stuff that you are learning - you want to take it away with you at the end of your degree. This Psyblog post makes some really useful points about memory - check it out: http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/10/how-memory-works-10-things-most-people-get-wrong.php

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Study Worries shared a link.
If you think you would learn more if you were more CREATIVE - check out this site: http://k12onlineconference.org/ Good luck, Study worries.

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Study Worries I REALLY liked the presentation: How technology helped me paint with mud: http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=1131
k12onlineconference.org




Study Worries shared a link.
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Talking about DISSERTATIONS - have you noticed that our Master Classes this week are all about getting your dissertation started? Mondays 1-2.30, LCM-19. Weds 1-2.30 at Calcutta House, CM213 and Weds evening back in the Learning Centre, in LCM19, 6-7.30.


Study Worries shared a link.
For those of you *finishing off* your Dissertation - or even that PhD... http://thesiswhisperer.com/2012/10/24/screw-you-thesis/Some good 'transition' advice. Good luck from Study Worries!


Study Worries shared a link.
Academic writing month? A blog post from the 'Thesis Whisperer' on getting that Dissertation written. What do you think?http://thesiswhisperer.com/2012/10/23/why-i-changed-my-mind-about-acwrimo/

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We built it… Where are they?
As you can see, the page consists of a mix of the hopefully interesting alongside basic but useful information about the classes that we are running. Engagement is tentative – and whilst I do get heartened when I see that perhaps twenty people have seen a post after only half an hour or so, there are very, very few posts initiated by students themselves.


Build bigger?
I was talking about this recently with Eloise Sentito from Plymouth University: she too is interested in getting students talking with each other about studying and learning – including at a meta level. We thought it would be great if students could engage in a site of their own the way that many learning developers do in the LDHEN list: see www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ldhen - the discussion space for Learning Development in Higher Education.

In a burst of hope, she is launching a jiscmail site for students: www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ldtalk - it is built – we want them to come. If you are also interested in promoting student discussion about study and learning issues – please get them to look at - and get them to join.

What have you done?
If you have your own success stories – of how you have got students to engage with each other online – and to build online communities – even communities of practice – I’d be really interested in hearing your stories…


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