As part of our JISC funded ‘Isthmus’ project we have launched a pilot Facebook group for students on our short online courses. The overall concept is to encourage a ‘community’ of students that exists beyond the run of any single course. It’s been running for 6 days now and so far we have 45 members (about 10% of this term’s students) and around 20 posts.
Deciding to use Facebook and then deciding exactly how to set-up the group was complicated and generated a lot of discussion here at TALL. Our students are generally older than a traditional university student and many of them are retired. The recent OxIS Internet survey reported that 42% of students signed up to a Social Networking site last year but of those in the retired ‘life-stage’ category only 2% signed up. In contrast Saga recently launched a Social Networking site for the over 55s and claimed that ‘Silver Social Networking’ was on the rise. Surveys of our students revealed that not many of them were members of Social Networking sites (around a third) but that only 26% were not interested in communicating with other students after their course had finished.
As well as the difficulty in deciding to run the pilot it was also not clear exactly what form it should take because it cuts across technical, pedagogical, social and legal issues. Each area for consideration pulls the design and principle of the pilot in different directions. The core challenge was how to strike the right balance between supporting and structuring the group without ‘owning’ or managing it. This involved consulting JISC legal, Oxford University’s Legal Services Office and a range of stakeholders (including the students).
So far the group seems to be working, but it is early days. More significantly I feel we have made inroads into how to manage our relationship with third party services such as Facebook. If we can establish some principles in this area then we will be able to take advantage of the wider web much more efficiently in the future.