I’ve recently become involved in a new project, under the University of Sheffield’s SeeChange initiative, going by the name of “Student Learning Community 2.0”. What’s this all about? Well, it’s to do with using social networking and other Web 2.0 ideas to support student learning at the university, but that sounds more fuzzily defined to me every time I read it. It’s quite a blue-skies project, so I guess a certain amount of fuzziness is to be expected, but I think it will be helpful in the coming months to have some more concrete aims. I’ll be using the rest of this post to try and clarify the project goals, or at least how they look here at the outset of the project.

What's in a name?

First and foremost, we wish to benefit our students. With any project involving new teaching methods, and particularly those involving new technology, it is easy to get excited about the techniques, but less easy to see how they are relevant to the learners. If this project is to be successful, we must have a positive impact on students.

Second, it focuses on student learning. Children learn “how to learn” from a very early age, and it is a sad fact that the current school system fosters learning behaviours which are far from optimal. Learning “ability” has a direct impact not only on academic achievement but on life generally; it is therefore in the University’s best interests to ensure that its students are the best learners possible, despite the poor training they may have received previously.

Third, we aim to do that by fostering a community. Encouraging students to collaborate in learning has two major benefits:

  1. It will leverage peer pressure, increasing the impact of the project;
  2. It will avoid re-inventing the wheel by many independent students, increasing the efficiency of the project.

Finally, there is an expectation that Web 2.0 will play a role. The focus of most of the new technologies which come under the heading “Web 2.0” has been on social networking in various forms. There are now web-based communities with memberships ranging in size from a handful to over 100 million (source: Facebook statistics), and many young people use such social networking sites daily. We therefore anticipate that this will be a key factor in developing the student learning community.

Pictures of success

So, how can we say whether the project has been a success? For me, I think the key aim will be an improvement in student learning behaviour, particularly an increase in deep learning and a more collaborative approach to learning. In addition to this, I think the project has potential to do some or all of the following:

  • Improve quality of life for students and graduates;
  • Provide students with new skills;
  • Make students more employable;
  • Encourage trust (in all directions) between students, staff and the university;
  • Make teaching a more enjoyable occupation; and, of course,
  • Make the university more attractive to potential students.

These are, naturally, difficult to measure objectively. However, I feel that by keeping these aims in mind it will not just be possible for the project to succeed; it will be impossible for it to fail. Call me idealistic if you like — I’ve got a good feeling about this.

That’s all for now. In my next post on this subject, I’ll start to address the following:

  • How might we go about this?
  • Where are we now?

I’ll also be elaborating on the issues I’ve touched on in this first post soon. Until then, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.