Monday, December 01, 2008

Community platform @ OU-UK

Tony Hirst wrote a blog post about the British Open University's new initiative to foster a sense of community amongst its stakeholders, an initiative called Platform.
Platform screendump

Platform is a Drupal-based community site that brings together News, Blogs, Forums, Study-related Issues and some more informal stuff like games, competitions, etc. After the info, some comments - off the top of my head:
  • Platform is open for anyone to join - you needn't be a student, staff member or alumnus to register. This is positive, because it allows others to get a bit of a feel for what's going on On-campus.
  • The standard open blogging function in Drupal has been switched off for registered users, thus limiting the interaction possibilities. Users can, however, submit content to the site or participate in forum discussions, but both types of user-content are moderated by site supervisors. This has the effect that the site feels very much like a student bar, where the institution sets the rules and hands out the drinks, and users are only allowed to choose at which table they want to sit..
  • The added value of registering on the site is that you can rate, tag and comment on stuff that appears on the site. These user actions are not pre-moderated (they appear immediately after posting them), but they are probably scanned by the site supervisors anyway. This adds a nice touch, but - to stay within the metaphor.
  • Currently, the link with the institution's virtual learning environment is non-existing, nor is there a clear link to the institutional website. As such, the community site feels a bit like an 'in-between' place to be. And not really integrated to form a 'single user-experience'.
In short, Platform is a promising initiative that is quite relevant in the light of my own work. For instance:
  • In allowing rating, annotation and tagging - RAT, for short - Platform has achieved one of the goals of the OUNL's goals in setting up new user-centered services.We also want to offer rating, annotation and tagging of items. We are not entirely certain of which items we want to open up to user feedback. The OU-UK has chosen to allow feedback on 'safe' items on the platform, and not items on their institutional homepage or in the virtual learning environment.
  • Our ideas of integrating the community aspects of the OUNL in an integrated personal workplace would bring together the formal and informal communication related to the student/stakeholder in one single place. We intend to minimise the barrier between the learning environment and the community environment, which will hopefully enhance the user experience of the OUNL as an integrated campus.
  • Finally, our idea of the personal workplace for all stakeholders starts from the main assumption that the user is in charge, and not the institution. We will be offering different information and interaction services in an integrated environment, but the user will be in control.
It would be interesting to be kept up-to-date on the usage of Platform, the success criteria that the OU has set itself and the future plans. Anybody?


Wytze Koopal said...

That seems to a very interesting development to me, over there in the UK. Thanks for pointing me to this initiative!

Mike said...

The main problem with Platform is that it is not as rich in content as the many hundreds of student-run Forums OU students already have. I also find the content UK-centric and there's too much 'selling' of OU courses. Navigation is also not that easy.

As a concept though, an open drop-in club is a good idea and maybe in five years' time or so Platform will have developed into something a bit bigger and more 'real' than it is now.