Social Networks at UoL

Ning networks

Over the last year the eLearning Unit have created an increasing number of online social networks for a range of departments and a variety of purposes across the university. The two most recent examples of this are a network created for students on Chinese placements within the Management School and a site supporting collaboration between colleagues in Educational Development and the University of Health Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan, as part of the INSPIRE project.

The online social network platform Ning has been used to create these networks but discussions are underway about a possible in-house replacement for this facility which is officially supported by CSD here at the University of Liverpool.

In some cases hosting sensitive materials or data on an external server would not be appropriate so an internal solution would be ideal. This is particularly relevant when assessment is facilitated through an online network which is not within the control of the university. There is also a cost associated with each current individual network and as more are created, for separate departments, questions about effective budgeting should be raised.

We feel that it would be sensible to pilot an internally hosted social network solution at some point soon as more and more requests are being satisfied with external platforms such as Ning. An alternative product such as Elgg could be to trialled on a hosted CSD server and an evaluative comparison between internal and external options could be initiated.

Any thoughts welcome. Please add a comment if you have an opinion or suggestion you would like to share.



2 thoughts on “Social Networks at UoL

  • Hi Paul, with regards to the use of social networking site, the vet school would be very interested in being part of a pilot.
    I am currently setting up a system to give every 1st yr vet their own cow when they get here in Sept. This is in addition to their own PDP tutor of course 😉
    Basically all of our cows at Woodpark farm are pedigree (have their own name and ID number) and we can give the students access to their details- milk yield, calving interval etc etc.
    The plan is that we would post regular updates about their cow, film anything interesting that may be happening to her (calving, Caesar etc) and post it. The big thing is that we will have monthly competitions as well, ie the person whose cow has the biggest milk yield this month gets a prize.
    They have to interrogate the data about the herd to identify which cow this is. This gets them used to the terminology, what happens when on a dairy farm, what geneology occurs in a pedigree herd etc and prepares them for clinical work later.
    Ideally, using a social network, our farm managers can post info up and answer questions, but also the students can discuss with each other how their cows are doing, which cow is related to who etc etc. We would want to keep this info within the uni though.
    I am getting the individual cow’s photos to go on some intro blurb for each of the 1st yrs and looking around VITAL at where I can site the info. I guess it may just have to be a basic blog for now but if you are planning on a pilot and you think this idea may fit, then let me know.

    Avril Senior.

  • Hi Paul, As you know, I have been exploring the use of what you have called here social networking services in relation to a course in new business venture creation at the School of Engineering called Enterprise Studies. I’ve been involved in the delivery of the module since 2007. We have over 100 masters level students. As I had some experience of using outside of the University to support a private network of business users, I used it to try to enhance the support for learners on the course. However, it fell far short of my expectations and some years later it now pales against newer services. Personally, I don’t see the need for developing a University version when there are so many excellent free services available.

    You are aware I have been using Groupsite. This is much more than simple social networking. In USA based research on the business take up of Web 2.0 enabled services, Groupsite is described as a SAAS collaboration platform. Groupsite is a bundle of web 2.0 services, some of which will be familiar to social networkers. It has a discussion forum area with ability to embed video (I found that very useful), a Flikr like gallery for photos, and has a searchable library or knowledge repository where course documentation, lecture slides etc can be classified by week, or by lecture, or by topic. But this is just the start of it. Groupsite, as a collaboration platform for professionals, is ‘Industry Standard’, it’s the kind of webspace students could be using as their employers shift to what has been called an Enterprise 2.0 model of doing business. It has additional services (tools) designed to encourage collaboration. Students can provide detailed social and ‘professional’ profiles and can share objectives with others (e.g. research objectives, This can be used to improve group/team working and enhance peer to peer learning as well as enahancing tutor-student relationships and enable more focused learner support. The administration tools provided for collaboration platform managers I have found to be an excellent way of managing the course. E.mail blasts can remind students of deadlines, and, for example, to send links to newly uploaded learning material, new video or picture content. A calender can be used to let students know of events inside or outside the University that are course relavant. I could go on.

    I’m not saying Groupsite is a perfect situation. We think students are web native, but because this is professional networking as apposed to social networking it does require a different approach to using. That said, it’s seamless compared to Blackboard.

    You mention the need to invest in social networking at the University, I would suggest there is a need to invest in the use and effective management of such collaboration platforms in pursuit of further enhancing the student learning experience. I can even suggest Groupsite as a possible VLE.

    As the site I have set up is private, and access is controlled, anyone interested in exploring the site with me just let me know. I would be delighted to show you around.

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