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Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

OU Facebook Apps, Reprise

I was at a meeting yesterday looking at rebooting the OU’s Facebook strategy. With a bit of luck, this means that we’ll be doing another push on the OU Facebook apps that were developed several years ago now and which I still believe provide a sound basis for a range of community building and social learning support services (Course Profiles – A Facebook Application for Open University Students and Alumni).

The apps were largely developed out of time and in stolen time, and it seems that things are likely to continue in this way (which is both a plus – freeing us from constraints of interminable committees wanting to plan strategies rather than jfdi, and a minus – @liamgh is the only person we trust with the code which means any maintenance falls to him ;-)

For those who don’t remember the apps we developed, there were two: Course Profiles, which allowed students to declare the courses that had taken were taking and intended to take, and then provided a range of services around that information (find friends on a course, find a study buddy, link to course information or course related OpenLearn resources, get course recommendations); and My OU Story, where students could maintain a “status diary” about their progress on a course, along with a mood indicator so they could track their mood over a course, and other app users could add supportive comments. (I’d be surprised if anyone in the Student Services retention project has even heard about this project, but looking at some of the peer support that has gone on within the context that app, I’d argue it might be contributing to retention…)

Course Profiles quickly attracted several thousand users following the initial push just after it was first launched, so it evidently served a need then that presumably still exists today, i.e. a badging mechansims for celebrating course achievements and declaring future study intentions. One thing that might be worth looking at is the rate at which early adopters of Course Profiles have continued to update it, and report on the extent to which their original “future study” intentions converted to actual course registrations.

There’s also going to be a push on growing the number of fans on the official OU profile page. I’m not sure what plan @stuartbrown has for growing the numbers (for the task appears to have fallen to him…;-) but with a bit of luck the apps as well as the fan page will get highlighted through some of the official communication channels.

We also had a bit of discussion around other potential apps. Something I’d quite like to see would be a gallery app pulling images from the various flickr groups that have popped up around the T189 Digital Photography short course. Alumni of that group are already pretty active, and have just launched their first online exhibition, so if we could provide a channel that increases the audience for their show, and if they’re happy for us to amplify it via an OU Facebook app, that might be quite a fun thing to try as a community building app… (For more about the background to the exhibition, see Inspiring Learners; also see the T189 Graduates’ Exhibition).

(I also wonder if a similar gallery style app might work to showcase some of the games that students on T151 Digital worlds manage to create, all with their permission of course…)

Someone (I forget who) also suggested a “Share on Facebook” button within the gallery environment students use to build their portfolio whilst they take T189 (limited so that sharing was limited to photographs that a student had uploaded themselves, of course). This would amplify a student’s work and progress on a course to their Facebook friends, and provide their friends with a glimpse of what sorts of activities are involved in this particular OU course.

One thing I never even half managed to convince anybody that it was important was the data that was collected by the Course Profiles app in particular, though I did have a go at a few quick’n’dirty takes on this, such as OU Course Profiles Facebook App – Treemaps, Hierarchical Course Clusters from Course Profiles App and Tinkering with Google Charts (which started to consider what a course team dashboard view might look like). I was mulling this over again last night, and the following uses came to mind if we started to reconcile Course Profiles with institutional data (something we were always wary of, but anyway – here’s the thinking…;-)

- predictors and conversion rates: I’m not sure if Liam is logging when/how users change their status updates, but it’d be useful to know what percentage of users are updating their Course Profiles (e.g. from ‘currently taking’ to ‘taken’ courses, or more interestingly ‘intend to take’ to taking) and whether an “intend to take” course declaration is a good predictor of whether students do actually take a course. There’s an obvious quick win here for a possibly intrusive marketing campaign chasing folk who’ve declared an ‘intend to take’ course but don’t appear to have followed up on it;

- predicting course sizes: with several thousand users, does the sample of users on Course Profiles predict future course enrollment numbers? As far as I know, no-one in planning ever came to us asking to peak at our data to explore this. Nor did any more than a couple of Course Chairs ever seem to think it was interesting that we had stated intentions about course pathways, and that for new courses in particular we might be able to spot whether students were signing up for a course based on a pathway the course team was hoping for?

- retention: is the retention rate of students on a course who are on Facebook with Course Profiles and/or My OU Story different to the retention rate across the course as a whole? Does the fact that students who have declared ‘intend to take’ courses on the Course Profile correlate with their likelihood of completing an award?

- course planning and recommendation: on the one hand, courses appear to have natural numbers; on the other, working out what courses to take in what order for a particular degree given various factors (such as courses already taken, course exclusions etc) can be a confusing affair. At the moment, I believe a rule based support tool is being explored to help with course recommendations, but how well do those suggestions compare with a simple clustering based on Course Profiles data?

PS Just in passing, it’s worth noting that as with other groups who’ve used Facebook to mount campaigns against unpopular corporate decisions, OU students are no different… Open University curbs Tesco ‘clubcard degree’ scheme .

Written by Tony Hirst

March 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I stopped using them, because I stopped studying OU courses. I realise it’s unlikely to be viable, but if they were sufficiently flexible to be used by people studying courses elsewhere I might continue using (I’m doing a distance learning MSc at Edinburgh Napier).

    Richard Sweet

    March 10, 2010 at 8:36 pm

  2. [...] 11, 2010 · Leave a Comment Tony Hirst has a new post about the Open University’s revised Facebook app strategy. From the post: For [...]

  3. [...] Apps Two and half years ago, as part of an informally convened skunkworks team, we released a couple of Open University related Facebook apps inspired, in part, by observing student behaviour in online course [...]

  4. [...] apps which can support such collaborative activities? Back in March 2010 in a post entitled OU Facebook Apps, Reprise Tony Hirst mentioned work at the Open University which was “looking at rebooting the OU’s [...]


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