Terry Anderson is currently visiting us here in IET and he just gave a brief presentation on the ‘Athabasca Landing‘, which is the virtual learning environment and social network that supports their students. These are my notes from the session…
‘Athabasca Landing‘ was the original name for Athabasca, which is 190km north of Evantown. The university is the largest master of distance learning programme and the only USA accredited university in Canada. (Approximately 50% of students are registered at other universities and take courses at Athabasca through credit transfer schemes which are more common in Canada.) Of 150 faculty, only 8 live in Athabasca itself.
The ‘Landing’ is a toolset for sharing and communication as well as a social network. It might be thought of as a ‘walled garden with windows’, a user-owned space which is shut off from outside influence (no adverts, links to vendors, etc). Unlike Moodle, users are not assigned levels of influence: anyone can do anything.
The pedagogical rationale for the site is that undergraduate programmes are followed at the students own pace and it cannot be assumed that there will be a cohort who move through the programme together. Landing supports ‘beyond the course’ interaction and integration among students who are encouraged to take ownership of the space to create co-operative and collaborative opportunities for learning (in accordance with Connectivist pedagogies). Because staff are also distributed, Landing supports them in making connections. (Most administrative systems are quite inflexible, having been designed for closed and controlled users, audiences and processes.)
There are currently 4488 users, but uptake is perhaps being slowed by the functionality now available on Moodle, email, Facebook or academia.edu.
When you log in, you can see site statistics, etc and the feed from those individuals who you follow. There is a Twitter equivalent (‘The Wire’) and a number of special interest groups which may or may not be based on a course or course activity. One can search by tags, access an event calendar, bookmarks, wikis, Google Gadgets, forums, and various widgets. One can also follow individuals of interest and publish blog posts through the platform.
A lot of students choose not to use the platform, but many also find it a good antidote to the relative quietness of the Athabasca campus. This is also the thinking behind a lot of the activities that take place within the OU’s own virtual learning environment (which is a custom version of Moodle). Martin Weller noted that on some OU courses the forums may be relatively inactive while extensive discussion takes place on Facebook.