“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” (John Dewey)
A few months ago I contributed a blog post here about OSCAR, the Online Studio Community at Reading. An alternative VLE designed for the Department of Art here at Reading, specifically to support studio-based modules, OSCAR is a portal to the extensive activities our student community is engaged in at home and internationally. Since then, with support from Digitally Ready I have set up a staff/student research group to involve students in the site’s administration and to enable them to have a say in its development.
The group, which consists of two members of staff from Art, the digital developer for OSCAR and four students from different cohorts, had its first workshop on 30 January. One of the key points that came out of this workshop was that for OSCAR to really take off it would require each member to have their own profile page.
Most if not all students already have some form of online profile but the group agreed that these are nearly always casual, social and informal. The consensus was that it would be very useful to have an online presence or profile that would exist separately from those other presences – one that could be attached and affiliated with the institution. Although the idea of a professional online profile or POI (I discovered that students find these acronyms laughable!) is not new, it is not something that students automatically know how to develop and many of them struggle with the idea that you can represent yourself online in various ways, with some being more appropriate than others in particular contexts.
We discussed many other features that could be developed such as student-led groups, a forum for upcoming events and blog comment boxes, but the unanimous view was that a personal member profile would be the lead in for students to start connecting with each other in this context. They would feel more comfortable starting groups and discussion with other members if they could see what those members were interested in to begin with.
Once students set up their profile they will then be able to connect with other members of OSCAR: staff or students from any cohort, thus establishing a network of associates via common interests but also learning about online professionalism through vertical integration.
We are seeing more and more how online social networks can be harnessed for educational purposes and it is no surprise that this kind of platform has the potential to be effective for Art. Artists have long thrived on peer community and collaboration is at the core of much contemporary practice. Online environments are naturally where today’s communities thrive. We want to put our students in the driving seat of OSCAR so they can steer their community into the future.