Online social learning spaces for building campus communities?

Self actualisationUCASU provide a number of groups, societies and activities for students at UCA to join at each campus.  Many students at UCA take up this offer, but providing campus experiences is a key challenge for our four campus communities.  Some of this may be about student availability (ie holding down jobs, needing to get back home), but it seems there might also be some value to moving beyond the physical and exploring the possibilities of creating online collaborative spaces, co-created by students.  These could be used for online peer groups, mentoring, study groups, etc.  Whilst we have anecdotal evidence of the range of social media tools used across UCA courses (What’s App, Facebook, Instagram, Base Camp, Linked In), we have never conducted a study of this area and we have never really captured the student voice around this.

Between 2017 and 2018, we commissioned George Charman, Senior Lecturer (FE), Epsom, to lead a learning and teaching project to explore this area.  The study explored the literature around online social learning and talked to UCA students to find out what online tools they were engaging with, and what tools they would help build more of a sense of community and belonging with their course and campus.  The final study, entitled Towards a digital Village- The Use of Online Social Learning within Higher Education is published here.

The key conclusions from the research invite us to reconsider how we facilitate the use of spaces on campus (studio, library, workshops, refectory) as places to de-compress dialectic online communication through active and more expressive dialogic critical engagement.  If we expanded our definitions of campus spaces, we could activate the campus as a trans-disciplinary tool for informal, self-actualized learning.  Our research suggests that we consider the benefit of an opening out of the institution through the creation of shared collaborative spaces, co-created by students that move ‘beyond the usual physical learning environment into collaborative open spaces’ that are both digital and physical.

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