So I’ve gone into my WPMU project a little and briefly mentioned the BuddyPress university community site currently in process. Now I’d like to touch upon how these projects plus existing social media tools can be used to support online education initiatives at my university.
Today, we’re really just scratching the surface of online/distance education. Last summer we released a completely new distance ed support site that essentially offers some step-by step registration help, links to campus resources, and FAQ info. It’s not a distance learning recruiting tool or a hand-holding retention piece, but it is progress.
The existing distance ed site is in WP, so the migration to WPMU won’t be much of a stretch. The big bonus here is going to be the opportunity to get more of the faculty currently teaching distance classes involved in the day to day distribution of the information given to distance students/prospects. The act of migrating will allow me the chance to sit down with the committee again and pitch the use of Twitter, Google Calendar and the university community site (for starters). I’ll also get to dig into some WPMU only plugins and features that may help bring the University into this century.
The BuddyPress community site could see heavy use as a support/retention tool for the academic side. I’ve already seen incredible interest in using the groups feature to fill gaps in available campus services, specifically for non-traditional students. This group doesn’t operate the way traditional students do, and therefore aren’t able to make a standard campus group work (nobody can nail down a time for meetings). An online group will give this demographic the opportunity to interact and get to know each other on their own time. Similarly, distance learning students are literally all over the map. They get very little interaction from campus outside Blackboard and the generic swarm of student email, so an online group could bring them together for, at very least, moral support.
Another campus initiative I find myself involved with is the Staff Development committee. The purpose is as advertised, to find ways to offer a variety of support and training to the staff. We’re all over-worked, so getting a large group of staff together for regular face-to-face training is impractical. It’s been left to me to find ways to offer online professional development opportunities that don’t cost much anything. The intention is to send a bi-weekly email newsletter containing, among other things, links to a tutorial or video considered helpful to our staff. All hail YouTube.
The combination of the WPMU (with the customizable universal dashboard plugin) and BuddyPress projects will also allow me, as sole web staffer, to support and assist my faculty and distance staff by letting me introduce useful sharing tools like Google docs, Slideshare, Twitter, social bookmarking and a huge list of great YouTube tutorials…all with no budget.