Ning

As the Captcha team were impressed by the use of Ning at University of Bradford, we recommended that the PgC Secondary team in the Faculty of Education used it to support their new intake who started at the end of May.  The PgC team and Captcha saw the use of Ning as an aid to start conversations among ‘unconditional firm applicants’ who had accepted their offer.  The conversations were expected to be about finding their way around campus, how to find accommodation.   This was set up by one of last year’s students who had felt very strongly that this was needed to support students through a complex time.  In addition to this, the Captcha team has worked the the faculty of education marketing staff and ICTS to ensure that this same group of students has early (ie pre-registration) enrollment to our VLE (Blackboard).  This hasn’t been as easy as it should have been because we are relying on information from SITS and thus the students needed to have been fully ‘processed’ before a Blackboard account has been created.  So as a short term measure the accounts were batch created manually.  The students than have access to a tab in the Blackboard community system that introduces them to the ethos of the course, and sets them a few pre-enrollment tasks (e.g. to spend a day in a primary school).

I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that this project produces some ‘tensions’ between other processes within the University.  Mainly marketing who see their role as supporting pre-enrolled students.  However, we have been careful to stress that we don’t aim to either duplicate, or offer contradictory advice to pre-enrolled students – we are offering teaching and learning support and if students want to discuss accommodation through Ning, then at least they are doing so through a semi official UofC site.

As well as working with the Faculty of Education, we have been keen to attract a range of students to the Captcha project.  This hasn’t been very successful so far, but I think this may be down to timing.  I have also read the Twoler final report and they offer some tips on how to engage students and motivate them to join the project.  We sent out a global email and posted an announcement asking for student stories that reflect back on the first engagement with the University.  It has been a problem finding the right terminology, because I don’t see Captcha as necessarily a ‘first year experience’ project, although this may involve some aspects of this.  We are also eager to hear from work-based students, mature students, part-time students.  So far we have had two responses to the call – one from someone who will use the webfolio tool in PebblePad to tell their story and one who will create a short video.  I’m not thrilled with the response but I am pleased that the stories will be different – one will talk about juggling family commitments and work-based learning, the other is going to talk about the first time away from home – how to do laundry and cook.  We’re aiming to use these stories to generate more interest in the autumn when hopefully we can spark some more interest.

This is a pattern we intend to repeat – use one success (no matter how small) to foster a wider interest.  With this in mind we are anticipating an increased interest in using Ning.  I don’t see the fact that Ning are going to charge as a bad thing.  In fact it may result in a more planned and sustained use of the software.  We are also considering bringing it in house onto our own servers if this is possible.  Why this and not Blackboard then?  Well I would argue that it is a lot more fluid and flexible, particularly for the unconditional firm applicants – and maybe even other groups.  Staff have expressed concern that we may confuse students with ning, Blackboard and PebblePad – will we?  I guess we can try and find out.  I don’t see any evidence of this yet, especially as we are all dipping in and out of various Web 2.0 applications – I have a facebook account, a delicious account, hundreds of shopping accounts….and I never get confused between the different types of software/services.

Sarah.

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