Second OU Facebook app – My OU Story


As you may know a while ago a small Facebook team started up at the OU, to develop some apps and just learn about how you operate in this social networking space for the benefit of students. The Facebook team is Tony with the ideas, Stuart with the user testing, Liam with the coding, me with the… erm, yeah, well it’s too complicated to go in to now.

The first app was Course Profiles. This allowed OU students to declare which course they were studying, had studied and were going to study. The interesting thing about this app was the way it could be used to drive other uses, e.g. we could use it as the basis for finding a ‘study buddy’.

Liam has now finished the coding on the second app, My OU Story. This allows users to declare their mood relating to their study from a prepopulated list, and to add a ‘micro-blog’ type comment. It then displays a Mood Graph, showing your mood across the course. It also allows you to send a message to someone e.g. ‘Keep going’, or my favourite ‘Be more modest’. And of course, all these actions show up on your news feed, so others will see it and hopefully respond.

Liam describes some of the techie stuff, Stuart talks about how it could relate to his own learning and Tony gives a good overview.

Tony will no doubt post about the usage, with some of his nice analytics, as it gets adopted. What is interesting for me is that conceiving of applications that make sense in this social networking world may have more significant implications for not only how we develop educational technology but also on what education may look like in a post-wikipedia/Flickr/YouTube world. The differences are quite subtle, and probably obvious, but they may indicate quite fundamental changes. Here are the ones I think may be important:

  • People not content – our applications are aimed at facilitating interaction with other students, not with content. This is not to say content isn’t important, and given that it’s Facebook one would expect a social emphasis, but the significance of the social element is increased.
  • Facilitation not direction. The applications are aimed at facilitating the interaction between students, which is at their discretion, not on directing student behaviour.
  • Less control – we haven’t specified _how_ the applications should be used, students will adopt them and use them for their own means. These are much less formal OU applications, at the moment no course team has made their use compulsory. This much looser system may not be totally scalable, ie there may be some tools that are mandated. But this applies to education also, there may be some ‘mandated’ content and activities, but also more variation.
  • Small informal team – the Facebook team, or T.oAD, came about by Tony having some chats with Liam and Stuart. I joined later just to grab some glory, and also to help clear some of their activity higher up in the University. The work doesn’t really fit in with many of the conventional management structures, mainly because people do it in their spare time. I was asked how the project was being managed once, and I replied ‘by beer’, because we tend to meet weekly for a pint and talk things over. I think ‘management by beer’ will become more of the norm, and institutions will need to find ways of interfacing this with the more conventional structures.



  • Tony Hirst

    “me with the… erm, yeah, well it’s too complicated to go in to now.” is actually the really important bit… perhaps the most important bit?
    Being able to look at the app in the wider context of a student’s life, in the wider context of all the possible tools that are out there, in the context of the institution, in the context of fighting for resource to engage in fb activity, in the context of locating the ideas behind the aps in the context of ed tech trends, is what makes the app legitimate (as well as users using the app, of course…); you can see the app for what it is, in an appropriate context… and you get the beers in! 😉
    Just one point re the ideas: actually, I think they arise out of conversation between *all* of us as much as anything… it’s just that I’m happy to talk in brainstorm mode all the time and not really worry about saying stupid things… wibble burble bleurghh 😉

  • Martin Le Voi

    A comment on “Management by Beer”
    Last week’s THES looked at the problem of promotion for women, and how institutions are recognising that certain management practices exclude women and in particular carers who cannot participate in certain practices (e.g. lengthy golf games etc.).
    I would place “management by beer” in that group as a form of institutionally sexist management. I won’t be supporting it.
    Martin Le Voi

  • Martin

    To be fair Martin, I think it is pretty obvious that I am using ‘management by beer’ as an example of more informal practice, not an absolute. It is what we happen to do with these people, but could equally be management by coffee/wine/ etc. I think to start bandying terms like ‘sexist’ around is rather missing the more general point about more informal structures.

  • Martin Le Voi

    Its exactly their informality that is discriminatory against certain workers, especially those who are part-time etc.
    Whether its beer or coffee or wine is missing the point.
    Just a little friendly warning here!

  • Martin

    Martin – first of all, apologies for my rather snarky response, it wasn’t warranted from your comment. I do take your point very seriously, and (as someone who doesn’t play golf) I know lots of people who do most of their business on the golf course, and I find this whole ‘in the club’ thing very irritating.
    I still think what I am suggesting is different though. Firstly, our FB team got together because they were interested in working on FB. Then we found ourselves meeting down the bar on a Tuesday just to thrash out ideas. I think we would all be sensitive enough not to do this if someone in the team wasn’t in to that. This was how this group found itself working, but others will operate in different ways.
    But also I think ‘management’ was the wrong term to use. I meant management as in us managing our project, not line management. So it is more collective coordination.
    What I wanted to convey was an absence of some things – formal recorded meetings, reporting structures, etc. This was because we wanted it to be fairly informal, flexible and creative.
    What I was trying to suggest was that I think the nature of technology will suit more grouping such as this – BUT, there is a question as to how institutions both encourage this, and also have them relate to the more formal structures, which are necessary.
    The points you raise are important though and I think there needs to be a balance struck between encouraging like-minded groupings, freedom and creativity and not establishing an exclusive network of ‘pals’.

  • Andy Lane

    Some interesting points and few thoughts to put alongside them.
    People not content – yes but the FB apps are for folk who have the content elswhere in terms of their OU courses and OpenLearn Units. Will these apps work where there is no content or content driven activity to start socialising around?
    Facilitation not direction and no control – all very well for informal learning amongst sophisticated learners but not necessarily those with little confidence. Too much freedom over choice can be frightening and debilitating and lead to unintended discrimination. There are different balances here depending on context and audience and scaling.
    Small informal team. What’s new? It is rife in education and even at the OU. You need to distinguish, as you begin to do, between managing as a function and management as a form (structure). There is a wealth of literature on creativity etc in small self organising teams. Some companies have successfuly scaled this up but it tends to be in time or resource defined project style business situation for defined clients not a smaller or greater mass of users. It is easy to start up longer term stuff in an informal manner but as scale hits in then you need to get more formal. This is often because it involves more and more people who are no always party to most of the nice chats and so recirding in some form is necessary. It is also the case, particularly in public funded organisations, that there needs to be accountability about decisions and processes in case things go wrong, there are complaints etc. paper trails are a necessary evil when working at scale and their absence noticed and regretted in due course.
    Where I think informality and small teams may feature more prominently in education using technology is in informal education (surprise, surprise) but an informal educational experience or opportunity where some of the participants may want to formalise the experience by paying for targeted tuition or defined assessment and smaller informal teams with specialist knwledge and skills may act as the facilitators/brokers of the formalising process (until of course they try to scale it up since it is a people driven model).

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