Saturday, August 7, 2010

Building a Sustainable Polyverse

How do we build, maintain and innovatively grow a virtual campus that learners, teachers and the community will find easy to navigate, useful and inspiring?

Previous models of ICT provision have focused on a shared services model that provides a walled garden within which learners, teachers and administrators can enjoy reliable, secure and controlled access to computers.

Over the last decade however 'classrooms without walls' have become 'institutions without walls' as learners and teachers became more comfortable using external web services, mobile devices and 3G wireless access on and off campus. Open source solutions hosted on external servers began to appear and have been used by some learning teams (FL & WFS) to provide learning environments and/or services not available from shared ICT services.

More recently learners and staff have increasingly turned to campus libraries (learning centres) for ICT assistance which has become more complex with learners using a larger and more diverse fleet of campus desktops/laptops/netbooks as well as their own mobile devices. In addition learners are utilising a range of external web services and are accessing learning resources almost 24/7.

So... how do we sustainably build and support a coherent virtual campus described in the previous post? Available human resources include
  • Shared ICT Services staff
  • Teaching and support staff
  • Students - as IT trainees, as learners, as content producers
  • External web and hosting services - helpdesks, forums, service contracts

Students are a largely untapped resource. IT students can provide substantial IT helpdesk services in many forms - physical helpdesk, online assistance and library support. Other students are skilled in using specialist applications or services within their course and can offer additional ICT services through a community of practice and/or project-based models. For example creative arts students can produce components required for a virtual world or graphics for an LMS.

In addition students participating collaboratively in different regions of the 'Polyverse' produce digital content that meaningfully adds to available learning and teaching resources.

In order for this new structure to work as an effective, reliable and sustainable whole, new guidelines will be required. Ideally the whole 'Polyverse' would be more than the sum of its parts - a coherent virtual campus with new affordances emerging to support new ways of learning, working and being together.
Whether a student is on a large city campus or isolated in a remote location they should be able to seamlessly access learning resources, equally participate in some aspects of campus life, and hopefully experience a sense of belonging that has been shown to be so important for continued engagement.
Time now to think about the guidelines needed to build and maintain a sustainable 'Polyverse'...

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