The following excerpt is from the Penn Gazette story "Penn 2.0."
The New Frontier of Social Networks
This past October, The Chronicle of Higher Education detailed a new trend among universities: In light of successful sites like Twitter and Facebook, certain schools, “are turning to social networking to create online learning communities that mix serious academic work, and connections among working scholars, with Facebook-style fun.” One example of this new “social learning” wave is the College of Liberal & Professional Studies’ Open Learning Commons, launched at the beginning of 2009.
While LPS has offered online-only courses for years, the Learning Commons takes the experience a step further, providing students from around the world access to supplemental blogs, discussion forums, a Twitter-like “chatter wall,” ask-the-expert forums, and the opportunity to create individual social profiles and send each other private messages. “[Our program] is focused primarily on working adults who don’t, for the most part, study full-time or live on campus,” says LPS vice dean and executive director Nora Lewis. “Often, they aren’t as connected to the University as they would like to be, and as we would like them to be. We really want our students to use the Commons to build closer community among themselves, but the unique thing here is that the social-networking aspects are all part of the overall learning experience.” In short, it’s about adding the social side you’d have in a classroom to online learning.
Since its debut, the Commons has hosted more than 2,000 students and 44 online courses. The platform also includes areas for specialized communities, such as the Urban Women’s Health Collaborative, the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health Community, and the Neuroethics Open Educational Resource.
As other schools begin to implement similar social learning forums—Going on Networks, which helped develop Penn’s learning commons, is also working with Berkeley, Columbia, and Virginia State University—Lewis says she plans for LPS’s platform to grow, with more online courses in the works for this summer.