I work on the content provision and editorial area for a student portal at a university in the UK - Glamlife. Our portal has a lively and active classifieds board, and a presence on Facebook and Twitter (where we feed out stories, and respond to students if they comment / have queries), but that is pretty much the extent of our social provisions. Some modules in Blackboard will have their own, module-specific discussion boards, but our impression is that these are not necessarily highly used by students.
One of my objectives this year is to look into whether providing web forums (or some other social tools) for students is something worth doing. It's something that students mention in feedback every now and again (forums and chatrooms in particular), but as it's just one or two comments, we find it difficult to figure out whether this would be a well-used popular tool, or a small niche, if we do provide it. So, to begin with, I'm trying to find out whether any other universities offer successful / busy web forums, chat rooms, (internal) social networks for their enrolled students, and what the experiences have been.
If anyone would be happy to share any links, or provide some pointers, that would be much appreciated. You can also email me directly if you prefer to respond off-forum.
PS: If anyone would like to have a peek at our student portal (I know I often want to see what other internal websites & portals do and offer), our Walkthrough Guide offers a rough overview. It's awaiting some updates at the moment though. The home page of the site sits behind a login, of course.
At our small affiliate university, we focus on using external social media sites for student conversations, based on the 'be where people already are' approach. Facebook Groups are our key conversational spaces, and are very active.
Our affiliating institution, Western University, uses Sakai as their LMS, and forums are available within courses and project sites. My experience with these focused forums is that they can be an OK place to assemble an informal FAQ or carry on brief support threads, but that they are not likely to take off as a space for student engagement outside of class assignments.
In addition to my role as a web developer at Brescia, I am also a student at Athabasca University. As a fully online institution, it has an active social media space called the Athabasca Landing (https://landing.athabascau.ca/) built on the open source ELGG platform (http://elgg.org/). From my perspective as a student it seems to be a well-used space -- though I'd like to hear comments from any of the site maintainers, if they are here!
I also understand CUNY is using WordPress and BuddyPress for the Academic Commons, an active social media community at http://commons.gc.cuny.edu/
My overall impression from this is that University forums may work best when used by organizations that are either fully virtual or physically very dispersed, as CUNY is.
Thanks for your response! It's very useful to have somoe links to look at and an insight into the different experiences and perspectives at the universities you mention.
I've heard of elgg before, and campusgroups, which looks similar. Both seem quite capable tools, but I've stumbled across some fairly quiet / unused elgg and campusgroups spaces, so I suspect it takes quite a bit of thinking and effort to get them to be popular and heavily used on campus, and sustained effort to keep them that way.
Our university currently has three main campuses and an outpost with sports fields, but will merge with another university shortly, having 5 main campuses after that, dispersed quite widely through the region. Another merger might be on the cards in the long run, with an institution that has another four campuses - although they're resisting for now. So, geographic dispersal is already an issue. So far, it's been not much of a problem, as each campus is home to only one faculty (and each batch of students is much more loyal to their campus & faculty than the institution as a whole), but after the upcoming merger, who knows?
Facebook Groups over here have largely died. There are public profiles / fan pages, but those are basically one-to-many broadcasters. The "groups" functionality in Facebook has deteriorated rapidly a few years ago (when Facebook revamped Groups) and never recovered - I think there is one organisation on campus that still uses a group, and quite sparingly at that. So there is not much many-to-many communication going on - or at least, nothing that is focused primarily on students of our University.
One of the things I do ponder about is whether Google Groups could be a feasible solution - our university has Google Apps, so presumably Google Groups and Google Plus could be switched on relatively easily (students are disabled from using those at the moment - only email, calendar and drive are switched on). However, G+ seems not to have really caught on in the world out there, and Google Groups feels very awkward and unnatural to use. (Google are great at getting functionalities to work, but far too often they get user interfaces spectacularly wrong, and things don't really connect together, or do so in unexpected ways)
Whichever solution is applied (if any), I suspect the biggest issue is the question of how to make them popular in the first place. When I report to tptb about all of this, that question will become at least as much of a focus as the different systemss, tools and philosophies that could be used.