Following The Open University’s decision to adopt Google Apps, I took part in a workshop (liveblogged by Doug Clow) on the use of these apps to enhance the OU student experience. For me, some of the main issues related to what happens when the flexibility of social learning in an informal environment comes up against the needs and concerns of a more formal setting.

Google Apps OU MoodleWe so often come back to assessment – how is individual assessment possible in a collaborative environment? How valid is an examination that denies you access to the many resources and collaborators you can access in any other situation? One proposed solution was to credit students for creating course content, and thus to shift to a model in which course design and material are dynamic rather than static. This would be a culture shift for The Open University, where most courses require years of painstaking production and may then be studied by thousands of students over a period of many years.

Culture shift was a recurrent topic. We know that OU students are already using these apps – as many as 33,000 already have Google mail or Gmail accounts. Our ‘walled garden’ of educational Google Apps can’t lag significantly behind the set of apps freely available elsewhere. To keep up with the pace of change, the university needs to be more agile in course production and development, to shift its assessment practices and, perhaps, to integrate work-based learning more closely with its formal courses.

And we need to stay in touch. It makes no sense to create a culture that splits the ‘Googlers’ from the ‘Moodlers’ – or that splits OU Googlers from potential collaborators in a wider community of Google Apps users.

Ideally, the university will add value to these apps, rather than restricting their functionality. From a social learning point of view, this could involve supporting learners to use them to frame relevant questions, identify relevant resources and engage in meaningful discussions.