Making connections – Learning to be a distance learner

April 29, 2008

Susan Levy & Pete Cannell are from the OU in Scotland where there is a different framework that involves working across the sector on themes including “The first year experience”. The initial point is that the very first experiences for students of what happens in the first weeks can make a difference to what happens next. For the OU this is reflected in the high drop out in new students (30% before the first assignment). The suggestion is that students need to feel part of a University socially, in particular through peer mentoring.

An experiment was carried out with 9 students reflecting on their own experience in a FirstClass forum  supported with 2 mentors, they had hoped for about 100 students and the 9 students appeared to be keener on joining in than the average student. Interesting was the “redundancy of the mentors once the assessment and formal support cuts in – of course this corresponds exactly with the fall out time so that makes a lot of sense.

The considerations in questions went beyond the email towards the idea that we need to build as a distance university better ways to support the concept of finding life-long friends that occurs in other universities – and that social tools have a role to play.

OpenLearn has also built up areas where people considering study and also studying have supported each other – it could well be beneficial for such supporting groups to lie outside of normal systems.


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