The Ning thing: using a social network to support the year abroad

Date: 8 May, 2009
Location: The Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool, 1 Brownlow Street, Liverpool, L69 3GL
Event type: Workshop

Programme | Event report

students in class

Past event summary

The University of Liverpool has been trialing a new approach for supporting students during their year abroad, as well as providing them with the opportunity to reflect on their own personal development during their time outside the UK. This project has built on the University’s own personal development software but taken a commercial product, called Ning - hence the nickname ‘The Ning Thing’ - and adapted it to suit students on their year abroad.

This event is organised by Dr Robert Blackwood, University of Liverpool, under the Subject Centre's Workshops to go scheme.

Workshop fee

There is no charge to attend for employees and students of publicly funded UK and Republic of Ireland educational institutions. The fee for employees and students of private institutions/organisations is £40. Lunch and refreshements will be provided. We reserve the right to charge a £50.00 non-attendance fee.

Programme for 8 May 2009
Time Session
12.00 - 13.00 Lunch
13.00 - 14.00 Introduction and presentation
14.00 - 15.00 Practical demonstration
15.00 - 16.00 Group discussion

Event report: The Ning thing: using a social network to support the year abroad

by Paul Duvall

Aims of the session

This workshop sought to present the innovative work undertaken within the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Liverpool in the academic and pastoral supervision of students on their mandatory year abroad. A prime objective of the workshop was to share with colleagues working in comparative areas the experiences from Liverpool in the overhauling of year abroad supervision using an on-line social network called Ning. This workshop was also designed to facilitate dialogue between colleagues working in different institutions; it was hoped that we in Liverpool could benefit from discussions based on experiences elsewhere, as well as receive feedback on our proposals.

Summary of workshop

The workshop was informally divided into three sections; the first period saw us present the three successive phases of year abroad supervision at the University of Liverpool; the second session allowed the participants to test the social network on-line, with support from us; the workshop then concluded with a feedback session and a general discussion.

Given the choice of venue, in an IT suite at the University of Liverpool, we were able to present the three generations of on-line support for the year abroad, as well as allowing each of the participants to work from their own desktop. In the first session, we demonstrated the on-line supervision originally offered using University of Liverpool software, and highlighted its shortcomings and drew attention to its positive attributes that we wished to continue to use. The pilot Ning network was then presented, highlighting the uses to which it had been put by the students and demonstrating its capacities. We then showed the delegates the new social network, ahead of its launch to out-going students in May 2009.

Before the delegates were given the opportunity to explore the networks themselves, the feedback from the pilot scheme was presented, including an audio recording of discussions amongst staff, and the statistics generated by the on-line survey for students. During the practical section of the workshop, we answered specific questions and offered advice on the technical, administrative and academic considerations of the Year Abroad at The University of Liverpool. The final slot was for feedback and an informal discussion, including potential changes that could be made and future plans.

Outcome of workshop

The feedback from the workshop participants was overwhelmingly positive and although some stated that their Universities would not encourage the use of non-institutional systems everyone recognised the potential benefits of this approach in creating a more consistent and supported student experience and supervision process. We have been greatly encouraged by the feedback and are currently involved in fully deploying the new network. We would welcome the opportunity to report back on our progress next year.

Download handout: Background to the Ning Thing (Word, 358Kb)
Robert Blackwood and Paul Duvall