With Google’s announcements of OpenSocial and Android there is little doubt they have positioned themselves in a key role in online communities for the near future. There is a lot to contemplate in that sentence alone, but I’d like to focus on the potential for students and the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment).
In my mind, a successful VLE places the student at the center of the model – not the institution, and certainly not the technology. Sounds great, but what would that look like in practice? The short answer is – I don’t know, but I have some thoughts.
Let’s assume first, that putting the student at the center of a VLE model requires it to be a solution that is very customizable so that it can be personalized to an individual. This would enable the student to plug into online communities, either for a class or a personal interest, as well as unplug when necessary – in a similar way we talk about the “small pieces loosely joined” idea. It would also be useful if the environment were able to capture a student’s work throughout the course of their education (and possibly beyond).
Well, it seems like OpenSocial may be one solution that enables interoperability between social networks so that participants in Community A can share their “assets” with an account they have in Community B with minimal effort, because both communities are running on top of a similar platform (OpenSocial). Conceivably, this means participating and sharing just got easier, and all one would have to do is author a webapp/VLE on top of OpenSocial to take advantage of other communities using the platform.
Beyond the potential for a webapp solution are the possibilities for extendable browsers like Firefox and Flock to serve as community/asset management tools. Out of the box Flock is ready to integrate with your Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter accounts – just to name a few. In fact, right now I think its greatest shortcoming is that it can’t integrate with all online communities just as easily. My feeling is that the advent of OpenSocial may make this very possible, and a browser like that would be a very powerful tool for connecting students and learning.