Landing : Athabascau University

Positive response to the Landing from an Undergrad student

The University will soon have to decide if it wishes to continue to support the Landing. There have already been a variety of interesting conversations on the topic and  the major concerns seems to be:

  • lack of adoption by staff, faculty and students
  • competing functionality most notably with Moodle, but also with Mahara and Drupal
  • potential to confuse users with too many choices and options
  • the challenges of getting comfortable and proficient with the elgg tool that the Landing is based on.

To these standard responses are

  • adoption takes time and the Landing experience steady, but not exponential growth
  • the Landing offers bottom up, user control, fine tuned privacy, persistence and "beyond the course" connectivity not offered by other AU supported tools
  • The world is full of choices (and more added daily) so students and staff should get skilled at making choices and adapting to changes
  • The Elgg interface and functionality improves regularly and will continue to do so, and users can grow with it as their need and expertise expands

All social media require a critical mass of users to be effective and the Landing has achieved this (barely) in some communities, but  the whole University community has not adopted it for daily use. It is hard to say when (or if) critical mass will be achieved, but like Lacebook, Linked, and many others, when enough people use it regularly, the services become very compelling. There is a growing interest in "niche nets" to allow different functions/voices in different contexts. The Landing is a special place for Athabasca community and certainly not Facebook, and that is one of its advantages.

A number of undergraduate students have commented on the lack of use by our largest student group- the undergrads. I think part of the reason is the challenges of getting "compelling but not compulsary' learning activities integrated into our courses - through the challenges of our course design and student support models. Another challenge is that the students association AUSA offers potentially competitive services under their own (external) networks. We have however been running three pilot course with not overwhelming, but generally positive responses.

I wanted to share a comment from a Chemistry an undergraduate program student about the pilot project chemistry course in which she was enrolled:

            "The optional activities of my course Landing Site were of great assistance in the course.  I am completing the majority of my degree through Athabasca University and this was the first time I have had the opportunity to connect with another student and see what other students were discussing.  Even had I not found a study buddy, the Landing Site in itself reduced the isolation that I had felt in all my other courses.  It was comforting to see that other students had the same questions that I had and that there were answers posted.  In addition to those questions and answers being a benefit for me, it also reduced the number of times contact was needed with my tutor. 

            The greatest assistance the Landing Site provided for me was the ability to find a study buddy.  My study buddy, and I would meet 1-2 times per week to review and discuss the unit objectives and to compared our independent work on the assignments.  Unfortunately, the calendar function was not operational when we started, so we used our Google calendars to coordinate our work, study schedules and to plan our progress.  We did make contact with a couple of other people but they had different work schedules that were not conducive to us all meeting. 

            I found having a study buddy and the discussion boards motivating and my learning progressed faster and to a deeper level by having someone to dialogue with in person and to see the previous discussions.  I would love to see all courses with Athabasca University adopt the use of the Landing Site." 

I hope we can engage in an interesting and productive debate over the future of the Landing in the coming months. Obviously, the University faces financial challenges that make adoption of any new services challenging. In addition, many faculty, staff and students have shown by their lack of participation, that they are not (yet?) interested or convinced that the Landing is an important benefit to their learning and work lives.  

The Landing developers welcome your comments here - or elsewhere.





  • I would be very sorry to see The Landing disappear. It's become an integral part of two of the courses I coordinate, and I want to use it for a third course, a high enrolment one. The students have responded well to the activities on The Landing. I like it because I have a large degree of control over the site and can make changes when they are needed. So far, moodle does not have the same flexibility, and it is not as attractive. When we need a Learning Designer to assist us with anything but the most elementary tasks on moodle, then that element of control vanishes.

    I have no idea whether or not any of the students in my course groups are interacting with the wider AU community, but even if they are choosing not to (and these are usually students just starting a college/universitycareer or visiting for a quick course), the opportunity exists, and I like some of the interaction that I find happens within the courses.

    In addition, The Landing seems to be a more informal space than moodle. I'm not aware of anywhere in moodle where the AU community as a whole has this type of discussion--it could be done, but I haven't seen it done. Moodle seems to be the sphere for the most formal of course activities, and as such, there does seem to be a distinct niche for The Landing that doesn't in anyway take away from the good job moodle does as the formal LMS.

    If I have to move my course activities from The Landing to moodle, then it will be a major issue for me; so far, whenever I have tried to use moodle for any interactive activities with students, there have been problems--students don't seem to find it as user-friendly. Perhaps because The Landing appears to be less formal, students are simply more relaxed about using it. I know I am.

    Veronica Baig October 5, 2011 - 11:17am

  • Hello Terry,


    I think that we should approach using the landing as a lifelong learning portal. This means that students can interact with other students as well as faculty beyond what they're doing in their coursework. In addition, I think that faculty need to extend their role to welcome and encourage learning from students that are not registered in their courses.

    Participants in the landing should recognize that they can play multiple roles at once, as reviewers, reporters, and recorders, as well as community facilitators, group leaders and writers. Participants can use the landing for networking, for coursework, for collaboration on projects, for sharing ideas and resources, and for archiving evidence of personal learning.

    The landing should be approached as two things:

    1.       extended learning space for learners to follow interests, share resources, and connect with others not part of their registered courses or program;

    2.       exclusive learning space for learners to complete coursework, collect resources, and document learning processes, as well as share demonstrations of learning (presentations, files, blog posts, wiki pages, etc.)

    I really think that the landing needs to have a buddy system for both faculty and students. It's critical to have a formal mentoring system in place. The landing can adequately prepare lifelong learners to participate effectively in MOOCs (massive open online courses). The landing also encourages broader adoption of open educational resources (OERs).

    I think that the impact of the landing on learners extends further out than just the Athabasca community. This is an example of innovation, of excellence. I can only speak for myself when I say that it has had a significant influence on my work as an instructor.

    Glenn Groulx October 5, 2011 - 11:37am

  • Who should we write to if we want to provide support for the continuation of the Landing? It's helped me to develop the sense of community that was utterly lacking in the MAIS moodle discussion room. This, in turn, has had a significant impact on my perception of AU and my engagement with other students and faculty members. 


    Moodle is dead space. Courses are silent, unless group discussion is mandated. Social interaction is nil. Landing is alive and vibrant, and should be supported.


    Heather Clitheroe October 5, 2011 - 12:23pm

  • Without the Landing, I don't think I could keep contact with Athabasca up to now since my graduation from MDE in 2009 - I have been experiencing AU's implementing several platforms as socialization space since 2006 but the Landing is the most active and successful so far to be fair, so I don't think others could better take the unifying force, though it could simplify some of the functions/layout.

    Terumi MiyaZoé October 5, 2011 - 2:40pm

  • Is there a future for the Landing? Wow, as I read Terry’s blog and the various questions, the pro and con points, along with the various responses to date I began to wonder if the Landing is as much an idea as it is a place. The Landing, as an idea is greatly enhanced when you consider the time and effort of those who have spent countless hours bringing it to life, nurturing it, and daily talking to us about its value and benefit let alone all of the many participants who have invested much of themselves to help enrich this place/space. I think that the Landing as an entity will change, evolve, and may, in time become something else but to understand  the Landing as an idea is very important and key to its life and its future.

    I was introduced to the Landing’s predecessor four years ago and like many I struggled to see value in it and to make it work for me as well as find ways to engage others. Thanks to my very persuasive supervisor I persisted and began to see beyond the frustrations and challenges and with the new version and many focused changes and upgrades I began to understand its real value to faculty, students, and the institution.

    The Landing is a safe, bounded, yet flexible and supportive environment that offers all of the affordances of a shared, networked learning space. I think learning space is the correct term because it draws me to a continual challenge of post-secondary institutions. I believe that a university should be learning centered and therefore everything about them should be about learning. To my way of thinking this is what the Landing is; a learning space or learning commons, a space where we all can gather and share and support each other in and out of the classroom, the office-space, or the virtual coffee house.

    I was fortunate to have been able to participate in several iterations of an MDE course and use this bounded space as my research gathering home for my dissertation. It was amazing because, at times we wandered in and out of the “classroom” depending upon the needs and wants of the learners and by doing so we were able to extend the community of the course to the benefit of  the students, the researcher, and the community as a whole. I believe that the students in this course benefited greatly from the opportunity to step out into the virtual hallway and bring their conversations to different places as they worked through the challenges of the course. At times we were able to talk to the greater Landing community and allow them to assist or reach in and be a part of the class conversation. This is an idea about learning environments and one that is very unique.

    I teach a Master’s level course at another virtual Canadian university and I am continually challenged by the narrow confines of the controlled Moodle environment. I have created a learning blog as a resource outside of the course but this is generally confined to the course participants and getting others to participate is nearly impossible. I have been spoiled.

    Terry talks about critical mass; it will come if we accept that the Landing is more than a virtual place and see that it represents an idea that changes the learning paradigm. Athabasca has an unprecedented opportunity to carve out its niche within the world of open and distance universities by continuing to support and foster the growth and evolution of the Landing. This is the ultimate learning space for everyone at the university and an idea that needs to be kept alive and allowed to mature and evolve into one of the virtual hearts of the university. We just need to plant a few olive and plane trees and invite all to enjoy their shade.

    Stuart Berry October 5, 2011 - 6:42pm

  • The argument is down to money.   The instutional leadership, internally and externally, hopefully will recognize the Landing as a truly Canadian Open On-Line Learning institution in academic social networking.

    The opportunities and technical achievements that the Landing provides for students and staff is something I wish I had when I was a student at Athabasca University.



    Steve Swettenham, M.D.E.

    Steve Swettenham October 6, 2011 - 9:25am

  • The Landing must continue to be supported, since it is to our distributed university what the campus is to a traditional university. Actually, it's better than a traditional campus. Imagine a campus where people's first introductions to each other are made through their ideas and arguments; where you can drop in on classes and group discussions that you're interested but not enrolled in (without interrupting the proceedings).

    The Landing helps AU to realize and extend its mandate. It facilitates the use and the development of Open Educational Resources. The Landing also facilitates student recruitment and good alumni relations: the Landing puts an accessible and innovative public face on this university (whose future depends on putting forward such a best face).

    It would be disastrous publicity, demoralizing for many users (including staff, students, and alumni), and counter to its mandate for this institution to discontinue supporting its social network, at a time when social networks have become a fixture and expectation in everyday life, business, and culture.

    But since money's the main question, we need to explore ideas for funding on a continuing basis. In the interests of building AU's research culture, a grad student has suggested a modest student fee to expand library resources. What about considering something similar for the Landing? It also represents an emerging hub of AU's research activity (and not just for CDE, I might add). What about reducing students' learning materials fee by one dollar (or more, if we can persuade more faculty to adopt OER texts and materials), and redirect that dollar to Landing support. It might not cover the full cost as outlined, but it would be a start.

    Lastly, to reiterate Heather's question: who needs to hear these arguments and ideas? Or is the Landing dev team compiling a dossier of endorsements and recommendations to submit to the administration?

    Mark A. McCutcheon October 6, 2011 - 10:23am

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