Pronounced YOU-nee-commons, the name conveys a sense of togetherness in learning. "Uni" is a recognized contraction of "university" and also means "one" in the formation of compound words ("Uni," n.d.). This project focuses on a return to the original meaning of university as "a community of masters and scholars" ("University," n.d., para. 1). "Commons" represents shared ground or a shared road ("Concurrency," 2008) whereby learners at UniCommons.com may share a common platform to develop and present their scholarship.
Motto: A community of scholarship
- Scholarship is learning and knowing and the process for improving both.
- Everyone is a scholar.
- Scholars should actively and openly contribute scholarship to the global community.
- Scholars should realize the importance of feedback.
- Scholarship is developed through both conventional and autodidactic means.
Markets & Users
The site focuses on providing a platform for university students and professors to pursue, develop, and present scholarship. Contributor accounts are currently only available to students taking (or that have taken) classes taught by Brian Sather, an associate professor of physical activity and health at Eastern Oregon University. This market includes English speakers that qualified university students in the United States. The site is open to a wider audience of contributors in the future. Content is currently provided mainly in the subject of physical activity and health. Future developments will present other subjects. The intent is openness and transparency in the learning process and presentation of information, which purposefully provides benefits to anyone interested in learning.
- Custom designed internet-based content management platform for education
- Academic content in physical activity
- Testing and grading service
- Peer and student-teacher interaction for users through a variety of communication channels
- University credit opportunity at an accredited university (indirectly through Eastern Oregon University)
Strengths & Competitive Advantage
Web-based networks abound. Popular examples include social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Knowledge-based collaborative communities such as at Wikipedia are also extremely popular, and very effective. In education, the concept of "open" academic content has been implemented in several venues such as Academic Commons, Wikiversity, MIT Open Courseware, UC Berkeley Webcasts, Oregon State University, eduCommons, Teachers Without Borders, and many others. In university education, Blackboard/WebCT is the most popular content management system in use.
The system employed at UniCommons.com is meant to support a unique teaching and learning philosophy and includes several distinguising features:
- Scholarly contributions are presented publicly, not hidden as an isolated interaction (usually one way) between student and teacher.
- Provides a venue for managing online reputation since all work by a user is presented with their real name (see Publicity Guideline).
- Better feedback and interaction for students
- More inclusive of "outside" information by presenting both original and linked scholarly content that is publicly available; in turn, this is more usable for global citizens compared to information that is only available under pay databases and textbook purchases.
- Work presented publicly results in better quality work and greatly diminished incidents of plagiarism, which is ultimatedly flagged and removed by the community.
- More holistic (less serial):
- Classes are not isolated from each other; thus, inter-class communication and collaboration may occur.
- Less one-on-one email or verbal interaction between professor and student. Communication is handled on web platform in a more communal way so everyone can participate.
- Live chat is open to the entire community.
- Learners gain practical experience using a variety of current web-based technologies, which is an important general outcome in education.
- Collaboration projects (e.g. wiki type) allow for editing by multiple users.
- Discussion takes place more organically, with the more engaging discussions carrying on for weeks while less engaging topics are quickly abandoned. This is a departure from the "weekly" discussions that require attention for a limited time period with arbitrary deadlines enforced for posting a predetermined minimal dialog (that is usually isolated). Instead, discussions at UniCommons.com are meant to mimic real world conversation.
- Information is both forced and filtered to the learner using a variety of "views" (e.g. My Unread, My Work) instead of existing in several locations requiring hunting by the learner to follow conversations, examine feedback on work, contribute to a colloration, etc.
- More dynamic (less static):
- Content, applications, and information can change more quickly, adapting in a flexible way that more closely mimics the fluidity of real-world interactions.
- Several media capabilities exist.
- Emphasis on the learning process:
- Communication and actions underlying the development of work is visible (e.g. drafts, feedback, revisions, flags).
- Work flow processes allow for certain projects to progress through various states like edit, draft, review, and completed.
- Papers and projects are developed and written online at the site (backup revisions are saved similar to Google Docs), rather than relying on external word processors.
- Other Features
- Some of the key features of the site are only seen and used by logged in users. These include pages like My Work, My Unread, collaborative features, creating content, and guidelines and instructions for classes (on group pages). These allow for managing content, tracking new information, and following conversations and feedback. A slide presentation explains some of these features. A demonstration is available by request.
- Instructor and student control over tracking student work across several classes, including the use of dashboards and indicators.
- Testing and grading remains private.
The site is built with the Drupal open source content management system. The use of this application is applied elsewhere in education (see Using Drupal in Universities and this case study ). Several modules (e.g. plugins) are installed to accomplish the objectives of the site including Organic Groups, Flag, Notifications, Web Links, Webforms, Workflow, WYSIWYG (with TinyMCE), and Fivestar. Moodle is also employed as a co-management system.
There are two main areas of the site: subjects and groups. "Subjects" includes the hierarchical presentation of academic content, similar to a textbook. Instructors provide most of the content for subjects. "Groups" are venues for a selection of several users to communicate, interact, and present work. For example, a group can be the members of a university class for an entire term (and beyond).
Media Presentation: See an audio and slide presentation
Site Developer: Brian Sather
Stakeholders: Site users (with accounts), site instructors, university students, university professors, physical education professionals, internet users seeking to learn, site administrators.
- 2008 Fall: Original idea presented.
- 2009 Jan: Site launched as UniCommons.com with testing site developed with Moodle. Much of the original site design was to support a new teaching philosophy by Brian Sather (presented at My University Teaching Philosophy & Method) and usage was exclusively in his classes.
- 2009 Feb: Development of fitness logs.
- 2009 Mar-Apr: Nutrition log and fitness test log developed. Development of multiple views for seeing user contributions on group page and "my work" link. Adding podcasts for pedagogy and sport psychology. Introducing tutorials on site navigation and submitting work. Enhance ease of navigation and presenting user content on main page.
- 2009 June: New minor features added save & edit button, web forms, additional notification methods with SMS, improved functionality of rich text editor. Added practicum information and submission forms and activity verification forms.
- 2009 Sept: Redesign of front page launched. Reworked and moved the user menu. Added several features including flags, a chat block, and new viewing options for work. Significant site upgrades and minor changes occurred in preparation for Fall 2009 classes.
- 2009 Oct: Presentation about UniCommons.com at the Western Society for Kinesiology and Wellness, Reno, NV.
- 2009 Nov-Mar: All of Brian Sather's classes in U.S. taught from Australia.
- 2010 June: New media sharing features added, including YouTube and other video embeds.
- 2010 Dec: Use of the system as the primary teaching tool for Brian Sather's classes is suspended. Future planning and development of the site are ongoing. The system remains open for current users and available for consideration by others' to use. Inquiries are welcome.
- Allowing other instructors to use the platform
- Offering certifications or clinics.
- Accepting academic content from other professionals and users from a variety of disciplines
- Setting up editorial boards for content
- Professional review system for journal-quality papers
- Multi-lingual support.
Concurrency (road). (2008, November 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:58, December 30, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Concurrency_(road)&oldid=254313945
University. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=university
Uni. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved August 25, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/uni