Fostering an ecology of openness : the role of social media in public engagement at The Open University, UK
This chapter illustrates the ways in which The Open University (OU), one of the leading distance learning universities in the world, uses a range of social media to engage members of the public in learning. The OU has been an early adopter of innovative technologies which enabled public engagement right from its inception, forty years ago, contributing to fulfilling its ethos of social justice. It is this aim, to remove barriers and provide learning materials to a wide audience, including those who may be excluded from other learning institutions, which has been a major strategic driver of recent changes. Today the OU harnesses a range of social media to continue to develop this strategic policy. The OU’s ecology of openness includes a presence on externally developed social media such as YouTube, iTunesU, Facebook and Twitter, which are used as platforms to transfer knowledge and expertise to interested members of the public and encourage academic debate. Alongside these, the OU has also developed its own cutting edge social media platforms, which also allow public engagement. Key OU platforms include OpenLearn, a website which gives free access to a vast range of Open University course materials; and Cloudworks, a site for finding, sharing and discussing learning and teaching ideas, experiences and issues. This chapter explores the achievements of the Open University in using social media to engage with public audiences, as well highlighting the challenges and issues encountered.