Community breakdown. Man is a social being. If social connections in a university are lost due to external circumstances, such as the covid-19 outbreak, all people, students, teachers, and researchers, are confronted with a social and cultural deficit that can have various effects. How can we provide the serendipitous opportunities for informal learning?

The problem our project solves

Learning management systems, as they are used for e-learning today, cannot provide informal learning settings, which are relevant for key competencies in the modern knowledge and information society. This applies in particular to the universities where students are trained for future professions requiring the so called 21st century skills (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, Information literacy, media literacy, technology literacy, flexibility, leadership, initiative, productivity, social skills), which are mainly learned in these informal contexts.

The solution we bring to the table

We propose the Serendipitous Campus, an open source Moodle plug-in of a virtual campus that provides a non-linear experience for peer social learning. In the form of a massive multiplayer online game, it will provide distinct learning challenges and social opportunities that are intertwined in a non-linear interactive narrative. In the virtual campus café or in the student unions for social/political commitment as well as for sports, arts and music, students can collect points by opening a conversation with a new contact over a coffee, giving feedback on a student's thesis presentation or taking part in the running challenge, arguing in the political debate on climate change or contributing to a joint photo project. Students can come to a student support or lecturer's office for personal or academic help and can also share their success in informal learning with others.

What you have done during the weekend

We did some research on remote learning problems and informal learning opportunities and defined the requirements for a new user experiences based on these research outcomes. In the next step, we designed a new user interface that provides an improved "gamer-like" experience for the new generation of learners and finally developed the "Serendipitous Campus" user interface. Parallel to this, we thought about the business plan and developed a first concept of how we could bring the Serendipitous Campus to universities and alliances.

The solution’s impact to the crisis

Through the covid-19 lockdown, social interactions are lost, which are valuable for informal learning opportunities. This solution helps to bring students together virtually to achieve a sense of community and offer serendipitous opportunities for informal interactions as well as virtual side activities. This way, the Serendipitous Campus not only provides informal learning settings, but also can help to buffer the individual isolation of the students. Through the campus, students can exchange ideas outside of formal learning opportunities and thus find ways to cope with the crisis, but also to (further) develop strategies for self-directed learning.

The necessities in order to continue the project

Students will undoubtedly be our early adopters, they have grown up with games and for the most part have an instinctive understanding of the environment. We would like to expand our vision to encourage staff to use it as well. In fact, having the roles reversed and asking the students to mentor staff members might be an interesting social experiment. Done in the right way, it could be a way of creating cross-generational links and alliances too. Having an attractive campus life and opportunities to expand ones knowledge outside ones own domain for teachers, researchers, admins, etc. is also important if universities want to make a difference.

PHASE 1 Establish what expertise we need to buy in and what expertise is available in-house. The areas of expertise we currently need to acquire are: Design, Development, Business and Financial.

As a Moodle plugin we will also need to reach out to the Moodle Community for an Open source release. We need to do a precise cost analysis for time invested in each topic/idea/solution and for the implementation of the alpha version in the participating universities.

Set up the budget for equipment and human resources. Find a project leader for the implementation in each participating university. Explore a "Green computing" research line.

PHASE 2 Design a new user interface that provides an improved "gamer-like" experience for the new generation of learners and further develop the Serendipitous Campus user interface. Roll out the use to a new set of users. Budget and find financing for Phase 2. Understand if it has a commercial value?

The value of your solution(s) after the crisis

The Serendipitous Campus can not only mitigate against the loss of informal learning settings because of isolation during covid-19, but also make a valuable contribution to virtual exchange between students and staff from different universities after the crisis. This becomes particularly relevant for projects such as international university alliances such as EUGLOH. Only through informal social interaction between students can virtual mobility lead to real intercultural exchange and intercultural competence acquisition. It should be noted that isolation can be a problem for many even outside of emergencies such as this. The Serendipitous Campus can help here too.

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