PairForm : a social network designed for learning

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To combine a social network with an education system using a tablet or a smartphone: this is the idea behind Pairform, a project designed and instigated by CAPE (Support Centre for teaching ) at the Ecole des Mines de Nantes. As it moves towards the creation of a start-up it looks to have a promising future.

PairForm is perfectly in keeping  with CAPE’s projects. In 2008, the group launched its first project: using video podcasts instead of lectures. A computer course was set up in this way. The result was very positive. The next step was to design a foreign language course : "Do you speak Chinese?", which involved a more extensive  learning framework – carefully put together videos, sound , interactive exercises… It was a great success: without using any advertising,  40,000 downloads have been registered. But how could we  widen the application of this kind of scheme? The CAPE team then imagined using existing multimedia resources in referenced institutions, and transposing them for use with tools such as smartphones and tablets, or on the web. They quickly came up with the idea of  linking the learners together in order to talk about what they had  learnt. The social network is now at  the very heart of  training resources.

"In every educational area, messages from the social network can be used , and these enhance the coursework, explains Christian Colin, Head of CAPE. For example, if a diagram is unclear, because it you have to take into account certain information, then a message can appear saying "Don't forget this." At each point where a student does not understand, someone from the network will be able to help. Basically, you end up with a support system within a learning community". A way of working similar to that of MOOC (Massive open online course) , where users exchange data between peers, which we refer to as “social learning”.

 A range of interlinked services

A number of different roles exist within such a network : simple reader, participant (producing messages related to the subject), colleagues, instructors, and experts (the person who wrote the document).  “If the community appreciates the usefulness of the messages, the experts can decide how relevant they are, by awarding medals.Being involved in the network means you can score points and change role. This encourages members to make progress and to work. The roles  bring out  leaders who can then help the teachers in educating the community”, explained Christian Colin.

And that's not all. Using this sytem as a  starting point, one can imagine a whole range of services. Putting professionals in contact with lecturers, or bringing together trainees from companies for example, with a view to recruitment. A company would be able to use the social network on a private space, to carry out its training.

As far as the actual content of the coursework is concerned, there are various sources : the CII certificate (IT and Internet), a course on optics designed by the  Université du Maine, a module on copyright law, written by the Ecole des Mines in Nantes, another on project management from the Université de Lorraine .... an online shop offering a range of resources, based on the itunes model.

At this time, the system has been completed, and is ready to be marketed. A startup is being launched. What economic model is being used? The application itself will be almost free of charge, however the additional features and services will have to be purchased.“This product has great potential, for higher education as well as for training throughout life, including in-service training, says Christian Colin. It follows  the same logic as  MOOC - but without the huge investment which it requires.” An initial version of PairForm was awarded the “Technology Education Trophy ” prize at the  Educatec-Educatice  show in 2012 (in the higher education category).

For more information :

Future project : Using Pairform for the induction handbook for new students (both national and international) at the Mines and Telecom schools. The advantage : students can access the information before their arrival. The handbook will be in their pocket, on their smartphone. They will be able to help each other if they need to, and draw on  the experience of established students. Lastly, they will be able to use the other resources available on Pairform.

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