Blogging, and other tools generally…

I’ve started looking through various bookmarked pages; an interesting co-incidence that when I thought I’d try to look at a range of aspects of Blogging in HE, I found that WordPress now offers the ability to use an online creator at WordPress.com to write for a self hosted blog. Not sure I’d bother in the future, but useful to test it now!

So, blogging. Where do I start? Well, where did I start? August 2004; that was just before we started teaching a unit that was going to require students to blog, so I thought I’d better have a go myself. I wasn’t entirely sure, as I’ve never been a great writer, but I got going. Over the years my blogging has waxed and waned, I’ve taken to twitter , then as we started to move students at Portsmouth into Google Apps for Education, so Google+  seemed more relevant. (This is a general one, I lost the Portsmouth one when I left). There were other tools in between times, many of which stopped offering freely hosted services (anyone else used to use Elgg?), or didn’t work for long enough to really get students to use them (Google Wave anyone?)

Today, there are so many different options – recently, I’ve had Known mentioned to me; what I’d not realised is that it’s developed by Ben Werdmuller – who’d co-founded Elgg (which I’d liked a lot at the time).

I’ve just read another story covering the changes in tools used – other than Facebook, I’d say I’ve tried most of those, either for myself, or with students. Some I’ve stuck to, some I’ve drifted from. When I left Portsmouth, I realised the problems with having material tied up in a particular domain. Moving this blog was easy – WordPress makes it so. Extracting all my contacts from Google Apps far less so. I created a “takeout” – but it’s not going to be easy to get it all back into my current account. I am starting to do it manually. Guess this is where it all adds up to a PLE. (Or, given that these are mostly things designed to work with others, a PLN).

[Oh, and not sure I’d bother using WordPress.com to create posts in the future, though it is a very clean looking interface]

 

UPSU.net

Last week, Terry King & I went to the “International Elgg Conference” at Brighton University. Some of you are, no doubt, sick of me “banging on” about Elgg, (I see it’s recently won the InfoWorld “Best Open Source Social Networking” software recently)

Other Universities (e.g. Brighton, Westminster [theirs is closed, so the link is to Slideshare], Graz Technical University, Leeds University and Nottingham [private, so no links]) already have installations of Elgg; and it’s something I’d like to look at here. There are, however, aspects we should consider – we already have blogs for students via UPSU – though they don’t seem that active. However, some recent Ideas… by Shrey would suggest that there are some technical limitations to their current set up.

I can how hear students pointing out that they don’t want the staff to see their comments. Fair enough – though I’ve just found some of their blog postings! However, the feature of Elgg that I feel particularly powerful is the granularity of permissions. If you could be bothered, every single post could have a different set of viewers. So, friends can see one set of posts, lecturers another, other students on the same units a third and so on. (Oh, and to add to Shrey’s Twitter comment – there’s a “Shoutout” plugin that can either bring in your tweets – or if you don’t want a twitter a/c, you can just do it within Elgg – Edusapces have activated it)

One of the main drawbacks that I see at present in the way that the permissions systems work is that it’s not possible (as far as I know – but the newest version of Elgg has a lot more features I’ve yet to experiment with) to have users that merely have “read/comment” rights, but not posting rights. I can see why Universities don’t want to have anyone registering – due to storage issues, however, people might realistically want friends from home – but not the whole world to see certain comments. If, for whatever reason, they don’t want to use Facebook for that, then a “reader” user in Elgg would allow them to be added to a group, but not to have a blog. So, all are happy.

User centric or Community centric?

Several people have been talking about Ning recently – it’s come up in discussion with my students – “egrommet” has used it with his students, Josie noted that several of the nominations for this years Eddies were Ning based communities.

I’m just not sure about Ning. I find it irritating that I have to login to each community, as well as in general. If I look at “My Page” in each community, while some things are core to all (e.g. the photo), others seem to need to be set in each community. While this can be useful in some ways; it’s also annoying to have to enter the same details again and again. The ideal would be the ability to enter general info on my “Ning Profile” page – and then to alter particular bits for particular communities.

The “My Page” also seems to have a blog – again, one per community – and the summary of posts that apply to that community.

It strikes me that Ning is very much community centric. So, while you can have several groups in a community; you can’t easily have an overview of your activity in several different communities. It reminds me of WebCT – having discussion boards/ blogs per unit – without an easy way of seeing all of your work at the same time.

Eduspaces (Elgg powered) and Facebook, on the other hand, seem to be far more user centric. I can see on my Blog page (Eduspaces), or my Profile page (Facebook) everything that I & my friends have done.

From an Educational point of view, I think that it’s important to have that easy access to the personal overview. Because of the unitisation of the curriculum, many students find it quite difficult to see how one unit relates to another. WebCT doesn’t enable an easy overview – whereas something that’s more User Centric can.

While it can be useful to have that separation between aspects of ones life – integration is also important.

I guess that the ideal Social Networking site would allow the ability to have a (private) view of your personal activity in all areas – while a public view that could, if wished be customised for particular communities.

I think all three have their strengths in the way that they work – but all three have limitations.