Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Elgg Jam at the University of Brighton

The event was impressively organised, as was the Creativity Room at the Mouslecoomb campus of the University of Brighton. Olfactory smells of Peppermint, and other stimulating spices emerged from their newly installed Smell-o-vision (really- this is no joke), and wafted through the event to keep us concentrated on the keynote and case study speakers. Whiteboards, and no less than seven projectors kept our eyes glued to the images being displayed around the curved, white walls of the main room.
The enthusiasm of Stan Stanier and Katie Piatt from the University of Brighton was infectious, as delegates began gushing about Elgg as a tool for student motivation & engagement, from their own experiences. There was less talk of faculty driven participation, and several of the case studies spoke about the use of the software in non-structured context, on a voluntary basis (or ‘natural uptake’) by students for socialising and communication that transcended the module or course structure. Another interesting application was the use of Elgg in work contexts, in which a publisher's employees used it to share comments and edits of submitted work.

Graham Attwell in his talk raised some of the troubling issues surrounding the use of social software such as:

  • Who provides the e-portfolio ? (i.e. the institution, a commercial provider or the government)- by which he means a personal learning portfolio, as opposed to an assessment, presentation or PDP portfolio

  • Should it be open or closed (an how to keep ones duty of care, and a space for reflection)?

  • What should it contain (i.e. formal, institutionally determined content, or personal content that transcends the institutional contexts)?
George Roberts work on the Emerge project was facinating how how they integrated Moodle, PhpBB and Wikis into Elgg and configuring these components, as required by the community.

Some questions that I have in relation to the use of Elgg in universities, remain outstanding. These include:
  • Authorship: Intellectual property implications (who owns the mashed-up content?) and the impact of social networks on plagiarism (does it lead to increased plagiarism?)

  • Social rules: Dealing with bullying or lack of social contacts (can you also lack friends in a university social network?). Should this "educational" social network be seperate from other social networks, such as Bebo, and Facebook, etc.? (I would imagine it should be- but does this mean it is a sterile environment?)

  • Pedagogy: How useful is a social network in a formal HE learning context, and what type of pedagogies is it amenable or supportive of? Are there groups of users for whom it is more suitable (i.e. postgraduates, undergraduates or learners in a work-based context)? How can it be tightly coupled with course work, or should it be?

  • Control: Should participation be voluntary or if this is used in formal structured contexts, how would it become subverted or perceived (i.e. the importance of decentralised control)

  • Ownership: What happens to this profile when the student leaves the institution? Are there any other issues around making profiles public? Should non-university staff or students be also allowed to have profiles created on a particular institutions platform? Should the government provide this as a service for all citizens? The provision and ownership of the service are unresolved issues for me.

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