‘Locked’ Ning Networks? Access, Copyright and Privacy

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Context

On September 14, 2010, after Ning had postponed the deadline for shutting nonpaying networks for the umpteenth time, I wrote:

I will not write another full post about Ning until the non paying groups have been deleted, or Ning gets bought by a more efficient firm, or disappears. But I’ve opened a Ning page on the wiki of ETC Journal where I shall attempt to keep track of what happens at Ning.

in a comment to my Why Unjoin Ning Networks that Won’t Pay (Aug. 28, 2010).

And now I am writing one, even though nonpaying groups have not been deleted and no one — to my knowledge — has shown any interest in buying Ning.  Motive: a discussion entitled “Deletion of Free Ning Networks?” started by Alex on September 18 in the Ning Creators network. Though it disappeared very quickly, there is a copy archived with WebCite® on the same day: http://webcitation.org/5sq785FZF.

Eric Suesz — senior community manager at Ning — participated in this discussion, stating that “All free Ning Networks are now locked and can’t be accessed.” This is simply untrue. Continue reading

Why Unjoin Ning Networks that Won’t Pay

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

In Ning’s New Deadline for Pay-Only: Aug. 30, I quoted the announcement of the new deadline set by Ning for paying to keep a network online. It now turns out that creators of Ning networks that won’t do so cannot delete them anymore.  In view of this, the  following passage in the announcement of the new deadline  becomes worrying:

…As a result, we have extended the deadline for selecting one of the three new plans (Ning Mini, Plus and Pro) to August 30, 2010. Beginning on this date, we will block access to any free Ning Network that isn’t subscribed to one of the three plans.

“block access” – and not “delete” – this means that after August 30, Ning will  have sole access  to, and use of:

  • the content posted in these networks
  • the profile data of all members of these networks, which include their e-mail addresses.

Continue reading

Ning’s Self-Contradictions

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

About Ning’s decision to scrap free networks and for alternatives to Ning, see End of Free Ning Networks: Live Online Discussion: Apr. 20th.

Three plans

Ning sent an e-mail entitled “Important news about your Ning Network” to Ning network owners on July 28, 2010, telling them about three choices that will remain available to them until August 20, 2010: Mini, Plus and Pro.

Actually, the Mini plan also comes in a for-free version sponsored by Pearson — but only for eligible North American K-12 and Higher-Ed Ning Networks — in spite of all Pearson’s boasting about being Continue reading

End of Free Ning Networks: Live Online Discussion: Apr. 20th

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Ning social networks have been very popular, particularly among educators for whom they meant a free – without ads for K-12 classes – learning environment, with blogs, forums, photo and video galleries, personal pages for members and the possibility to create sub-groups.

But on April 15th, Ning’s new CEO, Jason Rosenthal, announced that they were going to end Ning’s free offer: see Ning Update: Phasing Out Free Services by John McDonald, Ning Creators‘ forum. This is a severe blow,  as there is no simple way to back up a Ning network. Continue reading

Social Networking: Weaving the Web of Informal Ties

Stefanie PankeBy Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The term networking describes the behavioral patterns that people display to gain, maintain and make use of social relationships in a professional context. The relevance of the concept has increased in recent years due to its ascribed positive effects on individual career paths. Online social networking aims to strengthen informal ties, even within formal settings. These informal connections may ease the stress and stiffness of work-related tasks. People who are part of the informal social network provide resources or further contacts, and reciprocal advantages emerge among the networkers. Examples include simplifying workflows (“cutting through the red tape”), passing on strategic information and mentoring network members in their professional development.

Whereas networking traditionally takes place during conference breaks, in the office’s kitchenette or at the water dispenser, nowadays more and more business contacts are established online. “Social Networking once meant going to a social function such as a cocktail party, conference, or business luncheon. Today, much social networking is achieved through Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn” (Roberts & Roach, 2009, pp. 110-111)

For the majority of students the profile in a social networking community is a natural part of their everyday communication portfolio – just as indispensable as the cell phone or e-mail address.

Since student life is to a great and increasing degree mediated through social networking platforms, academic teachers can hardly ignore these environments.

Platforms such as MySpace and Facebook are likely to attract more student attention than the university’s learning management system. These “social” Web portals form a widely accepted virtual meeting point to deal with the social components of campus life.

This new gathering point challenges academic teachers to find a personal strategy for dealing with social networking sites. Should teachers leave the social networking playground to students or should they actively engage in social networking practices to open up a new communication channel with their students? What platforms are out there to choose from, what appeals to their respective target group and what are the prospects and problems of these Web sites?

Examples

In general, all social networking Web sites are used to organize social contacts online. However, networks differ in their character, which depends on the applications offered, the conventions of use and the kind of relationships displayed in the network. Depending on the character of the site, the member profile page highlights specific aspects of the user’s personality and interests and mediates how he or she interacts with other members. For instance, Facebook, which targets mainly students, features a high amount of informal communication and games, differing in this respect from the platform LinkedIn, which is particularly focused on professional contacts and thus features business recommendations and testimonials. There are numerous social networking sites, which differ greatly in their focus and reach. The following examples are either widely used or specifically target an academic audience:

Facebook: Founded in 2004, the platform has 300 million active users per month. Originally, Facebook was accessible for a limited target group. Until September 2006, users needed the e-mail address of a university to register. Still, students are the dominant member group, though other segments are picking up.

LinkedIn: Since its launch in 2003, the network has attracted 50 million users worldwide. The Web site allows registered users to maintain a contacts list with trusted business acquaintances (so called connections). For student supervisors it is a helpful tool to provide recommendations and support graduates entering the job market.

NING: In this Web community, groups can create and manage their own social network. Ning was launched in October 2005 and has more than 1.6 million members. Examples for e-learning related networks are the AACE Connect community organized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) or the Special Interest Group Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of E-Learning (ELESIG).

MySpace: Since its launch in 2004, the music community and other interest groups continue to heavily use MySpace. Each month 125 million users worldwide log in to their account, search for songs, bands and tour dates, add contacts and post their own photos and videos. Users may continue to access MySpace for political happenings such as the last presidential election or healthcare bill. A rubric dedicated to education and the organization of school events is MySpace School.

ResearchGATE was founded in May 2008. The platform aims to create an international network of scientists and has been quite successful so far. ResearchGATE has 180,000 members worldwide and grows with a rate of approximately 1000 new member registrations daily. The features are targeted to a scientific audience, for instance, supporting the “self archiving” of publications.

scholarz.net has been in existence since 2007 and has approximately 3000 members. The site is a mixture of citation management tool, search engine and meeting point for  scholars. The start-up was originally a research project at the German University of Würzburg. The academic background along with its advertisement free environment adds to the credibility of the site. In the future, their business model foresees member fees.

Prospects

An important part of the university experience is building personal relationship networks. Contacts with fellow students are constantly negotiated, evaluated and maintained collaboratively. Whereas common activities strengthen relationships, inactivity renders them fragile or stagnant at best. Communicating through social networking pages is a means to foster and deepen interpersonal contacts. At this, users are by and large not attracted by the anonymity of the WWW. Despite the potential of global networking, a major amount of contacts maintained through social networks mirrors local binds and relationships to friends, study peers or working colleagues (Livingstone, 2008).

A heavily cited advantage of engaging in social networks goes back to the work and writings of Granovetter (1974). According to the researcher, strong social ties towards friends, neighbors or family members are less relevant for finding a job or choosing a career path than indirect or transient contacts (weak social ties). Social networking platforms make it easier to find indirect connections through visualizing second and third degree contacts. Thereby, one can, with little effort, leverage these contacts and make them a part of one‘s personal network. Plus, the profile page in a social networking site starts to replace the personal homepage. It opens up an easy way to gain experiences in designing Web pages and putting together references and other CV information.

All in all, social networking platforms can be seen as relationship management tools that answer everyday questions of student life. When again is the birthday of my new pal from the introductory course? How can I reach the members of my study group? Short status messages allow for easy navigation in one’s own social network, track activities and keep up to date.  Although students use networks such as Facebook chiefly for informal communication, organizing learning activities is in many cases a sidekick to simply having fun.

Problems

The ubiquitous presence of social networking sites in campus life can develop an unwelcomed dynamic. As a matter of principle, the nature and amount of personal information displayed online should be a personal decision by the individual student. But when all fellow students, the tutors and even the teacher meet on facebook, how can one afford to stay behind? Once a member, the student has to cope with the continuous stream of information. Do I have to react to every short message? Should I also become a member in this new learning network? How many online identities can I manage at a time? The pressure and urge to be ubiquitously present and constantly online can turn out to be detrimental to a student’s learning experience.

The unchecked and uncontrollable aggregation of data and the potential for commercial leverage of member profiles are two central points of criticism when it comes to social networking. Different providers follow specific business models, e.g., collecting fees for special services or unlimited storage, advertising general and personalized products based on information in the members’ profiles.

The close interplay between the social networking profile and the person’s relationship management results in a state of dependence towards the provider. What happens when the provider changes the terms of use? Facebook, for example, introduced in 2006 the feature “Newsfeeds.” Many users protested against this decision that created more transparency and awareness of personal information (Boyd, 2008). In the end users can only choose between the two options of accommodating or leaving the platform altogether.

Likewise, the postings and comments of other users, which are displayed within one’s own profile, result in a loss of personal control. Each online identity needs continuous maintenance to be free of spam and other unwanted pictures, games or comments. This upkeep is particularly important since employers increasingly use the Internet for background checks.

Teaching and Learning Scenarios

  • Coordination: Several academic teachers started using Facebook as a tool for working together with colleagues, tutors, research assistants and students. The short messages and status notifications are ideal for arranging duties and coordinating cooperative tasks. As Sara Dixon from the department of psychology at St. Edward’s University puts it: “It is so fast . . . . They check their facebook profile more often than their email account.” The Creative Writing Network on Facebook is a collection of teaching material shared between academics. As the profile page says: “It’s a place to share book and article titles of craft criticism, announce events related to teaching creative writing, and discuss issues in our field.”
  • Narration: Brown & Donohue (2007) describe the use of social networking portals in literature studies. When discussing fictional characters in the classroom, a character specific MySpace-profile offers the link to a context students are familiar with:  “[…] it can be useful to ask what that character’s MySpace page might look like — what might such a character include in their ‘Interests’ or ‘About Me’ section? The MySpace template offers students a way to talk about identity construction in familiar ways.”

Alumni: The German university RWTH Aachen uses the platform XING as a tool to support alumni. The alumni group was established in October 2004 and now has 9000 members. Another example is the facebook group from Thomas College or the University of California group on MySpace.

  • Lectures: The media informatics work group of Prof. Oliver Vornberger from the German University of Osnabrück has developed a plug-in for Facebook called social virtPresenter. It allows the distribution of lecture recordings via the social networking site. This supports social navigation through the lecture contents.

Conclusions

Whether or not academic teachers choose to create personal social networking profiles and the degree to which they make use of it is a personal decision, one that cannot be made unambiguously from a pedagogical point of view. Mazer et al. (2007) researched the influence of teachers’ Facebook profiles on student motivation, learning behavior and learning climate. In addition, students were allowed to comment on how appropriate they perceived the teachers’ Facebook profiles. Despite positive effects on student motivation in the experimental setting, the majority of subjects surveyed reported that an in-depth teacher profile appears to them as “unprofessional.”

Since student life is to a great and increasing degree mediated through social networking platforms, academic teachers can hardly ignore these environments. Knowledge and personal experience can help instructors to facilitate media competence, critical reflection and responsible use of social networking tools among students. Whenever an openly accessible Web site becomes part of the official learning environment, teachers have a certain responsibility for the way students present themselves and interact with each other online. If open social networks are to be used, it makes sense to develop a respective “netiquette.” Furthermore, teachers need to create awareness of privacy settings.

Social networks with an academic focus, such as ResearchGATE or scholarz, offer the advantage of features that are tailored to the target group of researchers and students. They offer options to manage citations, post presentations and articles, and support educational activities. This makes them a good starting point for teachers to get into social networking.

Assuming That Teachers Aren’t the Primary Obstacle to Change . . .

encounters80Introduction: This encounter began with a comment posted by Lynn Zimmerman to Tom Preskett‘s latest article (“Blackboard Reinforces the Status Quo“). ETC has published variations on this theme in the past, but it seems to be a zimmerman40problem that defies the collective wisdom of educators at all levels. Could it be that we’re barking up the wrong tree? If we assume, for a moment, that teachers aren’t the primary obstacle to change, then who or what is? Why? And what can we do to overcome this obstacle? -Jim S

steve_eskow40Steve Eskow, 21 Oct. 2009, 10:38 am:

I’m trying to recall a period of my professional life when “teacher resistance to change” wasn’t used as the master explanation for the failure to improve education. Education seems almost equally divided between insisters on change and resisters to change.

So: some random, hypertextual questions and thoughts for Lisa, Tom, Lynn–and me.

If an institution dropped an organizing framework like Blackboard or Moodle, and creative instructors used their own knowledge of Web 2.0 or 3.0 to shape their pedagogy, would the students taking five courses have to learn five learning systems?

Education budgets are in shock. Institutions have already moved to drastic economies, including the increasing use of poorly paid adjuncts to do most of the teaching. Will adjuncts using Web 2.0 pedagogies be able to instruct more students, fewer students, the same number?

If an institution using the old organizational structures offers 25 sections of English 101 to Freshman, should those sections teach from a common syllabus, or does each instructor set her own goals and choose her own Web 2.0 pedagogy?

Michael SandelA Harvard prof named Michael Sandel–you’ll find him on YouTube–teaches a course called “Justice” that attracts as many as a thousand students: so many that Harvard has to commandeer its theater building for the course. Apparently the students as well as the prof thinks the course generates “active learning,” despite these numbers. Can a lecture really generate “active learning”? (Sandel is now in the process of putting his course online.)

It’s been said before–by me among others–that it’s more useful to think of the system as eliciting the resistance rather than any one element of the system, like the teacher.

Churchill, you remember, started with the building. “We shape our building,” he said, “and then our buildings shape us.” Lecture halls, classrooms, offices, dorms: those structures resist change at least as insistently as teachers.

When teachers leave the existing system–when campus faculty become part of an all-distance learning initiative, for example–their “resistance to change” often ends.

We need to consider changing our explanations for teacher behavior. And that might require overcoming our own resistance to change.

jims40Jim Shimabukuro, 21 Oct. 2009, 12:49 pm:

Steve Eskow: If an institution dropped an organizing framework like Blackboard or Moodle, and creative instructors used their own knowledge of Web 2.0 or 3.0 to shape their pedagogy, would the students taking five courses have to learn five learning systems?

Good question, Steve. The answer’s yes and no. The underlying issue in online learning seems to be ease of use. On the one hand, CMSs (Course Management Systems) such as Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai are responses to the problem of learning how to move courses online, either fully or partially. The assumption is that an integrated system, or a CMS, is the best method. It’s the Swiss Army knife approach, the all-in-one. Learn one system, and you have all the functions that you’ll need to teach and learn online.

The problem with this all-in-one approach is that users are locked in to a limited set of features. If we compare teaching to building a house, then a CMS is a closed construction system that provides basic tools and materials. The instructor, as carpenter, quickly discovers the limits of her/his tools and resources. After a while, it’s obvious that the house can take on only a limited number of shapes — and it ends up as a little box in a virtual landscape of boxes that all look just the same.

Teachers are, if anything, fiercely independent. They want to own their courses, and they do so by selecting their own required textbooks and resources and developing their own syllabi and learning activities. They demand the freedom to set up their own schedules, assignments, learning activities, and grading systems. They often demand a specific room in a specific time slot. This is what makes teaching an art and so personally fulfilling. The CMSs, for all their purported simplicity, run counter to this independent spirit.

On the other hand, a completely open system such as Web 2.0 is, at least for the novice, bewildering. Where to begin to build a course? How? In comparison, a CMS is a haven of order and simplicity.

From the perspective of an administrator, a CMS is a simple and logical way to move classes online. The alternative is, apparently, chaos.

But is this true?

I’d argue that it’s not. A quick exploration will reveal that all the functions available in a CMS are also available on the web. The difference is that they are not roofed under a single CMS. In a very real sense, the world’s largest, most flexible, most open, and most powerful CMS is the web itself. Instead of just one format for discussions, you have scores; instead of just one format for submitting or presenting papers and projects, you have countless; instead of just a handful of ways to present course material, you have a nearly infinite number.

The point is that once you’ve seen what’s available in the world’s market place, there’s no going back to the single store in your neighborhood.

From the perspective of IT folks who are assigned the task of guiding neophytes into the brave new e-world, the prospect of putting all their effort into a single closed system versus a nearly infinite variety in an open system is very attractive.

But looked at another way, this one-answer approach is shortsighted and ultimately noneducative. If learning is empowering, then this approach stifles learning. In the end, you have instructors and students using a very limited subset of what the web has to offer, and the transfer of learning from the single CMS to the worldwide web is nil. The web remains a scary, chaotic place, and the users are back at square one when it comes to web proficiency.

Returning to your question, Steve: Yes, the students taking five online classes in a web-wide or open CMS (OCMS) would have to learn five different OCMSs. But the critical difference is that all of the parts of the different OCMSs are on the web and the student will quickly learn how to categorize and use them. It’s like getting your bearings in a strange city or highway system. You learn that they all have the same features, and it’s just a matter of adapting to slight variations.

In the end, the student and teachers learn to be at home on the web rather than in the limited confines of a single, closed CMS (CCMS). It’s the difference between being at home in the world and being at home in your neighborhood. Opportunities for creativity and development are unlimited. The outcome is empowerment of the student and the teacher.

Are there problems in guiding faculty in the use of this open approach? There are, but they are far from being insurmountable. In fact, the process can be quite simple. It’s the same ones we use to teach general skills that need to be applied in different ways for different settings. But that’s for another discussion.

Are there other problems, such as security? Yes, of course, but, again, solutions aren’t all that difficult to develop.

When it comes to technology, freedom of choice is a critical factor. Examples abound. All we need to do is look at our choices of cars, cell phones, entertainment, travel, computers, software, etc. The movement is always toward more options than less. We can expect no less in education, in teaching and learning.

Steve, I was planning to respond to some of your other points, but I’ll need to do that some other time.

bbracey40Bonnie Bracey Sutton, 21 Oct. 2009, 12:55 pm:

I enjoyed the GAID Global Forum in Monterrey, Mexico, because every time a person blamed it on teachers. I queried:

Who decides what the curriculum is that teachers use and what flexibility is there in your system?

Who creates the infrastructure for teaching and learning in digital ways and what is the way, the method of teacher professional development?

Is it like a vaccinatioin — one shot and that’s it, or is it sustained and supported?

Access to information: Is it there? What speeds are there? So many teachers don’t have broadband at home.

What access do teachers have (in the US, too) to broadband and the rich resources on the web? Do they have it in school and at home?

What time is allowed to update practice and to learn new media?

GAID2009

The professors from Latin America were saying that the computer should not replace the teacher. I asked how would that be possible or do you mean you have a problem with elearning initiatives while you are being webcast? Why one technology and not the other?

Infrastructure, content, community of practice and support, sustained support for devices and programs, use of tools like T Pack, understanding of Bloom’s taxonomy, digital understanding of cyberbullying and resources — who makes these decisions and are they known?

There is a lot more. What really gets my goat is that other people tell us how to teach and then when it does not work we get the blame. For example, the last 8 years of no science and all of the groups that have gone to Washington complaining about it.

Ms. Spelling killed the teaching of science with NCLB. Example: the teachers in Washington, DC, following the practices that DC accepted have now been weighed by Ms Rhee and found wanting. So who is to blame when schools don’t have a website or teachers don’t have email. Hello?

Bonnie Bracey Sutton, 21 Oct. 2009, 1:08 pm:

Great questions. I even get bewildered from time to time with so much on my plate. I was single and so time was not a problem. These days I don’t have the time, though I am an eager advocate of what works. Some things are not to my liking, but in a K-12 school system we usually don’t get to make those kinds of decisions.

Some informed practice requires teacher involvement, reflection, and understanding. Everyone tells me teachers can’t program. That is not true, but programing takes an investment of time and support.

Here is an interesting take from an Edutopia Blog: “Let’s Get Real About Innovation in Our Schools,” by Suzie Boss 10/12/09.

Steve Eskow, 21 Oct. 2009, 1:40 pm:

I have to brood some about your provocative comments, Jim.

One question occurs immediately.

Does your thinking about LMS’s and free choice square with your picking a particular blogging program for us to use? I, for one, with my limitations, find much to dislike with the program: I don’t like how it handles replies, and that it doesn’t automatically notify me via email when someone replies to a piece of mine.

Isn’t WordPress exactly the kind of system you criticize?

On the other hand. . .and there’s always another hand:

The system is professional, tested, flexible. . .and allows you and the rest of us to concentrate on ideas rather than systems and technology.

Jim Shimabukuro, 21 Oct. 2009, 2:28 pm:

Steve Eskow: Does your thinking about LMS’s and free choice square with your picking a particular blogging program for us to use? I, for one, with my limitations, find much to dislike with the program: I don’t like how it handles replies, and that it doesn’t automatically notify me via email when someone replies to a piece of mine. Isn’t WordPress exactly the kind of system you criticize?

Good question, Steve. Yes, I think my choice of WordPress (WP) for ETC fits with my views on using the web as an open CMS. ETC uses WP as part of the web — not part of a closed CMS. WP, as used by ETC, is available and accessible to everyone. Anyone can use it to set up a blog for an endless number of purposes. Use it in ETC and become proficient, and the tool is also yours to use for your own purposes. Transfer of learning? Yes, definitely. And it’s free.

I explored four different blogs before deciding on WP. Two were part of packaged systems, a social network (Ning) and a closed CMS (Sakai). The fourth was freely available on the web, Blogger, which is easier to use but not as stable or powerful as WP.

There are other blog programs, but for me, it came down to Blogger and WP. I chose the latter. If there are better open web, free blog platforms, I’d like to explore them.

Is it perfect? Definitely not. But improvements keep coming, and in time, it ought to address many of its shortcomings.

WP doesn’t have the feature you want — email notification of a reply or post — but it probably will someday.

We could shift ETC into the Ning social network (SN), and that would give us the feature you want, I think. I’m not sure how powerful Ning’s blog is. My first impression wasn’t very good. Or we could pour ETC into a Ning discussion forum setup to get the feature you want. But in my mind, we win a battle but lose the war. There are so many more advantages to ETC in the WP environment than in Ning.

This is not to say that WP doesn’t need to beef up its discussion features. It does. But my guess is that WP isn’t fully aware of the potential of discussion in blogs. In time, though, hopefully it’ll learn and turn the discussion feature into a powerful tool that surpasses that found in Ning.

WP’s discussion feature is on a par with most open web blogs that feature posts by selected writers. If a reader comments on an article, he/she doesn’t usually receive notification of comments from other writers. This notification feature seems to be standard for SNs, but not for blogs. But this could change.

I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question, Steve, but if I haven’t, please let me know.

keller40Harry Keller, 21 Oct. 2009, 2:48 pm: In public schools in this country, teachers are the problem and the solution. Because so many classroom decisions are left to the teachers, they can stymie reform and innovation. These days they are underpaid and overworked. When your school sits in a difficult neighborhood and your class size has ballooned, you are a miracle worker if you can have any learning take place. It’s not particularly surprising that they resist new ideas. Besides, many new things get funded for just a year or two. The teachers put in the time to learn about these things and then find that they’ve wasted their time when they disappear.

Teachers are the solution for plenty of reasons that I don’t have time to explore now.

I’m getting ready for CSTA (California Science Teachers Association) and have lots more to do before I leave.

CSTA2009


claude40Claude Almansi, 23 Oct. 2009 12:05 am:

[Steve Eskow, 21 Oct. 2009, 10:38 PM:] If an institution dropped an organizing framework like Blackboard or Moodle, and creative instructors used their own knowledge of Web 2.0 or 3.0 to shape their pedagogy, would the students taking five courses have to learn five learning systems?

[James N Shimabukuro, 22 Oct. 2009, 12:49 AM:] Returning to your question, Steve: Yes, the students taking five online classes in a web-wide or open CMS (OCMS) would have to learn five different OCMSs. But the critical difference is that all of the parts of the different OCMSs are on the web and the student will quickly learn how to categorize and use them. It’s like getting your bearings in a strange city or highway system. You learn that they all have the same features, and it’s just a matter of adapting to slight variations.

Personal experience: in 2007 Università della Svizzera Italiana foresaw an “intensive French module” for their Master course in Intercultural communication, but they have re-used the same URL for the 2008-10 course), to be given in French and English. I was put in charge of this module (which took place Apr. 16-20) rather late, and with indications about number of participants varying from 3 to 15 until the day before it began. Actually, there were four participants, all already inserted in professional life.

When I asked for access to the Master’s Moodle CMS to store info so that students could concentrate on oral activities without having to take notes all the time, the organizers told me I couldn’t because training in the use of the CMS was only foreseen for after the language modules. I thought it was odd to have to train folks in using (managing maybe, but using?) Moodle, but there was no time to argue, so I made a wiki instead (click here to see what it looked like when we started).

When I showed the wiki to the students, their first reaction was, “Why not the Moodle CMS?” I explained, they raised their eyes to the ceiling, then went at the wiki. None of them had ever actively used one before, but it took them under 5 minutes to get the hang of this one. They liked the idea of not having to take notes all the time, particularly the two (a grand 50%) who had broken their writing arm.

I guess nowadays, a new web app is no problem either for younger students who grew up with Web 2.0 things that are all similar due to their XML basis – see Michael Wesch’s classic video “Web 2.0 . . . The Machine is Us/ing Us” (1).

[Steve Eskow, 22 Oct. 2009, 1:40 AM:] I have to brood some about your provocative comments, Jim. One question occurs immediately. Does your thinking about LMS’s and free choice square with your picking a particular blogging program for us to use? I, for one, with my limitations, find much to dislike with the program: I don’t like how it handles replies, and that it doesn’t automatically notify me via email when someone replies to a piece of mine.

(en passant: apart from the RSS solutions I mentioned in the thread about notifications, another work around is to make a comment yourself and check the box for “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.”)

Isn’t WordPress exactly the kind of system you criticize? On the other hand . . . and there’s always another hand: The system is professional, tested, flexible . . . and allows you and the rest of us to concentrate on ideas rather than systems and technology.

Blogs can be used as LMS, but wikis – which nowadays are just as easy to use – are definitely more adapted, because they don’t have the linear constrictions of blogs (2). Moreover, wikis keep the history of changes, so if you or a student bungle/s, you can always revert to the former version – most free wiki platforms enable download as a zipped file in 3 clicks of the latest version of the whole thing, some even of all the history. Fewer bloging platforms offer this possibility.

__________

(1) If you’re already using intranets in your work: re “The Machine is Us/ing Us” video (also see the thread in this list about folks annotating stuff “on” one’s page with tools like Sidewiki and Diigo): there are several Diigo annotations on the video page, collectible in 2 clicks – including one by Wesch himself about adding the video to Mojiti (where the video actually disappeared under several layers of comments, which you could fortunately disable if you wanted to see the video).

(2) These linear constrictions can be bypassed: in 2005, I made a mirror of a Tunisian Human Rights site that was being blocked by censorship in Tunisia, in a blogger.com blog: I made a “table of content” entry I dated something like 2100 so that it’d stay on top, then linked in it to the other entries where I copied the pages of the site. But a blog is short for web log, and logs are intrinsically linear, because they are time-based, like diaries. Wikis *offer the possibility* of a time-based reading, through the history feature, but they don’t impose it.