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Enhancing social presence on Moodle...

 
 
Matt Bury
Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Someone posted a spam thread on this forum for some closed source, commercial social networking service (SN). It got me thinking about user perception of SN platforms and expectations with regards to learning.

If we're interested in combining Social-Cultural Theory and Computer Mediated Communication, I think Moodle is an excellent overall choice for an LMS. However, I think it also has limitations and the social presence side of things aren't all they could be.

I'm interested in the Community of Inquiry (CoI) project at the University of Alberta, led by Randy Garrison, et al: http://communitiesofinquiry.com/socialpresence To me, it makes sense that learners need to get to know each other as well as possible and build mutual understanding and trust in order to maximise their cognitive presence and therefore their learning.

I've been experimenting with Elgg and BuddyPress, an SN plugin for Wordpress, and I can see a lot of advantages in these on the social presence side. I've also seen requests and some plugins for integrating commercial SN services like Facebook and LinkedIn. It could just be that SN services are the latest fad, after blogs and home pages and people want to jump on the bandwagon but I also think there is some genuine need for stronger social presence in Moodle.

What kind of enhancements could we make to Moodle to increase social presence?

 
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Picture of Joseph Thibault
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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While not a SN platform, I've been playing recently with OSQA as a platform to replace some of the forum functionality.  It's a bit of a different animal but it does help to facilitate and manage student interactions via Q/A.  

I'm not sold a SN is necessary for learning, but communication platform + a reliability score could be a powerful addition (especially in large courses/sites).  

 
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Picture of David Dunn
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

Hi Matt,

I'm afraid the spam thread that you refer to was actually a genuine query that aimed to initiate the kind of discussion you address.

I was surprised that my post was deleted; it almost seemed that comparisons with other systems was unwelcome. I guess this was not the case, and the reason was poor wording on my part that made it look like spam. Still, I note that you don't mention the other service by name. Is there a reason for that? (Clue for latecomers: it begins with E and ends with O. And is it commercial? I didn't know that)

In addition to using Moodle for most of my courses, I also use Buddypress and Google Sites. Since I've used WordPress for many years, adding BuddyPress was a cinch. Its strength is its core activity, that is, group blogging, but the quality of the plugins is also outstanding, for example chat, media management, etc. (see wordpress.org plugins for more details of what is possible/available). These plugins extend the range of BuddyPress beyond the core activity and make it a multifaceted social networking site.

Elgg I haven't used, though I've heard a lot of good things about it.

I agree with you that it makes sense for learners to get to know each other; what is also important is that they get to know the medium of communication. Both demand time -- time to explore how to get the best out of the various modules -- and this may be the reason why SN services seem more attractive -- something that looks like Facebook is more inviting to many people, and they may feel less intimidated to participate.

The downside of SN services, IMO, is the superficiality of exchange. Most SN services do not reach the "higher order" levels of thinking because of the "noise" of inanities. There are already examples of Moodle systems with a friendly, SN-style front page, then with the classical Moodle structure inside.

I guess that the enhancements you are talking about are better quality (SN) plugins, or do you mean a more radical reworking of the Moodle core?

 
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Matt Bury
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Hi David,

The main aim of my question is to put it out there for discussion. I don't favour any particular approach, whether it's integration with another platform, e.g. Elgg or BuddyPress, or developing new activity modules and/or course formats. One of the things that all LMS' and SN platforms seem to be weak on is Social Network Analysis (SNA) which would be very helpful for learning and teaching research, curriculum development and maybe even assessment (participation?). For SNA, I'm thinking of the work by people like Valdis Krebs (http://www.networkweaver.blogspot.ca/) and Rob Cross (http://www.robcross.org/).

Personally, I don't think that commercial SN services are appropriate for learning organisations for a variety of reasons that I outlined in a blog article here: http://blog.matbury.com/2011/12/11/a-thorny-issue-protecting-teachers-and-learners-right-to-privacy/ I think there are a lot of teachers using them on an ad-hoc basis without even being aware of the issues and liabilities involved, and some authorities, e.g. state governments and education authorities, are taking legal action to curb this behaviour. There appears to be a strong demand for SN for learning and teaching so I think it would be a good idea for Moodle to meet it.

I agree with your points about cognitive engagement on SN sites but I don't think it's necessarily due to the mode of communication, i.e. microblogging vs. blogging. I think it does take careful organisation, monitoring and some degree of teacher presence to promote productive discussions; deep, challenging, informative discussions rarely just happen by themselves. One of the advantages of microblogging is the fast turnaround and ease of use so that discussions can be more iterative and therefore co-constructing knowledge becomes easier. No doubt, there'll be a certain degree of "idle chit-chat" but I see this as a necessary part of building social presence, trust, etc. which, in turn, may contribute to cognitive presence. I don't think it would be too challenging to develop a microblogging plugin for Moodle.

On the blogging front, I've set up an RSS/ATOM feed aggregator on Wordpress for participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and, because learners contribute by writing articles on their own blogs, it seems to be a pretty good way of promoting long-term learning/professional development, personal investment and a strong sense of ownership: http://bbpress.matbury.com/cck12-feed/ Since RSS/ATOM feeds are open and public, learners and teachers also have the option of adding other relevant blogs, for example, I've added David Wiley's blog. I'd love to see an RSS/ATOM feed aggregator module for Moodle where learners submit their feeds to a core blogroll for each course and/or for their Moodle as a whole.

 
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Picture of John Doubleday
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

How about installing Mahara into your Moodle

 

 
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Matt Bury
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

John,

Why?

 
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Picture of David Dunn
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

Matt,

That article on privacy rights makes excellent points. Too often tech-gung-ho teachers jump on the latest hot toy and "require" colleagues and students to follow.

 
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Picture of Visvanath Ratnaweera
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Hallo David

Moodle has a lenient policy on advertising: http://docs.moodle.org/22/en/Policy_on_Advertising. Still your post irritated me. a) it was not an advice in a given context, rather barged in b) the product is propritär, as far as I unterstood software and server are in one. In addition there was no disclaimer on your involvement with that product.

Therefore the removal of the post was IMO right.
 
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Picture of David Dunn
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

Hi Visvanath,

I still think it was an over-reaction to remove the post.

This forum is a lounge for Moodle users to discuss Moodle-related topics, so

a) I was asking for other users' opinions, not trying to give advice (and certainly not advertise a service of any kind). "Barging in" seems rather strong; I was creating a new topic for discussion.

b) Does the form of a service preclude discussion? Irrelevant, IMO.

c) What kind of discussion forum (Lounge) is it where participants have to disclaim involvement whenever they mention a product?

"Can I have a coke, please, although I should add that I am in no way affiliated with the Coca-Cola Corporation in any way whatsoever."

- David

 
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KuwaitBus
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

I think that since the initial release of moodle, technology and society have caught up and exceeded moodles initial vision of social constructivist learning. These days, everyone is socially constructing on social networks and, at least in my experience, on moodle students are still being led and not creating quite enough.

I think that a lot can be gained by emulating/taking on board lesssons from the social networks, even if not in quite the same way.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of many of the social networks that is missing and would be most useful in moodle is the activity stream. It would be awesome if moodle devs could create a way to stream all the activity streams from the courses that students and staff are enrolled in. This way, you wouldn't have to trawl through every single course to find what the latest uploaded material is, and every forum to see when people have posted. 

At the moment there is activity stream blocks on each course, so it can't be that hard to stream them all to the front page right? This would make moodle much more user-friendly. 

 
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Picture of Mark Andrews
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

Hi All,

A really interesting discussion developing here.

Matt & Andy - I would echo both your thoughts on both the pitfalls of SN and how moodle could be developed in a more enhanced social learning way.

Is anyone still looking into this? would love to join!

Regards

Mark

 
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Frankie's the name, Moodle's my game!
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Hi Matt

Couldn't resist.
> What kind of enhancements could we make to Moodle to increase social presence?
>
Well, just by looking within Moodle internally, we can inhance the 'social presence' in a minute way (if it helps) by
(1) Adding a Wall for posts by course enrolled students and instructor
(2) Using MoodleBook Facebook-like theme (hehe).
Vola! The Facebook-addicted student user is (almost) instantly familiar with the controls and colors of the coursepage thanks to it mimicking Facebook. Okay so that's that. Now on to look to external means to achieve the ends...
See attached image.
Frankie Kam


 
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Mary Cooch
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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I'm just re-reading this thread because it's in my mind at the moment. I spent two days at BETT, the UK's huge educational trade fair and I was exploring other LMS/VLEs (commercial) and most of them seemed to offer the social network aspect that Moodle somewhat lacks. My colleague is actually trialling that aforementioned VLE "lite" (starts with E and ends in O) for its social network aspect, using it to teach the younger pupils netiquette. He uses and loves Moodle too by the way.

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Anyone ever used Cloudworks?

http://cloudworks.ac.uk/

-Derek

 
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KuwaitBus
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

That looks great Frankie! How did you do the social wall?

Next we need some way to update the recent activity more thoroughly i.e. not just "item uploaded/forum post added", but more in depth in the recent activity block.

 

 
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Frankie's the name, Moodle's my game!
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Hi Andy! You can check out my blog for some entries on the Wall. http://moodurian.blogspot.com

 
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Picture of Frances Bell
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

This is a very interesting thread.  I thought about it from the student/learners perspective and thought there are some issues that may go beyond the functionality of the system/service that impact on social presence.

If we have invested time in building a network of contacts and establishing a presence (through what we post/like/etc.) we would not want to lose access to it when we change jobs/graduate, etc.  Many implementations of LMS do precisely that and this could explain learners' attitudes to socialisation within them.  Thinking of Blackboard, there are also obviously architectural aspects that make it difficult for BB to implement SNS-like functionality.  For example, I can't imagine what a new student thinks when they click on a name expecting to get a profile and what comes up is an email!!

I have experience of elgg (some time ago) and Buddypress (an extension to Wordpress).  My elgg presence persists (very grateul to Emerge project for this) but is frozen http://elgg.jiscemerge.org.uk/francesbell/weblog.  The buddypress we set up for students in 2009 is still in place (not sure for how long) but we moved activities to wordpress.com for subsequent cohorts because of lack of institutional support.  Benefits of using Wordpress.com are that:

  • students are getting skills in industry-standard software not just a blog
  • their content is secure and portable to their own blog if they wish to set one up
  • it's easy to use and well-supported with training materials

Regarding social networking, I suspect that students use whatever SNS is popular in their peer group - today probably Facebook, who knows what in 5 years?  I have many reservations about Facebook but I would guess that from a student perspective their content and network will endure far longer on FB than on most institutional LMS whether Moodle/ Blackboard or whatever.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

Research shows that personal networks can migrate naturally from SNS to SNS (yours may be more active now on Twitter than on FB) but the sheer cliff of falling off your network at graduation could be very off-putting.  Many 30-somethings on FB started on college FB networks and are stiill there on FB the megacorp.

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Frances's comment:  I suspect that students use whatever SNS is popular in their peer group"

I have had to jon several other SN apps to cater for an Argentinean friend and Bangladeshi friends and last night discovered there were more that were popular with Korean teachers.

It's a jungle out there.

-Derek

 
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Picture of Frances Bell
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

Unfortunately there is less diversity than there used to be since Facebook seems to be making the world blue but who knows? the tide may turn.

 
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Picture of Visvanath Ratnaweera
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers
And how does enhancing social presence enhance learning?
 
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Matt Bury
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
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Hi Visvanath,

Good question: please see my initial post and references.

 
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Picture of Mark Andrews
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

I'm getting the feeling that when we talk about 'Social Pressence' we are then starting to move into 'how can we replicate or link a social network into moodle' which to me still sounds like running in parallel rather than intergrated.

My thoughts are around making the existing tools in moodle more social, so at course level so for example making it easier to have a discussion around a particular resource or activity. Currently users have to complete the activity/resource and then go to the forums to discuss which is a little disjointed. The comments block offers single comments but not a discussion nor does it have a way to bring the discussions together. I guess something that's a mash-up of the current forum & comments API that is used throughout.

I'd welcome other's views on both how we would define a 'social pressence' (I like the term) and how it might manifest it's self.

Cheers

Mark

 

 
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KuwaitBus
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
 

In my opinion, it's not necessarily about making it social, so much as learning from what the success of social networks teaches us. Social networks like Facebook are popular partly because they work.

For me the draw of a social activity stream over what's currently in moodle is that it puts the contributions of the user front and centre and makes publishing content idiot-accessible. 

At present, I feel that both of these elements are weak points in moodle. Firstly most courses emphasise teacher-uploaded or teacher-led content and the only way that students can contribute is in certain areas of the course sites e.g. in forums. When they do contribute, the content is marginalised and only noticeable once you go into the forum or as a minimal mention in the recent activity block. 

In my opinion, putting a social stream front and centre in moodle would be equivalent to raising the profile of student contributions. If you log in and it says "New file uploaded to course A" and "New forum post [content] in [subject forum] course A" at the same level then students would be much better served and learning would benefit as students would be more encouraged to take an active part in their learning

 
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Matt Bury
Re: Enhancing social presence on Moodle...
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Hi Andy,

Re: "Social networks like Facebook are popular partly because they work." -- Can you define what you mean by "work"? AFAIK, how Facebook defines "work" and how educators and learners do it is quite different.

BTW, there's nothing stopping us from creating courses where learners have editing teacher privileges so that they can play a stronger role in contributing and participating. I've already done this in teacher professional development courses to get them used to using Moodle for learning and teaching.

Moodle offers far more than just tweet feeds and wall posts with regards to social learning; glossaries, peer-review, wikis, etc. that are designed and organised to promote learning rather than gather users' data to sell to advertisers. While Moodle's UIs could be better designed, I don't think the primary problem is the platform. I think we can make greater progress by examining how we develop courses per se and how those reflect the power relationships between admins, curriculum developers, teachers, and learners.

I think we're in agreement that putting learners in a more prominent role on courses can be more productive in terms of social engagement and therefore learning (from a social constructivist perspective). I like your suggestions for better updates on other course participants' activities when learners log in.

 
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