November 2008

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I first realized that something was awry when I started getting comments on posts that have long been quiet stating that the links to various extensions were not working. Checking out the links, I found that the common element in these broken links were Elgg’s Google Groups. I logged into Developers’ group and began looking for the files finding this:

That’s it. Where there used to be scores of files, there are now a few. Checking the Users’ group. I found the same only there just one file.

Why this has happened, I have no idea. I do know one thing—there are files that can no longer be found either in the groups or the Elgg community site. It is puzzling because the oldest file in each group still exists. It appears that they were deleted. Perhaps I am missing something. If so, please set me straight!

My fear is that we are going to lose several extensions that may have been left in the groups by people who haven’t moved over to the community. Perhaps they have developed these projects and moved on to something else.

We need to find out which extensions are missing and search through our collective hard drives and repost them to the Elgg community so this body of work is not lost. Beyond that, I think we should consider a second repository just in case something goes wrong in the future. It appears that nothing can be taken for granted. I would like to hear others’ take on this issue. Also, please post the names of any extensions that you believe are missing so we can recover them.

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Social bookmarking tools allow users to store and share bookmarks on the Internet so that they are accessible from any computer connected to the net. There are a number of popular free commercial social bookmarking sites including del.icio.us, Furl, Digg, Stumbleupon, and others. Of course, my emphasis has been upon open source alternatives to these sites so that students are not exposed to inappropriate content, advertising, and analysis of browsing habits. Of the tools that I have covered extensively on this site, Pligg, Elgg, and Posh have social bookmarking capabilities.

Potential Uses for Social Bookmarking in Education

Students and educators can benefit from the use of social bookmarking. Teachers could create a bookmark category for an individual class. Rather than passing out paper with links, students would be referred to the bookmarks residing on the bookmarking site for easy access by clicking links. Taking this concept yet further, a teacher could allow students to submit bookmarks for sites that they find useful and pertinent to the class.

Collaborative groups could share an account, or create a unique tag so that all members could have access to what the others have bookmarked.

Individuals conducting research could simply use social bookmarking to keep track of useful sites. This will allow the individual to access his bookmarks regardless of location or what computer he is using.

Bookmarking with Pligg

Pligg is a free and open source application designed to function similarly to the commercial social bookmarking service DIgg. Unlike many other options, social bookmarking is central to Pligg’s functionality. It is fully functional social bookmarking software with means of submitting bookmarks with descriptions and tags. It also provides ratings in which, depending on the template, users can rate a bookmark Digg-style with a thumbs up or thumbs down, or with a star rating system.

Here’s a step by step look at how bookmarks are submitted in Pligg. Navigating to the site, once users log in they are given the option of submitting a new “story.”

Once  the user clicks the tab, they will see a page similar to the one below.

From this point, the user needs to pste the url into the field. Note the guidelines to submitting quality bookmarks.You may alter these messages and indeed add more by going into the the admin interface, selecting Modigy Language and change these fields:

An educator who is grading students’ bookmarks might alter this to provide clear criteria by which they will be evaluated. The next step prompts the user to describe, tag, and categorize the bookmark.

Once this is completed, it enters the administrator’s queue to be approved. Once it appears and depending upon how Pligg is configured, the bookmark can be rated. It also can be commented upon, however admins may want to remove that option as the comments cannot be moderated.

Bookmarking with Elgg

Unlike Pligg, Elgg is not specifically a bookmarking application. Rather it is a social networking platform that can include bookmarking if the extension is installed and enabled. In Elgg, there is a different set of options. You can view your own bookmark collection, those of friends and site bookmarks.

Unlike Pligg, bookmark urls cannot be copied and pasted into a field, rather they are handled via a “bookmarklet.” The bookmarklet icon is dragged to the browser’s link bar.

Once you click the bookmarklet, it grabs the Page title and url and sends you to the Elgg site to complete the bookmarking process.

The bookmark can be described, tagged, and sent to any friends’ bookmark inbox. You can also set the access to public, private, or to logged in users.

Once the bookmark is submitted, other users can comment upon the bookmark.

Bookmarking in Posh

While Posh has bookmarks, their functionality is quite limited.

Click on add a bookmark, and you are give a field for the title, the url, and tags.

Evaluating Student Bookmarks

Teachers may require bookmarks as part of a student’s participation in class. One simple way of doing this would require students to submit a certain number of sites. While this is a reasonable requirement, a good evaluation would consider the quality of the bookmark and the resource it references.The bookmark could be rated in part by the quality of the description according to clear criteria (which can be explicitely stated in the software with Pligg). These might include:

  • Evaluation of site’s authority
  • Good summary of the site’s content
  • Valid and rich use of tags
  • Appropriate categorization
  • Ratings and comments from peers

Conclusion

Social Bookmarking has clear value in education. While self hosted solutions lack the potential for world-wide collaboration that the big commercial sites have, they certainly allow for collaboration with a group, class, or school. The open source options will protect privacy and avoid inappropriate content, and they are more likely to pass muster with afdministration and community.

Of these tools, Pligg stands out as the best because of it’s rich feature set devoted to social bookmarking. Elgg, on the other hand has privacy settings and sharing functions that Pligg lacks and comes as part of a broader social networking platform. Both are suitable for use in the K12 setting. Posh, while useful, is rather limited; thus, a convenience, yet a less valuable social bookmarking tool.

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On Tuesday, November 25, I presented Open Source Web 2.0 Applications at the New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education (NYSCATE). I was very excited to share some of what I have learned in the past year regarding web based applications such as WordPress, Elgg, Pligg, Posh, Gallery, and many others.

I was concerned about the timeslot–the last session on the last day of the conference. I was delighted to find the conference room nearly full when I began to present. I was also pleased to see a few people that attended my presentation last year.

You can hear the presentation Open Source Web 2.0.

Click through the presentation as you listen. (It will toggle between the first two slides until it has loaded. It’s a large file, so give it a minute.)

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Ibo, from the Elgg Developer Google Group, just updated my Tinymce with TinyBrowser implementation. I’d like to thank him as I have been very busy.

It implements the new version of TinyBrowser 1.40 beta. New features include:

  • Multiple Folder support with ability to create, change, and delete folders.
  • Action for moving files between folders
  • Height and width values in the pop up window.

It also fixes a number of bugs. In addition, it allows TinyBrowser to create a full upload path.

This remains a way to upload files from within the image and media embed functions in tinymce, while we wait for the new text area embedding tool being developed for Elgg 1.5 slated for February.

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The popular “free” educational blogging site Edublogs has begun inserting inline content link ads in the posts of their free blogs. Once users are logged in, they no longer appear, but anyone view the blog sees the ads.

To disable the ads, one must become an Edublogs supporter costing $25 per year. There are other benefits such as more server space and Twitter integration. Alternatively, schools can set up Campus subscriptions starting at $900 per year for 100 blogs.

On the popular Classroom 2.0 site, teachers are registering shock and dismay at this unannounced development, saying that they feel “bamboozled.” Concern has been expressed about control over the content of these ads. Teachers and students have invested much into this blog platform and suddenly find the landscape has changed.

In fairness to Edublogs, the potential for advertising has been in their terms of service for some time–I looked into it many months ago. (You DO read the TOS before clicking I accept, don’t you?). In this tightening economy, the flow of easy captial has been shut off. The free hosted social applications need to pay their bills to keep their servers up and running and to pay staff.

I have always expressed concern about hosted Web 2.0 solutions for these very reasons. There is also the issue of data ownership. If one of these companies goes belly up overnight as has been the case with so many major corporations of late, what happens to your data?

The solution is free and open source software on either rented web server space, or on in-house servers. No, these are not “free” solutions, but they are inexpensive. Webhosting accounts can be had for as little as $5 a month and most offer ample resources for hosting your own Web 2.0 solutions. Furthermore, you will not find yourself blindsided by changes in policies and terms.

There are many options for software. Multiple blogs can be hosted on WordPressMU, Social Networks on Elgg, and the list goes on.

Stay tuned for more such developments and start studying up on free and open source Web 2.0 applications. As has been said so many times before: there is no such thing as a free lunch!

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