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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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Karen Fasimpaur and I have been discussing student blogging recently as we are mulling similar issues.  She just posted a request for comments on her thoughts regarding moderation and student blogging.

She posed her main question: Should all student blogging be moderated? My answer is: It depends. Let’s look at some of the issues raised:

I am really conflicted about this. I believe strongly in the benefits of student blogging. I think that if blogging is done in a closed (non-public) environment, it isn’t really blogging and doesn’t have the benefits of writing for an authentic audience.

I agree that blogging done in a closed environment isn’t nearly as beneficial as publishing to the world at large. This is a separate issue from moderation. Indeed, in many settings, the only way you could allow students to publish to the open Internet is by having the posts and comments moderated. Policy makers are more likely to object to students publishing to the world at large if they are unmoderated.

In general, I think that teaching students to be responsible is a far better approach than trying to block or filter everything that might be dangerous. We should more time talking about 21st century skills and how to act prudently in the world that is out there.

I can’t argue with any of this. Unfortunately, we face the reality of filtering. I think it is a lazy approach, but that’s way it is. We must make a case for what we know is right, yet work within our constraints.

Also when making a district-level decision about blogging policy, the feelings of the administration, board, and community need to be considered. Or do they? Is this a cop-out? This has been keeping me up nights.

When we are using school and community resources, we have an obligation go beyond the feelings of the administration, board, and community. We need to have policies formulated by stakeholders and approved by the school board which represents the community. To proceed without doing so is risky.

We also must consider that when blogging from a school website, what students post represents the school–not just the individual. This could become a source of community objections putting the whole enterprise in jeopardy.

One of the most important stakeholders are the parents. How do they feel about all this? Before we ask them to sign a document, we need to do our best to educate them about the importance and benefits of creating an on-line presence and navigating the Internet. Risks and benefits need to be put in realistic perspective and fears may need to be dispelled. We want them on side. It may mean compromise.

There are options regarding moderation and range of audience. We need to find a shade of gray that works for all. Different settings may be needed for different students for any variety of reasons.

Here is another option. Perhaps students and parents that prefer unmoderated blogs could be allowed to create their blogs in another acceptable setting. This may allay fears about student mayhem on the school’s website, yet allow those preferring more freedom another choice.

Decisions regarding moderation depends on many factors. With a wide array of options it is not a matter of black or white.

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In my previous post about Web publishing security, I proposed the following security matrix:

While this is an oversimplification of the options, I think it gives a framework for making decisions on what web publishing software to deploy, when to deploy it as well as how. As an illustration of how this framework can be used and the potential complexity, we will examine the popular multiple blog platform WordPress MU. Another reason is that we have deployed WPMU in the past and there has been some debate about how it should be used if it should be used at all.

Out of the box, WPMU has two options for access to content: Open to the world and open, but blocking search engines and archivers. It has four options for moderation: Unmoderated, Posts only moderated, comments only moderated, and both posts and comments moderated. With WPMU, then, our matrix looks like this:

As one can see, there are already eight potential options in terms of access to publishing and content. While all the content can be accessed by anyone in the world through both choices, blocking search engines and archivers would significantly reduce access unless one has a link, or goes to the site directly.

WPMU has a plugin that I discussed in an earlier post called More Security Options. This plugin offers three more content access options: Community members (all users with accounts on the WPMU installation), Blog (People who are at least subscribers of an individual blog), and Administrators (only the administrators of an individual blog). The security matrix with this plugin appears:

There are now 20 options in terms of publishing and content access! Arguable, there are even more. For example one could choose to allow unmoderated comments, but restrict comments to logged in members of a blog. Clearly there is enough flexibility in WPMU to accommodate a wide range of Web Publishing Policies.

It is up to school tech committees to consider the ramifications of all of these options in terms of security, audience, and ownership and weigh the pros and cons of each before committing to a particular configuration. Teachers can then decide within the constraints of the school web publishing policy which option best suits their class. Publishing student content to the web is not simply as choice of yes or no. There are several shades of gray. These are not the only considerations and options for deploying this software. For further discussion, refer to my other posts about WPMU for more information on managing and securing the software.

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Out of the box, the open source portal Posh has administrative controls that make it appropriate for use in a K-12 school setting. An administrator can set the portal so that one must be logged in to view content. In addition, it may be set up so that any feeds must be moderated. By default, visitors cannot register an account. An administrator must create any accounts.

To force a log in to view content, and administrator needs to go to the configuration tab, then select “General Settings.” Simply check the option Portaneo starts with: login screen as indicated below:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Also of note on this page is the ability to use pseudonyms as opposed to email addresses. This is handy for teachers with students without email addresses.

By default, users can subscribe to any feed that they want. This may not be acceptable for a school setting. This is also easily changed. Again click the Configuration tab when logged in as an admin, then select “Personalize the users’ interface menus.” Simply uncheck “Users can add RSS feeds in their pages” and all feeds that students want to add must be submitted a widget and as such subject to administrative approval.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As you can see, Posh is simple to secure for use in the K12 school setting. On another note, Posh 2.0 is due to be released this month. I look forward to further refinements to the user interface as well as new features. This tool is definitely appropriate for school use.

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I’ve been wracking my brains trying to formulate a comprehensive web policy for my PK-12 school. There are boiler-plates out there, but most don’t get into the subtlety and nuance of various new technologies. In my previous post It’s got to play in Peoria, I discussed some rationale for integrating Web 2.0 into our instruction. I also outlined some strategies for enhancing student safety: moderation and keeping access to published material limited.

The options I mention can be best displayed on this grid:

Moderated and unmoderated refer to control over publication of content. In a moderated environment, a student may submit something for publication that must be approved by an adult in terms of policy, appropriateness, and content, before it is actually published. Unmoderated means that the student can publish without approval.

Moderation has impact other than security, it affects the ownership that the creator has over the content.

When content is moderated, the user must wait for someone else has viewed and approved what they have done. This can delay the display of the materials resulting in less user satisfaction and reduces spontaneity. Students feel less ownership and empowerment.

Public and private represent an oversimplification of access to the content. At one end of the spectrum what is published is available to the world at large, including search engines and archives. On the other end, whatever is published can only be viewed by the creator.

The choices have consequences beyond security. They also impact the creator’s sense of audience.

Audience is an important motivation to create. It also makes the creator more mindful of quality. A volunteer working after school with a student told me how he wanted to show off his blog and how much more motivated he was to do a writing assignment because of it. Another very poor writer found her voice and the skills fell into place. Others just wrote more. A wider audience also increases opportunity for collaboration.  Private access, while safer, limits the audience and conteracts the benefits.

If access is further controlled by putting the data on an intranet rather than the Internet it is even safer. It may, depending upon how it is configured limits the students’ access to the content to the school setting making it unavailable from home and other places outside school.

These are a few parameters in web publishing policy that one might consider for student web publishing, as well as their consequences. Again, as we will see in future posts, these matrices represent gross over simplifications and that these dichotomies are more realistically represented with shades of gray.

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