Social Networking and Education - Do they really go together ? -

It is pretty clear for Elgg developers, and anyone in the Education area, that there is a huge demand for Education and Social Networking platforms to come together.

I have been administrator of a moodle university for about two years, and have completely migrated my community site to Elgg for about a month now. I went through the following phases:

  1. Looked for a plugin to enable more social features in moodle. Result: Nothing
  2. Looked for applications ready to integrate with moodle with social networking. Result: Mahara (Horrible interface, horrible results, felt like using windows millenium)
  3. Looked for social applications in general (JomSocial, Elgg, etc)
  4. Tested all of the open source options
  5. Elgg was the clear winner by miles.

So, then i thought, how can i make moodle with Elgg work together ? As i saw, that several people here are trying to do that. And well, there is nothing running really, and there is not very much interest.

As i got to know Elgg deeper, i understood it is miles ahead of moodle, which has become a dinosaur. Who would want to integrate an old motorcycle with an F-22 ? Really. The best bet so far, in the analysis, is to simply develop roles, grades, and assignments plugins. Once you realize the amount of plugins needed to make Elgg capable of handling courses vs working with Moodle and interfacing, there is no doubt for me, that this is the way to go.

Unless anyone know already a courseware platform that is really modern, then this seems to be the best way to go. What do you think ?

Uddhava dasa

  • Well it seems that the difference in platforms also reflects a difference in content and philosophy. Moodle is very good at presenting structured content, which students can then be made to march through with various levels of discipline, according to the pedagogical model. Elgg is much better at presenting free-form, organic content interactively.

    You're right, it would be much easier to extend Elgg to handle structured content than to adapt Moodle to handle free-form networking. The architecture is much more adaptable too. Moodle has been around long enough to have ossified due to the need of academic organizations to maintain backward compatibility with revious versions. Elgg is relatively fresh and its architecture and flexibility are designed for Web 2.0 style sites.


  • "Social Networking and Education - Do they really go together?"

    It should -- for people who want it that way. As Baba implied, the scope of Elgg is immense. It has a reach that even the creators of Elgg can't fully predict or envision.

    At one level, even simple innovative changes (sans coding power) can make a difference. From the very moment I got into Elgg, I was concentrating on Language. Mere word changes (in english.php, for instance) define a site's mood and influence herd behaviour. Changing "what do you think? (a Facebook epidemic) into something meaningful can prompt an educational ambit. But it's in the hands of Elgg site makers. A versatile script itself can't make a groundswell; or, unfortunately, it can do it only at the risk of undermining its very versatality.

    At the other level, plugin makers can do a great deal by avoiding the temptation of gimmicks. Think of a simple informative multiple quiz module. Creating the the basic code is not difficult -- not even for a lightweight (anorexia grade) programming enthusiast like me, but putting into an Elgg plugin is just beyond me. The point I wish to drive home is: Many ace code-hackers dont' have good ideas; and many users with great ideas are poor in programming. If only the two could find each other and work toward useful projects.

    A personal note:

    Some of my cool programmer friends, notably Carlos and Dhrup, was bemused or baffled by my nearly fanatic attempts to make the Pages plugin exclusive for the Admin (while the users still can have the Pages widget). I was simply trying out to find a solution to put some educational/informative content into my site -- no big deal. At length, Carlos pitched in to help me out. He re-wrote the entire index.php and world.php files in the plugin to suite to my purpose. Using the amount of hours he had spent to understand my programming logic and convert it into Elgg-coding, he could have easily built a plugin.

    I hope Uddhava's group will kickstart the idea trend.

  • Hi Shillo,

    Yes, this is the purpose of this group, not to satisfy public opinion, or political behaviour, but to keep it on a very high standard of real tangible progress.

    Elgg is succesful precisely because the heads are a very closed group of smart people. And this is how it has to be, otherwise, the whole thing becomes degraded, and it usually ends up in politics and nonstop arguments.

    Ideas are the most valuable assets in this information era. At the same time, we need strong coding skills to back it up. There are several people here who will never post anything, but just by hearing the ideas they will start to work on them, and eventually develop them.

    There is a very good programmer i know, his name is Steve Fraser, he's very humble but in fact when it comes to programming, he's expert. So please post your ideas here, and we'll work together on them, whatever development we do, we'll contribute to this group. Of course, Steve, has to make a living too, so we are still figuring out how to acomplish this, so that he earns some money.

    Programmers tend to be very lonely people, and its expected because they are smart. But usually they lack the vision for web design, and/or user experience. This discussion will spark interest of both, programmers and the idea generators, and in this way we all benefit.

    About the Pages plugin, i guess it was fixed by setting pages write permission to private, correct ?

    Uddhava dasa

  • Education implies that some people are smarter and/or more knowledgeable than others, and also that one can improve one's knowledge and skills progressively. This also implies some system of levels or grades, each with specific criteria to measure progress. Now how do you adapt these concepts from the closed-source, State-mandated educational gulag that most of us were forced to experience, to the Web 2.0 platform of open-source and social networks?

    The implication of grades or levels is that there has to be some friction, some barriers to entry. Not that all users have equal access to all features. If everyone has the same power and privileges, most users will not utilize them, or utlize them for nonsense (e.g. MySpace). Elgg needs a feature for establishing a series of grades and associated privileges, and an automated way to monitor users to see who is smart enough to deserve them. That feature would be fundamental to any educational application, but it does not yet exist in Elgg.

    The balance between structure and freedom in an educational environment depends on your pedagogical model, but ultimately it should be a meritocracy: the smarter, better-behaved students should have the most freedom. How do you measure that merit, and how do you implement the friction so that it doesn't counteract the openness that makes social networking so attractive? We need a framework that is configurable so that we can perform the experiments to establish those parameters for a given application.