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Why Buddypress is important

October 2nd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I don’t often write about software releases. But whilst the latest beta release of Google Wave has dominated the technical press and blogs, for social networks and learning the BuddyPress 1.1 release may prove just as significant.

BuddyPress is a long running project to turn the WordPress blogging software into a social networking application. And very good and powerful it is too. But the earlier releases were quite hard to install and style. The 1.1 release makes setting up and styling BuddyPress almost as easy as WordPress.

Why is Buddypress important for education? Social software is of increasing importance for learning. Unlike the more traditional educational technology approaches through Management Information Systems and Virtual Learning Environments, social software offers far more potential for informal and collaborative learning. And as Jo Turner Attwell wrote in a guest contribution to the Wales Wide Web yesterday students are able to create a virtual space to manage their own learning, whilst using social networking as a support system to scaffold their learning. And this is indeed what many students have done, with or without the support of teachers or educational institutions. Increasingly, educational institutions have begun to establish their own social networking spaces on Facebook, Ning, Google, Twitter or one or more of the myriad of social software services offered by commercial providers.

However, there remains several problems. Firstly such services allow only limited customisation in terms of functionality. Although open APIs may allow mash ups and some extendibility, the core software remains under the control of the provider. Secondly many of these services rely on advertising as their business model, although some will provide advert free sites for educational providers. But more importantly it raises questions of who owns the data. Of course terms of service differ between social software services. But in the most extreme cases *e.g. Facebook) the terms of service basically specify that they own the data. Furthermore it can be very difficult to extract your own personal data from such platforms, making it hard, for example, to develop an personal learning record or e-Portfolio, when access to personal work is restricted.

BuddyPress is open source software, with a growing and vibrant development community. Of course we already have Joomla, Drupal and Elgg. But BuddyPress goes further than these systems in providing support for to easily setting up and support groups and communities. It promises to allow the development of rich social networking services based on locally installed and controlled web sites. It can be freely customised to suit different learning needs. And the data belongs to the user! Pontydysgu are developing two sites for continuing professional development using BuddyPress. We will keep you informed of how this work progresses.

3 Responses to “Why Buddypress is important”

  1. Devin Coyle says:

    I agree that BuddyPress is going to change how education works. As a teacher in a world where technology is constantly progressing, I think hard copies are becoming outdated. Some of colleges require students to email the assignments, but with BuddyPress that won’t even be necessary. Personally, I would love to have a network with my students where they can send me documents virtually and ask questions about assignments. For obvious reasons I do not believe Facebook will ever be the type of environment where that will be possible.
    Another problem I have with social networking is the lack of support for a teacher network. I am currently on Applebatch.com and I think it’s great for me to chat with colleagues about issues I have. Many teachers also share lesson plans and its great because it gives me new ideas to keep my students engaged. The only problem I have is that teachers aren’t embracing it as much as they should. We finally have a place where we can discuss classroom issues outside the faculty lounge but its not getting the notice it deserves.

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