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The benefits, risks and limitations of Facebook

November 8th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

Brian Kelly writes about using social software services in education: “I think we’re revisiting …f fears that popular Web 2.0 services (not just Facebook) are challenging IT development plans. However rather than simply asserting limitations and implying that these are the overriding factors (with the “Web links are easily broken” argument being updated with various concerns over privacy, rights and interoperability) I feel that we need to engage with successful widely used services.”

Whilst I agree with many things Brian says, I think he misses the point. The issue is not technical development – yes lets socialise education software – but the issue of values and control.

Take this story from Labourstart: “The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was organizing casino workers in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They set up a page on Facebook. Facebook later took the page down, claiming that groups like a union were not allowed to have pages, and that Facebook pages could only be setup by individuals. The union responded that many companies had set up Facebook pages including Tim Horton’s (of donut fame).
The story has a happy ending. In early September, the results of the vote came in — and the workers overwhelmingly chose to be represented by the SEIU.”

The lesson of the story, says LabourStart’s Eric Lee, is “that by “outsourcing” our online campaigns to social networks like Facebook and MySpace — which are for-profit, commercial organizations — we are more vulnerable to this kind of thing than when we build websites ourselves, using freely-available tools.”

Eric is not opposed to using social software services. He goes on to say: “That doesn’t mean we should avoid using Facebook — after all, LabourStart has 998 members in its Facebook group. But it means that we should aware of the risks and limitations.”

I think in education we also must be aware of the risks and limitation inherent in Facebook and similar services. I tend to agree with Steven Downes who sees these as interim applications. And I think that we also must educate learners in to understanding the benefits and the limitations of such services. that is one reason I am so in favour of e-Portfolios: to ensure that learners themselves have a copy of their own data.

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Structured blogging in Freefolio

November 7th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

Several people have homed in on the structured blogging functionality in Freefolio. The templates we have provided are only examples and were designed for particular contexts. I suppose we should have changed them for this release but we really wanted just to get the thing out.

But the possibilities are very considerable. It is not so difficult to write the templates (having said that, I did not code them myself) – they are small XML files. It would not be impossible to develop a custom editor to write the templates. And the XML leaves intriguing possibilities. We have got one somewhere for a book review – will tery to get this one on the demo site – which, when you put the title in – hits the Amazon databases and auto fills the ISBN number, the date of publication etc. and even provides a thumbnail of the cover. OK, nice but gimmicy.

But imagine if we were to be able to hit a database of competences. Users would not be constrained in what they would add to their portfolio but by simple keywords could indicate what competences their learning contributed towards and with a bit more coding we coudl develop a custom report of that learning towards a formal qualification – wherever the learning took place.

Still easier, might be to develop an organisational knowldge base, based on the XML entries in individual blogs.

Non trivial but doable. If anyone has ideas of a little funding to help us do this I would be very grateful, equally does anyone want to join us in working on this?

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