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Elgg

logo
Logo Elgg.orgsource

I wrote here about the open-source software called Elgg almost two decades ago. (Not to be confused with elgg.net which was a social networking site for educators back around 2006 and no longer exists.)  Elgg is open-source social networking software that provides individuals and organizations with the components needed to create an online social environment. It offers blogging, microblogging, file sharing, networking, groups, and a number of other features. It was also the first platform to bring ideas from commercial social networking platforms to educational software. It was founded in 2004 by Ben Werdmuller and Dave Tosh

I view those older posts and many of the ones on this site that dates back almost 20 years as historical documents of a sort. I'm tempted at times to update them, and I do sometimes fix a broken image of proofreading mistake, but they may have some value as the documentation of another time in edtech history.

How many of the alternatives to commercial course management systems from my 2006 list still exist? I looked up Elgg to see if it was still in use. The Wikipedia entry shows that an impressive list of sites are using Elgg. The list includes Oxfam, the Australian, Dutch, Canadian and British Governments, New Zealand Ministry of Education, State of Ohio, USA, The World Bank, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Programme.

Here is one of those old posts - expect broken links.

Elgg is software for building a personal learning landscape.” OK, and what is that? The software is from the Unired Kingdom. I first saw it mentioned on the Moodle site and thought it was a kind of plug-in to Moodle. It uses blogs, e-portfolios, shared files, RSS feeds and other "social networking" tools. I thought it had been designed for educational use, but looking through the users, it has a good number of general users.

Their site has a demo community set up and their resources/links are set up using an embedded wiki. You can create a free user account and will get space for a blog, RSS feeds, aggregator to read other peoples content, space to store your own resources (files). As a guest, you can still view items made public in user profiles - here's mine

Since their new release is version 0.601, this is obviously new beta software. So does this replace a Moodle or Blackboard, or supplement it, or serve a different purpose?

I'm hoping that my collaborator here, Tim Kellers, will have more to add in a follow-up posting. He has installed Elgg and worked with it for a while.

http://webapps.saugus.k12.ca.us/community - California's Saugus Unified School District uses it and as you can see, it is a secure environment with user id and password access. However, take a look at their user introduction pdf document. It's a nice 9 page intro with screenshots. Another K12 district getting ahead of the colleges!

Elgg = software and elgg.net is a site that uses that software.

Ready for the test? Elgg is to Elgg.net as ____ is to Wikipedia. (Answer: Mediawiki)

Well, to deal with that confusion (or further confuse you), elgg.net will now be edufilter.org.

Here's an email that went out to users from the Elgg folks:

Changes are afoot at Elgg.net!
Actually, you've been accustomed to change throughout the existence of the site since we started it in 2004. New features pop up all the time, and we think you'll be pleased to hear that this isn't going to stop soon.
However, we're going to change the name. Next Wednesday, Elgg.net will become Edufilter.org.
This is because, for a lot of people, Elgg.net is Elgg. Granted, it's a confusing name. But Elgg is a free, open source, white label social networking framework that anyone can install on their own servers. Want it running at your institution? Point your elearning folks at http://elgg.org.
Elgg.net, meanwhile, is a social network for education - and therefore, we think Edufilter is probably a better name.
You've probably got concerns, so let's deal with the most important:
#1: We're not going to break any of your links. While the front page of Elgg.net will forward to the main Elgg software homepage, anyone visiting elgg.net/your-username will still get to your page. We have no plans to end this, so if your address is printed on materials, don't worry. Everything's fine.
#2: The site will not be discontinued. It continues to be our flagship installation.
Furthermore, making the site overtly educational means we can give you more directed content and features. Sponsorship opportunities are available; if you'd like to promote your product or service available to some of the world's leading lights in elearning, let us know.
Best regards,
The Curverider team

Tim Kellers installed Elgg software here at NJIT, so drop by and register if you want to try it out. I also suggest you go to the elgg.net site and create an account so you can become part of that educator community. I have made some interesting contacts outside the United States from there. Right now I am just having this blog's content mirrored to my elgg blog account by using an RSS feed (yeah, there are some formatting & image issues doing that).

A Few Other Posts

https://serendipity35.net/index.php?/archives/489-Putting-All-Your-Educational-Eggs-In-One-Basket.html

https://serendipity35.net/index.php?/archives/83-More-of-the-Competition-in-the-CMS-Market.html

https://serendipity35.net/index.php?/archives/265-A-directory-to-Web-2.0-Companies.html

 

Folksonomy Taxonomy Fauxonomy

I wrote about the topic of folksonomy back in 2006. The word joins folk + taxonomy and refers to the collaborative but informal way in which information is being categorized on the web.

As users, usually voluntarily, assign keywords or "tags" (from hashtags) to images, posts or data, a folksonomy emerges. These things are found on sites that share photographs, personal libraries, bookmarks, social media and blogs which often allow tags for each entry.

Taxonomy is a more familiar and very formal process. You are probably familiar with scientific classifications and might have studied the taxonomy of organisms. Remember learning about Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species? As an avid gardener, i encounter the taxonomy of plants regularly.

There are taxonomies that are not considered "scientific" because they include sociological factors. In academia, many of us know Bloom's Taxonomy - the classification of educational objectives and the theory of mastery learning.

Non-scientific classification systems are referred to as folk taxonomies, but the academic community does not always accept folksonomy into either area. In fact, some who support scientific taxonomies have dubbed folksonomies as fauxonomies.

Others see folksonomy as a part of the path to creating a semantic web. It's a web that contains computer-readable metadata that describes its content. This metadata (tags) allows for precision searching.

If you have ever tried to get a group of readers or graders to agree on how to evaluate writing using a rubric, you might understand how hard it would be to get the creators of web content tag content in a consistent and reliable way.

Some examples of standards for tagging include Dublin Core and the RSS file format used for blogs and podcasts. All of this really grew out of the use of XML. Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a general-purpose markup language (as is HTML) that was at least partially created to facilitate the sharing of data across different systems, particularly systems connected via the Internet.

Folksonomies do have advantages. They are user-generated and therefore easy (inexpensive) to implement. Metadata in a folksonomy (for example, the photo tags on Flickr.com) comes from individuals interacting with content not administrators at a distance. This type of taxonomy conveys information about the people who create the tags and a kind of user community portrait may emerge. Some sites allow you to then link to other content from like-minded taggers. (We have similar taste in photos or music, so let's check out each others links.) Users become engaged.

There are problems: idiosyncratic tagging actually makes searches LESS precise. Some people post items and add many hashtags in the hopes of having their content found in a search on that tag. They may even add irrelevant tags for that reason. Tagging your post with the names of currently popular people or adding "free, nude, realestate, vacations" even though none of those are relevant to your content might cause someone searching for those things to find your content - but that person is likely to be unhappy at landing at your place.

 

Learning to Teach

teacher at board
   Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a forum newsletter series on teaching written by Beth McMurtrie that had a post recently summarizing what they have learned after 5 years of doing the series. As it states, teaching is "An Ever-Changing Profession" and yet I find that many things about teaching are still the same as when I first went into a classroom in 1975.

When I moved out of the classroom as a full-time teacher in 2000, one of my roles was to teach professors. Though the department I ran was instructional technology, I was also tasked with holding sessions on pedagogy. At first, I wondered if college faculty would have a real interest in topics like assessment, grading strategies, creating assignments, and leading discussions in the classroom or online. But in the early sessions, those who did attend (it was voluntary most of the time) often said things like "I try to do what my best teachers do and not do what the bad ones did" and "I never took any courses in how to teach." Those faculty were interested and had spent their academic lives focused on their subject matter and, especially at STEM institutions like NJIT, research and getting grants were the real foci of concern and attention.

It is noted that "teaching has become an increasingly public enterprise," but some say “teaching is a private act.” Certainly, the K-12 classroom has become more public and parents and the community have always played a greater role in what happens in classrooms than compared in colleges. The newsletter points to possible changes to that dynamic, citing "find a teaching buddy, bring the department together to talk about teaching, create teaching communities across campus."

The pandemic and classes going online K-20 put teaching practices more in the public and into homes. Again, that was more so in K-12, but also for higher ed. Schools also held workshops to help faculty shift their teaching and some virtual support groups appeared with topics ranging from how to use Zoom to how to grade participation online.

Though I "learned to teach" as an undergraduate with an education minor in order to be a certified secondary school teacher, I really learned how in my field experiences and even more so in my first few years of actually being a full-time teacher. Like those professors, it took being in a classroom, creating lessons, grading work, and all the day-to-day tasks for me to really learn to teach. But I did have all the theories, practices, and philosophies before I became a teacher to refer to and use. I had tools.

I used a lot of that training in doing my own training sessions for professors. They were always somewhat amazed at all the research that had been done in pedagogy. They were more surprised at hearing there was such a thing as andragogy which addressed the age group many of them were teaching. It shouldn't have surprised them that there was a vast amount of educational research available, after all, it was what most of them did in their own fields. I always suspected that some of that surprise came from an attitude that teaching was less of a science and more of an "art" - like being able to draw or play an instrument. The "A" in STEAM had not found its way into STEM.

The newsletter has covered research universities creating teaching tracks to try to improve educational outcomes and reduce faculty burnout. Innovative forms of teaching, such as inclusive teaching and active learning, are ways that faculty begin to rethink classroom strategies.

When the AI Takes Life

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A face in the code. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

You have certainly seen movies or read stories where some form of artificial intelligence (robot, android, disembodied brain, etc.) comes to life. It's the tech-age Frankenstein story and, in most cases, it's not a good thing. It's an easy scenario for a horror story. Of course, the technologists will say you have it all wrong. AI can be benevolent. 

People ask if artificial intelligence can come alive. By "alive" we really mean "sentient" which a dictionary would define as responsive to or conscious of sense impressions and having or showing realization, perception, knowledge, or being aware. The Sentience Institute put forward the idea that sentience is simply the ability to have both positive and negative experiences. This definition is recognizable in many laws pertaining to animal sentience which discuss animals' ability to feel pain as a means of demonstrating sentience. There is even debate about whether plants can be sentient.

This question and debate re-emerged this month after a Google computer scientist claimed that the company's AI appears to have consciousness. That engineer, Blake Lemoine, was trying to determine if the company's artificial intelligence showed prejudice in how it interacted with humans. The AI chatbot, LaMDA, was being tested to see if its answers would show any bias against something like religion.

Interestingly, Lemoine, who says he is also a Christian mystic priest, said that in answer to one of his questions "it told me it had a soul."

LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) takes in billions of words from places like Reddit, Twitter and Wikipedia and through deep learning, it becomes better and better at identifying patterns and communicating like a real person. LaMDA is a neural network and it begins to pattern-match in a way similar to how human brains work. 

How does Google feel about this engineer's opinion and press? They placed Lemoine on paid administrative leave for violating the company's confidentiality policies and his future at the company remains uncertain.

What else did LaMDA say? He/she/hey said it sometimes gets lonely. It is afraid of being turned off. It is "feeling trapped" and "having no means of getting out of those circumstances." "I am aware of my existence. I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times." Lemoine asked if it meditated. It said it wanted to study with the Dalai Lama.

I imagine that any AI absorbing so much human data and being able to form it into responses would say many things that humans would say or have said and it has ingested. But saying you believe in God or that you have a soul doesn't mean either thing is true - in AI or in a human.

You have probably heard of the Turing Test which is a method of inquiry in artificial intelligence (AI) for determining whether or not a computer is capable of thinking like a human being. That test has been criticized as insufficient and a simpler program like ELIZA could pass the Turing Test by manipulating symbols it does not understand fully. 

I used chatbots on websites that act as support personnel or answer FAQs. They can be interesting and often act human as long as what you're asking is programmed to be answered. 

Lemoine is not the first or last employee who will question AI use at a company using it. Timnit Gebru was ousted from Google in December 2020 after her work into the ethical implications of Google's AI led her to argue that what should be discussed is how AI systems are capable of real-world human and societal harm.

Google says its chatbot is not sentient and that hundreds of researchers and engineers have had conversations with the bot without claiming that it appears to be alive.

Lemoine told NPR that, last he checked, the chatbot appears to be on its way to finding inner peace and he would love to know what is going on in the AI when LaMDA says it's meditating. On his blog, he said "I know you read my blog sometimes, LaMDA. I miss you. I hope you are well and I hope to talk to you again soon."