Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why am I fighting for Social Networking?

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For the past 6 months, or possibly more, I have been fighting and advocating for a Social Network. We looked at all the avenues - open source, internally hosted, externally hosted, etc. etc. We tried them every which way - yet none were perfect. Yet I keep advocating for them. Finally someone asked me - Why? Why do we want to spend effort on this? What does this do that Moodle can't do?

So I had to take a step back. Was I doing this - just to do it? Was I seduced by the "latest and greatest" in technology? I mean The Office even made a jab at having a "social network" for paper buying!

So I looked at our current situation and what a Social Network could add. Currently we use primarily BlackBoard Vista and have a Moodle Server. All of the BB Vista courses are actual courses. They are all locked down by classroom participant and discussions are instructor driven. One of the issues I have always had with online classes is the lack of personal connectedness between classmates. I miss the after class discussions on the wall outside of class. BB Vista & Moodle are so "course" oriented" it is hard to "force" them to be something else - possible, but hard.

So what can a Social Network add or change? I think the main thing is that it is user centered - not course centered. You are a Student who belongs to several different groups, rather than having a Course you happen to be a student in.

The goal of this is to stimulate discussion and sharing OUTSIDE of the classroom. If we are truly going to create an online environment as close to a face-to-face class then we are missing out on the "water cooler" conversations. I think that is what a social network can add over a discussion baord or file sharing in Moodle.

I am even willing to bet my thesis on it - can you say topic change!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What research tools do you use?

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Research papers are a mainstay on college campuses, for faculty and students alike. So how do you keep track of all the articles you find and then cite correctly? Here are the tools I have experimented with:

1) Delicious: If you are using it for weblinks - why not the links to your articles? It allows for "one stop" use for all of your web tools. ut since it was not developed for research, like some of the other tools, it may not have all the bells and whistles you need for a dissertation.

2) Endnote: The program of choice for profs on my campus. It is pretty pricey (between $100-$250 depending on the academic discount you are eligible for). It helps you create a searchable database of articles. Profs love this because their research can span multiple years and everything is in one place. It also integrates with Word so that your citations are in the appropriate format.

3) RefWorks: This is currently the main option for NC State students. It is offered free through the University and integrates with the Library search system including subscribed systems like ERIC. It also has integration with Word, but its main drawback appears to be persistent access to the internet - no offline working.

4) Zotero: Seems to be a combination of Delicious and Refworks. Allows for any website to be bookmarked, but provides more tools than delicious. It integrates with Firefox, and may be the best free option available.

I'm placing my money on Refworks - not just because it is "officially used" on my campus. But because it suits the way I do research - which is mostly online database searching. I think one of the hardest parts of coming to college was adapting to how such a huge Library works. I used to go back to "my" library in Winston-Salem in college because I knew where to find everything. When I came back to State in 2004, research was a whole new ballgame. All the articles I need are in PDF online - no more photocopying. But I had to learn a new way to find the articles I needed and keep track of them.

Does anyone use anything different?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Open Forum on Social Networking

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A few weeks back I hosted an Open Forum on Social Networking for the College of Ed. My group has been running around to try and find a social networking tool that could compete with FaceBook - yet be separate. I wanted to get a good idea of where our students and faculty were as well as where they wanted the College to be. This is what I found out:

1) Students use Facebook to communicate with friends back home (OK - knew that) However, most of them also used it to connect as seniors with other future NC State students.
2) Students don't want us in Facebook. They like that Facebook is a place for them. In fact most of them plan on getting rid of their facebook page when they graduate and will be teaching themselves.
3) Faculty (mostly) don't "get" Facebook, but they do get that their students are using it.
4) Faculty don't want an official representation in Facebook, especially in light of advertising endorsements, etc.
4) We have faculty members in NINGS!!!! Yea!!!

So what does this mean? Well, it gives me hope that I can create a network where students, future students, past students, faculty, etc., etc., etc. can meet and it might actually get some legs.

So here is the CED Ning site....a work in progress... but aren't all social networks :)