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Overview of group activity on group homepage by default?

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Started by Marielle Lange 10 Apr 2011 4:29pm () Replies (8)

Overall, the vln is great. Easy and pleasant to use. But it can be time-consuming to try and figure out what information is available in there. More specifically at group level. For each group, there is a long list of menus on the left, with group photos, group discussions, group blogs, etc. For many groups, clicking on any of these links sends you to an empty page. As this is early days, this is only to be expected, some groups are still in the process of defining themselves. But for the user, this can be quite frustrating and can lead to a negative first opinion (and these count). Some groups do the right thing and use widgets to give you a quick overview of the latest activity in the group. But most don't. Would it be possible to have a default view that lists such widgets. If the group administrator adds a photos section, then have the photos widgets be automatically added to the group home page?


  • Glen (View all users posts) 11 Apr 2011 8:03am ()

    Hi Marielle

    Thanks for the feedback. This is a point that we too have been pondering, ie. as the site grows in popularity and the number of groups increases how do we make it possible for people to quickly and easily find the information relevant to them. 

    Your suggestion about the default widgets is a good one and we will put this in the mix, but want to also keep things as flexible as possible for group owners to structure their group homepages - so will see what options are for achieving both.

    We will also be looking at some automated processes that will flag groups as inactive after a certain number of months of no use so the system does not become cluttered old out-of-date areas.

    Do you think it would also help if the page that listed all the groups with the brief summary also gave some more details about last use, or amount of content within the group?




  • Marielle Lange (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2011 12:51am ()

    Hi Glen,

    Thanks for the speedy feedback. I imagined you did ponder on this Smile

    On the page that lists all the group. A priori, what drives persons into a group is interest rather than level of activity. The compact format of the group list, which allows for rapid skimming of the critical information, the short description for each group, followed by a click to know more is probably best.

    The shortest way to provide information on activity would be to have a simple list that says Discussions (12, latest 11/04/11), photos (2, latest 02/01/11), where any item with a zero value is simply omitted. But even with a simple line or two, I think this would make the group list too cluttered and detract of the primary purpose of the group list, rapid overview. A possible approach is to present that information in a revealing box that appears when clicking on a little expand button. But I don't think it will work for this public and it is likely that that information wouldn't be enough to make a decision and a click would be required in most cases anyway. It may be more useful to add this type of information on the group page, in the menu that appears on the left side. 

    Group becoming inactive. The ones that never quite come to live are certainly worthy of being made less visible, one way or another. Given that you already provide ways to filter them out with the Newest | Popular | Latest discussion tabs, it may be kinder on the group administrator if you find a way to make them less visible rather than remove them altogether (gray them out, increase alpha) ... teachers are busy people it is likely that other tasks have got in the way. For groups that have a few pages published but no recent discussion, that's difficult to decide.  A possible approach is to propose the group administrator to make the group available for adoption... or even easier on everybody, make it possible (if not already the case) to have multiple group administrators.

    Another related issue is duplication. There is one group on m-learning and another one on mlearning. There is no easy answer as to what needs to be done once they have been created. The best approach may be to facilitate discoverability of similar groups. But again, not an easy thing to do. Best is possibly to let time and emergence take care of that. 

    But you want the new user to feel like they just joined a vibrant community. Making the "Popular" tag the default one may help with that. It is not clear what the order is for the "All groups" tab... this is not alphabetical and the "most recents" are accessible on another tab. Meta-groups (groups to discuss the use of the VLN) seems to take top positions, which is useful. That's the way I found out about this group. But it is not clear what governs the ordering within the following 10+ pages. The meta-groups could be moved into a widget on the left of the screen, under "Featured groups". Another advantage of making the "popular" tab the default one is that you create a form of leader board. Group administrators will notice when they will start dropping out of the first page of results and may try and do something about it. You reward the ones who do their best to actively engage the community. Wink 

    Anyway, quick thoughts that may not match the goals or vision already defined. Looking forward to see how the VLN evolves.

  • Glen (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2011 9:29am ()

    Some great thoughts here Marielle - thanks for taking the time to outline this - we will definitely take this thinking on board as we look at how best to structure the groups area for growth.


  • Karen Spencer (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2011 11:49am ()

    Great comments, Marielle. Keeping groups fresh and busy and enticing is certainly the key to a healthy community that is growing. There are also contracts in place to help educators learn more about working in a blended way, in online spaces, and the VLN will have a key role to play in that professional learning, tooSmile

  • Marielle Lange (View all users posts) 13 Apr 2011 1:49am ()

    Hum, I had typed a response but I got logged out by the system (while still editing the page) and the content got lost. Are sessions reset at midnights?

  • Marielle Lange (View all users posts) 13 Apr 2011 2:39am ()

    Be careful you two, you may have me join the long queue of people who would want to be part of Core. (And I really tend to run away from official education associations). Keep up the great work.

    Getting people there. "contracts in place to help educators learn more about working in a blended way, in online spaces". Hum, all that I have read suggests that teaching people about it has limited impact. Yes, you will get people network. Make friends. Reply to discussions. But you won't have collaboration. That is collaborative problem-solving. Though there are some great examples of collaborative projects in NZ, collaborative practices are far from widespread.

    This issue is discussed in The 90-9-1 Collaboration Paradox: Orgs Should Aim To Reverse It and Participation inequality.

    Collaborative spaces should allow for an organisation to emerge, driven by the community. But this is not to say that everything should be left to the participants to create. In reality, scaffolding is critical to the success of collaborative environments. Constraints, boundaries, in reality help people get in.

    I found out with my students that it was important to provide very simple activities early on that will get them to experience the environment in a task-focused fashion. Sometimes set up events that somehow force them to go over the perceived discomfort. I had the idea to teach my psychology students programming.  did it over a wiki, using it as a form of shared whiteboard in the computer lab. This was nearly 10 years ago. Not the usual way to do things! This was for master students and this was about psycholinguistics... programming is really helpful for designing better experiments.  The day before the tutorial, I had the student representative tell me that this was really too complex that they couldn't be expected to learn something that difficult. That they had no prior expertise. Etc. Etc. After the first tutorial, I couldn't stop them. There was no need for any push. They were driving their own agenda. They had had a chance to experience the benefits for themselves.

    This makes the all difference. Being introduced to an idea/ideal and encouraged to give it a try, whoever you want vs setting up a situation where you get an opportunity to experience the collaborative process first-hand and realize the potential for yourself.

    This point is also made by Guzdial, a leader in the area of collaborative online learning. "The teachers created a path for students to become familiar with the CoWeb and then run with. All the successful uses involved some small, required activity, and then some interesting activities that engendered students” interest. Then the students, too, became agents of adoption and invention." (Guzdial et al., 2001, p. 23, abstract and link to PDF). If you run a google search on guzdial and coweb, you will find a plethora of great ideas of how to get people work collaboratively online.

    Is there a way the creation and management or a group can get to be treated as PD? Not follow the tutorial that says how you can create one. The creation and management itself.

    Is there a way to make it easier for persons to jump in? For now, the way forward is to create a group. But once you create one, you can do pretty much 'anything'. Add photos, create discussions, add bookmarks. This is overwhelming. Would it be possible to design smaller tasks to start with? What they do in similar environments is to provide scaffolding via onscreen encouragements or newsletter. On-screen encouragements would be "have you tried x?". You have been on the VLN for a month, do you know about feature y? Karen, being on wikispaces I think you receive their monthly newsletter. They will introduce a new feature and give a link to an inspirational website. Fiona does a good job with her Software for learning newsletter.

    That drives participation. But not necessarily collaborative problem solving. For that, you need to ponder on the community needs. As an outsider, I can identify an obvious problem. There is very little that surface in terms of the teacher expertise. An unfortunate consequence of this is that persons without a background in education come to think that you can pick any bright student and turn it into a perfectly good teacher in only six weeks.

    However, all past initiatives that have tried to address this have met limited success. Wikieducator, Moodle for lessons across the curriculum, shakeupschools, and others. Sometimes, it is tempting to conclude that it's because educators are too self-centered. It is not true. They have contributed great content in environments like wikispaces, without any person pushing them to do so. The key element here is that there were not forced to comply to extreme views about open resources. They were not told to follow some predefined structure. They could solve their own problems in the way that made sense to them, while receiving rapid feedback (appreciation from their learners).

    Sure, in theory, the VLN is set up in a way that allows for that. Users can do whatever they want with a group. The pages features is very much a wiki that can embed any type of interactive content. Yet, most of the groups that exist for now are not about solving problems. Many are ore in the spirit of, ah, well, here is something we could discuss together. This is not about collaboratively solving problems that are bugging the community, some category of stake-holder, or a specific teacher.

    How can you help people reach their goals? And at the same time make sure they help you reach your goals? Is there a way to identify groups that could be created that would in fact help solve real problems. Things that are a thorn in the flesh for some teachers. What is that online groups could do that would not just mirror the offline practices but in fact, offer a solution for a problem where no satisfactory one can be found in an offline setting? It may be easier to identify such contexts with rural teachers (but they also are the ones who don't always have a good internet connection).

    How can you help people gain respect in the online (and possibly offline) community - reputation often is the primary currency/driver for participation in online communities.

    And in case it is of any help, there is a page describing pitfalls in this type of projects, written in the context of wikis, but relevant to collaborative online learning - Wiki-webs, Possible Blockages and blockages and subpages - . I tend to avoid self-plugs but I am not aware of equivalent resources anywhere on the web. Ah, with this exception. "When collaboration doesn't work" (Guzdial again).

    Another good read is Scharff, "Applying open source principles to online communities"

    Outside of the edu sector: 40 Great Resources for Developing a Community Management Strategy , 18 Ways to Engage Users Online: A Guide for Community Managers - (Karen does it all, already). Change management is also worth looking into. 

    An an academic, I like reading. Creating a successful community is a way more complex. I go back to my very easy role of participant and let you sort this out.

    I am aware this discussion is somewhat more relevant to other groups, like what is this VLN for. However, the discussions I have come across there suggest a lack of familiarity with many of these issues. It is too early to introduce that content. They really don't need somebody tell them what they should think. They should rather be encouraged to get to ask the important questions. Here, no such issue. You are experts and you already know most of it.

  • Karen Spencer (View all users posts) 15 Apr 2011 3:28pm ()

    Again, some spot-on comments here, Marielle, and some thought-provoking resources. Thanks for sharing.

    You are quite right that people need a reason to come in, and that a meaty problem to solve can fuel collaboration. A programme of events is rolling out via ICT-PD and, later, through initiatives under the soon-to-be-announced banner, 'Enabling eLearning'.  This space is also being promoted by Tessa in her ICT-PD newsletter.

    But you're right. It can seem overwhelming, and there are few obvious calls to action for the new arrival - at the moment. Some people arrive alone, some arrive as part of a piece of work that draws them into this space (such as ICT-PD, the VLN programmes of Learning, the CPL consortium…).

    This space is a work in progress for everyone who is here, and discussions like this are part of early problem-solving about the nature of this space.

    We value your contribution to this conversationSmile All good food for thought...

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