Thoughts on Communities, Blogs and Moodle

I’ve taken a bit of a break from the community aspect of my life. The change from the College to the University has accounted for most of this. However, things have moved on. First the West Coast visit and now next week we have our next session on community nurture/community development, and the first for 2007. Then Derek stopped in for a chat after dropping off the guest speakers at our e-portfolio seminar. His question: How can Moodle best support communities? He is using Moodle blogs, but they have no comments feature. We have Moodle 1.8 installed to we had another look, and yes, it’s true: no comments feature in a Moodle blog.

It took me a bit of time to remember, but this is actually by design, not accidental omission.

Martin Dougiamas talks about it in the moodle docs forum. This from an oft quoted May 2006 post:

Yes, there are no comments allowed for blog entries in (Moodle) 1.6. Let me explain why.

Firstly, I want blogs to be well-integrated in the Moodle experience. I do not want to just bolt on Simpblog or WordPress. Most standalone blogs have comments because there is no other way for readers to discuss things (one assumes they don’t have blogs). In Moodle though we already have lots of ways for discussions to happen, and everyone has a blog.

So what I’m trying to do is extract the part of of what makes Blogs unique (ongoing unstructured public reflection) and make that work well first, then carefully link it in with the other tools in Moodle. It’s much harder to take features away than add them carefully.

Firstly, there is a big conceptual overlap between a blog and a forum. See this listing of all the discussions you’ve started – it looks suspiciously like a blog. I am convinced that if we allow blogs to effectively be like user-centered forums that a lot of important discussion will float out the blogs (which are not course-based) and make “keeping up” with a particular course very difficult.

If you think keeping up with forums is hard now, imagine if every user has their own.

Secondly, if you want to use blogs to collect reflections from students and comment on them or grade them then we already have Assignments for that. If there is something missing about Assignments then perhaps we need a new assignment type, but anything you are assigning students to do for feedback is an assignment.

Overall, I view blogs as an external window to the course activities, a “skin” of not-private comments that you might monitor via RSS etc and use to access the forums and other activities within Moodle.

So my aim for 1.6 was simply to have a basic framework up that we can get used to and better see where we might go with the next level. If you want WordPress go and install it now, I’m not stopping you. smile

So, there we have it: the reason why we have no comments is that it will not support the courses that are going on. Nothing about reflection and interaction with other students. I think Martin does not quite understand the essential difference between blogs and forums.

In at FLLinNZ we have had a short sharp discussion last year on communities and the best or at least not a bad support platform for a distributed voluntary association community. As far as Derek’s question goes: Moodle is not really designed with this in mind. You can of course try to do it, but it’s just a little more difficult. Moodle is designed as a Course Management System. Martin said this: “If you want WordPress go and install it now, I’m not stopping you.” – he could also have said “Moodle is open source, if you want comments, go and write the code – it’s just we won’t be incorporating into the main release . . .”
From the same forum:

It’s about ownership and location more than whether the communication is possible.

And:

To me, it makes more sense to notice how people use something and add functionality to enhance that, not restrict functionality to force your viewpoints of how people should be using something.

Today, someone posted their diffuculties with their homework assignment to their blog. Now, there is no way for anyone else to express they had similar difficulties or suggest a solution for that person. Currently, they have to leave the page and enter a discussion or forum. They can also post a seperate blog entry that can end up several posts away and gives no indication without reading the entire entry that the two are related. The current approach is so disconnecting and it cripples the entire social flow.

Besides, what makes a Blog different from a Forum is not commenting. Their difference is conceptual. Blogs are a place to publish and share personal thoughts, ideas and experiences. A Forum is a place for people to post content or topics of interest to start discussions. The technology behind them is exactly the same. They are both basically CMS. Commenting is just an added funtionality that lets other users interact with other users who read that post, making it SOCIAL SOFTWARE. Removing that functionality from either one decreases the value of each one equally. (Eric Fino)

This does not auger well in using Moodle for a community support platform.

I’ve written before about my conversations with another significant Moodle user, when I asked “Show me one Moodle site anywhere in the world where there is an active vibrant community happening . . .” We couldn’t find one, and even thought the discussion continued intermittently for several months – still no joy. Moodle supports some great discussions on SCoPE, but has yet to really move to being a community environment there. But at present it’s the best I can find.

2 comments on “Thoughts on Communities, Blogs and Moodle
  1. What good timing! :-) Derek, I’m just working on a presentation for the first Canadian Moodle Moot about the use of Moodle for Online Communities, using SCoPE as an example, of course. I’m using your final paragraph to help frame my presentation. Moodle does support online community in many ways (better than any “community” platforms, I think) but through our participation in SCoPE we continue to identify many ways to improve. Site-wide rss, shared calendar with rss, resource management, etc etc. The struggle is with transforming a course management system to a community environment, but it’s also with dealing with emergent needs of the members and inventing new ways to work together.

    We’re busy working on SCoPE funding and research proposals and all the rest of it, but hope to gather together a group for a “next steps” discussion about SCoPE design soon. And I’m looking foward to your PLE seminar in June! :-)

    Oh, and how about moodle.org as a good example of the use of Moodle for online community?

    Sylvia
    SCoPE Coordinator
    scope.lidc.sfu.ca

  2. Chirnside Derek says:

    I will think about Moodle.org.
    Resource management is a problem. Files at a top level can be accessed all over from any course. RSS has different levels. I must check to see what level it is switched on in SCoPE.
    Good luck with the Moot.

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