Registration to EduFeedr is temporarily disabled

In recent days a large number of spam bots have registrated to EduFeedr. We have disabled user registration until we are able to clean up the system. This should not affect the use of EduFeedr. In case you want to use EduFeedr as an aggregator in your course and need a user account, please contact us by e-mail (hans.poldoja@tlu.ee).

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Planning the features for the next EduFeedr release

It is more than 5 months since we completed the previous release of EduFeedr. In recent months we have been busy with teaching and other projects. EduFeedr has been used for several courses in Estonia, Finland and Spain. There are several important limitations in the current version that we want to address with the upcoming releases. This posts summarizes the improvements that we have planned for version 0.6.

Aggregating post from one category/label

Current version of EduFeedr is not able to aggregate blog posts from a certain WordPress category or Blogger label. This limitation is not important when participants create a separate blog for each course. However, in Tallinn University our master students are using the same blog for several courses. In that case all the posts from their blogs are displayed on the course feed page. Facilitator can hide unrelated posts, but this requires a lot of manual work. We are currently working on the new discovery script that will be able to aggregate posts from a certain category/label.

Participant profile

Participant profile will include links to all blog posts and comments that the person written on the course. You can see the prototype of participant profile in ticket #156.

Connecting posts, comments and assignments

In order to link blog posts in student blogs with the assignments in course blog we ask course participants to include a link to the assignment in their blog posts. In reality only part of the students will include this link in their post. We are planning to add a select menu where the facilitator can choose the assignment and connect the blog post with that. You can see prototype in ticket #154.

In a similar way we are planning to connect comments with the person who wrote the comment (see prototype #155). These connections will be used for displaying comments in the participant profile.

Using a nickname

In some cases people prefer not to blog under their real name. If the participants wants her nickname to be displayed instead of real name she must enter her nickname and mark a checkbox in the enrollment form (see prototype #157). Logged in facilitator will still see her full name together with the nickname on course pages.

Combined RSS feed

We are planning to add two combined RSS feeds to the course feed page. One feed will include all the blog posts from the course and another will include all the comments (see ticket #158).

List of participants in CSV format

In some courses the facilitator has to give grades to the participants. Grading is complicated issue in a blog-based courses. EduFeedr doesn’t solve this issue because the students don’t have user accounts in our system. We are planning to provide CSV file with all participants and assignments. This file can be used in Excel or any other spreadsheet software to calculate points and grades (see ticket #148).

We are looking for your comments about these features and other critical issues that we should solve in the in the forthcoming releases.

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EduFeedr presentation at Open Ed 2010

Recording of the EduFeedr presentation from the Open Education Conference is now available in YouTube.

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EduFeedr presentations at Open Ed 2010 and MUPPLE10

I have presented EduFeedr in two conferences recently. The first presentation took place at the MUPPLE10 workshop that was part of the EC-TEL 2010 conference. This presentation and article was focused more on the technical implementation of EduFeedr. The paper “Aggregating Student Blogs with EduFeedr. Lessons Learned from First Tryouts” (PDF) was published in CEUR-WS.

The second presentation was at the Open Ed 2010 conference. This was a more general presentation of EduFeedr and its use on open online courses. I will embed here the slides from this presentation. The paper will be hopefully also online soon.

Both presentations received feedback from the audience, especially the presentation at the Open Ed conference. I will summarize here answers to some of the questions.

To what extent are we going to extend EduFeedr? We have agreed on two limitations that won’t allow EduFeedr to grow into a bloatware LMS. At first only the facilitators have user accounts in EduFeedr. This means that we cannot authenticate the participants after they have enrolled to the course. Still, there will be some activities that they are able to do anonymously. The second limitation is that EduFeedr works without any plugins on the course blog or participant blogs. Most of the learners use hosted blogs that do not allow plugins. This eliminates more advanced assignment workflows. My colleagues are also working on a little bit similar project where they have developed a WordPress plugin LePress for giving and submitting assignments.

Why havent we used PubSubHuubbub or FeedBack? As far as I know, both technologies require plugins on blogs. Therefore we cannot use these because of the decided limitations.

Why do we follow main comments feed instead of separate comment feeds for each blog post that belongs to the course? This is a good question. By following separate feeds we would not aggregate comments that are not related with the course. The downside of this approach is the increasing number of feeds that we have to follow. In a typical course every participant will make 10…15 blog posts. A possible solution is to aggregate comments for older blog posts less often.

How well does EduFeedr scale for large courses? Our current courses have a moderate number of participants (max: 32, total: 152). We have also tested with data from a course with 70 blogs. I would say that current user interface solutions (for example progress diagram) would become a limiting factor sooner than the performance of the system. However, not all people who sign up for massive open online courses are using a blog. For example on PLENK 2010 there are about 1200 participants and 200+ blogs.

Is it possible to install your own instance of EduFeedr? Yes, of course. You can download the source code from the development site. However, the installation procedure is not really straightforward. In addition to EduFeedr you have to set up EduSuckr web service that is actually aggregating the blogs. We would be very happy, if you would use EduFeedr on edufeedr.net. Then we have a better overview of ongoing courses and can identify problems more easily.

EduFeedr could aggregate information about open courses from other EduFeedr instances. This is a great idea! Thanks! However, I’m afraid that it will take time until we get that far.

Why we don’t host EduFeedr development site on some open community such as GitHub? This is a good suggestion. Currently we are using our own Trac and SVN that are connected with user accounts in our department. Therefore it is not easy to involve other interested people to the project. I will discuss this with our developers.

Why are we planning to evaluate the usability with think aloud testing? I do not have a comprehensive experience in think aloud testing but in few cases this method has worked well for us. We give a rather open task for the test users and use Silverback to record the sessions.

We should try to differentiate between the usability and usefulness when doing the evaluation. This is a good comment. I will take it into account.

On the development side it has been quiet in recent weeks. We released a bug fix release two weeks ago and now the developers are busy with another project. I hope to release EduFeedr 0.6 before the Christmas. This release should have a new method for connecting blog posts with the assignments and comments with the authors. Also we are planning to have participant profiles that contain all the blog posts and comments written by the person.

(Originally posted at hanspoldoja.net)

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EduFeedr – experience from first two weeks

It is now two weeks since we launced EduFeedr public beta site at www.edufeedr.net. During that time my colleagues have started four courses in EduFeedr. First two are master level courses, the third one is for first year BA students and the last one is an inservice teacher training:

The basic functionality of setting up a course and enrolling to the course is working fine. The facilitator must copy the blogroll code manually to the text widget in the course blog. In my courses I have updated the blogroll once a day if there are some new participants.

Since the participants do not have user accounts in EduFeedr they cannot change their details after enrolling to the course. Our reason behind this decision was to keep the system simple by having less users with accounts. We assumed that the minimal data that is asked during the enrollment (name, e-mail, blog address) does not change during the course. However, we have noticed that in few cases people have enrolled to the course twice to change their blog address. In that case the facilitator should remove one of the entries.

First weeks of testing have pointed out one important limitation. Currently it is not possible to aggregate blog posts only from a certain category (WordPress) or label (Blogger). Our first blog-based courses were inservice teacher trainings. For most of the participants in these courses created a new blog. However, with master students it is common that they will use one blog as their learning diary and have a separate category for each course. We hope to remove this limitation in version 0.6. So far the facilitator can hide posts from other courses manually.

Course feed page is quite useful for following all the blogs and discussions. However, for large courses it is not enough to display only 10 recent blog posts and comments. The facilitator should have an option to specify the number of blog posts and comments that are displayed. In the current version all pingbacks are also displayed in the comments column. In some of the courses there are actually more pingbacks than real comments, because we ask our participants to link to the weekly assignment in the course blog when they are posting their response. The facilitator can hide these pingbacks manually.

It is still to early to demonstrate good examples of progress chart and social network diagram, but the testing has indicated a few defects and limitations with these two visualizations.

This coming week we will be presenting EduFeedr in the MUPPLE workshop at the EC-TEL 2010 conference. After that we are planning to release version 0.5.1 with some fixes to small defects and user interface design issues. The next major release 0.6 requires more work and we are not sure when it will be ready. If everything goes fine we might release it before the Open Education Conference.

(Originally posted at hanspoldoja.net)

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