Plan B


The recent Ning announcement was a particular blow to the HEFCw funded “Peer Support Network” project. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time: the 2009-2010 engineering research project is nearly over and the allocation process for 2010-2011 is about to begin. We need to roll over the students immediately, we won’t know the implications of staying with a paid version of Ning until May, and we can’t wait for a perfect alternative solution to come along.

Thus we have taken the decision to install Elgg, the open source community platform that once powered Oremi (fondly remembered, may it rest in peace) on to an Engineering Web server that I happen to have control of.
There are some immediate benefits:
  • We have control so the carpet can’t be pulled out from under us.
  • Elgg can host a whole school (or even University) and an unlimited number of groupings with the possibility of single-profile multi-group membership. Ning would have not played well in that space.
  • With the help of a plugin, it should be possible to use campus login in for authentication and control of access.
  • It plays well with Blackboard (see the Figure): Ning refused to run inside the Blackboard content frame. Students with a common login for Blackboard and Elgg need never really know that they’re different.
The disadvantages:
  • You need a web server to host Elgg on and some technical expertise to install it, set up the database and configure the system.
  • You need HTML, CSS and occasionally PHP skills to customize the system.
  • It’s open source so it will need to be maintained in-house.
If you are thinking of setting up social networks for your own students and have a longer lead-time, it may be better to wait for other solutions such as BuddyPress, Learning Objects Campus Pack Fusion or the community features of Blackboard 9.1. But we’re going for it in engineering and no doubt we’ll be able to report back in due course.

One Comment

  1. I think we are pinning our social media hopes on Learning Objects Campus Pack 4 for Trinity Saint David. Thankfully we have not used Ning in anger – I did have a pilot test network on Ning but it never really caught on – many folk in Trinity didnt really trust Ning (maybe they were right after all!)
    The beauty about LO is that we can integrate with Blackboard and Moodle or just run it as a stand alone hosted service – it is curently paid for through SWWHEP but we could consider taking over licence costs ourselves if we absolutely had to and our SMT are quite excited about its possibilities in the area of personal and group learning spaces – LO people are coming to our TEL Conference on 2nd July to champion the product to our staff 🙂

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