Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wednesday - Brainstorming an Educational Profile Service

I'm part of a working group led by Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. The group is focused on online communities of practice (many of which are social networks like Classroom 2.0), the work being documented and extended at the Connected Educators site.

Karen has regularly raised an idea that I find very compelling as well: the creation of a unifying educational profile site that would allow educators and learners to build a profile page indicating their professional and educational interests (work or school affiliation, grade levels, subjects, etc.), allow the building of a set of links to individual information and activity on the Web, and maybe even to "surface" or showcase RSS or content/conversation feeds.

Let's call it ConnectEDU.me. My page would be http://www.connectedu.me/stevehargadon (this is known as a "vanity URL").  ConnectEDU.me might be compared to LinkedIn or About.me, but with a feature set build around education. If there were tags I could use to identify my interest areas, I could use those tags to find other educators or learners interested in the same things or from the same area, as well as finding out where they are participating in engaged conversations. Maybe the site would recommend to me others with similar interests. I could put in my preferred contact and geographical information. I would like to link to my blog, to my Twitter account, to my profile pages at the several Ning networks I'm a part of, to websites or wikis I've created or participate in cultivating, to my YouTube channel, to online or eportfolio pages, to publications, and to anything else that would reflect my work and interests and help me to make connections with others.


Date: Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Time: 3pm Pacific / 6pm Eastern (international times here)
Duration: 1 hour
Location: In Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). Log in at http://futureofed.info. The Blackboard Collaborate room will be open up to 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early. To make sure that your computer is configured for Blackboard Collaborate, please visit the support and configuration page.
Recordings: The full Blackboard Collaborate recording is at https://sas.elluminate.com/p.jnlp?psid=2012-06-20.1523.M.9E9FE58134BE68C3B413F24B3586CF.vcr&sid=2008350
Resources: The Google Doc for brainstorming is HERE. The MightyBell resource and conversation space is HERE.

I'd love some help in exploring the pros and cons of this idea, and of what it would take to make it a reality (should people feel this would be valuable).  If you're available for a live brainstorm session, the link and more information are just above.  If you're not available, feel free to post a comment or email me directly (steve@hargadon.com). I'm particularly interested in the following (and any other feedback you'd like to give!):
  1. Does it make sense to have a separate site/service just for education? Would this be done just as well at LinkedIn, About.me, Facebook, or somewhere else?
  2. If you already have a personal web presence that serves this function, would this augment or detract from that? For example, my blog already serves in many ways as my "profile site." However, it does occur to me that I don't have links to my profile pages in other networks on my blog, nor do I have RSS feeds from my contributions at those sites--which probably makes some sense to do! If you have a personal web presence already, would you also want a profile page? If you don't have a unifying profile page anywhere, do you like the idea of being able to easily set one up?
  3. This kind of an educator profile page has been done before. In Australia, it was at me.edu.au but is no longer in service. LearnCentral, the network I worked on for Elluminate, also arguably had this kind of functionality at its core--but it, too, no longer exists. Do you know of others? Of those that went out of service, have you got ideas as to why they didn't last? Is this just an idea that looks better in concept than in reality? 
  4. I've mentioned the features of identifying interest areas, of linking to other sites, and of bringing in feeds from those sites to have them visible on the profile page. What else would you want to be able to do or show? LearnCentral also had forum discussions, a content repository and sharing system, individual calendars, groups, and more. It was intended to be a one-stop shop for all educators and students. How important would it be for such a site have all these features, or should it instead be very simple?
  5. Lesson- and resource-sharing sites are being built by many groups right now. How would you rank the importance of content sharing service to a unifying profile site? In other words, is finding and connecting to other people more or less important than finding lesson plans or content?
  6. How valuable would/could this be for students? If students could use the site, would the feature set be different?


  1. This is an interesting idea Steve, there are a couple of stumbling blocks that I've found with trying to start new communities.

    1. Almost everyone who does any work online is part of multiple communities already. We have way too much fracturing of communities as a result.

    2. One problem of practice with most communities is the inability to aggregate information from other sources. So if you wanted to make your community site more useful, I should be able to read my RSS subscriptions, access my Twitter account, see what's going on in LinkedIn, and then share this all back to the group. We need an umbrella for everyone to huddle under, but we also need the ability to see what each other is doing. It would look kind of like Google+ with a bit more structure for the un-initiated.

    3. In the long run, what is more valuable than individual communities is a description of where communities exist, and resources for how to join those communities, and community managers who inhabit these different communities and share between them. This way we can try and stay under neath Dunbar's number in terms of total number of people we have to remember are part of our community, and the community managers (who are probably already good at this type of thing) can work on aggregating and sharing content between communities. It is almost certainly worth investing money into hiring people to connect communities, rather than creating whole new ecospaces.

    4. Someone needs to moderate discussions and ideally inject some challenging ideas into them AND direct people to continue older conversations where appropriate. Good communities have gardeners whose job it is to make conversations grow.

    I'm happy to join your live-brainstorming session tomorrow and discuss these ideas further. I'd also recommend inviting Maria Droujkova if she has any time to join as she made a bit of a study of online community spaces.

  2. David:

    Great comments. My sense of this idea is that it wouldn't be best to create another community, but provide an ability similar to what you've indicated by bringing my activity and profile under one umbrella without actually diminishing the engagement in the other spots. There are a couple of directories of communities (see the ConnectedEducators.org site and my previous http://educationalnetworking.com wiki). I'm not sure I agree with hiring people to connect communities, but that's my "give people freedom and they'll work on what matters to them" side. I think those who care are and will be the connectors between the communities they are a part of. You're going to love the Connected Educators Month that is being planned or August to have a month of helping educators understand how to use communities well! Thanks for commenting, and talk to you tomorrow!

  3. I'm very interested in this topic and have been planning to do some research on it over summer. Unfortunately, I can't make the brainstorm this time around (though I might be able to get in late if you go the full hour).

    My main suggestion would be to focus on a service that supports educational portfolios rather than profiles. A profile still ends up being part of the mix, but maybe that content can just as well come in from other social media services. Putting the focus on profiles, however, might make this a useful service on a local level. I work in higher education and almost everyone, students and professors alike, have to develop portfolios. Even in this case a lot of the content can be imported from other services, but what a lot of a schools lack is something that connects the dots and makes all those services useful in demonstrating scholarship. Basically, I think something that has a local flavor, but can also integrate multiple social media services, would make sense.

    I recently co-wrote a task force report on scholarly communication. A portion of our findings on developments in social media related to scholarship might be of interest, so I've copied it here:

    Research management tools such as MENDELEY are aggressively moving into academic social media and open access paper sharing. Mendeley allows scholars to share research they have done, what they are currently researching, and allows them to upload their own papers for access. The social and collaborative functions allow for the creation of shared folders that can be synchronized between multiple users and computers. It also allows researchers to create profiles to highlight their scholarship and what they are currently researching. Mendeley has a collaboration with Swets that allows libraries and institutions to “Connect their collection directly to researchers and end users,” among other functions. It is possible that Mendeley, and other similar products, will make institutional repositories obsolete. On the other hand, it may also make scholar’s articles in repositories more accessible.

    ZOTERO is similar to Mendeley, though its features are not as robust for the sharing of scholarship. It has more of a focus on research management, however, it does allow for public sharing of research done by individuals.

    ACADEMIA.EDU is also similar to Mendeley, though it focuses more on the social media side of sharing research and forming groups and does not have a tool for organizing research. It allows for researchers to upload their papers to make them accessible and has social media function similar to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn that allows users to “follow” each other. The site includes a search tool to find papers and scholars.

    RESEARCHGATE is similar to Academia.edu. It allows scholars to create profiles and “follow” each other. However, it does not appear to have a function for hosting uploaded papers and making them searchable.

    VIVO is a somewhat different social media software for universities that seeks to enable “the discovery of researchers across institutions.” It is an open source application developed at Cornell University in conjunction with other partner universities in order to make it easier for scholars at different institutions to find and contact colleagues. It also highlights research resources at a university. Versions of the application are available for download, though the project is still in development.

  4. Wow, Gabe. Great information and ideas. I don't have as much familiarity with higher ed as I do with k-12, so I'll hope you can come in toward the end and explain/explore, or we can keep the dialog going in other ways.

  5. I enjoyed Gabe's and David's comments -- great questions and framings. I am in meetings during this intriguing discussion, so am adding my 3 cents here.

    My core question is what problem that we're trying to "fix" and what "hacks" already have been juggling this question. Gabe pointed out several companies who already have tried to step into this connect-the-dots role in Higher Ed. I'd add Epsilen.com to the list, one of the many NY Times educational efforts. With both Epsilen and Academia.org, many fellow faculty I know have planted their digital flags there and never returned. As a university lecturer, I already have more than one univeristy faculty web page, a posted CV, and links to my research and writings. I might suggest that the post-secondary side has almost too much transparency -- a different set of issues. Digital and live conversation already centers around journals, relationships, and organizations by silo area. Much less is about teaching, however...

    K-12 may have more individual invisibility, more of a "find the expert" challenge. As David suggests, this might look more like an RSS feed and hashtag fed Google+, or a Klout for education, with places for real conversations inside.

    Is the problem use case here "I need to know best practices in xyz" or "I am developing a new course and need to understand my buffet of options in my technologyk, pedagogy, and content knowledge area"? (Yes, I am a TPACK fan.)

    Or are we trying to generate new knowledge and elevate best practices, kind of an educational Quora? Provide guideposts for new course creators through the morass of content and advise out there? Provide trusted curation and moderation, so K-12 districts will let this "social media space" through their iron curtains?

    There are my pennies on the table. I look forward to continuing to follow this conversation.

  6. Great additions, Connected Life. I list toward the social (I'm a big fan of Douglas Rushkoff's reminder that social media is social) and so I've been looking at this primarily through this lens. I don't want to bias the conversation or conclusions, but if the value of an academic conference is in both the formal presentations and the hallway meetings, I'm interested in facilitating the hallways meetings. And you're right about the K-12 challenge of finding others who "do what you do" or "care about what you care about." So I don't think the primary problem I'm interested in is learning best practices or generating new knowledge, but helping people find others and valuable conversation. And having a less formal "page" that allows for a dynamic virtual directory holds some appeal for me. That having been said, the reason for holding this meeting is to challenge my own assumptions about what's really needed and to get this kind of feedback. Thanks!

  7. I'm enjoying this conversation. My initial thoughts are on state laws regarding online contact between teachers & students as well as individual school district policies. In Missouri, these seem to be rather restrictive. While this seems to be geared towards a portfolio, many districts, and even newly graduating teachers are warned to be extremely cautious with their online presence.

    On another note, it would be great if such a professional portfolio could be geared to meet the requirements for each state.

  8. Anonymous11:55 PM

    I wonder if this is an opportunity for an aggregator like Jon Udell's Elmcity Project. Rather than creating yet another destination silo, individuals publish a feed of their content in an agreed-upon format. Curators can then aggregate selected feeds based on their interests. As Jon puts it: "own your data, syndicate it into contexts that need it."

  9. I will be there, Steve. What makes or breaks community projects, I feel, is "social math" in their back end. How easy is it to discover what "people like me" are doing around the community? This means a whole lot of metrics on similarities and connections. Humans don't want to crunch such data, but they want it visualized (by machines) and presented in some accessible forms.

    The human need is to "cluster" by topics, by current activity, by projects that are most relevant. And then to sort everything (and everyone) according to that precious relevance.

  10. I will be there, Steve. What makes or breaks community projects, I feel, is "social math" in their back end. How easy is it to discover what "people like me" are doing around the community? This means a whole lot of metrics on similarities and connections. Humans don't want to crunch such data, but they want it visualized (by machines) and presented in some accessible forms.

    The human need is to "cluster" by topics, by current activity, by projects that are most relevant. And then to sort everything (and everyone) according to that precious relevance.

  11. Ok, Steve, are you reading my mind? This is exactly what I wish I had! Having been an Edmodo user for less than a year now, I moderate a successful group of more than 1,000 educators in the Common Core Conversation. To extend the conversation into "different languages" I've been searching for different places where educators congregate "to speak" so that everyone will find a Common Core Conversation group that they feel comfortable with joining. In essence, it is a lunch pad for all doors to the Common Core: http://www.commoncoreconversation.com/join-a-conversation.html.

    It would be wonderful if there was a nationwide, uniform site/forum where all educators were represented. As soon as a person became a certified teacher they would become eligible to receive their own profile page with links to all of their "conversations.". I think having it nationwide would give it uniformity, but the individual State Education Departments would issue the usernames and passwords and handle technical questions. What a great resource for new teachers! imagine the mentorship possibilities!

    I feel that this should be a closed service, accessible only by teachers with usernames and passwords. There are so many issues with teacher evaluations that "the powers that be" may begin judging teachers by their active professional community involvement. We also wouldn't want this tied in with student test scores.

    Overall, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea, as long as it is secure.

  12. I have to second what Sean Boisen said. Don't build another network, build an aggregator. You could start with Downes' gRSShopper, and find a way to tie in what ever networks or services people want to use. Let them live where they want to live online, and create a system that lets them easily discover and connect.

  13. @Steve, don't worry brother.

    Moderation of comment can break or develop the person to who your are responding to. As a facilitator, you have to be a guiding personnel.

    ePortfolio, in our institution (University of Western Cape, RSA), has been used as a tool for good storage space to keep track of users work and personal development.

    It enabled the students to: Develop their ePortfolios; Configure group views (allowing fellow students and lecturers to gain access to information); View individual and peer; and Export ePortfolios.

    However, there is a feeling of uncertainty about sharing of content among learners with their peers.

    We are also in search of an integrated platform which will intertwine all contribution made in different social platform to a singular site.

    So I will join you guys during the discussion to harvest some crucial points.

  14. I just can't wait to harvest some important point out of the discussion.

    By reading every contributors' comment I get the feeling that, we all eager to learn and to discover new learning methods.

    Count me in too

  15. Hello Steve & all,

    "Don't build another network, build an aggregator."

    I tend to agree with this one since education takes place in a number of contexts.

    What might be required nonetheless is some type of standard that leverages information on learning processes and outcomes across environments.

    My colleagues at the Technical University of Tampere (FI) did last year some conceptual work and mock-up on this: http://www.slideshare.net/andreasmeiszner/peps-portable-education-portfolios-outline-use-case

    The starting point was that education becomes more and more open and detached from a single given education institution. Thus even in a formal education context a learner might have accounts at a number of institutional LMS. At the same time a learner also might engage in learning activities within virtual authentic real-life environments. The PEPS concept that we came up with was thus aimed at aggregating AND mediating the different type of information across the various learning environments. This is to say that we aimed at more than a one way information flow. As a concrete use case we had computer science engineering students that engaged as a part of a course at LMS systems from 2 HEIs and also within an infinitive amount of open source software developer communities as a part of "virtual internships". The problem therefore was: how does the course team understand what the students have been doing at which environment? An additional objective was: how can we bring the learning activities and what students achieve within the open source software developer communities into our own LMS system. Those learning activities and what students achieve are valuable resources for other students if presented to them in the right context. This is to say that education profiling might not only serve to one own, but also to others!

    Happy to provide further information on this & certainly also to continue discussing the concept and open questions!

    All the best,

  16. @Eric: the state laws are an amazing turn of events. Not even sure how to deal with that, especially if it involved tracking different state requirements. Ugh.

    @Sean: I REALLY like this idea. The one downside to it is probably the reason I'm interested in a profile aggregator service--for most educators to start using, I think it has to be very easy to set up... I'm not sure publishing feeds will be that easy for the vast majority.

    @MariaD: "Social Math." Dang, that's a great phrase. I really like your description, and I also think it's key to this kind of a project.

  17. @Kristina: wow, 1000 educators. Awesome. I'm so glad you feel the same excitement, but I worry about having the state ed departments managing approvals, changes, etc. In fact, I'm not sure that's worth the complexity, and it might knock out whole groups (private school teachers, students) that I ultimately think should be part of this kind of a learning network. And if the "powers that be" are the same ones managing who can and can't join, isn't that an issue for you? I love the LOVE. :) Let's keep brainstorming!

  18. @Paul - that's one view of the project I like VERY much.

    @mmavela: I'm so glad you brought up the ePortfolio aspect of this, as I've wondered how these should be related. I'm so interested in the fear of sharing content, and if you're willing to give more details on why that is, I'd really like to know. That "integrated platform" is exactly what I'm thinking about.

    @Andreas: Peps is fascinating--aggregating *and* mediating. Your example case, for me, would argue for teaching students to be able to build their own representation (or perhaps just points out that those who can are going to potentially have significant benefits). I definitely agree on the mutual benefit of this kind of profiling!

  19. Michele VS6:02 PM

    I guess the two questions I have are:
    1. What is the desired outcome? and
    2. Will it be more appealing for teachers who are currently not in the tech/social media conversation?

    One of the biggest problems with education is that it's already fairly fractured; universities, high schools, grade schools, community colleges, etc, don't have great opportunities to work together. Educators should also have the opportunity to work and communicate with the larger community instead of being an entity to itself. Is the desired outcome of this to communicate with other educators? Or should we be looking at a way to create relationships with other industries/institutions? If so, this might not be the best way to go.
    Right now a lot of people are starting to use LinkedIn and it might be really confusing to have another site!
    Just my thoughts....I love the idea of people in the field working together!

  20. Regarding student portfolios in K-12, coming from a higher ed perspective these would be great. When we get students coming in as instructors we know very little about our students. If were about to look at their past products it would give us a better idea of where we ought to focus our efforts (it is certainly better evidence than grades are). Granted, there are privacy issues to be mindful of.

    However, when you have a student for one term it can be hard to know where focus until it is late into the term. Portfolios would give students a sense of consistency as well since it would help connect learning between schools and educational levels.

  21. Regarding student portfolios in K-12, coming from a higher ed perspective these would be great. When we get students coming in as instructors we know very little about our students. If were about to look at their past products it would give us a better idea of where we ought to focus our efforts (it is certainly better evidence than grades are). Granted, there are privacy issues to be mindful of.

    However, when you have a student for one term it can be hard to know where focus until it is late into the term. Portfolios would give students a sense of consistency as well since it would help connect learning between schools and educational levels.


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