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by a team led by Dave Tosh and Ben Werdmuller is about providing the software tools for a customizable, social, ‘learning landscape’, and so includes personal profile, weblogging, e-portfolio, social networking and RSS tools, all packaged together as an integrated piece of open source software. The real strength of Elgg over other blogging tools is the integration of social network technology, which builds on the support for personalised learning and learner voice which blogging can promote, to allow learners to connect with others, forming online learning communities. At St Ives, we believe that education is at heart a social activity, rather than a solitary pursuit, and that sharing knowledge, ideas and problems is the key to learning, as well as fostering a sense of belonging and development. Now, we already have in place a Moodle virtual learning environment (see http://moodle.org), but the courses created there are very much in the control of the teachers, with pupil contributions being restricted to pre-defined activities. Elgg complements this beautifully, since here the learner is at the centre and is given control and ownership, and, at least in our approach to its use, all learning and experience is valued, not just that associated with particular online courses.

Before readers get too excited, I should admit that Elgg is still in development, and has only recently left the alpha-release stage. Whilst installation wasn’t quite as stress free as for Moodle, my pupils have been quite excited about the idea of working on experimental code, and like the idea of being able to contribute to Elgg’s development by spotting bugs or suggesting features. For schools not brave enough to try installation themselves, Elgg’s developers have launched a hosting service at http://curverider.co.uk.

So, how have we used it? We started the year’s ICT lessons away from Elgg, by looking at html coding, and authoring a simple web-page by writing the tags by hand using Notepad9.

I’d recommend this to anyone, as it’s a great introduction to the technology underlying the web, produces a real “Wow!” effect when they see the code transformed into output, and concentrates the mind on using format effects only where necessary. As Elgg didn’t then have an integrated html editor, it also gave the pupils some control over formatting, and would allow them to include hyperlinks in their blog.

The first lesson on Elgg itself was spent putting together their online profiles. Elgg allows the site admin to customize the profile headings and display options, which can provide an easy way to put together an online CV (resumé), or outline record of achievement. Used in this way, linking information on this page to explanatory entries in the blog or e-portfolio allows these achievements to be backed up by evidence. Our use focused more on documenting likes, dislikes, achievements and ambitions, and fitted in closely with the Personal, Social and Religious Education programme for the term.

They also had great fun designing their ‘avatar’ or icon which would accompany their blog posts, using the Creative Commons set over at www.stortroopers.com.

9 Editor’s note: there is a number of good html reference websites, such as http://www.w3schools.com/tags/default.asp.

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