Blogs Knight Challenge
Educational blogger project
The goal of this project is developing a whole system that helps teachers and children to write new contents, share them and use them with educational purposes.
Uruguayan pilot-school of Villa Cardal has achieved very exciting results with the blogs usage, using Google Blogger for sharing the contents they produced and working on curricular stuff.
However, the starting of these activities wasn't easy, requiring many hours of technical teaching and support. The main reason is that Blogger is not conceived with educational purposes - nor is any of the other popular blogging systems.
Children did create some blogs in the first roll out at Villa Cardal. See:
A technician created the blogs and only one google account. Then, teachers and children could post by themselves using this only account.
The following challenges were later identified:
- You have to create a google account for each user (now, as it accepts OpenId it might be easier...)
- If you have different blogs, children get confused with the "new post" option.
- follow the steps for making a new post since you get connected to the internet, and you'll see there are a lot. It doesn't mean it can't be taught, but usability could be much better for children usage.
- It's not easy for teachers to take a look at posts before being published.
Some drawbacks those systems have are:
• To start working, you must have good connectivity
• The drafts system is weak for collaborative work. It is not easy for children to compose posts together, and for the teacher to work with them. Most times, the approach gets to be just publishing draft materials and refining them afterwards.
• They provide no easy way for working "indoors", for instance sharing a material within a whole school, but just publishing some selected articles.
Those are common needs for educators.
We propose 5 local areas of work for making and deploying a blogging system tailored to educational purposes with XO laptops:
• WordPress customization for granting different access levels
• Daemons system for exchanging information within "Partner Servers"
• WordPress customization for optimizing XO and children access
• Web application for creating and managing users and blogs
• System deployment
WordPress customization for granting different access levels
Users should be able to set to each post one of the following 4 access permission levels:
1. Public access
2. Registered-user access
3. Selected Access: only can be accessed by a set of users defined by the writer
4. Publisher-only access
For the Selected Access level, a grouping system must be programmed, so it can be easy to set up a post for being accessible from within a form's group, for instance.
Daemons system for exchanging information within "Partner Servers"
This teamwork has the objective of changing the classical architecture of blogging systems, letting individual posts to be accessed from different servers, and letting users have different access grants. We'll call "Partner Servers" (PS) to servers which have our blogging applications running, and will be able to exchange feeds according to some set of policies.
For instance, we may have a school server, which will store the posts published by their children and teachers. Posts that don't have permissions to be accessed from outside the school don't need to get replicated outside the school server. Other posts can be sent to a PS, for instance to a server which will store all the country's educational blogs. Finally, a lot of this information will be of international interest, and may get replicated in worldwide PSs.
Why replicating? The two main advantages are:
• Optimizing schools bandwidth. As a lot of work is made locally, it doesn't get necessary to use the school's bandwidth in many cases. In other cases, replication can be made at scheduled moments, distributing in a more clever way the school's bandwidth usage.
• Optimizing countries international bandwidth. International access to the Internet is an expensive issue for third-world countries. It's cheaper and faster storing local contents locally.
The development work consists on programming daemons which will exchange posts within PSs according to configuration parameters that can be managed centrally.
WordPress customization for optimizing XO and children access
WordPress was conceived to be versatile for being used with many different purposes. However, when working with educational goals and XO machines, some special cares should be taken:
• Children usability: The system has to be easy to be used, even for 6-year-old children. It includes taking away unnecessary stuff.
• Clean and lightweight pages tested in XO's browser: Take care of the bandwidth usage and certify all pages run properly in XO laptops.
Web application for creating and managing users and blogs
This blogging system has to be managed somehow. Teachers may want to create blogs for special activities, school principals may want to create new blogs every year for their groups, and a support team must be able to help remotely.
A web application for managing the whole system has to be programmed.
The system has to be installed in school servers and also in a datacenter. Hardware, connectivity and technical support is needed for this purpose. Additionally, a local community has to get involved, to administer and keep the system active.