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Confidentiality when using a blog for reflective practice

Following my recent post on using a blog for reflective practice I have been asked about issues of confidentiality with these ideas, and this is of course a very important area, but one that can be resolved by applying some common sense, and thinking about each case individually. Here are a few pointers and an idea of the thought process that I go through when designing or advising people on such systems.

For example if you want learners to use a blog for reflective practice:-

The first decision is ‘Do you use an in house option, or go for a free external service?’ To many it may seem obvious to go for the in house option, which has obvious advantages of:-

  • Being secure behind an organisations system
  • Being easy to set up (as may be an existing feature of an existing VLE)
  • There won’t be any advertising
  • The service is unlikely to go bust
  • Etc.

However, there is one major disadvantage of this – and that is the organisation would ‘own’ the blog, not the individual – which in many cases would mean that when the individual leaves the organisation, they would lose their blog. This for me would not be acceptable for a reflective log, as the learner should have the reflective log for the rest of their lives.

Yes there may be the option to package and export an in house blog to give to the learner, but this would almost certainly lose some of its functionality, and any links to it from other people’s blog or websites.

So I think that the external option has to be seriously considered – which brings us to the next decision – ‘Do we force the learner to have a blog?’ One thing that I think would be morally very wrong would be to force anyone to subscribe to any internet service for them to complete their studies – so any of these ideas have to be optional for the learner, the way that I would play it, is to insist that the learners carry out a reflective log, but leave it up to them how they do it – so some may use pen and paper (or at least type it into Word) – but show them what the advantages are of having an electronic tool such as a blog – and then give them confidence that you will accept just about any format of reflective tool.

If some or all of the learners like the idea of having a blog, there is a need to educate them about safe practice, appropriate use, copyright issues, confidentiality etc – all of these things being skills that realistically they should know and have in this media rich environment, especially if they are on a course such as teacher training. With just about all the web2.0 options available an individual can make things open to everyone, private to themselves, or private to a small group of people, and again these options need to be explored and the advantages and disadvantages considered. I personally keep most things open for the whole World to see, but it is more likely that people may want their reflective logs to be private, but shared amongst their peers and tutors.

People often ask me about what happens if the blog providers goes bust, or starts charging, and again this is a real issue to consider, and my line of approach is to ask myself the question – how does this service make (or plan to make) money? There are generally 4 options.

  1. Making money from having a higher level of service that people subscribe to (e.g. Flickr, WordPress)
  2. Making money from advertising on the site (e.g. Blogger, BlogSpot YouTube)
  3. Making money from selling associated items (e.g. Skype makes money by selling Skype phones)
  4. Providing a successful service that then gets bought out by one of the big boys (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft etc) – this is the model that many web2.0 tools work by, but changes in the global economic situation has meant that less of these acquisitions are taking place at the moment, so the web2.0 tools are having to use the other options of making money, which in most cases means option 1 – introducing charges for the service, in the case of Flickr or WordPress, the ‘free’ option provides enough for us to use educationally – other services will offer a free limited service to get you hooked, but then introduce charges to open up additional features, this is OK as you know where you stand, where it goes wrong is if they introduce charges for the entire service – in this case it is about exporting the content and moving to another tool.

In terms of blogging tools, Blogger and BlogSpot are both owned by Google, who then make money from advertising. Google is unlikely to go bust, and is unlikely to stop offering a free service, so I think it is highly unlikely that these tools will disappear – but you do have to accept the advertising on the site. I personally use WordPress for my blog, as I think that it looks more professional, it doesn’t have any advertising, and the way that they make money is by selling a higher level service to advanced users, and I believe that they make enough money from this that my ‘free’ blog isn’t at risk.

So to conclude – I am trying to get people interested in the ideas and thinking about the options, if someone does want to take these further, then applying a bit of thought and common sense and ‘walking’ through the options is required – but a sensible, practical solution can be achieved.


Frog – a learning platform that has impressed me

Today I went to visit the people at Frog who had contacted me after one of their staff had read an article on my blog which mentioned their product, and I have to confess that I am very impressed with the system. I went there thinking that Frog was a VLE, but looking at it (and in particular the new version which will be released in April) although it is an environment in which learning will take place, it isn’t based on the same model as other VLE systems, in that this is based more on social networking principles (a bit like facebook, but limited to people inside the institution), and is certainly not just a resource dumping ground. Some of the features that impressed me in particular are:-

  • It pulls timetable data out of the school MIS system to populate calendars in the system
  • It can be used by tutors to control internet access in a certain room in real time
  • It is possible for tutors to create their own learning resources, by dragging and dropping Frog blocks – a bit like adding widgets to Google Home Page
  • If someone produces a combination of blocks, for a certain purpose, they can package this up, and share with other Frog users so that they can use it
  • It looks very clean and similar to other web2.0 sites, rather than the often clunky appearance of other VLEs
  • It integrates many school systems into one place, embedding the tool into a teachers practice, rather than having it as a separate ‘bolt-on’ system
  • It has a parental access system – so schools can give parents access to certain information about their children
  • If a school wants to integrate with other systems, and the other systems are prepared to talk to the people at Frog, then they this can be sorted

Another area where I think that Frog will do well, is they have identified some of the problems that the new Diploma has thrown up, in terms of students from different organisations needing access to systems at other consortium providers, and have built this into their system, with things like a Moodle plug in, allowing people on Frog, to access an area on Moodle at another provider, this way of working I think will become very significant in the coming years. So all in, I was very impressed, and I think is a huge step forward for learning environments.

Frog - a learning platform that has impressed me