Thursday, July 23, 2009

Social networking in e-learning tool

At Matthew Allen's online learning seminar in Canberra I speculated about having a way to link e-learning systems easily to external social networking tools. One of the less well known open source e-learning systems, ATutor, claim to have done some of this by implementing the OpenSocial 1.0 standard in a module called "ATutor Social". This is somewhat limited in its features, but shows what may be possible. The Atutor code is open source:

ATutor Social is a social networking module that allows ATutor users to network with each other. They can gather contacts, create a public profile, track network activity, create and join groups, and customize the environment with any of the thousands of OpenSocial gadgets available all over the Web


ATutor Social is based on the Google OpenSocial standard, implementing the Container part of the standard in ATutor. It essentially turns ATutor into a platform for OpenSocial applications. Applications are based on the Gadget part of the OpenSocial standard, and gadgets plugin to containers. Gadgets are available for a wide range of purposes, from simply linking a quote of the day app into the networking environment, to integrating sites like Flickr, Picasa, and YouTube, as well as integrating other social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

Anyone familiar with iGoogle, can click on "Add stuff" to find a list of gadgets that plug into the iGoogle environment. Gadgets that work with iGoogle (or most of them), also work with ATutor

ATutor Social Features

All Users

  • Search Network: Search for people on a network to display basic information about them. Login to add people as contacts.

Registered Users

  • My Contacts: Search the network for people you know and add them to your contact list.
  • People you Might Know: To help build networks, contacts of your contacts (i.e. friends of friends) are displayed making it easy to add common contacts to your own. Random selections of a few other's contact display each time a page loads.
  • Network Activity: Keep track of what other people in your network are doing by following their activities.
  • Network Groups: Create interest groups, or join an existing ones. Invite people to join groups you belong to.
  • Gadgets: Select from thousands of OpenSocial gadgets available around the internet to customize your social network to your specification. Once a gadget has been used on a system, it becomes available to others on your network to add to their social networking tools.
  • Privacy: Select from a range of privacy settings to control who sees what parts of your profile, and control which parts of your profile are searchable by others.


  • Turn off ATutor Social: ATutor Social runs both inside or outside of courses. Instructors may choose to disable social networking in their courses.


  • ShinDig Location: The ShinDig server acts as a hub for a social network. By default acts as the central hub for the ATutor social network. Administrators may choose to point to a different ShinDig server to create a private network.


  • OpenSocial Standard: Develop your own OpenSocial Gadgets that will plugin to ATutor, or into other OpenSocial container applications.
  • Public Source Code: All ATutor Social source code is available for public checkout from the Subversion version control repository.
From: ATutor Social, ATRC, 2009
It is some time since I have looked at Atutor and the development of the package has progressed considerably. Some features of interest are:
  1. ACollab: ACollab is a collaboration tool which can be used with Atutor, or on its own. there is a demo for it. Students can use thios to work on group projects, with sdhared document development being the main feature.
  2. AChecker: is an addon to test web pages for accessibility using proposed Open Accessibility Checks.
  3. Release Dates:

    Atutor allos the course designer to set a date when particuarl content will be available to the student. Unfortunately these dates appear tio be absloute calandar dates, not relative to the start of the course (as for example day 1 of week 3 of the coruse).

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