Tag Archives: social media

Infiltrating Academia with BuddyPress?

[This is truly a placeholder. I did a session at WordCamp Montréal and have been using this post to share slides and other relevant information.]

BuddyPress, the social network based on WordPress, is becoming more and more common in academic environments where it is used for organization, communication and learning. In this discussion we will go beyond the practical and into the human side of things to consider what effects social software might be having in the world of academia. Can we use our tools to get people to think differently? Does the use of open tools help bring openness to the context where they are used? Are BuddyPress and WordPress the best tools for the job? This talk will take the form of a guided discussion including the entire audience.

Audio Recording

(Apologies for the poor sound quality. It was recorded directly from the mixing board used in the PA system, but I wasn’t able to set the recording in the way I should have.)

Audio Recording from my WordCamp Session

Infiltrating Academia with BuddyPress audio





Me, Myself, and I

Key People in the BuddyPress-Edu Sphere

From LMS to BuddyPress to ScholarPress

Scholarly Writing?

University’s Future?


Key BuddyPress Features for Education and Academia

  • Blogging
    • Low-stakes writing
    • Peer-feedback
  • Hosted Microblogging
    • P2
    • Link Sharing
    • À la StatusNet/Tumblr
    • Rich/Media-Enhanced
  • Forums
    • bbPress
    • Peer-Learning
    • Constructivist strategies
  • Groups
    • Teamwork
  • Podcasting
  • Social network
    • Latent function of formal education
    • Social networking for career and life
    • Profiles
    • Mentions
    • DMs
    • Contacts
  • Teaching tools
    • Syllabus
    • Schedule
    • Assignments
    • Bibliography
    • Anciliary material


  • Openness
  • Control
  • Walled garden
  • Ownership
  • Beyond institution
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Personal Learning Network

Learning Material and Content Management

Had some blogposts in mind, for this yet-unpublicized site. Through a thoughtful post on learning management systems and content ownership, Bruce D’arcus gives me an opportunity to put some thoughts together.

Bruce D’Arcus on Content in Learning Contexts

I’d like my LMS to make it really easy to share teaching resources among faculty; ideally not only within just a particular LMS instance at a single university, but across universities. Why can’t I, for example, create a course module and make it public? Why shouldn’t I be able to easily borrow work from colleagues at other institutions? And by easily, I don’t mean having to force them to export some damned package, email it to me, and then make me import it. I mean single-click sharing. What if, for example, I could search for particular concepts in my area of geography, and get a list of modules from both my colleagues here, but also other colleagues elsewhere, and simply click to use it in and/or adapt it to my course?

darcusblog » Blog Archive » Content Ownership and Sharing in an LMS – geek tools and the scholar.

(Bruce’s post is based on Michael Feldstein’s post which also talks about students owning their content.)

My Take: Systems for Learning and Content

Fully agreed with Bruce and Michael, here. And it happens to be something about which I think a fair bit[ref]And about which I talk, on occasion…[/ref] Not that I have specific expertise on it, but it’s enough to make me “drift-off” and go into “wishful thinking mode”. As Bruce asks: “What if…?”

This mode leads me to a comparison of LMS and CMS: Learning Management Systems and Content Management Systems.

Part of this has to do with with initiatives surrounding WordPress and BuddyPress in learning contexts: Stas Sușcov, Mario Asselin, and Kyle Jones. Another part relates to the #ENA2010 unconference on LMS and standards.

A Broad Claim

Simplifying things probably a bit too much, one might say that:

A Learning Management System is a special form of Content Management System.

For this claim to make any sense, we need to define our terms.


With what I call “Learning Management Systems,” a major issue is that different concepts and different terms are used by different people. For instance, the Wikipedia entry on Learning Management System makes distinctions which aren’t necessarily made when people talk about LMS. And some people use “Virtual Learning Environment” to talk about the same type of Web-based platform for learning. In other words, it’s difficult to find a neutral, stable, and consensual way to name this thing.

In my mind, there are strong connections between online tools I’ve been using in connection with my courses (in chronological order): OnCourse, WebCTSakai, Blackboard, and Moodle. In all of these cases, each course has a dedicated site to do a number of things. Simplifying greatly and lumping apparently-disparate things together, any learning management system can be used to do all of the following:

  • Provide course information (description, instructor(s), syllabus, etc.).
  • Post course material (lesson plans, handouts…).
  • Submit and evaluate assignments.
  • Create or take online tests, quizzes, and exams.
  • Process, distribute, and grades.
  • Participate in some form of communication between learners and teachers (from private messages to forum posts, from realtime chat to video conferencing).
  • Engage in some interactive activities (interactive “lessons” and such).

Some learning management systems emphasize one over the other and there are multiple things these systems can do which aren’t really covered there. However, in my experience, these are the core functionalities shared by all of these learning management systems.

This description may not give you a very precise idea of how a Learning Management System works, if you’ve never used one, but it should provide you with a basic framework for understanding the rest.

Reaching Consensus on CMS?

For Content Management Systems, there’s some level of consensus in common usage, but even Wikipedia doesn’t make very clear and explicit what a CMS is. So, here’s my take…

To me, the “typical CMS[ref]Actually, I’m mostly thinking about WordPress, which may be misleading since some people claim it’s not really a CMS. Still, WordPress is my platform of choice and I’ve been using it in diverse contexts. My experience with Drupal is rather indirect and I haven’t really used Joomla.[/ref]” is something like Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal. I might add TikiWiki to this list as I’ve been exploring it recently and it happens to have “CMS” in its description.

AFAICT, and at a very basic level, a CMS brings together:

  • Some mechanism to create, edit, and control access to content.
  • Some sort of database to store content.
  • Some way to dynamically produce webpages based on content.

Content can be a number of things but typically involves any combination of the following:

  • Text (structured, formatted, and associated with metadata)
  • Images (with thumbnails and captions)
  • “Multimedia files” (audio/video, streaming with a browser-based player and/or downloadable)

As applications in the CMS context, it’s common to find:

  • Forums
  • Blogs
  • User profiles
  • Wiki pages
  • Directories

As with my description of LMS, this may not make things very clear, but it has the merit of situating the conversation.

LMS/CMS Similarities

Users may not realize this but all the functionality of a CMS is present in a Learning Management System. Some of the “content” which is created, edited, stored, controlled, and shared as dynamic webpages is quite specific (syllabi, grades, assignments, quizzes…). But some of this specificity is at a surface-level. After all, we’re still talking about Web content. At some point, it’s all encoded in HTML[ref]And, of course, much of it is actually XML, in the form of XHTML or some such.[/ref].

In terms of architecture, there are clear connections between CMS and LMS. This is especially clear given learning management systems like MoodleClaroline, and Dokeos which may use the same type of LAMP infrastructure[ref]At least, the php/MySQL part[/ref] as typical CMS. (Sakai and WebCT use Java, OnCourse used IIS, not sure about Blackboard.)

In the case of Moodle, the technical similarities can even go one step further. See, among the easiest (and best-known) ways to install Web software are installer scripts like Fantastico and SimpleScripts, which are available through control panels like cPanel on some commercial webhosts. Among the things these scripts allow to easily install are most of the typical CMS and… Moodle. Which means that, to someone with a webhost account, Moodle is in the category of “what can be installed easily,” along with WordPress, Drupal, TikiWiki, Joomla, and most other known CMS.

There’s even a potential for confusion, here, as among names for learning management systems, a common one shares an acronym with “Content Management System.” It’s just a coincidence, but it involuntarily reinforces the connection.

So, technically and even terminologically, it wouldn’t be that difficult to say that “Learning Management Systems” are “Content Management Systems.”

Distinguishing LMS from CMS

While similarities seem obvious, to me, there’s a clear distinction between the typical CMS and the typical LMS. At the core of this distinction is the type of control exercised on the content.

For the typical CMS, it seems that the content tends to be available publicly by default and only made private for specific purposes. Actually, put another way, a CMS typically has a public face and some private components. The private components may be more important than the public face, but there’s still an expectation that some things are “public-facing.”

The logic behind LMS is almost reversed. Things are often private by default and are only shared for specific purposes. Some things may be publicly available, but the expectation is that most content is “hidden.” For the LMS as a whole, the “public face” of the LMS might be closer to a directory of courses than to the typical website. The notion of a “Web portal” applies in both cases but, in my experience, the public part of most Learning Management Systems takes the “portal” experience to an almost hostile degree of barrenness. To get to the real content, you need an account on that specific LMS. And while there might be an allowance for guest access or an easy way to get a full account, most content is still hidden from public view, isn’t necessarily indexed by search engines, and isn’t amenable to the kind of treatment afforded, say, a forum or blog post. Bluntly put, the core message of the public-facing parts of the typical LMS says: “if you don’t belong here, go away.”

To an extent, Moodle is an exception. The Moodle Community site is powered by a Moodle installation which also serves as an example of what Moodle can be. Much of the support for Moodle comes from forums which are part of that Moodle installation. So, Web searches for things related to Moodle do turn up results from the public-facing part of Moodle. But, even then, one frequently ends up with a login page while trying to access some Moodle-related content. Since Moodle does allow for guest access, it’s still possible to access content without an account. But the overall experience is similar to that of accessing “private” content, even though this content isn’t hidden. In fact, Moodle has some support for “blogging,” which makes it sound even closer to the typical CMS.  Yet the Moodle model of blogging isn’t oriented toward the same principles as those which are shared in social media (say, what Jeff Jarvis calls the “link economy“). While I really enjoy Moodle, I wouldn’t say that its support for blogging is much of a strength.

So, in general, Learning Management Systems may be a special case of “content management” but they’re more “inbound” than the typical CMS. There are advantages to this, in terms of protection of some information (in general, instructors don’t want everyone to have access to their exam questions in advance and students may prefer that some of their grades not show up in a web search for their name). But the “walled garden” model helps us raise some of the issues about which many people seem to care (including Bruce D’Arcus, if I’m not mistaken).

Where to Go from Here?

I had planned to say many things about making Learning Management Systems more open. One thing is that the next version of Sakai is clearly oriented toward this kind of CMS model, as displayed on its future directions and project homepage. Another thing is the significance of ePortfolios in the public-facing part of learning, especially in large programmes built on portfolio-based learning. Not to mention a whole thing I had to say about different types of learning material, based on a talk I gave about it. But it took me longer than expected to write this post and I should probably use this as a prelude to other blogposts.

RIEP1: Inaugural Episode

RIEP1: Inaugural Episode

RIEP1: Inaugural Episode

Here it is! The first episode of Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast.

As I was editing it, I noticed a number of flaws. For instance, there are several things I mispronounced there are some things I might have wanted to take out of it. But I maintain my RERO principle and I’m posting it as-is.

As this is the “enhanced podcast” version, with chapter markers, you can skip around as you please, between different sections. I should post MP3 files for the different sections but the official release will always be with the enhanced podcast.

My shownotes were in OmniOutliner. I cleaned them up a bit but it’s probably still obscure for anybody else…. 😉
Apart from the jingle (that I created with CCmixter content), I’ve used funky/blues impr. hungarian shepherds’ flute. 100bpm by furkosbot for tags.

  • Presentation
    • Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast (RIEP)
    • Inaugural Episode
    • Hello all
    • I’m Alex, your informal ethnographer
    • welcome to the inaugural episode of rapport: the informal ethnographer podcast
    • today
      • about me
      • ethnography
      • informality
      • and this podcast
  • Whoami
    • An informal ethnographer with formal training in ethnographic disciplines
      • Informal
      • Casual
      • Happy-go-lucky
      • Friendly
      • Playful
      • Anti-snob
      • Nobody important
    • A semi-nomadic French-speaking ethnographer from Montreal
      • Moved 22 times from December 2000 to April 2008
      • French-speaker from Montreal
        • Québécois and Swiss
        • Not WASP
    • Generalist
      • creative generalist
  • Interests
    • Informal
      • Coffee
        • Diversity
        • Homeroasting
        • Brewing methods
        • Growing
        • Cafés
      • Beer
      • Music
      • Social media experience
    • Formal
      • Semiotics
      • Language
      • Music
      • Mali
  • Training
  • Experience
    • Ethnographic experience
      • Informal
        • Keep observing
          • Bored at party
        • Food
          • Sharing
        • Geek culture
          • Beer geeks
          • Coffee
          • Tech geeks
        • Second-hand
          • Projects from students
      • Formal
    • Social media experience
      • Mailing-lists
      • Blogs
      • Social networks
      • Geek crowds
      • Microblogging
    • Podcasting experience
  • Motivations
    • Fun
    • Learn by doing
      • Participant-observation
    • Own approach
    • Connections
    • Visibility
      • Approach
      • Myself
  • Ethnography
    • Why ethnography?
      • Realization on ethnographic disciplines
      • Avoid four-fields anthropology
      • Allows for extension outside antropology
      • Became “freelance ethnographer”
    • Defining ethnography
  • Informality
    • Casual
    • Personal
    • Modest
    • Informal concepts
    • Informal Podcast
      • Trying out
        • Link to participant-observation
      • Podcasting
        • Independence
        • Easy to make and distribute
        • Audience/niche
        • Lydon’s Open Source
        • Listen at will
    • Lack of formal requirements
      • Genres
      • Not lecture
      • “Without footnotes”
      • Beyond narrative
    • Informal language and tone
      • Sociolinguistics
      • Politeness
        • Call people by name
        • T/V
        • First name
        • Nickname
      • Proximity
      • Assumed rapport
      • Shared knowledge
      • Acronyms
  • Editorial policy
    • Focus on ethnography
      • Perspective on ethnography
        • Approach
        • Diverse disciplines
        • Extends to ethnographic disciplines
    • Themed
      • From practical to theoretical
      • Overlap
      • Topics
      • Themes
      • Revisit
    • Not time-sensitive
      • Discuss news through blog
    • Format
      • Variable
      • Won’t promise
    • Features
      • Themes, topics, categories for episodes
      • Interviews
      • Feedback
      • Possible guest and/or co-hosts
    • Blog
      • with shownotes
      • Other files
    • Versions
      • MP3
      • Enhanced podcast
    • Duration
      • Elastic time
      • Chapters
      • Snippets?
    • Frequency (monthly)
      • Second Monday
      • On blog with shownotes
      • May post advance
        • May even stash up a few episodes
        • Maintain my official posting date
        • Other things on blog
  • Interaction
  • Site

Pseudo-FAQ: Informal Ethnographer?

Hello All!

I’ll flesh out Informal Ethnographer as time goes on, but let’s get a few things out of the way, ASAP. Think of it as an FAQ (though no question has been asked).
It’s a copy of a page I posted today. That page will probably change.


My name’s Alexandre Enkerli but you can call me “Alex.” You can find out more about me on my main blog, especially in the About section of that blog. You can also search for “Enkerli” just about anywhere online. My last name is quite rare and, with very few exceptions, any content with that name has to do with me.
For the past little while, I’ve been defining myself as a semi-nomadic French-speaking ethnographer from Montreal.
I’m also into:

  • Coffee I roast coffee beans at home and I’ve served as a judge at barista championships
  • Beer I homebrew and I consider myself a beer geek
  • Music I’m a sax player and I’ve been working on music for a while
  • Social Media I’ve been online for a while and I usually participate in every social media activity I can think of.

You Call Yourself an “Ethnographer?”

Well, yeah… Professionally and academically, it’s probably the best title I can find. So I stick to it.
One reason I like the term “ethnographer” so much is that it brings together most things I’ve been doing.
I’m an anthropologist specialized in linguistic, cultural, musical, symbolic, and social dimensions of the field. All these specializations can be described as “ethnographic.” I also teach a number of things: linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, symbolic anthropology, sociology, folkloristics, African studies, the anthropology of religion, and material culture. With all of these, I use an ethnographic approach. So, I feel pretty comfortable calling myself an “ethnographer.” I do ethnography, I teach it, and I think about it in different contexts.
Makes sense.
Something I like about “ethnographer” instead of “anthropologist” is that it’s both more precise and less restrictive. I hold two degrees in anthropology (bachelor’s and master’s, both from Université de Montréal), but I’ve worked outside of anthropology. At the same time, I don’t do much that has to do with archæology or human biology, which are important dimensions of anthropology as an academic discipline in North American.
What’s very cool about the term “ethnographer” in my case is that it’s now my official title. I started signing contracts in which I’m described as a “freelance ethnographer.” I think it’s very fitting.
Besides, some people think that calling yourself an “anthropologist” is presumptuous since they see anthropology as something floating above the work we do. It’d be like a physicist calling herself a “philosopher” because she has a “Ph.D.” or a hospital attendant calling himself a “health specialist” because his work has to do with health. I don’t necessarily agree with that view, and “anthropologist” is used by most people who have at least a graduate degree in anthropology. But it’s interesting to think about.
From experience, I could also say that “anthropologist” is often more confusing than anything else. If I don’t get a blank look when I mention “anthropology,” I get cautious: people who think they know what anthropology is often mistake it for something else. It’s actually a big problem.
With “ethnographer,” I get more blank looks, which is actually a good thing because it allows me to define what I do.
Which brings me to the obvious question:

Erm… So… What Do You Mean by “Ethnography?”

Ah-ha! Excellent question! Glad you asked.
One purpose of this site is to clear up some possible confusion about ethnography.
As is often the case with just about any term, “ethnography” has different meanings for different people. At the same time, there’s enough in common in different definitions that, sometimes, the distinctions aren’t so clear.
Here’s my own working definition (drumroll…):

Ethnography is a descriptive approach to cultural diversity.

Taking this definition apart:

  1. Approach This is probably where my definition is the furthest from usual definitions. Instead of saying that ethnography is a research method or a set of research methods. I say it’s an “approach” because it really is a way to “get closer to” a specific subject. “Approach” is one of those terms I like to use because it’s meaningful, complex, and clear all at the same time.
  2. Descriptive We don’t necessarily try to predict, try out, compare, experiment with, transform, explain the cause of, or sell our subject. We just try to say how things seem to be. Sure, it can be a step in a given direction, and that’s where ethnography is understood as method. But we still focus on describing. That’s where the “-graph-” part comes in.
  3. Diversity We don’t just have a clear-cut object that we take apart, dissect, simplify. We have a whole field of subtle differences. Our subject isn’t monolithic, static, or countable. It’s more about nuances and fluidity.
  4. Cultural This is probably the most complicated part and it’s our core object: culture. We come from (and frequently refer to) the nature/nurture debate, we’re on the side of nurture. Not that we think nature doesn’t count. Just that we focus on the other side.

What’s Informal about Informal Ethnographer?

A number of things, actually.
One thing which might be kinda clear, by this point, is that I’m not very formal in the way I write, here. Sure, it probably doesn’t sound as informal as if we were having a conversation in a café or a pub. But it’s a far cry from a peer-reviewed academic journal, a report for a major corporation, or even an article in a mainstream newspaper. I’ve been using a more informal style because it fits. At the same time, I’m not trying to do anything too “cute” or fake. I’m just writing in a way that makes sense to me.
Which has a lot to do with the kind of guy I am. I don’t think I’m fussy or stuffy about pretty much anything. I like to be casual in just about everything I do. This site is a part of that: I want to be myself.
Besides, this site is meant as social media and social media stuff is usually pretty informal. There are some people who complain but the way normal people (as opposed to, say, news organizations) write things online can be found in different styles, from l33tspeak to lolspeak. I probably won’t use IMspeak here, but that’s mostly because I don’t do much IM.
This site is also informal in that it’s not supposed to be academic. I have formal training in academic disciplines and I’ve been teaching in a number of universities, but this isn’t a university site. It’s my own personal site about something I love.
Moreover, I’m not doing any formal research that I will make public, here. Ethnographic projects in which I may be involved are in the background, but I don’t wish to talk about them on this site, partly because it can get tricky in terms of confidentiality. There are ways to solve these issues, but I don’t feel like dealing with those issues too directly.
In other words, this site and any of its content aren’t meant to be reliable, valid, vetted, or even that serious.

What’s on This Site?

So far, not much. I’m in the process of adding more stuff on here and I want to keep this site dynamic. But apart from this page, there’s not a lot of content on this site so far.
Still, I want Informal Ethnographer to have a few things:

  1. Blog I’ve created a blog through WordPress.com and I plan on posting a few things on it, on occasion. I call it Headnotes: The Informal Ethnographer Blog (or HIEB for short).
  2. Podcast Through that blog, I’ll host an audio podcast, with monthly episodes on different themes. I call it Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast (or RIEP for short).
  3. Pages Apart from the blog and podcast, this site is built through Google Apps. Like anything found in the left-hand “Navigation” section (such as the Acronyms page), the page you’re reading is built in Google Sites, “a free and easy way to create and share webpages.” I want to use it to post some content related to ethnography and I already have a number of ideas of what could be added.
  4. Gadgets Still through Google Apps, I’m getting a few neat tools, some of which could be put to good use on a site about ethnography. No big promises here, but I can already see a few cool uses for these tools.

How Can I Reach You?

Simplest way is to email me at info@informalethnographer.com.
You can also find me on Identi.ca and on Twitter.

Can I Contribute to this Site?

Actually, yes, you can. The tools I use allow for collaborative work and I can already imagine myself having podcast cohosts, podcast guests, and guest writers. If you’re interested in contributing, contact me.