Boldr:it’s the new PeBL!

June 7, 2010

I recently got the chance to test out the New Tech Foundation’s new project, code-named Boldr– a web-based system designed to replace the unwieldly combination of PeBL, gradeportal, Gaggle, and EditLive.

One caveat:the site is currently in an early alpha test, although NTF says that it will be rolled out next year. Right now, it only actually does about 60% of what it’s supposed to do, with the remaining 40% fraught with bugs or not even implemented yet. We also haven’t seen how it holds up with thousands of students banging on it, since the alpha test team only comprised a few people.

That said, Boldr is pretty impressive. When you first log in, you see this screen

It’s vaguely reminiscent of iGoogle, with a bunch of different boxes that essentially act as a dashboard. It integrates class schedules, grades, discusion forums, grades(in Boldr, Gradeportal is integrated, not a separate site), and email, although this probably won’t work with Da Vinci’s Gaggle subscription. Because it’s based on Drupal, there’s actually a ton of other stuff that can be put on the page, like polls. The whole system is organized into different “tabs”(Home, Courses, Grades, People, Events, Library, and Tools), and it doesn’t open a ton of windows whenever you navigate it.

Boldr has also definitely taken some cues from Facebook, both in design and in functionality. Every user has a profile which they can customize, and add interests, contact info, etc.

Boldr also allows anyone to create discussion groups, which can be public or private, although neither option actually worked during testing. Again, it’s a very facebook-inspired design, with the ability to add text, photos, and videos. Boldr also has a pretty sleek notification system that will let you know, for instance, when someone replies to your post, a “like” button(though no dislike button) and a “share this” button that lets it integrate with other social networks.

So basically, Boldr is expanding into social networking. And that means that they expect to store more data about you than PeBL does now. And, as we’ve seen with Facebook, with great amounts of data comes great responsibility.

Right?

According to NTF, no. There actually are no privacy settings, so if you add something to your profile, it gets shared with everyone. And by “everyone”, I don’t just mean other students. Teachers, administrators, and parents(both yours and others, so really we’re talking about an arbitrary group of people) can access your profile, events, groups, etc. Fine, you say, if you’re worried, just don’t add that stuff in.

Uh, well, you can’t opt-out of any of this. Because there are no privacy settings.And no intention to ever add them.

Moving on from the social-networking features, Boldr also has a completely redesigned class system It looks like this:

Basically, all the tabs on the top let you switch between different views. In Boldr, every class has an agenda(like PeBL), an “activities” section which works like a journal, a slick-looking grade viewer, and a discussion section, which lets you ask questions of the teacher and other students. The “share stuff” box is basically equivalent to a Facebook wall in that it lets you post stuff on the class’s main page(the one labeled “Start”. The new grade system has been redesigned  to be more intuitive for grading and viewing, as well as a little more secure than Gradeportal

An agenda

The grade view(for a teacher account). Apparently this class fails at metacognition, whatever that is..

Another new noteworthy feature that Boldr offers is its “resources” system, which is a strange marriage of a file sharing system and a discussion forum. Anyone can post files or notes in the school resources section, and each class has its own resource section which is essentially equivalent to a briefcase. All of these have the same sort of social-networking features(like, comment, share, etc.) that are found around the site.

So basically, Boldr is pretty cool. It has some serious flaws, both technical and in design, but hopefully these will get corrected before the start of the school year.

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