Praxis portal supports student learning, collaboration, and networking

February 23, 2010

(Republished from February 23 iNews article)

Rick Jaffe, IST–Data Services

For three years, the Global Poverty and Practice Minor has introduced Berkeley undergraduates to the study of poverty and inequality. Each summer, it has sent them around the world to put that learning into practice and, upon their return home, led them to reflect upon and synthesize their experiences. Now, the Minor — the fastest growing teaching program on campus — has launched an innovative web portal called Praxis to support the work of its students.

Praxis portal thumbnailPraxis offers students Facebook-like functionality with a scholarly bent. Introduced last semester as a component of two courses, the site already serves more than 150 registered users. In Professor Clare Talwalker’s class, The Ethics, Methods and Pragmatics of Global Practice, students preparing for their practice experience, i.e., their fieldwork with a non-governmental organization working to alleviate poverty, use the site to submit and share their assessments of weekly reading assignments. Returning students in Instructor Liz Cretti’s IAS 196 reflection course use it to shape research notes and observations, gathered during their practice experience, into capstone projects.

This is just the start. As program administrators, faculty, and students grow familiar with the technology, they expect to develop new ways to tailor Praxis to their advantage.

Praxis website

Praxis portal thumbnail 2On its homepage (see screenshot), Praxis displays news and information about the Global Poverty and Practice Minor intended to keep students and the public up to date. A grid of profile photos, a tag cloud, and a list of groups help users make their way quickly to their areas of interest. A Google map, a poster gallery, and a video from YouTube show off the scope of the students’ initiative.

Praxis profile thumbnailThe profile page offers an opportunity for academic presentation of self. It’s useful for discovering people with similar interests — or needed expertise. The type of profile information shared on the site conveys its academic orientation. Scholarly writings, photo galleries, digital bookshelves, and video clips all provide the page owner further avenues of self-expression. On the Praxis site, the scholar’s network is labeled with the term “Colleagues”, rather than “Friends”.

Praxis group thumbnailGroup tools are available to classes, projects, and ad-hoc sets of members alike. Groups may form among people addressing specific issues, working in particular geographic regions, or coming from different disciplines. One student created a group to share expertise in photojournalism, as he and his classmates prepared to document their field experiences. Groups can be created not only by administrators, but by any member of the site. This is one of the important ways in which Praxis has been geared to the needs of the students, and not just the program.

Evolution of Praxis

The Global Poverty and Practice Minor

The Global Poverty and Practice Minor is a program of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Enrollment this semester numbers above 300 students, up from approximately 150 at the beginning of the 2008–09 school year. Its hallmarks echo those of the Center: a focus on real-world conditions; a methodology of inquiry, alert to the ethical implications of actions; hands-on, practical engagement with pressing issues; and a strong value placed on self-awareness and objective analysis.

By immersing students in the complex, seemingly intractable economic, political, social, and personal realities of poverty, the Minor prepares them to be responsible global citizens. Professor Ananya Roy, education director of the Blum Center, observes, “They understand they are not going to solve the problem of global poverty. But from here, we can create a global, universal commitment to tackling structures of power, disadvantage, and inequality.”

To bolster this pedagogical approach, program administrators wanted a web-based platform that students could turn to as they progressed through their studies. For Alexis Bucknam, the inspiration was part ePortfolio, part journal. Bucknam, the Center’s director of Student Programs, wanted tools to help students collaborate with classmates and colleagues, and a setting in which faculty, alumni, and professionals in the field could serve as mentors and resources.

Recognizing the rapid growth that the Minor was undergoing, Bucknam also sought additional ways to communicate with students, and later, to stay in touch with them as they moved onto graduate school and careers beyond Berkeley. Fundraising is important to the program’s sustainability, and both Bucknam and Program Coordinator Eva Wong saw the need to create a venue to showcase the Minor’s impact — from the immediate effects of the practice projects to the longer-term contributions made by the citizen-scholars it trains.

OKAPI collaboration

In late 2008, the Blum Center staff brought the idea to Noah Wittman, manager of OKAPI, the Open Knowledge and the Public Interest program. Co-sponsored by the campus’s Office of the Chief Information Officer and Information Services and Technology’s Data Services department, OKAPI specializes in developing new tools for expanding participation in and broadening the reach and impact of campus research and education activities.

OKAPI staff members Lizzy Ha and Rick Jaffe joined the project. Working closely with the Center, OKAPI charted out a low-budget approach to devising a solution. It recommended creating a prototype using the free, open-source software application called Elgg and pulling together a small set of students to serve as the focus of an abbreviated user-centered design process.

The students briefed OKAPI staff on their upcoming practice experiences. Based on these conversations, the students were tasked with using the first prototype:

  • employ the blog tool and the discussion forum to drum up commentary on what to expect in Guangzhou, China;
  • use the shared calendar to notify neighbors in Richmond, California about community events and to solicit their participation;
  • put the group tools into service to organize the summer’s public health initiative in Mumbai, India;
  • get an advisor to review a fellowship application via the wiki.

Students were also asked to provide profile information about the direction of their fieldwork and their academic interests. They were shown techniques for setting up their personal dashboard, the starting page from which they navigate deeper into the site.

Through a series of group and one-on-one discussions with students, faculty, and administrators, OKAPI staff gleaned insight into how the site might be used, what features it needed to provide, and how it should look and feel. They experimented with names, asking the students for suggestions. Throughout spring 2009 and into the summer, they auditioned name-candidates on the masthead of the prototype site. Finally, one stuck: Praxis.

What’s next for Praxis

As spring semester 2010 starts, Praxis is in place and ready for use. The next chapter of the site’s story will be told by how well it fits the activities of its various constituents. For Professor Clare Talwalker, the site offers opportunities for student-generated networking and communication. For Alexis Bucknam and Eva Wong, it promises new channels for administering the program, advising students, and managing the myriad details of overseas fieldwork. For the students themselves, the challenge is to turn their social networking skills to academic advantage. With success, they will shape Praxis into a true portfolio: a holder for the notes, plans, writings, and resources gathered during their time in the Minor, and a place to display their expertise and their accomplishments.

Visit Praxis site.

Republished from February 23 iNews article.


New Collaboration with Blum Center for Developing Economies

March 10, 2009

blumy-thumbsWe are working the the Blum Center for Developing Economies to develop  a web-based platform for reflective learning, project collaboration, and social networking for scholars and practitioners associated with the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) minor at the University of California, Berkeley.  The goal of our platform is to enhance and extend the reach and impact of the GPP curriculum by providing a student-empowering online environment more closely fitted to the needs of the minor than the traditional top-down, instructor-centered learning management system.

The GPP minor is transforming undergraduate curriculum to support service learning, social entrepreneurship, and most importantly, the opportunity for learners to creatively and critically reflect upon their experience.  Students in the program engage with global poverty through hands-on projects in developing regions of the world and in their local communities.  The GPP Minor’s approach helps students better understand their place in the world, their role as global citizens, and the contribution they can make in grappling with poverty and inequalities whether they become development practitioners, lawyers, architects or engineers.

Implemented using free and open-source software, our platform provides student portfolio tools and a social networking and communications hub that stays with the students as they progress through their undergraduate education and out into the world.  Features include Facebook-like social networking, blogs and wiki-like writing tools, file storage and sharing, discussion and messaging channels, and access to personal collections and communications maintained on web-based services (e.g., YouTube, Flickr, Twitter) across the Internet.  Mzuri connects students with an interactive network of peers, mentors, and colleagues essential to supporting their development and reflection.  It creates an intellectual commons for continued connection after graduation, which will allow alumni to serve as mentors to the students who succeed them in the minor.

The GPP minor is reinventing the classroom in an increasingly globally networked society.  Our platform explores, with educators and students, both the limits and possibilities of the emerging network form for engaged scholarship.  Our platform addresses not just the technological but the social, cultural, pedagogical and political dimensions of this transformation; it represents not just a one-time tool development effort but a commitment to fostering and sustaining a community of scholars and practitioners.

Link to Working Prototype:

Project Website:

Ars Synthetica Prototype Launches

March 1, 2009

We are pleased to announce the launch of a working prototype (beta release) of Ars Synthetica, a web-based multimedia forum for engaging specialists and non-specialists in an informed, ethical, and democratic dialogue on the emerging field of synthetic biology.

Paul Rabinow introduces Ars Synthetica

Anthropology professor Paul Rabinow introduces Ars Synthetica to his colleagues.

Ars Synthetica is a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the Public Interest, the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory, and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, QB3, UCSF, Prairie View A&M). The site is designed to provide multiple participatory channels for exploring questions about ethics, security, and how cutting-edge research in the biosciences is organized, governed, funded, and expanded. How will synthetic biology shape and be shaped by medicine, energy, and environmental needs? Whose business is ethics? What are the limits to what we can design? These are the kinds of questions that Ars Synthetica poses to expert and lay communities alike. Our goal is to actively resist the polemics that often characterize public discourse about new science and technology. We seek the fertile grounds for discourse between the hype of revolution on the one side and fears of “playing God” on the other. The outcome will not provide absolute or final answers, but  enable a diverse range of participant responses, perspectives, and concerns.

Ars Synthetica will feature many student projects, such as this multimedia piece by Marlee Tichenor

Ars Synthetica will feature many student projects, such as this multimedia piece by Marlee Tichenor

We are releasing the site  as a public beta, while the Ars Synthetica team develops site content, expands participation and gathers feedback before the next round of development. During the Spring ’09 semester, students in Professor Rabinow’s graduate and undergraduate courses will be preparing content for Ars Synthetica.

Features of Ars Synthetica:

Provide a means of representing and giving form to nonlinear connections among the many elements of the Ars Synthetica site. We anticipate developing and allowing our community to develop multiple nonlinear pathways through Ars Synthetica.

Problems, Truth Claims & Debates
Ars Synthetica features Problems, Truth Claims and Debates, designed to engage visitors in reflection and dialogue around emerging issues in the life sciences.  Whose business is ethics? Are there limits to what we can design? Are biologists playing God? Ars Synthetica users can contribute to existing  Problems, Truth Claims and Debates or contribute new ones.

The Archive contains abstracts and full publications related to synthetic biology, including scientific journal articles and popular press publications.

Allows visitors to upload their own multimedia products, including  research papers and multimedia works. Once uploaded, others can comment on the works of others.

The blog aggregates posts from multiple authors and blogs, including On the Assembly of Things, Vital Systems Security, Biopower and the Contemporary, and Synbio and the Technocrat, and the student-run iGEM blog.

The Website is built using Omeka, open-source software for museum exhibits and collections. The site uses a custom version of our OKAPI exhibit template for Omeka.

Web 2.0
The site is distributed  across the web, leveraging multiple technologies and services, including  MediaWiki, YouTube,, Flickr, Scribd, and Vuvox.

Ars Synthetica: Designs for Human Practice
Explore this publication, authored by Paul Rabinow and Gaymon Bennett, to learn more about the ideas underlying this project.

Public Understanding of Research Program
This project was developed under OKAPI’s Public Understanding of Research Program.

OKAPI Island to Host iSummit Keynote Webcasts

July 24, 2008


OKAPI Island in Second Life will Webcast the live keynotes from the global iCommons Summit, which will take place in Kyoto, Japan, from July 30 (July 29 PST) to August 1 (July 31 PST), 2008. The iSummit brings together free culture communities from around the world. Visit OKAPI Island at times indicated below to participate in live events. Please note time zones!

Location of Okapi Island in Second Life:

More about iSummit ’08:

Schedule Day 1 (July 30)

July 29 at 5pm Pacific Standard Time (July 30, 9 am Japan Standard Time): The Future of the Global Commons
An introduction to the commons, the iSummit and how you can help by Heather Ford

5:20 pm Pacific Standard Time  (9:20 am Japan Standard Time): The Future of Open Search by Jimmy Wales
Watch Jimmy broadcasting from Second Life

5: 40 pm Pacific Standard Time  (9:40 am Japan Standard Time): The Status of the Commons by Joi Ito

6:00 pm Pacific Standard Time  (10:00 am Japan Standard Time): The Commons in the Corporation: The challenge of raising awareness within media corporations by Mohamed Nanabhay

6:20 pm Pacific Standard Time (10:20 am Japan Standard Time): Housekeeping by James Cairns

7 pm Pacific Standard Time (11 am Japan Standard Time): Fun and engaging: Labs promote their sessions to participants by Lanon Prigge

July 30 at 2am Pacific Standard Time (Jul 30, 6pm Japan Standard Time): Ready to Share: Fashion and the Commons by Johanna Blakley

2: 20 am Pacific Standard Time ( 6:20 pm Japan Standard Time): Expanding Boundaries Of Fair Use Protection Under U.S. Copyright Law by Anthony Falzone

2: 40 am Pacific Standard Time (6:40 pm Japan Standard Time): Language as a Commons by Erin McKean

3 am Pacific Standard Time (7:00 am Japan Standard Time): Housekeeping by James Cairns

OKAPI WebcastingSchedule Day 2 (July 31)
July 30 at 6 pm Pacific Standard Time (July 31, 10 am Japan Standard Time): No License for these territories by Jamie King

6:20 pm Pacific Standard Time (10:20 am Japan Standard Time): Social Movements on the Commons by David Bollier

6:40 pm Pacific Standard Time (10:40 am Japan Standard Time): Collaborative Creativity -How innovation together has stood the test of time by Rishab Ghosh

July 31 at 3 am Pacific Standard Time  (July 31, 7pm Japan Standard Time): Free Culture and Free Speech- Why strong and vibrant free culture communities are important for freedom of expression by Rebecca MacKinnon

3:20 am Pacific Standard Time (7:20 pm Japan Standard Time): Enclosing the commons – for dummies- Creativity, Citizenship and Media Ownership by Adam Haupt

3:40 am Pacific Standard Time (7:40 pm Japan Standard Time): The Literacy Project- Encouraging Best-Practice Sharing in the Non-Profit Community by Jessica Powell

Schedule Day 3 (August 1)

July 31 at 6 pm Pacific Standard Time (August 1, 10 am Japan Standard Time): Keynote by Hiroaki Kitano by James Cairns

6:20 pm Pacific Standard Time (10:20 am Japan Standard Time): Collecting Societies- Mars Landing by Paul Keller

6:40 pm Pacific Standard Time (10:40 am Japan Standard Time): Open Content: The first decade by David Wiley

10:40 pm Pacific Standard Time (2:40 pm Japan Standard Time): Closing event- Farewell remarks and group photograph, with light refreshments by Kerryn McKay

More Keynote Information

Cal Day (April 12): Bridging Real, Imaginary and Virtual Worlds

March 22, 2008
A Public Archaeology Program produced by OKAPI and the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk
12-3pm Pacific Time (8-11 pm GMT)
April 12, 2007
Archaeological Research Facility:
Okapi Island in Second Life:
12pm – 12:45 Lecture: “Bridging the gap between Real, Imagined and Virtual at the 9000-year old archaeological site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey” by Ruth Tringham, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, and Principal Investigator of the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk
Room 108, Archaeological Research Facility (Webcast live in Okapi Island)
1pm – 3pm
“Immersive 3D Visit to Catalhoyuk”
Visitors to the Archaeology Research Facillity will be guided by life-sized avatars (Cal faculty, students & staff) on a virtual tour of Catalhoyuk. Virtual visitors can join the tour as well.

Okapi Island Spring 2008. Thoughts to start off with

February 15, 2008

What is our ultimate purpose?
Education (K-Grey)?
Sensual experience
Platform for showing remixes
Platform for communication?
Immersion in an archaeological site?
Immersion in the archaeological process?

To Plan
Events, talks, movie shows, audio shows – not just the big event.
Building and other Competitions
Regular tours (eg every Friday when we are “in residence”
This includes events in Second Life that are around real-world happenings and performances (eg Catal team symposium at Sociaety For American Archaeology in March)
It also includes real worl events where we can bring Second Life to the Real World (eg Cal Day)
We need to do more serious advertising of these events

Update signs, esp about join us on Okapi Day
Results of Okapi Day

Museum etc.
Have Okapi island harvest media from database rather than upload them

Embedding/Mash-up of Remixing Catalhoyuk data in Okapi Island

Prehistoric Houses:
Clues to what is down below
Build some furniture in one

Tidy up ie get rid of extraneous and irrelevant exercises
Commentary on the good one (revolving picture cube)

Graffiti Board
Change pictures?

BACH tent
Put active stuff on the floor that links to the pictures on the wall

New areas (invite Catal people from list)
Create 4040 area with new pics
Polish area
West Mound (SUNY Buffalo and Cambridge

Incorporate Steve Mills Catalhoyuk sounds

Add walks from BACH tent to South/Mellaart area

Some things for people to buy or win:
Avatar gestures such as
archaeological gestures (trowelling)
Turkish dancing
Keepsakes: images of artifacts, movies of digging
T-shirts for avatars

Remixing Catalhoyuk Day

November 6, 2007

Remixing Catalhoyuk Day (watch the movie of the event)
9AM to 6PM Pacific Standard Time (5PM to 2AM GMT or Universal Time)
November 28, 2007
Location: Okapi Island
(You must have the free Second Life browser)

Join us for Remixing Catalhoyuk Day, a public program sponsored by OKAPI and the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk. Visit OKAPI Island in the 3-D virtual environment of Second Life (see Getting Started below) and explore the past and present of Catalhoyuk, a 9000-year-old village located in present-day Turkey. OKAPI Island features virtual reconstructions of the excavation site and multimedia exhibits of research data. The Island was constructed by a team of undegraduate research apprentices during the Spring and Fall 2007 semester. The Remixing Catalhoyuk program includes lectures, guided tours, games, and much more. Mark your calendars!

Okapi Island

Remixing Çatalhöyük Day Activities

(10-10:30 AM)
Guided Tour of OKAPI Island. Tours will be conducted by Ruth Tringham (Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, and Principal Investigator of Berkeley Archaeologists at Çatalhöyük) and the Remixing Çatalhöyük team.

(1 – 2 PM PST)
Lecture: “Cultural Heritage Interpretive Videowalks: Moving Through Present Past Places Physically and Virtually” Presented by Ruth Tringham to the UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Colloquium and simulcast in Second Life.

(2 – 4 PM PST)
Turkish Music Mix. Visit OKAPI Island, learn about Çatalhöyük and build your own remixes in the OKAPI Island Sandbox while listening to DJ (and UCB Anthro grad) Burcu’s eclectic mix of classical and contemporary Turkish music.

(3-3:30 PM PST)
Guided Tour of OKAPI Island. Tours will be conducted by Ruth Tringham (Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, and Principal Investigator of Berkeley Archaeologists at Çatalhöyük) and the Remixing Çatalhöyük team.

(4-5 PM PST)
Remixing Çatalhöyük Video Festival. Nine video producers will share videos about Çatalhöyük. The Video Festival will be hosted by VJ (and UCB Anthro grad) Colleen Morgan.

(5 – 5:30 PM PST)
Remix Competition. The public is invited to use the OKAPI Island Sandbox or Graffiti Cube to build and share reconstructions of Catalhoyuk or “remixes” of archaeological research data. At 5pm PST, the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk team will review and select top entries for virtual awards and exhibition on OKAPI Island.

Remixing Catalhoyuk Data

What is Second Life?

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world created entirely by its residents. Okapi Island is owned and build by the OKAPI team (that’s us below!) and the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk.

Getting Started
To visit Okapi Island, you will need to create a user account and download the client software–both free.

To create an account, visit, click on Join (in the upper right corner) and follow the instructions. Note: You do not need a premium account to use Second Life or visit Okapi Island.

Next, download and install the Second Life client for your computer:

Launch the Second Life client and enter your password. You will likely begin in Orientation Island. To visit Okapi Island, click Map, enter “Okapi” in search field and click Search. Alternatively, you can click on the following slurl (second life url) in your browser, and you will be transported there:

See you there!Okapi Second Life Team