Praxis: A Scholarly Social Networking Platform

gppgrid_600x600_300ppiWe 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.

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