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    • #19323
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Hi – we’re looking at new software to improve and update TalkPhysics. One clear choice is between:

      The two types of software have a lot of overlap, and TalkPhysics’s main success has been in providing forums for discussions. This could be met through either type of software.

      I list below TalkPhysics’s aims.

      I would like to hear members’ thoughts on whether, strategically, TalkPhysics’s aims are best met by one, both (or neither!) type of software.

      Thank you – Jon

      Overall aim

      To stand as a beacon for an engaged community of teachers of physics and their supporters.

       Subsidiary aims

      1.     To be the place to go to

      1.1.   Get help with teaching physics

      1.1.1. Develop pedagogical content knowledge

      1.1.2. Exemplify an engaging cultural entitlement

      1.1.3. Engage with research aware approaches

      1.1.4. Develop a perspective on an available resource

      1.2.   Share, discover and curate activities

      1.2.1. Generate a repository of community wisdom

      1.2.2. Assemble and share a perspective

      1.3.   Share, refine and gain experience of practice

      1.3.1. Topical, practical concerns

      1.4.   Pass news and share current professional concerns

      1.4.1. Jobs, government follies, topical videos

      1.5.   Develop and share enthusiasms

      1.5.1. Lively groups that may not be for everybody

      2.     To provide formative feedback (implicit and explicit) to guide IoP actions

      2.1.   Provoked feedback

      2.2.   Retention data

      2.3.   Interaction data

    • #19324
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Hi, Jon,

      I can’t engage very well with the list of aims, I’m afraid — there are too many that I don’t understand.  However, here’s what I like about TalkPhysics and would like to see both retained and improved in terms of user-friendliness:

      1)  I like that it is a community that is transparent enough for me to see who’s in it.  I like the profile pages and the photos and the names and the information.  To make it useable — I’d like the fields to be better defined (more detail) and searchable, so that I can filter the 1000s of members down to the dozens who I might like to be in contact with over a certain issue.  I’d like the data to be useable for research purposes, also — such as members indicating details of their school — number of physics teachers, for example, courses taught, average number of students on courses.  I’d like to get to the point that you’re not a physics teacher unless you’re a community member of TalkPhysics!  (Okay, perhaps that’s a bit far-fetched.)

      2)  I like that I can post messages for others to read.  I like that I can tag them, both with existing well-used tags (“14-16”) and with my own.  I like that I can embed files, links and media.  I like that I can use rich text formatting.  To make it more useble — filtering messages by tags needs to be radically improved (this is different to “searching”).  Other people need to be able to tag my posts.  Tags might need to be curated?  Messages also need some level of edittability to them and probably the ability to be deleted.  Message threads could probably do with being nestable, too, if only to one level.  And this box I’m typing in right now — I don’t trust it not to lose my post.  I still CTRL-C the entire text before hitting “Post” as I’ve lost too many posts that way to make this a comfortable way to discuss things.  It’s too small, too.  I know there’s a “full screen” button, but I’m scared it’ll do something bad to my post (like lose it) and, anyway, I won’t be able to see the rest of the thread to refer to something if I go full screen.

      3)  I like the groups — that I can make or join a discussion group dedicated to one thing and that that group becomes a defacto depository for wisdom and resources on that one thing, or a record of a discussion that can be referred back to.  To improve — the groups need organisation, either manually by admin or by the group owner placing it into predefined categories.  It needs to be easier to find groups and to browse them.


      In contrast, here are the things I would happily lose/radically redesign as I think that they obstruct use of TalkPhysics:

      1)  The hub, with its 4 filters (11-14, 14-16, 16-18, N&C).  I’ve been dipping in and out of TalkPhysics for over a year (more?) and I still just don’t get it.  It is one my 3 top reasons for not using TalkPhysics more.  Similarly, the way discussions are listed on the Home page — both graphically (too much space devoted to things that aren’t messages, so that the messages are overly squashed/truncated/reduced in number) and logistically (groups I’m in, groups I’m not in, groups I made…what?!  I just get lost.)  Also, the details of the posts in the lists — who, when, where, how many, etc.  It’s just not easy to use.

      2)  The login.  Argh!  I don’t know why: my PC at home never, ever, ever asks me to log in to GMail, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook…but TalkPhysics…Argh!  Drives me absolutely nuts.  Even with the “don’t log me out” box ticked.  And why is my browser not permitted to store the login information, so that even if I am logged out it’s just a quick click to log back in again?  eBay allows it, so why not TalkPhysics?  Anyway, is there a necessity to log in just to read posts (close groups excepted)?

      3)  The compatibility with email.  PTNC is sooooooooo easy compared to TalkPhysics.  And still, after all this time, that ease of use outweighs every positive that TalkPhysics has over PTNC.  TalkPhysics doesn’t need to be email-based, but it needs to be as easy as that if it isn’t email-based.  Potentially — integration with other social media (Facebook, Google+, Diaspora, Twitter, …)

      I’d lose everything else not explicitly mentioned.  The Tools (every last one of them).  The Inbox (in its entirety).  The IOP Resource Groups (they’re groups, just like all the rest of the groups.  It annoys me that they have their own slot on the menu.)  The Bookmarks — huh?!


      Focus on doing some things really well, rather than a lot of things merely okay.  That would be my advice.


    • #19325
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      I agree with Stuart’s points,

      The main thing I use the site for is to ask for help and share stuff so the forum element is central. I think making the discussions quicker and easier to navigate would be great.

      The groups I find a useful way of organising and storing content so I can quickly refer back to it when needed. Before talkphysics I often discovered great resources but had forgotten about them when planning a relevant lesson months later. I find talkphysics superior to del.ici.ous/google bookmarks as simply reading and taking part in discussions is a great memory aid (aswell as a place where people add even better stuff that you didn’t know about).

      I like ability to embed videos and images is v.good and it would be a shame to lose this if you switch to a more basic forum structure however I think a robust discussion system (easily to navigate and organise) is what’s most important to me.

      I think the ability to edit messages would be useful, if only for 10-20mins window after posted.

      I do think direct messages are useful though if you just want to privately thank someone e.t.c.

      I found the CPD sessions pretty useful.

      second the point about logging in, my web browser doesn’t save my usrname and password for your log in screen some reason.

      other suggestions

      some form of calender of physics/IoP events (e.g. physics update)
      summary of current grants available for physics teaching/clubs
      summary of national competitions e.t.c. that students can enter

      ‘like it’ buttons like on youtube, just say a quick thanks for a really helpful comment e.t.c.

    • #19326
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Yes, I am finding I agree with much of what Stuart and Mark are saying too.


      • ability to reply to email notifications rather than have to login to the website and reply. This would be the same as Facebook and many other systems I have seen. It required the forum system to be able to receive emails and work out which thread they are from. I believe there are plenty of systems out there that can do it.  I think the email aspect like PTNC is still important for some teachers and we will have a wider community if we retain something like this for those that want it.
      • Abliity to Favourite Messages so that I can come back to them later. Or maybe just the whole thread.
      • A better way to sort through Groups. Possibly something that allows you to sort them in an order of your choosing.
      • Login issues are a problem, this seems to be something shared by others.

      If I think of anything else I will come back and add it 🙂

    • #19327
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      @ David…

      Apart from Facebook, which I refuse to rejoin for reasons which need not concern us here, please point out a system which I can explore that allows the kind of ‘reply by email’ to which you allude. We did spend some real money on trying to implement this for TP. It turned out to be not so easy – the mailhandler has quite a lot of work to do….So if there really are systems off the shelf that’ll let us do this (group/ topic / tag – I think we could leave out attachments – although that would be nice!). So true, jsutified belief, exmplified, please.


      @ Stuart.. At least the design things…

      So your aspiration for TP is a one-line summary of the aims – but I’m not sure I can write that kind of things with my IoP hat on.

      OK.. The hub. If you have groups, and a much more fractured and diverse community than PTNC (which I don’t think would scale to the 4.5 k members of TP…) then you have three issues….


      1) Where can I get started – where do I post my equiry… [paralysis of too much choice]

      2) Why has no-one replied [I posted an equiry in my blog – within TP]

      3) Nothing is happening [ the groups I happen to belong to are not active]


      The Hub was an attempt to approach these… And to provide a kind of core – if you are a teacher of physics then you ought to be interested in these, or a subset of them (so maybe not 16-19). 


      1) You only have four choices of where to put something… Ought not to be too hard (but it seems to be – we regularly have teaching enquiries on N&C – is it news? Is it comment? If not, then don’t post it here. But this appears tricksy for some graduates)


      2) We’ll ensure that anything here gets interacted with – so avoiding the feeling of being ignored.


      3) Provides a nucleation site…you’ll see that ocassionally I’ve suggested that things are spun out of the hub. Yet there are enough posters to get a feeling of activity.


      The IoP resource groups are there simpoly because they’re not a ‘group like any other’. They’re supported by IoP. So, as a user you’d expect to guaranteed interaction and support there. Plus there is 




      Most of the other stuff you suggest is peripheral, kind of is, but provides room for community style growth. So beyond just a set of ‘super-PTNC’ email lists. 


      And yes, I am deeply frustrated by the inability to easily:

      -tag things

      -view a tag cloud for the week / month / year – or potentially other filters…

      – Set up an rss feed for all of user XX’s bookmarks

      – find all the people who belong to a set of groups – so hunt for peopl by tags

      – maintain a contact list of people who I’ve worked with

      – develop a set of toosl that enhance reputation in such a way that people are drawn in…

      Etc, etc.


      The good news is that we’re on an open platform, so getting the data out and re-engineering is possible and thinkable. SO next time, I’d suggest less customisation, and more plugin architecture.


      The most interesting question, however, is the social. Will enough teachers engage enough to make it all worhtwhile.

      This is not, primarily, a question of technical facility, or ease of use, or where the menus are blue / black or whatever.

      It’s a question of investment vs payoff.

      For the prosecution…

      EXHIBIT A: Lots of colleagues use Word to draw diagrams in – even the head of one large and successful multimedia company. If you think it does what you want, you’ll use it. 


      And even a view of professionalism — so a view of just what the job of teaching is about.

      But what do teachers want? And what should they want?

      The aims — and particulary the beacon aspect — were an attempt to articulate what such a community might stand for.



    • #19328
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Ian – I’ve seen this done on many online support systems for services. We used to run such a system for the Faulkes Telescope Project , and the email company Runbox also do this. It is also possible for forums. An example:



    • #19329
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Indeed, thanks. I was aware of this on Drupal – which now also supports gropus, allegedly (proof pof pudding etc).


      So without getting into the near-mythincal debates of one CMS vs another, are there any other systems that do this out of the box? (open question)


      Elgg does not, and we now know that it ain’t simple to fix…

    • #19330
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      If I say Facebook and you say no, and I say Drupal and you don’t want to talk about one CMS v another… what format of answer do you want?  If I can establish that, I may be able to answer your question Smile

      If you are looking for one system that does everything, you may be disappointed. These things usually require modules that are added to a basic installation of one CMS or another.

    • #19331
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Ian, is this what you meant by groups in Drupal?


      I know the person who set this up so may be able to get more information if you are interested.

    • #19332
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand
      On 24 Oct 2011, at 12:32, David Bowdley wrote:

      If I say Facebook and you say no,

      I think this is a special case…..and notorious for lack of privacy. Which I think is central to the idea of professional network.

      and I say Drupal and you don’t want to talk about one CMS v another…
      I only want to avoid the near-religious debates of one CMS vs another. Examples would be great – so that we’re not looking at only one special case. Especially since I think this email thing is hard – at least experience tells me so.
      Modules / plugins are probably going to be the way to go.
    • #19333
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Wow, thank you everyone. I feel like I’m returning late to my own party…

      As ever, some great ideas from our critical friends. This gives a useful “steer”.

      Some points raised are already included in the requirements we’ve drawn up for a replacement system. Just to pick one example, from Stu, that of trusting the textbox not to lose what you’re doing: we’ve already requested a save draft / preview / publish facility, like we have on the blogs.

      Some other things we can deal with in the design stage – we’ve already requested more control over the menus, so we would hopefully be able to design and redesign the Groups I’m in / etc. anytime we like.

      The login is a big one and is certainly in our requirements!

      However, I don’t feel this has grappled with the forum vs social network dimension. Or is it confirming that the forum is the key part of TalkPhysics, and that social networking is less important?

    • #19334
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Oh… and I minor point.  When a discussion goes on to more than one page, if the original post has to stay at the top of the page, can we have it shaded a different colour or something?  On a couple of occassions I have clicked for the next page and thought it had not worked.

      Jon – to be honest, I don’t really understand why you mean by “social network”.  We don’t need a teachers Facebook, we do that on Facebook already to be honest, or Linked In, or Twitter… whatever.  It is nice to be able to see some information about a person who is posting, but I don’t think that needs to be much beyond a profile the like of which most forums have.

    • #19335
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Two more points…


      1) An email-reponse  route will make intelligent reponses difficult if the post you’re responding to contained embedded media, or even uoloaded media…That’s one reason not to pursue it so carefully.


      2) Back to Jon’s original question. It’s not so clear to me that these are distinct types of software – both are operating by hoovering up the best features of the other. For example, WordPress — whihc started out just to enable blogging — is now used by some for CMS.


      What seems essential is that we have an online community, which has an open extensive and  supportive infrastructure and could be more integrated than a set of mailing lists with a common log-on….


    • #19336
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand


      I don’t think the social networking side of things has ever been trialled enough on this for us to be able to judge. It would be really handy for me as Teacher Network Coordinator for Hertfordshire to be able to set up some sort of network of teachers in Hertfordshire on here for instance, but I have never found a means of doing that. Others like me have mused about using facebook and twitter, but they don’t seem appropriate. Anyone who uses those sort of things already has their own purposes for them.

      The various ‘closed’ or simply unjoined groups that TalkPhysics has seem to be serving a similar function to Google+’s circles function at the moment, but the concept of Alice’s circles not having to overlap precisely with Bob’s circles seems a nice one. A PGCE student has different requirements from a Curriculum developer, for instance.

      Goodness only knows what the coding would be like on that, though…

    • #19337
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      A good discussion going on here.  So what is a “social network” in the context we are talking about?  How is it different from a “group” for a selection of teachers with a common interest (whether that be topical or geographical)?  It’s not clear in my head what “I” mean by a social network, let alone anyone else.

    • #19338
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      @ griff…


      Good points. Assuming we can get something more tractable than elgg, but still with the groups, and that individuals have some kind of handle on what they might like to do professionally, I don’t think we need to code. If peole got tagged, then we could have a ‘people with similar interests to yours also joined….option. But only on request, I think.


      Re google circles: these seem to be focussed on individuals needs, not on a collaborative community. Plus whilst we wer thinking about TP there first was, and then was not a Gwave…an evanescent wave?

    • #19339
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      sorry one more point
      maybe i’m a a bit paranoid but a switch to https would be nice

    • #19340
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand



      yes I think it’s all about just making things easier for people. Social network websites seem to thrive on low attention span activities (and for the web, that’s going some). ‘Would you like to join these groups?’ with a 1-click purchase option ( 😉 ) seems a good one. Emailing people on my contacts list the longwinded full hyperlink to the Hertfordshire page was a non-starter.

      And yes, these circle things may turn out to be just a gimmicky selling point for the Google Empire to try and poach people from other social networking sites. (evanescent Gwaves –map to–> inward vanishingGoogle+  spirals??)


    • #19341
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      @David – I think the social networking (as opposed to “merely” a set of forums), allows for other sorts of interactions, such as people messaging each other directly, finding people with similar interests, etc.

    • #19342
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Jon – I agree this is desirable.  However, modern forums that are not promoted as social networking sites also offer that kind of interaction.  So maybe my question is not “what is social networking?” but “what kind of social networking do we want?”.

      The email I sent to you yesterday shows that some people just want a mailing list.  Can that be accommodated within talkphysics.org?

      Some might say it would undermine the purpose of talkphysics.org, but if that is what happens, then it says something about what people prefer.  Personally, I think there is room for both aspects. Sometimes I do just want to provide a quick reply, or get a message “out there”. Other times I want to be able to “network” or use some kind of richer medium like images or video etc…

    • #19343
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      @ David…

      One that offers open futures…! And a range of possibilities for differntially engaged people ( this measure itself will be time dependent). We don’t yet know what people might be perusaed to do — and perhaps nor do they.

      ..on mailing lists:

      N&C can be used just like a mailing list, except that one has to follow a link to reply…. I suppose one view of what TP > PTNC is that you can choose to engage in debate with a limited number without either causing the mailbox of others to clog up unecessarily, or causing professional self-harm by misjudging the level of debate in a very large forum (Sunil?).

      I accept that there are some user ‘set-up’ costs, not present in, say PTNC — which has no profile, although I suspect we still demand validation of email address (so kind of equivalent to Spam catcher on TP). At the moment there is no plan to terminate PTNC, but one might hope, over time, to offer such a thing, and a gentle on-ramp to richer offerings, all through TP. It depends on just how easy it is to mimic mailserver functionality through SN  (you’ve kindly indicated that Drupal can do so, apparently).

    • #19344
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      @Stu – sorry, just realised I hadn’t responsed to a key point you made:

      > I’d like to get to the point that you’re not a physics teacher unless you’re a community member of TalkPhysics!  (Okay, perhaps that’s a bit far-fetched.)

      A wonderfully ambitious aim, and one I’m pleased to support (not just because TP sits in “my domain”…). Ian’s point about building an online community certainly reflects this – that we’re all here to build an inclusive community of engaged, reflective teachers of physics, learning from each other. And this discussion is about trying to find the most useful tool for this online part of the task.

    • #19345
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      Having listened to all of the above, I return to an original point :  do one thing well.  Other things can be added later.

      PTNC does one thing well.  It connects us.  That’s it.  I can contact nearly 1000 other physics educationalists, most of them in exactly the same position as myself, in mere moments.  There’s no fuss, no difficulty, no problems.  It’s easy — it is, in fact, one thing done well.

      TalkPhysics is not one thing done well.  It is a very large number of things, none of them done as well as PTNC does it’s one thing well.  But one or two of them are nearly there.  They could possibly get a whole lot nearer to being there right here on the current platform.

      I understand the need to future-proof an investment, but technologies change and no choice that is made can be assumed to be the best one in even five years’ time.  Discussing the wonderous advantages of a new platform is a lovely diversion to actually achieving success in doing one thing well.  Switching to a new platform on the basis of social vs forum is a distraction — it will delay progress on important basics while providing support to do periphal things.  In five years’ time, when the basics are in place, there will probably be a better platform for the bells and whistles.

    • #19346
      Profile photo of Andrew Normand

      OK…Your one thing done well should be (‘when the basics are in place’)?

      You list three in your original post. I don’t disagree with any of them.

      However I’d be interested in your thoughts of how you demarcate groups where you can expect support and an answer without the **equivalent** of a hub, etc. For the users we consulted that turns out to have been an essential…and it seems to be a big downside for you. I did try and explain why it was there…


      The upside of PTNC is zero-thought before publishing(aka it’s easy). The downside is that everyone must pay attention — and not everyone will be interested and may well be put off by the presumptions of the debate. That’s what I meant by it being not-scalable. In something like TP more forethought and courtesy is demanded of the poster — which group / what tags seem to be things that will add enduring value of the post and target it. I suspect PTNC serves physics teachers but could not equally well serve teachers of physics. And the lack of flexibilty lead (?)some to abuse the system – we have people using email lists as a surrogate blog, for example.

      The reason for the switch to a new platform is that the current one is a highly non-linear money-sink: developers cannot make it do what we want. That’s why there are frustrations of  things being harder than they should. The ‘future-proof’ element simply means that we anticipate taking all existing data over with us. We’d like to be in a position to do that next time (if, say, we chose Joomla and it then vanished….)



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