Visualising the network

At work, in my role as eLearning Adviser, I have helped a lecturer to set up 280 individual historical Russian characters for a course entitled Russia in War and Revolution. Students sign up to their chosen historical character and proceed to develop a wiki page collaborating with other students and creating links between characters. For example, who is married to whom, who is a ballerina, in the Red Army, related etc. The wiki page and the connections that are made are a major part of their assessment. So recently, the lecturer asked me if there was a way to visualise the connections made between the characters. After a fruitless search where I found a lot of other people’s images and visualisations, I still was not able to provide him with a satisfying solution, where he could create this visualisation based on his students’ wiki pages.

So I was happy to read David Jones’ post on Visualising the blog network from March 2013 which led me to Gephi, an open-source and free visualisation software. So while I am waiting for it to download, I thought I would write a blog post on how the Networked and Global Learning course ‘network’ has enabled me to find what I need ‘as a teacher’. What I find most interesting is that I did not come across Gephi in any of my web searches, even though I think of myself as an able searcher, having been a librarian.

Another interesting aspect is that in the lecturer’s role, he does not have the time to explore these potentially useful educational tools, even though he knows what he wants and as Natalie points out in her comment:

Ironically, our institution’s Communications team discourage the use of any platform apart from the LMS or university controlled media tool.

This is exactly the same in the university I work for. So in exploring Gephi, I am using my student network in order to deliver an educational solution that goes outside the boundaries of the ‘approved’ institutional educational network. I guess I am being dissident but I genuinely believe in supporting the needs of the educator and learner and connecting the technologies with what students might end up having to use in the real world outside of the learning management system.

Natalie further highlights that:

Maybe those restrictions contribute to our clogged email inboxes and low student participation in discussion forums and LMS activities.

In my role, I have found that by not using a learning management system instead using external technology tools that are familiar to learners to be more beneficial and vastly more used. In a previous course, Online Pedagogy in Practice, I wrote a literature review entitled From Googling to Information Literacy for Life, where I recommended that:

Students should be encouraged to use information management tools such as bookmarking sites, reference managers, RSS feeds, cloud storage and management in university contexts as these skills are pertinent to their social and their work lives (Monge & Frisicaro-Pawlowski, 2014).

For this reason, I have encouraged lecturers to use Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms for students to collaborate. As multiple people can write, edit and collaborate using Google Documents at the same time, the environment becomes extremely dynamic. I would like to provide this advice also to the Networked Trotter, a fellow learner in the NGL course, who is a teacher who wants to encourage her learners to collaborate online and is thinking of using the Moodle learning management system to do so. I hope she will consider some of the environments already familiar for students.


Monge, R., & Frisicaro-Pawlowski, E. (2014). Redefining Information Literacy to Prepare Students for the 21st Century Workforce. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 59–73.


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