Tuesday, November 29, 2005

All new and improved...

Back in July I posted a guide to del.icio.us and it seemed to be fairly well received. Well, I've updated it a bit. It's not a major re-write, so I've called it Delicious 1_2.

The first change you might notice is the title page. I was never happy with the old name, so it is now called Simply Delicious. The cover page still looks a bit naff though... Maybe I'll fix that in the next version. I've also updated screen shots and tweaked the text to take account of the changes in del.icio.us (changes for the better I think). The biggest difference I've made, is to beef up the RSS/Bloglines section. It seemed to me that the real value of RSS only becomes obvious once you start subscribing to a number of feeds, so I encourage people to subscribe to a blog feed and a couple of news feeds as well as a del.icio.us feed.

As before, all suggestions will be gratefully received. Let me know what you think.

Update: Someone emailed to let me know that the pdf file was not readable on all platforms. I've re-saved it with a different pdf creator and re-posted. The link above is to the new version. Let me know if you still have any problems viewing it.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

One student at a time...

I asked for your help in a previous post to try and find ways to convince my students to take up blogging. Well, three students took up the challenge. Unfortunately, after a great first post, the first student has never sent another message. The second student to start made some really interesting posts and even attracted some good comments... but then decided to leave the course. However, the third student is still going strong and doing well.

At the moment she is most concerned about... guess what? I'll tell you in a minute, but I suspect you wont be surprised. I think she'd be really pleased to get some comments from someone other than me - especially if she could get some comments from real teachers!

So please visit the To Probation And Beyond blog and give her some advice/support/encouragement. However, I should warn you her blog is very pink. I mean very pink! You have been warned.

Did you guess what she was concerned about? Yes, it was classroom management. From my online chats and student's emails, she is not alone. I suspect that encouragement and suggestions on her blog would help not only her, but all the students that are reading her blog too. Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

EdCompCast - Take 2

Way back at the beginning of October I did my first podcast. I gave a link in that blog entry to one of the resources I used when learning how to create the podcast. I probably should have also mentioned the Making a Podcast with Blogger and FeedBurner page on Podcasting News.

My first recording was more of a proof of concept than a serious podcast, but it worked, and it was fun, and I said I'd do it again, and here it is - EdCompCast 2: ICT uses in the classroom.

Eric Postcard
Eric Postcard,
originally uploaded by Eric Rice.
We recorded loads of stuff and this is an edited version of the first bit of our chat. It is longer than my first Podcast (it's about seven and a half minutes) but I've compressed it this time, so it should be much smaller. As before, I used GarageBand to put it together and to create the wee musical interludes. I love GarageBand. It allows a musical numpty like me to create something that sounds at least half way tuneful. I was a bit more adventurous this time and split the recorded track up so that I could boost the volume of the students. (Either I was nearer the microphone or I talk too loud - take your pick.) I could have tidied it up a bit more, as you can still here the occasional mouse click and fluffed line, but I decided to put it out rather than continue to fiddle with it.

If you want to subscribe to these podcasts, there is a EdCompcast button further down this page, but I will include it here too for your convenience: EdCompCast Chicklet

This podcast is closer to the kind of thing I think I'd like to do on a semi-regular basis. I have been pushing the idea of student blogs here at Jordanhill as a good way for students to reflect on their learning and teaching and I thought that this type of podcast would be a good way to do the same sort of thing. Therefore I grabbed a couple of students, Neil and Graham, and just talked to them about their school experience placement. I hope that by doing this, I not only help the two students involved in the podcast to reflect on their experiences, but I also have a record of what they said that may be of use to others. I am fairly sure that this was a good exercise to do and I hope that Neil and Graham at least will have learned something from the process. There's enough material recorded for at least one more podcast. Do you want to hear it too?

We started by chatting about a couple of the things they had been impressed with from their first school experience. The things we talked about on this part of the interview are Interactive Whiteboards, wireless mice and school networks.

I would have liked to listen to a couple of podcasts from other Teacher Education Institutions or teachers in training before creating this one, but I couldn't find any. I can't believe this is a world first, so I guess I was just looking in the wrong places.

Let me know what you think. Is the sound quality OK? Is it too long, too short or just right? Was this podcast helpful or interesting any way? Are the kind of things we are talking about the kind of things you want to hear? What other topics would you be interested in hearing the students talk about? And finally, do you know of any other Teacher Education related podcast?

Thanks for listening.

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P.S. Just to make it clear, the photo came from a Creative Commons search of Flickr. The chap in the picture seems to be called Eric Rice and doesn't look anything like me, Neil or Graham - I just liked the photo!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What is blogging?

I've used the same title for this entry as John Johnson used in a recent entry of his. I was concerned because John seemed to be worrying that he wasn't doing this blogging thing properly. Stuff and nonsense says I! For what it's worth, I think the things that John is doing at Sandaig are brilliant. I started typing a comment to tell him this, but got a bit carried away and just kept typing. After a few minutes of ranting in the comment box, I decided to copy it here and make a post out of it, so here are some of the things I want to say to John...

John starts by quoting a bit from a blog by James Farmer where James says "group blogs suck in education". Now I must admit here, that I haven't read James' post yet, so I don't know exactly what James says, but taking the statement John quotes at face value, I can only conclude that James hasn't read the Sandaig blog! I would say that the Sandaig blog is so far away from sucking that it blows... but if I've understood the current vernacular, blowing is a bad thing too... so I'll just say the Sandaig blog is, in my opinion, a fantastic educational use of the technology. (And that's not even going on to consider the other blogs, podcasts and stuff at Sandaig which taken together make an even stronger case.)

In the same blog entry, John is worried because Ewan seems to say that if he is pre-moderating the pupils posts, he's not doing proper blogging. I'm not sure that's what Ewan is arguing, but I wanted to say that even if it was, John should ignore him and keep doing what he's doing. I think John needs to ask himself, "is it appropriate to do things this way within the context of Sandaig Primary school?" I think the results speak for themselves and the way John organises and moderates the Sandaig stuff clearly works. (That is not to say of course that he should not keep reviewing his current practice.)

I think the question John should be asking himself is, what is an appropriate use of blogs in this school with these pupils? Appropriateness is defined by a whole bundle of inter-related issues. One obvious "issue" is purpose. What is the purpose of the group blog? Is it always appropriate for children to work in groups? Of course not. Is it always appropriate to have children working as individuals? Again, of course not. Now, I'm typing here from a position of ignorance since I still haven't read James Farmer's blog entry, but from an educational viewpoint it seems daft to say that a group blog is not an appropriate use of blog technology just because it doesn't fit with a particular definition of what a blog is. I'll come at that another way. Is what John is doing with the Sandaig blogs educationally worthwhile? (I'd give a huge YES to that one!) If it is educationally valuable, then frankly I wouldn't care if someone told me I wasn't allowed to call it a blog. I'd do it anyway. Invent a new name. Call a group blog a grog and then tell James Farmer what he's missing by sticking to a one man band blog. "Blogs are so last year, everyone important in education is doing grogs now. :-)

As for Ewan's post, I think there is a sliding scale here. Do you "police" everything your children do in their jotters to the same level? Some work you will make them draft and re-draft - you will make them polish it until it shines. Other work, you will perhaps be more interested in capturing the raw, initial response. The purpose will help define the level and the timing of your intervention.

Is there also an age and stage thing? Ewan comes from a Secondary school background and my feeling is there are different issues at Primary level. (And different issues again at University level - we are still wondering how to respond to some of the things our students are saying and doing online here at Jordanhill.)

It looks to me like the Sandaig blogs are a different beast from the MSGOnline blogs. Does that mean you are doing it wrong because you are pre-moderating posts? I don't think so. I think it just means that the Sandaig blogs have a different purpose and so it is not surprising that the way you organise them is also different.

In conclusion then, I think we can get overly precious about what we call things. When is a blog not a blog? Most of the time, I don't think I care! It is more important to ask, is this educationally valuable? Sandaig provides loads of examples that show just how valuable this type of online, social activity can be... whatever you call it.

End of rant... Reading it over again, I wonder if I've gone off a bit too strongly. What do you think? Have I been unfair to either James or Ewan? (I'll really need to read James' blog!)

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A First Class day

Question: is FirstClass a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or is it simply a communications and collaboration platform?

I think the "simply" in that opening question is misleading as it hides the rich diversity of ways the FirstClass system can be used. A quote on their website (and I'm paraphrasing slightly) says that FirstClass is about supporting a "collaborative learning community". That's one of the main reasons I like FirstClass - it's about community. However, I find myself having to justify the use of FirstClass in the faculty here because the University provides and supports WebCT. I am asked why we are spending time, money and effort on FirstClass when the university is offering WebCT - a fully featured VLE?

Handy Device
Handy Device,
originally uploaded by Old Shoe Woman.
Perhaps the heart of the question I want to consider is what is a VLE? Last week I was through in Edinburgh for the launch of FirstClass ED. It looks great and seems to me to do everything that WebCT and Blackboard can do and more, but I have found FirstClass significantly easier to use. The FirstClass chap at the launch said we shouldn't compare FirstClass with WebCT and Blackboard because they are completely different beasts. I agree with him. There is no comparison - FirstClass is clearly the best!

Can you see my problem? I cannot look at this dispassionately. I find it impossible to be neutral, but I have to try and give a more balanced report on whether we should stick with FirstClass (in which case I'd have to justify the extra expense to the Faculty) or whether we can/should move to WebCT. However I've only dabbled with WebCT. I'm much more familiar with FirstClass. Therefore I'm appealing for your help again:
  • Does anyone reading this blog have experience with WebCT?
  • Even better, does anyone have experience with both WebCT and FirstClass?
  • What are the unique selling points of each system?
  • Is it possible to come up with a sensible recommendation when I am comparing apples to pears?

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Thank you

Just wanted to make a quick post to say thank you to everyone who replied to my request for ways to convince students into taking up blogging. This post has generated more comments than any other and I am stunned by the helpfulness of all the replies. Thank you again.

I'm pointing my students to your replies... time, and the number of student blogs created, will tell how successful it has been.