Finding the Tools to Sing – A Reflection on Big B Blogging

Quote on tools from Austin Kleon

I started writing this post a few months ago but did not get around to finishing it, subsequently my initial notes have lay waiting. I was reminded of it by recent posts from Jim Groom and Alan Levine reflecting on the purpose of blogging. Here then is my contribution to the conversation.


In the March edition of the Loose Learners podcast, Mariana Funes and John Johnson discussed the difference between small b and big B blogging. In part, this was a response to a post by Tom Critchlow on ideas and the power of the network.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale.

Although big B blogging maybe associated with link blogging and ‘interesting ideas’, the focus is on broadcasting, rather than connecting and commenting. The notion of big B blogging is usually associated with those like Jason Kottke, John Gruber and Richard Byrne.

In a recent interview, Kottke shared how his blogging has developed over time. He explains in particular how advertising and making money from his site has changed. What is interesting is the connection between big B blogging and making money. Although he shares his workflow and intent, what comes through is that it is still a job. I wonder if there is another possible definition of ‘Big B’ blogging that goes beyond advertising?

When I think about blogging, there is a cross-over between technology and the way it is used. Big B bloggers are those who take each to their extremes. Content is important. But so is process and product. It is something personal, stemming from our changing circumstances and intent.

For me, blogging is about utilising the various features and affordances available, but also trying to push the boundaries in understanding how they work. In Martha Burtis’ keynote for Domains17, she argued that Domain of One’s Own is more than just learning WordPress, rather it is about learning how to “publish online in an open-source Web application”. As she explains,

Every moment in which we walk a student through a fix is a deeply teachable moment — a moment not just to provide step by step instructions but to narrate for them what each step means. When we bring meaning to the breaking and the fixing we are pushing beyond the boundaries of the merely practical.

For some this experience is distributed across several spaces, such as a space to collect ‘breadcrumbs’ and a main space for longer forms. For others, it is about creating spaces specific purposes and then syndicating back to one place.

I think that this is what interests me about the IndieWeb. The focus is not just about content, but how content is presented. This focus on what and how stems from a why of developing a ‘demonstrably better web’.

So big B blogging to me is about allowing growth and development both personally and collectively. Although some spaces may have subscription accounts, this is not necessarily what keeps the lights on.

So what about you? What does blogging mean to you? How do you find balance between creation and construction? As always, comments welcome.


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Sharing Data is Easy with QUERY

The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

There are many challenges to sharing specific data in Google Sheets, some of these can be overcome using the QUERY formula.


I attended a day recently continuing the look into ongoing reporting. One of the focuses involved reflecting on various points pf data. Something that stood out was the willingness of teacher to share data. Whether it be with students, teachers or parents, for some providing access can still be a challenge.

I discussed this with a principal attending the day and one suggestion made is that it can be hard to share particular data, without sharing everyones data. This is especially the case when talking with parents or conferencing a student. An answer is using the QUERY formula.

With Google the chosen platform, a lot of teachers store their data in Google Sheets.

QUERY combines a whole lot of functionality into the one formula. As David Krevitt explains:

QUERY combines all of the capabilities of arithmetic functions (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE) with the filtering abilities of a function like FILTER.

It is a language developed by Google, using the principles of Structured Query Language (SQL).

For example, you may wish to share the results of just one students:

To do this, you select the columns you want to copy from the MASTER tab and which value you wish to filter by:

=QUERY(MASTER!A:F, "SELECT C,D,E,F WHERE A = 'Donna'", -1)

If you wished to quickly create a tab for each student, Alice Keeler has created a script for generating tabs from a list. This personalised information can then be shared with students (see Jake Miller’s explanantion). Another thing to consider is to protect formulas by adjusting permissions at a celular level, as well as prevent others from copying the file, therefore getting the information that way.

The other option is to create a dynamic selector involving either a name:

Or even a whole form:

These options might be used when working with colleagues or talking with parents. You are able to bring up just the information required. Depending on the data, you can also create dynamic charts. One other benefit to using the QUERY formula is that it allows you to quickly and easily reorder the representation of data. So lets say ‘F’ is associated with literacy testing and you would like that at the start. Rather than writing SELECT C,D,E,F you would write SELECT F,C,D,E.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what the QUERY formula can do. For more information, see posts from Ben Collins and David Krevitt. Collins also ran two webinars, which you can go back and watch. One on the basics, while the other getting a bit more complicated.


One thing to note when using Google Sheets to store data is what sort of information you are collecting. In some districts and regions there are issues raised about storing ‘sensitive data’ in platforms like Google.

Reflecting on Class Dojo, Ben Williamson explains that ‘sensitive’ can be the consequence of collecting data:

The ‘sensitive information’ contained in ClassDojo is the behavioural record built up from teachers tapping reward points into the app.

This same concern needs to be considered in regards to Sheets, especially with the changes being brought about by GDPR.


As always, comments welcome. Webmentions too.


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Managing Content Through Canonical Links

Doctorow on demanding better technology

One of the challenges with the web can be managing content across multiple sites, one answer, create canonical links and share from there.


In a conversation on Twitter discussing the archiving images and canonical URLs, Amy Burvall explained that much of her work was simply stored on Instagram, which can be problematic. She asks whether I had any other suggestions:

This had me reflecting on all the spaces (or ‘cafes’) where I have seen Amy’s multimedia output,

I am sure there are more I may have missed, but it paints something of a picture. Added to this, not only does she frequent these social spaces, but often in different guieses as well.

One of the things that interests me about Amy’s work is that there is not necessarily a central space. If anything, I would say that it is her WordPress.com blog, but there is not a space where all the different parts are collected together. Although she also has her main site – amyburvall.com – this is more of a landing page design to connect, rather than collect.

Here I am reminded of a recent piece by Cory Doctorow where he reflects on the choices associated with technology. He states:

You don’t have to be “protech” or “anti-tech.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how someone could realistically be said to be “anti-tech” – your future is going to have more technology in it, so the question isn’t, “Should we use technology?” but rather, “Which technology should we use?”

Douglas Rushkoff recently made the case against social media being used in schools. I agree with this and wonder we more schools do not create their own spaces. However, I also think that schools on the whole should do more to own their presence. What if they actually collected together their media story in one space. I think that Burvall faces that same conundrum.


There seems to be two schools of thought on this:
PESOS: Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site
POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere

Dries Buytaert’s graphic provides a useful breakdown of the differences.

I remember when I started down the POSSE path, my focus was simply on my long form posts. I would use Jetpack to share links to Twitter and Google+. This approach however has its limits.

Firstly, Jetpack only provides a certain amount of social media sites provided. Secondly, it does not allow for much nuance in regards to content and how it is shared, particularly with media. The template is set within the code of plugin, with links sent out automatically. There are some ways to manipulate this, whether it be in the text box provided or by adding an excerpt, (an optional field in WordPress.) However, it is neither clear nor consistent.

Having spent some time with Edublogs/Global2, I learnt that Jetpack can be modified. I am not aware though how much you can adjust the code associated with sharing links nor anyone who has done this.

Another automated approach to sharing is through the use of a third-party platforms. The easiest and cheapest of these is IFTTT. It allows users to set up ‘recipes’, connecting various services together. These simply run in the background.

Although IFTTT provides more choice, this can still be limited. There are times when you have to work with the options available to rethink what is possible. I am also sceptical how IFTTT are making their money and whether they will pivot like Storify.

A similar third-party platform is Zapier. What is good about Zapier is that it really breaks down the various options clearly. The only catch with Zapier is the cost.

An alternative that does not rely on a third-party platform is SNAP (Social Network Auto-Poster). This WordPress.org plugin connects with a range of applications within your own site. Although the setup is not as simple as Jetpack or IFTTT (you are required to get your own API Keys), there are clear instructions provides to walk users through connecting each application.

Where Jetpack is fine for sharing links, it quickly becomes frustrating when trying to use your blog to share different forms of multimedia. SNAP provides an array of ingredients that can be used to create templates:

  • %TITLE% – Inserts the Title of the post
  • %URL% – Inserts the URL of the post
  • %SURL% – Inserts the shortened URL of your post
  • %IMG% – Inserts the featured image URL
  • %EXCERPT% – Inserts the excerpt of the post (processed)
  • %RAWEXCERPT% – Inserts the excerpt of the post (as typed)
  • %ANNOUNCE% – Inserts the text till the Continue reading

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Toca Boca and Digital Toys

Toca Boca and the importance of play

Toca Boca is a suite of applications that provides spaces within which to explore and play.


I often hear teachers complain that all students do on tablets is play games. This is supposedly in lieu of supposed ‘real work’. Although I would not consider myself as being a part of the anti-gamer community, I think that there are some which are more prone to consuming our attention, rather than creativity and critical thinking. (See the recent discussion associated with Coolmaths and Chromebooks) A company trying to counter this focus on consumption is Toca Boca. Started in 2010 in Sweden, Toca Boca create digital environments. The purpose is not to complete games or progress through levels, but instead work within the parameters set to participate in imaginative, open-ended play. As the Björn Jeffery explains:

I don’t think we are going to digitize all play, and it wasn’t our goal, either. It’s just a new way to play, so it has its benefits and its drawbacks. Obvious benefits are that it’s portable, so we do very well on airplanes or dinners, for that matter — situations where parents need to occupy their children. Kids get super-bored after fifteen minutes at a restaurant, whereas parents want to sit for another two hours. Bringing your Lego kit to the restaurant is a little tricky, and so maybe an iPad is more convenient. But, of course, there is also a time and a place.

Some of the different applications that I have explored with my daughters include:

  • House: Users move around a house to complete numerous chores and activities,
  • Town: Users move between a shop, police station, a house and a park. Each space includes different characters and objects to engage with.
  • Kitchen: Working between the fridge, a bench space and a cooking area, users prepare various meals. Through this process they are able to learn about how different produce changes when it is cooked, chopped and blended.
  • Car: Given a small car, users drive around within an environment that has various objects and obstacles jump over or avoid.
  • Band: There is a stage with three tiers, each with their own intensity. Each character plays a different instrument, which users can drag around the stage or they can placed on the top pedestal which allows users to control the particular instrument.
  • Hair Salon: Using a range of tools and products, including scissors, dryer, coloured spray and magic liquid which makes hair grow, users are able to create their own hair styles. Once complete, they can then create their own hairdos.
  • Fairy Tales and Tailor: Users choose clothes, apply various patterns and then accessories in the development of their own characters. They can also capture a snapshot of their finished creation.
  • Lab: Users are provided with a virtual laboratory within which to explore the elements of nature in a fun and playful way. Through a range of virtual experiments, users heat, boil, spin and cool various objects to see what happens.
  • Birthday Party & Tea Party: These apps allow users to lay out a table cloth for a party involving cake and drinks. This can be either played collaboratively or individually. Once someone has eaten or drank what have, you can then give them more. In addition to this, every so often something will spill which you need to clean up before doing anything else.
  • Builders Lab: Something of a take on Minecraft, users are given a blank space on which to build upon. There are a range of robots to help you, each offering a particular skill, whether it be creating a block, moving a block or painting the space.
  • Nature: Similar to Sim City, you are given a plot of land which you can add vegetation too, create mountains and dig out waterways. Once this is done, you can zoom in and go in search of the various flora and fauna that inhabits this created space. There is a range of objects you can collect and then feed the various animals. When you find something there is the option then to take a picture of your discovery.

In many respects these apps are about learning, they have been described as ‘digital toys for children’. This is not learning in the way that Mathletics helps with Maths, but rather applications capturing the different forms of play:

  • Active play, which is like chasing each other, playing sport, running around.
  • Make-believe play, which is imagination and role play.
  • Manipulative play, which is puzzles, construction, building, Lego, making, creating.
  • Creative play, which is arts, crafts, drawing, music.
  • Learning play, which is games and books — they are defined as learning because they are linear. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This collection is continuing to grow and evolve. So what about you? Are there any open-ended applications that you or your students use? As always, comments welcome.


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Googling Libraries

The future of libraries is in research

A collection of ways Google G Suite for Education can be used in the library, including the creation of digital spaces, supporting research, organising thinking and making connections beyond the classroom.


One of the areas that the team that I work in supports is GSuite. This year we have looked to provide for some different stakeholders within school, one of which are librarians. I have written before about the future of libraries, touching on ideas of a hybrid learning space always open. Here then are some further thoughts on the ways that GSuite can support these changes:

Spaces

A significant change in recent times has been the development of virtual spaces. David White describes this intersection between the physical and digital as a coalescent space. Google provides a number of options including: Sites, Plus, Classroom and Blogger. Each application has its own set of features and affordances.

(New) Google Sites is a static website builder that allows a lot of drop and drag. It offers a number of possibilities. It is also now found within Google Drive and allows users to embed a wide range of content. One of the limitations is the ability to converse and the use of mobile platforms to create and update.

Another option is Google Plus. Like Facebook and Facebook Pages, Plus provides the means to create communities where people can meet and share. These can be both public and private. Additionally, Plus allows users to organise resources in collections.

A development over recent years has been Google Classroom. This space allows many of the features of Plus communities, but in a closed environment. A recent addition to classroom has been the ability to engage across domains.

The original Google space is Blogger. One of the original blogging platforms, Blogger allows for an open and dynamic presentation of content. This could be a shared space for different writers, a place to collect links or a space to document news and updates.

There are so many options for spaces. However, rather than choosing one or the other, sometimes the best option is combining different solutions, whether it be a Site and a G+ community or a blog and a Classroom space.

Further Reading

Research.

In an age of abundance, customised content and fake news, one of the more important roles for a library is to develop digital citizenship. For David White, this is about being an “expert at navigating content, not owning it.” A common use of libraries then is to support research and investigation. Google provides a number of tools to support this, such as:

Google has also created a range of material to support the development of research skills. This includes a Power Searching Course, Search Literacy Lesson Plans and the game-based A Google A Day

Another collection of strategies comes via Mike Caulfield and his work around fact checking. In his book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, Caulfield outlines four key strategies:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.

  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.

  • Circle back: If you get lost, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

This book also explains how to use Google Books to track down quotes and use reverse image search to find the origin of an image.

To support these strategies, Caulfield also started a new site, Four Moves. This has been designed to provide prompts and practice to support students with the act of fact checking.

It is often stated that the best firewall is the human sitting using the computer. That is part of the reason Google developed Be Internet Awesome, a program designed to support students to be better online citizens. It is organised around five fundamentals – being smart, alert, strong, kind and brave – and mixes together a curriculum with a series of game-based activities.

It is important to note that Digital citizenship can mean many things to many people. Sometimes the best thing to do is start by defining what it means within your own content.

Further Reading

  • Google Search Presentation – Anthony Speranza provides some tricks to making the most of searching with Google.
  • Be Internet Awesome – A range of resources developed by Google to help kids be safe, confident explorers of the online world.
  • Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers – Mike Caulfield provides a range of strategies, tactics and tools, which, properly used, can get students closer to the truth of a statement or image.
  • Four Moves – A collection of activities to support Caulfield’s work with fact checking and digital citizenship.

Beyond Book Reports

The traditional perception of the library are rows and rows of books and with this the age old practice of standard book reports. It would be therefore easy to use technology to just reproduce this. The problem though is it fails to recognise new possibilities associted with the various features and affordances.

One possibility is to explore place using the range of geo tools. Whether it be plotting a narrative with Google Tour Builder, going on a Lit Trip with Google Earth, collating books from around the world with My Maps, exploring places with Google Cardboard or testing your knowledge with Smarty Pins.

Another potential is to use Google Forms to gather student reviews and then publish these with Awesome Tables. These reviews could even be audio or video recordings, collected using the file upload question format. Videos could even be played within a Google Slide, therefore avoiding the need to upload to YouTube.

HyperDocs provide another way of rethinking how students respond to books. They are documents which incorporate different interactive activities, usually involving a range of choice. They help provide the structure for self-determined learners. A creative activity involving hyperlinks is the making of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Another format to support thinking and research is the Iron Chef Lesson Plan, which involves working collaboratively to develop ideas and understanding.

Further Reading

Thinking

Libraries are often the space within a school which provides the possibility to go beyond the subject silos. In regards to curriculum, this provides the opportunity to explore other areas, such as the critical and creative thinking curriculum.

Google provides a number of ways to make our critical thinking visible. This can come in many formats, whether it be conducting brainstorms, organising ideas using graphic templates or representing understanding using infographics. For creative responses, you can make poems or digital comics. Two tools useful for working collaboratively with text and visuals are Drawings and Slides.

Gone are the days of libraries being silent spaces dedicated to independent reading and reaearch. Now they are spaces design to spark conversation and creativity. A part of this is the inclusion of makerspaces, but another change is the addition of games and a focus on collaborative problem solving. One possibility in this area is BreakoutEDU. Based on the escape room, BreakoutEDU provides a way of engaging with the wider space, but they can also be a way of developing critical thinking. An extension of this are digital BreakoutEDU experiences.

Further Reading

Connected Classroom

The move of libraries into the digital realm not only opens learning up into different spaces, but it also provides different connected opportunities outside of the school.

Hangouts Meet allows for synchronous video connections beyond the four walls of the classroom. This could include sending out an impromptu invite or scheduling an event beforehand. Whereas previously recordings had to be done using YouTube Live, users can now record with Meet and save to Drive. Virtual connections can be used to connect different classrooms, conduct virtual debates or provide an alternative point of access to classroom material.

Google provides a number ways for sharing video for asyncronius connections. This could be as simple as a presentation with Slides or content added to a blog. Another possibility often overlook is the ability to create a shared channel in YouTube. This allows multiple people to manage things and passing on content if they leave. In addition to uploading video, a channel can be used to share curated playlists of appropriate content. An important topic with the increasing influence of algorithms on what is shown on YouTube.

Further Reading


So there it is, a breakdown of some ways that Google can be incorporated into the library. One thing to be mindful of is not every application is covered by the standard collection notice. I have also excluded some that I am unsure about from educational sense, such as Google Books, as they do not seem to be available in Australia.

So what about you? Would you have structured things differently? Or maybe you have an activity that could be added? Or even a resource? As always, comments welcome or you could even write your own post and send me a webmention.


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Reclaiming My Bookmarks

Bookmarks as a part of serendipity

A reflection on using my own blog to reclaim my bookmarks and then syndicate them to other sites, such as Twitter and Diigo.


My one word this year is intent. For me this means many things, one of which is to consider my digital presence. In a post reflecting on Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to fix Facebook, Doc Searls says that one of the lessons learnt is that we all live digital lives now:

So let’s at least try to look below what big companies, Trump and other dancing figures in the digital world are doing, and try to look at the floor they’re dancing on—and the ground under it. That ground is new and unlike anything that precedes it in human experience. Nothing matters more than at least trying to understand it.

For me, a part of ‘understanding it’ is in reclaiming some of the processes that have been outsourced to third-party platforms. This does not always mean leaving silos completely, but rather not being dependent on them so that if the door shuts or the terms of use change, there is no concern in having to leave. See for example the recent announcement that Storify is shutting down. One recent attempt I have been tinkering with is an effort to reclaim my bookmarks.


Capturing the Web with Radio3

I have been using Diigo for quite a few years. My workflow has gone through a number of iterations, such as emailing links to batch processing favourited sites. This has largely been dependent on my mobile operating system. For example, I have found the Android Diigo app a lot easier to share to than iOS. (Things may have since changed though). My frustration though was that I was completing a number of steps separately.

After exploring the features and affordances of Google+, I came upon Dave Winer’s Radio3 Linkblog, which allows you to push links out to various platforms, whilst also maintaining your own RSS. It involves selecting a site or quote and clicking on the bookmarklet to generate the short post. The creation of a separate feed provides the means to automate processes with IFTTT. This includes saving links to Diigo.

The problem I have with this process is that although I have an archive of my tweets and links via Diigo, I am dependent on these platforms for maintaining an archive of my linkblog. I trialed using an IFTTT recipe to create a weekly digest as well as the built in option to Diigo, however I was not satisfied with any of these solutions. One problem I faced was the inconsistency of the RSS feed produced by Radio3.

I have found that if I save a link with the bookmarklet without selecting any text, there would be no title included in the feed, even if I added or adjusted the description included in the textbox. Whereas, if I highlighted a chunk of text, the title is added. I guess the workaround would be to select the heading if there is nothing specific I wish to highlight? This seems a strange thing to complain about in regards to one of the forefathers to RSS and probably shows a lack of awareness on my behalf for how Radio3 works.

Another frustration with using Radio3 to send links to Diigo is that I really like capturing quotes when I save links. This is something that I have done for a while and one of the reasons that I like Radio3. I could not figure out how to bring these into the description in Diigo consistently, let alone as annotations. I even took to annotating the quotes with the Diigo browser extension. I wonder if Zapier would do a better job, but until I fork out the money for a paid subscription I am not going to know.

In the end, I could probably make Radio3 work for me. Probably deploying a script to collect everything, as Tom Woodward does with Pinboard, but I feel that I am almost doing that manually with the creation of my newsletter. I just feel apprehensive moving forward depending upon something held together by Dave Winer’s very good will. If it were open sourced, this may be different, but it is not.


Collecting Bookmarks

The next step then in my bookmarking journey has been to test out the idea of saving links on my own site and then syndicating them elsewhere. I have been exploring various post kinds lately, however yet to tinker with bookmarks.

One of the inital challenges was how to syndicate. Like most, I had installed –Jetpack and used that to publicise to various social media sites. This is a relatively easy process where you activate the various connections by giving permissions. However, Jetpack is limited in what sites it supports. There is no option to connect with Diigo.

I therefore installed the Social Network Austo-Poster (SNAP) plugin. Although I could generate a custom feed based on my bookmarks and use this with IFTTT, I would prefer to do something within my own site. One of the differences between SNAP and Jetpack is that rather than just give access you need to go through the process of generating API keys. This to me is closer to Searls’ call to understand our digital reality. Although this might seem daunting for some, the plugin provides thorough documentation to support users.

What I like about SNAP is that you can set a default structure for auto-posts, combining a number of predefined ingredients, but you can also quickly customise these when needs be. So if you want to share with a specific user or hashtag on Twitter, but not on Diigo, then you can adjust the Twitter description.

The last thing to consider with using my own site is developing a clear process for saving bookmarks. My first step was to create a bookmarklet using Chris Aldrich’s Post Kinds template. Also, I setup a process for sharing via Mobile using URL Forwarder app. This was a part of the puzzle missing with Radio3.


What Next?

I like the idea of collecting my bookmarks on my site. However, it has forced me to reflect on a number of things. One is the ability to properly syndicate to Diigo and Twitter. With Radio3, the publicised links connect to the corresponding site, whereas when I bookmark using my site, it shares the link to my post rather than the original site. This has me rethinking why I bookmark and POSSE. Maybe I do not need to share links to the original source, especially when my bookmarks have secondary information.

Another interesting feature to using my blog has been the ability to link to other sources within my descriptions. This is something that I do with my newsletter. On the other hand, I wonder if every link needs this level of detail. An answer to this maybe to utilise some other response post kinds, such as Likes and/or Favourite to support my blog as a resource.

This also leads me to wonder about the place of my Wikity blog. I really like the concept of constructing knowledge and ideas over time, however, I do not connect with other Wikity sites, one of the features Mike Caulfield built into the theme. I therefore wonder if these posts could be added as Notes or Articles, as I like having a title and in some themes the title of notes is chopped off.

Maybe rather than using Likes or combining my Wikity posts I maintain these other spaces, such as Radio3 and use them for specific purposes. Or maybe I need to dive into Known again, even if it seems that people are leaving? I think for now I might continue bookmarking with my site and see where it all goes.


So what about you? What process do you use to bookmark links for later? Has it changed over time? As always, comments welcome, especially if you have any tips or tricks that might help me on my way.



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Co-claiming and Gathering Together – Developing Read Write Collect

Chris Aldrich on developing a better web

A reflection on developing a site building upon the ideas of the #IndieWeb to bring together all my disparate pieces around the web in one place.


Just when I thought I had enough sites, I decided to create another one. A feed that could be used in a platform like Micro.blog. My intent this time was to create a space where I could reclaim my pieces on the web. In part I was inspired by Tom Woodward’s API driven portfolio, as well as Alan Levine’s concept of co-claiming.

I was also interested in exploring the possibility of WordPress beyond the standard post format and the implications that this has with the choice of themes. Associated with this, I wondered if there was a possibility of automating the sharing of content created elsewhere, such as videos and images.

I started the site by creating three key categories: participation, posts and creations. Each offering the potential to be broken down further.

Participation

My first step was to focus on presentations and publications. This involved transferring my various slides, resources and publications from a single page on my main blog to separate posts. The focus on one page worked in the beginning, but started to become busy as more and more items were added, even if I added Page Jumps.

My next step was to capture the various references and contributions on the web. Similar to what Audrey Watters does with her ‘In the News’ posts. These extracts include:

Although I am still thinking about how I could visually present all these posts to tell a clearer story, as Tom Woodward and Ian O’Byrne have done, I think splitting them into individual posts is more functional. It also means that when I present I can link to resources that might be kept on an event page, rather than continually update a particular blog post all the time.

Posts

When I started Read Write Collect, I wondered about creating a feed of all my posts, whether it be on social media, my Wikity site, contributions to other blogs and posts from this blog. I also wanted to somehow automate this process.

I started by dragging in content from sites that I was no longer using. For example, a few years ago, I created an instance of Known for shorter, incomplete thoughts and ideas. It was framed around the question of ‘what if’? I decided to import this content.

I also decided to make a copy of my two newsletters (Read Write Respond and eLearn Updates) posted in third-party sites, such as Tiny Letter and Global2. I was not sure whether to publish these or to keep them private. However, I made them public and maybe will stop using those other spaces when I have worked out a clear workflow.

In regards to other content spread around the web, such as my Diigo bookmarks and Wikity cards, I have yet to work out how I will manage these pieces. I started exploring Zapier and some built-in solutions, but have since fallen back to IFTTT. I am mindful though of depending on third-party solutions.

For the posts on this site, I have yet to find a workflow I am happy with. In part, I am unsure what Post Kind I should use – Article or Bookmark – and how I would structure each post. I guess I could close the comments and provide a summary, this is something Doug Belshaw does when sharing his DML Central articles, but I am not sure how I would do this for all my 400+ posts, especially as writing extracts has only been a new addition to my process.

It feels that the further I have dived into the site, the more my priorities changed. I began to explore other aspects of the #IndieWeb. I had installed the plugin when I set the site up, something I had done with this site and had therefore done out of habit. However, I started to wonder what else I could do. My desire to automate was replaced by an interest in control over my presence. This led me to start replying to posts from my blog. Although it can be argued that this process involves more effort, it has resulted in me being more mindful of the comments that I leave. This is something Chris Aldrich touches upon in his introduction to the IndieWeb.

Many in the IndieWeb community have found that they post more interesting and thoughtful pieces of content when they’re doing it on their own site rather than the “throw away” content they used to post to sites like Twitter. They feel a greater sense of responsibility and ownership in what they’re posting about and this can have a profound effect on the future of the internet and its level of civility.

It also touches on Audrey Watters’ call for a more ethical (and equitable) practice in her rethinking of comments:

It’s perfectly acceptable to say to someone who wants to comment on a blog post, “Respond on your own site. Link to me. But I am under no obligation to host your thoughts in my domain.”

I would like to think that as there is more take-up of the microformats standards that things like this will become more of the norm as further generations take it up.

Creations

The other pieces that I wanted to collect together were my various creations on the web, whether they be images, videos and audio. I have tinkered with posting to Flickr before with another Known instance, but gave up when it seemed to break. I think that this was as much frustration at the workflow as it was lack of perseverance. I therefore wonder about co-claiming by posting to Flickr and then collecting a weekly or even monthly summary on my own site. I know that this is something Tom Woodward does. As with my bookmarks, I am currently tinkering with IFTTT for this, but would like my own solution in the long run.

Like Flickr, I find publishing to YouTube an easier solution in regards to the few videos that I have. One of my interests was exploring the possibility to generate posts for older videos. Although IFTTT will create a post for videos just published, I was after an automated workflow that might go back through a channel and produce a post for each video. I found a plugin that said it would do it, but I have not managed to get it to do anything so am sceptical about purchasing the premium version. I also tested out posting via RSS, but this failed to embed the content.

In addition to images and video, I have been a long contributor to other people’s podcasts, but never really found the time and space to do my own. I was therefore taken by the idea of microcasting. The intent behind microcasting is that recordings are meant to be short recordings with minimal production. I have therefore taken to recording with Voxer and posting the MP3 in a post. I also syndicate this to Huffduffer so that others can listen as a podcast.


So that is my new site so far. In my next iteration, I am interested in investigating ‘Post Kinds to further to document other elements, such as what I am listening to and reading, especially in regards to long reads. This may replace my Awesome Tables, especially if they start charging. I am also interested in capturing more of my creations, such as my Instagram posts and gifs shared at Giphy. I am not sure if that constitutes a ‘commitment‘, but it is at least a start.

So what about you? What is something you are working on at the moment? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions for my new space? As always, comments welcome.


Also posted on IndieNews


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When Automation Goes Awry

Off-shoring leads to automation

The future may well involve automation, but the path to getting there is not so clear.


In Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford suggests that:

As technology advances, we can expect that more and more of the routine tasks now performed by offshore workers will eventually be handled entirely by machines

His point is that offshoring is often a precursor to automation. It can be easy to see such conclusions as linear, straight lines with an inevitable end. However, I have had an experience over the last few weeks which highlights where we are at and where we still have to go.

The scenario in question involved changing to a SIM only contract as my plan with a handset had finished. My first step was to go into the telecommunication’s store. This is what I have always done. So I waited for near on half an hour in their newly designed space, with couches and screens everywhere, only to discover that they just sell products. If I wanted to change my plan then I would have to go online.

So I went online to my provider and looked around my account information. I could find how to add a range of useless services that would incur an additional.monthly fee, but was unclear how to adjust my plan.

Confused, I called the helpline. I followed the automated triage process. Got through to someone who said that they could not help me, explaining that they would put me through to someone who could. After waiting for thirty minutes, I hung up, fearing that I had been forgotten, and called the number again. This time i got someone who asked a few more questions to ascertain my situation, only to inform me that I had to go online if I wanted to change my plan.

So with fresh eyes I returned to the website. The more I clicked around, the more I bumped into the option to chat with somebody. I have had mixed results with this in the past. I was once told by a chat operator that global roaming had been added to my account only to discover once overseas that I had no connectivity. I clicked the button.

It opened a new screen and indicated that somebody would be with me soon. So I went back to searching the web and checking back every few seconds. I must have missed the notification and noticed that the operator had said hello, asking how they could help. I quickly punched in a “hello” back and then typed a second message outlining my situation. The messages were pushed through to the chat stream. I waited a minute only for an automated message to appear saying that the session would be ending due to my failure to respond.

I therefore opened a new chat window and went through the whole process again. This time I was more vigilant. A name finally appeared. I explained my situation. They verified my existence. We went around in circles, seemingly asking the same question over and over. Eventually it was ascertained that I wanted to change my plan. The operator shared a link to the plans. Once I identified which plan I was interested in, I was informed that I would be put through to someone from marketing. Ironically, while I waited the operator asked me who I was with for my internet. As if they did not already know from the 30+ cookies associated with their site. I politely explained that, with the quality of service provided, I would not be moving my internet to them. I received another token apology for more experience.

I was finally forwarded to a new operator. We spent another five minutes with civilities and again verifying who I was. After again clarifying what I was after, the operator explained that I needed to follow the steps on the page with the plan. I began clicking through. Even though the main page indicated that the plans were for those currently with Optus or coming from elsewhere, all the questions implied that it was designed for new users, especially the delivery of a new SIM. I asked Operator No.2 a few questions. They had no idea what I was talking about. This confused me, surely they would have a page for them to use in order to walk me through the process? Frustrated with the time I was taking, obviously throwing out the statistics, I was passed onto a third operator.

By this stage i had spent an hour trying to work things out, having spent an hour before that putting my children to bed. I explained that the situation was ridiculous. I questioned the fact that they continue rolling over phone plan which include a monthly handset charge even after the handset has been paid off (I know, buy the handset outright). All I got was the usual canned response. I ended up deciding to fill the form associated with the change of plan in to the best of my ability. It all seemed to be complete and my friendly operator clarified a few random questions until I gave up assuming everything was done.

I received an email indicating that the contract had been processed. I was unsure what was going to happen next as there was a mention of a shipping time for the new SIM card, even though I already had a SIM card. I decided to wait and see, unable to get a clear answer from the chat operator. However, I was surprised when I received an email and text message (just to make sure) requesting that I ring them.

I called back. After waiting 30 minutes, I hung up as i had work to do. I then called back at another time. I waited an 1:15 to speak with an operator. Only to find out that they were having trouble loading my file as the computer crashed or something. After waiting for another five minutes I was asked for my information to verify who I was and I was done. Even though I had provided this online, apparently they could not process the application until I had given this information verbally.


I recognise that the future will be automated. However, I am sceptical that it will be seamless transition. I wonder if what is lost in this rush to get everyone to go online is why automate in the first place? So often it is taughted as an improvement in efficiencies, but in the case of the telecommunications company, it seemed to be focused on profit. Surely this is why they allow plans to keep on rolling over once they have finished (I know someone who forgot to reassess for five years). I can imagine a number of ways that automation could be good for customer service, the same way bots and other forms of artificial intelligence are used in platforms like Slack. This could include letting you know when your plan is coming to an end, converting you to a different plan or reminding you when your bill is due. To be fair, I could probably create sone of these myself and maybe that is where the future lies.

So what about you? Have you had any interesting experiences with automation? As always, comments welcome.


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Ongoing Reporting with GSuite

A part of the focus on deep learning is the realisation that reporting needs to be ongoing.

It can be easy to look at an application and provide one answer, the problem with this is that it does not cover all contexts. Here is a collection of ideas associated with GSuite and ongoing reporting and assessment.


I recently attended a professional learning day investigating ongoing reporting. As opposed to mandated biannual reporting, the interest was the different ways in which students engage with their learning. During the initial discussions, the following ideas were identified when developing any sort of solution:

  • Consistency
  • Timeliness
  • Clarity
  • Logistics
  • Stakeholders
  • Customisation

During a conversation during a break, I was asked about some ways which GSuite can be used to support ideas. Teachers may know about the different applications, however it is not always clear how these may support ongoing learning. Here then are some thoughts:

Docs

One of the benefits to Google Docs is the ability to work collaboratively within a digital environment. This can incorporate a range of formats, whether it be texts, tables, hyperlinks, images, charts, drawings and gifs. In terms of ongoing learning, Docs allows for feedback at any point, whether in the form of a suggestion or as a comment. Add-ons, such as CheckMark or JoeZoo further extend these possibilities by providing additional functionality, while there are also various options for inserting voice comments.

Slides

Similar to Docs, Google Slides offers a number of ways to collect, collaborate and communicate. Where it differs is the ability to engage with desktop publishing. At a simple level, you can add video, texts and images, as well as use the Explore Tool to automagically organise this content. Alternatively, it is possible to build upon a preexisting template, such as Jennifer Scott’s Slides Yearbook. Matt Miller and Alice Keeler have also created an add-on that allows users to produce a presentation from a collection of images in Slides.

Sheets

For some all solutions begin with Google Sheets. With the ability to protect access, hide cells and sheets, as well as link to a particular cell, Sheets provides a number of ways to organise data and information. One idea is to use Sheets as a central space for writing comments, linking to work and recording reflections. This could include sharing results with students from a mastersheet via IMPORTRANGE or providing an open space for students to support each other as Bianca Hewes’ has done with her work on medals and missions. Another approach to using Sheets is using scripts to automate some of the process. For example, Alice Keeler has created a template for making and communicating rubrics to students.

Forms

Building on the potential of Sheets, Google Forms provides a number of ways to collect and co-ordinate ongoing learning. One way is through the use of pre and post tests to drive differentiated instruction. Although in the past you had to use Flubaroo to automate this, with the addition of quizzes you are now able to do a lot more without the support of add-ons. Another use of Forms is as a way to efficiently record data. For example, you maybe conducting a reading conference, a Form can automate this process and send a summary to the student. Going a step further, it is also possible to create a unique link with pre-filled in content, such as name and class. This could even include attaching evidence using the ‘Upload a File’ function. This might be a short video or some work that has been annotated. This workflow is particularly useful when saving work on a mobile device.

Classroom

One of the challenges with ongoing reporting can be coordinating everything. Google Classroom allows you to create and communicate various resources and templates. This can include sending out individual files or sharing a collaborative document. In addition to giving feedback, Classroom provides a space for teachers to coordinate an ongoing conversation using private comments. Those using the mobile application are also able to annotate submitted artefacts. Classroom provides a way of communicating with parents. This involves sending regular summaries of missing work, upcoming dates and class acivities, such as questions, announcements and assignments. Although this could be done using Gmail, which would in fact allow dialogue, the benefit of Classroom is that it automates the process and allows parents to moderate how the communication works.

Google Drive

Although Google has added the ability to insert video from Drive into a presentation, it is possible to take this a step further and embed content from Drive in other spaces. This might include audio files, PDF documents or images. The benefit of embedding with Drive is that you are able to manage who has access to various content, whether it be only people within an instance or even just particular users. This can be useful when developing something like a closed portfolio. Another use of Drive is to capture and organise learning. As discussed, Forms now provides the ability to upload files. These items are then placed in one folder associated with the responses.

Keep

An alternative to using Drive and Classroom to collect content with Keep. There are a number of ways to organise and annotate evidence within Keep. For example, it can be useful when working with photos on moboile devices, as it allows you to avoid adding images to the camera roll. Notes can also be organised using labels and collaborated upon. This content can then be curated in Docs and Slides via the ‘Keep Notepad’.

Sites

A common application used to share and publish ongoing learning is Google Sites. The new Sites allows users to quickly and easily collect and collate work. One of the challenges though when sharing using Sites is that the setting associated with the various files allow access. If creating a public showcase it can be useful to add all the files into a folder with the desired sharing settings, which then overwrites the original settings. Another option is to use Alice Keeler’s AnyoneCanView Add-on, which changes the default settings associated with the document. For those wanting to embed more than just documents and images, Martin Hawksey has demonstrated how to embed any iFrame application using via Google Apps Scripts.


Many of these aspects cross-over to posts that I have written before involving portfolios and documentation, however where this differs is the attempt to capture many of the parts and how they might interconnect. As always, I am interested in your views. Is there something I have missed or maybe something you disagree with? Comments welcome for this is all ongoing learning, right?


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Learning Technologies

Focusing on a post-human approach, Ian Guest reflects on the ability for technologies to learn

Often discussions around technologies and transformation focus on tools. Another question to consider is the way technologies entangled with learning.


I met up with Alan Levine recently and we talked about everything from politics to open education to experiences. The thing that came up again and again though was the place of the technology within learning and education. I have explored this before, touching on the place of the tool in making various situations possible. What seemed different is that the stage set by the conversation seemed a lot busier, with many complex intrarelations. What then is the place of technology in relation to learning? Is it learning about technology? Is it technology that aides with the learning process? Or is it technology that through its place learns itself? This all led me to reflect on the recent addition of the Thermomix into our kitchen this year and impact this has had in regards to my own learning about food and technology.


Thermomix by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

The Thermomix is an all-in-one cooking machine combining a number of steps, such as boiling, melting, chopping, weighing, steaming, crushing and blending. (I am sure I have missed a few verbs here.) The machine itself involves focuses on three variables: time, temperature and motion. However, there are a range of add-ons which extend these capabilities, including a whisk as an alternative to the blade, a steaming basket you insert within the cooking jug and a steaming tray you can place on top. The jug that is at the heart of everything also doubles as a scale, converting all measurements into grams.

One of the things that surprised me about the Thermomix was that it did not necessarily do everything for you. When my wife and I spoke about buying one, I had the misconception that it would allow me to set a timer in the morning (like you might with a slow cooker) or quickly throw everything in after work to wiz something up automagically. Not surprisingly, it is not that simple. Although there are recipe chips which step you through recipes, there is also a built in process of what might be called ‘enforced education’. This asks the user to engage after each step. This is important from a safety point of view, but it is also interesting in regards to appreciating how the application works.

One of the biggest ways the Thermomix has redefined our kitchen is our use of individual ingredients over prepackaged jars and sachets. Recipes often involve combining a wide range of ingredients, especially herbs and spices.


Secret Herbs and Spices by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

This has led to a deeper appreciation of the food being cooked and consumed. It means if something is bland or too spicy then you can make our own tweeks next time. Going a step further, there are a range of online communities building on the standardised language provided by the Thermomix to share an array of recipes and creations. Overall, the Thermomix has helped build my knowledge and understanding of food providing me with the means to go beyond the automated processes and complete steps individually.

This whole learning curve also reminds me of the experience provided by Zapier. A ‘translator of APIs’, Zapier provides the means to automate processes by connecting together a range of web apps. It provides the structure of triggers and actions to step through the creation of workflows. Unlike IFTTT, users can then look into their ‘zaps’ and investigate the intracies, such as the data coming in and going out. Although Zapier eliminates the need to code, it also helps to build up an appreciation of what is required if you do want to start developing your own solutions.

When I think about both the applications, I am reminded about learning on multiple levels. Firstly, they put in place support for the development of understanding as to how the application works. They support learning about other things, such as food and APIs. They also learn themselves, being entangled within a feed of information from other applications and communities.

So what about you? What place does technology play within your learning? As always, comments welcome.


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