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.



Also posted on IndieNews


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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.


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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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Sheets, Calendars, Events

Tom Woodward on APIs and automation

Building on the APIs provided by Google Sheets and Google Calendar, I demonstrate how to automate the addition and change of multiple events.


I have been spending some time developing resources to support schools with timetables and reports. One of the things that occurred to me is the challenge of remembering to complete a number of key steps throughout the year. I therefore thought of creating a digital calendar that could be shared with schools that would help remind them.

In my search for a tool that would help with this process, I discovered From Sheets to Calendar, a Google Sheets add-on, that would allow me to create a series of events from a spreadsheet. As I explored this, it occurred to me that this might have ramifications for other groups in my organisation, especially those coordinating professional development. I have seen many plan things out visually in a spreadsheet. However, this means then creating these events again in a calendar. Here then is a guide to managing events with GSuite and sharing them with others.


Setup Calendars

Before setting up the various events, you need to make sure that you have created the various calendars. For example, you might have one for ‘meetings’, ‘professional development’ and ‘events’.

First Start

With everything set up in Google Calendar, install the add-on in Google Sheets. Once this is done, go to Add-ons menu and run ‘FirstStart’ to populate the template to work with.

Add in Events

With all the headings provided, enter the various information, such as title, time, location and description. Also, make sure ‘Add’ is listed against each of the events in the Action/Status column.

Import to Calendar

Once the events have been added, go to the Add-ons menu and run the ‘Import to Calendar’ to create events. Once created, there is an option to update and delete by changing the request in the Action/Status column.

Share the Calendars with Others

Although it is possible to send invites via the sheet, the other option is to share the particular calendars. For schools using Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendars can be shared as an ‘internet calendar’. The other option for users without a Google Account is to download and share a copy of the iCal file. The problem with this is that recipients will not be able to receive updates if there are any updates.


One of the challenges with a solution like this is that it is dependent on someone else’s scripts and support. In addition to this, to create more than 20 events, you need to pay a subscription of a $1 US a year. For those wanting an enterprise option, Zapier provides the connections, but it comes at a cost of $25 per month. There are also a range of scripts to build upon in Github. Another option is to manually import a CSV spreadsheet. So what about you? Are there any processes that you use when automating the creation of calendar events? As always, comments welcome.


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Scripting an Automated Solution

Spreadsheets

A plan for an automated monthly newsletter produced from Google Sheets. The intention is to develop data in a way that it can be used in a number of ways.


I recently wrote a post reflecting on the Digital Technologies curriculum. One of things that I realised through the process is that I often wait to the end to discuss my projects. Although this can be useful in providing an overview of learning and achievements, it does not necessarily allow others a means to provide feedback early on. I usually ask questions online, but this often lacks context. So this post is an attempt to plan out a new project, with the hope that others might be able to provide advice and guidance.

This year I started a monthly newsletter associated with Google. With GSuite the chosen learning and teaching platform in my organisation, I thought it would be useful to summarise the various resources for others. I started with a Google Doc, organising the various links under headings associated with the featured application, as well as a section documenting the overall updates.

This has ebbed and evolved as the year has gone on, with a clear order of applications to correspond with a range of modules. However, the question that has arisen is whether there is a better way of recording the various links and updates so that they are easily searchable.

Currently, you can go back through the various posts and look for resources, but this is both cumbersome and tedious. It therefore had me think about storing the links in a Google Sheet and possibly generating the monthly summary/newsletter from that.

I know that I could probably do this with a social bookmarking platform or even a blog, but I feel that putting the information into a spreadsheet provides more operability. It would mean that the data would be in a format with which I could present it a number of ways. It also means the links could be recorded using something as simple as Google Forms.

I am therefore thinking of creating a script in Sheets that collates all the links for the month in a Google Doc. To be honest, Google Apps Script is all still new to me, but I am wondering about the possibility of creating a template with merge fields. I remember Autocrat doing something similar. I could then use this to post in WordPress.

I am left with a number of questions, such as how should I action the script? Would it need some sort of selector or could it be done automatically? How customisable are templates? Could I generate a markdown version for the purpose of posting?

Maybe you have an idea or a post that you would recommend checking out before beginning or just a tip of where to start. As always, comments welcome.


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Organising Data with Forms and Sheets

Switching to Google Sheets

In my work supporting online learning, I use a lot of Google Forms to collect and curate information. One of the problems that can occur is that there are many sheets with data spread across the all. Here then are some of the steps that I have taken to streamline some of the steps and processes.

Multiple Sheets Imported Together

Summary sheets linked to forms can add up quickly. One way around this is to use the Import Range formula to collect a number of responses in one place. Along with formulas to translate text, generate sparklines and fetch financial data, IMPORTRANGE is a part of the Google collection:

=IMPORTRANGE(spreadsheetkey, rangestring)

The formula allows users to bring in a range of data from one spreadsheet to another. It needs to be noted that the first time it is used, the user will be prompted to grant permissions.

Conditioning Completed

Another issue with forms is that long lists of data can become unwieldy. One particular use is submitting responses and feedback. Often these tasks involve an action, however it can be difficult to manage these. One answer was to add an additional column and use this information as a trigger for conditional formatting to colour a whole row. The following custom formula that allows this is:

=$A1=”TEXT”

‘A’ is the column that includes the trigger, while ‘TEXT’ being the actual trigger.

Developing a Dashboard

Having all the data imported into separate tabs within the one spreadsheet is one step in organising information. The next step is representing this content in the form of a dashboard. My first iteration was to provide a summary of the responses across all the sheets. To capture this I counted the responses by focussing on emails, using the UNIQUE formula (thanks Martin Hawksey:

=COUNTA(UNIQUE(A:A))

The reason that I included ‘UNIQUE’ is because some people submitted multiple responses for various reasons. Although there are other means of avoiding this (submit once or adjust responses), these solutions sometimes create their own issues and confusions.
Once this summary table was complete, I used it to create a chart to visualise it. To share this particular information, I made it a separate tab and published it. This way I do not need to give access to the sheet and instead can give access to the summary. Although this is not technically ‘a dashboard’, I will most likely share the whole dashboard as I develop it further. For more information on designing a dashboard, I recommend this post from Ben Collins.


So these are some of the ways in which I have streamlined data and the way in which people are able to engage with it. The add to my previous tips and tricks associated with Google Sheets. What are some of the ways in which you use Forms and Sheets? As always, comments welcome.


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Death of the Desktop Computer?

In an act of reading out loud, Mike Caulfield models how how he challenges ideas and assumptions while reading. To demonstrate this, he uses the lead-crime hypothesis which argues that the crime-wave in USA during the 1990’s was caused by lead poisoning in the 70’s. After finding an article from 1971 discussing lead poisoning in Manchester, he progressively unpacks it, opening up tab after tab, asking questions and testing different hypothesises.

For Caulfield, this is what web literate reading looks like:

You read things, and slide smoothly into multi-tab investigations of issues, pulling in statistical databases, unit converters, old and new magazine articles, published research.

The problem though is that much of this is either unavailable or difficult to do on a mobile device. Being an advocate of online reading, I was challenged by this. It had me thinking about what else I do on the desktop that is not possible on my phone or tablet. One aspect that came to mind was bookmarklets.

Although it would be easy to list all the extensions and applications that I use my laptop for, it is the bookmarklets that I have come to rely upon and that I miss when mobile:

  • CC Attribution Helper: This application built by Alan Levine allows you to both attribute and embed images posted under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. I have used it for a few years when inserting images into my blog posts. Even when I have to add an image through the media library (such as featured images), I still use it to capture the appropriate attribution.
  • Wikity: Earlier this year I spun up my own instance of Wikity, Mike Caulfield’s WordPress theme designed to help the creation of knowledge. One of the features is the bookmarklet that allows you to quickly capture a quote and add some text. Although it is possible to create a post on mobile, the ability to provide additional content and links is limited.
  • Radio3: Recently, I started exploring Dave Winer’s Radio3 Linkblog, which allows you to push links out to various platforms, whilst also maintaining your own RSS. Like Wikity, it involves selecting a post or quote and clicking on the bookmarklet. Although I had started dabbling with the idea of pushing links out via WordPress, the creation of a separate feed means that I can do a number of things with it, such as push links to Diigo via IFTTT.

These are just some of the bookmarklets that I use, with others including Quozio, Responsive Design and Mozilla X-Ray Googles. Although I agree that mobile devices are becoming more and more dominant, I think that they have their limit. There are still many activities which I depend on a laptop for, such as finishing my posts or creating visual quotes. I also feel that there are solutions that will always be beyond the realm of the mobile device, especially as I move further and further into the #Indieweb world. So to answer Caulfield’s question as to how we get more students onto laptops, it starts with addressing why it matters today more than ever.

So what about you? What do you still depend upon the desktop for or is a mobile screen enough? As always, comments welcome.


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A Global2 Guide

Global2 is a blogging environment managed by the Department of Education and Training (DET). It is licenced for Catholic and State schools across Victoria. It is the largest Edublogs campus in the world. Providing the functionality of WordPress, plus the added benefits of moderation, filtering, class management and network administration.

The Basics

There are three things needed to start a website using Global2: start an account, create a site and write your first post.

Creating an Account

The first thing that you do is create an account. Go to the Global2 homepage (http://global2.vic.edu.au). This site has a range of resources, as well as a stream of news from the Victorian State Government’s Digital Learning Department. There is also a ‘Log In’ button in the top lefthand corner. Clicking Log In takes you to a screen where you can either enter your pre-existing credentials or register for a new account.

Registering for an account takes you to a screen which requires you to enter a username, valid email address and decide if you want to start a site or just create an account. Usernames can only contain lowercase letters (a-z) and numbers, while the email account used must relate to your educational institution, for the domains associated with state and Catholic schools have already been entered into the system. It is important to think about what personal information is posted online and this starts with a username. You are also required to agree to the terms of service listed.

If you chose to start a site, not just a username, then you will be taken to a separate page, where you will be required to create your web address and site title. The address must be at least four characters long and include a mixture of letters and numbers. There is also a range of privacy settings to help define the audience of the site. The department recommends the ME WE SEE model in breaking down these differences:

  • just the blog owner, “ME”
  • members allocated to see the blog, people who have been sent the link and  a password to the blog or all other Victorian schools who have a Global2 blog “WE”
  • The whole internet world. “See”

Other than the address, the rest of this information can be changed at any point (Settings > Reading). Therefore, it is a good idea restricting permissions to just the owner until comfortable in sharing with the world.

Once signed up and/or signed in, users are taken to the reader in the Global2 dashboard reader. This space is a hub for the wider Global2 community. It allows users to search class blogs or the wider public for posts. It also provides a number of options associated with feeds, including Global2 blogs being followed, as well as posts from all the sites associated with the user.

To switch between the dashboards of different sites attached to the site, drag the cursor over My Sites at the top of the page to reveal links to other available sites.

Setting Up Your Profile

After creating a username, the next step is to adjust your personal details. To access profile settings, either click on the username in the top right-hand corner or via Your Profile sub-menu (Users > Your Profile). In Your Profile add and adjust personal options, such as name, email address, biographical information and password. To change the avatar, go to Users > Your Avatar. You can upload a range of file types, including JPEG, GIF and PNG. It is important to be wary what information and images are displayed openly online, it can, therefore, be useful to create a cartoon avatar that says who you are, using a site like Avatar Maker, but not necessarily give away your whole identity.

Writing a Post

Once a username set, details adjusted and avatar added, the next step is to write a post. To start a new post, go to ‘+ New’ button at the top of the page. This will reveal a dropdown list, from which you choose ‘Post’. This will then open up a new page in which to start writing. This working space is divided into three sections, with the administrative dashboard on the left, the writing space in the centre and post settings on the right.

The main text space involves a WYSIWYG visual editor that means “what you see is what you get”. This allows users to view something close to the finished product while writing. Using the formatting toolbar, you can change the heading styles, justify the text and insert lists. In addition to this, there is an option to add Insert Read More tags, a functionality used to restrict content shown on the blog post page and archive pages.here is a toggle at the end of the toolbar to reveal an advanced toolbar. Additional features include: clearing the formatting and inserting special characters. This is also where table and font plugins are added. There will be more on this later on.

There is a toggle at the end of the toolbar to reveal an advanced toolbar. Additional features include clearing the formatting and inserting special characters. This is also where table and font plugins are added. There will be more on this later on. In addition to formatting, there is a toggle to cycle between the visual and text-based editor. In addition to formatting, there is a toggle to cycle between the visual and text-based editor.

The text editor is needed when directly inserting embed codes. Although quite a few sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud, just need a URL to embed content. Edublogs has a range of resources associated with embedding content from other applications. As with the visual editor, a formatting toolbar provides basic tags to insert into the text. However, there are many more tags that can be used but are not necessarily included. Although the visual editor comes up as default, there is the option in the profile settings to change this.

Associated with composing a post, there is a range of settings, relating to viewing, organising and formatting posts. The first option relates to publishing. These settings provide a range of options, such as the status of the post, its visibility once on the web and when it is scheduled to be published. In regards to visibility, there are four choices:

  • Posting publicly: this makes the post visible to the world wide web
  • Password protected: although the URL is publicly visible, only with the password can access the content
  • Private posts: this means only members of the site can view the post
  • Sticky posts: this keeps the post to the start of the feed

Scheduling allows you to set when the post will be published. This is useful if you want to publish at a regular time each week. There is also a series of buttons for saving a draft, seeing a preview or publishing the post.

In addition to publishing settings, there are two ways of organising posts, either using categories or tags.

Categories often capture broader themes and are used provide a structure to the site. They can incorporate different levels and sub-categories, therefore, there is usually a limit to how many you would use.

Tags, on the other hand, are usually keywords that might be pertinent. Although these may be used in multiple posts, they are usually more fluid and less about hierarchy.

Clicking on All Posts in the Posts menu (Posts > All Posts) allows users to search through posts. This can be filtered by date and categories. There is also the option to view based on published, draft and trash. Dragging the cursor over the title of a post reveals the action link menu, which includes options, such as view and edit. There is also an option to view the publishing settings via the Quick Edit function. In addition to modifying information, such as date, title and author, there is the ability in All Posts to adjust the categories, tags, status and protection associated with post.

Another option associated with writing a post involves choosing the format. Post Formats are a feature that relates to the way posts are labelled and styled within the theme. They are a standardised format that allows users to change the theme without also adjusting posts. The catch with formats is that some themes build on all of them, some just a few, while others do not recognise any at all. For example, the Flounder theme differentiates the colours and icons depending on the format. See this Edublogs post for further explanation and examples.

Create a Page

Whereas posts provide dynamic content, organised around tags and categories, a page is a static element of a site. They are designed to support information that does not change very often, such as information about the site, or contact details.

Although pages have many aspects that are similar to posts, such as Features Image, Editors and Publishing Box, there are no tags and categories.

To create a page, go back to the + New button at the top of the page. This reveals a drop-down list, from which you choose Page. Clicking this will open up a new page. Adding content is the same as a post. The difference is in how pages are assembled. Rather than using tags and categories, Page Attributes allows for hierarchical organisation. This is where a page acts as a parent to another to support meaning and usability.  Hierarchy is also important in regards to the creation of the URL, which is associated with search engine optimisation and a reminder that WordPress is more than just a blogging platform. (When it is quoted that a quarter of the web is ‘built on WordPress’, this is referring to the rich media companies and retail sites that use WordPress as a content management system.)

In regards to editing pages, All Pages has many of the same aspects as aspects as All Posts, in that users are able filter, search, bulk edit and trash. There is also the option of applying a quick edit, which can be useful when managing hierarchy.

Adding Media

Beyond adding text, links and formatting, there are a number of options for adding media to posts and pages. The first step is to upload the files to the media library. When you click + New at the top of the page, there is the option to add media. At the top of the Post and Page pages there is also a Add Media button. If you are in the Media Library there is an also an Add New button.

In regards to media, you can upload documents, videos, audio, images and a few other formats, such as .xml and .kmz. The maximum file size allowed is 50mb (a particular constraint when it comes to video), while there is a 2gb limit for the site overall. You are also able to add a range of information, such as title, caption and description, as well as apply basic edits to images. Other than embedding a media player to play video and inserting images, media is added as a link within the text.

Associated with the inserting of media is the ability to organise different file types. In regards to images, you are able to create a gallery which inserts a range of images as one object, while with audio and video there is the means to create playlists. There is no option for organising documents, however there are various plugins that allow you to present media and documents in a number of ways. This will be covered a little bit later.

The last option associated with posts, pages and media is the ability to set a Featured Image. To do this click on Feature Imaged in the Insert Media screen. Select image to be featured and click Set Featured Image in the bottom right-hand corner. Like Post Formats, a Featured Image is associated with themes. Some themes use the image as a thumbnail, others on the homepage. See this Edublogs post for examples.

Comments

One of the features of blogs is their dynamic nature, comments add to this. They provide a means of continuing the conversation. When a new site is created, comments are turned on by default. However, they usually involve a process of approval by the administrator of the site. The first step in all of this is writing a comment.

To post a comment on a post or a page, go to the end of the page where it suggests to leave a reply. Enter your credentials. These are often used as a point of credibility, as well as a means for following up. If you already have logged in with a Global2 account, you will not need fill in these details. Write your comment into the text box. Enter the anti-spam words to identify that you are not a robot. Again, this is not required if you are logged in. Tick the Notify me of followup comments via e-mail box if you want to be emailed of any follow-up comments. Click Submit Comment. You will then be shown your comment with message that ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation.’ You will also be provided with a unique URL associated with the comment.

Unlike posts and pages, comments do not have a built-in editor. If users wish to add formatting and links, HTML tags will be recognised.

Moderating Comments

Once a comment has been posted, it often needs to be approved. Watch the following video for an overview of the steps involved in managing comments:

Comments are managed in the Comments menu (Comments > All Comments). If there are comments waiting to be moderated, the dashboard provides notification. The site also generates an email notification too. Similar to All Posts and All Pages, All Comments provides a list of the comments. There is a red mark next to those that have yet to be approved. Dragging your cursor over a comment will reveal the comment action link menu, providing such options as Approve, Reply and Edit. Click Approve to make the comment visible on the site. If there are errors or issues then you can also edit the comment. A basic summary of these changes are kept in the history of the comment. There is also the option to click Reply here and write a response. Like pages, comments are organised hierarchically.

There are a few other options provided in All Comments in regards to moderation. For example, if you have multiple comments to approve or mark as spam, you can select the checkbox associated with each item one and select Approve from the Bulk Actions drop-down menu. You can also use the various filters to sort comments, including the ability to see those that are ‘Pending’ or ‘Approved’.

In regards to spam, Edublogs utilises Akismet, a third-party service, which automatically filters comments for you. However, there is also the option to check comments for spam manually too.

Personalise

Blogs are about publishing content, a part of this is how this content is presented. There are a number of ways that Global2 blogs can be personalised, whether it be the look of the site, the settings associated with the different elements or the way in which users interact.

Change the Theme

A theme controls how a site looks and feels. There are over 350 different themes available, with each organised around three core ingredients: header, content and sidebar(s). There are also different options associated with layout and the number of columns.

The various alternatives can be can be organised into a range of different categories, such as responsive, magazine, portfolio and slider. Each highlights a particular possibility. There is also the option to search by popularity and newest.

To change a theme open the Themes menu (Appearance > Themes). Use search box at the top of the screen to find different themes, while you can also filter by category. Click on a theme to open a window with more information. There is also an option in this view to scroll through the various themes, one at a time. Once you have identified a theme, click on Live Preview to see how it looks or Activate it to apply to your site.

Searching for a theme can take time. If there are particular features you are looking for then it can be good to use the WordPress.org Library to filter by specific feature. However, not every theme that is available there is available in Edublogs and not every theme is found in the WordPress.org Library. Another thing to consider is that a theme is not just about how it looks in a preview, it is also about what you are able to change. Ian O’Byrne suggests working with a range of dummy data to get a feel.

Live Preview Editor

The Live Preview Editor allows users to explore what can be changed within the theme. If you want to make adjustments to the theme you are currently using then use the Customise sub-menu (Appearance > Customize). This sandpit environment allows you to click on various links and explore the possibilities. These changes do not go live until you click Save & Activate. Watch this video for a short introduction to customising themes:

Although there are a number of options available, these depend on the theme chosen. However, the usual features available include site identity, colours, media, menus, widgets and static front page.

Site Identity

There are three elements to consider in regards to identity:

  • Site Title: a title displayed on the site and in the browser, but separate from the URL.
  • Tagline: a catchphrase associated with the site
  • Site Icon: the icon displayed in the browser

In addition to this, some sites provide the means for a logo. Both icons and logos can easily be made using Google Drawings. Click here to create a copy of a template to get you started.

Colours

Most themes provide the option to change the colours. This is usually associated with the header text, which usually incorporates the site title and tagline, as well as background colour. There is the option to make further changes, but this involves editing the backend via the Custom CSS Plugin.

Media

In regards to media, there are two spaces where images are used: in the header and as a background. Depending on the theme, the header is either placed above the background image or in front of it. The size of this image varies on the theme. For example, Moesia presents a full page header, while Edublogs Default provides a strip between the title and menu bar. Although each theme will specify a set dimension, there is a built-in cropping function which helps adjust most images to the required size.

In addition to this, you can add multiple images to the header which are then randomised or use moving GIF images to add movement. Alternatively, you can also hide the header, meaning that the text is then just pushed up. Some themes, like Accelerate, build in a slider that allows you to continually rotate through a series of images, while the Meta Slider Plugin also allows you to add a slideshow to posts, pages and as a widget.

The other type of media is the background. This is placed behind the body text. By default, the background is usually a solid colour, which can be changed in the theme colours. When adding an image, there is a number of presets, such as Fill Screen, Fit to Screen and Repeat. You can also position the image, which is important if it is larger than the page.

An important consideration when adding an image are the colours used by the theme. Some themes, like Afterlight, resolve the clash between image and text by placing an overlay on top of the background, others place the text within a solid box over the background. Unless there is a clear reason why sometimes it can be best to leave the background blank or use a very subtle image.

In the end, some themes focus on headers, others incorporate background images, some even make use of featured images. Whatever theme you use it is best to explore the use of media as not every image is going to work with every site. In addition to using personal images, there is a wealth of content that is available for modification and reuse at sites such as Flickr, Pixabay and Noun Project. It is also good practice to record where you found such images when you upload it at the very least as a point of reference.

Menu

Another element that can be changed is the site menu. This allows users to organise pages, categories, tags and links.

There are several steps to follow when creating a menu. Firstly, consider the placement. Although usually placed at the top, some themes provide other options, such as in the header, the subheader or in the footer. There is also the possibility of adding to the sidebar via the Custom Menu widget.

To create a menu, click on Add a Menu, give it a name and click Create Menu. Menus can be made up of a number of items, such as links, pages, posts, categories and tags. You simply find the item and click the + button to add it to the list. In addition to this, clicking on an item allows you to adjust the settings. This includes adding a Title Attribute which defines what comes up when the cursor passes over the link. As with pages and categories, menus are organised hierarchically. There is an option at the end of the list to reorder items. This allows for movement up and down, but also left and right which controls the depth.

A few other points to note about menus is that outside the Live Preview, the options to modify the menus can be accessed directly through the Appearance menu (Appearance > Menu). Also, some themes allow you to add a second menu displaying links to various social media platforms.

Widgets

Widgets are small bits of code that serve a number of purposes, including the ability to find information on the site, track visitors, foster engagement and provide summaries of news and content. Watch the following video for a summary:

There are several steps to follow when setting up widgets. As with menus, every theme offers different options associated with placing widgets, with the most common being in the sidebar and in the footer. To begin adding, click on a location and add widgets to the list. To setup different location, you click back and choose an alternative option. Once added, widgets can easily be rearranged by clicking and dragging them up and down the list. There is also a Reorder option, which not only allows you to move items up and down, it also provides the ability to move widgets between locations. Like with menu items, clicking on the triangle attached to each widget reveals a particular set of options. There is also an option here delete unwanted widgets. This is important as some themes come pre-populated. Check out the Edublogs Support Guide for a full list of the available widgets, what they do and the settings for each.

Static Front Page

Another option that can be customised is whether the front page of the site is static or dynamic. If you choose static, there is the option to define which page will be your front page, as well as which page will be for posts. For example, you might have a static welcoming page and then have posts going to a blog page.

Other Options

One of the strengths of WordPress is its ability to do so much. However, with this comes a level of complexity. As I have stated several times, there are various theme-based options. These are often quite unique. For more guidance on some of these nuances, check out the WordPress.org site as there are various forums and guides there to get you on your way.

Settings

Whereas the Appearance menu allows you to personalise the ‘look and feel’ of the site, the Settings menu allows users to change the way that the site works.

There are a number of settings:

  • General: Outlines many of the basic settings, including those decided at the start, such as site title and tagline. There is also an opportunity to adjust the administrative email address associated with the site, as well as the date and time settings, which impacts on the deciding when posts are published.
  • Writing: Decides on the defaults associated with categories and Post Formats for new posts. There is also an option to format certain text, such as nested XHTML and emoticons.
  • Reading: Defines posts shown on the site, how many are listed on each page, what content is shown and the overall visibility of the site. These settings are separate from the options in regards to the visibility settings in the publishing section of both posts and pages.
  • Discussion: Sets in place the rules for conversing on the site. Whether it be the default settings regards commenting, options associated with who can comment, such as whether they need to fill out their name or if comments are turned off automatically after 14 days, how often administrative emails are generated, what happens before a comment appears, and conditions associated with moderation and blacklisting.
  • Media: Defines the size and settings associated with a particular size of images, such as a thumbnail, medium size and large size.
  • Akismet: Decides how strict the spam filter is to be applied and whether to show the number of approved comments.
  • Blog Avatar: Similar to the icon, identifies the avatar shown when the blog is listed, such as in the widget bar.
  • Admin Bar: Defines which users see Admin Bar at the top of their page. Note, if users have to be logged in to see it then start at the Global2 site and select the site from the list.
  • Google Analytics: Links the site to a Google Analytics account. This provides detailed data how users are engaging with the site.

Compared to other blogging platforms, there are a lot of variables provided in the settings, with only more added as various plugins are installed. The intent is to provide creators with control over their content.

Customise

Although Global2 allows users to create posts and personalise how a site looks, one of its most powerful features are the ways that it can be customised. Whether it be adding additional functionality or creating a series of blogs linked to a central hub, there are a number of things that you can do with Global2.

Plugins

Plugins are small applications which extend the functionality of the site. This is what differentiates Global2 and WordPress from other blogging platforms, like Blogger and Medium.

There are a number of plugins available, including those addressing appearance, forms, media, administration, social media and widgets. One plugin that crosses many of these categories is Jetpack.

Jetpack

Jetpack packages up a number of features and functions available in WordPress.com. It makes it easy to publicise posts, share with social media, post by email, display related posts, publish using Markdown language and automatically proofread posts. One consideration though is that being associated with WordPress.com, Jetpack requires you to sign in with a WordPress.com account to use it. This, therefore, limits the use of Jetpack by students. Global2 also blocks access to some Jetpack modules, such as single-sign on and 2-step authentication.

Other Plugins

Although Jetpack may not be appropriate for everyone, many of the features are available individually within other plugins. Some options available for plugins include:

  • Custom CSS – Enables users to modify the theme by adding a custom stylesheet
  • Supreme Google Webfonts – Provides the option to change font type and size within the visual editor
  • Table of Contents – Automatically adds a table of contents to posts, pages and sidebars.
  • Compfight Safe Images – Allows users to find and add Creative Commons images and adds the appropriate attribution.
  • Meta Slider – Enables the addition of a slideshow to posts, pages and sidebars.
  • Podcast – Enhances WordPress’ existing audio support by adding iTunes feeds, media players, and an easy to use interface.
  • Embed Any Document – Allows users to easily embed any document into posts and pages.
  • TinyMCE Advanced – Provides extra features to the visual editor and organises them using a series of menu tabs.
  • AddThis Social Share – Adds a series of share buttons to the base of every page and post.

See the Edublogs for a complete description of what is available. This also includes links to additional support pages for each.

Installing a Plugin

To install, go to the Plugins menu. Scroll through the options or refine the choices using the categories or search box. If the description provided is not enough, click through to the documentation to find more information. To add the plugin, click Activate. Additional settings are added to the dashboard depending on the plugin, this might include a menu or a sub-menu in Settings. This is where the plugin can be refined. For example, the Compfight Safe Image plugin adds a sub-menu in Settings, which allows changes to what is searched, the different sizes associated with images and the template used when inserting into the document.

Opportunity is provided to use these added functions in the post editor or new items. In the case of Compfight, a small button is added above the editor. When clicked, a window containing a search bar is opened. After a term is entered, a summary of items is provided. There is then the choice of sizes, including small, medium, larger, as well as the option to make the image a featured image.

To remove a plugin, go to the Plugins menu and click deactivate. This turns the plugin off and removes the functionality from the dashboard. However, the content created is kept in case you wish to reactivate at a later stage.

Student Blogs

Another way Global2 can be customised is through collaboration. Along with adjusting your profile and setting an avatar, something discussed earlier, the User menu allows new users to be added and create new sites. This includes adding users and assigning different roles within the site through the Add New sub-menu, as well as managing the users that already exist through the All Users sub-menu. This is important when creating something like a collaborative blog where multiple people add content to the one site. The other function provided through the User menu is the ability to create new blogs and users in bulk. Global2 (and Edublogs) take this feature a step further by providing the power to create student users and blogs.

Creating Student Sites

One of the unique aspects to Edublogs and Global2 is the ability to create student sites linked to a class space. This provides teachers with a level of control to moderate posts and comments, as well as provide technical support where needed. Sue Waters provides a good introduction to these features:

To set up student blogs, start by identifying a site to act as a central hub through which student blogs will be managed. This might be a new site or a pre-existing one. Once decided, create a class. This is done via the My Class menu (My Class > Create a Class). There are various settings to then work through. First, confirm the site is to become a hub. Then decide how this site will be used, whether posts and comments will be moderated, the privacy settings applied to all the blogs and the ability to interact through the Dashboard Reader.

For some, if students are going to have their own spaces, then they do not allow students to post on the class site. Alternatively, though, the class site can be used for different purposes. For example, using the Houston theme allows this central site to be turned into a social media stream, where students can share. The difference between this and something like Google Classroom is that you have more control over the space, as well as the ability to easily archive posts and comments.

When creating student accounts and new users, it is important to consider the details that might be provided through the username and URL. A simple rule to follow is to avoid putting three pieces of personal information, this includes things such as tagging names on photos in the metadata. One answer schools often follow is to continue the conventions associated with student emails, as this creates consistency for students. Edublogs provide further suggestions here. It can also be useful to save these addresses, usernames and URLs in a spreadsheet as multiple student sites can quickly become unwieldy. This can also be useful when mail merging account cards or adding blogs to a custom reading list.

The other option in regards to setting up class blogs is for students to join a pre-existing class. This involves clicking Join a Class and entering the class URL or using an invite URL generated by a teacher, which allows a user to join directly.

In addition to students, a new teacher can be added to multiple student blogs via the Users Menu (Users > Add New). This is useful in the case of a shared class or if there is someone linked to all the blogs across the school. Whatever the reason, what is important is that this user is allocated the role of ‘teacher’.

Working with Student Sites

Once students have a site, they are able to create content, upload media, personalise the look and feel of their site and customise the way it works. The limitation they face is in publishing content. If the teacher has chosen for the blog to be moderated in the My Class settings (My Class > Settings), students will be given a Submit for Review button. This notifies the teacher(s) that there is content to be published. When selected, all comments are also moderated by the teacher(s).

When a post is submitted, a student is still able to make changes and resubmit. However, once something has been approved. students need to contact a teacher to have the status changed back to draft in order to make changes.

There are several ways for teachers to be notified of content to be approved. One way is the Reader (Dashboard > Reader). By default, the Reader is shown when a user goes to the Dashboard menu. Not only does this connect with the wider Global2 community, but provides a summary of a user’s interactions. By clicking on pending, users can scroll through comments and posts that require approval. Pages are not moderated here.

Another place to approve content is My Sites (Dashboard > My Sites). This provides a summary of the sites you are associated with. This includes various links to site and dashboards, as well as content that is pending review. There is also a number of bulk actions that can be applied here, such as adding users, deleting sites or removing yourself as a user. This list can also be filtered by those needing moderation or approval.

An alternative to using My Sites is Student Blogs (My Class > Student Blogs). Rather than listing all the sites you are associated with, Student Blogs focuses on the blogs associated with the class.

There is also the option of installing the Review Notification plugin to receive emails associated with content needing to be approved.

In regards to the approval process, it needs to be noted that when moderating, media content should be checked, especially in regards to the meta-data. Edublogs provide the following suggestions in regards to images and media:

Avoid the use of any photos that can identify individual students.  A safe compromise is to only use photo taken from behind students.

Don’t use student photos for their avatars.

If you do use any photos of students – don’t use their name in the file name and don’t refer to the student by name, even their first name, in the caption under the photo or in the post.

In addition to student privacy, it is important to be mindful of copyright when sharing online.

Beyond moderating content, there are other benefits to connecting through a classroom blog.  Being a member of the site provides the means to support students, especially in the backend. There are also options to produce a range of reports which can be useful in capturing a snapshot. They are located via the Users menu (Users > Reports). They are different to the usual site statistics in that they provide a summary of the raw user data. These reports provide links to comments, posts and users, although they do not include the actual content. Teachers can drill down to analyse a specific blog or provide a summary across all blogs. They can also be downloaded as a PDF or a CSV.

There are limits though as to what a teacher can do, such as resetting passwords. For security reasons, this functionality is not available. However, Edublogs provide a useful step-by-step guide focusing on the ‘Lost Your Password’ function. This is one of the reasons that DET stipulates that each user is required to have an email account to allow them to manage their account.

Wiki

Another option available for publishing content is as a wiki. Different to a post and page, a wiki is designed to be constructed collaboratively, with no set author or owner. What is different about the Global2 Wiki Plugin, compared to platforms like Wikispaces, is that it utilises many of the standard WordPress features, such as comments and password protection, as well as adding the ease of editing and collaboration associated with wikis. Like posts, wikis in Global2 are organised using tags and categories, while like pages, they are structured hierarchically. Two features that are unique to wikis in regards to sharing content is the ability to control privileges and the option to receive email notifications.

To create a wiki page, click + New at the top of the screen and select Wiki or Add Wiki under the Wiki menu (Wiki > Add Wiki). This opens an editing page similar to that used when creating a post or a page. Here you are able to add any of the usual content, including various features added vial the plugins.

When sites are moderated as a part of a class blog, wikis will show the Submit for Review button. However, the notifications do not flow through like a post. Although wikis turn up in the pending feed of the Reader, listed as a ‘post’, they do not show up as pending in summary pages of My Sites (Dashboard > My Sites) or Student Blogs (My Class > Student Blogs). To review this way, go to the list of wikis under the Wikis menu (Wikis > Wikis) and open the wiki to approve.

Once published, wikis can be viewed and edited in the native editor. This is organised around a series of tabs linking to discussions, a summary of the revision history, options to edit within the wiki editor or in the Global2 editor, as well as the option to create a new page. The wiki editor has many of the same features as the standard WordPress editor, only not all plugins and additional functionality is available.

In regards to moderation, once a wiki has been approved, students are able to freely edit the document and create additional pages without submitting for review. It is for this reason that it is important to tick the box for email notifications associated with each wiki post. There are also a number of settings that can be changed (Wikis > Wiki Settings). They relate to what the different are called, how they are organised, and the users associated with privileges.

With the rise of collaborative applications, such as Google Docs or Microsoft OneNote, the collaborative nature of wikis has been compromised. However, within Global2, wikis offer an organic alternative to pages with the benefits of WordPress.

Odds

There is a range of other affordances and functions available which support users with customising their site beyond the usual steps.

Press This

Press This is a bookmarklet that allows you to grab content from the web and then add more text within a basic editor before the information is posted to the site. It is located within the Tools menu (Tools > Available Tools). This can be useful when curating web content or recording a quick idea. To use this function, drag the bookmarklet to the bookmark bar. When there is content you want to capture, highlight it and click on Press This. This will open the content in a basic window, which allows basic editing and the addition of tags, categories and media. Although the tool will grab the text, it will also strip it of formatting, including lists and hyperlinks. Also, Press This provides no means of saving to draft, with the only option being to publish.

Links

Another feature is the ability to add links. There are several methods for doing this. One way is to go to ‘Add New’ in the Links menu (Links > Add New). At the very least, you need to include a web address. However, there are a number of other options for information, including adding a title, description and relationship. Just as with posts, pages, media and wikis, links can be organised using categories. A good example of this is the STEM Education in Victoria site, which separates links into the following categories: blogs, curriculum, engineering, industry, mathematics, museums, science, space, STEM, sustainability, technology and video. This can be useful when the links are provided as a resource.

In addition to manually adding links, there is the option of importing an OPML file, the same type of file used with feed readers. This option is found in Import sub-menu (Tools > Import). You can also download the public links from any WordPress site by adding ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end of the URL. There are a range of online editors, such as Code Beautify, which allow users to paste the code in, make any changes to the OPML file and then resave it.

To display links, add the ‘Links’ widget to your site. This provides a number of options in regards to what to include and how links are ordered.

Import/Export

One of the benefits of Global2 is the ease in which site data can be easily exported (Tools > Export). This can be useful when archiving a project or class blog, as well as moving platforms. Global2 also provides the functionality to import in content (Tools > Import). This includes content from other sites and spaces, such as Blogger and RSS. Each process has a different set of procedures associated with it, whether it be uploading an XML file or adding specific credentials.

Subscribers

Another feature of Global2 is the ability to allow visitors to subscribe. Although users can follow posts through the Reader or add the site to an RSS reader, subscribing provides a way of receiving updates via email.

There are a number of ways that subscriptions can be modified. The general settings allows users to set the different fields associated with the digest email, such as who it is from, the reply address to be used, what the subject line will read, which post types will be included and how often emails will be sent out. There is also an option to activate a permanent subscribe button on the site, as well as receive notifications of any changes to the subscription list.

The options associated with Mail Template allow adjustments to the style of the digest email (noting that it might be a collaborative blog), including colours, incorporation of images and the addition of a footer and/or header. There is the also possibility to customise the confirmation email sent to new subscribers, as well as send a preview in order to test what it looks like.

In addition to placing a permanent button at the bottom of the site or in the widgets, subscribers can also be added manually (Subscriptions > Add Subscribers). This is useful if transferring subscribers from a separate platform, such as MailChimp, or automatically adding people, rather than expecting them to sign up.


So there is my guide to all things Global2, what about you? Is there something that I might have missed? Something that you would add to the conversation? As always, feel free to leave a comment.


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