Obstacles Associated with Blogging

Kathleen Morris recently put out a poll investigating the obstacles associated with blogging. Although I added my vote for time, I felt it was worth following up with some of the challenges and the reasons associated with each. To begin with, I will focus on personal blogging.

Personal Obstacles

  • Time and Motivation: I agree with Seth Godin that the question of time is often about priority, but I also think that it can come down to motivation. When I look at twenty plus ideas that I have waiting to be developed. I wonder if what I am saying needs to be.
  • Perception: A part of working out what to say is considering how what I write may be perceived. Some speak of branding, but I think that it is about trust. I remember being told about a teacher who had to have everything that they posted vetted by their organisation. Clearly that is an extreme, but it is something to be mindful of and the ramifications that it may have.
  • What to Say: Some like Godin argue that it is important to ‘just ship‘. However, rich ideas take time and effort. Like Tom Waits, I often prefer to leave my posts ‘in the shed’, starting them and letting them progressively grow and mature. Interestingly, I listened to a podcast recently featuring Clive Thompson where he spoke about taking at least three months to craft a long form essay. I think that there is something worth celebrating with this and it may be better considered as a personal preference, rather than an obstacle.

Obstacles in the Classroom

As I have reflected elsewhere, I think blogging in the classroom provokes a different set of obstacles to personal blogging:

  • Developing a Habit: Many teachers turn to blogs (and other such spaces) expecting instant change. The problem is that there are often habits that need to be developed, such as regular reflection or sharing with a wider audience. For example, it may be useful to start with a physical journal or portfolio before turning to the digital solution.
  • Another Thing: In addition to developing habits, blogs risk being treated as ‘another thing’ to consider within an already crowded curriculum. The challenge is to see blogging as a development on what is often a part of every classroom, that is sharing and critiquing information and ideas. Rather than handing work into a teacher, publishing it on a blogger opens a learner up to the potential of a wider audience.
  • Fear: One of the problems associated with publishing work is the fear that sharing something publicly risks it being misconstrued. Clive Thompson argues that going from an audience of zero to an audience of ten is so big that it’s huger than going from ten to ten million. To alleviate this concern, I recommend starting within a closed community, such as all the students within a class or a year level and building from there.

In the end, when investigating obstacles, each platform will have their own set of solutions, with some being more obvious than others. So what about you? What are your obstacles? As always, comments welcome.


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Getting Critical about Collaboration

I recently came across the following statement from Martin McGuran:

Technology allows global classroom connections and collaboration BUT the majority of teachers are not taking the plunge. Why? They don’t know how to.

This comment left me wondering, what is it that teachers ‘don’t know’ how to do? Is there something different about collaborating with students as opposed to other educators? What does it mean to collaborate? Is it about tools? Is it about space and environment? Is it about perspectives? Or is it about pedagogy?

Using Doug Belshaw’s eight elements of digital literacies as a guide, it feels McGuran’s focus is on the cognitive, the tools and the processes involved. What feels overlooked is a critical discussion around the conditions required when collaborating. Here then are three other aspects to be considered in regards to communication and collaboration.

Can Everyone Collaborate

It can be easy to encourage everyone to get connect online and complete the circle. However, this overlooks the reality that not everyone is able to openly engage online. This is a point that Chris Wejr makes in regards to educators who for a range of reasons cannot share who they are online. Coming from the perspective of culture, Bali touches on the ignorance of culture and difference online, while danah boyd discusses the challenges associated with gender in regards to all things EdTech. For Graham Martin-Brown one of the problems is that different perspectives are often stymied. Although those like Michael Fullen preach the positives of collective efficacy and professional capital, this is often countered or corrupted by an inadvertent culture of competition produced by a grab for students and results, especially amongst secondary schools. On top of all this, Bill Fitzgerald touches on the inadvertent data and information captured as a part of being online.

Appropriate Attribution

The global collaboration McGuran touches upon is often built upon a culture of sharing. Whether it be sourcing images via Flickr or building upon a project posted on GitHub, there are many spaces dedicated to building on the ideas of others. The problem is that such generosity can come at a cost. Although Alan Levine encourages attribution by default, Maha Bali highlights that this is not always enough. Deb Netolicky in her own reflection wonders if using work without attribution is morally corrupt. Whatever the point of view, there is always a risk to hospitality.

Purpose or Process

David Weinberger argues that the smartest person in the room is the room. The problem is that simply being in the room is not enough. Sometimes the purpose and intent is not always clear. Other times, as Gary Stager highlights, there simply is no need. As Mike Caulfield points, the key is not the technology, but how it is used. An example of this is the DigiPo project. When I think about my collaboration with Steve Brophy, we started with a why. Although it could have been done individually, together we refined our thinking and created something unique.


I recognise that technology has a part to play in regards to communication and collaboration. Surely though this is only one part?

So what about you? Have you had any experiences of collaboration? 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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Back to (Blogging) Basics

Jennifer Hogan recently wrote a post about the 13 things to consider when blogging. Here is a summary of her list:

  1. Every journey is unique
  2. Make time to learn each day
  3. Blog regularly
  4. Forgive yourself when you don’t post
  5. Put your social profile links on your blog
  6. Schedule posts ahead of time
  7. Create graphics for your blog
  8. Actively engage on twitter
  9. Have an About Me page
  10. Include links to previous posts in your blog posts.
  11. Comment and leave comments
  12. Chunk content, use clean fonts and leave blank spaces
  13. Keep a blog idea list.

I started writing a response, then realised that it might be better to just write my own list. So here is my list of the basics that I think every blogger should know:

  1. Why: Everyone can write a post, that is not the point. What matters is why blog. Maybe it is personal? A particular project? Collaborative? A professional portfolio? The investigation of a subject? Curation? There are many faces to blogging and they are developed over time.
  2. Expression: Hogan makes the point, every blog is unique. One of the ways this uniqueness shines through is the voice on the screen. This could be choice of format, the length of posts or the use of tone. The challenge, find the expression that suites you best.
  3. Way of Being: For some blogging is about the daily habit of writing. Others suggest a routine of once a week. What must not be ignored though is the right not-to-blog when needs be. Whatever the frequency, the focus should be on capturing ‘fringe-thoughts’. Blogging to me is better considered as a way of being, of thinking, of seeing.
  4. Portability: There are so many platforms to choose from. Blogger. Edublogs. Medium. WordPress. WP.com. Jekyll. Tumblr. Weebly. Some look good, others are easy to use. What matters the most to me is portability. A few years ago, I moved from Blogger to WordPress, I could not travel in reverse though. Although you may not think that it matters, when it does, you will be happy. Many were burnt by Posterous. Who knows what will happen with Medium?
  5. Look and Feel: With the world of RSS and AMP, It is easy to ignore how posts are presented. This is the allure of Medium, every post looks slick and clean. Although most platforms provide useful defaults which do the job, it is important to clean up any widgets or features that may not be needed. This includes adding an About Me page and links to other sites on the web.
  6. Content: Just as it is important to consider expression, it is important to consider different content that can be embedded to add to posts. This might be creating images, adding a Storify, recording audio or video, visualising data, customising a map, showing it with a GIF or developing a dynamic resource.  Each provides a different way of representing ideas.
  7. Connect: There are many options when it comes to engaging with a blog. This might be writing a formal comment, but it also might be engaging on social media. What matters is connecting with others in the creation of community. This might be remixing an idea or linking to a post. What is important is developing a community.
  8. Workflow: In part, this will be decided by your platform, but think about how you go about writing. Maybe ideas will start with a physical journal? Maybe you might write notes in an app. Whatever it is, make sure that it works for you and works with the devices that you use. Personally, I usually start out with a Google Doc and then transfer to WordPress when I am ready to publish, but there is no right or wrong way.

So they are my blogging basics? What about you? Maybe you prefer Hogan’s list or maybe you have something different altogether. As always, comments welcome.


NOTE: For all of my blogging resources, click here.


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Education’s Digital Futures

Simon Keily recently shared a post with me exploring the question,

What do you think the digital future of education entails?

Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • What is technology? When comments are made that technology is failing us or even harming us, we need to consider what we actually mean by ‘technology’ and in what contexts.
  • Is anything really new? Bryan Alexander highlights that many of our ‘futures’ and supposed revolutions are simply revisions of the past, a topic that Audrey Watters’ touches on again and again in her writing.
  • Do we shape our tools or do our tools shape us? It can be easy to define technology as being somehow static and outside of our influence, when it is a part of dynamic assemblage, changing and forever influencing. The challenge is balancing influence with impact.
  • How do we balance between cognitive and critical concerns? Thinking about Doug Belshaw’s eight elements of digital literacies, so often the focus is on cognition and how technology works, rather than culture and criticality. For example, WhatApp may allow users to easily connect and communicate, but in process involves handing over your personal contacts to Facebook. What does this mean and is it ok?
  • What if the answer is development, not improvement? Too often answer with edtech is efficiency and maintaining the status quo. Models like SAMR focus on modification and redefining, over understanding the context and responding to the needs of the situation. The focus should be pedagogy and developing from there.

So they are some of my thoughts, what about you? What do you think that the digital futures of education entail? I encourage you to leave your thoughts on Keily’s post and continue the conversation there.


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Daily Habits

Steve Brophy has been digging into the art of deliberate habits lately, whether it be having a clear morning routine, 750 word and setting up his workspace to nullify distraction. During the recent episode of Design and Play he posed the question:

What are the daily habits that you do as a learner?

This got me thinking. I have spoken about the process involved in learning and the tools I depend upon, but never thought about the daily activities which help me as a learner.

Combing the Curation

A few years ago, Doug Belshaw wrote a post, ‘Curate or be Curated‘. In it he reflected on the rise of algorithms in curtailing and constraining the content that we consume. Although I do not subscribe to several newspaper subscriptions, I use Feedly which captures posts from over two hundred blogs (see my list here). I will be honest, I used to read everything, now I skim first then check out those pieces that catch my interest – I am human. If the posts are too long I send them to Pocket. I then either save them to Diigo or capture specific aspects in a Wikity card. In addition to this, I have a number of newsletters and summaries that are sent to me via email (this is something I have reflected on elsewhere).

Lurking and Listening

Another habit that I do every day is be actively open to interesting ideas. Curiosity breeds curiosity. In part I pick up some of this perspective from the blogs I read, but I think that it also comes from engaging in the world around. David Culberhouse describes this as spending time at the idea well. This might involve chatting with people at lunch or asking clarifying questions of others. I think that this is why I love professional development sessions and conferences so much. It isn’t always the intended learning opportunities, but the often ‘hidden’ incidental learning at the periphery.

Thoughtfully Thinking

Michael Harris talks about the theory of loose parts, which focuses on the importance of changing environment to foster independent thinking.

Nature is an infinite source of loose parts, whereas the office or the living room, being made by people, is limited.

Where possible I try and to make sure that I get some sort of thinking time each day. A few moments where I stop doing what I am doing and do something different. This might involve going for a walk or listening to music. Warren Berger describes this as ‘Time Out’ in his book A More Beautiful Question. This is something that Pearman and Brophy also touch upon in the podcast. What is important is disrupting the flow of things.


So they are some of habits that I keep. I am not sure that I am as deliberate as Brophy, however they work for me. What it does leave me thinking is how this compares with the learning environment in school? So what about you? What are your habits? As always, comments welcome.


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Questions for Cal

Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, recently closed the National Coaching Conference for Educators with a suggestion to move away from false appeal associated with social media. Instead, he encouraged educators to spend their time focusing on ‘deep work’. To support this, Scott spoke about the work of Cal Newport. Ignoring the segmented nature of schools (see Richard Wells) or what we focus on (see Audrey Watters), the debate around reclaiming our attention is not new. However, Newport’s call to close accounts has been doing the rounds. After watching his TED Talk though, three questions puzzled me: what is social media, what is work and how do I differentiate the changes in my mind?

What is ‘social media’ anyway?

The message is clear, get off social media, your career depends upon it. Newport explains that interesting opportunities are not dependent on being online and in fact social media is harmful (see for example Doug Belshaw’s post on Facebook). Although I did not go and close all my accounts, Newport’s video did lead me to reflect on the place of social media within my life. However, as I watched the TEDTalk I thought that maybe I was misunderstanding his message. With his reference to RSS, it seemed that he was suggesting getting rid of all dynamic content? In many respects, social media is just as ambiguous as digital literacies. Is it how we use it? Is there something baked into applications or inherent in various web formats? Does it depend on if the application calls itself a media company? Are applications like ClassDojo or Seesaw examples of social media too? This was all confounded by the fact that Newport, someone who proudly flaunts the fact that he has never had a social media account, himself has a blog.

Finish at Five

Late in the presentation, Newport shares how he rarely works beyond five. This is such an interesting point, which leaves me wondering when ‘work’ starts and stops? People like David Culberhouse and Steve Brophy get up early in the morning to read, to write, to reflect. If they do not check email, does that mean that it is not ‘work’? What is work? My other concern is with the work that we ask people to do. As an educator, I feel uncomfortable telling an specialist teacher with 400+ that the reason they are working long hours to get reports written is because they are not committing themselves to ‘deep work’. Deep work is often associated with flow, I have never entered such a state while compiling reports. Maybe some work is always shallow?

Minds Changed

One of the concerns that Newport raises is that the instant gratification provided by social media rewires the brain.

The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Our inability to commit ourselves to concentrating for lengthy periods of time means that we are unable to complete deep work. Maybe it is just me, but being a parent has taught me to seize the minute. If my daughter is asleep on my knee or I am waiting for pick up I often use my phone to dip into some reading. I get moments. I make the most of them to dig down into awesome ideas that I may not get the chance to do at ‘work’. In regards to putting on headphones or going into an office speaks of privilege? Then again, maybe it is just my broken brain.


In the end, I may have been hooked in by the click-bait nature of the New York Times and the TED Talk? Not sure. Maybe at some point I need to stop doing such shallow readings and dive into a deep reading of Newport’s book?


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The Risk of Hospitality

Digciz is a conversation centered around ideas of Digital Citizenship. The focus this week is on hospitality, in particular, the openness, risk and vulnerability relating to existing in online spaces. My response involves a series of short reflections:

Context First

Peter Skillen recently reflected on a situation where he corrected someone. He was sorry for the way it went about. This had me thinking about my own conversations with Skillen, especially around computational thinking and Twitter. One of the things that I have taken away is the place of technology to change the way we think and act. The problem is there are contexts where the conversations move away from the ideals. Although I agree with Skillen (and Papert) about the power of Logo and Turtle to explore mental models, especially after reading Mindstorm, sometimes when you are asked for simple material you put aside your bias to share a range of visual resources. In this situation, technology is only one part of the equation. First and foremost is pedagogy and the place of coding as a lunchtime club. The focus then becomes about entertainment, engagement and ease of instruction. The ripe conditions for initiatives such as CS First and Code.org.

Crossing Imaginary Lines

There are some learning experiences which seem to stay with us long after the lights have been turned off. In regards to online learning, my participation with Rhizo14 was one such experience. I neither knew exactly why I was there or what the protocols were. Stepping out into the unknown, my focus was to hold my judgements for as long as possible. Sadly, I think that I went a little too hard. Caught up in the flow, I critiqued everything a bit too much. (If you read any of Jenny Mackness’ research, apparently there were some heated conversations on Facebook which I was not a part of.) This questioning even included Dave Cormier and his assessment methods. Although this was a risk he fostered, it felt as if you knew you had crossed the line even if there were none. Maybe this is the reality online, the challenge I guess is knowing when to take your shoes off at the door and apologising if you happen to forget.

Tribes and Tribulations

In the book Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson unpack the different ways that people gather within online spaces. One way that really stands out to me in regards to open online spaces is the idea of tribes. At the intersection between groups and sets, tribes involve bringing people together around complex ideas and interests, tied together by certain rules and expectations. When I think about my participation online, I would say that I am a part of many tribes, some of which I collected here. The challenge with tribes is that they do not always talk to each other, sometimes even working against each other. Indirectly though they influence each other in a number of ways. For example, when communication is shared openly, it carries the risk of being appropriated by other communities. This bleeding and breaking can be construed as negative, but it also has a positive outcome of extending our thinking.

Mapping Our Digital Bits

David White and Alison Le Cornu offer a more fluid typology with their notion of digital visitor and resident. White and Le Cornu suggest that our use of different spaces on the web fluctuates between two states: that of the visitor whose use is often short term and task orientated compared with the resident who sees their participation as being an important part of their lived experience. Amy Collier goes beyond the notion of residency to describe the web and instead suggests the ideas of kindred spirits and belonging. I wonder if a different way of seeing the divide is from the perspective of APIs and the little bits of ourselves that exist around the web. In discussing the notion of personal APIs, Kin Lane provides the following breakdown:

  • Profiles – The account and profile data for users.

  • People – The individual friends and acquaintances.

  • Companies – Organizational contacts, and relationships.

  • Photos – Images, photos, and other media objects.

  • Videos – Local, and online video objects.

  • Music – Purchased, and subscription music.

  • Documents – PDFs, Word, and other documents.

  • Status – Quick, short, updates on current situation or thoughts.

  • Posts – Wall, blog, forum, and other types of posts.

  • Messages – Email, SMS, chat, and other messages.

  • Payments – Credit card, banking, and other payments.

  • Events – Calendar, and other types of events.

  • Location – Places we are, have been, and want to go.

  • Links – Bookmarks and links of where we’ve been and going.

As with White and Le Cornu’s mapping, Lane’s emphasis is on the journey, rather than a destination. Mapping our APIs provides the potential to dig down into our particular uses. The problem is, I am still trying to work out exactly how to go about this.


So they are some of my thoughts on the risks and vulnerabilities associated with belonging in open online spaces. What about you? What do you have to add to the conversation? As always, comments welcome.


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Starting the Learning Before the Conference

I was recently involved in conversation online in regards to re-imagining the conference experience. There were so many points made, such as:

  • Provide multiple opportunities to practice and experience new skills.
  • Focus on practical techniques and take-aways.
  • Create conditions for collaboration and relationship building.
  • Accelerate ongoing learning and professional dialogue
  • Allow teachers to engage in different elements of choice, action and design.
  • Centre around a transformative statement.

All in all, the focus was on the conference and the time afterwards, yet it left me wondering about the time before and what can be done to start the conversation beforehand?

When I think about sessions I have run, I usually start by doing a temperature check of those in the room. This provides attendees with an opportunity to think about their own context and provides me with an insight.

Even though I consider myself flexible, personalising my presentation dependent on the needs in the room, too often the overall structure is set.

I wonder then if there is a possibility to engage people before the day? Peter DeWitt talks about flipping staff meetings, is there a potential to flip the conference experience? Some conferences encourage presenters to create short videos to fit the constraints of various social media platforms. For example, I made this short video for Digicon last year:

Another alternative to providing people with a taste of what to expect is via a podcast. This is something that both Domains17 and Digicon have done lately. Recording interviews with various keynotes and guest presenters. However, these creations usually focus on promotion. (Although I must say, the interviews for Domains17 were quite informative.)

Based on the fact that conferences usually have a cut-off date to accepting people, what if attendees were sent some sort of correspondence containing some sort of provocation, such as a video or a short podcast, as well as a questionnaire to start the dialogue?

Fine we plan with a problem in mind, but to truly develop any understanding of the ‘archetypal customer’ there needs to be some sort of data and feedback. I recognise that this would be a change from the way things are done now, that not everyone will respond, but wouldn’t a few responses be better than we have now, which is no response at all?

Building on Ewan McIntosh’s idea of a pre-mortem,

A period of safe reflection to consider all the potential causes for the future death of our idea and give us a chance to take some preventative measures to alter our ideas, and make them more likely to thrive in the real world.

Asking questions before the conference allows a kind of pretotyping, where the focus can be on the right ‘it’.

In regards to those conferences where attendees vote with their feet, then this dialogue could simply be around a transformational statement that drives the conference. A summary of this information could then be provided to the presenters.

In Thomas Guskey’s evaluation of professional development, he provides five critical levels:

  1. Participants’ Reaction
  2. Participants’ Learning
  3. Organisation Support and Change
  4. Participants Use of New Knowledge and Skills
  5. Student Learning Outcomes

Starting the conversation earlier provides an opportunity for participants to identify their own desired outcomes beforehand. In many respects, this process can go beyond conferences and has the potential to develop professional development at all levels. See for example the way in which the #educoachOC chat team provide a post before each chat as a means of starting the conversation before the chat.

So what about you? What strategies have you used to engage learners early to help guide the process? Where do you see this process being a problem? As always, comments welcome.


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Developing Safer (Digital) Schools

I was lucky enough to recently attend a session run by Claire Sutherland for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation around the topic of ‘safe schools‘. I have worked with AMF before in regards to eSmart. Today’s focus was on the trends, policies and resources to support schools around cybersafety. Personally, I have mixed feelings about cybersafety as a topic, as there are some who approach it from the perspective of fear. So here are some of my notes and observations on the presentation …

Issues

When it comes to children and technology, there are a number of issues to consider:

In regards to schools and liability, It is important to understand that if you are aware of an issue, you are responsible. In Victoria, this is covered in the PROTECT Guidelines.

3Cs

For the Alannah and Madeline Foundation cybersafety can be broken down into three aspects:

  • Contact: Do you appreciate who you are sharing with? There is a difference between a ‘friend’ and a ‘follower’, while many of our connections come via acquaintances. We may think that we are not providing much information online, however once we work across multiple platforms, people (and computers) can easily join the dots and develop quite an extensive profile.
  • Conduct: How do you act when you are online? Do you THINK before you post, that is do you consider if what you are sharing is ‘True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind’. Research says that 1:5 students have been involved in cyberbullying online. The challenge is to look out for one another, respecting the rights of others. One suggestion is to ask before tagging, especially in regards to changes in regards to auto-tagging within Google Photos.
  • Content: What information do you share online? Is it personal or private? How authentic is it? How positive is your digital footprint? What is your response to fake news and surreptitious advertising? To plagarism, is it constructive? This can all be challenging as we move into a world that no longer forgets. Something captured by Black Mirror where everyone’s experiences are captured all of the time or we are continually judged by everything that happens in our life.

Associated with the 3C’s, there are four different types of spaces: messaging app, social media, games and dating apps. What entices students is whether they are free, accessible, social and allow experimentation. Constantly changing, these spaces are a part of the yo-yo craze where students move when adults move in.

Challenges

Some of the challenges associated with cybersafety include: raising awareness with parents, teachers and students, monitor the use of technology, building online resilience and empathy, celebrating the positive, as well as empowering bystanders to stand up by providing anonymous reporting systems. To be proactive, schools need to be as explicit as possible when it comes to policy. This means it does not matter which teacher is consulted. Associated with all this, it is important to document issues when they arise.

Resources

Here are a collection of resources – both from the session and some links of my own – to go further in regards to cyber safety and digital citizenship:


So what about you? What are you doing to make school safer? Are there any tips, tricks or resources that you would share? As always, comments welcome.


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