Building Digital Workflows

Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

Technology is always adapting and evolving, here are a few of the recent changes to my digital workflows.

In a post discussing the setup of digital devices, applications and workflows, Clay Shirky explains how he regularly changes things up:

At the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

This disruption seems important in a time when platforms are designed to maximise our attention. As Shirky warns:

The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

Change can take many shapes. Although I may not shake things up as much as Shirky, here are some recent tweeks that have kept things fresh:


For a long time I have used Pocket to save links to come back to. It was one of the first applications I really took to. I use a range of methods to add content, whether it be via email, using an IFTTT recipe which saves my Twitter favourites or an extension in the browser. I then either read it later or listen depending on the device or context.

I started out listening using Lisgo, an iOS app. However, this functionality is built into the Android application so I scrapped the additional app when I changed phones. The only issue I had with listening via the Android app is the requirement to select a new article each time. A recent update completely changed that with the addition of continuous playback. This allows you to organise your various links in a playlist and listen to one after another. This new feature has lead me to rethink how I use Pocket and subsequently saving more and more links to listen to

In regards to other aspects of the application, I have never really used the tagging or archiving features. Instead I bookmark elsewhere and then delete the articles in Pocket once I have finished with it. The best functionality is still the ability to read a stripped back version of the text. AMP without all the other stuff associated with AMP. I wonder how Pocket will grow with the acquisition by Mozilla?


I love Feedly. I came to RSS Readers around the time Google pulled its reader from production. Before that, I relied on a combination of Pocket and social media. Feedly was perfect. I progressively built my feed over time getting to the point of following 200+ blogs. I also developed a a process which allowed me to capture a quote and share it out on Twitter.

I did not have any qualms, however when Chris Aldrich pointed out the limitation of storing your OPML file within the application I was intrigued. I didn’t really like how Feedly organised the various categories and always found it tedious to backup my OPML to share with others. The answer is to subscribe to an OPML Feed stored in the links of a WordPress site, rather than upload a static file. Feedly does not allow for this, but Inoreader does.

Starting afresh has been good. There are no features that I used in Feedly that are no replicated in Inoreader. Instead there are ways of working in Inoreader that I prefer, such as the ability to quickly mark posts as ‘read’ by pulling across, rather than swiping, as well as the potential to create my own filters. This maybe a start towards Aldrich’s idea of an #IndieWeb algorithm? At the very least, it helps in understanding how some of these things work and the infrastructure behind them.


I have written about the features and affordances associated with Trello before. One of the challenges that I have had with the application is how to get it to work for me. A lot of people talk about using the Kanban approach to support an agile way of working. This often involves allocating ‘points’ or colours associated with blocks of time, setting due dates and focusing on priorities. I tried this both personally and in my workplace. It did not work. I decided to leave it for a while and come back at a later point with fresh eyes.

In leaving the application alone, it quickly became apparent why I needed it. I had some documents in my Google Drive, PDF files sent to me via email, links to resources and notes that needed to be recorded somewhere. I therefore wondered if instead of a means of managing priorities that instead Trello could become something of a digital filing cabinet, Something of a ‘canonical URL’, where if you wanted to find something you would start there.

Creating a list for each of the key focuses, the cards broke down the various projects and activities. Each card then contains a description summarising what it is about and a list of resources associated with it. This is all done using Markdown. These resources are all added into one Google Drive folder and linked from there. The card comments are then used to provide a historical snapshot, documenting any developments, additions and meetings, while the checklists are used where applicable.

This new way of using Trello also led me to review my own use. A few years ago I set up multiple boards for all the things that I do personally, whether it be blogging, presentations or projects. Similar to my work experience, this failed. It was too busy and needed to be more efficient. After being reenergised by my use at work, I wondered if I could condense everything into one board? I therefore created lists associated with blogs, projects, ideas, interesting links, things to listen to etc and used the cards to unpack each of these areas. This has subsequently led me to crafting my blog posts using Markdown in the description section and adding links and notes in the comments. Although having its limitations, it is a much smoother process than writing Markdown in a Google Doc which I had started doing. When I want a more thorough writing space though I use Typely.


I remember reading a rant from Marc Scott a few years ago on the use of Microsoft Word, although it could have been about Google Docs as well. He ended with the plea:

Learn to write in sodding Markdown.

I understand Markdown, but could never find the right reason or workflow. I kept stumbling upon different cases, whether it is Kin Lane’s use of Markdown with Jeykl and GitHub or Mike Caulfield’s Wikity WordPress theme with Markdown built into the bookmarklet. However, it was not until I started having issue with extra bits of code when copying text from Google Docs into my blog or newsletter that I realised why Markdown is so important.

I have been exploring a number of applications to support publishing of late, whether it is add-ons such as Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid or applications in general such as Google Docs and Trello. Initially I took to writing Markdown in Google Docs and pasting the text into a converter. This workflow though does not allow you to preview the text along the way. Using Trello allows you to work cross-platform. However the need to flick between preview and editing screen is tedious and not ideal. I recently came upon another application called Typely.

Typely is best understood as a beefed-up text editor. There are no hyperlinks or formatting. Instead you focus on writing. Other applications offer a similar experience, but where Typely differs are the various options to customise the experience, whether it be turning Markdown preview on or off, switching to a blog background or selecting rules to check for. The screen also adapts to the size of the screen, with panes collapsing if there is not enough space. It does not really work on a mobile screen though. Unlike Pro Writing Aid, the error highlights can easily be turned on and off or resolved. Although on a Chromebook, the combination for resolving issues (CTRL + Spacebar) is allocated to changing between languages. An improvement would be an improvement in the ability to open and save documents (I just copy the text in and out of the editor). Being relatively new, I assume that they may resolve this over time.

So there are a few of the recent changes to my workflows, what about you? Are there any applications that have made you rethink the way you work lately? As always, comments welcome.

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Building Solutions Beyond the Code

Solutions involve connections and interconnections, not just code

A reflection on going beyond coding when thinking solutions and the Digital Technologies curriculum.

I attended an eLearning session recently where the participants were asked to place ourselves along a continuum in regards to their confidence in regards to the Digital Technologies curriculum. At the far end of the continuum was the idea of ‘coding your own reporting program’. The conversation the ensued was intriguing. “That is not me … I could never do that … You need to know a lot of Excel for that.” To me this only tells part of the story associated with digital technologies.

When you look at something like a reporting solution, we need to start by addressing the problem being addressed? This is why there is a focus on design thinking in the curriculum. A part of this process can be identifying what other solutions already exist. If there is already an application that addresses the problem you are trying to solve, why would you start again?

Alternatively, it is important to work out if there is something you can start with and build upon. Maybe a solution that you have found only addresses a part of your problem, but offers a starting point. This may include some pre-existing code that can be adapted. That is the power of a open platforms like GitHub and Scratch, where you can not only access other people’s code, but share your own iterations.

Another twist is where you might develop a first iteration and then bring others on-board. At some point a solution may benefit from incorporating other skill-sets, perspectives and resources. For example, at some point Gmail went from being somebody’s 20% project to something being developed by a team. In an interview with EdTechCrew, Adam Bellow reflected on the development of eduClipper. After some initial work, he outsourced the creation of a new platform to an outside provider. He then took this iteration and refined it further. This is not to say Bellow could not code it himself, but when we get to systems thinking, there is sometimes more efficient and effective ways of working.

So when we ask the question, can you create a reporting solution, maybe we should ask why are we doing it and has someone else already laid the groundwork? This is something that comes through in Doug Belshaw’s work around digital literacies, such an activity is bigger than whether or not you can code.

So what about you? What has been your experience of coding? Comments welcome.

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My #IndieWeb Reflections

Dan Gillmor on Indieweb as an alternative

I have been meaning to elaborate on my thoughts on #IndieWeb for a while. Chris Aldrich’s recent post outlining a proposal for a book spurred me to finish jotting down my notes and reflections.

I find #indieweb hard to explain. In part I would describe it as an alternative way of working on the web, a collaborative community and a technical solution. I can’t remember exactly when I first came upon it. I know thought it was associated with the concept of POSSE. It was probably a part of Connected Courses and my move to Reclaim Hosting. Twitter tells me that my initial investigations were associated with Known.

What interested me was the potential to extend and own my presence on the web. Initially, I posted to Flickr from a Known instance and pulled in comments from Twitter and Google+ with the #IndieWeb WordPress Plugin(s).

More recently I have become interested in exploring ‘post kinds’ as I continue to investigate ways that I can better manage my presence on the web. In particular, I like the idea of sending comments from my site, but have yet to either master some of the technical aspects or develop a suitable workflow.

I must admit, I still get lost with some of the mechanics. I wonder sometimes if this is because I am balancing multiple spaces. I would like to better understand how the various platforms and plugins work. For example, what is the difference between Known, Micro.Blogs and WordPress? What does Bridgy do? Are there any limitations to it? For example, can I connect it with more than one space, particularly in regards to Twitter. I also find more solace in reading various reflections, listening to weekly updates and think that the main site has come along way, especially in outlining the different entry points. I think that the addition of a book would be a valuable resource. As always, I am still investigating.

So what about you? Have you had any experiences with the IndieWeb? Do you have any thoughts and comments that you would share with Chris Aldrich?

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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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Laying the Standards for a Blogging Renaissance

RSS Standard and the Foundations of Blogging

With the potential demise of social media, does this offer a possible rebirth of blogging communities and the standards they are built upon?

There is something wrong with social media. Responding to John Lancester’s article in the London Review of Books, Alan Levine suggests that the only response is to exit Facebook. For Duckduckgo, the issue is the 75% of the top sites incorporate Google trackers. Nicholas Carr heralds a new era where we will depend on third-party security support, an era where even thinking is automated. Writing about the disempowering nature of Twitter, Kris Shaffer argues that the answer is not simply moving to Mastadon.

For some the answer is about going ‘old school’, a blogging Renaissance. Oddly, there seems to be a push in some communities for subscribers and email newsletters. This is done by adding sign ups that pop out of posts (even if you have already signed up). If we are to truly have a rebirth though then the technology that I think we need to reinvest in is RSS.

Short for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, RSS is a standard that allows users to receive updates to content without the need to manually check or be in fear of missing something due to an inconspicuous algorithm working in the background. As David Nield explains,

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes — not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

Usually this feed is built from the web address. If not shown on the site, tools like the Connected Courses Magic Box can be used to capture it. Some platforms, such as WordPress, also allow you to create a custom feed based on a particular tag or category. You do this by selecting the particular tag or category and adding ‘/feed’ to the end of the URL. Useful if wanting to follow just a particular topic. Although feeds themeselves can be adjusted, this is done in the backend.

To sort through ‘everything’, you use a news aggregator, such as Feedly, Digg Reader or Tiny Tiny RSS. These applications allow you to collect a number of feeds in the one place. These feeds are stored as an OPML file, a format designed to exchange outline-structured information.

As a side note, these applications each have their own features and affordances. For example, Feedly now restricts new users to 50 feeds before asking for payment.

There are a number of ways to develop and edit an OPML file. You can use an OPML generator to build an outline or use an editor to refine a pre-existing list shared by somebody else. Something useful when downloading the public links from a WordPress site. You do this by adding ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end of the URL.

I am not sure whether social media will go away, but with the questions being asked of it at the moment, maybe it is time for a second coming of blogs, a possible rewilding of edtech. The reality is that technology is always changing and blogging is no different. Whatever the future is, standards such as RSS and OPML will surely play there part. So what about you? Do you have any other alternatives to social media and the challenges of our time? As always, comments welcome.

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Scripting an Automated Solution


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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Blogging the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Ben Williamson on Digital Technologies

Digital Technologies is more than just learning to code. This post re-imagines the curriculum around blogging and explores how it maybe better integrated.

There has been a lot of discussion around the changes to the curriculum brought on by Digital Technologies. This is a part of a global movement to increase knowledge and understanding of the way the digital world works. It is a move away from the treatment of digital technology as solely being associated with ‘information and communication’. Some have maintained the two, while others seem to have made a clear break. The concern has been that for some digital technologies has come to equal coding in the classroom. (Listen to the Kin Lane and Audrey Watters discuss this on the Contrafabulists Podcast.) This problem though is only one part of a bigger story.

Digital Technologies is made up of a number of parts which combine into three strands: working with data, systems thinking and creating solutions. DLTV break this down into a focus on decomposing a problem and algorithmic thinking. Although there is a focus on ‘technology’, this change is as much about mindset as it is about skillset. This is something Doug Belshaw touches upon in his work on digital literacies. A focus on thinking means that many of the steps accounted for in the curriculum can be completed offline. See for example the work of Tim Bell. The real challenge therefore lays in how to integrate within the wider curriculum.

The biggest complaint I hear is how to incorporate Digital Technologies into an already crowded curriculum. To me, this misses an opportunity. I remember when the Victorian government brought in AUSVels, which called out a lot of new areas of learning, I attended a session that demonstrated the intent to focus on learning and inquiry. Instead, too many interpreted these new additions as silos to be further compartmentalised. I think that the Digital Technologies curriculum offers the same potentials and problems.

To model a possible integration, I took a look at the curriculum from the perspective of blogging. Many schools integrate blogging into their day-to-day practice. (See Adrian Camm’s work.) Here then is a breakdown as to how the Digital Technologies could be incorporated into the wider curriculum:

I am not saying that everyone should blog, even if I think that blogs offer a lot of potential. My intent here is instead to encourage others to think more divergently when approaching the Digital Technologies curriculum. Every context is different. I hope then that this example helps address that. So rather than jumping to the assumption that Digital Technologies simply means that every student needs to code, what ideas can you think of moving forward? As always, comments welcome and encouraged.

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The Anatomy of an Idea – Building a Solution One Step at a Time

I recently came across a post from Jennifer Kloczko discussing the notion of original ideas. In it she documented some of the ideas that she has implemented this year and where she ‘stole’ them from. I too have written about this before, discussing the benefits of sharing and working collaboratively. However, one aspect that Kloczko does not necessarily address is the way in which ideas ‘stolen’ can morph and evolve as they become ingrained in other contexts. This process often starts with a problem. For me, this problem is Synergetic.

This year I have spent a lot of time learning about different facets of Synergetic. A ‘total solution’, Synergetic is a management system with a focus on administration. My work has included developing a reporting solution, setting up the attendance process and configuring online spaces. One particular area that has absorbed quite a bit of my time though has been timetabling.

For secondary schools this is more obvious. You link in a third party applications, such as Timetabler or Edval, to manage things. This however is not the case for primary schools. They have no need for the intricacies of a robust timetabling package, the issue though is that they still need a timetable.

The solution Synergetic offer is a lightweight application called Primary Time. It allows users to create timetable blocks and place them within a visual grid. I have two concerns with Primary Time. The first is that you need to populate a lot of information associated with rooms, teachers, groups and subjects that does not flow through to the timetable file produced. Although there is the means of uploading this information in Primary Time via CSV files (click here for a copy of the different files), these files still need to be made beforehand and maintained moving forward. The second issue is that there is not a direct connection between the two applications. Unlike other software packages that develop a constant connection that allows for a flow of information back and forth, users are required to manually download a file from Primary Time and upload this into Synergetic.

The problem with all of this is that the timetable applications ideally act as the source of truth when it comes to timetable related information. That means if Primary Time were to be used in this way, users would need to follow the tedious cycle of updating Primary Time and then reloading it, every time a change needed to be made, no matter how large or small this change may be. (This issue is compounded by the fact that you cannot download timetable related information from Synergetic and upload it into Primary Time.)

Another factor at play is the reality that most primary schools do not require an explicit period-by-period timetable. Instead, timetables are usually developed around exceptions, with the rest of the time being allocated to a classroom teacher, allowing the to balance and bend their teaching time. Locking in a highly descriptive timetable therefore serves little purpose and is often a hindrance, rather than a help. For most primary schools in Victoria the timetable is required for roll marking purposes, with primary schools mandated to enter results for AM and PM.

An alternative to using Primary Time is manually entering the timetable within Synergetic. Although this is an option, especially when generating roll marking periods, it to is still a very tedious process and not an ideal solution.

After these initial experiences, I was left with the question

How might we use another application to make the development of a timetable for schools easier and more efficient?

At the end of the day, all that Primary Time does is produce a CSV file with six columns: day, period, form, class, room and teacher. This seemed quite simple. I therefore started by trying to reproduce a school timetable by cutting and pasting cells in Google Sheets. This worked, however it was still fiddly, therefore not a feasible solution.

I wondered if there was some way of automating this process, at least generating a basic timetable that could be manipulated. I remembered reading a post a while back from Martin Hawksey documenting a formula for repeating data. (A win for serendipity.) I started with this and then progressively unpacked each column further, addressing the particular requirements. I must admit, I did get some additional help from Hawksey on the formulas that I had conjured together. I eventually managed to put something together.

It involved entering the days in the timetable, the sessions running each day and a list of classes with their rooms and teachers. It would then generate a list with a copy of each class for each session. There were two problems with this. Firstly, it was not easy to add in the specialist classes. Secondly, it was still unwieldy and confusing.

Fine I could make a copy of the timetable adjust it in order to add specialists, one of the challenges with this is working with the timetable in a list format. The ability to visualise the timetable is one of the benefits of using an application like Primary Time. My solution was to recreate the lists as a dynamic table, with a dropdown button to choose the teacher.

To make this, I built on the work of Ben Collins and David at CIFL around the use of the VLOOKUP formula. It also meant I had to INDEX the table to start with the form column. In addition to this, I made a dynamic selector created using data validation to choose the class. Although this answered the visual problem, as soon as different variables (10 day timetable or 8 period day) were added then the table would break. Maybe there is another way I could do this, but I felt like I hit a wall, so I decided to focus on making a simpler solution.

I had started out with the intent of making it easier to create a timetable for Synergetic, so rather than worry about creating a full timetable, I instead turned my attention to creating a timetable solely for timetabling purposes. Rather than create a line for each period, I focused on creating a line for each roll marking period. This way I did not have to worry about anyone making sense of the lists of periods and classes, instead the end user would enter their values and download the corresponding CSV file. The problem that remained was how to make this fail proof.

Spreadsheets can become busy places very quickly and the sight of lengthy formulas puts a lot of people off.


The challenge then was to focus on inputting the values. I moved the inputs from the page with the formulas and made a separate sheet for that information. After some feedback I then split this information again, with one sheet providing a space to list the teachers, classes and rooms, while the other sheet providing a summary of the days in the timetable and the roll marking periods. Although this hopefully made it easier, there was still the challenge of downloading the CSV file.

To me the process was clear. Enter the classes and definitions, then download the timetable file. The process though of clicking on the right sheet, going to File and then downloading a CSV provided too many concerns. I asked around if it would be possible to turn it into a script. Some colleagues said yes, but suggested just focusing on the downloading of the CSV, with that being the particular point of contention. So I did what I often so, returned to Google.

I have wanted to explored Google Apps Script for a while, but always found other things to distract me. Finally I had a clear purpose. To start off I worked through Ben Collins’ introduction to Apps Script. It provided a useful starting point and a button for my script, but it did not address my particular challenge. After reading numerous forum posts and scrolling through the Developer Page and Drive APIs, I stumbled upon a code that Michael DeRazon had shared on GitHub for downloading a Spreadsheet to Google Drive. As with all things borrowed, I took to bending the code to fit my needs, but none of the changes that I tried worked. I eventually had a colleague look over it and provide some guidance. He pointed out that there was a loop that was messing things up and came up with the solution of downloading the CSV file to Drive and then download to the computer.

Although this was not necessarily the solution I had hoped for, in that it downloaded a copy to Drive before downloading a CSV to the computer, it at least addressed the problem, making the creation of a timetable easier and more efficient. You can get a copy of the sheet here.

For those who got this far, well done and thank you. It would have been easy to have just shared a copy of my resource and be done with it, but I think that the real value is found in the thinking behind it all. To me, this captures the power and potential of digital technologies as summarised by Richard Olsen. He breaks it down into the following:

  • Feedback-Rich Learning
  • Reuse-Rich Learning
  • Continuously Evolving Learning

To build on Jennifer’s point at the start, there are no original ideas and the remix thereof is an ongoing process.

So what about you? What ideas have you borrowed and bent? How have you changed and extended them? As always, comments welcome.

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Developing a Writing Workflow

Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

I have been following Doug Belshaw’s posts associated the art and science of blogging. In a recent one he spoke about the tools associated with crafting a post. This led me to reflect upon my own processes. I have touched on this [before](secret blog), actually a few times, however what I feel I have not necessarily discussed are the changes that have occurred over time. As my blog turns four, it is interesting to look back at the journey.

My blog was born on Blogger. Coupled with that my early preference was to craft drafts in Evernote. Not only was it mobile, but it provided the ability to work across devices. I soon moved on from Evernote though after I lost a post because I had gone offline and when it synced with an older version. I lost hours of work (maybe you haven’t really blogged if this hasn’t happened to you). I am sure that it was my fault, however I decided to move anyway.

My next solution was the native Blogger app. I liked this as it was all in one place. If I needed to I could move to the desktop. I wrote many a post on my phone, punching out a line here and there. However, two problems arose. My discovery of Flickr and Alan Levine’s Attribution Tool, as well as my move from Blogger to a space of my own. That all meant a different solution.

In my move to WordPress, I lost control of my workflow for a while. One of the differences between the two platforms was the options I had when posting (WordPress has heaps). I also started tinkering a lot more with embedding content, such as YouTube, which were baked into the Google ecosystem. When I think about those challenges, many are now none existent, with solutions seemingly added into subsequent undates. However, it felt different back then.

The first challenge was that the native WordPress app was not as robust as the Blogger one. I subsequently resorted to finishing posts on the laptop, while developing them in a different space. The search for the ideal ‘other’ space ensued. Around this time, the ability to work offline in Google Docs on mobile became available, so I turned there. For the most part, this was my dominant solution. However, this did not work across all my devices due to my inability to update the latest operating system to accommodate these changes. I therefore tinkered with other options, such as Google Keep and Notes on iOS, as they linked with my Google account, therefore making them available in a number of places.

No matter what choice I made, it just never took. For example, Keep was quick but did not allow for links and I did not like how it presented things. Notes worked, especially on iOS. However, they too were basic. Even Docs started bringing across this weird code when I cut and paste it into WordPress. Another problem that arose was the lack of organisation within any of the applications. Fine I could use tags or folders to sort files, however this did not necessarily help in identifying my current posts and projects.

This all led me to revisiting Trello and wondering if I could better utilise it to fit my current workflow. I use it in my workplace to manage projects. However, my attempts to implement a Kanban model for myself failed. It just did not click with the way I work. (After watching Ian O’Byrne’s video, I feel I am not the only one.) I therefore took to it with fresh eyes and created a list for everything ongoing: posts, presentations, projects, resources and items requiring following-up. Rather than saving everything to Keep and getting lost in the ensuing chaos, in Trello I organise items into particular lists.

In regards to blogging, using Trello has allowed me to build out ideas. So rather than have a bunch of text, I can progressively add comments, lists, links and resources to a card. What’s more, Trello allows me to write in Markdown, therefore alleviating any issues associated with hidden code. (I have started writing my newsletter in Markdown in Google Docs.) Having everything coordinated in one place also allows me to easily review what I have done (even if I have archived cards) and survey where to next.

My process of writing will continue to develop. It always has. Technology comes and goes, whether it be devices or applications. What is important is that I will continue to reflect. Taking in new habits and offloading others. There are platforms like Scripting and Jekyll that I still wish to explore, while Naomi Barnes’ post on how she organises her day has me wondering about how I might better integrate my the personal and organisational aspects of my life. Something David White and Alison Le Cornu started unpacking in a recent paper. So what about you? What is your writing workflow? How has it changed over time? As always, feel free to comment. Always interested.

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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:


‘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:


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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