Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting the integration of technology and innovation. I have an interest in how collectively we can work to creating a better tomorrow.

The Music of 2017 in Review, or The Year I Discovered Jack Antonoff

A reflection on the artists and albums that represented the soundtrack of 2017.


Music is important to who I am. Although I listen to a lot of podcasts, books and converse with people via Voxer, it is still music that I fall back on. Here then are some of the albums and artists that have caught my attention this year:

LCD Soundsystem

But out of the little rooms and onto the streets
> You’ve lost your internet and we’ve lost our memory
> We had a paper trail that led to our secrets
> But embarrassing pictures have now all been deleted
> By versions of selves that we thought were the best ones
> ‘Till versions of versions of others repeating
> Come laughing at everything we thought was important
> While still making mistakes that you thought you had learned

tonite

I have a habit of hearing a particular song and writing off an artist’s oeuvre based on it. I did it with ‘Over and Over’ by Hot Chip until I discovered Grizzly Bear’s cover of Boy from School, I also did it with ‘Daft Punk Are Playing at My House’ by LCD Soundsystem. It was only after a different me returned to the music with new ears that I realised what I had been missing. With LCD Soundsystem, it was James Murphy’s production of Arcade Fire’s Reflector that had me reviewing my assumptions. However, it was not until american dream that I finally dived in.

I came upon american dreams via Austin Kleon’s newsletter. My first impression was that the long flowing bleeps and beats seem to float on by. However, on repeated listens the seemingly careless tweaks seem to take on shape. You started to realise that what felt like a jam was very purposeful, especially in regards to the lyrical content. I had a similar experience with Radiohead, in particular, Kid A. Some music takes time.

Lorde

In my head, I play a supercut of us
All the magic we gave off
All the love we had and lost
And in my head
The visions never stop
These ribbons wrap me up
But when I reach for you
There’s just a supercut

Supercut

Earlier this year, my family and I spent two weeks in New Zealand. During that time, ‘Green Light’ had just been released and was on high rotation. The song and subsequent album are intriguing. I feel that it is ironic pop – if that is even a genre – in that it has many of the ingredients of popular music, whether it be four to the floor beats or lush layers, juxtaposed with unapologetic angst and honesty of someone reflecting on life at 19. This comes out in Lorde’s dissection of ‘Sober’ on the Song Exploder podcast.

The more I listen to the album the more I am baffled about what exactly draws me in. 19 year old me has long gone, yet there is still something that hooks me. I wonder if it is Jack Antonoff’s production, but I also think that it is rawness of the lyrics as well. In an interview, Antonoff describes Lorde as the Bjork and Kate Bush of our time. I guess we will see.

Arcade Fire

Well you’ve got one choice, maybe two
You can leave with me or I’ll go with you
I know you haven’t even met me yet
But you’re gonna love me baby when you get to know me

Chemistry

Another ironic album is Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. A fist pumping critique of fist pumping. It is one of those albums that has all the lyricals hooks and riffs to mindlessly sing and dance along too at an outdoor festival only, yet when you stop and look and listen, the music feels like a critique of that, instead calling for some kind of awakening and realisation of the world that we are creating.

Along with The National’s dark Sleep Well Beast and LCD Soundsystem’s american dream, if feels like these albums offer an intentional comment on the current climate. Having said this, I also find it interesting to listen to something like The Bleachers’ Gone Now from a political perspective. For at the end of the day, everything is ideological, or as Jack Antonoff suggests “music is a mini documentary of that moment“.

Ryan Adams

Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it

Clean

I am always intrigued by automation. Earlier this year I was driving back home across town and decided to put on some random driving playlist that Google made me. A few songs in this track started playing. It felt familiar, yet I had never heard it. The song was Ryan Adam’s cover of Wildest Dreams. I can only assume that Google thought I would like it based on both of my daughter’s obsession with Shake It Off. Well Google was right, I loved the whole album.

I remember watching an interview in which Adams explains how he chose to cover Wonderwall to annoy an ex. This album though seems more purposeful. A case of Bruce Springsteen meets The Smiths, Adams brings something different out with his reimagining of the songs. It was also fascinating a few months later, listening to Taylor Swift’s original album and comparing the two. Felt like comparing a book and movie adaptation, where you feel as if they are both capturing a particular tangent, yet neither quite captures the full circle.

Reuben Stone

Another plane, another train
I’m checking in and checking out again

Push to the Limit

This year, my daughters and I have regularly ventured into the city on the weekend in an effort to get out and about. This usually involves visiting one of the many parks or buying dumplings and donuts at the market, but it has also come to include listening to the many buskers that fill the streets. Some artists that come to mind are Amber Isles and their ability to fill.the sound of a full band even with the makeshift drum kit, as well as Gareth Wiecko and his layered piano concertos. However, the major highlight was Reuban Stone.

A self proclaimed samplologist, Stone builds songs from scratch, beginning with the beats, then layering this with various instruments, including vocals. Although his recorded material is good, his performances are something to be experienced. He manages to adjust to drag out tracks without feeling at all tedious or repetative. It seems mandatory to have a looper when busking these days, however Stone takes it to a new level.


So what about you? What music has caught your attention this year? What albums and artists have you had on high rotation? Like my discovery of all things Jack Antonoff, is there something that seems to tie your year together? As always, comments welcome.


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Zen and the Art of Blog Maintenance

An explanation of why maintaining your own space is so important

This is a reflection on my recent challenges associated with maintaining a blog and an explanation of why I persist in doing it.


I got talking with some of technical designers in my workplace recently. I was inquiring about the plausibility of a few ideas I was thinking about. I did not want to commit myself to something that was doomed from the outset. The question was then asked, “But you’re not a coder, right?” Technically, I guess I am not. I have developed a few solutions, in part based on code appropriated from others, but could I develop something from scratch. I guess not. This for me raises the question, in a world which coding is bandied around as the 21st Century literacy, what does it mean to code and be a coder? Is it about a broad understanding of the mechanics and meaning or is it the ability to make and do? Can these even be separated?

This problem raised its head again this week as I tried to fix a problem occurring with two of my sites. I was not receiving linkbacks from other sites. Although webmentions were coming through, there were mentions within blogs that were not even going through to my spam folder. Of course, this is not going to ‘break the web’, but it means that I am missing some of the conversations from those sending from their site.

I came upon the issue after receiving a few messages from people saying that their messages were being rejected or not flowing through. This was occurring in both directions, with my pings seemingly sending emails, but not properly flowing through to posts and comments. Here then are some of the steps I took to investigate. I share these with the hope that I can learn more about these problems, but also to record the steps for future reflection. They are in no way sequential and have been separated for the sack of representing them in a meaningful manner:


In the end, I decided to turn the Semantic Linkbacks plugin back on and see how it went. To my surprise, things seemed to work. I will continue to tinker and investigate. It is a reminder why I have a Domain of One’s Own. As Martha Burtis points out,

Learning WordPress should not just be about learning WordPress — it should also be about all the tacit lessons that go along with learning how to publish online in an open-source Web application.

I know that at anytime that the Facebooks and Wixs are waiting to greet me with open arms and every day I resist. So what about you? What have been your experiences? As always comments welcome, even more so from your own blog.


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Automating the Summary of Data

The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

My first iteration using Query and Sheets to automate a solution for turning a collection of data into a regular newsletter.

This year I decided to create a monthly newsletter collecting together the updates and resources that I came upon during the previous month. As I have reflected elsewhere, I realised that there was an opportunity to automate some of this process. Although some spoke about Pinboard or generating a post via email, I was interested in sticking to GSuite. I therefore began with the aim of generating a solution within Sheets. So here is my first iteration of an automated solution for turning a collection of links into a summary.

Organising the Data

I remember being in a session with Jay Atwood a few years ago talk about the importance of considering the way you collect your data before anything else. As I looked at my databases, one for updates and the other for resources, I realised that the first thing that I needed to do was reorganise the way that I was storing information. This included restricting the options associated with type and application, as well as separating the link and title and then smashing them together using the HYPERLINK formula. Inspired by Ben Collins’ post on working with text, I also created a column summarising the information in each row into Markdown summary.


Reorganised Data w/ Formulas by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

From Lookups to Queries

Once I had my data organised, I then started explored sorting and shaping the data. I began with a VLOOKUP with a dynamic selector. This allowed me to filter it in different ways. However, I quickly realised that this was limited. I turned to QUERY.

I remember David Krevitt talking about QUERY, describing it as the, ” big kahuna of Sheets functions.” I think this initially put me off. This time I opened up a number of guides from Krevitt, Collins and Anand Varma and dived in. This lead me to rewrite my VLOOKUP as a QUERY.

Bit by bit I stretched the solution. I began with a dynamic selector to represent variables and explored the ability to define queries by date. I then created a prototype with a query for each application across the sheet.


1st Iteration by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Once I had that working, I create a vertical set of queries. To allow for the variable of the unknown number of posts each month, I left 30 blank rows between each formula.

Filtering Results

To get rid of the spaces and the data headings, I used a FILTER formula and removed the spaces and column headings produced by the QUERY formulas. This left me with a choice, copy the MarkDown data and paste it without formatting, therefore removing the table/sheet that it was in, or using the add-on Sheets to Docs to copy the text to a Google Doc.


So that is the first step in my solution using Sheets to generate the text for a newsletter. My next challenge is transferring this to a Google Script. If you have any thoughts and advice about this, I would greatly appreciate it. Otherwise, as always feel free to leave a comment.


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Ongoing Reporting with GSuite

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

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


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

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

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

Docs

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

Slides

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

Sheets

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

Forms

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

Classroom

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

Google Drive

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

Keep

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

Sites

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


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


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Learning Technologies

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

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


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


Thermomix by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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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:

Pocket

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?

Inoreader

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.

Trello

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.

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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Also on:

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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