Wednesday, 27 December 2006

5 things you may not know about me etc

Hope you all had a great xmas.  I did!

So....John tagged me, and I'm supposed to tell you 5 things....

I'm very tempted to follow Tom Hoffman's lead and make up 5 bits of nonsense.  You decide if these are true or not :)

  1. I have passed exams in French, German, Latin and Spanish

  2. I used to play in a band called The Catburgers

  3. I have travelled in a car with Nico (she sang with The Velvet Underground).

  4. I have led an E1 rock climb (Captain Birdseye at Cummingston)

  5. I am a Buddhist, and have attended a number of week-long silent meditation retreats.

I tag Tess, Paul, David, Brian and Don.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Blogging for Beginners - Posting and Commenting Tips

In this instalment of "Blogging for Beginners" I'd like to answer a few questions, and explain the simple things you can do to make it easier for potential readers to find your posts. Subscribers (people who have put the RSS feed from your blog into something like Bloglines) won't need these, but how is anyone going to become a subscriber unless they read one of your posts?

Write something worth reading!

I don't claim to have any clear idea of what constitutes a good post, but there's clearly no point drawing huge crowds to your blog if they find mince when the get there! ProBlogger (a blog that covers every aspect of blogging in much more detail than I have in this series) has a category full of great advice on writing worthwhile content.

Liz asked me how long a blog post should be. ProBlogger has an answer of sorts here.

Actually, ProBlogger has the answer to just about everything! You should definitely stick it in your RSS reader because it's full of useful advice.

Tag your posts.

Now that you've got something worth reading in your blog, you want people to be able to find it. Help them by adding tags (or categories) to you posts. All blogging software allows you to put posts into multiple categories, and many also allow you to add Technorati tags. These categories and tags make it much easier for readers to find relevant material.

Track conversations with CoComment.

As I said in the last post, commenting on other people's blogs is what keeps the blogosphere going. It becomes very time consuming to keep track of all these conversations once you've written comments on more than a handful of blogs. This is where CoComment comes to the rescue. Once you've registered (free again!) and installed the Firefox add-on the comments you make are automatically tracked. You can subscribe to a feed of all comments made subsequent to yours. Very cool! I gather it even works with other browsers ;)

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Blogging for Beginners - Understanding the Glue

I'm a relative newcomer to the blogging game. It's not rocket science, but there are a few things that I wish I had been told when I started. I'm aware that there are a lot of new bloggers in East Lothian - this post is for you guys! I'll explain how you can help your blog to get connected to the bigger world of blogs.

The blogosphere (a hideous term used to describe all the blogs out there) is held together by the connections between blogs. These connections do not form by themselves - you have to get out there and make them yourself. It's like going to a party - if you stand in a corner and don't speak to anyone then you are unlikely to have a good time!

Technorati is your friend

Technorati sits at the centre of the blogging universe. Register with Technorati (it's free) and claim you blog. You will then get to something like this:

technorati clip

Not particularly impressive stats, but the number of links is an important measure of how widely your blog has been noticed. It's nice, as time goes by, to see the numbers go up :)

Write some posts

Before you launch yourself onto the world of blogging, try to have several posts on your blog already. When bloggers become aware of a new blog, they are very likely to have a look at it. If they find an empty blog, or one where the last post was written 2 weeks ago, they may never come back! There's good advice on launching your blog here.

Learn about RSS

RSS feeds are tiny files that each blog produces. They list all the recent posts on a blog, and can be used with an RSS reader to keep an eye on lots of blogs without having to go visit them all every day. Register with Bloglines (free) and add feeds from your favorite blogs. If you're in Scottish Education, you might like to use this OPML file as a starting point. You can import this into Bloglines and you'll get feeds from a whole bunch of education related blogs. More on the importance of RSS on

If you want to get comments, make them

The most important way to get noticed is to start commenting on other people's blogs. Be sure to enter the address of your blog in the relevant field, so that readers can easily get to your blog. Commenting on each other's blogs is the central means of communication in the blogosphere. It's good to talk :)

Learn about Trackbacks

The exact workings of trackbacks depend on what blogging software your are using, but basically a trackback is a message from one blog to another, saying "I mentioned this post on your blog." If you look at the comments on some blog posts, you will see these trackbacks at the bottom. If you read an interesting blog post, and feel inspired to write about it, be sure to put a link to the post, and enter the address into the trackback field in your post editor if such a thing exists. That way the author of the original post and other readers of the post will become aware that you have joined the conversation.

Use you Blogroll

All blogs have some form of blogroll - a list of blogs that the author recommends. Use yours! Every blogger you list will notice that you've done so (via Technorati or a similar tool) and may potentially become one of your readers.

Have fun

Blogging is fun. Don't let it become a chore :)

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

No brownie points for Micro$oft today.

Aaaargh... I finished typing a beautifully crafted email to all maths teachers in East Lothian this afternoon, and clicked on "send." I was working in Microsoft Outlook Web Access. Can you guess? Timed out! No auto-saving, whole email lost, I had to start from scratch. How silly of me to spend more than 10 minutes writing an email! Jeeeez

So anyway, I've just about finished rewriting it, but I decided to save and take a break before sending it. I checked my gmail and got a link to this:

I love this bit:
As a best practice, users should always exercise extreme caution when opening unsolicited attachments from both known and unknown sources.

In other words, opening any Word document that you didn't create yourself is a very risky business. Wow! I think I'll be sending back any Word attachments with a link to this announcement until a patch is issued and school applies the patch to the machines I use. At home I'm mostly on Linux and OpenOffice. I sleep soundly at night :)

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

How do you see Glow?

Do you see Glow as the ground in this picture:

Glow as Earth

or as the walls in this one?

glow as prison

I guess I'm not alone in hoping that the first metaphor is better suited to what Glow will become.

If so, then we need not worry too much about what Glow itself can and can't do internally.  What Glow does well will happen within Glow, and what it doesn't do so well will be done elsewhere. Glow will provide a ground of functionality out of which the interesting stuff can develop. In order for Glow to be successful, based on the first metaphor, we need it to allow the seamless flow of information to and fro between it and the wider Web:  RSS feeds in other words!

Provided we get these facilities, I don't share the concerns of others about Sharepoint as a platform.  Sharepoint can do the boring stuff, which I hope it is fit to do, and the rest can happen wherever works best.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Pete and Viv's Fun Page

Looking for good old fashioned Web fun?  Look no further than Pete and Viv's Fun Page.  I love this site.  It reminds me of how homepages used to look in the days when making a Web site used to mean getting your hands dirty with HTML in a plain old text editor.  Only 8691 visits?  It's a disgrace!  Spread the word :)

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Ho ho ho

I'm afraid it's happened already - the tree is up in our living room!  My wife gets a free tree as a perk of being employed by the Foresty Commission, and this weekend was the only time we were free to go collect it before the holidays.

So here it is - a picture of minimalist subtlety as ever :)


Saturday, 2 December 2006

Pushing at an open door

Don's post about a virtual advisory service has set me to pondering how far we have come in the last few years in our use of the Internet to support effective teaching and learning, and the extent to which central educational bodies can support further development.

We have reached critical mass for the live web to become an integral part of education. Over the last few weeks, I've been encouraging maths teachers to blog and to set up class blogs, and discovered that I'm pushing at an open door. Craig, Tim, Mags, Jenny, and Paul have all made a start already. I know that we still have a majority of staff for whom the whole thing is a bit of a mystery, but more and more teachers are realising that blogging is a simple, easy thing to do with classes that enriches the learning and teaching experience. My guess is that within a year or two class blogging will have become a routine activity - just another part of good practice that most people do. In the words of Darren Kuropatwa:
All my classes are hybrid classes. They have both a face-to-face component and an online component. Each class is supported by a blog.

In this context, it's important that LTS's actions nurture and support the growing blogosphere that already exists in scottish education. I think East Lothian's work on Exc-el points the way. The key feature of East Lothian's approach has been the freedom that bloggers have been given. Want a blog? - go ahead and set one up for yourself, no questions asked. No heavy corporate disclaimers and acceptable use policies to sign. No paperwork to fill in. No formal support mechanisms even! Just go for it! We trust you.

This has been a brave experiment, and the results are plain to see - usage of Exc-el is rocketing. It's being used by everyone from lowly heads of education right up to the students themselves!

So, the future's looking rosy, right? Well, not necessarily. The nightmare scenario goes something like this: every class in Scotland is given a bland, "Education Scotland" branded blog over which they have no control in terms of look-and-feel. A restrictive, risk averse blogging policy is created that forbids class blogging outwith this environment. A heavy-handed filtering system is implemented to censor access to blogs and who can post comments on them.

We've seen exactly this kind of approach taken to Web1.0 in education. Neil points this out in "Computer Say No" and goes on to examine the causes and possible solutions. Unless we actively engage with decision makers in educational IT at an authority level and try to persuade them to be less risk averse, we are bound to see these policies repeated. What is the person who believes Flickr, Blogspot and Youtube should be blocked going to think when they realise that a blog is a place where anyone in the world can write a comment? No chance. Wikis? You must be joking! We are still under the radar now. The struggle to keep the door open to Web2.0 in education has not yet begun.

I'm delighted to read that LTS are aware of the problems highlighted by Neil. All the people I know working at LTS in this field are definitely good-guys, far more forward thinking and knowledgeable than I, so I'm optimistic. My only concern is that the good guys may not be the ones that get to make the decisions.

Tagedu looks nice

Tagedu is a very web2.0 take on resource sharing for education.  It's even got a logo generated by the infamous web2.0 logo generator (which seems to be off-line now).

Whilst the Ajaxy tagcloudy web2.0yness of it all is a bit over the top, the idea seems very good to me.  If they would just relax and let users generate content in an easy manner they might really be onto something.  As it stands, it's empty and it will probably stay empty. It's got tagging and user ratings though - all good.

I would make a comment about Glow at this point, but I'm following the advice not to say anything that might be construed as negative ;)

Friday, 1 December 2006

Dapper just blew my mind


I just stumbled upon Dapper.

Incredible. Just incredible. I'm too gobsmacked to explain it properly - let me just show you what I did in 10 minutes:

this link is an RSS feed of all the blogs listed on the front page of exc-el on the right hand side. Whenever David Gilmour adds another blog to the list, the RSS feed will dynamically pick it up. Let me be clear here. Exc-el does not automatically produce an RSS feed of all its blogs. Dapper is looking at the page and doing some smart analysis to grab all the links in the section containing the blogs. It then automatically packages up that information as an RSS feed.

Want more?

this link is the URL for a netvibes module of the same information.

If I wanted to I could have also grabbed the blogs on the top left too - just didn't have time.

Sweet...very sweet. I feel a bit dizzy with the potential of it. I remember feeling like this before, quite recently, but I can't quite remember what it was about. Ruby on Rails maybe?
My next project is to produce an RSS feed from the scotedublogs wiki - unless someone else fancies doing it as a wee warm-up exercise? :)