A Place to Call Home

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, which got me thinking about why that might be.

I think the obvious answer is that it’s just too easy to contribute on other platforms. When I first started blogging I used to post almost every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. It was to share a video or a picture that I found, jot down an idea, or just share a thought.

These days, there are easier ways to do that than with a blog. For many, it’s Facebook. For me, for a long time, it was Twitter (and it still might be if I could sort out this stupid password issue!) More and more it’s becoming Google+, which really is emerging as THE social platform of the future. These services make it so easy to throw an idea out there quickly. And let’s face it, for most people the level of engagement you get back on these platforms is probably higher. It’s really no surprise that most of us are blogging less often.

But having said that, I’m incredibly glad that I started this blog back in 2006. Looking through the archives there have been only a few months where I didn’t write something here, and over time this blog has grown into a body of work that I look back at and feel proud of. It’s a collection of ideas and experiences that has become extremely defining for me, and in many ways have been a major contributor to where I am in life right now. I’ve found that blogging has been extremely powerful for me because it’s forced me to think in public.

Despite the fact that I write here less than I used to, and instead contribute to the conversation in other places with other tools, I understand the reasons for it. Given the rise of these other social platforms, it’s probably to be expected. But at the same time, I’m very glad that I own this WordPress space of mine. I’ve seen free tools come and go, I’ve seen Google discontinue “unpopular” products, and I’ve poured lots of time and energy into social spaces that I no longer have any permanent record of.

That’s the nice thing about a blog. You own it. It’s yours. You’re in control of it. The longer I live on the web, the more I appreciate that.

Being Visible Is Hard

VisibleI was talking to a couple of people today about the way we use blogs with our students.  At my school we have a number of students and classes blogging, and every one of these blogs is completely open and visible to the public web. These folk were asking, with an obvious degree of concern, how we deal with this public visibility of student blogs and what steps were we taking to prevent them being seen by “just anyone”.

I’ve tried to convince many people to try blogging over the years. Usually, their biggest objection is “why would anyone want to read what I write?”  Their concern is usually about the huge waste of effort that blogging will be because they don’t truly believe that anybody will ever read or take any interest in what they have to write. They imagine that their work will go into the black hole of the Internet where it never gets seen by anyone.

And yet, when we talk about getting students blogging on the open web, the usual concern is just the opposite. We worry more about how we can stop “all those people out there” from seeing the student blogs. We worry that our students will be endangered by throngs of strangers seeing their writing online.

Well, which is it? Are we worried that nobody will see the things we post online, or are we worried that everybody will see the things we post online? It’s an interesting contradiction.

The truth is that the vast majority of blogs have a readership of close to zero.  Getting people to find and read your blog is hard work. It takes a lot of promotion and campaigning to get people to find and connect with a blog. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s probably even harder when that blog belongs to a school student.  We worry a lot about ‘stranger danger’ but unless a teacher actively pursues an audience for their students’ blogs, I suspect most would be lucky to get a visit from anyone beside mum and dad and a few family friends.

Despite our concerns about the perils of putting our kids online, the biggest challenge of blogging with students is not exposure, but obscurity.

Creative Commons photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andercismo/2349098787/

Why I don’t want to lose Google Reader

Reader logo

I just left a comment on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog Websites of the Day, in response to a post called The Best Alternatives To Google Reader Now That It’s Being Shut Down. As the title suggests, after Google dropped the bombshell today about closing down Google Reader, Larry was very helpfully suggesting some alternatives. And they are good suggestions of course, but I think this decision to shut down Reader is more far-reaching than just finding an alternative tool.

Anyway, I left quite a long comment on the post with a few ideas that were on my mind, so I thought I’d crosspost it here as well, just in case it helps stimulate further discussion.  But please do go visit Larry’s original post…

Larry,

I agree with you… I’m deeply disappointed that Google is shutting down Reader. And as good as these suggestions for alternatives are, I suspect most of them will be fairly poor replacements for Reader…

a) Reader is a part of the Google suite of tools. When I’m logged into Gmail all day, have my Calendar and Drive open, regularly connecting to YouTube or Maps or Blogger, then the convenience of having Reader as part of that suite is huge. In a school situation, running Google Apps for Education, the fact that it’s just a built-in part of the environment you work in is hugely powerful. Single sign on. One click, boom, you’re there. Alternatives will break that convenience.

b) Reader is not just a website, it’s a whole RSS management engine. Most of the ways I consume the RSS feeds in Reader don’t actually involve me going to reader.google.com. Instead, they are picked up by Flipboard, River of News, or some other service. I have feeds that act as triggers for cron jobs. I have feeds that do all sorts of things and end up on all sorts of other services and devices, and the reason I can do this is because the Reader API is so open and ubiquitous. When I open FlipBoard I see an option to automatically grab the feeds from Reader… I don’t see any other options there for Bloglines or Feedly or Newsblur. I may be able to set that up manually, I don’t know I haven’t looked, but these other tools don’t have anywhere near the ubiquity of the Reader API.

c) I think your fears about losing Feedburner are well founded. I’m concerned about that too.

d) Like many bloggers, I’ve gradually built up a readership through people subscribing to my blog. While I don’t suppose that all of them subscribe using Reader, I’m sure many do. I’ll be expecting to see my blog readership numbers fall through the floor when Reader gets turned off. I think the same will happen to many others.

e)Ooverall, I’m just disappointed that Google would even consider doing this. As an enthusiastic Google user, Google Certified Teacher, and Google Apps Certified Trainer, it makes me annoyed and embarrassed that Google would kill off a product that so many people clearly care deeply about. Reader may not be sexy and shiny like Google+ but it’s hugely powerful and has an huge following. To see the #Reader hashtag push the #pope hashtag from the top spot today certainly makes me wonder how they can claim that “hardly anyone uses Reader”. I’m hoping they will listen to the people and reverse this decision, much like they did recently with Calendar Appointment Slots. Google CAN show they listen to what people want. I just hope they do it this time as well.

d) I get that Reader is a free service. I get that Google has the right to do whatever the hell it wants with it. But to give it to us and then suddenly take it away feels like bait and switch to me. It makes me question what else might get taken away some day. And it makes me feel much less like I can rely on, or trust, Google.

e) I’d even offer to pay an annual fee for Reader, but that hasn’t even been offered as an option. Not now, not in the past.

It’s all just very disappointing.

Edublog Awards Nominations 2012

It’s that time of year again. Time to submit nominations for the 2012 Edublog Awards.

There are those who criticise the idea of giving out awards for educational blogs as being a bit silly, or a bit unnecessary, or a bit selfserving, or a bit self-indulgent. They complain that the voting process is flawed, or that it’s just a popularity contest, or that it promotes the wrong kinds of values.  Some complain that it’s just a chance for gratuitous self promotion, both for the bloggers themselves and for the companies that promote educational blogging.

I’m not one of those people. I think anything that supports, encourages and promotes the use of blogs in education is a good thing. Blogs are all about writing, sharing, thinking, pondering. Writing a blog forces you to clarify your thinking, state your position, defend your point of view. Blogging is a way to connect with others, debate ideas that matter to you, build a community of learners and be part of a bigger conversation.

Some say that blogs are not really needed any more now that we have so many other outlets. Yes, social networks are wonderful forums for sharing, but blogs are different. Facebook and Google+ have taken over many of the sharing functions that blogs originally had, and for simple sharing of links, videos and pictures, they probably do a better job. Twitter might be a quick, easy and more conversational way to share stuff, but it’s highly ephemeral and can lack depth because of the 140 character limit. A good blog can go deeper, have greater substance, more permanence, and better reflect the personality of the blogger.

Speaking personally, a large part of the connection, camaraderie and community that I experience every day from my network of friends and colleagues originated from my blog. So many of the opportunities I’ve had to meet, talk, share and even travel, have come from the connections I’ve made here. Don’t underestimate the value of blogging. But blogging takes work. It takes a degree of dedication and commitment to stick with it, to keep producing posts that push your thinking a little bit further each time. It takes a degree of bravery to commit ideas to print for the world to see, and to be willing to both stand by your beliefs, to be willing to have them challenged, and sometimes changed. Sure, blogging is about writing, but it’s about so much more than just writing. Blogging is personal growth in a public forum. And that takes courage.

So I don’t think the idea of having Edublog Awards is silly at all. If people are willing to put their ideas out there and engage in conversation with others, they deserve every bit of encouragement and recognition they can get.

So, it is with pleasure that I present my nominations for the 2012 Edublog Awards…

Best Individual Blog
Jabiz Raisdana (http://www.jabizraisdana.com/blog/)  Jabiz is a thinker… always challenging, always thoughtful, always pushing the boundaries. He shares openly and freely, he understands what it means to be a node in a network, and he is never afraid to explore his ideas in public. He writes with passion and insight and deserves to be read widely.

Best Teacher Blog
Rebekah Madrid (http://rebekahmadrid.wordpress.com/) Rebekah defines what it means for a teacher to have heart and soul. She cares so deeply about what she does and the students she teaches, and her blog puts it all out there for the world. She is a teacher who shares what goes on in her classroom, and in sharing her thinking with the world she strives to make it better all the time.

Best Teacher Blog
Zoe Page (http://blogs.yis.ac.jp/pagez/) Zoe is a kindergarten teacher who discovered the value of connectedness a couple of years ago and fully embraced it. She’s not a techie, just a passionate and committed educator who cares enormously about being the best teacher she can be. Her blog shares what she does with her kids and documents a personal journey of enormous growth.

Most Influential Blogpost
Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really. (http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/everything-you-know-about-curriculum-may-be-wrong-really/)  Easily the best blog post I’ve read this year. Maybe ever. It deserves all the attention it gets.

Best Library Blog
PLC Junior School Library (http://blogs.ludus.me/jlibrary/) Sandra McMullan is the librarian who publishes this blog. Although I was the person who introduced her blogging in the first place, I think she deserves recognition for the way she has embraced the idea and evolved her blog into a really vibrant online resource of links, book reviews, photos, and news.

Best educational use of audio/video/visual/podcast
The Google Educast (http://edreach.us/channel/googleeducast/) Ok, full disclaimer, I sometimes get to be part of this video podcast on the Edreach network, but since I’m not personally responsible for it, I’m nominating it anyway. The Google Educast is a weekly video podcast hosted by an amazing group of Google Certified Teachers that share news, tips and ideas for teaching with Google tools. It was one of the first podcasts to adopt the use of Google+ Hangouts on Air.

Gutless Comments

About 5 years ago, there was an incident in Adelaide where a classroom blog and the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services had a bit of a falling out.  It was well documented at the time, so I’m not going to rehash it here, suffice to say that it was a bunfight at the time and as a result there was significant tension between the educational blogging community and the Powers That Be in South Australia.

Like many other bloggers, I expressed my thoughts on it at the time. I spoke to the person who was directly affected by the dispute, as well as a number of other people in the know. Eventually, everyone involved tried to take what they could learn from the situation and we all just moved on.  Life is too short to be dragged down by that stuff.

However, over the last few weeks I’ve had some idiot posting abusive comments on this blog expressing (quite forcefully) their opinions on that situation from 2007. They have been abusive and rude to me personally, bluntly telling me that I’m an idiot and I don’t know what I’m talking about, and calling me all sorts of insulting and derogatory names. No need for details, suffice to say that they are just generally being an ignorant asshole.

What really pisses me off about this is that the person in question -who calls themselves “pav” or “pavalot” – is too gutless to use their real name, real email address or real website. They have the temerity to leave abusive comments on my blog, and possibly other blogs too, without having the courage to identify themselves or further engage in a debate about their point of view.

Naturally, I pick these comments up immediately and mark them as the spam trash they are. Nobody cares about the point of view of some ignorant nob who doesn’t even have the courage or common decency to use their real name.

So, whoever you are, I’ll tell you want. I’m happy to slug it out with you in private. You really want to have an argument with me about some incident that happened 5 years ago? I think you should grow up, but hey, bring it on. But do it as yourself, rather than hide behind a made-up email address and non-existent website. You have zero credibility when you do that and I will just keep removing your insulting, ignorant and libelous comments and putting them in the trash where they belong.

PS: I’ve reported your IP address to Internode as well, along with the full digital headers of your transactions. I hope they nail you to the wall.

Philly to Sydney with Year 2

If you like, you can skip right to the bottom of this post and just watch the video, but I always find the story behind the story kind of interesting. So I thought you  might like to know a little bit about how and why this video was made.

It started out with a simple tweet from my buddy Kim Sivick in Philadelphia.  It started a conversation that went something like this…

Do I know anyone who might make a quick Welcome to Australia video?

I sure do.

And besides, I owe Kim a favour. When I was running blogging workshops with our staff last year I was hoping to tap into the experiences of some very blog-savvy educators by getting them to Skype in and talk to our teachers about the realities and the practicalities of using blogs in the classroom. When I asked for volunteers on Twitter (where else?) Kim Sivick  was one of those who generously responded and agreed to spend time talking with us to share her expertise.

I also got to meet Kim in person at ISTE in Philadelphia last year too, so it was nice to “close the loop” on our virtual meetups.

Kim’s idea was deceptively simple. Get our kids to make a short video about a virtual trip to Australia, and in return her classes would make a video about a virtual trip to Philly for us.

With virtually zero planning, I dropped into one of our Year 2 classrooms and asked the teacher there, Lisa, if her kids would like to make a video for these students in Philly and she jumped at the chance. In no time, Lisa and I had a bit of  a brainstorm on what sorts of things we might do, and she started working with the kids to write a script using GoogleDocs. The script gradually evolved and took shape over the next few days.

I’d been wanting to do some work with chromakeying, or greenscreening for a while, but had just never gotten around to it. It wasn’t something I’d done before, but I suggested to Lisa that if we shot the video of the kids in front of a greenscreen, then it might be fun later to try and drop in the images of various parts of Australia as backgrounds. She thought that sounded pretty cool, so I went to our IT Director and asked if I could buy an inexpensive greenscreen kit. It was one of those things we’d talked about buying for a while, but never quite got around to it. With a reason to need it now, we went online and ordered it on the spot.

When it eventually arrived we set up a date for the shoot. The classroom was transformed into a studio for the morning with lights, camera, and plenty of action. I used iPrompt Pro on my iPad to transfer the script, and then held it up just under the camera lens as a  scrolling teleprompter so the kids could read the script as naturally as possible. We shot it on a Sony HiDef camcorder at 1080i/50. It took a few takes to get things right, but the kids really worked hard to do it was well as possible. Being able to repeat a section over and over in order to get it right was a valuable part of the learning experience.  When it came time to shoot, we all had fun calling out things like “Quiet on the set!” and “Rolling!”  and “Action!”, and running things just like a real movie set. I think the kids had a lot of fun recording it.

I took the footage back to my desk and dumped it all onto my MacBook Pro to ponder out the best way to edit it.  Although I definitely do want to get the kids doing more video work themselves, getting them to edit the footage was not really the learning goal for this particular exercise… it was all about their performance for the camera. After some experiments with iMovie I eventually decided that I’d cut it together with Premiere Pro instead. Premiere Pro was certainly not a program that I knew well, but this seemed like a great chance to get cosy with it. I’m glad I did… it’s a very impressive NLVE tool and I like it a lot more than Final Cut Pro 7.

I always try to make sure we set a good example for students regarding copyright, so it was important that all the background images were available under a Creative Commons licence. I think it’s really important that we demonstrate to our students that you can actually make worthwhile digital media without continually breaking copyright law. All the background images are CC licensed, as are the two pieces of music that I included, both from jamendo.com. The two videos were not released under CC, but using their YouTube contact address I wrote to the owners of both and both were more than happy for us to use their clip. One even offered to send us the hi-def footage! Most people are pretty generous if you just ask. Remember, Copyright doesn’t mean “you can’t use it”, it just means “you can’t use it without permission”, so if it’s not CC, then do the right thing and get permission! It’s just not that hard. (Publishing works under a Creative Commons license makes it much easier of course because it’s essentially an “up-front” permission which is pre-granted as long as you stick to the uses stipulated by the copyright owner)

After a couple of days of editing over the weekend, I did the final render to a 720p .m4v file and uploaded it to YouTube as a private link so the Philly kids (and our kids) could see it the next day.  Here’s the finished product…

It always nice to ceremonialise things that are a bit special, so we set a date for a premiere screening and invited all the Year 2 mums and dads in to watch. When the Year 1 Philadelphia kids watched it, they all wore Aussie bush hats and set up their classroom like the inside of a plane to watch the video.  We had our screening this morning and the movie played to a packed classroom of excited Year 2 students and their parents. Proud parents. Excited kids. Performing for a real audience. Making opportunities to create and practice and iterate. Immediate feedback. And lots of fun and laughs. An authentic learning experience?  You better believe it..

Kim tells me that her kids are working on the sequel for us, showing us their virtual trip to Philadelphia, so we are looking forward to that.

Lisa, our Year 2 teacher, now keeps asking me when we can do our next global project, and is coming up with lots of cool ideas for how it will fit into next terms syllabus.

Overall, I think I’d consider this whole thing a win, wouldn’t you. 🙂

Make up your Mind

Have you had this conversation with another teacher yet?

Me:  Hey, have you ever thought about starting a class blog?  You can use it publish what happens in your classroom, put up all the cool things your class does, and share it all with the world. What do you think?

Them: Are you crazy? Why would anyone be even remotely interested in reading about what we do? And anyway, no one will ever see it… they probably wouldn’t even be able to find it!

And then, eventually, they do start a class blog. And pretty soon the conversation changes to this…

Me: Hey, you should post up those photos of what your class did last week on your class blog. And what about that video you made with the kids? How about we post that on YouTube?

Them: Are you crazy? You want me to put that stuff with the kids online where everyone can get to it? It’s way too dangerous! I don’t want the whole world seeing it!

So which is it? When we post stuff online are we putting it somewhere where no one will ever find it, or are we putting it somewhere that the whole world can see it?

And which is worse?