100 ways to use a VLE – #14 Writing a blog

February 26, 2010

I is writing a blog!

Though you may be reading this on my blog, for some practitioners and learners using a blog is an alien idea and they may not even know what a blog is, or what blogging means.

A VLE can be a quick and easy way for practitioners and learners to start blogging and learn the value of blogging.

A blog is an abbreviation of web log (weblog) and to put it simply is a log of commentaries, observations or reflections that is placed on the web.

Maintaining a reflective journal, thoughts about assignments, or writing notes about lessons; these activities can all be done on a blog.

However…

Not everyone has the confidence or the technical ability to start a blog.

Now I know that starting a blog is a piece of cake, however that may be easy, it is not necessarily such an effective practice for a complete class, curriculum area or a whole college.

Some institutions may consider putting a WordPress MU Server for blogging purposes. However this may not be an option for all colleges. If a WordPress MU Server is put in, then you can link to college systems to ensure that every learner can create their own blog.

Though one issue is not just technical confidence, but also confidence in what is being written. It’s one thing to write a reflective journal and be very open, it is a fundamentally different thing to post those reflections on an open blog for all to read. A learner is likely to be less open if they know everyone, their mum and their employer is going to be reading it. So you might want to close it off to just the learner (or learner group) and the tutor. This requires a modicum of technical confidence; can we assume that every learner can do this?

So though blogging systems such as WordPress or Blogger are great tools for individuals, they don’t really scale with groups or whole colleges.

This is where the VLE can come in.

It’s already configured with logins for learners, so that’s one job done, learners and staff who already use it have a familiarity with it as a tool.

You can use included blogging tools, but for some learners even a discussion forum might be a useful starting point. Advantage of built-in blogging functionality will be (hopefully) that it generates an RSS feed.

Blogging has real potential to enhance and enrich the learning experience of many learners; the VLE can be the right tool for some practitioners in introducing the concept to their learners.

Regardless of the above, if learners want to use other tools such as WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, instead of using a provided blogging tool on the VLE, then practitioners need to consider how they are going to incorporate these blogs into the learning activity. An obvious route is to use RSS feeds from these blogs.

The VLE is not an ideal blogging tool, but for many practitioners and learners it can be a useful and scalable blogging tool.

Photo source.

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Wordpress 2 – iPhone App of the Week

January 19, 2010

WordPress 2 iPhone App of the Week


I am hoping that this will be a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will also work on the iPod touch.

This week’s App is WordPress 2 (iTunes Store link)

I have written before on this blog about the WordPress App for the iPhone.

Back then I said

The interface is not fantastic, though having looked a little more into it, if you had an iPhone (it has a camera) you can add photos quite easily; from the iPod touch you can only (obviously) use images stored on the device.

I am reasonably impressed with the app and if it allows me to blog more easily and more often then that can only make my blog better (or will it).

In the end I have made use of it, as well as writing full blog entries I have also used it for ideas for blog posts which I can then use as drafts once I get behind a full size computer.

WordPress 2 is a revised version which looks and works better than the previous version. It also now supports password protected self-hosted blogs.

WordPress is blogging software, that you can either use free via WordPress.com (which is where this blog is hosted) or you can go to WordPress.org, download and install the software on your own server.

Once installed you can then post blog entries. One of the features of the software is you can either have a fully open blog or one with a password; a closed blog allows for example a learner and a tutor to reflect and communicate without letting the rest of the group (and the world) in on that conversation. A blog is different (better) than e-mail in that the reflections and conversations can be tagged, allowing both the learner and the tutor to collate and look at a group of blog entries. With e-mail they can get lost in amongst the body of e-mails we now get and many places limit how much e-mail you can store!

Since WordPress.com took advantage of the WPTouch theme, it can be much easier to view a WordPress blog on an iPhone (or other mobile device). You can also install WPTouch on your own WordPress installation if you are self-hosted.

The WordPress App on the iPhone allows you to post blog entries to your blog whilst on the move.

You can write entries, add images and then either publish direct, or save as a draft.

The App also works offline which makes it useful if you have the iPod touch, as you can write offline and then publish once you are in range of a wireless network.

Simple to use for just plain text, you can attach photographs, but can only embed them if you know soem HTML and already have the image somewhere already online! Not the easiest thing to do with an iPhone, though at least now we have copy and paste!

The WordPress App is a free app and WordPress.com can be used for free, so if you like free then this is one way that you can blog without needing to spend any money.

Blogging software is very much a personal thing, some like WordPress, others don’t. If you already and are happy using another service such as Blogger or Typepad then you are probably not going to swap to WordPress. However if you already use WordPress or are new to mobile blogging then the combination of the WordPress blogging software and the WordPress App has made it quick, easy and simple.


Top Ten Web Tools of 2009

January 6, 2010

Here are my top ten web tools of 2009. This is a list of web tools which I have used extensively over the last twelve months. Last year I posted my top ten web tools of 2008, here is my new list from 2009.

There were quite a few tools that I have been using and could have been in my top ten.

I really like Screenr, simply put, it is a free web based screencasting application. It captures what you do on your screen and then converts it a web video format and posts a notification to Twitter. You can then download the video as an MP4 movie file. I like it but haven’t made a huge use of it, so that’s why it’s not in my top ten.

A similar concept is Jing, though this requires you to download an application.

iPadio is a phone based podcasting service which has now been supplemented by an iPhone app. Some of the MoLeNET Mentors have made good use of iPadio, I have really used Audioboo.

I use to have strong reservations about Wikipedia, until I realised I used it on almost daily basis. No it’s not my only source, nor is it really an authoritative source, however it is a useful, quick and easy source of information.

I do like Prezi and have seen some excellent presentations using Prezi, however despite liking it, I have never used it in anger! Therefore it does not make my top ten.

I initially couldn’t see the point of Cloudworks, however ALT-C 2o09 and Ascilite 2009 demonstrated the value of Cloudworks as a repository of information, links and comments on conferences and keynotes. I will see how I use it in 2010 to see if it makes the top ten then.

Probably in at number eleven was Slideshare. I used it much more in 2009 than in 2008. However for me the main issue was that my presentations don’t really work on Slideshare as they are mainly pictures and single words, and that’s probably why it’s not in my top ten.

This is an e-learning blog and I should really mention Moodle, I use Moodle everyday as part of my day job, however I see this more as an institutional service rather than a web tool.

There were others which are very popular and didn’t even come close, the one you probably have heard of is Facebook. I have hardly used Facebook this year and am considering as others are in closing my account down.

In last year’s list, but not in this year’s are Qik, Remember the Milk and Crowdvine. I did use Qik, but nowhere as near as much as I did in 2008. The main reason was that thw quality was good enough for people to go “wow” but that was about it. The “live” bit was okay, but not good enough to use on a regular basis. It was just as easy to record video on the iPhone and then upload to TwitVid or YouTube. I have though just downloaded the version for the iPhone 3GS and that may make a difference to how much I use it now. I still use Remember the Milk, but not as effectively as I would like, so more work needed there from me and them. I also did use Crowdvine at ALT-C 2009 and the scheduling was useful as was the communicating, but there was nothing new there compared to 2008 and therefore it dropped out of the top ten. If the social networking intergration was better I am pretty sure it would have probably creeped in. However it was too slow in picking up Twitter posts, Flickr photos and blog posts; this is very important for a conference networking tool.

Anyway onto the top ten for 2009.

10. Evernote

Now why would you use Evernote when you can use Google Docs? Well What I find Evernote is good for is note taking whereas I use Google Docs for writing documents. With Evernote though, you can use it through apps offline, through a web interface in a browser (useful on shared computers), in an iPhone app (iTunes Store Link). I like how you can add screenclips, screenshots, photographs and audio to your notes too. This blog entry was started on Evernote for example. It has great uses for learning too, learners can use it to store notes and with the ability to have different notebooks and tagging, will make it very easy to find notes when it comes to writing assignments or revision.

9. Etherpad

This is also one of those services which you may think, why not just use Google Docs? Well Google thought it was different enough they bought the company! Etherpad is a simple concept which works really well. Create a pad, share the URL and then everyone can help create a shared document; where it is special is that you can do this simultaneously. So as you type, I can type, you will be able to see what you’re typing and what I am typing too. This is brilliant in meetings and at conferences where you can share links, ideas, notes, comments together. In the past a group in a meeting may have had separate notebooks (real or virtual) now with Etherpad you can share a single electronic notepad. The MoLeNET Mentors have used it with great effect as a shared notebook. Imagine a study group of learners using Etherpad to share lecture notes, links, resources, comments, drafts.

8. Shozu

Shozu was my number five web tool last year, it has dropped a few places, but I still use it on a regular basis. What Shozu does for me is when I ever take a photograph using my Nokia N95 I can immediately upload the image to Flickr. With a little preparation I can add relevant tags (or edit tags on the fly) and it will also add the geo-data using the GPS on the N95. What this means is that when I am at an event I can take lots of photographs and people who want to see what is going on can easily see from my photographs. It also allows me to capture my day in a kind of lifestream giving me a record of what I have done, who I have met and where I have been. I also use Shozu to upload photographs and video to Twitter services such as TwitPic and TwitVid. I have also used it to upload content to my blog.

7. Audioboo

This has been one fun app to use on the iPhone. So what is Audioboo? Well it’s a service I first saw demonstrated at the All Together Now event at Channel 4. To put it simply it is an App (iTunes Store Link) on your iPhone that allows you to record an audio recording, add your location, a picture and upload the lot to a website. This has some real  potential for learning activities. As you have an account on the website (not essential but recommended) your recordings are kept together and also have an RSS feed as well, which people can subscribe to via iTunes or other podcasting applications. I have mainly used Audioboo to show people what Audioboo can do. I hope to in 2010 use Audioboo to do a regular short podcast.

6. Ustream

So you want to create video, live video? You want to share that live video with lots of people? Well yes you can stream from your computer, however if you have limited bandwidth then this can be a problem. Services such as Ustream allow you to easily stream live video across the web to many different users, even if you have limited bandwidth such as over a 3G connection. I used Ustream a few times over 2009 to stream keynotes from the Plymouth e-Learning Conference, the VLE is Dead session live from ALT-C 2009 and also various MoLeNET Live “online conferences”. There is now an iPhone app so you can stream live from your iPhone 3GS. Simple to use, easy for people to interact with, live video streaming from UStream is a great technology with lots of learning potential. Learners in the workplace could stream from their work or access live streams from lecturers in college or in the field (or literally in a field).

5. Google Docs

Last year Google Docs scraped into my top ten at number ten. This year I have put it in at number five. The main way I use Google Docs is to write a document that I know I will be working from on multiple computers. Now I know I could use a USB stick, but it assumes I have the same application on all machines, which is not always the case. For example my work machines have Office 2003, fine, but my Mac has Office 2008 (the newer version), my home Mac only has Pages, my Samsung Q1 only has Open Office as does the Asus EeePC. Sometimes the PC is runing Office 2007. Using Google Docs allows me to have a single copy of a document, share that document and export or print in variety of formats. For example I can download my document as a PDF. I have used Google Docs many times throughout 2009 to work on documents with other people from across the world and that has proved how useful this service is to me. Learners will find that using Google Docs as the service to use in writing their assignments (especially group assignments) will avoid the headaches of different versions of Word, losing USB sticks, inability to access network drives from outside college, etc, etc…

4. Ning

So you want to create your own social networking service? Why not use Ning? Create your own creepy treehouse!!! I used Ning a fair few times in 2009 in the main in supporting events I was running or attending. I used it initially for the ILT Champions Informal Conference and the Fringe for the Plymouth e-Learning Conference. It allowed delegates at both events to communicate, share pictures, video, write blog posts and have discussions. I was surprised by how well they worked. I am currently using Ning to work with various communities, and in 2010 it will be the service used by the Becta Technology Exemplar Network to share and collaborate. I don’t actually see Ning as a “social networking” service as such, more as a web site that I don’t need to build! For learning, it has many uses especially when you want students from multiple institutions to collaborate and work together.

3. Flickr

Last year Flickr was number six, this year it has climbed three places to number three. have nearly 2700 photographs on Flickr up from nearly 1500 last year, that means I have uploaded nearly a hundred photographs a month, or three a day! They cover a range of topics and events. From an events perspective I think Flickr adds so much more to an event. It can capture the event in ways that can’t be caught in any other way. Flickr is not only a great way of storing photographs, also a great place to find photographs, and many images on this blog are from photos from Flickr which are creative commons licensed to allow me to use them on the blog. Flickr is a great way to store photographs and to find images.

2. WordPress

Though it’s all about quality I did publish 232 e-Learning Stuff Blog posts last year… I use WordPress.com and have been very pleased with it. One of the key reasons that I like WordPress is that it has made it very easy to post video to the web. Now YouTube is great and all that and I do use it, however with the ten minute limit, this can be quite constraining. WordPress with the (paid for) Videopress upgrade does a very good job of converting my films into Flash Video. The quality is certainly much better than YouTube, and I can embed the video on other sites as well. It handles the bandwith too, with the VLE is Dead video the blog was delivering 40Gb of video that first week! I use a WordPress.com blog for many reasons, the main is convenience. As it is web based all I need is a browser to write a blog entry, though there are other tools such as Shozu and the WordPress app on the iPod touch which also allow me to write. The stats are useful in finding out how people are finding the blog, likewise comments allow feedback. Blogs can be public like mine, or private, restricted to say a group, or a tutor and a learner.

1. Twitter

Last year Twitter was my number two web tool, beaten there by Jaiku, which took first place. As you can see Jaiku doesn’t even make the list this year. For me 2009 was the year that Twitter became even more useful as a tool to converse, collaborate, share and communicate. The reason that Twitter is my web tool of the year is down to a variety of reasons.

Conversations: This is what Twitter is all about, the conversation, the community, the Water Cooler moment, the coffee break.

Backchannel: At conferences, the Twitter backchannel can be fantastic, but can also be a nightmare! I really find that the Twitter backchannel can enhance and enrich the social and networking side of a conference, improve communication and add to sessions taking place. It allows for the converation to continue after a presentation or keynote and can also widen that conversation to outside the conference.

Links: In many ways for me and others Twitter has almost replaced RSS, I find out much more information and useful links from Twitter now then I do any other source.

Mobile: The mobile element has made Twitter a much more effective and efficient tool. The fact that I can now easily access and contribute to Twitter from my iPhone has increased how much I use, engage and interact with Twitter. It’s so easy, I access it on the train, waiting in line for stuff, at events, when I am away. When I was in New Zealand, the lack of connectivity (and the 13 hour time zone difference) made me aware of how useful and important Twitter was to the way I worked.

Twitter also matured this year with the addition of really useful tools such as TwitPic, TwitVid and TweetMic. TwitPic is a simple tool that allows you to post pictures to Twitter. TwitPic really made the news when an airliner was set down on the Hudson River in New York. TwitVid took TwitPic one stage further and allowed you to post video to Twitter. And if you are camera shy then TweetMic allows you to post audio instead.

Though I know that one day Twitter will die, for me 2009 was the year of Twitter and was my number one web tool of the year.


Mobile e-Learning Stuff

October 26, 2009

WordPress have upgraded their CSS so that when this blog is viewed on a mobile device, it renders in a format which is much more readable.

IMG_0236

This is an excellent move and makes reading blogs (well this one) whilst mobile so much easier.

So what are the red numbers?

IMG_0235

The number of comments on each post.

There is of course a WordPress App for the iPhone which means that mobile blogging is much easier and faster.

From a learning perspective what this does mean is that reflective blogs are much easier to access, you can read and blog when and where you have the time and the motivation and not just when you are on a computer.


e-Learning Stuff Podcast #023: To blog, or not to blog, that is the question

June 7, 2009

Do you blog, do you read blogs, do you use blogging to support learning, are blogs dead?

This is the twenty-third e-Learning Stuff Podcast, To blog, or not to blog, that is the question.

Download the podcast in mp3 format: To blog, or not to blog, that is the question

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

James is joined by Kev Hickey and David Sugden.

Shownotes


Publishing Podcasts

March 28, 2009

On Friday the 27th March I gave a couple of online presentations (conferences) for the MoLeNET programme.

So you’ve been making podcasts, how do you publish them, how do you get them out there, how do your learners subscribe to them? Covering more than just iTunes with a look at a range of technologies that allow you to distribute your podcasts.

A few of the links we talked about in the presentation.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast – this is the podcast of this blog. You can also access the iTunes Store link for the e-Learning Stuff Podcast

Juice Podcast Software is an application which just downloads podcasts, available for Windows, OS X and Linux

There are various blogging sites out there includingBlogger, WordPress.com. If you have your own server you can install the WordPress software yourself from WordPress.org

Feedburner allows you to enhance and enrich an RSS feed from say WordPress.

Switchpod is a podcast hosting service, which will automatically generate a podcast RSS feed.

New College Swindon created a podcast server using Episode and OS X Server.

QIA learning object on podcasting

Audioboo.fm/ is a new audio recording and publishing service for the iPhone.


Top Ten Web Tools of 2008

December 18, 2008

This is a list of web tools which I have used extensively over the last twelve months. The reason for the list was partly down to the lists Steve Wheeler has been posting on his blog, and a prompt from him on Twitter. This is not an exact copy of Steve’s format I have also been working on a list of devices as well, which hopefully will be a second post later. I do quite like this format which gives an opportunity to review and share the tools which have made a difference to the way I work and have enhanced what I do.

Here are my top ten web tools in reverse order.

10.    Google Docs

I had kind of forgotten how useful Google Docs is for working on documents (as well as presentations and spreadsheets) and have now started to use it much more than before. The downside is that you need to be connected (though I believe Google Gears will allow offline working). The main way I use Google Docs is to write a document that I know I will be working from on multiple computers. Now I know I could use a USB stick, but it assumes I have the same application on all machines, which is not always the case. For example my work machines have Office 2003, fine, but my Mac has Office 2008 (the newer version), my home Mac only has Pages, my Samsung Q1 only has Open Office as does the Asus EeePC. Sometimes the PC is runing Office 2007. Using Google Docs allows me to have a single copy of a document, share that document and export or print in variety of formats. For example I can download my document as a PDF. In planning for the e-Learning Stuff podcasts we have been using a Google Spreadsheet to plan topics and times. For collaboration and working together, nothing really beats Google Docs, in many ways I think it is better than Sharepoint based on what I have seen on Sharepoint.

9.    Crowdvine

For me a conference is much more than the sum of its parts. It is much more than the keynotes, the presentations and the workshops. It’s the discussion, the coffee breaks, the small group working, the conference dinner and following up afterwards. What I like about Crowdvine is that it allows you to supplement a conference in a similar way to the coffee but doing it online. Though I used Crowdfine at the JISC Conference 2008, it really came of age at the ALT Conference in Leeds.

8    Remember the Milk

If you are like me you have a lot of different tracks happening all at once, college events, projects, conference submissions, workshops to prepare for, training; then keeping on top of all the things you need to do and deadline can be challenging. I had tried Outlook Tasks but the webmail version didn’t work as I needed to, so I tried Remember the Milk. As well as the web based interface (which means I can use any computer) I can also use it on my iPod touch as it is also available as an iPhone app (if you have the pro account). Very easy to add tasks and deadlines and as a result overviews are easy to see. Main result has been, I am meeting more of my deadlines.

7.    Evernote

You could ask what does Evernote have that Google Docs doesn’t? There are some features of Evernote that I really like which for note taking beats Google Docs. It has Tablet PC support and I really like the Tablet PC format and the ability to scribble notes. It also has an iPhone app which means I can make notes on the move. There are apps for both Macs and Windows which along with the web app means it doesn’t matter which computer I am on, I can access, edit and print my notes.

6.    Flickr

This year, having had a Pro account for a year, renewed my subscription for another two years. I have nearly 1500 photographs on Flickr covering a range of topics and events. From an events perspective I think Flickr adds so much more to an event. It can capture the event in ways that can’t be caught in any other way. Flickr is not only a great way of storing photographs, also a great place to find photographs, and many images on this blog are from photos from Flickr which are creative commons licensed to allow me to use them on the blog.

5.    Shozu

This was nearly my number one web tool. What Shozu does for me is when I ever take a photograph using my Nokia N95 I can immediately upload the image to Flickr. With a little preparation I can add relevant tags (or edit tags on the fly) and it will also add the geo-data using the GPS on the N95. What this means is that when I am at an event I can take lots of photographs and people who want to see what is going on can easily see from my photographs. It also allows me to capture my day in a kind of lifestream giving me a record of what I have done, who I have met and where I have been. I also Shozu to upload photographs to Facebook, video to Seesmic, and I have also used it to upload content to my blog.

4.    Wordpress

Though a blog is seen as a one to many form of communication, I do enjoy writing mine and over 50,000 views later, I get the feeling quite a few people enjoy reading it as well. I use a WordPress.com blog for many reasons, the main is convenience. As it is web based all I need is a browser to write a blog entry, though there are other tools such as Shozu and the WordPress app on the iPod touch which also allow me to write. I paid $20 for the space upgrade which as well as letting me upload audio and video files, also does a very good job of converting my films into Flash Video. The quality is certainly much better than YouTube, and I can embed the video on other sites as well. The stats are useful in finding out how people are finding the blog, likewise comments allow feedback.

3.    Qik

“This is James Clay, live on the internet” those were the immortal words uttered by me at the MoLeNET Dissemination Conference and broadcast live over the internet using Qik. At the time of writing nearly five hundred people have viewed that video which when you know only three hundred were at the conference, shows the power and potential of tools such as Qik. Basically Qik is a service which allows you to stream live video from your phone to the internet.

2.    Twitter

Though I joined Twitter nearly two years ago, this year (with lots of other people joining) it has really come of age to me. I use Twitter in various ways, as well as informing my community that I am drinking a coffee, I also let them know about various (what I think are) interesting things I am doing.  I tweet about blog posts I have made. I also use Twitter as a back channel at events and conferences, finding out what is going on and what I find interesting. However telling people is only half the story, maybe even as  little as 20% of the  story. The other key thing about Twitter is about communication, responding to other tweets, having a conversation. Responding to what others have written, or acting on what others have written.

1.    Jaiku

Though I like Twitter, I still much prefer Jaiku for functionality and the conversation. Jaiku is everything that Twitter is but with threaded conversations. Want to respond to a message of mine you can as a comment and all comments for that one message can be found in one place. You can also add RSS feeds to Jaiku which allows for responses to your blog posts, flickr photographs, news feeds, music, whatever RSS feeds you have. Jaiku also has channels which work like hashtags on Twitter, but channels are separate to your main feeds, so a conference backchannel won’t clutter up your Jaiku feed. I also think you need to “do” Jaiku for a fair amount of time (and commitment) to get some real value from it. There is value from incidental chat, what is incidental for me, may be new and innovative for you and vice versa.

So Jaiku is my number one web tool of 2008, what’s yours?

Top Ten Web Tools of 2008