So, you’d like your own blog…

I was recently asked by a colleague about how I help my teachers decide what (if any) type of blog is for them.  Below is my process.  It may be helpful. You may react to it with hives and distain. Either way, take the following with a Tylenol and a grain of salt:

I usually start my conversation with the teacher by asking what they want to accomplish with the blog. How do they want to use it as a tool in their classroom. This gives some immediate insight into the format they will need. Then, I give them my brief tour of how a blog can be used:

  1. An information center (like Blackboard or another content management system)
  2. A teacher-centered blog (where the teacher guides the conversation and students respond in the comments)
  3. A student-centered blog (where the students guide the conversation and respond)
  4. A collaborative project (where students build the content together)

Once I determine the format, I begin to ask questions that help me figure out how the blog needs to be modified (usually with plugins):

  • Will it be used for discussion?
  • How do you plan to manage the discussion?
  • How many classes will be accessing the blog?

Some points I make to the teacher to help them make the decision:

  • Teacher-centered blog: You can intentionally guide the conversation.
  • Student-centered blog: Your students guide the conversation, have more buy-in
  • Single blog for multiple classes: Breaks down the wall of the classroom by bringing students together virtually (in a way that would be difficult physically); makes management a bit more difficult (keeping track of participation, moderating comments)
  • Multiple blogs for multiple classes: Makes managing the blog much easier; will need to replicate content (copy/paste) to the extra blogs

So, now you have your info, you know what the blog needs to look like, and it is time to build something beautiful….

For a teacher-centered blog, I add the following plugins:
Brian’s Threaded Comments (formats comments for threaded discussion)
Anarchy Media Player
WP-Stats (a quick way to track participation by tracking usernames attached to comments)

For a student-centered blog, I add the following plugins:
Brian’s Threaded Comments
Anarchy Media Player
Gaggle email accounts (free, filtered email.  I use a spreadsheet to format class data from our digital grade book to bulk create accounts)
Dagon Design Import Users (this plugin requires a unique email for each student)

You may also consider locking down the blog from the public and making student log in (make sure the student accounts are set as “subscriber” if you don’t want them to be able to create posts/pages):
Angsuman’s Authenticated WordPress Plugin

For keeping track of recent comments and most popular posts (say, on the sidebar), consider:
Get Recent Comments
Most Commented Posts

photo credit:  muckster

Killing People with Bronze Axes

Bronze Age Orientation

The “lessons” in the video are funny because they’re true (I think I’m quoting Homer Simpson)-

  • don’t be a pompous ass (period, but especially not when advocating for a major change)

    positive version – Be humble. You don’t know everything and your way is not the only way.

  • don’t make change a threat or tie it to a threat (the tribes with the bronze axes will kill you, the kids won’t learn etc.)

    positive version – Tie the change to positive outcomes for those involved. Focus on how it will improve their life. Why is it worthwhile for them?

  • don’t put down the old ways (and then they’ll throw away your stone axes because they’re rubbish)

    positive version – Honor the past*. Even if you hate the old way, insulting it will tend to increase resistance to change. In education, the focus should be on adding tools and exploring options rather than in taking them away. The bronze shoes and window are also pretty similar to the “must use twitter based podcasts wikis” in class mentality too often seen in EduBlogosphere Land. Tools are tools and each has its place.

This video shows the hypothetical meeting held to discuss changing from stone age technology to bronze age technology.

You’ve got the reluctance you normally see (funny but done in lots of things) but you also see something of the pomposity and threat possible in the “change agent.” It’s easy to end up seeming/being** pompous when you believe your way is clearly superior and you want others to adopt it.

via Merlin Mann on Mac Break Weekly although not suggested as being in any way educational





*honoring the past does not apply to crazy things like the Nazi party, cult membership etc.


**There is a difference – seeming pompous means you’ll still listen to others despite coming across as a know-it-all, being pompous means you won’t listen because in your heart you do believe you know it all. There’s a fine line between advocating for something and becoming a zealot.

Bestiary Images & Copyright

medieval image of witch and animal

I’m going to be doing a presentation before too long where I look at blogging and web 2.0 through the lens of a Medieval bestiary. I thought this was a solid concept in part because I figured none of the images would be under copyright since they’d have long since passed into public domain.

crazy bat looking thing

What I found on a number of different sites did not reflect that. Many of the .edu sites that had quality bestiary images also had pretty restrictive copyright claims as well.

This didn’t make sense to me and so I started digging around and found a number of well referenced claims that said, essentially, that scans of public domain works are not derivatives and so are not under separate copyright. The case repeatedly cited was Bridgeman v. Corel. I’m not a lawyer and am not giving you legal advice but you can read one lawyer’s take on all this at the Library Law Blog (Mary Minow, J.D., A.M.L.S.). She’s got a lot more nuance in her post so if you’re nervous I’d read it and make your own decision but I feel good about what I’m doing.

I’m cleaning up the images and posting them to Flickr if you think they’d be of use to you. The majority are pngs with transparent backgrounds (some of which still need some work).

bestiary image

The Pirate’s Dilemma Meets Felton Design

I wandered into the The Pirate’s Dilemma keynote video the other day and found it pretty interesting. It’s worth watching if you’ve got some time. There’s also an accompanying book and blog.

I subscribed to the blog and got an interesting bonus recently. Nicholas Felton ( of dy/dan fame) worked with Matt Mason (Pirate’s Dilemma author) as part of the We Tell Stories series.

My brief was to come up with something based Hard Times, the Dickens classic which illustrates the growing pains of the industrial revolution. My story was to be about the growing pains of the information revolution, the subject covered in The Pirate’s Dilemma. If that wasn’t an intimidating enough way to enter the world of fiction for the first time, the story also had to be told as an ‘info-graphic novel’, using mostly statistics and numbers, mirroring Mr Thomas Gradgrind’s (the main character in Hard Times) obsession with cold hard facts.

He didn’t quite follow those directions but I like what he came up with. It takes some focus to really appreciate it (or understand it in some cases) but I think that’s a good thing.

We Tell Stories is an interesting project with 6 authors telling 6 stories in interesting ways. There’s a lot of variety and some interesting things to think about in terms of projects and story telling. I like that someone “legitimate” has finally done a story using Google Maps. I still think it’d make for an amazing choose-your-own-adventure medium.

Shakespeare Writes For Tarantino

Darthparadox on Live Journal translated some chunks of Pulp Fiction into Shakespearian prose.

This would be a very interesting way to get students really delving into the language of Shakespeare and a great way to make them interested in understanding it.

Let them choose what they want to “Shakespeare-rize.” You might have to add some propriety restrictions for high school but it’d be a lot of fun.

J: And know’st thou what the French name cottage pie?
V: Say they not cottage pie, in their own tongue?
J: But nay, their tongues, for speech and taste alike
Are strange to ours, with their own history:
Gaul knoweth not a cottage from a house.
V: What say they then, pray?
J: Hachis Parmentier.
V: Hachis Parmentier! What name they cream?
J: Cream is but cream, only they say le crème.
V: What do they name black pudding?
J: I know not;
I visited no inn it could be bought.

The original, in case you’ve forgotten it.

Vincent Vega: You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules Winnfield: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent Vega: No, man, they got the metric system, they don’t know what the fu** a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules Winnfield: What do they call it?
Vincent Vega: They call it a Royal with Cheese.
Jules Winnfield: Royal with Cheese.
Vincent Vega: That’s right.
Jules Winnfield: What do they call a Big Mac?
Vincent Vega: Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
Jules Winnfield: Le Big Mac. What do they call a Whopper?
Vincent Vega: I don’t know. I didn’t go into Burger King.

I know I possibly overdo the idea of remixing things. I think it’s because of a poetry class I took in college. We were allowed to select a poem and had to re-write it with a paper explaining our process along the way . I chose “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I switched blackbirds for ice cream and had a lot of fun. It was the most enjoyable paper I ever wrote and I certainly worked on it far harder than any other. Although I’m not sure how it could have been more enjoyable than my final history thesis on “The Negative Impact of the Communist Internationale on Indo-Chinese Communism.”

Found via Boing Boing

Creating a Safe Space: Hacking WP

60% of my teachers have been in our county for less than 3 years (and, most of these newcomers, have never worked with a 1 to 1 initiative). More than 40% of my teachers have put less than 3 years into this vocation. With this in mind, I have created a space, online, for teachers to discuss instruction, vocation, and solutions for our school. I hope it will be a community building experience that gives teachers as much time as they can to the process without having to commit to meetings.

Following the lead of Alan Levine with Tom’s guidance, I started by sketching out my vision. I wanted a place that was password protected and required unique usernames for participation. This site would be a  safe place where teachers could speak their minds in a professional manner. At the same time, I wanted to foster open communication, so anonymous responses would not be an option. I didn’t want a traditional blog format. The U/I needed to be as intuitive as possible, and I wanted meta-data to be presented in a way that encourage conversation. I sketched up two different layouts and solicited some feedback from my faculty.


The overwhelming response was for the second layout. After sifting through themes that mirrored my sketch, I decided on Blue Earth. Then, it was time to edit the Main Index Page to pull posts according to category (instead of arranging posts chronologically). The code is annotated, so feel free to play with it:

Right Click to Download index.txt file

On the right sidebar, I’ve added a section that lists the most recent comments using Get Recent Comments, and I’ve also created a section with the most discussed topics using Most Commented Posts. This will give my faculty an idea of what topics are most engaging at the moment.

On the left sidebar I added a section where I can place featured topics that committees and clubs will use to solicit feedback.  Finally, because the topics cycle through the main page weekly, I wanted the archive to go beyond a general archive based on month. The challenge was figuring out how to sort the posts by week for the first month without having to change the tags or code each week. I tried to find a plugin that would do this for me, but nothing seemed to fit. In the end I was digging through the WordPress Codex and found this little gem:

<?php query_posts(“showposts=3&offset=9”); ?>

Since I am only posting three entries a week, I was able to code the archive on the left by counting back (offsetting) from the most recent set of posts, and I added an archive that sorted by category along with the traditional monthly archive.

In an effort to model open communication, I added a FAQ and a Feedback page along the header so my staff could participate in the evolution of this site.  Finally, I had to remove the rss/atom feeds from the site to seal up the blog.  Being a fearless hack (who always backs up data/copies code into a NotePad or TextMate/saves the original theme in a folder on my hard drive) I simply found the rss and atom php files in the wordpress folder and deleted them.  Yes, I deleted them.  Refreshing the page (and expecting the white-screen fatal error message of doom), I was pleasantly surprised that everything worked fine.  I tested my hack by trying to subscribe with Google Reader and NewsFire, but was stone-walled.  

Below you will find a list of the plugins I used and links to helpful resources. Again, Alan’s walk-through was an unbelievably helpful starting point (Thanks, Allen). I’m going to leave the demo site open for your exploration (with commenting turned off). I’ve ported the site to a secure location for my staff, but I’d be happy to update you on how it is being used.


Angsuman’s Authenticated WordPress Plugin (password protect with unique passwords)
Brian’s Threaded Comments (threaded discussions)
Dagon Design Import Users (bulk user creator)
Exec-PHP (used for querying the database for specific posts, images, categories)
FAQ-tastic (FAQ creator–very user friendly)
Get Recent Comments (pulls the most recent comments on your blog–can be adapted very easily)
Secure and Accessible PHP Contact Form (Feedback Form)
Smart Archives (Archives by Month and Subject/Category)
The Excerpt Reloaded (Excerpt Generator)
Most Commented Posts (Tracks the most discussed posts) 

Everything New is Bad

It’s fun to watch the reaction to change change that I am not involved in guiding, forcing or in any way ensuring occurs.

I’d seen the over the top reaction to allowing video on flickr but hadn’t seen the humorous counter attack until Merlin Mann’s twitter post.

In a useful way it is interesting to see how people are dealing with this change. Some have no problem and roll on while others completely freak out. It all depends, it seems, on their investment with the concept/community and their perception of the change as a threat to that. I guess that’s obvious but it does explain why change in teaching is so hard.

People are completely irate by the addition of the option to have 90 second videos on a photo sharing site. Some of those people are even digital natives (previously believed to be immune to any issues dealing with change)!

Now imagine instead you’re trying to change one of the core elements of a person’s life. How long will that take? What do you need to do to make that person make the effort, feel comfortable, enjoy it? Is that even possible?

Avoiding the Echo

Dan’s got a post about how-

. . . much easier (it is) in this tech-enamored ‘sphere of ours to write those posts than it is to criticize them. I’m not saying my rejoinders don’t demand a more objective tone (I’m saying the opposite) just that, having exhumed a lot of dusty blog posts the last few days, a lot of people seem less offended by my tone and more offended that someone bothered to contradict their majority opinion.

I think he’s right and I’m glad to hear he’s working on his tone (just a little- generally I find him funny) because I see his ideas as rock solid and it’s too easy to end up dismissing ideas because of things like tone.

I’m thinking of the stock edtech conference. Why not have debate style presentations on the topics? It’s an idea that’s old as dirt but edtech conferences tend to just have one point of view presentations. Why not a timed debate style? Something with over the top titles like those below

  • 1 to 1: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  • Internet Safety: Pedophiles’ Playground or Digital Utopia?
  • Digital Natives: Naive Name Calling or Nuclear Children?

I saw this done really well at our law school Friday. The two law professors wrote a humorous biographical introduction for their opponent. This starts things off in a positive way and gets people laughing. They referred to each other as “pathetic,” “monster,” etc.

They were supposed to argue for 13 minutes, 15 minutes then each would get a 3 minute rebuttal. The time was completely ignored by the first participant. I think this hurt things in the long run.

The point is you don’t really see this kind of point/counter point going on the edtech environment. It’d be interesting to see. I’d like to see it being done in blogs. The point being, the disagreements could be pleasant and even humorous rather than spiteful. That can be a hard line to walk but the conversation would be worthwhile and if done correctly it’d be pretty entertaining as well.

There might even be value in doing this in a fake way- really making the points black and white while ramping up the hyperbole. I think people would see pretty quickly that there is a whole lot more gray in this area than there seems to be.

Stepping Up: Non-Programistan/Non-HTML Exhibit Page

Ben called me on the fact that Exhibit really was too much for most teachers/humans. It seems no one wants to know HTML these days has ever wanted to know html. So my “no programming” claim was weak and as a true patriot of Non-Programistan I had to step up.

Here is a spreadsheet where you can put in some basic fields. It builds you the Google Spreadsheet headers (you have to cut and paste them in) and with a little simple work on your part in the spreadsheet the HTML is made for you. You have to cut and paste it into a text editor and save it as html.

I made this page with it.

Now, this version if fairly rough but it works. The whole thing is limited and will only do the sortable table view but it’s a decent start. There’s a lot you could do to expand this to allow mapping, time lines etc. as Exhibit is built to be modular. I might have to learn enough programming to make this work in a web interface some day.

Step 1

You put in the data types, headers etc. you want.

Step 2

After pasting in the URL headers into a Google spreadsheet you publish it and copy the XML feed and paste it into the spreadsheet.

Step 3

Give the page a title.

Step 4

You cut and paste the html from this cell.

Step 5

Once you paste the code into an html editor and upload it you should be golden.

Lord of the Rings – Web 2.0 Style

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I saw this on Neatorama. It’s worth checking out for the mix of web 2.0 story telling twists. You’ve got chat, emoticons, a Middle Earth twist on Google Maps some texting.

It’s a multimedia extension of the chat room colonization of the US concept.

You’ve got lots of room to play with this concept in a variety of subjects – history and English are pretty obvious but you could use it wherever there’s an interaction of objects and create a narrative around it. It’d work in chemistry (enzymes as instigators comes to mind), science (biomes, cell interactions) and government (it’d be a fun way to look at the bill to law process- maybe as a Google Map).