Archive for April, 2005

Student Blogs: Security Backfires

Apr 30 2005 Published by under education,teacher research,technology

It is Saturday AM and I am cleaning up some ot my student blog posts from the last couple of days. I am slightly annoyed at a couple of things that I have resolved I will do differently next time around. I often say that one of the great things about teaching is that there is an annual opportunity for Deliverance – ‘called summer’ – and an annual opportunity for Redemption – called ‘next year’ – when we can revise our approach to how we run the show. It’s hard to do past a certain limit. But that’s another discussion. In the spirit of reporting research findings that are not altogether glowing, however, I need to say a few things about the “protected” option that I offered parents when I initiated the student blogs.

First of all, I put the ‘protected’ choice on my Permission to Publish form because I thought parents would be more open to the idea of having kids publishing material online if they thought there was NO chance that their kids would be exposed to random traffic from the web. I recognized the protected option as potentially limiting from the point of view of doing a full exploration of the potential of blogging with elementary school-aged kids. But I wanted to get the project going before the rest of the year got away from me. I thought programatic softward protection was redundant since I was going to personally filter all of the posts, and in retrospect the protected setting has the potential to create a lot more work for the teacher and gives kids the option to DELETE their work – something I did not want. This is no good from anyone’s point of view. I think the word “protected” sounds good to parents. It’s the word that is used on the admin panel to define that permissions setting. So I used it. But I don’t think that people really understood (I didn’t know that protection would be a problem, for instance.) what it was really for. The next time around I’m going to leave ‘protecte’ off of the permission form and only mention it individually to parents who are unwilling to sign otherwise.

Because of the way the b2evolution works, I can set the permissions for each blog to allow a person to write or edit posts with different options. The kids see a set of radio buttons that are marked ‘protected (members only)’, ‘private (you only)’, and ‘draft (not published)’. I denied them the ‘published (public),’ button. For those students who have permission for ME to publish their work, all works according to my plan. I proof their post, as I need to do with any student work, and then hit the save – publish button. The work is then published for all to view. And it is beyond their reach to re-edit because I reserved that permission for me alone. But the kids whose work is merely saved, and can be read by members only, have the option to edit or DELETE their posts. For the one kid who did not have permission to participate in the project at all (ie. did not return any paperwork), I had him writing with ‘private’ status.

Here’s what happened today: One little girl who has written a lot on her blog appears to have dumped all of her writing. It doesn’t exist anymore. I won’t know until Monday why this happened. It wasn’t until the other day when I was working with one of the kids that I noticed this was a choice they were given, but I didn’t say anything about it since it didn’t seem like it would be a problem. After all, they have work stored in the file server, and it sits there forever.

Another situation that is a pain – for me- is that the kid who didn’t turn in his permission form has been writing with ‘private’ status. I haven’t seen any of his work. He showed up with his permission form on Friday. So now I have to log in with his ID and go back and re-save all of his work to ‘protected’ status so that I can then work as an admin and ‘publish’ all of it. This is going to take me a while.

Here’s the lesson I learned: Don’t use ‘protected’ status as the final “published” form for a post because it is not secure from vandalism by the AUTHOR. Don’t let the kids publish with the ‘draft’ or ‘private’ settings because those posts are not viewable by the teacher. What’s the point of that in a school setting???

My plan from here: go back and changed everyone’s permissions so that they are all ‘protected’ only. Warn the kids not to delete anything because it will hurt their writing grade. Next year, have a meeting with parents where I can tell and SHOW them what this is about – and do not give them the ‘protected’ option as a default choice.

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Apr 29 2005 Published by under teacher research,technology

I was messing with the Alaska wiki. Rosie created a great logo for the site. I thought I’d tidy up the top-level categories and create a single users category rather than two categories – Alaskans and visitors – and the site went down. The whole wikicities site went down. It was the second time today that it happened. Don’t know what that’s about. I was checking to see if wikipedia was still running. Kind of like what you do when you have a power failure. Look out the window to see if it’s just your house, or are the neighbors in this too. Wikipedia was up.

Then I just happened to notice the other mega-wiki sites at the bottom of the page:Wiktionary, Wikispecies, Wikibooks, Wikinews, Wikiquote, Meta-Wiki, Wikisource, and Commons. I’d seen a couple of these. I could kind of guess a couple (Wikiquotes, for instance). But Wikisource was kind of mysterious. So I followed the link. Another mystery – lots of different languages in which the main page greeting is written. I read through each of them until I fount the one I could read.

Welcome to Wikisource. This site is a repository of source texts in any language which are either in the public domain, or are released under the GNU Free Documentation License. The site is part of the Wikimedia foundation and is a sister project of Wikipedia, which is a multilingual project to create a complete and accurate, free content encyclopedia.

I clicked on it and there was another mysterious page filled with question marks. Click on a row of them and find…more question marks. There was one word, category, on the page. Click on that to find the special page that lists all of the categories The category page is an alphabetical index of about 1000 topics: Authors, Bill Clinton, British Empire, Bible, China, Constitutional Documents, Cuentos de Edgar Allan Poe, Cuentos de Franz Kafka, De:Politik, cryptic things like ES-K, Emily Dickenson Poems (alphabetical list), more cryptic items like LC-BX (after looking, I think LC means Library of Congress), and I start to “get it.” This is a site that is attempting to include everything ever written! I even found the whole novel, Huckleberry Finn. There’s Mythology, National Anthems, and I quit looking to blog about it.

And the logo shows an iceberg cross section hanging way below the surface of the sea. Very apt.

I wonder if Wikicities is up and running again?…..

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Back to (lamron)

Apr 27 2005 Published by under borderland,technology

I think I found the login to comment culprit. What a way to spend my lunch time! Oh well. When I thought back to the spam attack I remembered that I had been a little bit hyper about trying to filter that stuff out. I found the control that I used to do that; the problem should be corrected now. Ironically, it did nothing to stop the spam.

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Sorry ’bout That

Apr 27 2005 Published by under technology

The simple theme that I was using ignored settings for comments on this blog, requiring respondents to login to comment. That wasn’t my intention. I’ve returned to the former template, which has limitations that I dislike, but which are not a burden to readers. I’ll be doing some more work on the design when I get time. Please feel free to comment without the need for logging in. I hate it when they don’t do what I want them to do.

UPDATE. I’m confused about the login-to-comment thing. I’ve checked all the settings and they are all set to allow open access to the comments. I don’t know what else to do. This all started after a spam wave last week. I’m lost with this problem. All I can think to do is start checking and unchecking select boxes, and then go through the source files looking for the places where this code might live. When I try to comment out the conditional that looks to see if the user is logged in I get a parse error.

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Wikicitiies is Complicated

Apr 27 2005 Published by under teacher research,technology

I’m glad that I got involved with the Wikicity project. But it’s different than working on a small, intimate site like the commweb wiki. I’ve had some contact with the sysops from the BIG WIKI this week. Just a reminder that I’m not there all by myself like I thought.

A few members from the class have expressed interest in doing projects there, and so I wasn’t feeling quite so lonesome anymore. But the other night when I was showing Rosie how to add a category tag to her wikicity user page, so that we could create a users index, I didn’t know that we had user pages all over the wikicity universe.

When you sign up for a wikicity id, you end up creating an account that follows you where ‘ere you roam in what now feels to me like the beginnings of a very cosmopolitan environment. These user pages have a discussion tab, and when people leave you a message on one of them you are notified of that when you sign in to your account. Radar and I have been communicating about the need for a logo. The necessity to have one is becoming clear to me.

I met someone the other day named GreenReaper. He was patrolling the recent changes pages and noticed that I had “blanked” Rosies user page in the Wikicities wiki. What happened is that the other night in class when I was showing Rosie how to add that category tag, we didn’t know that we weren’t in the Alaska wiki. Since we don’t have a different logo yet, one user page looks the same as the next if it has your name on it. So we put an Alaskans tag on her Wikicities wiki page and moved on our way. A few days later I noticed that we had created an Alaskans category in the main Wiki. It didn’t link to anything, and since it was an error, I thought that someone might not want it there. So I removed it. But GreenReaper straightened me out.

    I learned some things:
  • Blanking someone else’s page is a no-no, even if you mean well. (sorry, Rosie).
  • I now have over two hundred user pages at Wikkia.
  • People are paying attention to what is going on.
  • I need to keep an eye on the recent changes pages.
  • We need a new logo so that I can know where the heck I am in there.

I’ve had a little bit of contact with Angela, whose presence seems to be ubiquitous. That’s fine with me. She’s pleasant, but she is making sure that the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. I’m glad to know that someone is keeping an eye on me because I know I’ll learn something.

I loaded an image from a family vacation onto the front page of the site to dress it up a little. On the page it is store in, I wrote ‘tidewater glacier’ as a descriptor. But that wasn’t good enough for Angela. She asked me to provide some license details today. It took me quite a while to figure out how to write that link and find the place where the description was. IT WAS ON THE TALK PAGE FOR THE IMAGE. All I had to do was click the “edit” button for the image page. It took me a long time to realize that there are edit buttons for the content, and edit buttons for the discussion pages. They all look alike. Very confusing, but I’m getting oriented.

The best part of all of this is that these other people are showing me the ropes about working in the wiki. I’m going along doing what I can find the time to get done, and when I bump into someone, they (so far) politely redirect me. I’m impressed with how much there potentially will be for them to do. Right now, most of the wikicities are barren. But if they ever start to hum it’s going to be a busy little hive.

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Attitude Update

Apr 26 2005 Published by under education,teacher research

I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to work with Wikka Wikki, and it hasn’t been easy. I think I’ve got something that isn’t too messed up right now. I couldn’t have said that a few hours ago though. It’s not what I’d call pretty. But then, it’s a wiki, and plain brown wrappers seem to be the standard.

Joan, my colleague from The Hill, has been in touch with me about this project we are working on. I mentioned to her that I had renamed the wiki TrueNorth, and dedicated it to teacher researchers in Alaska. So she emailed me back to let me know that a bunch of the statewide mentor teachers were getting together this weekend to plan some research, and that the wiki might be just the ticket. The statewide mentors are a group of academic-minded teachers who are hired by the Dept. of ED to go around and help other teachers figure out how to be (more) effective. Kind of like a hotshot crew of firefighters, the way I imagine it. They might not agree, but that’s my perspective until one of them straightens me out. So now instead of just me and Joan doing a little bit of work on the little wiki, I might have a whole tribe of teachers wading through the site. Pretty cool. :) But…

I started wondering today how many loose ends I had to clean up. Then I began to think about the responsibility of housing other people’s research data. THIS IS SERIOUS STUFF! Once other people begin to put things on there I can’t all of a sudden decide that I want to do major housekeeping. Things like backing up the database and whatnot come to mind. There was an annoying bug in the program that prohibited the comments form field from displaying. I really wanted that feature. And then when I tried to access the project docs from the Wikka Wiki site, the domain was blocked by the school district’s server. Irritating.

The district has spyware installed on all of our computers, but the little eyes of the Network Assistant binoculars are aimed right at me from the toolbar on my desktop all day long. Other people I work with have the binocular icon, too. But theirs isn’t looking at them. I wonder what they think I’m doing? I know that my search habits don’t fit the mold. It would be fun to get a call from downtown some time.

Anyway, I think I have that house in order…for now.

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Mission Creep

Apr 24 2005 Published by under education,teacher research,technology

A funny thing happened on my way to the wiki…

One of my problems is that I have way too many good ideas, and I try to follow up on too many of them at once. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, necessarily, but I have lots of work to do and I keep getting sidetracked on ways to elaborate on it. It’s a messy process, but it’s mine, and I’m used to it.

I ordered Ward Cunningham’s book, The Wiki Way, from Amazon. Then I was up at the University last weekend and found it at the library there. By the time the Amazon copy arrived I’d read most of the bits from the book that I could really use. It comes with Cunningham’s Quicki Wiki on a disk. The program is written in Perl. I checked my school district server to see if I could use a Perl program and got a ‘permission denied’ message. I talked with the sysop a year ago about CGI scripts on the district servers. He told me that he liked PHP better. That’s how I ended up in Chris Lott’s Programming with PHP and MySQL course last Fall. So I’m not going to ask for permission to install the Perl wiki. Besides, I don’t have time to mess with another language.

The thing that is happening here is that the class weblogs are a lot of fun. And I think that the kids would really like to know how to create hypertext links. I’m not going to let them do that on the WWW because the school district does not allow games and entertainment sites on their equipment. And that’s what the kids mainly know. Instead, I have an idea for using wikis to do group writing projects. And this is where I am tending to get ahead of myself. Neither I nor the kids are ready to jump into that at this time of year.

BUT…The other conclusion I came to is that teacher research would not be a good thing for the Alaska wikicity right now. I want to use it for items of a less -way less- academic nature. Even teachers don’t like to read about research very much. So I figured the audience for that would be nil and might even turn people off. School stuff will interest people, but my classroom research is a bit too personal for an Alaska-oriented site. So I decided to find a wiki that I could use with students and with college professors. Put one in the account I use with the class weblogs and one on

I began searching for a simple wiki that kids could understand. Some of the reviews I read on the topic questioned whether MediaWiki could even be consdered a wiki. It is a bit complex for kids to use, I think. So I tend to agree. I found a list of wiki engines broken out by programming language. I found another similar list with commentary. According to what I saw there, PhpWiki was very similar to Cunningham’s, so I downloaded it and *attempted* to install it. About a half-dozen times.

I spent a lot of my Saturday re-FTP-ing it to my webhost, copied it to the server in a backup file and went through it in many of its possible configurations. I managed to get the default front page to display, but never had an edit page or any other page make an appearance. So much for PhpWiki. There are other wikis in the sea.

I found what I think is going to be a great wiki for my new purpose last evening after I gave up on PhpWiki. It’s called Wikka Wiki. It’s a very lightweight, customizable PHP-based wiki. It set up fast, though I am still a bit puzzled about how to use mod_rewrite and .htaccess to get the URLs to be a little friendlier. Two very good things about it. The CSS files are easy for me to understand. And it can handle Flash files as well as photo images. They have a demo swf to show how the flash is embedded.

Good news with the Flash because when I started learning about internet publishing technologies 2 years ago, Flash was the first thing I explored. So…I’ve come full circle.

And now I have a new home page for Northern Attitude. It’s not pretty, but I think it might be when I get the time to play with it a bit. I need to add to my to-do list and put a link back to my blog there, too. I don’t know if the wiki is going to stay the homepage, but I’ll leave that way for a while – unless someone lets me know of a good reason I don’t want to do that. I could, instead have a link there from the blog. Don’t know which way makes more sense. I am curious about ways to ward off spambots. Anyone with wiki experience…I’m listening.

The teacher research part of my project – and my other educational tangents will end up there, I think.

UPDATE: I’ve rerouted any traffic to the main NorthernAttitude domain here to my blog and included a link back to the wiki in the header for Borderland. The plan for the main domain is still not completely worked out, but I originally intended it to be a site for kids from northern regions to publish expressive media. I’m beginning to think that another Wikka installation would do the job. That’s a plan for this summer

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Rules for Bloggers

Apr 23 2005 Published by under education,teacher research,technology

This list was inpired by a similar list made by students on Bud the Teacher’s blog:

  • No addresses, emails, or phone numbers
  • Don’t put your first and last name in your blog.
  • Don’t say the names of your friends or family members.
  • Don’t tell people where you are.
  • Always be polite.
  • Delete bad comments.
  • Comments are not like email. They have to be about what the writer said. (THAT’S why they’re called comments!)

The kids came up with the rules, based on their one week’s experience of being bloggers. I put the rules on the board so that we could see them each day. I call them rules. But really, they are social norms. One of the responsibilities of any teacher is to guide students toward competence within a community. Progress toward mastery in any domain involves acquisition of skill, but form and process are also involved. They want to find other students who are doing the same thing they are. They are very excited to be writers now.

What a trip! I’ll publish the URL for their work sometime this week, when we get a few more of the wrinkles ironed out.

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Beginning to Blog

Apr 23 2005 Published by under education,teacher research,technology

My new 4th-grade bloggers are having a good time. They come in each morning and a few of them go around and make sure that all of the computers are up and pointed at the blogging page. The rest of them sit down with the portable keyboards.

Good thing I set up the blog application the way that I did. I configured it so that I retained control of the publish button. Not that it would have been a big deal if some of the stuff they did went out on the web, but I did have to delete a few things. So we’ve been talking this week about what blogging is – and what it is not.

Comments: When they discovered the comments feature, a few of them started writing personal messages to each other. One thing that blogging is not, is email, I told them. I didn’t anticipate this, but I might have if I’d thought about it. The admin panel had a button for receiving email when a comment was made. I have a special classroom email account that has been largely dormant since I set it up. But I made use of it this week. There was a flurry of commenting going on and I was busy each morning reading it. So we made a rule – comments should refer to the blog post only. One of the kids spoke up, “That’s why they call them *comments.*

Personal information: One of my more enterprising boys decided that he would start a joke site. His first post solicited jokes from his readers and invited them to send them to his personal email address. “No, No, No”, I told him. He was very annoyed with me. But I lectured him at length about my unwillingness to allow him to use his blog to start email correspondences with anyone in the known universe.

The other thing that came up with this is the tendency of the kids to write about each other without asking if the friend minds being mentioned by name. So another rule was instituted – no names without permission.

Quality: I’ve been busy checking the site each day. Until now they have not, for the most part, been too concerned with spelling. That began to change this week, too. I’m really glad about that. It validates my hunch that the presence of an audience larger than teacher & parent readers would make them more self-conscious about the correctness of their writing. I’ve been asked about correct spellings in the last week more than in the whole year up to this point.

Topic choice: Wide open. Some are writing personal narratives, others are going for creative fiction. I’m not going to dictate what they write about all the time. But I will sometimes. On Friday, I told them about Earth Day and suggested that would be a good subject to write about. Many wrote about protecting the environment.

The development of a critical voice is my ultimate goal for their writing. This group doesn’t have enough time left to work with me to really develop that, but I think that it is truly an attainable goal, given enough time. I believe that if we spend class time – maybe before writing – talking about things that are in the paper each day, the kids will naturally start to write about current events.

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Project Proposal

Apr 20 2005 Published by under education,teacher research,technology

My proposal is to continue working on the two projects that I have already begun:

  • I’m going to develop the student weblog project that I have going with my class.
  • I am curious to explore ways to scale the project so that it can be more accessible to larger groups than one class at a time. Ideally, a student would have an account when they enter a school. Teachers could then include students into their class groups from year to year. This allows the retention of student content over a longer time than one year, and would serve as a writing portfolio for each student.

  • I intend to use in this project to update a linkblog that would provide teachers with the convenience of pointing to internet resources they want their students to use, without having to rewrite and publish html docs.
  • I am going to continue to develop (seed post) articles for the Alaska wiki that I recently began.
  • Specifically, I am going to write a user profile for myself that will serve to demonstrate an easy way to gain entry to the wiki for newcomers. I also need to write help pages, and develop or find a logo.

  • Additionally, I will be using the Alaska wiki to collaborate with Dr. Joan Parker-Webster from the Ed Dept. at UAF on a math/literacy research project that she and I recently discussed.
  • My intention here is to involve her in the wiki in order to familiarize her with it in the context of a collaborative endeavor. My hope is that she might find value in it which could result in other teacher-researchers in her graduate programs becoming aware of the wiki’s potential as a tool and publishing platform for classroom research. This could result in an archive of educational research in Alaska that is constantly available for review and comment by the educational community.

  • I intend to document this work on Borderland under the topic, “teacher research.”

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