Archive for July, 2005

Blogs and Pedagogy

Jul 31 2005 Published by under borderland,education,teacher research

James Farmer’s two blog posts about how to and how not to use blogs in education summarize this paper. His thesis is that

in order to effectively utilize blogs in an educational context, their inherent communication dynamics must be examined and pedagogical and environmental strategies and constructs used which reflect and utilize them effectively.

I agree entirely. The right tool for the job is always better than making-do. As an elementary school teacher who used blogs with fourth graders last year for the final 6 weeks of the school year, I have some observations to offer.

  • My students (most of them) had fun publishing to the web.
  • Many students who didn’t see much point in writing for class assignments were highly motivated to write.
  • B2evolution provided excellent management options for group blogging, as well as an aggregator blog for each installation.
  • Kids need minimal help with the technology, and lots of oversight with the social conventions of blogging.
  • Much of what the kids wrote in their blogs would not be considered blogging according to conventional understandings about weblogs.
  • In order for kids to understand what blogs are they need to read dozens of blogs, but most blogs are not geared toward kids.
  • Students especially enjoyed receiving comments, which several students and a few interested adults provided.

Much of the online discussion about blogging in educational settings is being conducted by secondary-level educators, and I wonder if there is not a worthwhile distinction to be made about the ages of the students who we are working with when we talk about pedagogy and blogging. We recognize developmental needs in all curricular areas and there is no reason to think that media literacy is an exception. Mainly, younger kids have a very different notion about private vs. public information. I know this is an issue for all students, but younger kids have a harder time recognizing personal boundaries. A kindergartener, for instance, would be far more likely to tell her classmates that her mother is in jail than would a 5th grader, for instance. The amount of teacher oversight required of the post content, writing mechanics, and comment content, not to mention the fact that students had little choice in site layout/design of their blogs, amounted to what was essentially a content management scheme. James disapproves of group blogs. He says

You can try and fit blogs into other systems such as Moodle, Drupal or Tiki but you’re not going to do well because the entire centralised philosophy of these systems is utterly opposed to that of successful blogging platforms.

This resonates with me because I did recognize that my students were not ready to take full advantage of their blogs as an individualistic publication medium. However, I think that there is a place for Drupal, wikis and other group publishing systems if your needs are compatible with what those applications are designed to do. For young, beginning writers, I’m inclined to explore other options besides blogging platforms in the coming school year. Elementary students enjoy writing for their peers, but they need a lot of help with revision. Blog posts do not lend themselves to revision. I think that a Drupal configuration (without a blog module) or a simple wiki with a broad mission outline might be better for elementary-aged kids than a weblog. Using a blog as a CMS is awkward and in many ways not intellectually honest. If I do decide to use a CMS or a wiki for my class, I will do so without suffering any illusions that my students are blogging. I don’t see how that can be a mistake. The tools should serve the goals. Too many times, teachers get it backward and let their pedagogy be defined by the tools that seem glamorous or come readily to hand.

Finally, I would like to suggest that it may prove fruitful for teachers to begin compiling something like a developmental continuum for the appropriate implementation of socially enabled software. There’s a lot to think about here.

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Abundance

Jul 29 2005 Published by under borderland

I’m back this week from several weeks of traveling. When I sat down to the computer this morning I found that the header for this blog that I made using a Flickr badge wasn’t displaying. It seems to never fail that something unexpected happens when I sit down to work. I think this is one reason why some people don’t like computers. Problem solving is part of the process when doing things with networked technology. Visiting the Flickr site wasn’t much help because what I got there by way of explanation was a message:

Flickr is having a massage.
We’re getting excited!! More to come!
Please visit the Flickr Blog
 if you’d like to look at some photos.

I can only guess they took the site offline for a while. But of course, I visited the blog and didn’t get an explanation there. I haven’t paid much attention to the Flickr blog – too much stuff to pay attention to – but I think that I might because it seems to be the place to get clued in to new technologies. I found some old posts about Flickr and Feedburner, and another about a Mac OS X photo uploader.

    Multi-tasking to an extreme right now,
  • I’m uploading pictures to the photo gallery (my own) I set up yesterday using Singapore;
  • Writing this blog post using Ecto;
  • And I’m researching using a plugin that will help me start to take advantage of Feedburner, since I found out that it is integrated with Flickr.

All of these technologies are intended to make online publication easier, but I wonder. It takes a fair amount of determination – and time – to research and implement all of this stuff. Not for the faint of heart, I think.

So, after checking back, Flickr’s massage appears to be over. I have my Flickr badge back again. All is well, apparently, and now I have some new things to learn about. For one thing, the Singapore gallery displays the Flickr photos if I want it to, but I know it is going to be inconvenient, pasting URL’s into another application when people can simply visit the Flickr site. Especially cool is the RSS feed for the photostream. I like the Singapore gallery’s simplicity. It works well. But it doesn’t work any better than Flickr. And of course, there is no sharing on a standalone application. Notably lacking from the personal gallery software is RSS functionality. What it does offer, though, is control over the server where the photos are kept. Little glitches with Flickr, like this morning’s, won’t happen with a stand-alone application. The Mac OS X uploader utilty for Flickr is working like a charm. All things being equal, I think I’m going to make extensive use of Flickr and probably abandon the standalone gallery, since Flickr seems to be breaking a lot of ground. My pictures aren’t so special that I need to worry about what happens to them. They’re just there to help tell my stories. I never did figure out how to integrate that gallery software into the blog.

Summer in Alaska is a busy time. Fish to catch, endless daylight, blueberries to gather, gardening, places to go, home maintenance projects, and pure recreation activities all compete for time. Summer in the far North is glorious, and I always hate to see it end. I’m working overtime trying to have as much fun and get as many chores done as I can in the weeks that are left. After 25 years here, there are still many things I can explore and discover, and marvel about. Seems like pictures enhance the stories.

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Photos

Jul 14 2005 Published by under borderland

Tried to get a photo gallery application embedded in WordPress but was not quite able to do so as seamlessly as I hoped. The link is in the top navbar. The best I could do was to hack some of the templates, and lose the blog header when the gallery is deployed. There’s a breadcrumb navigation that brings you back to the blog. It’s not quite what I wanted. Some kind of trouble with the path info to display the pictures. I like the gallery, though. Just wish I could keep the site design consistent. The layout is so simple I shouldn’t have too much difficulty. Just ran out of time this go-’round.

I’m gone again for a few days. Now I’ve got a place to put some pictures, I have to remember to bring the camera.

Update 7/28/05: The photo gallery that I am trying to set up with this blog is really an exercise that I’m doing to see if I can embed Singapore into WordPress. The reason for this is that I’m building a site for my wife who is an artist, and wants an internet presence for her work. We want to do more than just display the work, though. (Like sell it… : ) So I am exploring ways to integrate her work into a more complex website than a simple photo gallery. Getting the gallery software to run as a part of the blog may be outside my technical limits, though. I’ve torn the whole thing out for now, and am going to give one more serious effort to running it as a part of Borderland before I call it quits here and try to create a site around Amy”s gallery. The problem right now is that I worked on this before I went on vacation. I modified some files. I can’t remember which ones now, though. So I am getting some very strange results. Let the head-scratching and talking to the computer monitor resume!

If anyone who follows the link to Amy’s site wants to leave a comment here about it, I’m curious to know how the images render on different browsers.

Update:See the most recent solution to a blog/photo gallery.

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You Know You’re an Alaskan When…

Jul 05 2005 Published by under borderland

You know you’re an Alaskan when you discover on July 5 that your truck’s hubs are still locked for winter driving – and you wonder if you should bother unlocking them.

I was changing an old worn tire on the truck, getting ready to go fishing. I’m taking my camera with me. The Copper River is always interesting.

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Roadmap

Jul 05 2005 Published by under borderland,education

Following through on an idea I got yesterday, this is a list of possible titles for education-related blog posts I would like to write:

  • Families and Student Achievement;
  • The Tyranny of Standards;
  • Grades and Test Scores are a Lie;
  • Intelligence is Overrated;
  • Mathematics Discourse What ARE We Talking About?;
  • What’s Special about Special ED?
  • Parents in the Schools – Teachers in the Home;
  • What is Reading?
  • Instructional Support is Disruptive;
  • Ability Grouping Poisons the Pool;
  • Worksheets and The Copy Machine;
  • Recess, Music, Gym and Art: Back to Basics;
  • Hot Lunch is a Waste;
  • Fundraising is Gross;
  • Safety and Materialism vs Discipline and Respect;
  • Colonialism and the Classroom;
  • The Many Faces of Constructivism;
  • How Problem Solving is the Same as Word Learning;
  • “Research-Based” Claims are Meaningless;
  • Whole Language is NOT to Blame;
  • Why Homework?
  • Keyboarding or Handwriting?
  • Time to Learn
  • Critical Literacy

Where do I begin?

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Safari and RSS

Jul 03 2005 Published by under borderland,education,technology

Summer vacation has been anything but relaxing so far. Without going into detail let it suffice to say that summer coursework, new puppy, kids’ soccer, and web-related projects have kept me hopping. There’s still plenty of work left to do, and some fun to be had. Things are starting to slow down just a bit. It’s all been great – except for the summer course which I may someday write about if I can get the bad taste out of my mouth. There were enough shortcomings with the delivery model that I don’t think I can fairly review what I got out of the experience.

Just before school let out at the end of May I sprung for a new iMac. I’ve been working with it a bit, but as I said, I’ve been busy with other things, so I haven’t looked carefully all of its new features. One of the projects that I wanted to get done was to get some RSS feeds organized. Bloglines is ok, but I get impatient with the screen refresh that is necessary each time I want to access a new feed. Other options such as Shrook and Thunderbird have their pluses and minuses. I read that Safari now has an RSS reader built into it. When I opened it I found dozens of feeds there by default, and they all seemed to be brief summaries. I like to read the whole text when I’m cruising through a lot of material, so I didn’t think I’d be interested in using Safari. However, Safari has now replaced Firefox as my default browser because I learned a little more about it through messing with it a bit, and the way it handles RSS is just too good to pass up. There is a little slider in a sidebar that lets you limit the content on any feed. The URL field displays an RSS button when a feed is available, and clicking on it causes the whole web page to kind of “liquify” into pure text. Bookmarking the feed allows me to file it to a folder. Tabbed browsing lets me do other work, like upload image files for projects while I’m scanning the feeds. Very nice.

That’s what I was doing this morning when I followed a link posted by David Weinberger to a blog called The Old Friar’s Blog. This is a new blog written by an articulate and reflective educator, recently retired, who is commenting on observations of 38 years in the field. I think this blog deserves some attention. I don’t expect to agree with everything he has to say, but so far the ring of truth does resonate with me. It seems that Friar’s motivation for blogging is much the same as mine was when I began this project several months ago.

I may, once I get myself a bit more organized, settle down and make a list of topics to write about, as he did, to outline some ideas for future posts.

It is nice to have a good RSS reader up and running again. I’m glad I didn’t miss this.

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More than a Blog

Jul 02 2005 Published by under borderland,technology

All files are safely back where they belong now – and copied to a safe location. The reason the site upgrade went a bit haywire is that a few weeks ago I discovered how to use the WordPress pages feature to make the blog into more of a complete website, and I created some new templates that were in the folder that I should not have deleted. When WordPress released Strayhorn the announcement said that you could

Manage More Than Your Blog
Another thing we observed and heard was that you wanted to use the elegant WordPress interface to manage more of your content than just your blog. …sometimes you don"™t want a template or another post"”you want a page. In 1.5 we added the "œpages" feature which allows you to run your entire site through WordPress, if you want. For example, you could create a page called "œAbout" and it would be automatically added to your sidebar and the link would be example.com/about/ and then you could create a sub-page of that called "œMy Dog" which would live at /about/my-dog/. You can have two pages or a thousand, manage your blog and a few photo pages or an entire corporate intranet 20 levels deep.

This was fine with me, but there were a couple of problems with having “a thousand pages” because when I tried creating a few I quickly saw that the links to them all appeared in the links list. I didn’t want to create a bunch of pages and have them all indexed on every page of the blog. So I gave up that plan – until I happened to run across a page in the online manual.

The documentation that is available in the manual is a most valuable resource for me. There is enough information that even with my limited knowledge of PHP, I can begin to take control of the script and get it to do a few things the way I want them done. I ran into a reference to a page called Exclude Pages from List and I found out where the function call to display pages was located and how to write an exclusion parameter into it so that certain pages would not be displayed – and neither would the child pages if there were any of those. Bingo! Now I could create any number of pages that would remain hidden until I set up a link to them in a manner of my own choosing.

Since Borderland displays the page links in a header nav bar, I created page called Links, and I’m using it to link to other pages both internal and external to the site. All of the “hidden” pages are children of a page that I am keeping blank, to use as placeholder in the URL. I call it “pages” to be absolutely generic about the whole thing. If you want to get even more fancy, you can read How to make your own page templates: and customize the new pages.

To demonstrate, you can look at the Links page and see that I have begun a list. As an example, I have a page called Photos that is at photos with a different page design. I’ve made a couple of other page templates as well, but they aren’t being used yet. Other plans to unify the design include tweaking the TrueNorth CSS to resemble Borderland’s.

Update: My subsequent attempt to install gallery software and integrate into WordPress has not quite worked the way I intended. The link to the photos page will not be using a wordpress template at this time. The gallery will remain, and I’ll have to work on making it fit.

This may all be of little interest to most people, but for me it was the answer to a question that I had asked several months ago. I just needed to know where to look for the answers. I believe that the WordPress features and the documentation in the Online Manual make it a great tool for online publishing. And I have (I think) learned my lesson about backing up files that I spent time writing.

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Borderland Broken

Jul 01 2005 Published by under borderland

A hastily handled upgrade to WordPress 1.5.3 resulted in my losing my sidebar, and my static page content. By the time I realized that the wp-content folder was in the deletion queue it was too late :(

I managed to rescue some of it, but since I’d customized a fair bit, some time will be required to figure out what is wrong now. The rebuilding process will have to wait for a few hours. I have other things going on at the moment.

Lessons learned: Backup, backup, backup …

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