All schools closed – but their blogs are busier than ever!

This week, along with many local councils, East Lothian reluctantly took the decision to close all its schools in the face of unprecedented severe weather.

It wasn’t long, though, before staff started to use their eduBuzz school blogs to post updates for their classes. And it’s been interesting to see how that has developed over the four days the schools have now been closed. has been going since 2005, and there are now over 1000 blog sites and over 2000 registered users. Perhaps more significantly, the use of simple web publishing has become normalised across the 40-school district, and a good staff and student skill base has been built up in almost every school. Usage has been rising steadily, and before the school closures there were about 700 posts in a typical school week, and around 1200 comments.

With schools closed, you might have expected usage to drop; but the opposite has happened. It started with small numbers of staff posting learning activities for their classes. That trickle quickly became a flood as the closures were extended, and staff realised the potential of the blogs to keep some learning going.  By midday today, a running counter of “posts in the last 24 hours” showed over 700 posts had been added since yesterday lunchtime, a record level of activity. Education managers quickly realised what was happening, and arranged for school closure updates on the East Lothian council web site to point parents and students to the school blogs for learning updates.

Visitor statistics showed they weren’t publishing into a vacuum either. Visits per day have been higher than ever, at over 25,000 visits per day. Some of these will be due to people checking for closure announcement information, especially mid afternoon in the earlier days, but the levels of activity have been high at all times.

Some other statistics from this closure period:

  • 32 staff have registered new accounts
  • 14 new blog sites have been created

It has been heartening to see the efforts being made by staff to “keep the show on the road”. Many staff  have asked for help to enable them to do things they’ve never done before, whether it’s putting up a simple post with a learning activity, or recording themselves reading stories to their class, and publishing the recording on the school site.

And some, of course, has just been good fun – such as finding out what two feet of snow look like!

Embedding WordPress across a school district: some stats

What might take-up of WordPress across a 40-school local authority look like?

Monthly Visits Dec 2009 to Oct 2010

October 2010 web server summary stats for East Lothian‘s system (visitors and page views) show that the current levels of use this year, a traditionally quieter time, are already similar to the last school year’s peak period of May/June.

Monthly Page Views Dec 2009 to Oct 2010

The pattern each year has been similar, with usage at this time of year approximately doubling by May/June.  Together with steady recent increases, this is a year-on-year growth rate of well over 100%.

The WordPress site now has 1,161 sub-sites (blogs) and 2,336 registered user accounts.

How easy is is to post to an Edubuzz blog from inside Edubuzz Google Apps?

How easy is is to post to an Edubuzz blog from inside Edubuzz Google Apps?

This document has been created in the Edubuzz Google Docs system, and I’m testing to see if I can publish it directly to my Edubuzz WordPress MU blog using the Google Apps “Post to blog” feature.

The screen below shows the settings used, and the confirm message.
Update:  Using the Moveable Type API worked fine, but the post title wasn’t added automatically, I added that manually. Gets Easier to Use

Screenshot of the new edubuzz interfaceIt’s become even easier to get publishing on following today’s upgrade to Version 1.5.1 of its WordPress MU software.

The interface redesign is the result of a lot of work by the WordPress community, including extensive usability testing. First impressions are good, but we’ll need to do some checks to see how students and staff react. Some differences bloggers will notice:

  • a more up-to-date appearance
  • a new arrangement for adding media
  • the confusing term “slug” has been replaced with Permalink:…/ Edit
  • a full-screen editor facility has been added
  • “Timestamp” has been replaced with Publish immediately…/Edit

Testing is still under way, but so far at least things seem to be going well.  An existing bug with creation of new blogs, which was leading to login difficulties under Internet Explorer, has also been fixed with this update, although a few existing faulty blogs still need to be fixed.

Update:  There’s an issue with inserting images in posts. I’ve encountered it under Firefox, but have found it’s working OK under Internet Explorer 7. Thought things were going too well…

How To Change An Early WPMU Database from latin1 to utf8 Encoding.

I’ve written a note on how to do this, which is on a separate page was one of the early WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) sites.  It started off with Version 1.0 Release Candidate 4 of the WPMU software. The way WPMU encoded tables within the database changed in later versions, and needed changed. This has proved an extremely time-consuming exercise, and the note is an attempt to save others some time if they encounter the same problem.

Tags and Categories: learning the difference

Understanding content tagging is an essential skill for effective use of a wide range of internet tools. WordPress blogs now, in addition to Categories, offer a powerful set of tagging tools. But what exactly is the difference?

I’ve now mentioned the addition of the new tagging functionality, briefly in passing, to a few edubuzz bloggers. I haven’t felt, though, that I’ve succeeded in explaining the difference very well. Today I decided to have a look for different approaches, and found this really good explanation of the difference, from Stephanie Booth, who – successfully – argued the case for adding tags to WordPress.

Here are, in my opinion, the main differences between tags and categories, from the “tagger” point of view.

  • categories exist before the item I’m categorizing, whereas tags are created in reaction to the item, often in an ad hoc manner: I need to fit the item in a category, but I adapt tags to the item;
  • categories should be few, tags many;
  • categories are expected to have a pretty constant granularity, whereas tags can be very general like “switzerland” or very particular like “bloggyfriday“;
  • categories are planned, tags are spontanous, they have a brainstorm-like nature, as Kevin explains very well: You look at the picture and type in the few words it makes you think of, move on to the next, and you’re done.
  • relations between categories are tree-like, but those between tags are network-like;
  • categories are something you choose, tags are generally something you gush out;
  • categories help me classify what I’m talking about, and tags help me share or spread it;