www.exc-el.org.uk/space

In a moment of idle curiosity I've been playing at integrating the
Typepad Exc-elspace
http://exc-elspace.typepad.co.uk/ into the main site.

I've made
www.exc-el.org.uk/space take you to the Typepad area
http://exc-elspace.typepad.co.uk/
This means you can use
www.exc-el.org.uk/space/p5live, for example, to go to
East Linton's p5live blog on Typepad.

Having established this principle, we can think what else might help.
www.exc-el.org.uk/classblogs? You get the idea…

I'd appreciate feedback.

Digital Divide

Spent most of today drafting an article about Exc-el. As Exc-el develops, we're now in a position to put more effort into sharing what we're doing.

Glad to see the Education ICT blog is started. Chris J. Day, guitar instructor, now has a blog and will be starting up soon.

If you're at all interested in Digital Literacy or the digital divide can I insist you set aside an hour or so and listen/watch the Marc Prensky's keynote presentation about the engagement of 21st century learners "Engage me or Enrage me"?
Ewan blogged about it last week, and the whole thing is available in various formats on the MFLE site. He will change your thinking.
Link

Student blogging

Took part in a meeting at Prestonpans Education Centre on Monday to explore next steps in student blogging. Hosted by Karen Robertson, ICT Curriculum Officer, it included a number of enthusiastic primary teachers. It was good to meet Richard Wilson and Jonny Baxter, both of whom I knew via Exc-el. I knew Richard at once from the picture on his
blog .

The pilot is based on the
Typepad hosted weblogging service, which is one of the market leaders. The idea is to base this work on a product that's designed for the purpose, and as easy to use as possible. Exc-el weblogs, such as this one, are written using the
eZpublish content management system. It's more complicated, so doesn't have such a child-friendly user interface.

There's a prototype blog at
http://exc-elspace.typepad.co.uk/ . We had a look at the user interface, and managed to work out – eventually – how to make our changes publish to the web.

Possible application ideas so far include using student blogs for:

  • Learning Logs – reflective diaries of day-to-day learning experience
  • Enabling conversations that wouldn't otherwise be easy, such as across transition stages, e.g. P7 to S1

We talked about the practicalities of how things might work, such as what rules might be needed re identification. It's another kind of web site, so the rules set out by LTS in their document
Creating and Managing a School Web Site provide a good framework.

Next step is for us all to have a look at the product, get familiar with it, and start getting some pilots under way.

Google Trends – a teaching aid?

Just out of Google Labs… Enter your search terms, and you get a graph showing, over the last few years, the incidence of searches using those terms. And liittle markers on the graph show when particular new stories occurred – they're listed on the right. Fascinating!

I tried "hurricane" – here's the result.
Link

Contributor Login: going straight to what you want to edit

The need to navigate the Content Structure wastes time if you only ever update one area. Why can't you go straight there, in the way that you can set your Home Page for web browsing?

Checked this out today as I'm setting up access for a new group of Enterprise co-ord in the schools to update their school's Enterprise pages. Turns out it appears to be easy to do – initial tests have been successful.

The key is the URL structure in eZpublish. The normal URL for this blog, for example, is:

http://www.exc-el.org.uk/content/index.php/main/weblogs/david

That URL displays the blog in the normal user interface – the public web site. But when I'm using the admin interface, I see a different URL (main is replaced with main_admin). Try clicking on it and you'll be prompted to login – then taken to the admin screen view of my blog.

http://www.exc-el.org.uk/content/index.php/main_admin/weblogs/david

This means we can provide contributors with a direct route to the content they maintain. Options include sending them the URL, which they could store as a favourite in their browsers. But a better way, I think, is to put a hyperlink called Editor Login on the appropriate folder – that way it's available whatever PC they're using. I'm trying that now for the Enterprise editors, just putting the Editor Login down at the very bottom of the page.

Podcast time: Odeo makes it easy, and links well with Exc-el. Why not try it?

Here's an easy way to create audio podcasts and integrate them with the Exc-el site.

Rats… I've typed this all already, but the interweb went all slow and the last attempt was lost in a barrage of "timed out" messages. That will teach me to click "Store draft" now and again… Checked the server and everything there was running OK, so don't know the reason. There are over 70 people browsing the site right now, by the way and another one updating it.

Anyway, the current issues that have been getting in the way of Exc-el podcasting:
  1. The file sizes have been too large for some talkative people. See, for example:
    http://www.exc-el.org.uk/content/index.php/main/weblogs/don_s_blog/blogging_and_management
  2. We haven't been able to supply an RSS feed (
    web feed) for a podcast stored on Exc-el. All we have been able to do is create links to individual files. That sounds like technobabble, but it's the key that enables people with
    iTunes (or other podcast catchers such as
    Juice ) to subscribe to their chosen podcast. This is just like subscribing to a magazine, except instead of a new edition arriving through your letterbox, it gets detected by the podcast catcher when it's published, which downloads it to your PC and then – if you want – automatically downloads it onto your iPod or other mp3 player. This is the powerful thing about podcasting, because it becomes like on-demand radio.
I've been trying to find a work-around. Today tried OdeoStudio. This plugs the gap well. Features include:
  • a very easy-to-use on-line system for recording your podcast directly, or for uploading it as an MP3
  • a web-based interface, meaning it is available to anyone with a PC and internet access (a mic and speakers help, too..don't know if it will work with a school PC – a test is needed – any volunteers?)
  • it's a free service, including storage of your uploaded podcast files
  • automatic generation of an RSS URL which can be popped straight into your feed catcher (in iTunes, use Advanced / Subscribe to Podcast and paste it in the URL box)
  • a neat feature which provides you with an on-screen player to use in your blog (you just cut and paste the HTML, I'll put a demo below). This means people can still conveniently read the text around it. (I need to click Play twice, not sure why…)
<object classid="clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000" codebase="http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=7,0,0,0" width="476" height="80" align="middle"><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /> <param name="movie" value="http://odeo.com/flash/audio_player_fullsize.swf?ver=1.03" /> <param name="wmode" value="transparent" /> <param name="flashvars" value="audio_id=1152071&audio_duration=35.067&valid_sample_rate=true&external_url=http://media.odeo.com//files/2/0/7/362207.mp3" /><embed src="http://odeo.com/flash/audio_player_fullsize.swf?ver=1.03" width="476" height="80" allowScriptAccess="always" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" flashvars="audio_id=1152071&audio_duration=35.067&valid_sample_rate=true&external_url=http://media.odeo.com//files/2/0/7/362207.mp3" wmode="transparent" /></embed></object>
Some other stuff you can do:
  • tag each audio recording (like
    Flickr for photos, or
    del.icio.us for bookmarks) to help others find your recordings (e.g.
    http://www.odeo.com/tag/exc-el would find all recordings tagged with "Exc-el")
  • provide a link (various sizes/colours) to your Odeo Podcast page, where people can comment on your podcasts, example below (and you can get emailed when anyone leaves a comment):
<a href="http://odeo.com/channel/101740/view"><img src="http://odeo.com/img/badge-channel-black-big.gif" border="0" width="80" height="50" alt="My Odeo Podcast" /></a>

You can also post a podcast by phone, if you don't mind dialling the US. You create the podcast file, they give you a phone number to dial and a magic number to key in when the phone's answered – and that's it. You can do that one for homework.

Downsides?

An upload limit on individual files of 50MB, and a recording time limit of one hour. That should be fine for mp3 files, though. And an hour is just right for a school period. Most podcasts aren't that long, anyway. Why don't you try it and see what you think? It's worth a look.

www.exc-el.org.uk/training

Tried making up another 2-minute on-line training package for people using the
Exc-el forums , mainly for the
Chemistry Support forum members. Feedback on that and the blogging one has been positive, so I'm putting these on the site, under About Excel at
http://www.exc-el.org.uk/content/index.php/main/about_exc_el/how_do_i

I've also set up a snappier URL to point to the same place:
www.exc-el.org.uk/training .

Keeping conversations going

Started off with a 30-min review of accumulated support requests to decide priorities. Decided to tackle RSS feeds for weblogs. These matter because they make it so much easier for people to keep an eye on new or changed posts without the need to visit the website every time. This in turn keeps the conversations going.

The aim is to ensure all offer RSS feeds so that people can keep an eye on them using feed aggregators such as
Bloglines These let you subscribe to blog or other "web feeds" such as BBC news headlines. One you've done that, you see a list of your subscriptions, with a list of unread messages beside. Here's a link to an example Bloglines screen shot:
http://www.operationgadget.com/images/bloglines.gif

Decided to see if we could get not just information about new blogs published on the web feeds, but also information about Comments that have been posted in response to these. Turned out that could be done, so modified those with existing RSS feeds to publish comments and let the owners know. I'll be setting all up in the same way over next few days.

Followed up on finding a contact at Scottish Exec for Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. Found last week that although employers were part of the consultation process, they haven't been kept in touch with the outcome, so new purposes (Successful Learners, Confident Individual, Responsible Citizens, Effective Contributors) meant nothing to them. Hopefully SE can provide someone to do a Q & A session. Although it's all on the web they don't have time to plough through it, and they need to be able to ask questions.

Later followed up trying to get web site notifications working. This will automatically email registered users to tell them about new items in any part of the site they're interested in. This will include forum participants, who can click on a "Keep me informed" button in any forum thread – they don't need to use Admin interface. Couldn't get the automatic process (Cron job) to run at first, but got that fixed, only to find that it complained about the PHP interface in use. Raised a call with the hosting company to see if they can help. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Started setting up another 17 Exc-el users, Chemistry forum participants, for Bruce Robertson.

 

Rewiring Democracy

The
Adam Smith Institute has recently published
REWIRING DEMOCRACY: Better e-government for the UK (pdf, 33 pages). It compares e-government efforts in the UK to those in Estonia – and Estonia wins hands down.

In the UK, they note, e-government has been all about enabling electonic access to services – but not about taking advantage of these technologies to enable greater particupation in the democratic process. In effect, the UK is making the common mistake of computerising what we already do, and not thinking about what else is enabled. In Estonia, citizens can go on-line and amend draft legislation.

Why might this matter for Exc-el? Have a look at the conclusions below; what this shows is that developments like Exc-el are significant in making that change. As well as providing a model for education, Exc-el is also modelling the kind of citizen input to the democratic process that the Adam Smith Institute regard as overdue elsewhere in local and national government. Perhaps within ELC we should be thinking of other areas where the Exc-el approach could help?

This is an extract from the Conclusions © Adam Smith Research Trust 2006.

A 5-point action plan

1. e-government in the UK has so far failed due to a lack of clear strategy and
coordination. …

2. e-government is about more than making forms easier and quicker to fill in: it is about
increasing the participation in democracy as a whole. To recast democracy in a way that
involves more people, greater openness must be pursued by abandoning the 30-year
rule and making the decisions taken by the Cabinet and all other government bodies
immediately available to the public.

3. There must be a means by which the public can comment on or even propose
legislation. Only when citizens become more involved in the decisions that shape their
lives will the process of political re-engagement occur.

<snip>