Freshy theme: good choice for students?

Freshy could be a good theme choice for student blogs. For formative assessment purposes, it’s good if visitors to a blog can comment not only on Posts, but on any Pages the student has created. We’ve learned that not all themes support Page comments. For example, Craig’s All About Birds page is enabled for comments, but in his current theme, 3K2, we don’t have an option to leave one.

We already know too, of course, that students value the ability to change their own header image.

This morning I noticed that Mark, a student at MGS, has adopted the Freshy theme for his blog. He’s found that you can add your own header image by providing the URL for the image – it’s in the Advanced Options for Freshy. Thanks Mark!

Combined with Freshy’s support for comments on Pages, this means Freshy is a good choice for student blogs where comments on Pages are important.

Out and about

Today involved:

  • planning for the first “new technologies” CPD session the Education ICT team are doing at Law Primary soon
  • quick meeting with website team at Preston Lodge to check the WebsiteBaker arrangements are going OK
  • got to end of Ollie’s session at Musselburgh, then took MGS WebsiteBaker planning a bit further forward there

There were so many people at the Musselburgh twilight session, I thought I’d got the room wrong. It was great to see that this approach can work so well. There’s clearly a large latent demand.Came back to number of emails about blogs. I’m now finding the blog handy for answering these, which is great. It’s surprising how often time can be saved by sending a link. And you don’t even have to remember what you wrote, too, which is handy…
It’s interesting to see how busy the Exc-el site is becoming. Noticed today we’ve already exceeded the number of visits for the whole of October, and we’re only 70% of the way through the month.

BT failing to meet WAN commitments?

Very disappointed to hear that BT may not meet the committed dates for the East Lothian schools WAN upgrade given here, and may even be asking for more money despite the whole project having been subject to competitive tender.

This would be extremely disappointing if true. I had a number of attempts at using the internet in Science and Maths classes over the last year or so, and ended up concluding that it simply wasn’t viable.

We have large secondary schools with less WAN bandwidth than many people now have to their home PC. Not only that, this bandwidth is shared with internal applications like web-based email. Email, of course, is so slow that many people don’t have time to use it. Most emails I get from teachers come from their home email addresses, and are sent in the evenings.

The bottom line is that if it’s impossible to get the WAN motorway in on time, we need to build a temporary bypass to get those packets flowing faster before we get gridlocked.

Even a single domestic ADSL link, running at up to 8Mbps, could be used. Maybe BT could bundle a couple of these, and we could connect schools using VPNs over the internet instead? Ideas, please!

WebsiteBaker Preston Lodge pilot starts

WebsiteBaker (boxed)Today – at last – a pilot of WebsiteBaker was installed for Preston Lodge High School. This was promised for Monday, but I fell ill. Sorry Linda! Experience from Pete Gray at East Lothian’s Museums Service indicates it’s a product that people familiar with a modern word processor find easy to use. This is true: it’s realistic to consider S1 students as potential authors.

The bones of the site are here – but there’s nothing much to see yet. Curiosity led me to try a Wrapper Page, which was a surprise – have a look at this.

Current thinking is to use it as a Content Management System to enable multiple users within the school to easily update the “notice board” type content that people expect to find on a school web site.

Experience has shown that if this isn’t easy enough, the site will soon become stale. Also, it’s important not to be over-reliant on a single editor. We’re keen to build a network of contributors within – and perhaps beyond – each school, and avoid funnelling every change through a single person.

WebsiteBaker is already in use at Dunbar Grammar, where Anne’s migrating existing eZpublish content across. Ollie Bray at Musselburgh Grammar is having a look at WebsiteBaker too, as it could solve the same problem there.

Exc-el blogs: StripedPlus Theme available

School uniforms might be OK, but students definitely won’t want uniform weblogs. WordPress offers a wide range of themes, and these can be customised – if you’re hosting WordPress yourself.

With WordPress Multi-User (WPMU), things are a bit different. A range of themes can be made available, but changing any of these will affect all the blogs using that theme. So what’s the simplest way to give students the widest possible options for customising their blogs?

One solution is to provide themes which themselves include built-in, menu-driven, styling options. This blog, for example, is using the 3K2 theme. Users of this theme can choose a Style called Vader, which you can currently see here. Provision is made in that theme for addition of more options, but we’d need to make them up.

The StripedPlus theme, installed today, also offers a high degree of inbuilt user styling to WPMU users. For example, it provides for selection of header and background images, as well as fonts and colours. This one also supports sidebar widgets – in 4 sidebars ( top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right) but it’s a single-column design. The “sidebars” appear at top and bottom of the blog, with the top two revealed by mousing over the Navigation link.

We’ll continue to look out for themes that offer this degree of individual styling to student bloggers.

Exc-el blogs: Flickrspinnr widget plugged in

If you’re an Exc-el blogger using a widget-friendly presentation theme, you can now use Headzoo’s Flickrspinnr plug-in. It creates a spinning cube using Flickr photos, which is a good attention-getter!

Flickr Spinnr is a free WordPress plugin that displays your Flickr images on a Flash powered rotating 3D cube. You can select the Flickr account to use, and even photos with specific tags. Flickr Spinnr is Sidebar Widgets compatible, and now includes a stand alone mode that lets you use it on any website, not just a WordPress powered website.

There’s a demo on the Headzoo site, and (if you’re reading this via RSS!) there’s a demo on this blog. Thanks to Ollie for the idea. The demo photos are from his photostream, selected using the mgs tag.

Exc-el Edublogs – now with added Flickr Photo Gallery

Barges on the Water  Jim Lally having a laugh on the 08.11 Yesterday at Musselburgh Grammar, Ollie Bray, Robert Virtue and I we realised that the ability to integrate images, stored in Flickr, with the MGS CDT Department blog could increase the power of the blog. Flickr’s being used to store digital images of MGS students’ work. (Robert Virtue has ensured all the images have been tagged in Flickr with the tag mgscdt, so they are easy to find, a useful tip! See

We soon found the Flickr Photo Gallery WordPress plugin from Silaspartners. There are some excellent examples of its use on the Plugin page.

That’s now installed and this morning Ewan and I played about with his Flickr account to test it. This post, and the sidebar display of edublogger’s photos, show a little of what can be achieved.

To use it, first enable the plugin. Then you need to use your Flickr account to request a Flickr API key, a fairly straightforward process, and use that to configure the plugin. It’s just a way of embedding within WordPress the information it needs to be able to access your Flickr account on your behalf.

This appears to be a very high quality plugin. It was commercially developed by Silaspartners for a client, but has been generously made available to the open source community. Feedback welcome. Is this something teachers would manage to configure, for example? Or is it something we should arrange for them on request?

Digital recorder for every school’s web toolkit?

Why would schools need yet another bit of ICT kit? With laptops, PCs and cheap MP3 player /digital recorders like iRiver’s T30 and even mobile phones all capable of recording podcast sound, we don’t need anything else. Or do we?

Marantz PMD660A press release trawled up today by a Google News search I do on education has made me wonder. It reports on a college professor who’s using a Marantz PMD660 compact professional sound recorder to make podcasts. The benefits for school use? It can: Continue reading Digital recorder for every school’s web toolkit?

Updating Dunbar Grammar’s web site

A meeting at Dunbar Grammar today brought together students, senior managers and staff to decide next steps in redeveloping the school’s web site. The existing site is typical of the first generation of school web sites, in that its main role is publishing formal school information. Although there’s a student section, it’s published information for a student audience.

The web site group has formed as a result of student pressure for change, which is an interesting sign of the times. Two S6 students, Murray and Toby, have spent time researching options for improvement. One barrier they identified is the existing eZpublish Content Management System, which is powerful, but has a relatively complex admin interface (see image). Because it’s not intuitive, very few people know how to use it to maintain the site.
eZpublish admin interface The idea has been to replace it with something that’s easy enough for most staff and students to use, but powerful enough to meet the expected needs of the school. The two main candidates were Mambo and Website Baker. Pete Gray, who was behind the adoption of eZpublish for the school site and for the Exc-el site, suggested Website Baker. He had experience of using it with a range of content authors, and found that anyone familiar with PC word processing could use it immediately with no need for training (see screenshot below). Mambo, on the other hand (perhaps because of more functionality?) was significantly harder for novices to use.

The other main change will be to supplement the static content with streams of news, posts and comments from weblogs. As with other East Lothian schools, Exc-el weblogs are being made available to students, staff and organisations such as School Boards. The plan is bring headlines from these to the home page in a similar way to the current Exc-el home page. We envisage blogs being used as individual learning journals, as class blogs, e.g. for Scribe Posts , and also for sports teams, newsletters and for other learning groups. Website Baker start screenBy bringing feeds from these to the home page, we aim to put learners at the centre of the site.

I’d though that maybe WordPress would be a good choice for the home page, because of the flexibility it offers to present a range of content easily using tools such as Sidebar Widgets. Pete, with his experience of Website Baker, reckons it can provide this functionality just as easily.

Next step is for Anne Johnston to continue migrating the content from eZpublish to Website Baker. That’s been started, and is progressing well. It’s being done by cut and paste, which isn’t proving too difficult. The content needs pruned anyway, as some is out of date. Murray and Toby were set up with Exc-el blogs and given a quick intro to enable them to explore WordPress.

It’s looking like we’ll be ready to start piloting the new site within a week.