is the new home for Exc-el blogs

eduBuzz logoThe Exc-el blog system has now been migrated to

  • You’ll notice that all links that began with have changed to
  • Anyone using old links will be automatically redirected to the new location
  • All links within the site (Blogroll links, hyperlinks etc) have been changed to use

Times Ed: Exc-el is leading the way in effective web use by schools

TESSThis week’s Times Education Supplement Scotland (Friday, April 6th 2007) includes a feature we’ve been awaiting with interest on the use of social software in schools. Sue Leonard, the author, set out to investigate recent events where public web sites had been used to post anonymous comments on teachers. As part of her research, she contacted East Lothian to hear how we were using these tools.

You can read a cut-down version of the article on the Times Ed site. It’s in two parts, and the on-line version provides about 3/4 of each:

  • THE BAD – a discussion of problems arising from the use of a US-based site by students to make comments on teachers in Scottish schools. Perhaps inevitably, and despite inclusion of supportive arguments from the site’s founder, it paints a dark picture.
  • THE GOOD – a review of Exc-el, based on interviews with Don Ledingham, Lynne Lewis and Barry Smith. In addition to the on-line text, there’s coverage in the full article of the Pencaitland Primary blog and Preston Lodge High School’s Active Learning Partnerships (ALPs) programme and the student learning logs.

I’d been a bit worried that the article could so easily have painted a negative picture. It’s a relief to find that Sue’s interviews with some of the Exc-el community have provided more than just an abstract sense of balance: they’ve provided a tangible example of an alternative, positive way to view, and use, social software. I hope that’s helpful to people making decisions elsewhere.

It does make me think, though, we’ve got a much stronger story to tell, though, than can be covered in just a couple of pages. Although we’re trying to share what we’re doing via blogs, for example, we know that – by their nature – they’re preaching to the converted. They also tend to focus on a short time period; what we’ve done today, or this week, rather than what we’ve achieved over 6 months or a year.

There’s a gap here. We need to find ways of making it easy for people new to Exc-el to quickly get their heads round not just what it’s all about, but to find stories about successful examples they can build on.

Remixing as learning: are schools ready for Dapper and Pipes?

Yesterday’s thoughts on Extreme Learning, where we talked about using the term “mashup” to describe a form of output material, is supported by Becta’s second volume of its Emerging Technologies for Education paper , out this week. It includes this description of the way that use of social software supports the way young people like to learn.

But perhaps more interesting is the fact that (social tools) operate at the intersection of technology, teaching and creativity, which is a need that Sir Ken Robinson, a leading expert on innovation, identified so eloquently at the 2006 TED conference. In this respect, the fundamental pattern of learning and innovation using social tools – find –> remix –> share – seems ideally suited to the way most young people like to discover and make sense of the world around them, which is reason enough for an optimistic view of their likely impact. (from Chapter 1, by Lee Bryant of Headshift, Page 10: Link)

Yahoo Pipes logoI’ve never seen this connection made so explicitly before. It makes me wonder if, as we develop East Lothian’s new learner-centred social software site, our current main menu options, Explore and Share, might be complemented by a third, Remix? That could link learners to some of the tools now starting to appear which Dapper logoexplicitly support the remixing activity, such as Dapper (thanks Robert) or Yahoo Pipes (thanks again Robert!). It’s early days in this area, but there’s no doubt use of these tools is now within the capability of some secondary school students, and they’ll only get easier to use.

Law Primary’s blog: 670 comments in under 5 weeks

If you’d like an example of how powerful an easy-to-use, interactive blog can be as a school web site, have a look at the Law Primary blog. This site was created on 23rd February 2007, so it’s not yet 5 weeks old – but has attracted 670 comments already. As always, there are surprises. Who’d have thought aspiring stars in the school show would use the blog to share their thoughts on the auditions?

Avoid RSS overload – subscribe to WordPress blogs *by Category*

Now that the number of Exc-el / eduBuzz blogs is going up, it’s becoming more important to develop ways to sort out the information you want to see from the stuff you don’t.

Maybe you’ve discovered RSS feeds, and are using them to subscribe to blogs of interest. So far, so good. In your RSS aggregator, say Bloglines, you’ll see an entry for each blog you’ve subscribed to, and beside that entry a number showing how many new posts there have been since your last visit.

But what if the blog’s very active and wide-ranging, and you’re only interested in posts on one subject? Subscribe to the blog’s feed, and you’re going to have to browse through every new post looking for the ones you want. That’s a waste of time.

Fortunately WordPress offers a better way: it lets you subscribe to posts in selected categories. Continue reading Avoid RSS overload – subscribe to WordPress blogs *by Category*

“Simpler WordPress” plugin offers speed and simplicity

Julien de Luca’s Simpler WordPress plugin, now installed on Exc-el, is claimed to improve basic blogging performance by removing more advanced features, such as the upload and preview parts of the screen.

This may also be helpful in enabling some bloggers to be presented with a simpler interface if they’ve no need to use the upload feature.

We’ve installed it to see whether it can provide a worthwhile performance improvement in schools with particularly slow internet access. Initial tests suggest it will make a difference, but not a dramatic one. Much of the downloading that takes place is for editor toolbar buttons, and that isn’t affected.

For maximum performance Simpler WordPress could perhaps be used in combination with the basic, non-WYSIWYG editor, but that editor is only suitable for people who won’t be put off by the sight of the underlying XHTML, or the corresponding HTML tag editor buttons, such as b-quote, img and ul. If you’ve an Exc-el blog and want to try it, you can switch off the normal editor under My Profile (there’s a link in the top right of your admin screen).

Feedback on the Simpler WordPress plugin would be appreciated. In particular, it would be good to know what difference is observed on the various slow school networks.

Earliest writing on the web?

Don’t know about you, but I don’t have any of my jotters from my Primary 3 days. The Primary 3 children at Haddington Infant School are in a completely different situation. Now that they’re writing regularly on their individual blogs, they’re publishing not only to a global audience that’s separated by geography, but also to a an audience separated by time – which could well include themselves as adults.

I’ve now shown these blogs to a few people, and it’s clear there’s something very special about seeing such early writing on the web. No doubt there’s more of the same elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it. Here’s an example from Erin of P3-8.

Super School

If I was Minister for Education I would get new chares for the teachers beacause some off them are riped and all the fluf is cuming out.I would get new bookes for the cumputers sweet beacause some of them are scrubeld on.Then I would put a new carpets in the classroom beacause thay are dirty. Link

This formative assessment project has moved into another stage now. The children have learned how to comment on one another’s blogs, and are starting to leave comments.

To make that easy, we’ve provided each child with a Blogroll consisting of links to every other P3 pupil’s blog. (An earlier post explains how we did that.) This means they can easily browse not only the work of other children in their class, but also that of pupils in other P3 classes in the school.

This is enabling peer feedback between children who aren’t working in class at the same time. Perhaps this places more importance on reading and writing than would take place if the peer feedback took place using jotters, between children who could supplement the reading and writing with verbal communication?

We went for the giant blogroll because we felt it important at this stage to offer one-click access to the peer blogs, and not tuck the list away, or break it down into class-sized chunks.

If you go to any one of these blogs, you can use the Blogroll to easily browse the others. I’m sure your feedback would be appreciated on their work to date. The first one on their blogroll list is Aaron’s blog.

WordPress – creating a Blogroll list *from any WP blog* for import

This tip might help you if you’re ever involved in updating a batch of WPMU blogs with the same set of links.

Robert Whiteside at Haddington Infant School is now moving on to using blogs for peer assessment and peer feedback as I mentioned on the eduBuzz blog. We wanted to populate each of the 90+ student blogs with the same set of Blogroll links – one for each of the other P3 students in the school. Although this makes for a long list, we figured it was important at this stage to provide “one-click” access to one another’s blogs.

You might notice that under Blogroll, there’s an Import facility, but no export. This means, unless you know about creating OPML files, you can’t readily just create one “model” blogroll, export it to a file, then import that file into other blogs.

There is a work-around, though, and it’s even more powerful. For any WPMU blog, you can export the Blogroll as an OPML file by simply adding the script name wp-links-opml.php to the blog’s URL. It makes sense – why should you need to go the backend admin tools to get access to data which is publicly available?

An example using Andrew’s Blog:

Blog URL is

To export Blogroll as OPML file browse to

That URL should open the XML file in your browser, and you can then save that for future import.

Ellie’s going to be a P2 travel journalist

Ellie, a P2 girl at Haddington Infant school, is going to Western Australia for a period of 6 weeks. We’re going to set her up with her own blog, so she can keep her class up to date with her travels. I’m meeting Mum tomorrow to get her started with WordPress.

The plan is to have one that Ellie’s teacher and her class can write to as well, so they can in turn keep Ellie up to date with what they’re doing.

This way we’re hoping that the blog will help benefit Ellie and her class, and help minimise any adverse impact from the interruption to her normal classes. I find myself wondering if this is how travel journalists of the future are made?

Inter-authority web support for Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE)

Click to open a larger version of this image in your browser There’s now a prototype web site to support inter-authority work on A Curriculum for Excellence. We’d appreciate feedback on it.

This site, which is based on an Exc-el blog, is is the first step towards building web support tools to help Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian local education authorities collaborate on new curriculum development.

The basic idea is to develop that site as a “big picture” entry point which enables visitors to find out about, and engage with, ACfE developments at inter-authority level. It provides links and information to put the work into context and to provide an overview of what’s happening. Because comments are enabled on every Page and Post visitors can contribute their perspectives. There’s also an Event Calendar.

Visitors can then easily browse, click through to, and engage with more detailed information on individual pieces of the picture. An example you can look at just now is the Active Learning Partnerships project page from Preston Lodge High’s Althernative Curriculum project. There you’ll see summary paragraphs being fed from the main ALPs project blog.

Feedback on this site would be welcome. It’s currently operating in “Stealth mode“, so shouldn’t yet be picked up by search engines such as Google and Technorati, and isn’t appearing in the “Latest Post” lists on the eduBuzz blog.