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!

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.

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.

The Amazing… Craig’s Blog!!!

The Amazing ... Craig's BlogIf you’re interested in student blogging you must have a look at Craig’s amazing blog. The title is his – but he’s not kidding.

Backstory: This is one of the blogs started yesterday, just before lunch, by an autistic S1 student who was completely new to WordPress.

He’s already using Pages to build up a web site about his hobby, birds. Here are just some examples:

Not only were Craig and his classmate Fraser reluctant to leave at lunchtime, I notice this blog has been developing this evening. Why not have a look, and leave a comment?

This is a powerful demonstration of how WordPress might be used in the context of the Extreme Learning Curriculum development.

Autistic bloggers

At Ollie‘s invitation, I set up a couple of blogs for two autistic S1 students at Musselburgh Grammar School. Today was their chance to get started, and I was interested to see how things went. How would they get on with WordPress? Would there be some difficulties we hadn’t foreseen?

Continue reading Autistic bloggers

New Exc-el blog – Neil’s Probationer Blog

Days in the life of a new Geography teacher. Or as Neil puts it:

“The rantings of a Geography teacher on probation at North Berwick High for session 2006/2007. Find out what its like on the bottom rung of a very slippery ladder, as I share my thoughts and experiences with the world.”

It’s at

Preston Lodge High School – web developments

Preston Lodge High School doesn’t currently have a web site – but that’s about to change. I met up with some of the people involved today. Interestingly, despite not having a site just now, they were unanimous that the school site they want needs to be one that isn’t just a dull electronic equivalent of a notice-board. There was a real recognition that students had to have a voice on the web, not just “the school”. Continue reading Preston Lodge High School – web developments

Michael Fullan

Tonight I was trying to find out about
Microsoft’s Virtual Classroom Tours , as I'm talking with Emma Griffiths tomorrow about these in relation to her role on the
Innovative Teacher Program . They're packages based on PowerPoint. I had a look in one about
Designing a Room and found it contained an interesting short note on the thinking behind the idea. It pointed to the work of Michael Fullan, one of
Microsoft’s International Advisory Board Members .

It sounded like he was on the same wavelength as Exc-el, so I had a look to see if I could find out more about his work. I found his web site, , is a good resource. It includes downloadable
articles, for example. He has authored a number of
books, one of them with Andy Hargreaves who spoke on
“Success and Sustainability” at SETT . It's a small world!

Here's an extract from one of the articles, which he'd co-authored for the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, which made me think of Exc-el: (

“…Beyond this, system leaders have a special responsibility to foster and support crosssystemnetworks where people across a region, state or country learn from each other.When done well this has significant payoffs for sustainability. First, people are able to learn directly from other practitioners. Second, people begin to identify with larger parts of the system beyond their narrow interest group.”

WordPress is working

WordPress Multi-User is now working here Testing yesterday didn't identify any problems, so we'll be starting to migrate
existing blogs over the next week or so.

East Lothian learners – including teachers, students, support staff and parents – wanting a new Exc-el Edublog there can sign up

If you've got an existing Exc-el blog why not sign up and have a play? The blog names will look like this: Ideally the name should relate to what your blog's about, and be memorable, if it's to help build up your audience. Don't abruptly stop your existing blog, though. It's important that your audience are told what's happening, and get the information they'll need to change any feed subscriptions they may have. At the very least, your last post in the old blog should:

  • provide a link to the new blog
  • make it easy for people to subscribe to the new RSS feed

We'll be helping you with this process as part of the migration.

Exc-el site changes start…

This is going to be shorter than it was -I've just lost version 1 after getting a worm protection pop-up message!

Today we've put a new
Home Page in place, with menu options for the
main Exc-el site and (less prominently) for
WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) testing . By using a piece of code from the WordPress forum, we've been able to get both eZpublish and WPMU running.

That's the good news, but testing this morning showed that a bit more work is required.. I guess it was a bit optimistic to hope that the WordPress forum code would fix it (WPMU makes use of URL rewriting for the blog names)… but if it worked, it would have saved a lot of time. Spent this afternoon getting up to speed on the
"voodoo" command syntax , and it's now starting to make some sense. Now I know how Alan will be feeling
learning Polish . We can get a log of everything it's doing, so it's all do-able, just tedious. Still worth it, though, to get elegant – and easy to use and remember – blog URIs like and not, for example.

Met with Ewan on Skype to discuss development of the site. This is just such a useful tool – perhaps we should consider a pilot of Skype on some school PCs? I see that Vicki Davis has an
intro to the use of Skype in the classroom , aimed at new users, on her
Cool Cat Teacher blog. What do you think?