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.

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;


A new look for

The home page has been given a new look to make it easier for people to explore the site.

There are still some loose ends to tidy up, but in keeping with the “release early, release often” philosophy, it’s time to give it a try and start listening to the feedback.

This version builds on the feedback from the last prototype. That showed that providing some pointers to help visitors start exploring was well received. That version, though, was built during the summer break but proved too complex to be sustainable under the pressures of term-time workloads.

The new version is simpler, but provides more information. It’s completely blog-based, with no bespoke code other than a customised WordPress theme, modified using standard template tags. That means maintenance can be shared, so volunteers are welcome to contribute.

Current features include:

There’s still more work to do, such as:

  • lists of project blogs
  • lists of support department blogs

Feedback welcome.

eduBuzz Open Meeting

Today’s eduBuzz Open Meeting provided as usual a rich source of ideas for next steps and feedback from a range of activities over the past month.

We were pleased to welcome Alison Hunton, a parent whose two daughters Alice and Ellie are already amongst our youngest bloggers.

Topics covered included:

  • Internet skills for staff

As use of the internet becomes more embedded in school activities this is highlighting an ongoing need for training in some fairly basic web skills for staff. A useful resource for WordPress training is the Stuck With ICT site developed by Andrew Brown of LTS.

  • Internet safety for parents

Ollie Bray reported on the internet safety session recently run for Musselburgh parents. This training, based on CEOP standards, is planned for roll-out to clusters.

  • Comment spam

There were a couple of reports of nuisance comment spam, and the possibility of adding a Captcha check was discussed.

  • WordPress upgrade

A few points of feedback from the recent software upgrade arose, including the loss of the coloured text facility.

New features on eduBuzz blogs

The WordPress Multi-User software behind the eduBuzz blogs has been upgraded to the current version, 1.2.5a.

If you’ve got an eduBuzz blog, what will you notice?

  • The editor now offers a “Code” tab where you can – if you want – view and edit the XHTML code behind your posts directly. This is sometimes helpful for more adventurous bloggers. A little HTML here can add tables, for example, to a post or a page.
  • Anarchy buttonsThe Anarchy Media Player buttons are now displaying correctly, making it easy to embed videos from sites such as Google, YouTube and My Space simply by pasting the full URL of the video’s web page – use the yellow V button.

  • A new drop-down site menu in the Dashboard makes it much easier to work with a number of different edubuzz blogs.
  • Upload menuControl of how uploaded files are displayed is now easier. There are clear “radio buttons” to let you choose to show Thumbnail or Full size versions, and to enable you to easily make the image link to the original file.
  • A new Manage Uploads option enables you not just to easily browse uploaded files, but makes it easy to see their URLs. That’s ideal for when you want to supply your own image’s URL for a blogroll link, for example, or a blog header.

Here’s an example of an embedded YouTube video, the wonderful “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Using Us” by Michael Wesch.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

First blog recovered from backup

One of our most popular school web sites, the Pencaitland Blog, has had to be recovered from backup.

What seems to have caused the problem was deleting a user record via the Site Admin / Users menu, when that user was the author of a large number of posts on the blog. Perhaps in an attempt to remove all trace of the user, those posts were also removed. Examination of the wp_<blog no.>_posts table in the WordPress database showed they had gone, and weren’t hanging around in some authorless limbo land.

I don’t know if a warning was issued. Maybe that’s something to try out one day when I’ve some time to spare…

This is the first time that we’ve needed to recover a blog from backup in a year of operation, and is the first time we’ve had occasion to think hard about whether or not it makes sense to entrust sufficiently experienced school staff with Site Admin rights. Continue reading First blog recovered from backup

eduBuzz sign-up back to normal

The fault with eduBuzz sign-up has now been fixed and tested.

For the curious: the fault was being caused by an incorrectly configured plugin, danalog’s site-wide tagging solution, which we’ve been experimenting with. This plugin doesn’t read the domain name automatically, but requires it to be coded into the plugin. And until you do that, it has a placeholder in there of – you guessed it – “domain.tld”.