Posts Tagged ‘Instructional Technology’

We love Free! Or do we? We do! But do we?

June 11th, 2009

What is the cost of free? That topic came up in a great blog post I read on the Kinda Learning Stuff blog.

I’m sure we’ve all participated in the discussion around online tools (like blogs, wikis, podcasts – even email) and whether universities really need to have their own, in-house systems to offer them. It seems like the culture is moving away from our offering the needed services, and towards being open to supporting the tools available online.

In my daily job, these things come up all the time. Sometimes there aren’t the resources (human or otherwise) required to implement certain systems – and definitely not for ALL of the systems that people may want to use. I’ve always been of the opinion that if we can offer the services in house, we should. It offers the users a safer feeling environment, a possibility for better user support, possible integration with our existing systems, etc. There’s also the wee issue of the US Patriot act, which makes it difficult for us to recommend or support the use of any hosted online service that uses servers that aren’t in Canada.

Until I read this article, I hadn’t really considered another possibility: free online systems can magically disappear, taking all of your hard work with it! As the ‘Kinda Learning Stuff’ blogger learned the hard way, sometimes companies don’t feel that non-paying customers deserve notice of the end of their accounts (or the entire system!). Very risky!

Do I think that Google will remove all of its lovely services (Docs, Email, Reader, etc.) without any kind of notice? Not likely… it wants to succeed in taking over the universe!! But some of the smaller services could be at risk of going under, and we’d never be the wiser until it was too late.

Thought I’d share that new (to me) insight with you.

Cheers!

Tricky-Wiki

June 2nd, 2009

Why is it so hard to find an appropriate wiki?

 Good question… I’m not sure I can answer that on my own. I’ll admit that I have a set of features that I’m not willing to do without. There’s also a general lack of consistency across wiki tools, which make it hard to compare.

I have actually become a HUGE wiki user in the last year or so, tracking all sorts of projects and investigations on a wiki. Some are on my private wiki, that only I (and a few sys admins!) can see. Some have been posted to one of my group wikis, so my colleagues can possibly benefit from the things I’ve discovered. (FYI: I’m currently using a wiki tool called Confluence, which is a fairly "techie" wiki tool, and may or may not be exactly what we need for our wider University community). 

 What is a wiki?

At its core, a wiki is a collaborative document. Users can all edit the document, and work on it together. Their changes are tracked, so that the different versions of the document can be compared. At the end, there can be a cohesive product document that everyone worked on, without having to be in the same room together!

What can a wiki be?

Another good question. I think we’re still working on this one. It can be a collection of documents that track the progress of a project — or, the documents could BE the project. Wikis are great for evolving projects, where the information needs to be updated at different times, by different people involved. Wikis are great for growing concepts from different viewpoints. In education, wikis are often used for groupwork, for the development of the class materials by various instructors & assistants, for research projects, etc.

What features are important in a wiki?

Here are some of the things that I’m looking for:

 

  • Page hierarchy, so people can build a navigable collection of wiki documents. Since wiki pages aren’t physical, there doesn’t need to be a strict folder structure — just a nice user interface that allows the user to contextualize what they’re doing.
  • Easy to understand navigation of the content you’ve built!! I like tree structures and breadcrumbs (the list of links at the top of the page that link back to the outer layers of sections — you know, like an onion, and therefore Shrek), but they aren’t the only way to go.
  • The ability to easily embed various media types: quicktime movies, windows media, flash, audio files, youtube clips, etc.
  • An easy to use rich-text editor for editing text and embedding things (links, attachments, media, images, etc.) AS WELL as the ability to edit the code (not sure if I require wiki markup, or if I’m OK with HTML — the concept of HTML code for a wiki baffles me a little, but I think I can be cool with it).
  • The ability for a wiki administrator (not just the system administrator) to manage who has access to the wiki, and to what extent. Is it totally closed to the public? Is it viewable by the public, but only editable by a select group of users? That choice is important!
  • The ability for us to host our own server, mostly due to confidentiality issues, but also so that we can have things like authentication using our current my.ryerson accounts and the possibility of creating enrollment-based groups.
  • Auto-saving of documents while a user is working on them. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on something, just to be kicked out of a system when I click the Submit button and having to re-do EVERYTHING because there was no auto-save.
  • An easy way for users to link to: other pages in the wiki, webpages, users’ email addresses, etc.
  • Change tracking and version comparison.

The key thing, for ALL of these features is that they need to be EASY to use, and ‘not too techie’. 

So, tell me… are these the same things you look for in a wiki? I’m not even sure anyone reads my posts, since I’ve never gotten a reply to my questions sent through the ether. Just like with the blog investigation, input is always welcome – whether you agree with my wish list or not!!

Always wikilicious,

S

The New Wave?

June 1st, 2009

 Google Wave Screenshot - from wave.google.com
Google Wave Screenshot – from wave.google.com

The other day, Google previewed a new product that is *still in development* called "Google Wave". It will be available for use later this year, but if it’s anything like the preview, we are in for a revolution! Does this sound like an exaggeration? It’s not really… the demo totally blew my mind!!

WARNING: THIS IS A REALLY LONG POST. I’M ALMOST SORRY.

To give an overview, before getting into the details, Google Wave attempts to combine the following tools into one single application: email, group discussion, instant messaging, document collaboration, and more! As the developers admitted, it does some things that they themselves hadn’t envisioned (as no tool had offered these abilities before). No, I don’t mean that each of these separate tools are available within Wave — I mean that the concept of the Wave itself (product name, as well as what they call the document that is created) meshes all of these abilities into a single "thing".

A tool like this would offer users the ability to communicate ideas in a non-linear fashion (as opposed to the long string of email replies you see at the end of a discussion), in a way that can be reviewed live or after the fact. Participants can be added at any time, and have the ability to review not only the current state of the document/communication (from here on, simply referred to as ‘the Wave’), but can also use a Playback feature to review every state of the Wave, in order.

Whether it is a collaborative document, or an ongoing communication really doesn’t depend on the tool itself – simply how the participants are using it.

So what does this mean for education? Off the top, it would offer the features that students and teachers are already using (in some schools), in a single tool. The Wave created by a class group could be kept private – or it could be posted to something like a class blog or website, for the public to view. It doesn’t seem that the developers have really considered the possible impact on education, so new uses will likely emerge as those of us in education get our hands on it. For those of you concerned about the Patriot act and users’ confidential information — apparently, self-hosting will be a possibility. I’m not sure if it will be available right away, or how much work would be required to host it… but it gives us some hope!

In any case, my notes during the session, as well as the session video, are posted below.

Here is a good breakdown of Google Wave, in case my notes and blathering have left you more confused.

 


Demoed in Chrome and Safari. Dancing and neener neener…

HTML 5 application

What would email look like if it was invented today?

Gmail combines emails into threads

Wave thinks of the conversation as a shared object, building from a central server. More like a discussion board, than email. Hosted conversation. Can split a message apart, to post responses to specific parts of a message. Can do instant messaging conversing… transmitting live almost character by character (could be dangerous, since it doesn’t give the user a chance to change their mind about sending a post! — ah, they’ve added a checkbox to disable this, if you aren’t comfortable with it.)

 Can add new participants to a conversation at any time. With email, you’d have to make sure the whole conversation is in the reply structure. With this, they just see the whole thing intact. Playback allows you to see the progress of the discussion, from the original *intact* message, and all subsequent additions in the order they were added.

Private reply – Can reply to some recipients, while hiding it from others in the conversation. The tree structure allows you to restrict access to any "branch" of the tree.

Attachments – Drag & drop attachments (photos, etc.) onto the "wave". Image thumbnails appear to the participants even before the full-sized image is completely uploaded to the server. This part currently requires a downloaded plugin (gears?), as it’s not currently part of HTML 5 – but a proposal has been made to add it to HTML 5.

Can essentially create a group photo album, complete with a viewer.

APIs – allow you to embed waves on your webpage.

Example – Embed in Blogger blog – add blog user (bloggy?) to the wave,  and it will be embedded and usable from within the blog. Can respond to the wave from inside the blog itself.
Example – Embed in Orkut? Can embed, can use contacts other than your Wave contacts (she used her Orkut ones).

Waves on mobile devices – shown on an Android device, and an iPhone.

Editing & Document Collaboration – one central copy of the Wave… if you edit anything (i.e. captions on the photos), it will fix in all places it is being displayed/embedded. Not only can you edit your own messages, but you can edit each others’ messages – making Wave a great collaborative tool (instead of needing a wiki). Users who have *already seen the Wave* will see markup to identify the changes users have made, with a message about who made the changes. Playback can also be used to see the progress of the changes. The product of the Wave can be reused in another Wave or possibly exported.

Live, concurrent, editing – Multiple users can edit the same Wave at the same time. You can see the parts that they are changing, and a coloured icon showing where the person is editing. 

Wave Organizing – can use folders, tags, and can even link Waves inside other Waves. 

Are planning to add in features for spreadsheets and other types of document…

Extensions & Robots:

Spell-check – not only checks for spelling, but checks for the context of a word. Example: "been soup" – Waves suggests the word "bean" instead. Also, "icland is an icland" was *automatically* changed to "Iceland is an island.".

Youtube – the link-detection robot can also offer other options for a
Youtube link, including the ability to embed the video in the Wave.

Google search – can be done right inside Wave, and the resulting links or images can easily be added to the Wave. 

Forms – can be used to create forms collaboratively. There are two Wave stages here – the first wave is the Admin wave, used to create the form and collect the results. The second is the resulting form Wave itself, which is sent out to recipients who complete the form. (can be a poll, etc.)

Twitter – the "Tweety" extension allows you to create a ‘Twave", in which you log into Twitter and can update with a Tweet, view the list of updates from those you are following, and actually search Twitter based on keywords. Not only do you see these elements in Wave itself, the updates DO get sent to Twitter.

Rosie Robot — translates what is being typed in the Wave from
one language to another, based on the language settings of the user.
Example: An English user communicating with a French one — types in
English, translates to French on the other user’s screen. The French
user replies in French, which gets translated to English (word-by-word,
phrase-by-phrase) on the English user’s screen. Crazy cool! But how
good is the translation – we’ve all seen really bad translation tools!!!

Gadgets: 

Yes/No/Maybe

Games, like Sudoku and Chess 

 … and Playback works with Gadgets too!

Maps – can embed a map, find a location, change views, zoom in/out, make changes *collaboratively*!

Federation: users can build their own Wave system, give accounts, and the content should still work across Wave systems. (could this work for a Ryerson-based system?). They are planning to open source most of the code, so the alternate systems can look pretty much the same as the central Google Wave system. Even though users may technically be on separate Wave systems, the updates are still done real time.  (Even showed another Wave running inside terminal and looks really super geeky!)

Waves that are not shared with external users will only reside inside the "server closet", and will never be on the Google servers.

— In case you want to watch the whole preview:

Can’t See the embedded video? Click here.

The Twit-xperiment: OUCC

May 28th, 2009

Some OUCC tweets
A sample of the OUCC Tweets

I’ve already shamefully admitted that I’m late to the Twitter game, and like grade school, I’m the last to be picked for a team.

This week presented me with an opportunity to experiment with a task that other Twits have been doing for a while now – Tweeting an event.

I had already found some good examples — I recently went to a music festival, and searched Twitter after the fact for Tweets from the attendees. What I found was a collection of Tweets that journalled the entire event. People posted before the event, letting others know they’d be there, and trying to arrange a meet-up. People posted when they got there, about Montreal, about the places they stayed and the things they ate. Of course, people posted from the event – about the bands, the venue, the vendors and the “Industrial Burgers”.

After seeing this, I thought I might give it a go with OUCC. I managed to find someone on Twitter who was planning to go, and as it turns out we were really the only people Tweeting OUCC!! Hahaha… That said, you don’t need lots of people to successfully Tweet an event. There were people who couldn’t make the event watching the Tweets and sometimes even commenting back. We covered the essential points, and concisely as possible. I thought the end result was pretty interesting.

http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23oucc

OK, now to the specifics. I started by using an iPod Touch to Tweet on the first morning. It has a pretty decent Twitter application (TwitterFon), and it uses a WIFI connection. This worked well in the actual sessions (the Keynotes in AMC, the sessions in TRSM all use the Ryerson WIFI). This didn’t work out AT ALL at the dinners, or in the movie. It would have worked with an iPhone or Blackberry, however. I also found that the iPod touch was a little tricky to type on, so my tweets took a long time and had to be kept pretty short. That meant that I wasn’t putting the speaker’s name in a quote… just took too long, and I’d be missing the next thing they said. I also ran out of battery power half-way through the day.

After lunch on the first day, I switched to a laptop. I found it to be MUCH easier to use for entering text, and add to that the ability to copy & paste, and my tweets suddenly had more context. This also meant that I could quickly find websites that were mentioned in some of the sessions and include them in my tweets, for later reference. The downside of a laptop? They’re bigger to lug around (I didn’t have a NetBook, so…), they’re more distracting to other attendees, and they can get pretty hot on your lap.

I think a small “NetBook” style computer might be a good option for this kind of thing. I don’t know how great they are for battery life, but they’re smaller yet still full-featured.

One of the best experiences I had during this was a request from “the other OUCC Twit” to ask a question of a panel that I was attending. He chose to go to another session, but was still able to get info about the session I attended. Sure – you can do the same thing with instant messaging – but this way, the information is given to ANYONE who may be following us.

This is the essence of Twitter, I think. You don’t need to join a specific discussion forum or topic-based website to find a community discussing certain things. You just need to be smart about your searches. If you’re Tweeting an event, or something that may have a specific topic, add a pound sign to a string and try to get people to include it in their Tweets.

It’s not just about broadcasting your every move – although that’s how some people use it. It’s about finding connections with other users through topics, creating your own little community through the people and topics  you follow, and creating a context on a system that appears to have none. Pretty interesting.

Yikes – that was a long post. I definitely went over my 140 character limit.

OUCC 2009 – Day 2

May 26th, 2009

Day 2 of OUCC 2009 is now "over"…

Today was a short, but full, day that ended in lunch and the dispersion of all of the folks I’ve gotten used to seeing over the last two days. We’ve learned, laughed, broken bread together, and have taken "biological breaks" together (rather, at the same time…). I’ve met people that do some of the same things I do, but at different schools. I’ve made questionable jokes and shared thoughtful insights with people I only just met.

It was a successful conference for me, from every angle.

Day 2 was full of speakers. Again, these speakers had differing topics, but all ended up sharing something or other. I don’t just mean ‘technology’. There’s *supposed* to be a technology spin to everything in this conference, so that’s far too easy!!

For me, the common thread for all of the speakers today was Strategies, Projects and Resources.

The first session was a panel discussion with the CIOs of  Windsor, York, McMaster, OCAD, Laurier and Ryerson. I’ll have to admit that quite a bit of this discussion, as well as that of James Norrie (which followed) was above me, in that I understood the topics but that the actual discussion was meant for my bosses and not for me (much talk of ‘governance’). That said, I came away with some interesting insights. Probably the most interesting series of points had to do with offering students systems (like email), vs. having them sign up for one of the many full-featured and free online systems of their choice. This was a conceptual discussion, not a practical one – so things like the Patriot act were not addressed at length. As highlighted above, it’s a discussion of strategy (whose needs, and how are they served and implemented?) and resources (do we really save much $$ by not offering the services?).

James Norrie’s talk highlighted the way our approach to projects is backwards. The focus tends to be on  Capacity (referring to $$ primarily), then on the projects, then the strategy. It’s important to consider the strategy first, then work out the details of the projects and capacity. He made an interesting analogy that went something along the lines of "If you get the recipe right, you can always play with how you bake the goods."

Our final speaker of the morning, Ann Medina, spoke of being prepared for the future by expecting surprises. She talked of her experiences in the field of journalism, and connected them to her love for video games and how both of these things taught her to be prepared for unexpected changes. Specifically, she discussed how video games can teach you how to strategize and allocate resources, which can be applied to real life.

All of these things certainly apply to anyone working with technology – the changes are so constant, and sometimes unexpected. We need to be prepared to accept the changes, take on the new challenges, and rethink how we do things. It’s part of what we do – and for many of us, part of who we are.

I’ll end this post here… I will be posting a bit of a rundown of my Twitter experience during the conference, which was really very positive.

 Cheers!
S

 

OUCC 2009 – Day 1

May 25th, 2009

This is me, at the OUCC conference at Ryerson 2009.

Last night was a good intro – fun dinner and movie night (Star Trek was supercool!).

Today started with a bang! I got a dragon engraved on my cell phone at the Rogers booth! Ahahahaha… but seriously, this morning was packed with great stuff. I should also mention that I’m taking the opportunity to learn about the use of Twitter for events, by Tweeting during this conference. There are sadly only a couple of us tweeting about it, and you can find our posts by searching by oucc or #oucc on Twitter. I’ll post a recap of this part of the experience later.

We’ve had two great speakers today: Ann Cavoukian, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario; and our keynote speaker David Suzuki. On paper, their talks were different – hers on the protection of our personal information, and his on the environment. When it came down to it, they talked about some very common things. Take into consideration that we are at a technology conference, where nearly everyone has gadgets – mostly used for communication, and accounts, and take in gads of information in this advanced culture of ours. Now consider that when you get to the very core of it, both of our speakers spoke of the roles and needs of individuals, as a part of a community. They both spoke of "the economy" as a construct that puts up roadblocks to the work that they do (which affects us all), and of the difficulties people have dividing facts from opinions. 

I won’t go into detail about each of their talks… please look them both up. Both are interesting, engaging, experts in their fields and I was pleased to attend both talks.

I’m now in the afternoon sessions, and have been Tweeting all along. The sessions have been interesting, the Twitter exercise has been fun, and I’m pretty sure dinner will be great! (Hahaha… you know where my mind is. Don’t take it to mean that I’m bored – I’m ALWAYS thinking about food). 

IF you are at OUCC and want to contribute to our information gathering on Twitter, please do! All you need is a wireless Internet device ( computer, smart phone, iPod touch — and Ryerson provided the wireless info in your registration badge), a Twitter account, and some thoughts!! Simply add #oucc to your updates (TWEETS!) and they’ll be aggregated with ours in the search! We would love to have more voices tweeting along with us.

🙂
S

My Opinio About Charts

May 22nd, 2009

Yesterday, I stuck with most of the defaults in my test of Opinio polls, and I had some success. I did run into a few problems, which I will describe below. I’m not sure how savvy my readers are (are you out there?), but I’m always left wondering how software designers come up with some of their management interfaces. I’m used to digging through new software and figuring things out — and even I get lost. (This isn’t a stab at Opinio – I find this with just about EVERY piece of software I use. Baffling, baffling UI sometimes.)

Onto my follow-up with polls…

Changing the Chart

This one stumped me for a while, and the help really didn’t help me here. Some background: the poll results can be set to display in chart format. The default is a horizontal bar chart, but you can also pick from a vertical bar chart and a pie chart. My problem was that the default settings were not sufficient — one of my questions got sort of cut off in the results (couldn’t see the whole answer text, and couldn’t see ANY results). I thought maybe a different chart would help (which it did – I’ll get into that later).

I was in the "Set Poll Behaviour" screen, where you set the Result type to be "Chart" or "Thank you note". I also wanted to see the options for the chart, but didn’t see them on this screen. I clicked the cute little green question mark bubble. Here, I find reference to "Quick Chart Edit" – sounds promising! Click on that link, which shows me what I’m looking for… but… wait… how do I get there? I look in the menu, no reference to "Quick Chart Edit". No description in the help page for how to find this elusive tool. Commence hair pulling.

After a little back & forth, I decided to move on… and magically found the option. See, you need to be in the "Customize Look & Feel", or simply "Look & Feel" menu group in order to see the "Quick poll chart edit" option. Yikes. Seriously?

Quick Recap: Customize look and feel > Quick poll chart edit will allow you to make some simple, but useful changes to your results chart.

Chart Layout (or, how to actually see all of your stuff)

OK, so now that I’ve found it… why did I need it in the first place? Ah, yes… because things weren’t displaying properly. At first I thought it had something to do with the system I posted it on (which happened to be this blog, in what is currently Roller blog software). I soon realized that the same behaviour was happening in the preview right in Opinio.

In my example, I have two questions. The first is a multiple choice with three possible answers, one of which is rather long ("I have an account, but rarely/never use it."). Both questions appear on the first screen (don’t love the layout or spacing of the questions, but at least it works). Select your answers, and click ‘Vote’. The results, by default, appear in a "Horizontal Bar Chart". My second question results display as expected — but not the first. To start, the text for answer option 3 (the long one) gets cut off. Even worse, no results appear for this question. Frustrating!! Let’s start with the bigger problem…

a) Getting all results to display – widen both the table & the chart

I actually started by changing the chart type – first to vertical bar, then to pie. The vertical bar was the only one that showed the results to both questions without any further editing. The pie chart seemed to suffer from the same affliction as the horizontal bar chart. I realized that the wee box displaying the poll was simply not wide enough to accommodate my results.

click Customize Look & Feel to widen the poll table

Here, you can pick other box styles (and Advanced will allow you to play with the CSS… I’ll definitely be exploring this soon!). You can also change the  "Form Width", which is what I did. You may have to play with this a little to get the right width for your poll & the page you are delivering it on.

From inside the Customize Look & Feel menu, click Quick poll chart edit to widen the poll results chart itself

Here is where you can choose from the various chart options – I’d do this before playing with the width of the chart – and set the "Chart Width".

Click ‘Preview poll’ in the left-hand menu bar at any time to view your poll.

Where Do I Use this?

After you go through all of the steps in preparing your poll, click "Publish Poll" to get the couple of lines of code needed to add the poll to a web page. We’re still testing the deployment out in different systems, but have had success in adding them to Serena Collage sites and Roller blogs. A quick test of our test WordPress site did not give us good results, but there are a few factors which we can control that we’ll play with to see if we can get it working. We’ve also had some trouble adding polls to Blackboard courses. Basically, any system that relies heavily on Javascript may not allow you to add things like these polls. Some sites prevent users from posting Javascript for security reasons. These are all things that you need to take into account when deciding to use these tools.

OK, so that was a pretty dry post for today. Sorry, but I thought I’d post something useful for once. I hope to bring the song & dance back soon!

What's Your Opinio?

May 21st, 2009

Venturing into new territory… poll/survey software.

Granted, this isn’t the most "Web 2.0" stuff… but I’m learning about it. Today, I’m going to look specifically at the polling features. I took a quick peek a week or so ago, and found it pretty easy to set up a default poll – but some of the options were worded pretty strangely. I’m going to use this blog entry to demystify some of them.

First: Remember to look in the left-hand toolbar to figure out what to do next. I managed to create a new poll, but started scratching my head about what to do next. Left-hand bar "Guide" section has a link to "Create Questions".

Label Position: I had to read this a couple of times before I had it figured out. When making web pages, a ‘label’ might refer to a piece of text that goes along with a text field or something. In this case, things seem to be confused. The option is called "Label Position", but the options all refer to "button left", "button right", etc. The "button" in this case is the radio button (in the case of a multiple choice question). I want the radio button to appear to the left of the text (label?), so I chose "button left". (If you pick the position of the button, rather than that of the label, shouldn’t the option be called Button Position?)

Answer Rotation: I’m pretty sure this refers to randomizing the answers, so they don’t appear in the same order for every person taking the poll.

Help!: OK, so I just noticed the little green questionmark icon guy. It’s meant to give you some contextual help for whichever screen you happen to be on. You can probably disregard most of this post, since it’s probably all answered in The Emerald City.

May 26 Update: a few points that you may need to know

  • Firefox/Roller Bug? – If you embed a poll in a Roller blog post, you won’t be able to edit the post in Firefox. You’ll need to use Internet Explorer. (Weird, I know…). I would actually recommend putting the poll in its own post, and put other next in a second post (so you can edit the text part on its own and not worry about it too much)
  • IF YOU CAN’T GET THE POLL TO WORK: i.e. you embed the code, but you only see the last screen, it may mean that your poll has past the specified ‘end date’. By default, Opinio sets it as a week – be sure to set it to something appropriate for your project. After the fact This is can be changed by going to "Poll Home", and clicking on the "Stop Date" to change it. (See the next point for the next step.)
  • Your poll may be locked – go to "Poll Home" if the traffic light is red, your poll is locked."Click to unlock poll". This will happen if your poll end date has passed – even after changing the date, you will have to unlock the poll in order to have people take it again. 

 Here is my sample poll:

Blog Forward!

May 21st, 2009

Investigation time.

Looking at blog tools is pretty fun. Over the years, I think I’ve tested most of the popular brands of blog — although I forget what some of them looked like. 

Right now, I’m having a good look at WordPress. I have a personal WordPress blog, set one up for the DH’s band, and now I’m looking at the moster of all WordPresses (WPMU – WordPress Multi-User) for work. Yes, we already have Roller (the blog software that I’m currently authoring this post on — but not necessarily the software you are reading it on!!!!), but it seems time to move forward.

In general, WordPress is a top-notch blog system, with sooo many theme and plugin options, and is used by pros and amateurs alike. In general, it can be easy to use, can look professional, and can be customized to some extent. There’s also a pretty large community of users and developers that are on top of problems, developing new tools, etc.

Let’s ditch the traditional ‘Pros & Cons’ list and instead post a list of things we have already found in WPMY, thing we need to have in order to go forward, and things that are nice to have… (I may use ‘WPMU’ instead of typing out ‘WordPress’ from here on out)

Got it!

  •  LDAP Authentication –  This is required so that users don’t have to have a different login & password to access the system. They can use their usual my.ryerson login. There’s a plugin to provide this, seems to work pretty well so far.
  • Great Looking Themes – There are many many many themes for WordPress. It’s up to us to track down the ones that work well with WPMU, that offer different layout and style options for our users – and possibly some customization at the user-level. I’m working on this…
  • Ability to easily add RSS from other sources – Users can use the Widgets in WPMU to add feeds from their Twitter, Flicker and other blog accounts. There are actually quite a few really useful widgets.
  • Simple Podcasting! – Users need to be able to generate a podcast without having to do too much legwork. By default, WP podcasts any appropriate media files that are added to a post. I’m working on extending this by adding a plugin that also embeds the audio/video in a blog post without the author having to do anything else (see below).

… There are lots of things that I like about WordPress, but I think I’ll leave you with those few items.

 Need to Have

  • Post Aggregation – Basically, we need to be able to aggregate posts from various blogs (different from having many users contribute to a single blog). We have tried a number of plugins, but none of them provide exactly what we are looking for.
  • User-level Theme Customization – WPMU does not give the users access to customize the themes, as the changes would affect the themes for EVERYONE. That leaves the responsibility on the theme designers to code in some customization ability. Most of them don’t offer any — and some offer customization, but the interface is confusing. Le sigh.
  • A Decent Site Homepage – We either have to code this ourselves, or buy a premium theme to get what we want. I haven’t found a really good free theme for this.

Nice to Have

  • Group Creation – Admin should be able to group users and give group-level access to resources. The aggregation should tie into this.
  • Podcasting w Embedded Player – We’re pretty close to having this. There are a few bugs with the plugin we’re testing, but it works well for the most part.

Any Ryerson folks reading this blog post — what features are you looking for in a blog? What are the  most important things that you would need to have to run a successful blog? Your suggestions don’t even have to be reasonable — this is a "blue sky" wishlist.

Me, the Twit – Day 1 ends

May 20th, 2009

Ahh, a mass of posts all in one day, after not posting for a year or so. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

Me, the Twit – Day 1 has now just about come to an end. I’ve done some digging, found some info on how it makes sense as a social tool, how it can be used academically, and why it isn’t as stupid as it looks. (Ha!)

My own limited experience with it started with "following" a bald guy I know, and evolved to:

  • finding comments from people all over the world who attended a music festival I went to this weekend
  • finding comments from people who mention Ryerson (but not always the U)
  • finding comments from people who mention a band I like (listening to, excited to see upcoming concert by, just bought CD of, here’s a new video clip of…)
  • finding people who are following people who are following people I know
  • finding supposed celebrity Twitterers, but still not feeling like following them

I now have 2 followers, one of which is probably some spammer (since I have NO idea who this person is). I still have to wrap my head around a bunch of it, though, because it’s evolving into something I didn’t expect. Although I suspected that may be the case. (double HA!)

Below are a few collected resources and articles that I found compelling, in my search for the twit-truth. Enjoy!

 

A Bunch of Twits…

 … and before this gets lost in the mess below, there is actually a way to create a private group Twitter, via http://grouptweet.com/

This sounds perfect for course use! Any Rye faculty out there want to try it out with one of their classes?

Twitter for Academia

While I obviously spend a great deal of time online and thinking about the potential of these new networked digital communication structures, I also worry about the way that they too easily lead to increasingly short space and time for conversation, cutting off nuance and conversation, and what is often worse how these conversations often reduce to self-centered statements.

 

How Twitter Creates a Social 6th Sense

Critics sneer at Twitter and Dodgeball as hipster narcissism, but the real appeal of Twitter is almost the inverse of narcissism. It’s practically collectivist — you’re creating a shared understanding larger than yourself.

We Travel in Tribes

My tribe is not your tribe because you’re not using Twitter how I do. You wrote an Academy Award-winning screenplay, only follow a few people, but have thousands following you. You sell shoes and follow each of the thousands of people who follow you. You are a major airline, but sound surprisingly human.

Twitter’s value has nothing to do with the technology.

 

Contribute to: Twitter for Teachers

 

Private Members Only

I also feel that I have to make mention of the privacy issue here… I know, it feels like the biggest ball & chain on the leg of creativity, but it’s important to keep it in mind. Twitter is a public service, and probably has servers housed in the U.S. Due to the Patriot Act, your information (user info, what you say, when you said it, who you communicate with – EVERYTHING) can be accessed by the U.S. gov’t. This is against Canadian policy, and certainly against the policies that we try to adhere to at Ryerson. I’m no expert in such privacy and legal matters, but it’s important that any users (faculty, students, TAs) being asked to use these systems for class work have some understanding before signing up.