Posts Tagged ‘blogging’

Privacy in Blogdom

March 24th, 2011

Privacy is a big topic on campus these days. I think the biggest issue is that we don’t know what we don’t know… and maybe we didn’t know to ask.

Currently having a brainsplotion around the “reality” of privacy on this very blog system. I realize that I don’t know everything I need to know, to fully understand how our information is protected (or isn’t).

I thought we were covering our bases with the privacy settings plugin applied to the blog site.  The users could choose from a number of options, of which these three are most widely used: making the blog visible to everyone (including search engines); block search engines, but allow normal visitors; and registered subscribers. There are pros and cons to all of the settings, but it felt like we had offered the public everything they may need to protect themselves.

Is this, in fact, true?

Exhibit A – a user who had set their blog to not allow search engines wonders why their blog comes up when Googling.

Some thought was given to the way the blog was set up. In addition to the student blogs, the instructor has an ‘aggregator’ blog that pulls in the posts from all of the students’ blogs. That means the students’ posts not only post to their own blogs, but they post to the ‘aggregator’ blog as well. It was realized that the instructor’s aggregator didn’t have the same search engine blocking setting.

Once the instructor made this change, the problem was solved, right? Not exactly.

For some reason, we could still find this student’s ‘Author archive’ page on the aggregator blog just by Googling. What’s going on here?

Exhibit B – a randomly chosen group of other student blogs from the same course, that we used to try and replicate the Google results.

At a glance, we didn’t see any search results that led to the student blogs, or to their posts/author page on the aggregator blog.

A few thoughts, after comparing A and B:

  • I don’t totally understand how search engines work, so I’m not sure how you can block one from finding a public site in the first place
  • I don’t know how long search results are cached – are we seeing an ‘old’ search result, from before the privacy settings were changed on the blog? (I’ve experienced things that make me think that this IS the case – I often find search results that are outdated)

Add a few more things to the list of things I need to learn in order to better understand this world I administer.

Exhibit C – one last student blog from the same course, whose Google results did not include a link directly to the blog or the aggregate blog but DID include a link to a page that would lead directly back to the student blog.

Part of the blogging assignment was to write about a professional blog, and link to it. Many blogs – including the one that this student linked to – use trackbacks or pingbacks to alert the blog owner (and often its readers) that a post was referred to from another blog. Often the trackbacks and pingbacks are included on the post that was linked to, with a link back to the blog that made the referal,  This can be useful in growing communities and discussions, and is a really important part of the blogging experience. What you may not consider, however, is that a link to a non-searchable blog has now been posted on a searchable one. Whether your blog is set to not allow search engines is now irrelevant, because your blog can be found by Googling anyway.

What can we do? We all want to be able to protect the students’ privacy, but you can’t learn to blog effectively from inside a bubble.

If you’re just looking to give the students a basic weekly writing assignment, maybe the blog tool in Blackboard would be a better (read: “more private”) option. If your goal is to offer the students a “real-world” blogging experience, the students will need to understand the public nature of blogging. To me, it seems like a good learning opportunity for them… but I do realize that there are other layers to the privacy issue that I may not be taking into account.

Nevermind the students, it looks like this is a learning opportunity for me. Stay tuned.

Sharing Experiences with Educational Technology

February 15th, 2011

It’s hard to sum up an experience in under 200 words.

This is all I can think about right now, as my mind tries to wrap around the idea of writing an abstract for a conference. I need to encompass the experiences we’ve had so far with our WordPress system – why did we bring it in? who was involved? what was it supposed to do? how has it evolved? where are we moving with it?

The point-form topic is almost more than 200 words!

It’s funny to think back on the beginnings of a system, to see what the challenges were in comparison to now. It’s also nice to be able to say that along with whatever road blocks we’ve come across, we’ve been able to get over them and have some really rewarding experiences.

After such a rich experience, it’s hard to narrow down the topics to a few talking points. It’s hard to know which areas to drop from the topic – they all seem so important now!

Just a quick brainstorming of possible topics, trying to ignore the technology itself,  for my own reference:

  • Why did we bring in x? What needs were we trying to fulfill?
  • Why did we choose this particular product, as opposed to one of its top competitors?
  • What were the initial challenges faced, and how were they resolved?
  • How has the service/system evolved since implementation?
  • What are some of the greatest rewards?
  • How do we see the system/service evolving over the next year?

Welcome, Thelonius!

July 16th, 2010

We just upgraded our WordPress MU installation to the latest version, 3.0 “Thelonious”.

I was a little bit worried when this version first came out, after seeing posts about things breaking for sites that use certain plugins. Almost luckily for me, I was too busy with the Blackboard upgrade to even think about thinking about testing WordPress 3. Now that I’ve finally found some time to devote to my other main project, I’m extremely relieved to see that these issues have been resolved by the tireless WordPress community.

Now we’re ready to roll! Check out the video below for a taste of what’s new with Thelonious!

WordPress v 2.9 Available

December 21st, 2009

They’ve just released version 2.9 for the standalone WordPress system. This update brings a few useful additions, as well as the usual host of bug fixes and things.

Some of the updates that interest me:

  • easy and quick embedding of video from various online sites (Youtube, Vimeo, etc.) – still want to see if this code will translate in Feed Readers or other sites that people may push their WordPress blog posts to (WordPress proprietary tags will not work in these other environments, so need to wach out!)
  • easier updating and compatibility check for plugins
  • image editing capabilities

I’m currently taking a peek at it on our test server, and hopefully the update for WordPress MU (which blog.ryerson.ca runs on) will follow in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, here’s a little video from WordPress to outline some of the changes:

EVENT: Teaching and Learning Uses for Social Networking Technologies

October 9th, 2009

A little while ago, I tuned in for 3 of the speakers in this event, and found them all to be very different even though they share a theme (educational uses for social networking technologies). I’ll include my notes from each speaker below, so you can get an idea about the type of projects discussed. You can find the description of each session on the event website.

Some interesting points that I found in all three presentations:

  • You have to integrate the technology into the teaching and learning. It can’t just be added on top of an old learning structure, and expect the students to engage with it. Things have to be properly planned out and executed to the best of your ability!
  • With these ‘social’ technologies, the students are a part of the process, not just a casual observer. You may not want to give them the power to veto your use of certain features, but it can be useful for them to feel included – especially when the technology doesn’t work the way you were expecting. Their input and feedback is as important as yours (maybe MORE because they are supposed to be getting an education out of it!).
  • Choose solutions that utilize interfaces most users are already familiar with. Getting “past” the technology is often one of the hurdles to having an engaged group.

(My notes on each speaker below)

(more…)

Idea Thievery!

September 23rd, 2009

Is it possible to steal ideas? Is it bad to steal ideas?

Whose ideas are they anyway?

OK, so I’m not looking to make big bucks by stealing ideas that other people initiated. What I’m really talking about here is the propagation of ideas in this big blogiverse that exists in the even bigger webiverse. As a blogger, I sometimes feel bad when something I post started as someone else’s idea. Maybe someone posted a great video (that I re-post), or someone posts on a particular topic that I reflect on and add to.

How is this supposed to work?

When it comes to instructional technology, I think it’s best when something sparks other discussions. It starts with one idea – and if it’s a good idea, or at least one worth talking about, we’ll start talking about it. Different viewpoints emerge, some posts refer to other posts that refer to other posts, ideas evolve, experienced people offer anecdotes… and then things happen! Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

So when you see me post about something I saw on someone else’s blog, it isn’t because I haven’t got ideas of my own… it’s because I want to remember what I read, and my thoughts on it, and I want to ‘pass it on’, so to speak.

Feel free to pass on any ideas you’ve found on my blog! Honestly, I’d be flattered to know that someone was reading, nevermind that someone was inspired to repost something I’ve blogged about!

Until next time…