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Monthly Archives: January 2012

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Configure KidBlog for Safe, Moderated, Interactive Student Blogging & Commenting

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Category : Tips

This semester I’m working on a contract basis (thanks to federal grant dollars) as an “innovative instructional coach” in Yukon Public Schools. This morning I helped one of our sixth grade teachers facilitate her first lessons using free, ad-free class blogs hosted by KidBlog.org. In this post, I’ll share some of the configuration specifics for these class blogs and a nine minute screencast in which I demonstrate each step. The teacher has six sections of students (136 in all) so the techniques described here for importing student userIDs and passwords from the district’s student information system can be HUGE time savers!

Kidblog.org - Blogs for Teachers and Students

I am a big fan of free Posterous blogs for publishing student work, including media products. You’ll see multiple examples of student work shared on Posterous blogs on share.playingwithmedia.com, which I created to complement my eBook, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing.” KidBlog is a great platform too, but it has different advantages. Posterous makes the posting and sharing of rich-media files including images, audio and video very straightforward. KidBlog lends itself best to sharing text, but it can handle most kinds of embedded media. For the teacher I worked with today, as an English teacher it’s important her students have their own directory of posts they can readily view along with their parents. KidBlog automatically creates “student pages” of all posts an individual has published. (Usually in the right sidebar, but this can vary with the selected blog theme.) Other features of KidBlog I really like are:

  1. It makes moderation of both posts and comments to a blog very easy / fast
  2. It shows how many comments different posts have received on the homepage, so students as well as parents/other visitors can identify posts which “need some attention” and a helpful comment.
  3. KidBlog is built on WordPress, so it supports the free WordPress iOS app. One of the 6th graders this morning asked, in fact, “Is there an app for this site?” I was pleased to tell her: Yes there is!
  4. KidBlog supports “broadcast” posts, so a teacher can write a single post but have it automatically cross-post (“broadcast”) to all his/her blogs. This is HUGE for teachers using KidBlog with multiple sections.
  5. It supports the importing of student userIDs and passwords as comma separated (CSV) files.
  6. It supports nested commenting.
  7. Students can change their own display name. This is important in our district, since student’s initial network userID is a series of numbers. For the teacher’s purposes, it’s important to identify students by first name. This is also critical for peer and parent commenting, and great the students can change these display names directly.

Today in two of the classes, students submitted over 100 different comments for their peers. Even though we coached students to “be thoughtful” in their comments and not just write things like “Good” or “Awesome,” of course we had some comments like that. About half the students in the first class today had used LightSpeed Systems’ free learning management system, “My Big Campus,” in other classes. Unlike My Big Campus, however, the KidBlog sites used today and I configured for the teacher are OPENLY visible to anyone online (without a login) but all posts as well as comments are moderated.

101 pending comments...

I recorded a nine minute screencast earlier in the week when I was configuring these student blogs, which shows all the steps I performed to each KidBlog site so it was ready for teacher-moderated posting and commenting today. I encourage you to check out KidBlog. More digital text / blogging platform options are linked on the “Text” page of playingwithmedia.com

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Playing with Collabracam for The Zebra Print Webshow

Category : Tips

This afternoon my kids and I spent a few hours playing with the iOS application Collabracam, which permits multiple cameras to be used simultaneously in a video shoot. We found the application buggy and in need of an update, but the idea of the app is GREAT and we ended up creating a reasonably cool 3.5 minute video for “The Zebra Print.” In this post I’ll share some of our lessons learned using Collabracam.

Collabracam allows you to use up to five iOS devices at the same time to make a video. One iOS device is used as the base station, in ‘director’ mode. The other devices (up to four) can be remote cameras, connecting to your director base station device via wifi. We used two remote cameras and a base station for our video.

Ready to Record

Initially we tried using an iPad2 as the base station, and another iPad2 and an iPhone4 as the remote cameras. The Collabracam base station / director app gave us errors, however, so we read some of the app documentation and learned it’s best to use the SAME MODEL of iOS device. We didn’t have 3 of the same device, so we changed to use the iPhone4 in director mode, and both the iPad2’s as remote cameras. Once you have the app installed a device can take either role (director / base station or remote camera.) While we got our setup to work, I want to test the app and see if the errors we ran into are eliminated if all devices are the same iOS model. The screenshot below shows Collabracam on the “director” device. You can see the live video from both iPad2s.

Collabracam Menu

We ran into problems when we started, stopped, and started over with the app. The director / base station device in most cases didn’t “see” the remote cameras when we started over. To fix this, we found closing every instance of Collaboracam on all devices (double clicking the home button, holding down a finger on one of the apps so they started to ‘jiggle,’ and then clicking the red X in the upper left corner) fixed the problem. We found the connections between cameras and the director / base station device work best when you:

  • Open the iOS devices which will serve as remote cameras FIRST, and select the camera option on both.
  • Secondly, open Collaboracam on the device you’re using in “director” mode as the base station, and then you should be able to immediately connect to the remote cameras.

We ended up doing thirteen different takes, at least in part, for this 3.5 minute webshow. The episode we finally took was number twelve, but I had to edit it together on my computer. That’s not how Collaboracam is supposed to be used. After you finish shooting a video, you should leave all the remote camera app devices open. The director / base station app will transfer the videos from each remote camera to itself, so they can be put together in a final video file. For some reason, however, in our “take 12″ our Collaboracam setup recorded and saved one scene on both cameras. As a result, the app didn’t know which one to insert into the final video so it was omitted. (That’s the one I had to insert on my laptop using QuickTime Pro 7.) The most confusing and frustrating part of using Collaboracam was figuring out how to switch between our different cameras during the live show, and having the apps malfunction. According to the documentation, on the director / base station device to you start recording you should:

  • Click on the desired camera and press the REC button. It should turn red.
  • Click on the secondary / standby camera you want to use next. It should turn blue.

When you want to change to the standby camera, on the director / base station you should click the REC button, and then select the next standby camera. Perhaps because we used two iPad2s and 1 iPhone4, and not all identical iOS devices, our remote cameras did NOT change status from “recording” to “standby” as they should have when cameras were changed on the director / base station device. The colors (red and blue) changed on the director app, but for some reason that communication didn’t reach the remote cameras to display properly. The remote cameras recorded fine, but the “remote / recording” status light didn’t change as it should have.

Made with Collabracam

Overall this was a good experience and I REALLY love the concept of Collaboracam. If you have a classroom cart of fourth generation iPod Touches or iPad2s, this would be a super app to use with students to create a recorded webshow. We tried using a Glif iPhone4 tripod mount initially when we were using the iPhone as a camera, but ended up not being able to use it since the iPads were our remote cameras. In the future I’d like to find and use some kind of iPad2 tripod mount, but I haven’t seen anything like that yet. It’s challenging to hand-hold the iPad2 for long periods of time shooting video, but switching cameras makes that a little easier on your videographers.

Unlike a television studio’s cameras, there are NOT red lights which light up on an iOS device when its camera is “live” with a Collaboracam setup. We tried having the videographer wiggle a finger to show their camera was in use, but since our “status” signs in the app weren’t working correctly I ended up just pointing to our actresses to show which camera was “live.”

Collaboracam is a $5 app, but its iTunes Store page indicated it is currently half price. I’d recommend waiting till the the app is revised and some of these bugs are worked out to buy and use it. (It’s in version 1.2 now.) The idea is GREAT, however, and if you have access to enough similar iOS devices to use it it can add a whole new layer of complexity and possibilities to your web shows!

The Stage is Set Stay updated on new Zebra Print web shows by following @thezebraprint on Twitter.


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Optimize a Google Site for Mobile Accessibility and Metrics

Category : Tips

More classroom teachers and other educators are using Google Sites to create websites these days. Google Sites is free, flexible, and well integrated with other “Google Tools” like Google Docs and YouTube. Certainly Google Sites has limitations, but its FREE price tag combined with flexibility (especially when a school is already using Google Apps) make it an outstanding choice for “virtual construction” in schools. I used Google Sites for my “Technology 4 Teachers” and “Computers in the Classroom” courses for pre-service teachers in Spring 2010, Fall 2010, and Spring 2011. Google Sites doesn’t give us the creative latitude of a web authoring tool like iWeb, but it offers many other features (like collaboration) that make it a better choice for many educational contexts. In this post, I’ll describe some techniques for optimizing a Google Site for mobile accessibility as well as gathering metrics / statistics about site visitors utilizing Google Analytics. Finally, I’ll explain how a Google Site can be “mapped” to a shorter address using an existing domain you or your school already owns and manages.

Mobile-friendly Google Site

Anyone using Google Sites should choose to automatically optimize their site for mobile devices like iPhones / iPads / iPod Touches (iOS devices) as well as Android-based smartphones. This support page from Google explains how. The owner of a site, after logging in, can enable this feature by choosing: – More actions — Manage site — General —- Under “Mobile” click the checkbox beside “Automatically adjust site to mobile phone” —– Save changes This is a screenshot of my workshop/presentation handouts wiki (wiki.wesfryer.com) on my iPhone BEFORE I enabled this option. You can see the text is small and not very easy to read on the iPhone’s small screen.

C89783DC-24C5-48DF-8B87-679B90AD0394

After enabling mobile optimization, this is the same page on my iPhone:

5FD98275-9B6E-44FE-BEA4-120EF63A8ACD

This process does NOT require you to select or change your existing site template or page templates. This is a quick process and should be enabled (IMHO) for every Google Site. More and more people (including students) are accessing Internet websites on mobile devices. Anyone publishing information should do everything possible to increase accessibility, and this is an easy way to do it. When it comes to WordPress blogs/sites, I use and recommend two different free themes which “mobilize” sites. The first one, and main one I use (on this blog in fact) is WPtouch. A pro version is also available, but at this point I’ve just used the free version and really like it. The other one I use on a few sites is Carrington Mobile. I use it on Learning Signs and Eyes Right. In addition to “mobilizing” your Google Site, it’s helpful to create and add a free Google Analytics site code to gather metrics/statistics about your site visitors. These statistics are more comprehensive and insightful than information you can glean from a tool like ClustrMaps. (Though I do love and use ClustrMaps too.) To add Google Analytics to your Google Site, you need to first create a free account on Google Analytics if you haven’t already. After you create your main account, you’ll be adding a new “property” to it. This will use the web address of your Google Site.

Google Analytics - Create a new property

After creating your “property” in Google Analytics, click to view your “Property ID.” Copy this number and use it in your Google Site.

Google Analytics - Tracking Code

After you enable Google Analytics on your site (this Google support page explains how) you’ll be able to view extensive and interesting metrics about where people are accessing your website, what kind of web browser they’re using when they access it, how long they stay on your site, and more. There are GREAT statistics included in Google Analytics reports, and this would make a great project for your students to analyze, discuss and share.

You might have noticed in the screenshots above, the web address of my Google site for presentation handouts is very short (wiki.wesfryer.com) instead of a longer version preceded by “sites.google…” (http://sites.google.com/site/wesfryer/). The reason for this is I’ve “mapped” my Google Site, for free, to a subdomain of a domain I own using something called a CNAME record. Of the techniques discussed in this post, creating a CNAME record in DNS to map a Google Site to a custom domain is definitely the most complicated, but it’s free and can make a BIG difference in the ease of accessibility for your site.

As an example, I’m doing a lot of work in Yukon Public Schools in Oklahoma this semester. Today we used this CNAME record / domain mapping method to shorten the address of the district’s professional development site from sites.google.com/a/yukonps.com/professional-development to pd.yukonps.com. That’s a MUCH easier / shorter web address to write on a whiteboard, include on a business card, put in an email signature line, or just remember. Relatively few schools using Google Apps and Google Sites are taking advantage of this FREE feature, and many more should!

The Google Support page, “Mapping your site to your own URL,” explains the steps for doing this. You can map a Google Site or a Blogger site to a custom subdomain with a CNAME record. If your district uses CPANEL, you should be able to use the “Simple DNS Wizard” to add a CNAME record. Enter your desired web address (like “http”//pd.yukonps.com” in the first field) and the address “http://ghs.google.com” in the second field. Then create the record. That’s step 1.

Step 2 is adding the mapping address in your Google Site. Again, if your school is using Google Apps you’ll have to request that your site manager do this step, but if you’re using a Google Site with a “regular” Google account you can do it directly. I LOVE the ability to create and map subdomains! A few of the ones I use now are:

wiki.wesfryer.com
wiki.powerfulingredients.com
365.wesfryer.com
audio.speedofcreativity.org
faithstories.speedofcreativity.org
eyesright.speedofcreativity.org
learningsigns.speedofcreativity.org
share.playingwithmedia.com
learn.playingwithmedia.com

Of those examples, only the first two are a “mapped” CNAME record subdomain hosted by Google Sites. The third site is a CNAME mapped Tumblr blog, and the rest are WordPress “add-on slot” sites I have with my web host. It is HUGE that mapped subdomain sites on Google Sites are FREE, where other wiki providers like WikiSpaces and PBworks charge for this service.

If you use some of these suggestions and tweak your Google Site, please let me know with a comment or Twitter reply to @wfryer. Good luck! Encourage other educators you know to spend time in “digital construction” online using virtual spaces like Google Sites! Creating hyperlinked documents with digital text is an important part of Playing with Media!


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Entrepreneurial Traits and Skills To Nurture in 2012

Category : Tips

The clock is ticking and here in central Oklahoma we’re about to ring in the new year. This evening my wife and I watched Cameron Herold’s outstanding TEDtalk from June 2010, “Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs.” As we consider new year’s resolutions and goals for 2012, Cameron’s suggestions for traits and skills we should nurture in our children to help them become more entrepreneurial resonate strongly with me.

I’ll share screenshots of Cameron’s slides from his TED Talk, but also share his ideas as text in case you’re in a location or using a browser which makes reading the text on those images difficult. First, entrepreneurial traits we need to nurture in kids:

  • attainment
  • tenacity
  • leadership
  • sales
  • introspection
  • networking
  • handling failure
  • boot strapping
  • customer service

Entrepreneurial traits to nurture in Kids

Second, entrepreneurial skills we need to explicitly teach students and kids:

  • problem solving
  • to lead others
  • to want to make money
  • public speaking
  • to ask questions
  • to learn from mistakes
  • how to sell
  • to never give up
  • to be creative
  • how to save money
  • to ask for help
  • to see solutions

Entrepreneurial skills to teach kids

I agree 100% with Cameron that we need to encourage more people (not just “kids”) to become entrepreneurs. The death of Steve Jobs this year highlighted the importance of entrepreneurial attitudes and leadership styles. More than a few people have asked, “How can we encourage the traits we celebrate and recognize in Steve Jobs’ life work in the students in our schools?” Steve Jobs: 1955 - 2011 Steve Jobs at WWDC2011

Cameron’s TED Talk is the first time I’ve heard someone identify Steve as having had bipolar disorder. Cameron is NOT encouraging people to ignore treatment recommendations for mental illnesses, but he IS encouraging people to move beyond traditional, “schooly” skills as the traits we celebrate and encourage in young people. I definitely think many of the skills I encourage students and teachers to practice in my eBook, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing,” fall into these categories of entrepreneurial traits and skills. When you and your students “play with media” and share your creations in digital sandboxes, you certainly can be learning:

  • problem solving
  • to ask questions
  • to learn from mistakes
  • to be creative
  • to ask for help
  • to see solutions

When students work in teams to create media projects, they can learn about leadership, networking, and tenacity. The best learning moments have relevant, memorable CONTEXTS. We’ve all sat through many, MANY lessons which were quickly forgotten later the same day. Lessons in which we CREATED things, SHARED things, and received sustained FEEDBACK about our ideas and work, on the other hand, are almost IMPOSSIBLE to forget. As you make your resolutions and goals for 2012, I encourage you to PLAY WITH MEDIA, share your work, and share the work of your students on the global stage. We DO need to nurture these entrepreneurial traits and skills in our students and our children. As a classroom teacher, you have numerous opportunities to craft learning tasks which can operationalize these goals, transforming them from an ideal into a reality.


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