Tag: website (page 1 of 2)

Improving the style and content of dynamicskillset.com

Last April when I became a consultant, I threw together a website at dynamicskillset.com using GitHub Pages and bootstrap. I even created a video to show others how to do so. However, I wasn’t happy with it, so a couple of months ago replaced it with this holding page featuring an image from Bryan Mathers:

Dynamic Skillset placeholder

Today, while the rest of my family is away visiting relatives during half-term, I got a chance to mess about for long enough to create this:

New Dynamic Skillset website

I’m really pleased with it. The DNS is still propagating away from GitHub back to Reclaim Hosting, but you should be able to access the live version here in the meantime. Once that is done, you’ll be able to access via dynamicskillset.com as usual!

Introducing neverendingthesis.com! (a.k.a. today’s the day I submit my Ed.D. thesis…)

neverendingthesis.com

Today’s a big day in my life. This afternoon I’m heading to Durham to hand in what I’ve been calling on Twitter the #neverendingthesis. That hashtag, of course, is more-than-slightly disingenuous given that I’m submitting it almost two years early. At first, the #neverendingthesis thing was just a bit of fun. However, as I came closer and closer to submitting it I realised that I was feeling what George Lucas must have been feeling when he said, “A movie is never finished, only abandoned”. Making my thesis available online in a wiki format will allow me to tinker in the months and years to come.

Up to this point, and ever since I started writing it, my thesis has been available at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. That now redirects to neverendingthesis.com where you can download a Word or PDF version of my thesis in the form I will be submitting today. I don’t believe that anyone ‘owns’ ideas and, as such, am waiving all claims to copyright. Just like this blog, my thesis: What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation is available under a CC0 license.

I won’t use this space to thank people as I do that in the thesis itself. If you’re interested in the journey I’ve taken over the last four years whilst I’ve been working on my thesis, I’d encourage you to check out the Preface and Appendix 3. Re-reading the Preface in particular made me well up a little last night…

What am I going to do with my spare time now? I’ve been in formal education for 26 years!

Got 5 seconds? Help with the redesign of this blog!

Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that I’m currently redesigning this blog. More on the theory and practice behind that to come, but I wonder if I could ask for 5 seconds of your time?

The first few seconds of visiting a website are crucial for visitors gaining an impression of its content and author. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to gain insights into what visitors think during that period.

Until now, that is.

Using a tool called Clue I’m able to take a snapshot of the new site and submit it for your consideration. The following link is available until midday on Wednesday 13th October 2010 – I’ll share the results. Take a look!

clueapp.com/17352

Weeknote #14

This week I have been mostly…

Travelling

It was time for the annual pilgrimage to the inlaws who live in Devon. We fly the rest of the time (Newcastle –> Exeter) but once a year we go down for a bit longer with the car. This time, instead of doing the 6 hours or so in one day, we stopped off in Doncaster and then again at a National Trust property. It made for an enjoyable journey!

Updating

Whilst there was nothing particularly wrong with my portfolio page at dougbelshaw.com when I came across this free ‘personal branding’ WordPress theme I couldn’t resist updating. I like the result. 🙂

Reorganizing

I’ve decided that listening to music mainly by album on Spotify is slightly anachronistic. So I’ve been reorganizing my playlists into ‘Running’, ‘Train’, ‘Deadline’, ‘Working’, etc. I’ve kept the album-focused playlists for the moment, but situational playlists seem to be the way forward!

Considering the future

Whilst I’m only four months into my new job (and greatly enjoying it) I’ve got to think about the future. I’ve got a two-year contract with JISC infoNet. Specifically I’ve been considering:

  • What (if anything) do I want to do with my Ed.D. when I finish it?
  • Is Northumberland where should we bring up Ben and his sister (when she’s born)?
  • Do I want to stay in the FE/HE sector, move back into schools or do something entirely different?

I haven’t made any decisions and, if past experience is any guide, things tend to come out of the blue when you least expect them… :-p

Who are you and where do you come from?

People come from far and wide to read this blog:

Map of visitors to dougbelshaw.com/blog

Source: Clustrmap

At my previous blog (teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk – back online soon!) I used to reflect monthly on blog visitors and subscribers via RSS or email. In a relentless drive to improve vistors’ experience when visiting the blog I’d analyze which browsers were being used, their screen resolution, and so on.

I haven’t really done that since moving over to blogging here at dougbelshaw.com/blog. Whilst I don’t intend to produce monthly blog posts on the matter, I thought it would be interesting and useful to reflect on the information I’ve got about blog visitors and subscribers! 🙂

The two tools I use to find out about blog visitors are both now owned and provided for free by Google: Analytics (for visitors) and Feedburner (for subscribers)

Visitors

The following graph shows how many visits were made to this blog per week between 26 February 2009 (when I installed the Google Analytics WordPress plugin) and today:

Graph of visitors to dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

Visits are slowly on the rise and are affected significantly by the school year! I’m slightly concerned that people spend, on average, less than two minutes here and tend to only visit one or two pages or posts.

Perhaps I need to make the blog easier to navigate and flag up related material?

So what are people looking for when they come here? The Top 10 most visited posts/pages is make interesting reading:

Top 10 visited pages/posts on dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

Unsurprisingly, stuff that was of direct practical utility – either in the form of a downloadable resource or a how-to guide – featured heavily in the Top 10. Geeky stuff also features significantly. I was, however, delighted to see that my Director of E-Learning interview presentation on How E-Learning can contribute to raising achievement was up there as well and that people, on average, spent over five minutes reading through it! 😀

Finally on the general visitor front, I’m pleased to see plenty of people coming from referring sites:

Traffic sources for dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

The majority of these referring sites were social media/networking sites such as Twitter and Disqus (the comments system that I use on this blog).

Subscribers

As I expected, most subscribers use either Google (iGoogle, Google Reader) or FriendFeed to keep up-to-date with my blog posts:

dougbelshaw.com/blog subscribers

At one time this would have been dominated by Bloglines. Google, as with most things, now rules the roost!

The above chart shows a combination of those who subscribe to the RSS feed via a feed reader or by email. Almost exactly 10% of the 964 people who subscribe to this blog do so by email. The great advantage of this is that I can see who they are and (potentially) contact them without having to put up a public blog post. 🙂

Subscribers act differently to general visitors. The latter might only ever view this blog once, having searched for a very specific thing on a search engine and leave after gaining that new knowledge or insight. Subscribers, on the other hand, have (presumably) made a judgement that this blog consistently produces content that they find relevant and useful.

You’d expect the Top 10 posts/pages for subscribers to be different. And it is!

Top 10 blog posts on dougbelshaw.com/blog according to subscribers

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of subscribers to this blog are those related to education in some way. And that would make sense given that the tagline is Educational Technology, Leadership & Productivity!

The best indicator of which posts have been most popular, however, comes from the sidebar widget at dougbelshaw.com/blog (RSS/email readers will need to click through to see it). This is powered by the previously-mentioned Disqus and measures how much interest a post has caused based on factors such as the number of comments it generated directly, how many tweets there on Twitter link to it, the number of trackbacks it received, and the number of pageviews.

To finish off, then, here are the current Top 10:

  1. HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (the basics…)
  2. Why I’m trying to make myself redundant.
  3. HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (advanced)
  4. Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?
  5. A Week of Divesting: an introduction
  6. A (temporary) farewell to a hero.
  7. Heuristical Templates (or, how to review elearning stuff in a way that benefits others)
  8. On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping.
  9. How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive!
  10. Carol Dweck on ‘growth mindsets’ and motivation.
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Conversations about (new) literacies

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m (still!) studying towards my Ed.D. on the subject of ‘digital literacies’. The subject crops up in various networks of which I’m part from time-to-time, not least via my Twitter network.

Twitter only allows 140 characters which can be a little limiting sometimes and tweets are hard to collate and archive. As a result, I decided we needed a old-skool forum. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

literacyconversation.org

literacyconversation.org

It’s powered by bbPress, the sibling of the excellent WordPress (which powers this blog). It was super-easy to setup and there’s already some first-class debate and conversation going on. Head on over and take part! 😀

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What does it take to build a community?

I spent today down in London with some great educators and those involved in the Open Source community. We were part of an advisory group for a Becta-funded project allied to the website opensourceschools.org.uk. Part of the discussion naturally focused on starting a community of educators interested in using Open Source Software (OSS) in their schools. The question we were tasked with was: how do we get started?

AlphaPlus, the consultancy firm employed by Becta to run the project haven’t had a great deal of experience in Open Source, although they’ve done a decent job so far. What was great was that there were some ‘big hitters’ there to get things moving along. At the meeting, apart from myself, were:

In the morning session we discussed who we were aiming the website at. It was agreed that there already exist some excellent ‘technical’ website for network administrators and the like, but that more was needed for ‘beginners’ and those new to OSS. At the moment, opensourceschools.org.uk is a framework to build the community upon. We were concerned with how to go from eager early adopters using the site to gaining mainstream traction.

The key question of a previous blog post of mine (Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software) was used as a stimulus to discussion. The point was raised that actually we need to move one step back: why should teachers even care about software? From there we discussed recent Becta license agreements after which Josie mentioned that at present students are taught how to use specific software (usually Microsoft) instead of more generic skills.

Michelle shared with the group the policy at her school of giving Year 7 students a USB flash drive containing all the software they will need during their time at the school. It is all Open Source and the school computers all run Linux. As a result, teachers can be confident that students have access to the software they need at home as well as school. A representative from Becta built on this, talking about the complex license agreements for some companies mean dealing with OSS is a lot easier for schools.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if the (eventual) community at opensourceschools.org.uk could discuss and agree on customised versions of the OSS available at portableapps.com? For example, a version of Firefox with useful plugins for students pre-installed, or OpenOffice with everything set up in a way students and teachers alike would find intuitive.

Josie then took over to do some scenario planning for the community we are planning to attract and build on the site. She asked us to split into groups and come up with two axes on a graph in order to think about the type of community we want to foster. our group wanted to steer a course between a place that was almost unbearingly positive and back-slapping and a forum that involved lots of flamewars. On the other axis we put ‘enablers’ and ‘reticent’. Obviously, there’s no point in ‘preaching to the choir’ and just setting out to attract those who already know and use OSS. Whilst those people are needed, we need to focus on those who are at present disinterested and do some evangelism. Other groups talked about having specific roles in the community and whether the site should operate largely as a repository or a community.

After lunch, we had more of a freeform discussion about the website and how we could go about building the community. Many agreed that whilst Drupal is a good example of Open Source Software, it perhaps isn’t best for the purpose in mind. One of the AlphaPlus team mentioned that they’d planned to have ‘roadshows’ in order to do some form of evangelism. I suggested that they may want to run some ‘unconference’ sessions in a spirit similar to that of TeachMeet. The short presentations could be filmed and form a set of rich-media case studies to go on the site. More importantly, however, people would be able to meet face-to-face and share advice and ideas.

The best bit of the day, for me, was meeting in person people I had only previously met online. It’s great to spend time with like-minded, positive people who care deeply about education. 😀

Check out opensourceschools.org.uk. What would YOU suggest? Are you interested in using OSS in education?

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How to find and download YouTube videos for use in the classroom

Our school network, like most in the UK, blocks the video-sharing site YouTube. Whilst this is understandable from an Internet safety point of view, there are many wonderful resources that educators could be missing out on.

There are many ways to download videos from YouTube, one of the easiest being to use a website such as Zamzar. The following screencast demonstrates how to do this. It is hosted at Edublogs.tv, so should remain unblocked by most school networks! 🙂

This text will be replaced

var so = new SWFObject(“http://www.edublogs.tv/flvplayer.swf”,”mpl”,”450″,”355″,”8″);so.addParam(“allowscriptaccess”,”always”);so.addParam(“allowfullscreen”,”true”);so.addVariable(“height”,”355″);so.addVariable(“width”,”450″);so.addVariable(“file”,”http://www.edublogs.tv/uploads/c0xqezbBMbZqGckHshmh.flv”);so.addVariable(“searchbar”,”false”);so.write(“player”);

Direct link to screencast

If, for some reason, Zamzar fails to work, the following websites do the job in a similar way:

Most of these converters support more than just YouTube – so try them with other video-sharing websites! 😀

***UPDATE*** A colleague suggested that a handout might make things easier than trying to follow an online video. I’ve put one together that you can download below:

How to find and download YouTube videos for use in the classroom (4.9MB)

 

I need YOUR help with the future of edte.ch

I’m done with edte.ch as a business. I’d post a video of me setting my business cards on fire if it wasn’t for the fact I’m going to recycle them! Why is edte.ch as a consultancy dead? Answer: my role next year has pushed me into the area previously only available to me as a sideline. Hence, I recently blew up the site. :-p

So, what to do with the great domain name? I’ve a couple of ideas which I’d like to bring together on the new site. They both involve creating places for discussion for distinct groups of people who, at present – as far as I’m aware – don’t have a forum for debate/help/guidance:

  • Ed.D. students interested in educational technology.
  • The role known variously as E-Learning Tutor, Instructional Technologist, E-Learning Director, etc. that’s becoming increasingly common in schools around the world.

Over the last few months I’ve had a substantial number of representatives from each group contact me for advice, guidance and requests for resource/idea-sharing. I want to provide that forum for discussion and debate,* but I need the help of the community in two ways:

  1. I want to use some type of software to get this sorted out. I tried KickApps, but didn’t like the advertising. Despite several attempts, I’m clueless with Drupal, so was going to try Joomla. I’d really welcome suggestions and recommendations – especially of those found at OpenSourceCMS.com
  2. I’m going to need some co-administrators/moderators for the new site. Anyone up for that?

Please do let me know in the comments if you’ve any ideas or want to take part! 😀

* Let me re-iterate that edte.ch as a business has ceased to exist. The only thing I will ‘own’ on this website is the domain name. Let’s face it – someone has to! The content will be Creative Commons-licensed.

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Is Twitter bad for you?

I have to confess that, at first, I couldn’t see the point of Twitter. Since then, however, I’ve become somewhat of a convert, getting in touch with many people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Lately, however, Ive had cause to re-evaluate my use of the service. I’ve been prompted to write this post by three things, the most recent of which was one of Doug Noon’s comments on my last post:

I’ve avoided Twitter because I don’t want to be *that* connected. I know that it might be “useful” on some level, but so would joining clubs, taking classes, reading great books, working for non-profit civic organizations, and spending time with family. Everyone should set their own priorities, and define some limits.

The second was an incoming link to one of my posts over at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about the potential of using Twitter in the classroom. They didn’t like the idea, although the way they tried to link together ‘facts’ to build an argument was woeful:

Nearly one million people use Twitter. That is almost negligible for a US website but guess how many people work in IT in California? Nearly a million. So how many “normal” people do you think use Twitter?

Erm, I don’t think they’re one and the same group of people. But anyway, they continue:

When was the last time anyone normal (i.e. not people who get paid to look at these things) did anything (that did not  involved a dancing seal or laughing baby) as a result of Twitter or Digg or Second Life – or even to a slightly lesser extent Facebook or FriendFeed or MySpace?

They may have a point about preaching to the choir here. But I suppose this post is to do with business and the (monetary) value of getting involved social networking and Web 2.0 as a whole. Perhaps more damning is my all-time favourite blogger, Kathy Sierra (much missed after the debacle last year) who showed us the dangers of The Asymptotic Twitter Curve:

The idea behind Kathy’s worries about the use of Twitter stems from a book by the wonderfully unpronounceable Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi entitled Flow. It’s a book I’ve been threatening to read for around 5 years now! The state of ‘flow’ is, unsurprisingly, a highly productive state in which an individual is ‘in the zone’. Kathy argues that this is almost impossible when you’ve got constant interruptions and distractions. Twitter’s certainly one for putting you off the task in hand.

So what I’ve begun to do, following the example of someone I read recently (but have now forgotten where) is to have two modes of working. The first is best described as outwards-facing, the second inwards-facing. When I’m in the former mode, I’m available on Skype, Twitterific automatically refreshes my friends’ tweets every 3 minutes, and I’m available on Google Talk via GMail. I’m using all four of my virtual desktops via OSX Leopard’s ‘Spaces’ feature and I’m moving around flitting from this to that. Effectively, I’m in ‘networked’ mode.

On the other hand, when I’m in the latter, inwards-facing mode, I’m working minimalistically: I’m invisible on Skype, Google Talk is closed, Twitterific is closed down, and I’m working with – at most – 2/3 tabs in Firefox. Almost everything I do is created and stored online these days, so usually it will be Google Docs and a couple of other websites for reference. I find this, coupled with the right kind of music, to be much more conducive to a state of flow than the ‘networked’ method of working. 😀

What do you think? Is Twitter a bad thing? How do you use it?

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