Many readers of this blog have the good taste to also be subscribers to my newsletter, Things We Learned This Week (TWLTW). A few of that elite group have complained that TWLTW hasn’t been turning up in their inboxes on Sunday as they’ve come to expect.
I don’t like to disappoint, but couldn’t fathom why, all of a sudden, my newsletter wasn’t getting through to some people. Thankfully, I think I’ve found the problem: GMail.
Like Clay Shirky, I think that over-optimising your setup and workflow for now can lead to long-term anachronism. He says:
[S]ince every tool switch involves a period of disorientation and sub-optimal use, I have to make myself be willing to bang around with things I don’t understand until I do understand them. This is the opposite of a dream setup; the thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.
Update (January 2015): Although the self-hosted approach detailed in this post worked really well for the six months I tried it, I’m now using Fastmail.
On Friday, I decided to ditch Gmail. It had been a long time coming, to be honest.
I’m not really interested in having a debate whether or not I ‘should’ do this, or whether it’s objectively a good thing to do. I just had an epiphany when I realised that almost all of my data (e.g. search, email, analytics) was going via Google’s servers. It’s like some kind of legitimised man-in-the-middle attack.
Instead of Gmail, I’m using webmail on my own domain and (shared) server. It was a pretty straightforward process. Here’s how to do it:
Set up self-hosted email inbox
Forward (and archive) email
Import folders and email
Update email addresses around the web
1. Set up self-hosted email inbox
I’m using Reclaim Hosting, which comes with something called ‘CPanel’ installed. This makes it much easier to install and maintain apps and services.
Sign up for a web host that has CPanel. Login, and go to the ‘Mail’ section of CPanel:
Click on the ‘Email Accounts’ option. Fill in the email address and password – for example, I chose email@example.com
You can now access your new email inbox by appending ‘webmail’ to your domain name – e.g. dougbelshaw.com/webmail. You have a choice of interfaces to access your email inbox. I chose Roundcube:
2. Forward (and archive) email
The first thing you want to do is make sure that you continue to get the email sent to you in one place. To do that, you need to forward all of the email that comes to your Gmail account to your new self-hosted email inbox.
In Gmail, click on the gear icon and go to ‘Settings’. Once there click on ‘Forwarding and POP/IMAP’:
Choose ‘Forward a copy of incoming mail to…’ and input the self-hosted email you set up in Step 1. You’ll have to confirm that account by clicking on a link that Google send to your new email address.
I chose to ‘archive Gmail’s copy’. It’s up to you what option you choose here.
3. Import folders and email
This is the bit that takes the longest. In fact, you can leave this running overnight and/or be doing Step 4 while this is happening.
Unless you’re declaring email bankruptcy, you’ll need to transfer your existing emails and folders from Gmail to your new self-hosted email account. Step 2 only redirects all new emails received.
First, you’ll need to use an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird (cross-platform) to download all of your Gmail folders and emails. To set it up, download Thunderbird and then launch it.
You’ll see something like this:
You’ve already got an email address, so click ‘Skip this and use my existing email’.
Add your Gmail account first by entering your name, email address and password. Remember, if you’ve got two-factor authentication turned on for your Google account, you’ll need an ‘App password’ from your security page.
The default option is to connect via ‘IMAP’ which is what we want so leave it as it is and press ‘Done’. You should then see Thunderbird importing all of your folders and emails. This will take a long time.
Note: ‘folders’ in Gmail are known as ‘labels’.
Now you need to add the self-hosted email account you set up in Step 1. To do this go to the menu and choose ‘New’ and then ‘Existing Mail Account’:
You’ll see the same box from when you added your GMail account. This time add your email address and password to the account you set up in Step 1.*
Click ‘Done’ and you now have both your Gmail and self-hosted email account syncing with Thunderbird.
Now you need to select all of your Gmail folders/labels and drag them to your self-hosted account.
Be careful to drag them onto the email address rather than ‘Inbox’ – otherwise the folders you drag will become sub-folders of your inbox rather than folders in their own right. Of course, you can always just drag them to ‘Archive’ if you don’t care.
Now wait. Possibly a very long time if you’re on a slow connection and/or you have lots and lots of emails and folders.
4. Update email addresses around the web
While your email and folders are transferring – and, to be honest, over the next few days/weeks – you’ll need to update your email address with the accounts you have around the web. There’s no great hurry for this, as your Gmail messages will be redirected to your new email inbox, but it’s nice to get things sorted.
You may also want to do one or more of the following:
send a ‘please update your addressbook!’ email to your contacts
use an email auto-responder on your Gmail account for a while
add a message about having a new address to your email signature
EDIT: Remember, if you don’t tell people about your new email address, your emails will still be going via Google’s servers (thus negating the point of the exercise…)
Did you manage to follow these instructions? Have you got a different/better way of doing it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below (or via this Hacker News thread)!
*Apart from believing in Open Source software (and working for Mozilla), one of my reasons for using Thunderbird is that it provides auto-setup for a much wider range of services than other mail apps. Also, the reason you see ‘SSL’ here is because I set up https on my domain using StartSSL. That’s outside the scope of this tutorial, but is also probably unnecessary if you’re planning to access your inbox via the webmail interface.
I get quite a bit of email. Even more, now that I’ve pretty much abandoned RSS and subscribed to news sources and blogs via email.* There’s various approaches to dealing with email (e.g.s – Inbox Zero, GTD, etc.) but, for what it’s worth, here’s my ‘system’. I haven’t read or watched videos of the others – they may be similar, they may not. My system (if I can call it that) depends on a GMail-like ‘star’ feature, so may not be useful for everyone:
* Why don’t I use an RSS feed reader much any more? Getting update via email forces me (under the system outlined above) to read new stuff at least once a week. It’s also rather depressing when you see you’ve got literally thousands of unread items in your feed reader… :-p
The above is my first effort at visualizing how I approach reading stuff online. You’ll notice that it all ends up back at my delicious account. That’s because it’s important that I can re-find stuff that I come across, even if only briefly.
Down the left is the information I glean from blogs and news sites. I subscribe to these by email nowadays as I realised that the problem was with having to go somewhere else to read stuff other than my inbox. It’s sent to me, I read it and then bookmark it if important.
Down the right is the stuff I read on-the-go through my iPhone and Tweetie, my Twitter client of choice. The great thing about Tweetie is that it has Instapaper integration. If you haven’t come across Instapaper yet, I really do recommend it for providing a clean, stripped down version of text you want to read later. Once I’ve read the article/information on Instapaper I bookmark if I deem it worthy.
In the centre is my Twitter favourites. It’s really easy, using Tweetdeck (my desktop Twitter client of choice) to ‘favourite’ tweets. I then go back through these at http://twitter.com/dajbelshaw/favourites periodically and bookmark most of them.
I’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.
All this is by way of explanation as to why the following are services that persuade me to part with some of my hard-earned money. I follow that with those I use for free but would happily pay for! 😉
Things upon which I *do* spend real cash
I have a number of websites and blogs, all of which need a home on the Internet. I’ve found Bluehost to be reliable and very reasonably priced. They’ve got CPanel installed in the admin interface, which makes installing web applications such as WordPress and forums a breeze!
Flickr ($25 = c.£17)
Photographs are incredibly important things. They are a snapshot of a time that can never be recaptured, and evoke powerful memories. Despite backing up regularly via my Apple Time Capsule, it’s important that I never lose the most important of my photographs – especially those of my son. That’s why I upload all the ones I consider important to Flickr.
Purchasing a yearly Flickr Pro license means that more than just the last 200 of my photographs can be seen and that I can create an unlimited number of ‘sets’ in which to place them. 😀
Remember The Milk ($25 = c.£17)
You may wonder why I’d spend good money on what is, essentially, a glorified to-do list. It’s because Remember The Milk (RTM) is so easy-to-use and fits in with my way of working. The free account is fine if you just want to organise yourself via the web-based interface, but the real power comes if you’ve got an iPhone. The app for the iPhone is only available to those who have a Pro subscription. It’s a work of art in terms of simplicity and adding to your productivity. Great stuff. 😀
Things upon which I *would* spend real cash
Gmail & Google Docs
Gmail features c.7GB of storage With Google Docs providing an online, collaborative suite of office applications that are just a joy to use. Every time I reflect on the fact that I can use this for free, I count myself fortunate. Marvellous!
Super-quick synchronous Internet connection
We currently get broadband free from Orange as a benefit from my wife’s mobile phone contract. We pay an additional £5 per month to upgrade the speed from 2MB/s to 8MB/s. But that’s only the (theoretical) download speed. We get about 6MB/s download and 512KB/s upload.
I’d pay about £25/month for 20MB/s synchronous DSL and would even consider £50/month for 50MB/s. That really would mean ‘cloud computing’! 😉
Twitter is a micro social networking/blogging service with a 140-character limit. I’ve connected to even more people than I had done previously via blogs in the Edublogosphere. It’s real-time and very, very powerful. Some people call it their ‘PLN’ (Personal Learning Network). I’m not one of them. I just think it’s great. 😉
If, for example, Twitter charged the same amount for a year’s service as Flickr does (i.e. $25) I think it would be hugely profitable very quickly.
WordPress is the software that power this and, to be honest, most blogs on the Internet. It’s developed rapidly – mainly because it’s Open Source – and very flexible and powerful. If you don’t as yet have your own blog, I’d encourage you to sign up with Bluehost and install WordPress on your own domain via CPanel. You can, of course, just use WordPress.com…
Which software and digital services do YOU pay for? Why?
I’m looking forward to the new academic year. Having said that, I’m not hugely excited about the Web 2.0 tools I’ll be using next year – and I believe that’s a good thing. It shows that such tools have become part of my teaching ecosystem. As I read recently, “The music is not in the piano.” (i.e. it is but a tool, just like technology)
The only reason my teaching ecosystem isn’t 100% digital is because of outside influences: documents from colleagues and marking student books. It’s part of my aim for my E-Learning Staff Tutor position to put more digital tools in the hands of colleagues. I’ll be using the new elearnr site to help with that. 🙂
This week I came across Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008. It’s made up of a large number of educators’ top 10 lists of elearning tools. I haven’t tried to stick to 10 in what follows – it’s just a list of what I’m going to be using (in order of what I’ll be using most!) 😀
1. Google Calendar
I’ve been using Google Calendar for a couple of years now for my day-to-day planning (see here and here). Although it takes around half an hour to enter your timetable initially, you can then set this to repeat until a certain date (i.e. the end of the academic year).
I use a ‘double-star system’ (see screenshot below). Before a lesson has been planned it has two asterisk after it. Removing one star means that I’ve entered the title and lesson objective (and homework, if applicable). Removing the second star means that the lesson is fully planned.
After the lesson, if there’s anything I need to remember for the next lesson with the class, I just add it to the comments section.
Obviously things like meetings, parents evenings can be entered ad-hoc. As you can access Google Calendar via mobile phone as well, it means I’ve got my day-to-day planning everywhere. 🙂
2. Attendance/Homework checkers
I run a two-laptop classroom. I’ve got my school-provided laptop at the front of my classroom running the interactive whiteboard (a SMARTboard) and my netbook (an MSI Wind-like Advent 4211 now running Mac OSX) is for everything else.
Whilst I could use Google Spreadsheets for my attendance registers, there’s two reasons I don’t. First of all it just doesn’t update very quickly, being web-based. Second, I’ve got to have a register – even if Internet access goes down at school. So I use Microsoft Excel with some conditional formatting goodness that I blogged about ages ago.
3. Google Docs
I’d be the first to hold my hand up and say that I’m a last-minute planner. What I do in the next lesson with a class depends very much upon what happened in the previous. Students have different questions and things can go off at a tangent. That’s not to say I don’t medium-term plan, however!
For my medium-term planning I use Google Docs. Nothing fancy, just a table with columns for lesson title, objective and possible content. The great thing about this is that I don’t have to remember to back it up and I can drop in links to any online resources quickly and easily. I do about a half-term at a time, having worked out before how much I need to cover to get everything done within the year. :-p
You’re not going to believe this but my school still doesn’t use email as the primary method of contact between members of staff. Hard to believe, I know! Consequently, I’m overwhelmed by a deluge of paper. To counteract this, I started taking a photograph of the documents using the camera in my Nokia N95. The trouble was that organizing these images was difficult and time-consuming. In the end, I just gave up.
Then I was invited to take part in the private beta for Evernote. This program is available cross-platform and is now out of beta, so it’s available to everyone. It takes the image you’ve taken and transferred to your laptop (e.g. via Bluetooth) and recognises the words – even when they’re hand-written! You can add tags to the photos and they’re automatically (securely) synced with your account on their server. That means they’re available wherever you’ve got an Internet connection.
Evernote’s a great system no matter what phone/digital camera/laptop combo you’ve got, but if you’ve got an iPhone, you really do need to download it from the App Store!
5. Google Presentations
Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for still using Powerpoint. After all, I’m training colleagues to use software such as SMART Notebook when I rarely use it myself. The truth is, Powerpoint is compatible, flexible, and has great clipart.
The problem comes when you want to get a Powerpoint online. Say that you’ve drawn on top of a diagram and want to make it accessible for students outside the classroom. In the past I’ve had to use OpenOffice to convert it into Flash, upload it to my website, and then create an HTML page in which to embed it.
Not any more. Now I just upload it to Google Docs and it’s transformed into a Google Presentation. This can then be easily embedded into a blog, wiki or website. Marvellous! 🙂
6. Google Sites
I used a self-hosted installation of WordPress for a couple of years successfully at learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk. That’s the place I direct students to in order to access homework activities and resources to aid their learning. At the end of last academic year, however, I switched over to Google Sites. My version actually comes as part of Google Apps Education Edition, but there’s no advantage in this other than the ability to customise the domain name.
I’ve found it really useful and reliable. Because it’s hosted by Google, I’ve never experienced any downtime and, of course, it’s not blocked by the school network’s proxy. You can edit things in a straightforward, easy-to-use manner. The built-in navigation features make it simple for students to navigate. Embedding objects is easy – I could ask for any more! 😀
I’m disappointed that Twitter, the micro social-networking service, has made the decision to stop the ability to receive SMS updates when you receive direct messages or replies. It means that I’m unlikely to use it with my GCSE students this time around.
To neglect to add it to my list, however, would be misleading. I’ll still be using it both in and out of school in a professional development capacity. I can’t imagine being connected only via blogs now (as in the early days of the edublogosphere). Twitter and other real-time tools make professional development fun!
With my last cohort of GCSE History students I installed WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) edition at mrbelshaw.co.uk. Whilst it worked fine and the students took to it well, the system took some configuring and was a bit of a nightmare when I transferred web hosting companies.
This year, I’m going to be using Edublogs. It, after all, is a giant installation of WPMU, but they host it for you, make hundreds of themes available and there’s added values with wiki and forum integration (to name but two). It should cut down on hassle. I track what students are up to via the RSS feed for the blog entries and comments. 🙂
9. Google Earth
It’s fair to say that I use Google Earth a lot. In fact, when I had to teach Geography to a Year 8 Set 4 class last academic year, I think I used it every lesson! It’s also of great use in history as it’s so much more than a mapping application; the ‘layers’ and ability to create tours add huge amounts of value.
I’ll be using it next academic year, as I have in previous years, to plot the route of Hannibal’s march with elephants on Rome, doing a flyover tour of Engladn in 1066, building up the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a lot more. I’ve shared some of the resources I’ve created for Google Earth over at the historyshareforum.
10. Simple English Wikipedia
Although I’ve threatened to do it a couple of times before, this academic year is going to be the time when I carry through my plan. I want students to be creators and contribute to the Internet. In Years 10 and 11 whilst they’re doing their GCSEs, I get them to blog. But what about in Key Stage 3?
I’m going to get them to add to the Simple English Wikipedia. This lesser-known sibling of Wikipedia is for children and foreign language students. Every page on the main Wikipedia site (potentially) has a similar page on the Simple version. The trouble is that the Simple version doesn’t have as much content – I want to rectify that by getting my students to edit that.
The main problem with this is that they can’t do it at school. I’m sure it the same with most educational institutions: our IP address is banned from editing do to ‘vandalism’ of Wikipedia by a minority of immature students. So, I’ll get them to do it at home and look at the revision history of the page for proof! I’ll let you know how it goes… :-p
I’m a big fan of mindmaps. Although I’m not convinced that bubbl.us creates mindmaps in the true sense of the term they are, at least, very useful brainstorms. If you haven’t given online, collaborative mindmapping/brainstorming a try with your students, I’d suggest you try.
Due to a re-organization of the core subjects at our school, students only get to choose two options for GCSE. This has the knock-on effect of meaning they have 4 lessons to cover content that previously was covered easily in 3. I’m going to spend that fourth lesson with them in the library or an ICT suite blogging, brainstorming/mindmapping, and more…
I came across Posterous during the summer holiday (see this post). You couldn’t really ask for a blogging service to be made much simpler. All you do is email firstname.lastname@example.org and it intelligently sorts out what you’ve sent (including attachments) and displays them appropriately. At last I can say to staff that if they know how to email they can set up their own class blog!
If you read my previous post on Posterous, you’ll see that I feel the killer feature will be themes. They’re adding features all the time, it being a new service, and if they add this ability before the start of the academic year (1st September for me) then I’ll seriously consider using them with students too. It might seem shallow, but I’ve found that teenagers like to create an identity online, and the ability to make their site different from their friend’s is important to them.
Finally, I’ll be charting my progress and adding resources to help colleagues as part of my E-Learning Staff Tutor role over at elearnr. Do visit there often and/or subscribe to the RSS feed. 😀
I was going to come up with an elaborate April Fool’s joke via this blog – something about me giving up teaching to do something highly improbable. Thankfully, Google’s April Fool’s joke is both hilarious and philosophically interesting at the same time! 🙂
Here’s what you get when you go to login to GMail:
A confession: I have actually configured an email to make it look like I wrote it before I actually did. In fact, one of my ‘mates’ when I was about 17 managed to send a fake email from ‘me’ to himself about a girl. It was all to do with the settings in Microsoft Outlook, that bastion of excellence and security… :p
This isn’t the place to go into ruminations and reflections on the Philosophy of Space and Time course I did whilst studying towards my Philosophy degree at university. I’ll leave the last word, therefore, with Google’s ‘interviewees’:
What have you got up to this April Fool’s Day? Remember to be careful what you believe out there on t’Internet today, folks! 😀