Tag: Wordpress (page 2 of 4)

How I organize my Ed.D. thesis

Sticky notes

Introduction

I’ve been studying towards my Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) qualification for almost 6 years now. My PGCE (teacher training qualification) at Durham University was the equivalent of the first year of an MA in Education. I thought it a waste not to continue with that on a part-time basis whilst I was teaching.

When it came to write the dissertation for my MA it wasn’t the greatest period in my life. I was told by my MA supervisor that I had the grades required to transfer to the Ed.D. if I wanted. At first I couldn’t see her logic; if I wasn’t in a position to complete my MA how would I be in a position to move up to a doctorate? But then she explained. If I transferred, I’d be able to take higher-level modules the next academic year rather than having to churn out a dissertation that academic year. I’d always had at the back of my mind that I’d like to do a PhD and so this made sense!

Tool choice: wiki

All of a sudden, then, I was a doctoral student. I didn’t quite fall into it, but even so it was going to take a step-change in attitude and organization. Going to get my Durham University student card replaced I laughed at it’s new expiration date: July 2012. That seemed a very long way off!

Up until starting my Ed.D. I’d had a fairly ad-hoc way of organizing my academic work. After all, although I’d written 20,000 words for my MA in Modern History in 2003, I’d organized my notes chiefly on paper – using my chunky (although at the time, stylish) laptop merely to write. I could see that this approach was going to change. Thankfully, when in 2006 I wanted to change programme, blogs, wikis and podcasts had just become all the rage.

I’ve used a wiki and a blog with my Ed.D. from the start. After toying with various wikis courtesy of the comparison at wikimatrix.org I decided it was important that I owned my own data. In effect, I sacrificed a little bit of ease-of-use and prettiness for speed, functionality and full control of my data. Whilst services such as Wikispaces, PBwiki and Wetpaint would have done the job admirably, they didn’t quite fit the bill.

I came across TiddlyWiki via Lifehacker. It’s an extremely lightweight wiki designed primarily for personal use. There’s a learning curve in terms of the syntax used to create, for example, things in bold and italics but once you’ve got used to this it’s second-nature. The standard version of Tiddlywiki is merely an HTML file. The massive advantage of this is that you can put it anywhere and it ‘just works’. Put it on a USB flash drive and you can work on it from any machine; put it on your website and you can read it from anywhere.

Although you could download the HTML file, work on it, and then re-upload it, I found this a little clunky in practice. After all, I wasn’t always in a position to fire up an FTP client to do so. On top of that, sometimes I would forget and/or have multiple versions of my wiki. Looking around, I came across ccTiddly, a server-side implementation of TiddlyWiki. In layman’s terms this meant that, upon installing it on my webhost’s server, I could not only access it from anywhere, but edit it from anywhere. In addition, clicking on a link means I can take it all offline quickly-and-easily when I want to. 🙂

Tool choice: blog

It’s amazing how quickly things change. At one time, the obvious choice for anyone creating an education-focused blog was Eduspaces. This aimed – and succeeded, to a degree – in creating a ‘community’ feel to blogs surrounding educational practice and research. You can still see the original blog I created there at eduspaces.net/dougbelshaw/weblog although when the owners announced it was shutting down, I transferred the posts first to teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk and ultimately to here, dougbelshaw.com/blog.

I enjoy the amount of control that WordPress, my blogging software of choice, gives me over what I do with my thesis. More recently, I decided that having a separate category for my thesis-related posts here wasn’t enough; I went ahead and created another blog at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. WordPress is easy to extend and customise through the use of themes and plugins. One extremely useful plugin is digress.it (formerly CommentPress) which allows commenters to easily comment on particular paragraphs in addition to the whole post. 😀

Tool choice: mindmap

After doing a great deal of reading on the ‘literacy’ aspect of digital literacy (the construct which I’m analysing in my thesis) I realised that I had no real idea how to start to put it all together. I needed a visual way to represent what I’d learned and to plan out what I was going to say. I looked at various options for mindmaps but found the online ones (such as Bubbl.us) a little clunky and the offline ones inflexible.

I was delighted, therefore, when I came across XMind. The beauty of XMind is that not only is it free and Open Source, but the offline program allows you to put your mindmap online in an embeddable, zoomable way. Perfect! You can view the mindmap I created for that digital literacy overview here.

Workflow

My studying, then, tends to go something like this:

  1. Skim-read article or chapter in book. Attempt to the main arguments to myself.
  2. Go back through article or chapter with sticky notes, adding them at quotable/important parts.
  3. Add relevant sections (highlighted with sticky notes) to my Ed.D. wiki, commenting on them as I go.
  4. Come up with idea for synthesis/analysis of what I’ve been studying.
  5. Create mindmap.
  6. Write section/blog post.

It seems to work fairly well for me, but I’m always looking to improve! Recently, I’ve stuck a pinboard to the wall next to my desk. It allows me to keep those important, but sometimes fleeting, ideas buzzing around.

How do you organise YOUR studies? :-p

(Image CC BY Tom Coates)

A quick way to add a ‘sparkline’ to your blog.

See that little graph thing at the bottom of this blog? It’s called a sparkline and shows the number of visitor over the last month. Here’s how to add one to your own blog, courtesy of Google Analytics and a WordPress plugin!

The only slightly tricky bit is replacing:

http://www.google.com/xxxxxxxxxx

with

http://chart.apis.google.com/xxxxxxxxxx

It shows you how to do it here, but it over-complicates things and is slightly out-of-date.

If you want to brush up on your HTML, you could do worse than this guide! 😀

If I wrote a book, would you buy it?

I’ve been using the excellent What Would Seth Godin Do? plugin for WordPress (which powers this blog) for a while now. It’s a great way to get a message across to readers, differentiated for new and return visitors. New visitors to this blog get a message giving them information on how to subscribe and/or get in contact with me.

Return visitors, on the other hand, get a different message. Recently, I’ve been asking for feedback on the question posed in the title of this post, namely: If I wrote a book, would you buy it? The answers are in the above graph. Interestingly, no-one responded that the price was an issue, nor did anyone state that they would buy anything that I wrote.

Good. That’s as it should be. 🙂

There’s enough people, I reckon, interested in buying something that I write that’s education-related for it to be a worthwhile proposition. I’ve got an interesting publishing model and pricing structure in mind. Subscribe so you don’t miss a post – I’ll be revealing more soon!

PS For those interested in what those ‘other’ answers were, they mainly wanted to know more about the subject before they would decide either way!

#blogsilike

CC-BY-SA mrhayata

I’ve banged on long enough about my opposition to the Edublog Awards. So I’m turning a negative into a positive. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Consider the blogs you’ve come across in 2009 that you like.
  2. Write about why you like them on your blog.
  3. Tag your blog post blogsilike and publish it.
  4. Link to your blog post on Twitter using the hashtag #blogsilike

Here’s my contribution:

  • I really like Harold Jarche’s blog (http://www.jarche.com) and his work on the Sackville Commons. Inspirational stuff.
  • I’ve been impressed at the way Tom Barrett moved effortlessly into his new home at http://edte.ch and has set up a really engaging blog. He’s also adapted his blog writing style to be even more relevant and collaborative. 🙂
  • After reading Seth Godin’s book Tribes I subscribed to his blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com) via email. He is full of good ideas, that man!
  • Some people who attend EdTechRoundUp regularly have begun to blog – people like Zoe Ross (http://www.zoeross.com), Nick Dennis (http://nickdennis.com/blog)and Kerry Turner (http://kerryjturner.com). Not have these three begun to blog to reflect on their own practice as educators, but are self-hosting their (WordPress-powered) blogs. Great stuff! If you want to do likewise, I highly recommend Bluehost to make it a simple, one-click process!

Why not help this become a meme and contribute your own? 😀

Back to (theme) basics.

Update (same day!) – well that didn’t last long: I’ve stripped it back even more with the Minimalist theme. :-p

Earlier this year I changed the theme on this site. I was reasonably pleased with it. It was faster-loading than the previous iteration. However, as I kept adding stuff to it the site became slower to load. As @MoodleDan pointed out, I had lots of images being loaded from external sites.

So I’ve stripped it down to look a bit like the default theme on Posterous. It’s a WordPress theme called Minimous. I like it, although I’ve got a plan to strip it down even further

What do you think?

Got a blog? Do this simple thing to boost your readership.

Image CC BY derrickkwa @ Flickr
Image CC BY derrickkwa @ Flickr

I tried to do something very simple yesterday. Surprisingly, it caused me a bit of a headache. What was it? I just wanted to subscribe to some blogs via email.

Why would I want to subscribe to blogs via email? Well, for all I love Feedly, I have to go to a different location to access this. This involves a physical and conceptual shift. Making blog posts (or links to them) appear in my email inbox means I can’t really ignore them. In other words, I’m more likely to keep up-to-date.

However, when I went to subscribe to some blogs the option to subscribe by email wasn’t available to me (necessitating the use of xFruits) or seemed to be available but then didn’t work.

It’s trivial (and free!) to enable readers to subscribe via email to your blog. Here’s how:

1. Go to Feedburner and login using your Google account.

Feedburner login page

2. ‘Burn’ (i.e. add) your feed to Feedburner (you can find your feed URL by clicking on the RSS icon to the right in your address bar when you visit your blog):

Feedburner - burn feed

3. Within Feedburner, click on the ‘Publicize’ tab and then on ‘Email subscriptions’ on the left-hand side:

Feedburner - Publicize tab

4. Follow the (clear) instructions as to how to proceed. It shows you how you can add the option to subscribe via email to your blog’s sidebar.

Feedburner - Email subscriptions

5. Click on the ‘Optimize’ tab within Feedburner and then ‘BrowserFriendly’ on the left-hand side:

Feedburner - Optimize tab

6. Follow the instructions, enabling the BrowserFriendly service.

Feedburner - BrowserFriendly option

7. Make sure all the links to your RSS feed on your blog point towards the new Feedburner feed. If you’ve got a self-hosted WordPress-powered blog, the easiest way to do this is to download the relevant plugin to do this for you!

The result, if you follow these steps, will be that if users click on your RSS they should see something like this:

Feedburner-powered RSS feed

If you need any extra help or have some tips please use the comments section below! 😀

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Has WordPress-powered P2 left me ‘more organized and productive’?

Doug's work record - search for 'Google Apps'

Last month I wrote a post entitled How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive. If you haven’t read that yet, you probably should do now so that you understand what follows… :-p

There’s several reasons for my wanting to keep a record of the stuff that I do in my role as Director of E-Learning. These include:

  • Performance Management
  • An aide-memoir when dealing with other people
  • Interest – how much of my time do I spend on various activities?

Does it work?

If you’ve got this far into a second post on the subject, the question you’re probably asking is probably something like Does it work? or Is it useful? The answer to both of those questions is YES!

What’s harder to answer is whether it’s left me more organized and productive. After all, entering even a one-liner (and adding tags) takes time. When you’re flat-out busy (like I am most days at the Academy!) that could be seen as a bit of a waste of time.

So I suppose the best way to answer questions relating to organization and productivity are to take the politician’s approach and not really answer them. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’ve used the WordPress + P2 system for. So far, it’s been for three things:

  1. Checking when I emailed someone and tasked them with a particular activity.
  2. Counting how many of a particular meeting I’ve been to.
  3. Seeing which individuals I interact with most often (the tag cloud is very useful for this!)

I can’t help but think that this system would go from good to great if it were being used by more than one person. For example, ICT technicians could use it to keep a record of what’s going on, cropping up, and taking their time. This could be viewed by their line manager, who could make comments. And as with my personal work record, it could be password-protected yet internet-based for secure yet easy access! 🙂

P2 is available as a pre-installed theme at WordPress.com. A standalone version for self-hosted WordPress-powered blogs can be downloaded at p2theme.com.

So why not give it a go? It’s free! 😀

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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How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive!

Ever since I read Matt Mullenweg’s post How P2 Changed Automattic I’ve been thinking about how I could best utilise a similar system. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this video:

But then it dawned on me this morning: there’s no reason I couldn’t use such a system for private, me-only stuff!

As E-Learning Staff Tutor last year and as Director of E-Learning this year, I’ve been keeping a record of what I’ve been up to. This is as much about me being able to cross-reference stuff as proving to others (if needed) that I’ve been fulfilling my role. Up until now I’ve been using Google Docs, which looks like this:

Work record on Google Docs

Now, however, with WordPress, the P2 theme and a plugin called Absolute Privacy, I’ve got a close, web-based system that should hopefully be a lot more flexible and powerful:

Word record on WordPress/P2 system

We’re discussing productivity for educators tonight at EdTechRoundUp‘s weekly meeting. Why not join us? I’ll post my reflections on this system next week! 😀

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A Week of Divesting: Blog design

If you’re reading this in a feed reader, you might want to click through or click on the images below.

A short post, this one. I’ve been working on-and-off for the past few weeks on a new blog theme courtesy of an excellent WordPress plugin by the name of Theme Test Drive. This allows administrators (i.e. me) see a different theme when they visit this blog than non-logged in visitors (i.e. you).

Here’s the difference between the two:

Old blog theme - 'Digital Statement'

The old theme – ‘Digital Statement’

New blog theme - 'New Geeky White'

The new theme – ‘New Geeky White’

Some may say they prefer the old one. It’s certainly more ‘visual’. But I didn’t like the font and the amount of time it took to load. Serif fonts are much more pleasing on the eye and it’s certainly faster loading. Readers don’t have to click through to read the most recent post, and I don’t have to write a summary and crop pictures down to 90×90 to go next to that summary.

Taking my inspiration from the Flickr blog and Seth Godin’s blog (see images below) I pared everything down as much as possible.

Flickr blog Seth Godin's blog

I took as my starting point the (very yellow) Old Popular Yolk theme, which looks like this:

Blog theme - 'Old Popular Yolk'

It was then very easy to modify the CSS to end up with what you see now. 🙂

I’ve called this derivative theme New Geeky White. I’m no good at CSS or WordPress hacking in general, but if you really want to use the theme get in touch and it’s yours!

css.php