Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Education, Blogging and Branding

As we look forward to implementing blogging for the purpose of student curriculum assignments, we are deliberating whether to use a hosted service, such as Blogger, Edublogs, or, or installing, configuring and supporting our own institutional blog server. For this post, I will define a "student blog" as one created to meet the academic requirements of a specific course. And I will use Blogger as the example of a hosted service, though other good ones exist.

The pace of innovation and development is rapid in the blog server area. By using a hosted service we can "ride on the coat tails" of the constant improvements and added features of the service we use, reaping benefits with little additional work. With us hosting our own solution, we have to concern ourselves with never-ending upgrade procedures, migrating old blogs to the new server, etc. This is on top of all the work involved in setting up a secure and full-featured blogging server to beging with, backing it up, and maintaining it. It seems that if you have a critical mass of users, or anticipate one, this work can be justified.

However, what is the "tipping point" of users that makes it more sensible to use a hosted service? Assuming we had only a few classes interested in student blogs next semester, I am tending towards using a hosted service. A major downside to this may appear to be the lack of "branding" of the blog to the institution.

If a student blog is to remain private, with only the student(s) and faculty in the class and support staff seeing it, branding should not be an issue. If a student blog is intended to be a public blog with a "PR" slant to it, we would pass it on to College Relations, which uses a locally installed version of Movable Type. However, in most cases the primary purpose of a student blog is not to make our institution look good. If it does, so much the better, but pedagogical issues should not be shaped by publicity issues. Do we want someone asking a student to change a blog to make it look better on our public web site?

I have tried our slightly older installation of Movable Type, and find that Blogger is much easier and more fun to use. The usability aspect is a major one, I want technology to be as transparent as possible. As Will Richardson recently said: "I’m more and more finding myself without patience for tools that aren’t extremely easy and intuitive, no matter what they claim to offer." I find that faculty and students want and need this transparency in technology, without it few will use whatever technical solutions are offered. Personally, I like to get "under the hood" and tinker, but most people here just want to get in the car and drive. Because of this, I'm currently leaning towards Blogger instead of a local Movable Type, but am concerned about the "branding" issue.

Not sure excactly what "branding" meant, but knowing its importance to some people, I Googled "define branding", and came up with this:

"The process by which a commodity in the marketplace is known primarily for the image it projects rather than any actual quality."

"The process by which the true character and purpose of the company or organization is communicated."

"Is a promise, a pledge of quality. It is the essence of a product, including why it is great, and how it is better than all competiting products. It is an image. It is a combination of words and letters, symbols, and colors"

"The process of building a favorable image for a product or company that differentiates it, in the minds of prospects and end users, from other competitors."

"Selecting and blending tangible and intangible attributes to differentiate the product, service or corporation in an attractive, meaningful and compelling way."

It has become more and more apparent to me over the years that branding and PR are big factors in how an educational institution communicates with the outside world, so how important is branding in academic student blogs?

While finishing this post I ran across a timely video, where Glenna Ryan, formerly of Rensselaer Polytechnic University, talks about their admissions student blogging efforts:

The above was pulled from Dan Karleen's recent blog entries on Admissions Blogging.

It's obvious from this that "admissions blogs" are NOT the same as student academic blogs, they are shaped by totally different forces, and have a different purpose. However, we now get into the gray area of student blogs that were private for the purpose of an assignment, but because they are worth sharing, everyone later agrees should be made public.

If they are hosted, there is no college "brand" associated with them. If a public student blog has a little orange "B", does it make any difference in branding the institution? Should we go to the effort of eliminating the top Blogger bar in student blogs by customizing the html template? And what influence and how much control should non-pedagogical forces and non-instructional staff have on the content and style of a student's academic blog?

We will soon be facing those challenges, and it does not hurt to prepare some sensible answers and formulate policies. There are many factors influencing the choice of a local vs. hosted version of a weblog server, not just branding, and unfortunately politics can trump technology. There is no same best way for everyone, and we'll only be deciding what's best for our spring 2007 semester. There are currently too many rapid developments in this area to formulate long-term strategy. Our goal is to stay one step ahead, and keep a close eye on the future.

Although College Relations has supported a few "PR" student blogs, our Instructional Technology Team is new at supporting student academic blogging. I am both impressed and humbled by how far others have gone, such as MIT's Katie Livingston Vale (800k PDF), and Drexel University's Jean-Claude Bradley. Thankfully, we have a variety of good role models to guide and inspire us.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Web 2.0 day at Wesleyan! BarCampCONN?

Yesterday Bryan Alexander from NITLE came to Wesleyan University, and gave a full-day presentation on Web 2.0, I believe this is his SlideShare presentation, except for the title page of course:

About 40 instructional technologists and librarians from Connecticut College, Trinity College and Wesleyan University attended the full-day workshop. Bryan did a grea job presenting and linking together many concepts and processes in a rapidly-changing area. I don't know where he finds the energy for this, I'm usually out of gas after 90 minutes of teaching. The presentation was structured, but informal in that Bryan graciously allowed interruptions for comments or questions anytime. This worked better than a Q&A a the end, as we moved rapidly through many different Web 2.0 landscapes. Here is a link to the workshop wiki.

It was a day full of information, and probably started a lot of wheels spinning in the attendees' minds. My only regret was not asking Bryan, before the presentations, to explain the term "Long Tail" to the folks. It took me a while to figure out what it means, both socially and economically, and it might have helped others that don't know.

I spoke very briefly with Michael Roy, from Wesleyan, about a possible collaboration between our institutions to bring the first BarCamp to Connecticut next summer. This has been a fantasy of mine for a while, but I don't really have any ideas besides wouldn't it be neat! It obviously requires more than this, starting with it HAS to be successful, so "success" needs to be defined. What would be the goals of BarCampCONN (BarCampCT, or whatever), and why do it at all? After surfing through the post-analyses of a few BarCamps, I think it would be wiser to have a one-day the first time, as attendance often drops off the second day.

The first thing we would need, of course, is a cool logo, such as one of these:

Build an attractive logo and they will come? It reminds me of the early 70's when I was sailing on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. We'd sail from town to town with a bunch of musicians and environmentalists, have a festival, and make Stone Soup. We started with a big pot of boiling water on an open fire ashore, and put a clean stone in it. As people came by, they would throw different vegetables in the pot, with us keeping an eye on things. After a few hours we'd have a great soup for everyone to share, created communally. The soup would simmer and change throughout the day, as people came and went, added and ate different ingredients. Can an eye-catching logo be the cyber equivalent of the stone?

The Story of Stone Soup
Of course, we are not in a famine, we are all soldiers, and you can't buy a magic stone, you have to make one.

One reason to have a BarCampCONN would be that the "We is greater than the Me" (I'm borrowing this from someone else, but I forgot who!). There is something stimulating, reinvigorating and exciting about getting a bunch of people together to talk and do Web 2.0 stuff, and it seems safer than sky-diving. So, I'm going to try and go to one or two BarCamps this winter, and see what it's all about. Amsterdam or Paris would have been nice, but I missed them. Should I spend my team's entire remaining travel budget and put in a travel request to BarCamp Rome? Nah, it will be turned down, so I'll settle for something closer.

Thanks to Bryan and Wesleyan for a great day!

Friday, November 24, 2006

iPods for Audio Commentary, Media Commons

With our support, Prof. Michael Reder is using digitized audio for providing feedback to students in his writing course.
I ran into Susan Sipple's work which seems similar.

Here is a link to another site on Susan's work.
In Michael's case, he is also providing for students to comment on each other's writings, and the use of iPods and iTunes seems to make the process easier than using a computer and sound-editing software.
I have to admit, frankly, that I did not initially think much of Michael's use, it seemed a bit "gimmicky". It just shows how I have to overcome innate prejudices as to what is a worthwhile use of technology. Part of of my initial feelings were due to the fact I did not fully understand his rationale to this approach, so I have to do a better job at inquiry and understanding. I did talk to one student in his class, informally, she told me the technology was easy to understand and use, and that no-one had any problems with it, beyond minor issues they were able to figure out.
She thought the student>student feedback using verbal vs. written communciation was better, and preferred it. Michael comments on every student's papers, I believe, and each student comments on a few peers. We'll obviously need a full and systematic "debriefing" at the end of the course, Susan has done a good job at this it seems, and we will be inspired by her work.

I had posted directions on how to implement the recording/compression in our wiki. However, I find it much more useful, if I want students to learn something, to make a personal presentation. In this case, it was with the iPod, mic, and laptop connected to an LCD projector. Diane and I went to the class, and in 15 minutes showed them how to record to the iPod, import the recording to iTunes, compress it to AAC, and drag the compressed copy to the desktop. I had also printed out the on-line instructions for each student. They expressed satisfaction when I handed them out.

Michael emails his comments to the students, and they email their own feedback to each other. I was concerned about email size limitations, but the comments are not much longer than 5 min. each, so only about 1 MB in size. Our backup plan was to create a shared network folder for the class, with drop folders for each student, however this has not yet been necessary.

making Media Commons is something I plan to investigate.

"MediaCommons is, or rather will be, a new kind of media studies press for the digital age -- a network in which academics, students, and other interested members of the public can forge critical pathways through a mediated world and publish dynamically in a mediated environment.

making MediaCommons is a planning site through which we'll develop the possible directions this might take."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Educational Widgets?

I've been thinking lately if there are any widgets that would be useful in blogs dedicated to educational or pedagogical purposes.
This Posting finally got me to write. Seems there are office/business widgets, why not education-oriented ones?

I'm not talking about OSX dock widgets, but those viral-like critters starting to populate blog sidebars, among other realms.
I am purposely "widgeting out" (there is a less elegant term but I am not using it) my personal blog just for fun.
My favorites right now are the clock and the lava lamp.

So, if anyone knows about a widget designed mainly for pedagogical, curriculum support goals, I'd love to hear about it.
I will do the same.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Apple and Social Software, Part 2

Thanks to everyone that responded to my message on Apple's role in Web 2.0 Social Software on the QuickTime User List.
I don't doubt Apple will stay dominant in the video creation field, and in the iPod/iTunes/iTV/iPhone/etc..ecosystem.
And I received some good suggestions on addressing the challenges in our own intranet, which I am researching.

My already stated concern is that QuickTime use is minimal in the new popular Digital Social Networks: blogs, wikis, mashups, etc. The "blogosphere" alone is big, 57 million blogs tracked by Technorati. As we use QT here for the delivery of course material, we would like to see it succeed also in Web 2.0.

There was a short period, when the video bloggers first started, when QT was actually the most popular format for user-generated video in social networks, the vbloggers were usually producing their snippets using iMovie or on Macs, and it was natural to export to QT. However, YouTube then came along, and we know the rest of the story.

However, I don't think it's too late for Apple to make a move with QuickTime, and I have refined my thinking a bit, so am reposting. Here is my revised thinking.

To be successful in this new web world, QT has to at least be able to do what Flash does now:

1. Make QT web-friendly. Be able to embed a QT movie in a web page, and not have it download until the play button is pushed. QT is track based, it seems a natural for combining a poster movie, audio track, and video track inside one .mov. This creation could be automated with QT Player Pro, giving Apple another reason to sell it. Or a developer could pick this up.

2. Make QT popular (or at least common). Sponsor a video sharing area where you can upload your movies (QT and non-QT), not have them re-compressed if not needed, and if needed, encode to QT (and Flash if deemed necessary). Even Microsoft has started their own video sharing site, Soapbox. MS must have felt it was the only way WMV would retain a presence on the web. Soapbox movies are encoded twice, btw, the Mac version is in Flash, showing you how much confidence MS has in the future of WMV on the Mac.

I know Revver distributes in QT, but only for downloading. If Apple does not want to start its own video-sharing site, maybe partner with a company like Revver, help develop and polish its product, and assist with the back end.

3. Make QT easy to share. Enable easy copy/paste code from the above #2 in QT format to a blog, MySpace, wiki, etc. Apple understood podcasting and syndication, and got a good head start. But that is a totally different model, it's a ONE-TO-MANY model. I publish, you subscribe and experience, with no direct feedback.

A big chunk of the new web is MANY-TO-MANY, with countless links between different people's blogs, video sites, tags, image sites, etc. Right now, QT is an outsider in the Many-to-many social networks, which are much more numerous, and quite different from the rss One-to-many networks.

I think the above "big 3" are all needed, they all work off each other, and 2 out of 3 is not enough. However, then you could add:

4. Make QT movies customizable. Make the skin selectable, kind of like Odeo does, but incorporated as part of the movie itself. Skins could be downloaded, and installed/activated in QT Player Pro, another reason to buy it. Or a developer can pick this up.
People on the web want to customize their own "net space", and create their own unique digital identities.
Blogging and wiki hosting sites have many skins to choose from, bloggers have thousands of free widgets to select, on top of Flash movies, Photobucket/Flickr images, other blogs, etc...etc...
People are furnishing their empty web apartments. Make it easy to hang a nice QT movie on the wall, with that neat frame no-one has seen before.

I have seen some encouraging signs for the future in Leopard server:
a wiki server (many to many, but I don't see any reference to video)

and a podcast producer/server (one-to-many, but this is a good market Apple is successful in and needs to stay in)

I don't know if the above will enable any of the features on my "wish list" at the small end of the scale (education, SMB), but I would like to see those issues also addressed at the large end.

One of my final concerns is that if there isn't a viable audience for QT on the web, this technology is going to lose developers.
We are going to have great podcasters, video editors and compressionists, but who is going to put together neat things like the chattering video wall?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Apple is finally waking up to social software

A couple of years ago, Apple was at the forefront of "new-web-uses", with the incorporation of syndication, podcasting, and video into iTunes. However, things change fast in internet time, and before long, blogs, wikis, YouTube, and all those other "social software" apps and neat Flash video players started to leave Apple behind in innovation. Even the QT Player Plug-in looks like it needs a bit of a design overhaul, or at least make it easier to skin. And why can't you embed many QT movies in a web page, without having them all dowload at once and freezing the page, unless you hand-tool a separate poster movie? It was actually easier to embed a QuickTime movie in a web page a few years ago, then you could just use the embed tag.

Apple's Weblog Server, included in OSX Server, has been a disappointment to me. It's supposed to be a blogging tool, and a podcasting tool. But it does neither well, from a user interface standpoint, and comment moderation is very poor. As Apple has survived and then thrived by its interfaces, this is surprising to me. Nothing has been done to improve Weblog Server since its inital release. I'm sure the "back end" is very robust, but the front end is poorly thought out. You can actually do more with Blojsom, which it's based on. I have a right to criticize Apple products, by the way, as I use many of them!

After many hours of work, and searching for information scattered at different web sites, I managed to customize the interface to make it usable for podcasting, it's at
I have to admit that trying to edit those Velocity templates, which I had never heard of before, was not much fun.

We have not really used it yet (still hand-coding podcasts), and I'm afraid if I install a major OS update it will break something. The purpose of our podcast server is to make it as easy as possible for a novice end-user to update a podcast after we create it for them. We are not ready to sign up for iTunesU yet, waiting for the early adopters to pull the arrows out of their backs and help Apple improve the first release. I decided to take my lumps on other new software.

Well, it seems Apple has finally woken up! I had run across iTunes' iMix a while ago, but did not pay much attention. However, this link caught my eye

It seems that now you have a "Publish to the Web" feature, which creates code that you can paste into your web page or blog, and links you to your or others' iMix. Here is an example of an iMix.. I picked a random one, have not looked at the songs yet.

When I copy-pasted the Apple code Blogger Beta gave me the error "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not closed..." but I bypassed it and it seems to work anyways.

I think this is a first for Apple: automatically creating copy/paste code for web sites and "social apps", and I hope to see this functionality incorporated in some of their server products, such Weblog Server, which needs a complete interface overhaul and some back-end tweaks, and extended to other media types, such as QuickTime movies.
Another first, I believe, is that the above is in Flash format, I have not seen Apple use Flash in such a prominent role before.

I have to investigate if an iMix, now that it can be published, has any educational uses. One more thing to look at!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lecture Podcasting Kit

Here's something I put together a month or so ago that seems to work well for recording lectures:

At the top left is the Samson AL1 AirLine Micro wireless transmitter. It has a built-in mic, you can easily clip the whole unit to someon's shirt or lapel (while they are running away from you!). It also has a separate lav mic, which optionally plugs into the transmitter, this can then be clipped to your belt. There is a third way to use the transmitter, with a lanyard that clips on to it and goes around your neck. Then you don't need the lav.

At the bottom left is the small AM1 Wireless Receiver. It has a line out, but is low in volume, so I use the headphone out. The advantage is that you can control its gain with a small screwdriver. Next comes a small adapter, from 1/8" (3.5 mm) to 2.5 mm, the usual line-out is 2.5 and a male-to-male 2.5 to 2.5 mm cable is supplied. I'd like to clean up the system a bit by getting a 3.5 to 3.5 cable. This goes into the Belkin TuneTalk ($70), set to line input, which connects to the bottom of the iPod, and can record over 3 hours at "low" quality, 22.5 KHz 16 bit mono, which is fine for speech.

Street price for the AirLine transmitter/lav/receiver is $270, a good bargain indeed. Here's how it sounds

The nice thing about the Belkin is that it comes with a USB cable which plugs into its bottom. This can be used to power the iPod from its AC adapter, you could then record all day long if you wanted.

For important lectures, I have my "backup kit", which I slap on to the podium just before the talk. I used to use the Sony MiniDisc MZ-B10, but once it locked up on me at an important lecture, and I don't trust it any more. So, I went back to using my old iPod Photo, with the Griffin iMic. One of my associates here has never had problems with MiniDisc, and uses them often, but one critical failure is too much for me when there are alternatives.

One of our faculty used the wireless mic kit connected to his laptop, and recorded voice and the laptop's PowerPoint screen with Camtasia. However, he did not match the output of the receiver very well to the laptop input, and got some distortion.
It's important to set these levels beforehand, with a bit of experimenting. I made a podcast out of this at
The "Glow..." has the distortion, the later "Fluorescence" came out much better, after we tweaked the levels.

All in all, I like my little rig, and plan on using it more in the future. The only improvement I'd want is a way to monitor the audio while I am recording, and a VU meter on the iPod would be REAL nice!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Slideshare Demo

Bryan Alexander is coming to talk to some of the Conn. Coll, Trinity and Wesleyan staff in December, above is one of his presentations in slideshare. This looks like a nifty tool, but what happens when the author takes down his presentation? Any way to save it locally? I had found a nice presentation on blogs and wikis, which was subsequently deleted by the author. Possibly did not want folks to see her presentation beforehand?
What's nice about slideshare is that the url links also work.
I'm also fascinated by the on-line presentation tools in Zoho and ThinkFree Show, these allow you to actually create your presentation on-line, in slideshare you only upload existing PP and can't edit. But what heppens with all the above when you need your presentation, and have not internet access? Need to explore...
On the slideshare web site, type web2, education, wiki, or blog in the search box, it's amazing how many presentations are already posted. There are already over 350 tagged with education. 72 slideshows under "elearning", while Downes has over 60 shows on learning networks

Saturday, July 15, 2006

News from Diane, with some sidebars

One of our fellow workers, Diane Creede, was at a WebCT conference this week, and emailed me some interesting URLs I had not heard about.

First was Radford University's Opus X project. This is a "Digtial Music Library" that will enable their Music Department to distribute copyrighted music to student's iPods, and meet copyright guidelines and laws. We'll be looking at this closely, as we have two classes this fall where students will be provided with free iPods, for the purpose of curriculum support. Along with Duke, of course, one of the big iPod schools is Georgia College and State University, so we'll be looking there for ideas also. The distribution and control of copyrighted music, especially purchased from the iTMS, will be one of our bigger challenges.

Diane also sent along, a hosted Blogger-like service for educators, running on WordPress. There seems to be a nice sense of community about it. My concern is that the day I used it, networking activity was pretty slow, hopefully this was an anomaly. I know PBwiki was down for a few hours last week, one of the downsides of hosted services. When you open an edublog account, you also automatically get a Wikispaces account, and it's displayed on your blog. Wikispaces seems to be based on WikiMedia, but I have to confirm this.

A big advantage to using the above hosted sites is that we usually don't have the time to learn how to tweak the appearance of our blogs and wikis, so often they all look similar, or "canned". Content is of course more important, but faculty sometimes want some diversity in appearance, or a wiki to "look like a real web site". Controlling the appearance of MediaWiki and WordPress is not easy to learn. With edublogs and Wikispaces, many templates are pre-made and easily implemented. Some of us like to "get under the hood". I am not sure the hosted solutions allow the gearheads enough satisfaction, not that this would be enough justification for an institution to host their own wikis and blogs.

With an edublogs account, you also get an on-line Yacapaca testing/evaluation solution. So, the combination of the three is starting to look like a Content Management System for courses! All for free, or minimal costs for more extensive use. Speaking of CMS, I have been following D'Arcy Norman's Blog , and noticed a few weeks ago that he switched from WordPress to Drupal, and is very happy with it. Drupal is a true CMS, which can support blogging. Interestingly enough, IBM has just evaluated several open source tools for deploying a collaborative web site, and decided that Drupal best met their needs . Top link is here .

This brings up the amount and diversity of the Cambrian Sea of open source software that is rapidly evolving, and the question of who will survive and how will it evolve, if it is to survive. Some former Microsoft employees have opened ohloh , a beta site that is very incomplete for now, to try and keep track of this, over 3,600 projects are listed.

While few of the above are CMS/wiki/blog tools, the same "survivability" issues arise. Dries Buytaert, lead of the Drupal project, anticipates they have a lot of work to do to remain competitive in the future, as does anyone else that intends to still be around in 10 years. No-one wants hundreds of hours of work in a system that will turn into the equivalent of 8-track audio tape.

How will educators now using the server-driven, expensive, 20th century technologies of WebCT combine its use with these new 21st century hosted inexpensive tools? It will be interesting to get Diane's feedback regarding WebCT's "official" position, and how the educators at the WebCT conference are actually handling this.

If there was a way to standardize how all these software tools communicate, with a common API, you could "snap" different modules togther (WebCT and non-WebCT), depending on what you needed, and have them all work together, orchestrated by some type of "snap-on" manager. I think we are also waiting for a good hosted image database solution, suitable for educational purposes. Flickr is great, but some institutions and educators want a more "serious" appearance and customizable interface.

Finally, Diane learned an easy way to put RSS feeds, and have them rendered as web pages, within WebCT. Not sure I fully understand how this will handle feeds with images and media (audio, video), but Diane is going to show us next week, when we start our 10-day Tempel Summer Institute, a WebCT training session for 9 faculty.

We are still unsure how to best handle the promotion of blogs, RSS, podcasts, wikis, social software, for the purpose of use by faculty in direct curriculum support. My feeling is that we should have a general philosophy and direction, but each case should be evaluated on its own merits, and needs to be justified and supportable. The issue of sustainability also comes up in the ephemeral nature of the web. How long should a student's blog, created for the purpose of a class assignment, be made available?

But, I'm sure, it will all get sorted out, things always do.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Creating a free blog and newsfeed

I thought I'd post this to make life easier for anyone who wanted to get started with blogs and newsfeeds. Blogger and Feedburner are a good combination, but are not totally intuitive, especially on how they work together. Jean-Claude Bradley has a nice screencast showing how to do it here

There are more templates available in Blogger, after you have set up your blog. Go to your Dashboard, (click on the B in the upper left), log in, and click on Change Settings for your blog, then go to Template>Pick New.

What's great is that you can get into the "guts", if you know what you are doing, or want to learn and are brave, in Template>Edit Current, and totally change the blog's appearance. You might want to copy/paste the existing code into a text file, for later "recovery". Then, if you really mess things up, just copy/paste the original code back into the template.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Lots of technology, little time!

This week I realized how quickly, and almost exponentially, the web-based, client-centered software landscape is changing. I started my free wiki at JotSpot. A few days later noted that eBay and JotSpot got together to host what will probablybe the world's largest wiki at eBay Wiki. This has nothing to do with education, but bodes well for the company's future.

I also ran across PBwiki (Peanut Butter Wiki) and started free wiki there. Here is an example of PBwiki used in education.

It's a real challenge to try and keep up with all these new solutions, and evaluate them for the purpose of supporting education. I will probably never have the time to really populate the above wikis, but will keep them as "placeholders" for hopeful future use. I think, for now, we'll stick with our locally hosted MediaWiki for instructional support. We use this for our own test wiki here.

A faculty member, David Kim, had us start a wiki for his Theorizing Race and Ethnicity class, here . I think the students were not quite sure what to make of it at first. Out of a class of 40 only a few had used a wiki before. I was concerned that there was not much entered during the semester, but it all seemed to come together at the end. David asked us to "pretty up" the site so it looks a little more like normal web pages. This is going to be possible, but a challenge, as MediaWiki's appearance is not easy to customize. The css used to create the page is somewhat scattered in different files, so I have to get into the "guts" of it. I think we will also look for some copyright-free images to upload, to break up the long strings of text.

One of our students, Jonathat McLean, started a wiki for general use at the college last fall, here , using another locally hosted installation of MediaWiki, this seems to have gotten a good response from the student body.

We are going to migrate our WebCT 4 courses to WebCT 6 this summer. We are going to try and use WebCT as much as possible for direct curriculum support, but are willing to look at other solutions if they are needed, and not found in WebCT.
We are also on our endless search for a robust networkable image database, especially now that it seems that it has been eliminated in the latest WebCT. We are trying to co-ordinate a site visit by Luna Insight to see what they have to offer.

Towards the end of the week I ran across an interesting blog by Fred Stutzman, which I put in my Blogroll. Fred is doing a lot of work on social networking, collaborative work in the "blogsphere", etc., and is hosting a BarCamp in Raleigh, which is already full. The BarCamp sounds as much fun as vloggercon 2006 was in San Francisco June 10-11, which was also sold out.

I watched the last session's live video stream, and have to admit it was the first time I have looked at a small 320x240 movie for more than 10 minutes, it was that interesting. There was a text chat room running alongside the stream, for folks that could not attend. The comments were amusing at times, occasionally poking good-natured fun at the speakers.

One of the best moments was at the end, as the last session was breaking up, John Leeke , one of the "chatters" set up a flashmeeting with his account, and invited everyone in the vloggercon chat room to join him. This took about him about a minute to set up, but the "move" to the new chatroom (vloggercon was now shut down) was fairly seamless, and I had never used flashmeeting before.

This of course led me down a whole new trail, to explore flashmeeting and the innovative folks that developed it, at Center For New Media, in the UK. One of their neater reseach project is hexagon, a multi-user video/audio/text chat room, where the partipants are depicted as little images in "beehive" hexagons.

Now, how cool is that!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Students, Images and Courses

This fall we have three freshmen seminar courses where all students in each course, about 16, will be provided with free digital cameras. Right now, our "camera selection team" has settled on the Nikon Coolpix P2.

We are studying the best way for the students to share/distribute/present their images. A lot, of course, will depend on the faculty member's preferences. All we can do is provide choices, and be ready to support them.

There are free (or almost free) "social software" web-based solutions.

Blogger, example at
You could then create a podcast or RSS feed with feedburner

Or Flickr, and connect the two? You could also use Flickr by itself, without a blog.
Other choices are PowerPoint, WebCT image database (my team is shying away from this), Photoshop Web Photo Gallery (uploaded to WebCT).

There is also the wiki. I wrote up a tutorial for uploading images to a wiki we support (in Help)
but no students uploaded images. They were not required to, which may be one reason they didn't.

The students will use Photoshop Elements for editing the images, this is installed in all our computer labs and Keyserved.

The camera also can shoot short QuickTime movies, with audio, and there is an interesting debate on our team regarding how much this will be used.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Image upload test

I was wondering how well blogs would work for image uploading for a student project, so this is a test.
It is an 800 x 550 pixel image, 72 dpi, 76 kb jpeg. Uploaded using the "small thumbnail", center image. This is the maximum size that fits in a MediaWiki page, displaying on a 1024x768 monitor.

This also gets also in the issue of how to best present students' images for the purpose of class assignment, in a linear fashion (PowerPoint, blog), or image-set (Flickr, wiki). I don't think there is a mature image-display-collection tool out there yet, that can be hosted locally at an institution, without a lot of time or expense, that has all the features we want.

Gallery2 seems a good "home-brew" flickr candidate, but I have not heard of many higher-ed institutions adopting it, and there is a bit of the "herd instinct" at work in higher ed. Having bucked it enough times, I'm not in the mood now...

Looking ahead to video, I want to analyze the code to this
We can host the videos on one of our servers, and just link to them from our blogs.

My first post

Ok, I've started a few test blogs with Apple's Weblog Server, included in OSX Server. Seems great for creating podcasts, but not many features for just a blog. So, am testing Blogger. I'm wondering right now about these features:
1. Is it free to use without any ads showing up?
2. Can images be easily loaded (a bit of a bear in Weblog Server)
3. How about video and audio clips? Formats, size limitations?
4. How does the blog transfer to a podcast?
5. Can I edit my posts at a later time?
6. Comment moderation? Getting spammed?
7. Suitability for instruction. Jean-Claude Bradley at Drexel University seems to use it pretty well.