Blogging and Why We Need An Expanded View

Blogging and Why We Need An Expanded View

How we write online has drastically changed (and improved) since blogging software first began being offered in the late 1990s. Up until then, people had to write in HTML and figure out how to set up a website to publish their words of wisdom. After Blogger, things changed. Just about anyone could set up a blog, especially since you didn’t have to know anything about HTML. It was easy and quick; write and save to an online form and within seconds your words would wrap around the globe.

And then, things starting changing with the advent of social networks. Tools like Twitter and Facebook transformed how we communicated–instantaneously using a limited number of characters. The word “microblogging” came into vogue, and people started posting and sharing those posts more quickly and with more power than through traditional blogging. Has this changed how we view blogging?

There are still major differences between posting to Twitter and blogging on WordPress. Blogging software provides you with a polished and professional website, along with navigation tools and customization. You can post as many words as you want. And you don’t need to be a member of a social network to read and write posts.

However, there are instances where using a social network either in conjunction with or as a substitute for your blog makes sense. When posting to a blog, you might want to enable instant updates about your new posts to your Twitter, Facebook, G+ and other social networks. Or, you can decide to post to your G+ Home page and then Tweet that post.

I guess the main conclusion to this confusion is that whatever you use, you can create an audience for your writing and add to your social networks. In fact, you may decide to have several types of blogs or online writing spaces.

Perhaps you are collecting recipes for a tailgate party and feel that Pinterest would work best. Or, you are writing your memoirs and want them to be highly visible and accessible, deciding to go with Blogger or WordPress. You might want to communicate with your students about upcoming homework assignment reminders and use your class Twitter feed. For your videos, you might want to share and comment through your YouTube channel. For a photo album, you might want to share using G+, especially since uploading of images is a no-brainer when using your mobile device.

Blogging is so much more than posting your thoughts online. It can include sharing images, videos, audio files, podcasts, embedding content from other sites, polling, advertising, commerce, publishing books, creating online newspapers, and stuff I don’t even know about yet. And blogging software isn’t just a series of online forms anymore. It’s sophisticated and powerful—something you can use to build a website that includes powerful dynamic features.

So my argument is that we need an expanded view of blogging today. Blogging is an activity that can showcase many media, serve many purposes, and allow us to express ourselves in multiple formats. It is an activity and a tool—something we can use to empower people, transform lives, and make the world a better place. Of course, not all blogs follow these high standards. But then again, we have the choice to not read them.

What are your current thoughts on blogging and blogging platforms? Has your blogging changed over time?

10 Reasons You Should Use Google+ Instead of Email

10 Reasons You Should Use Google+ Instead of Email

During this semester, I’m trying something new. I’m asking students to NOT send me emails. Yes, you read that right–no emails, please. Instead of composing an email, sending it, waiting for me to read it, think about it, then respond, I’m asking my students to communicate with me using Google+.

If you have not used Google+, you should. It’s a powerful communication, collaboration, and publication tool that can not only increase your productivity, but can save you from the email monster.

You can think of Google+ as a communication tool, like email, but much more convenient and with added value and features. Here are just a few reasons I think it’s better than email:

1. You can send messages to one person or groups of people in your custom G+ circles

message google+

Want to send a message to a group of people, but have not created a group (remember we used to call these “distribution lists”)? Send a message through G+ and select one person or circles you have created to send messages. (If you are concerned some of these people are not checking their G+ notifications, you always have the option of also checking “Also send an email.”)

2. You can view your new notifications in Google+ and respond to them quickly and efficiently.

google+ notifications

I find this particularly helpful in staying on track and up-to-date with messages and responses.

3. You can edit your messages.

For an English major, this is indispensable. I can’t tell you how many times I cringe when I’ve viewed an email I’ve sent with spelling errors. With G+, you can always edit your messages, add more content, whatever. Instead of sending yet another email with information you forgot to include, you can edit your original G+ post. How handy.

4. You can delete messages.

Let’s say you realized you didn’t need to send a message. You can delete it in G+. That’s it. Easy.

5. You can mention someone in your posts.

Google+ allows you to add a person’s G+ name (you enter it with a + in front of it) in a post, which isn’t sent directly to them, but alerts them they are mentioned. Perhaps you are referring to a person’s post and want them to know how you feel about it. I guess the email equivalent of this would be to copy someone.

6. You can re-share posts to other people, circles, and/or communities.

Let’s say you just read an interesting post and wanted to re-share it with your faculty group or class community. It’s easy to do that in G+. Try doing that in email (which would be the equivalent of forwarding an email.) Unless you already had groups set up, you would need to enter each email address. Kind of inefficient, isn’t it?

7. You can disable re-shares of posts.

This allows you to not allow re-sharing of your posts. Perhaps you sent a private message and do not want that person to re-share that message. Of course, he or she could easily copy and paste your message and whirl that around the Internet, but this would be unethical and inappropriate.

8. You can analyze your activity in Google+.

Using a tool called “CircleCount,” you can view all sorts of statistics on your G+ activity–what was your most read post, days and times people commented on your posts, the number of re-shares, and other valuable data. In my case, I use this information to plan and implement better communication tactics. For instance, I’ve discovered that most of my students comment on posts during Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with Sundays by far being the most comments. This is not a surprising fact, since most of my students are working teachers who use Sundays and weekends to complete their work.

Another tool called Allmyplus provides additional statistics that help you analyze your activity and identify best practices for sharing.

9. Threaded conversations are easier to follow than email.

Let’s face it–email that contains multiple threads and different people you’ve copied can be confusing and messy. G+ posts are easy to follow and track, and searching within Google+ provides you with more valuable information than searching your email inbox.

10. Email resides in your inbox–Google+ is about reading, writing, sharing, publishing.

Email is contained in isolated spaces–your email inbox. Google+ posts can be private, of course, but can be re-shared and also shared with your custom circles or the entire public–the choice is yours. By using Google+, you are participating in a more varied and dynamic environment–you aren’t working in isolation. People comment on your posts, they re-share them, and you become part of a growing, robust community of people who want to share knowledge.

What are your thoughts? Are you using Google+ on a regular basis? Do you still use email as your sole communication tool? Please post your comments–I’d love to hear from you.

Software Tools I like for Multimedia Productions

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I’m currently working on building an online course to teach instructors how to create effective multimedia to improve learning. One of the resources I created was a list of software tools that they might like using. I thought I’d share this with my readers as well. Let me know if you have any favorites that should be added to the list!


Tools are constantly changing. But one thing is almost for certain–they keep getting easier to use!

Just about all tools have a free trial download. Test out tools you think you might like to use. Post questions or comments about a particular tool to our Production Tools Discussion Forum.

Following is a list of tools that I have found to be very helpful to create effective and doable multimedia productions:


Image Editing Tools

You will most likely need to edit some images, especially ones you find online. Remember to search for re-usable images using Google Image Search http://images.google.com or other search engines/tools.

IMPORTANT: You should know how to determine the image file size. On an Apple, simply click the image file and select Apple Control + I. Right click on Windows and select Properties. For most web uses, jpg and gif images work best. File size should be no more than 200 KB per image. Try to get the size as small as possible without quality loss.

Preview (Included in Mac operating system) This is by far the easiest tool to resize images, if that is all you need to do. I use it constantly.

iPhoto (Included in Mac operating system) Excellent tool to edit and manipulate photos.

Microsoft Paint: I’m not sure if this program is still available in the new version of Windows, so if anyone can let me know–thanks! However, I know in the past it was a decent photo/image editor.

GimpShop: http://www.gimpshop.com/download.shtml Free, multi-platform, open-source image editing program. I have not used this version, but it is supposed to be very similar to PhotoShop, if you are accustomed to that interfact.

Adobe Fireworkshttp://www.adobe.com/products/fireworks.html This is a better image editor for web design than PhotoShop.

PowerPoint (available for Windows & Mac): Yes, Microsoft PowerPoint can be used as a very simple image creator. Slides can be saved as images, so don’t forget about using this for screencast entry screens or other applications.


Screencasting Tools

Camtasia http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html (Windows & Mac)

JingProject http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html (Windows & Mac) Limited to 5 minutes.

Snag-It http://www.techsmith.com/snagit.html (Windows & Mac)

Captivate http://www.adobe.com/products/captivate.html (Windows) (Also includes simulation options and embedded quizzes)

Screencast-o-matic: http://www.screencast-o-matic.com (Windows & Mac)

Screenr http://www.screenr.com (browser-based)

QuickTime http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/ (included in Mac operating system/available for purchase for Windows)

Google Hangouts (Browser-based) Yes, you can actually use Google Hangouts (make sure you do a Hangout on Air) and then share your screen. Just hangout by yourself, share your screen and talk and then your video will be published to your YouTube account. From there, you can edit the video in the YouTube editor.


Video Recording/Editing Tools

Mobile Devices: iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android mobile OS: Mobile devices include recording apps to create, record, and publish multimedia. Get to know your mobile device and try out the various ways you can produce multimedia. I suggest getting a tripod and tripod adaptor to keep your device steady while recording.

YouTube: http://youtube.com Yes, you can record a video from your webcam directly in YouTube and even edit it. So, this provides a super-quick and easy way to get videos recorded and online. How to do this: http://support.google.com/youtube/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=57409

Windows Movie Maker (included in Windows operating system). You can upload a WMV file to YouTube, but please do not upload a WMV file to Moodle for viewing, as these files are only viewable (without additional software) on Windows operating systems. Try to only offer formats that are viewable on multiple platforms, such as mp4.

iMovie (included in Mac operating system) (Also available as an app for iOS, with great editing tools/features)

Photo Booth (included in Mac operating system)

QuickTime http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/ (included in Mac operating system/available for purchase for Windows)

>>Prompting Software

This enables you to more seamlessly follow a script. My colleague has used Promptster, recording on his iPad with incredible results.

Prompster Pro Apphttps://itunes.apple.com/us/app/prompster-pro/id378704861?mt=8


Presentation Tools

Authorstreamhttp://authorstream.com (web-based) I really like this tool because you can upload a narrated PowerPoint, and the tool includes the audio without doing any extra work. You sometimes have issues with PowerPoint for Mac, but I have had very good luck with this tool. It is free and allows anyone to view a narrated PowerPoint through a web browser. Again, you should almost NEVER upload a PowerPoint for viewing online. The files are too large and it requires the user to have this software on his/her computer in order to view it. Remember to always strive to create multimedia that can be viewed on ANY operating system. That means do not upload Windows-only media files!

Prezi http://prezi.com A different type of presentation tool that uses a zooming canvas format. You can now record narration in Prezi (you will need to create separate files and upload to each slide/path). Free tool that takes some time to learn.

VoiceThreadhttp://voicethread.com VoiceThread is great, but the free accounts only allow you to create up to five VoiceThreads–not very convenient. They offer licenses and also LTI integration with Moodle, so it’s a tool that maybe should be considered for CCIM courses.

Animoto: http://animoto.com This tool creates quick and professional-looking presentations from images. You can add music or narration. To produce longer videos, you need to purchase a license.

Adobe Presenter http://www.adobe.com/products/presenter.html (Windows) As with most Adobe products, the price is steep, but the quality is excellent. This tool allows you to create online presentations with many additional features, such as attaching files and embedding quizzes. If you also have an Adobe Connect account, then you can track the statistics on your presentations and quiz feedback.

SlideSharehttp://slideshare.net (web-based) This is another excellent browser-based slideshow tool that is free and visible on any computer. However, if you have audio narration (which I highly recommend for almost ANY type of slideshow presentation) you need to upload the audio files separately and then sync them manually.

authorPOINThttp://authorpoint.com (Windows only) It’s been a while since I’ve visited this site, but it appears they still offer a decent PowerPoint to flash converter. However, this is not a free tool.

iSpring PowerPoint to HTML5 converter http://www.ispringsolutions.com (Windows only) This looks like an excellent tool, but is a bit pricey.


Timelines

Timeline JShttp://timeline.verite.co This is a timeline tool that works with Google Sheets and looks very promising. I have not used it, but timelines can be very useful, especially for the creator. Although you may not think a timeline would be useful, you might think of something, such as real estate trends, for instance.

Xtimelinehttp://xtimeline.com


Concept Maps

Bubbl.us https://bubbl.us Collaborative online concept mapping tool. Perhaps students could collaborate in creating concept map for an assignment.

CMAP Tools http://cmap.ihmc.us/download/ Downloadable concept mapping tool. Can export as PDF or image and insert on course site to explain concepts or connections.


Comic/Animation Tools

Pixtonhttp://www.pixton.com

Toondohttp://www.toondoo.com

Xtranormalhttp://xtranormal.com


Collage Tools

Glogsterhttp://glogster.com

Padlethttp://padlet.com

Wordlehttp://www.wordle.net


Curation Tools

Pinteresthttp://pinterest.com

Storifyhttps://storify.com

Delicioushttps://delicious.com

Diigohttps://www.diigo.com

Paper.lihttp://paper.li


Audio Recording/Editing Tools

Voice Memo (iPhone/iPod) Excellent quality audio recorder (can also trim recordings) that can be shared via messaging or email. File format is m4a.

Voice Recorders on Android devices: Again, excellent quality recordings which offer more options for uploading to cloud storage, such as Dropbox.

Audacityhttp://audacity.sourceforge.net Free, multiplatform, open-source audio recording/editing program. Excellent and easy to use. Make sure you also install the LAME encoder to encode audio files to mp3.

GarageBand (Included in Mac operating system) Chris and I have used this tool for years in our Cool Teacher Podcast.

QuickTime http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/ (included in Mac operating system/available for purchase for Windows)


Static Tutorial Creation Tools

Remember, not all tutorials need to be narrated videos. You might want to create a very quick static tutorial with text and images. The one program I really love is Clarify-It, as it enables quick creation of tutorials, publishing them online and also offering HTML code and PDF creation.

Clarify-ithttp://www.clarify-it.com

Using the External Blogging Feature in Moodle

I like to create multiple ways for students to share, interact, and communicate in online courses. We use Moodle in our department (Boise State Department of Educational Technology). As Moodle continues to evolve, with its active community of developers, I am discovering new ways to create more seamless and even public interaction.

Moodle has always included built-in blogs, which can be set to be course and even page-related. So, if you want your students to easily post to a course blog, you can do this. Or, if you want them to post to their blog about a certain page, you can do that too. And, you can always post site-wide to a Moodle installation.

Another neat feature in the Moodle blogging toolset is the ability to register an external blog and then set certain tag filters to automatically post to your Moodle blog. This creates a super-easy way to share posts you’ve written to your blog automatically to your Moodle site. I’m using this post as an example of how to do this.

(Note: You may need to confirm with your Moodle administrator that the blogging feature has been enabled, along with the registering of external blogs.)

First of all, you will need to register your blog, which requires you add the feed URL. Go to your Moodle profile settings and select “Register an external blog.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 10.24.39 AM

Then, add the FEED URL of your blog to the required information and add a filter tag to send any posts with this tag to your Moodle blog. You can also designate if you want your Moodle blog to contain certain tags, too, which will enable filtering on the Moodle site of blog posts.

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 10.28.37 AM

Click “Save changes” and then navigate to your blog to create a new post, using the Filter tags you specified when you created an external blog. Publish your post and then you should be able to view that on the Moodle site. (Note: There may be a delay based upon how often your Moodle cron jobs are set up–I believe about 24 hours for Moodle to detect new posts on an external blog.)

So, your students might simply want to post to their own blogs and use their filter tags to automatically send to their Moodle blogs.

I think this is a powerful feature, and something that maybe many instructors and course designers might not be aware of. I highly recommend trying out and using blogs in Moodle courses, as an alternative to discussion forums. Of course, if you want to grade discussions, then Moodle blogs are not the choice, as they cannot be rated/graded.

Let me know about your experiences with using the blogging tools in Moodle and also the external blog feature.

Using Gmail Chat in an online course

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I like to make my courses personal and myself easily accessible to my students. One really easy way to do this is to encourage or rather force your students to use Gmail Chat to contact you. If you are an online instructor, then you spend a lot of time online. Also with the availability of mobile devices, you can be accessible almost anywhere, anytime for your students.

This does not mean that you should have no time of your own! You can decide when to answer Gmail chat inquiries from your students. And most students will understand you are not available 24 hours 7 days a week.

However using Gmail chat can be of great benefit to your students and yourself in answering quick questions and moving forward. The last thing I want to see is a pile of emails in my inbox that I need to read and then answer. I’d rather have a student contact me instantly, ask the question, and get on with our lives.

It is essential that you have your students add your email to their Gmail contact list. You will receive a notification that someone has invited you and all you have to do is accept.

From here on out that student will be able to contact you synchronously using Gmail chat.

Provide tutorial links to your students so that they know how to add you to their contact list and also how to access gmail chat. You might also tell them about the various mobile apps that will enable them to chat with you when they are on the move with their mobile devices.

Here are Google links that will provide this information:

How to add a contact in Gmail: http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=8933

How to use Gmail chat: http://support.google.com/chat/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=161934

How to install the Google Voice video plugin: http://support.google.com/chat/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=161993

Gmail chat also offers you the ability to send text messages, so your students could send a text message to your mobile number without incurring any additional charges on their own mobile device. Plus if they don’t have a mobile device they can still send you text messages this way. I highly recommend setting up a Google Voice account and using this number as your cell phone number. That way you won’t have to give out your personal cell phone number to your students.

Also tell your students if they have an android mobile device they can use the Google Talk app, which will allow them to communicate with you via gmail chat. If they are using an iPhone, they can use very if third party apps. IMO is a nice iPhone app.

So stay current with your students, create a personal atmosphere– a dynamic community of learners that will appreciate your immediate support and the free flow of communication.

Embed authorSTREAM on WordPress

My students are working on a collaborative project this week, tackling a pretty difficult scenario on digital inequality. It’s a lot to ask to complete in just one week–the topic itself deserves more time and then add online collaboration to that– and well, I hope my students will still talk to me after this!

However, it’s summer session, which means a 16-week course is compressed into eight. It’s a great way to obtain 3 graduate credits, but it’s a grind–for both teacher AND students.

I just heard from one of my students about not being able to embed authorSTREAM on WordPress, so I’m writing a post to address that. I find that writing a blog post to answer a student’s questions is a great way to keep posting to my blog, while also answering student questions.

On to the authorSTREAM embed problems—

I tested the WordPress embed code in authorSTREAM and guess what–IT DIDN’T WORK!

So, I did a little digging (took me about 3 minutes) and found a post on authorSTREAM support forum saying that the WordPress embed code would not work on WordPress.com sites. They also stated that the regular embed code would work. Well, anyone who works with WordPress.com knows that any embed code with flash tags will be stripped out–so that embed code will not work either.

What to do? Short codes with the gigya syntax. After all, I figured out how to embed a Prezi using gigya, so why not authorSTREAM?

Here is the syntax I used to embed the authorSTREAM presentation below:

And here is the embedded authorSTREAM:

To locate the file information, I simply copied and pasted the embed code from authorSTREAM to a text file and located the embed src= and copied the information after the “swf?”

You should be able to copy my gigya syntax and simply paste the information after the swf? into the end of my gigya syntax.

Let me know if you have been successful embedding an authorSTREAM presentation on WordPress.com using another syntax or method.

A Google Chat App for Your iPhone: Monal IM

I use Gmail chat on my computer extensively to talk with students, answering quick questions, and troubleshooting issues they might have. I’ve convinced them that using this method is far faster and easier than writing, sending, reading, and responding to multiple emails. However, I’m not always on my computer and want to be able to remain connected as much as possible when I’m mobile. Thus, the need to use my iPhone to connect to Gmail Chat.

It should be easy, right? Well, if you are an iPhone user, you probably already know that Google does not offer a decent mobile app for their Gmail Chat service. I’ve tried going to http://google.com/talk on my iPhone using Safari browser and am redirected to a help page for Google Chat. Hm . . .

How about using the Google+ app on the iPhone? Problem with this is you can only chat using their Messenger feature, which means you can only chat with your Google+ circles Again, not very useful. :(

Up until this point, I’ve been using Meebo on my iPhone and iPad, which has worked ok, but I really dislike their interface and colors. Guess I’ve been using Apple products to long! Then, I read that Google purchased Meebo (http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405581,00.asp), which is shutting down on July 11, so it’s time to delete yet another app.

Today, I read a great blog post “Getting Google Talk on the iPhone” http://www.felocity.com/article/getting_google_talk_on_the_iphone and experimented with some of the tools suggested.

I’ve decided to try using Monal IM (http://monal.im/) for several reasons:

  1. It works.
  2. It’s free.
  3. Interface is clean and simple to use.
  4. NO ADS! This is a huge plus for me–I just cannot stand those ads that hide part of my screen.
  5. Connects directly using XMPP, a protocol that is supposed to offer better security, real-time push notification, and was designed for online chatting. For more about XMPP, read this: http://onesocialweb.org/developers-xmpp.html
  6. And probably the best reason of all with the new iPhone’s voice to text feature: YOU CAN SEND YOUR MESSAGES BY TALKING. I’m probably going to be using my iPhone even when I’m on the computer, since voice to text is so much faster than typing.

I can see only one drawback–since it uses no third-party service to connect, you need to have the app open on your mobile device for it to work. I’ll keep experimenting with various mobile apps to use IM to communicate, but so far, this looks like an app I won’t be deleting soon.

What are you using for an IM client on your iPhone? I’d love to hear some of your experiences and recommendations.