Notes on Jim’s blogging workshop

Today I attended Jim Sullivan’s workshop “Blogging Across the Disciplines“. Although I’m always thrilled to listen to and learn from Jim, there were a few ideas I picked out that I’m going to work on.

The first was the way Jim’s class blogs with students emphasize the public nature of the blog. His class blogs make clear that the assignments are public writing, and he also posts to an audience rather than just to the students. When I blogged with students, I made the mistake of not emphasizing the public nature of the blog. Rather I was just using WordPress like an LMS. What I missed was the opportunity for students to change their writing in response to an audience (even if that audience doesn’t comment – I didn’t track the visitor stats either).

JimSBlogThe second idea was the way Jim makes students read each others’ work. Not only does he refer to student posts in his own comments, but he has quizzes where the student must match the post author with an idea from that author’s post.

His prompts are also expert. Just one example: “pick a scene from The Devil Wears Prada and explain what it says about work in America”. Instead of assigning the movie (which students would have to either watch or view scenes from), that exercise is embedded in the prompt. The legwork is theirs. And he creates a theme for each class (this one is work).

Some of the participants at the workshop had great ideas. One requires that student posts have “novelty” as a rubric item. Another considered assessing based on “connections”. Clarity about the goal of each post is crucial.

There was discussion about using the methods of ones discipline to design and assess student blogging. The scientific method was mentioned, and some faculty like to have students directly apply knowledge in their posts (rather than just “write about x”). I could do that with the historical method – review it with students, then ask them to apply it to the secondary source articles I assign. In fact, I could do that now, just in forum discussion.

Almost everything I heard in the workshop would also be useful in LMS-bound forums, in fact.

The alst idea occurred to me during the workshop. A blog would be a great site for a Learning Community. I’ve worked at MiraCosta for over 25 years, and during that time there have been various experiments with team-teaching, cluster classes, cohorts, and learning communities. At present it looks like the process is pretty bound up in an administrative sense. But there’s no need for that. Take two classes that work well together, plan it with the other instructor, and have both classes post to a common blog. Instant learning community.

So thanks to Jim Sullivan for another fab workshop!

Redesigning the open online class show: POT Cert

I spent last week at the Connected Courses workshop, where amazing people are creating an open online class about, basically, how to teach an open online class. The energy was such that it reminded me of my previous life working in the theatre. The design and beginning development of that class in many ways looks like our POT Cert Class looked last year. Or really, two years ago, when we ran it in WordPress, using the FeedWordpress plugin to aggregate the feeds from participants’ blogs.

But there’s a huge difference between POT Cert and the Connected Courses theatrical productions. Connected Courses is supported by a grant structure and has staff, techies, a paid director, and many resources in addition to the design team I got to be part of. A Best Play Tony would send 20 people up to the stage. POT’s certificate class has been run by community theatre style volunteers: myself, the POT leaders who wanted to work on it, and the generous moderators and mentors (faculty, ed tech folks, and others) who paid it forward after getting their own certificate or joined out of altruism, love, appreciation, or insanity.

la_cage_1
La Cage Aux Folles original cast, 1983

We have no money to act as either motivator or thanks – this is not professional theatre. We refused money years ago, because it corrupts our artistic freedom. But this isn’t a world where people can really afford to work for pizza (or retweets or good reviews), and no one wants to run the same show year after year. We must economize. Even Les Miserables and La Cage aux Folles have pared down their production designs. I think a lot of the POT Cert cast and crew have tired of doing it.

Another reason for ennui may be because the class never seems to move forward. Even the best, most experienced online instructor could become bored with the same interpretation of the same play.

I teach History to community college students. While my methods and materials may change each term, the students do not – they are beginners in History in the same way the faculty who need the POT Cert Class are beginners in online teaching. In both cases we’re trying to help newbies, not only by teaching them methods and having them explore content. Like any good play, we have a message. For History, my message is that primary sources can be put together into diverse narratives that answer the needs of society at the time. For online teaching, POT’s message is that faculty must begin with their own pedagogy, and then select and control the technologies that support and expand that pedagogy in the online environment. It’s the reason POT exists – to start faculty with pedagogy rather than letting technology control them. We don’t want an audience who’s seen this show before.

My emphasis in the old days was design, and in many ways it still is. Our current POT Cert design was moved from WordPress to Google Sites last year in order to simplify production with a smaller crew. As always, participants had to set up and run their own blogs, but instead of their posts feeding into a central blog via FeedWordpress, they had to post a link to their work in the discussion, and conversation took place at the Site instead of on their blogs. This worked well with the 25 or so participants we had, though I will never forgive Google Sites (or the many discussion forum alternatives) for not nesting replies cleanly, as WordPress does.

The number of participants in POT Cert has gotten slightly smaller each year, likely because there are now so many alternative shows competing with what we do (and I ain’t no Michael Eisner). Unfortunately, many of these Broadway alternatives provide technology training rather than pedagogical preparation, and are developed by educational technologists rather than in-the-trenches teachers. So what we do continues to be important. We rage against the Disney-fied edtech commercial culture machine.

Last year’s class in Google Sites was hard to run with three facilitators, though it was easier than in WordPress (FeedWordpress can have problems that would frustrate anyone who doesn’t code). And even with audience participation, the show runs too long for current tastes. At 24 weeks (a badge for each semester, and a certificate for completion of two semesters), it is a bit too Angels in America.

So this summer Laura and I began to design a self-paced learning pathway, with only six units, as a static WordPress site. It’s like the TV version of our class. The idea was that people could use the pathway themselves or in cohorts at their institutions. Communities using the content could be run elsewhere if desired, like friends sitting around a living room to experience it together. Or people could do the pathway on their own, and somehow automatically get a badge. But then the Connected Courses workshop reminded me that the cohort aspect of an open, online class is extremely important. The audience must feel and hear each other for it to work. I realized that the “self-paced” idea likely wouldn’t fly.

La Cage Aux Folles 2008 revival, London
La Cage Aux Folles 2008 revival, London

I think the new production will involve something like this:

1. Separation of the show from the audience 
This allows for more flexible use of the content, and a bit more instruction. And as we write it, Laura and I sense the joy of creation. Perhaps someday it will be a book, its own script.

2. Assigned seating 
Although anyone may use the content, we do need to “run” the community, and have continual feedback from other community members and ourselves. Without content, it’s just a community. Without community, it’s a disembodied course. With content and community connected, it’s a class. What happens on stage is only half, or less than half, of a successful show.

3. Audience as creators 
Our current class has always required participants to blog every week, with the final post of the semester and year consisting of a list of annotated links to all their previous work. It is that post, combined with their self-assessment, that we used to evaluate for the badge or certificate, since it puts everything in one place. Calling the blog posts something like Portfolio Assignments will make that clear from Day 1.

4. Angels in the Outfield instead of Angels in America 
If it has enough content, and more options for more experienced people, it should be possible to put what we need into a 12-week format.

So that’s where we’re headed, at least for now…I think we’ve got a show.

The illusion of the LMS/cloud-based/self-hosted solution

It happened all of a sudden. The feed from one POT Cert Class participant just wasn’t coming into the Pedagogy First aggregated blog. I spent hours trying to figure out why not – the feed finder screen would just go blank on only her feed. I Googled, I pounded, I went through what there is of FeedWordpress documentation. Mostly I wished I were Alan Levine  or Tim Owens.

I have mentioned before that technologies known for doing some really cool things are becoming unreasonably complicated. This particular technological problem rests on a self-hosted installation of the software WordPress (built and maintained by a wonderful community) and the FeedWordpress plugin (built and maintained by a wonderful coding person). When one gets updated, it often doesn’t play nice with the other. And I can’t fix it. I say again unto you, I am not a coder. I find code, I steal code, I envy code, but I do not code.

I finally asked that a new blog be created for this participant, and it seems to be feeding. For now. Of course, the other one had fed too, all of the first semester. Given my own significant limitations, we will not be able to do this again this way next year.

The recipe at the moment is this. Start with recent adventures with self-hosted Moodle, add this new self-hosted WordPress crisis, mix with a dash of cloud failure (Google abandoning Reader, Posterous closing shop, and SeesmicWeb being bought and killed by the inferior HootSuite ). Stir and cook with a big dollop of my recent participation in reviewing a publisher-created program for grading student essays, and you have the kind of disillusionment you get by realizing you have already been devoured by the whale but didn’t know it.

hydraThe monsters (big proprietary systems, cloud-based sites, self-hosting) appeared to be separate, but were actually all parts of the same beast.

Self-hosting, a domain of ones own, the path of ds106  and the noble D’Arcy Norman – this has been the antidote to the bullying tactics of the LMS and publisher-created content. I have held it up as the way to avoid both big proprietary monsters and the vagaries of the disappearing web apps and fly-by-night cloud offerings. I have scoffed (quietly) at those who said they could not run their own blog, it was too hard. While I have not been guilty of encouraging anyone to run their own Moodle installation, I have persisted in doing it myself as a bulwark against Moodlling ignorance and exterally-run systems.

All this begins to seem like folly, a folly based on desire. An example: I want nested discussion forums where students can post multimedia, so I have Moodle. I find out today that (cloud-based) Schoology has nested forums! Yay! No! Wait! They are touted around the web as a “start up” of four years or so who use proprietary code (cue John Williams’ Empire Strikes Back music). I will have a free class, but never be able to access it otherwise, years down the line.

Fact is, none of these options are perfect, or even sufficient. The big LMS systems (including Moodle) upgrade and you can’t restore old courses and actually view student work – they say you can, but in fact it doesn’t work. I have all my courses backed up as Moodle .zip files, but now they’ve changed to .mbz.  Out in the cloud, I can export my Posterous as they close down, but when I import it into WordPress a bunch of stuff is wrong or missing or ugly. These things weren’t built to be transferrable, or to cater to the archiving tendencies of the mere customer. Whether proprietary and exorbitantly priced, or open source and impossible to run without an IT degreee,  none of the options have a sense of history, only a blindered vision of a future fulfilled by profits, market share, or geeky street cred.

Perhaps I am dissembling now to be running a class encouraging faculty to plunge into explorations of web tools and new technologies. I cannot in good conscience suggest anyone build a course around any of them. My colleague Todd Conaway  says that it’s better to learn from creating, to meet the challenge of the occasional failure, to engage the technologies and learn from them even if they’re transient. I know that is true. But if you spend too much time in the belly of the beast (whether self-hosted, cloud-based, or LMSed) , things start to smell fishy.

 

More on setting up a WP/FWP Open Online Class

I administer the technology for our POT Certificate Class. This is despite the fact that I do not code, don’t know PHP, and basically taught myself anything I happen to know, with a lot of help from my online network. Over a year ago, I posted about the initial setup.

One of our class participants, Jaime Oyarzo at the University of Alcala in Madrid, is trying to create a similar setup at his place, and so has been asking me about what I’ve done. Responding to him gave me the opportunity to pick apart what I’ve done a little more.

Participants set up their own blog wherever. Then I need to get the feeds from those blogs into the Pedagogy First! aggregated blog, using FeedWordPress.  I use the Add Link widget (yes, I know it’s old) so participants can add their own, and have provided more extensive instructions for them about blogs and feeds. In particular, we want people who post on many subjects to not only use the “potcert” tags for their posts, but use the feed for that tag only. This is so only their class-related posts show up on the class blog.

The back end of this process is a little more complicated. When participants enter their information in Add Link, it goes directly into the Blogroll. The Blogroll is what feeds into FeedWordPress as a default.

I customize the titles of feeds and the names of participants to use their real names for everything. I change the titles of feeds by going into FWP’s Syndication area and using Feeds & Updates. Using the drop down menu to bring up a particular blog, I change the title and click manual control so it doesn’t revert back the next time the feed updates. When I do this, it seems to update automatically in the Links area. Then I go to Users and make sure their names are their full names by editing them individually.

I also want a widget listing everyone’s blog so that readers can go directly to anyone’s blog at any time. For this, I use a Links widget with a Link Category (this year I called it “Certificate Students, Mentors and Facilitators”). On the Links page, I make sure that everyone’s blog is in that category so it shows.

I created this visual primary to show Jaime what I was doing – he helped me refine it:

For some reason, this year I have experienced no CPU throttling that I’m aware of. I’m using CPU throttling to check load because I had big trouble with it in my summer Moodle class – only 40 students and it was constantly overloading. But despite last year’s problems, I haven’t seen any problems yet, even though I forget to optimize the database more frequently than every two days, the default setting.

So just FYI for anyone trying to do this without knowing how to code.

Blog? Student blogs? LMS? Uh oh. LMS.

Planning my first online History honors course, I immediately assumed I’d be doing something different, more connectivist, more open-ended. I figured it would start, as so many good things do, with a fresh WordPress blog.

But then I thought, the students should each have their own blog. Edublogs and WordPress.com don’t have enough free features, though, and they might get caught in freemium traps. That’s OK – my college now has WordPress. I found out that another instructor had set up blogs for all his students last semester. Except that it was extremely time consuming, involved a separate server, and he used an assistant to do the hands-on setup. I have more students and no assistant –  I’ll end up teaching WordPress more than history and dreading sys admin as a massive time suck.

Better go with a single blog under my own control, multi-author.

So I made one. Even made a really cool banner.

 

Then I started thinking some more, as I began downloading the many plugins: Akismet for spam, Comment Form toolbar so they could embed media in comments, Comment Image for a similar thing, comments-like so they could “like” each other’s comments, Custom Meta for better guidance signing in, Email users so I could email them all, iframe Preserver to help the pages with info, nCode Image Resizer to prevent huge images, Simply Exclude to control visible pages, Top Commentators to add a little competition, User Photo, WP Super Cache to prevent overloading the CPU, etc etc etc.

I started to realize what I was doing – trying to make WordPress more like an LMS. Moodle in particular.

What was gained by doing this? A public space, which they may not want anyway. My own control with my own rented server, which I could also have using my own Moodle. A blog format, with more independence and reflection. Did I want that?

I started to think about my students. Yes, it’s an Honors class, with a lower enrollment cap so we can get to know each other better and a tip hats to more individualized instruction. But only some students are from the Honors program – the class is open to anyone. I lost a student in my standard class this semester and encouraged her to enroll for this one. Even a higher number of Honors students doesn’t mean they’ll know anything about blogs. I’ll still be teaching WordPress.

That’s OK, said I, let’s look at pedagogy! To go all connectivist and bloggy, I’d have to give up some things. Textbook? No big deal getting rid of that. Quizzes? I’d love to ditch them. My forums where I have them post a primary source then write about the collection they’ve built, and it all shows on the same page so they can compare their work and revise?  Um…..

No. It came down to a pedagogy meets technology decision. For students to post sources each week and form a collection on a blog, they’d need to use tags (for both era and topics) so the sources would post onto a page for that era or be easy to find later. They’d need to search tags to find evidence. I’d need to set up many pages. The format would be sloppy, and as the class advances into using more evidence for writing, things would get very confusing. Blogs are call-and-response systems, not repositories. Tagging is not natural behavior for ordinary mortals on the web – it must be taught.

Perhaps my goals don’t really dovetail with the blog format. It’s not like ds106, where you pick and choose and create and move on – here the work is dependent on that of others, not just referencing that of others. It’s not like a CCK class, where you participate in the sections you’re interested in. Here there is a set curriculum, and a particular method I want to use, a method that has students discovering, interacting, writing extensively, practicing… it sounds blog-like, but it’s done a different way.

I started to argue with myself. Again, what was I gaining from using WordPress? Did I want the shift to reflection implied by the use of ongoing posts? Did I want to recreate something like the POT Cert Class? Did I want to teach the students, not only about WordPress, but about the big web world, the people who might read and comment, the difference between the open web and an LMS, the possible joys and dangers? Sure, I could do all this, but did I want them focusing on that stuff instead of finding great primary sources, observing their colleagues, and creating their own theses based on a slow, modelled, practiced development of their historical thinking? With so little time that they’d be willing and able to dedicate to the class, did I want to use time teaching these (admittedly valuable) things, when they were not central to my objectives?

So I’ve backed away, to my own Moodle install. I feel like a traitor, but it won’t be the first time. I’ve created something, a method I love, a method I want to write about and publish about, and I happened to create it inside a particular LMS where it works well. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work outside it. I can indeed recreate it inside WP or a Ning or somewhere else (though Blackboard would be a nasty challenge). If I combine this method with the convenience of grading posts, having them spend their outside recess time looking for sources, and teaching them about sources and citations and writing and how to use the big web to do history …it will be better for all of us.

Alan Levine made this for me only a short time ago (translated roughly as “I use an LMS only for management”). I wonder whether this is already not true, or whether it’s management in the sense of managing a pedagogical process, or whether it’s just a matter of choosing the best tool for the job. Maybe I’ve never risen above having too many students in each section, and I want that drop-down grading menu. Maybe I’m maturing away from the knee-jerk reaction against an LMS, a reaction which makes no sense anyway given my own ability to twist the suckers into almost anything I want them to be. Maybe it’s all a massive justification to keep a familiar workflow so I can focus on developing a new class.

I confess – I’m really not sure.

 

Previous posts along similar lines:

Dividing the Pool

photo cc finalgirl via Flickr

I’ve gotten out the rope with the red floaty balls and divided the pool.

The main page of the POT Certificate Class now features posts from those who enrolled to earn a certificate, their mentors, and our facilitators. It’s the shallow end. We’ll all do the same thing, learn the same strokes, wear the water wings, till everyone is comfortable.

A separate page now features posts from those who wanted a larger experience, not so guided, more open to big ideas, comparisons and experimentation. It’s the deep end, where you can dive, swim laps real fast, or do cannonballs, and no one will complain.

Getting ready for the POT Online Certificate Class (the SMOOC)

I’m getting the new Pedagogy First! blog set up for the Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class, our open online class to help prepare folks to teach in a web environment. We’ll start officially September 1. It’s a 24 week class that runs 12 weeks in fall and 12 weeks in spring. People can participate from anywhere as we learn and blog our progress together. We’re still drafting, but the syllabus and instructions are being set up here.

We had 90 participants to start last year, from all over the world, with 16 completing the full requirements for the certificate.

Our big change from last year is that, like the wonderful ds106 at UMW, we’re going to expect participants to set up their own blog in a hosted environment. Last year we encouraged the use of Edublogs or WordPress.com, but we quickly found out that these services are starting to charge money for the basic things we need to do, like embed media.

So we’re doing two things to encourage people to get in there and get dirty early on. The first is a two-week workshop prior to the class starting, which will take place in the POT Facebook group. Led by myself and Todd Conaway, we’ll try to answer questions and help people out. Our second approach is to move some of the reading and other tasks for later in the course, so that people can have more time to wrestle with WordPress in the first couple of weeks.

I’m having my own technical problems, of course, just like I did last year. Again, I am unable to figure out why some of the syndicated feeds coming in through FeedWordpress are saying “Comments are closed” even though they are set to open on both the home blog and in the theme and FWP settings on the aggregated blog.

As always, it’s just us, a small group of volunteer faculty we call the Program for Online Teaching, plus our previous participants and certificate earners helping as mentors and moderators. We call it a SMOOC because it’s a Small to Medium Open Online Course (unlike the Massive MOOCs with thousands of people – we’re small and we’re proud).

The tag will be “potcert12” in Twitter and elsewhere, and you needn’t commit to a certificate to join in the fun. Open, casual, one-night-stand participants are welcome – we’ll just need the feed for your tagged posts when the time comes. Won’t you join us?

Where’s your class? musings on course location

I noticed that Dave Cormier is using a single course blog for his ed366 class, with students as authors. Back in November, I was working on this issue with Brandon Davis-Shannon, whether it is better to have students run their own blogs or work on one big blog, and I’m thinking about it again as I plan my History 103 for fall.

I have done one big blog before, but never many student blogs (except for the POT Certificate Class). Dave has done both and notes:

It is interesting to me that engagement would be lost when students run their own blogs, versus posting on one big blog. It brings up questions about where students perceive the course is located, as well as the usual issues about motivation and self-motivation.

In addition, it may be about the changing world of online courses in the past year or so.

The typical online course offered by an institution is one kind, and for this model students translate their classroom thinking to the online class. The thinking is that on-site the class is held in Room 601, and online it’s held in Blackboard (or another LMS) or at a particular URL or website (though that’s more rare).

It’s hard for students to really see a course that’s held “on the web”, or one where their work is based in their own space, and aggregated somehow for all to see. That involves a mental shift much greater than just on-site to online.

That mental shift is encouraged by MOOCs, at least in their Couros/Siemens/Downes/Cormier/Groom model. Self-direction and/or connectivism are engrained in the format of the classes. (I’m gonna call it the CSDCG model, because no one can stop me.)

But there is another pseudo-MOOC model now, subdivided into two categories which sometimes overlap: institutional (think Stanford, MIT) and commercial (think Curtis Bonk’s class in Coursesites). These are beloved by the New York Times and the Chronicle, who are seeking to reframe educational trends. They are becoming the mental-shifting model instead of the original MOOC design.

That may be because they are held in Learning Management Systems or sites that act like LMSs (I’m afraid I have to count WordPress here, because of its use in this context). This model perpetuates the idea that “class is here“. Yes, you can run your own blog, but it’s preferred that you blog “inside the classrom”. It’s just easier for people to get their head around the idea that the class is at the instructor’s website. It fits with their current thinking, but expands it into the world of blogging. It also fits for instructors who need the two things LMSs are best at: enrollment management and grade tracking.

That seems to be the middle ground, and pedagogically it may be better not to push the envelope too much with students (at least if you want them to stay enrolled). Despite my own learning preferences, which are open and aggregated, most students aren’t conceptually ready for this kind of learning, and the cognitive dissonance overcomes their willingness to engage (which, for some, wasn’t that high to start with).

We can argue for years whether their lack of readiness is apathy, behavioral training in K-12, or cultural ennui, but most of us “practitioners” are interested in what works: what keeps them enrolled, encourages engagement, allows some independence, but doesn’t cause panic. Plus there are increasing concerns about asking students to create their own space at third-party sites, which collect and use student information and content in ways we may not consider ethical.

The WordPress Multi-User site, or the LMS that’s open to all, or the main blog where all blog within it but can have their content exported to save (which is what Dave is doing) may then be the preferred models for balancing these issues with those of exploration and innovation. They are being chosen because they take into account concerns of pedagogy and comfort, not because they can handle 1,000 students and use their content and personal information for other ends, but because they work.

NB: The only obvious exception to this balanced model is Jim Groom’s (plus) ds106, with its student-run blogs aggregated to a main WP site, and where clearly something magical happens. And possibly my own POT Certificate Class, where I have no idea why it (sort of) works, but I dare not apply it to a standard college class.

Web 2.0 Fail: Back to the Tree at the Fork in the Road?

Chris P Jobling via Flickr

This is a story of failure. Not, at first, the good kind of failure, the kind that leads to growth. In this case, it’s the kind of failure that leads you to go back on the trail, to find that tree around which you tied the ribbon, and take the other fork in the road.

For many years, I did all my web stuff myself. This was before a whole lot of software or webware – it was all HTML, which I taught myself from a For Dummies book (Quick Reference, 1997). Oh, and we had Webboard 1 (they’re on 9 now) for threaded discussion. Geeks used IRC and other ways to talk in real time. The sound of the modem was music to my ears.

Then Web 2.0 happened, and it was so exciting and easy to use all the cool stuff. Flickr for photos! Blogger and WordPress.com for blogs! Twitter for microblogging! You could post all your stuff, even create stuff, and there it is, all for free. No need to know HTML!

I should have known better. I’m a historian.

Problems at Pedagogy First!

Most of our participants at Pedagogy First!, at our encouragement, have been using Edublogs or WordPress.com for their blogs. At first, these blogging services provided for free the means to upload the things our participants created as part of the class. But, as time has gone on, fewer features have been enabled for free accounts at these services.

The number of plugins that both services offer has also decreased. We have been exploring workarounds in response to the decline in services like embedding media. First it was Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo, where you could just by typing the URL into WordPress.com but Edublogs wasn’t so easy. Then we couldn’t get Edublogs to embed Jing or Slideshare (and WordPress.com could only if we used Vodpod).

Now our intrepid participants are posting audio and sure enough, WordPress.com won’t let them embed audio on the free account using an upload. So the trick here is to upload ones audio “somewhere on the web” and put in a shortcode like .

To upload “somewhere” means they really should have access to a web folder somewhere and know how to ftp to it, or try a service (I tried yourlisten.com, but it didn’t work). As they helped each other, they discovered Soundcloud could work. But this sort of thing is dicey and inconsistent, and it freaks out the newbies. Come on, everybody, let’s run all over the web looking for ways to do something simple!

Problems for Me

At the same time, I have been experiencing problems with my own free services. Posterous won’t convert my video to embed it, regardless of the codec used. I recorded the weekly message to my students in Eyejot, and it didn’t send it to me for four days. Flickr wants money to share my photos with others.

And then I look at ds106, harbinger of all things self-participatory. Jim Groom at UMW just raised money for a separate server, and they’re giving students domain names and web hosting so everyone can run their own blogs (not, you’ll note, using WordPress.com or Edublogs).

Going Backward

So is it time to go back to that tree? Back up (beep, beep, beep) the road of Web 2.0 “freemium” service providers, who (like insurance companies) are charging us more and delivering less, and get back to that DIY spirit? I always recommend some DIY anyway – keeping your files on your own computer to protect them from loss, never writing anything directly into a system. Now we may have to build learning units around it.

As we revise the syllabus for next year’s Pedagogy First! class, I’m asking my colleagues whether we should recommend some hosting, and teach everyone how purchase hosting space and create their own blog (as ds106 did last year). Our college’s super computer guy is happy to administer some WPMU blogs for MiraCosta participants,  which is wonderful, but every plugin will have to be approved and updated, and/or faculty will need to be taught how to use their web folder and upload things, a whole different level of web comprehension. They won’t know why they should make the choice between uploading to their web folder and uploading into WP — too many choices is bad for newbies. And, if this year is anything to go by, 75% of participants won’t be from MiraCosta, or won’t want a MiraCosta-controlled blog. We’ll need to  teach them how to not only set up a blog but get a hosting account (likely at Hippie Hosting for $12/year), install WordPress, and then set it up. It’s a year long class, but still…

This was the sort of thing we taught in 1998. Here’s some HTML. Here’s how to ftp. Now have fun. Blog platforms should make it easier, but in their current push toward monetization, they really are adding another layer, something else to be learned, instead of substituting for that back end knowledge. We didn’t whine in 1998 about learning the back end — you had to know some in order to teach online.

Walking away

As for me, I’m creating a new WordPress blog of my own and using Posterous Importer to transfer my ds106 blog. And I’m crawling through those php.ini files trying to fix problems, knowing I cannot expect novices to do that in the fall.

I also know, of course, that you can never really go back….

Comment feed bundle to get around the GFWC

We’ve had a problem in the POT Cert Class at Pedagogy First! One of our mentors,  Brandon Davis-Shannon, made a Google bundle for all the feeds coming in from everyone’s blogs, which is great. Plus he posted for everyone on how to use them.

It turns out that edublogs is blocked in China, so our participants there can only read the posts either through Pedagogy First! which is aggregated, or Brandon’s bundle. But they can’t read the comments (or post any) so they’re missing the conversation.

This morning I took Brandon’s idea and began making a bundle for comments, by going to everyone’s blog to grab the comments feed. This proved slow to do individually, and difficult because some don’t have an RSS feed for posts, much less for comments. So I began doing this (change to 480p if you actually want to see it):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D8yNXeMTEc&w=960&h=720]

The bundle is here. But there were a couple of problems (listed to both warn people and ask for help!):

  • Posterous — I couldn’t find a comment feed for Posterous blogs (thus two blogs are missing from the list)
  • Tags and categories — while it’s not too bad to find the comments feed for all WordPress and Blogger blogs, and not too hard to find feeds for tags or categories, I could not figure out how to do both — get a feed for comments that are responses to posts only in a specific tag or category