Notes from a Laptop

April 3, 2008

A blog is not an online diary!

Filed under: Blogs,dangers — Lindajay @ 10:45 am

diary.jpgQuite often people describe a blog as an online diary, and while to some extent and in some instances this could be true, I think it can be a misguided answer.

Think about what a diary has been to most people – a place to write their secret thoughts, an account of their love life maybe, and probably something kept locked away from prying eyes. On the other hand, a blog (though it can be a private stream of thoughts) is most often a place to be shared with a wide audience.

I make this comment after seeing entries made by students on different blogs – entries without proper grammar, little, if any, puncuation and sometimes questionable statements for online discussion. The use of text/SMS language is also occasionally used. With moderation, this can be discussed with students, and adjusted if necessary. (There could be appropriate places and blogs on which to diverge from conventional grammar and spelling, of course.)

Overly revealing comments are probably of more concern. We need to have a conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate to place on blogs and social networking sites, since many students have their own Facebook, Meebo or MySpace pages – even if access at school is banned.

Examples of the possible risks of overexposure and need for privacy considerations have been highlighted recently in the media. Already facing troubles with respect to his night club activities, Nick D’Arcy (potential Olympics swimmer) has had photos from Facebook plastered over the newspapers. Team-mate, Stephanie Rice, has also had personal photos revealed in the media. The consequences of this is unknown, but I sure sure his family is feeling very exposed at the moment.

While not directly linked to blogging, this is a useful example to discuss with our students about online posting – a great warning to be careful what you post. An oft quoted rule could be useful here: if you wouldn’t want your grandmother/parents/ boss to read it/see it, then don’t post it. A useful video on YouTube to illustrate this is ‘Think before you post’, It’s also provides a good reason to talk about blogs in broader terms than ‘online diaries’. They are so much more than that!

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January 29, 2008

How to set up a blog

Filed under: Blogs,Tutorials — Lindajay @ 11:58 am

blog.jpgGone are the days when you needed to know about html and ftp transfer of files to add pages to the web. It is now possible for just about anyone to have a presence on the web. Using a wide variety of blogging technologies, individuals, schools and businesses have developed their own social web sites.

As acknowledged by Will Richardson in his book, Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful tools for classrooms, we now have a new writing genre. Blogs provide a place for “connective writing” for large audiences, and potentially, to generate discussion across the globe.

But where to start?

A number of options exist, and recommendations will vary according to whom you speak. Will details the setup using Blogger, which is owned by Google. WordPress is  another popular choice for individual’s blogs, and Edublogs is a also good option for those setting up blogs to be used in educational situations, and one I have found to have great support.

To set up in Edublogs (having considered the purpose, privacy and practical considerations), you need to:

  1. begin at Edublogs, click on ‘sign up for free’
  2. select a username (which becomes part of the blog address, so be thoughtful in your choice) and password
  3. agree that it is for educational purposes, and verify, using the image details
  4. then hit ‘Gimme a blog’
  5. in the next step, you may have adjust your username (try to make it unique – and remember it cannot be edited later)
  6. you can enter the blog title – which can be edited later
  7. select the blog type (as a teacher) and whether you want it searchable by search engines
  8. then select ‘Create Blog’

After this you need to consider the privacy options and how the blog will be moderated. After this the fun of choosing the blog’s appearance can begin.

Initially, for school use, it is wise to set up so that the blog is not promoted on say Google, and that all comments are seen by the administrator before adding to the blog. This avoids both inappropriate comments and spam.

To do this, work your way through the Options:

  1. on the General tab, you can edit the name of the blog, set the time and your calendar, etc.
  2. on the Discussion tab, you should choose to have comments approved before addition to the blog (and tick off must have previously approved comment) – this means you will receive email notification to moderate comments.
  3. on the Privacy tab select the required option – you may want a class blog to be relatively private

To write to the blog, selecting the Write tab will open a wyswig editor, where you can enter your thoughts. Save as you go, and be sure to save any work before clicking out of the editor, to save the grief of lost work. After writing in the post space, you can click in the categories box to add a term to identify your post with a particular theme. You should also decide if you wish to receive comments or ping backs on your post. When your post is complete (you can preview it between saves), you can then select ‘Publish’ to send it to the blog. 

To add images, documents, slideshows or video you need to upload them in the box below the posting space. See Edublogs videos for further details on these elements if you have difficulties.

There are many tutorial videos avaiable on the Edublogs site, and even as you first visit your new blog you will see that your front page has lots of details to view and edit out, as you take ownership. The Presentation tab enables you to browse a large number of different themes, which you have to trial for suitability – some do not fit the screen as well as you might hope, while others are able to be modified. For some themes you can create your own header (using your own images), and most will allow you to select the options in your sidebars (when you click on the Widgets tab). Start simple then change and adapt as you become more confident.

Another facility you should utilise is the ability to collect your favourite links in the sidebar in a Blogroll. Notes from a Laptop includes links to lots of useful educational bloggers, but any internet link can be listed in Blogroll – just click on the Blogroll tab and add any relevant/useful links.

This outline is just a start, and though specific to Edublogs, may be applicable to other options. Be alert to changes which may occur as the developers are always working on ways to improve the options, and, enjoy the journey!

December 7, 2007

RSS feeds – what does that mean?

Filed under: Blogs,RSS — Lindajay @ 7:11 pm

rssfeeds.jpgOnce you get into owning a blog, it’s good to keep track of what others might be talking about. Lots of blogs have links to others (as in a Blogroll) or will often feature ideas discussed by other bloggers. Once you have discovered this, you may want to check back regularly for new ideas. Once upon a time, you might do this by developing a favourites folder, say ‘Blogs to Check’. But that might involve a lot of unnecessary checking of inactive blogs. So how can you know what blogs have been updated and when?

Grabbing an RSS feed from a website will help you keep track.

Most blogs will have this option within the sidebars of their blog (people want others to visit again and again) and using tools within IExplorer and Firefox, or an online reader such as Bloglines, you will be able to see which blogs and news sites have been updated since you last visited.

With Internet Explorer 7, all you need do, when at a blog you wish to keep track of, is click on Tools, then Feed Discovery. This identifies if the web page has an RSS feed to add. Then, all that is needed is to click on Subscribe to feed and you decide where it is to be saved (if you have multiple folders for your feeds).

After this, to view feeds, you need to click on View, Explorer Bar, Feeds – which will open a side bar which lists any feeds you have selected. The page which results when you select a particular feed is just for previewing – you can click on the main heading, or the post title, to view the whole blog page.

Firefox requires a similar method except that , at last check, you need to download Sage as a plugin (from the Mozilla web site). The process is then fairly intuititive. Sage becomes your left hand sidebar, and you can transfer feeds to this location and eidt or delete as required, with all details described at the Mozilla web site.

Bloglines. Using Bloglines enables you to track your feeds from any computer online (unlike the abovementioned options). At this site, you sign up, subscribe to your own personal feeds, and can also see popular feeds of others, and search from here on any particular area of interest – including newsreads.

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