Web 2.0 For Rookies: Geotagging

Geotagging is the term given to the adding of geographical metadata to photos, videos, tweets, websites and other media. This ' metadata ' can include longitude and latitude, and other attributes such as altitude. There's a fuller version of this summary information over at Wikipedia , but let's think about the applications of this technology in school.

You can geotag photos, which is a fancy way of saying that you can embed geographical metadata into your digital photos. Have a look at the information -- the metadata - shown below for two photos. One important difference between the two is that the one on the right includes information about where the photo was taken.

Spot the difference

There are several ways of entering this information in a photo. One is to buy a camera that does it automatically. That's still a bit of an expensive option. Compact models are starting to appear at a price which makes it feasible to consider having two or three in a school for lending out to classes, but not one per class, much less several per class unless the school has a clearly thought-out policy regarding the purchase and use of handheld devices. (For example, Scargill Junior School uses sets of SmartPhones for geotagging photos.) This is a clear example of where allowing youngsters to use their iPhones would make perfect sense, if managed carefully. If the kids have the technology, we should be providing educational opportunities for them to use it. Seems like a no-brainer to me. (There's a good article in the early-April issue of Computers in Classrooms in which a teenager describes how essential his phone is to him. I believe he sometimes even uses it for talking to people!)

Another option is to place your photo on a map in Flickr . This works well, but can be a cumbersome process if there are lots pf pictures to process. Obviously, it would be a good idea to make this process an educational activity in itself: something the geography folk could get involved in perhaps? There's a geotagging group on Flickr , with links about how to use the mapping facilities there.

Yet another approach is to but a wi-fi-enabled storage card, which is what I hope to experiment with soon. This looks like a brilliant option. It's not exactly cheap, though, and at the moment it seems to me that you'd get better value for money by purchasing a new gps-enabled camera than one of the full-works eye-fi cards, even though it would cost you more. I think this is an area where careful research, and some patience, are required.

So what can you actually use geotagging for in education? One obvious answer is anywhere that mapping is relevant. For example, a presentation about a school trip can be made to come alive by placing the photos taken on a map. And school excursions can themselves be made more exciting by the use of geocaching , which is essentially a treasure hunt that makes use of GPS-enabled devices to find hidden objects.

Get SmartExploration of different habitats in the local area or school grounds can include geotagging the photos taken. In Scargill Junior School, mentioned earlier, the children use the SmartPhones to take pictures of minibeasts , and the exact location of the insects is recorded at the same time, enabling them to find them easily again, and to place them on a map.

Anything involving measures of distance or altitude will not only thrill the geography teacher, but will be welcomed with open arm by the mathematics teachers too. For history teachers, also, the use of geotagging to explore where past battles took place must be an exciting prospect. You could also bring in a discussion of the impact of information technology on society: in England during WW2 rural place names and signposts were taken down so that the Germans would get lost if they managed to land on our shores. (See this set of Yahoo! Answers , especially #3.) How useful would that bluint approach be in this day and age?

Even the artists can get involved. You can find out how by going to Lesson Planet , where a multitude of suggestions for geotagging and using GPS-enabled devices will be found. You have to log in to find out the detail, but there are pages of ideas which subject specialists should be able to make sense of.

An example of geotagging you may have come across is the Clustr map . Seen on numerous blogs , this is a map showing where visitors have come from. Variations may also be found on widgets which proclaim when the last visitor arrived on the site, and where they are accessing it from, and the sort of thing I experienced when taking part in a Classroom 2.0 Live discussion , when as people joined the discussion they were invited to enter their location on a world map. 

This kind of thing is, I have to say, terribly exciting! It's fascinating to see how many people in different parts of the world are looking at your stuff. It engenders a sense of curiosity ("What country is that ?" ), and even a sense of responsibility: in some cultures some of the things we say and do would probably cause deep offence.

OK, so geotagging is fun, and educational, but where does Web 2.0 come into it? I think there is the obvious answer that the sort of thing I just mentioned msakes it interesting and more meaningful to collaborate with other people from a different location. On a more everyday level, it's possible to take a photo of something, say a restaurant, review the thing you've taken a picture of, and upload both to a site where anyone looking for a restaurant (say) in that area will come across your review and photo.

My own view is that geotagging is not so much an example of a Web 2.0 application in itself, but it is certainly one that can enhance what I would call the 'Web 2.0 experience'.

Other useful references:

Educational Geo-caching (especially pages 10-13)

Geotagging in education

Google Earth for Educators

JSchools use geotagging , wikis , iPhones to teach




Web 2.0 For Rookies: Scheduling

Scheduling is the act of writing something, and setting it to 'go live' at  some point in the future. Strictly speaking, it's not Web 2.0, and therefore should have no place in this series. However, it has an important part to play in a Web 2.0 universe, as we'll see.

A wise man once said that there is nothing new under the sun, and scheduling is a case in point. It has been around for a long time. Ever received emails from a member of your team sent around 5 am? If I were a more cynical person I'd suggest they had penned the email before leaving work for the day, and timed it to be sent early the next morning.

Putting such unworthy thoughts aside, can there ever be a legitimate use for a scheduling facility?

Staying with email for the moment, having an awareness of audience (which is one of the higher-order skills in ICT curricula, including the National Curriculum's ICT Programme of Study in England and Wales) should include knowing when one's emails are likely to be read. You could use this knowledge to minimise the chances of your carefully-crafted missives falling on deaf ears.

That, of course, raises another issue: do you or your students have any metrics about when the target audience for their project answers their emails? Why not?

This type of consideration comes into its own when sending out an emailed newsletter. When is the best day to send out your newsletter? When is the best time to send it? Now, if tracking the stats tells you that the best time to send out your newsletter is at 4 am on a Tuesday morning, or 2:30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, that may well prove challenging because of sleep and work respectively. The solution is clear: prepare the newsletter at a more convenient time, but schedule it to be sent out at the more optimal time.

Let's turn to Twitter. A number of people have said that one way to amass lots of followers is to send out tweets throughout the day – and, presumably, night – in order to catch people in different time zones. The obvious flaw in that plan may be overcome by using a service like SocialOomph. That allows you, amongst other things, to send out tweets automatically at a time of your choosing.

I think the scope for sending out timely and relevant tweets using this approach is limited, but with a bit of thought you could use it to good effect, especially if you wanted to draw people's attention to an upcoming event, or recently-published book or website.

Another use for scheduling is to space out your published activity. For example, sometimes i will publish a blog post, which gets announced in Twitter automatically, and then a few minutes later discover a great-looking resource that I want to share with everybody. Rather than 'bombard people with another thing to read so soon after the first one, I'll often bookmark in Diigo. That will be posted on my blog and tweeted automatically later the next afternoon or morning.

Blogs, too, can be scheduled directly, if you have the right platform. One thing I really like about my new home for the ICT in Education blog is that this feature is provided. It means that if I know I am going to be away, or busy, I can write a few blog posts when I have the time to do so, and schedule them to come on-stream one at a time. How else could the most recent article about Web 2.0 have appeared on Friday afternoon, whilst I was making my way home from a school visit?

The facility is also useful for ensuring that posts which are part of a series can be available at the same time every day. For example, you may have noticed that articles in the'Web 2.0 For Rookies' series are almost always posted at 10 am UTC, whilst those in the 'Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0' series appear at 16:40.

Scheduling is also a great facility to have when you're 'on a roll'. I don't often suffer from  writer's block, but there are certainly times when I am more creative than others. So, during those times, if I can write half a dozen articles in one go, I'd be silly not to do so, and then set them up to go live on successive days.

So now you're probably wondering whether I wrote this article just now, or 'cheated' by writing it some time ago. In fact, I wrote it two days ago, whilst nursing a latté in a hospital restaurant. I figured the most appropriate time to write an article about scheduling was when I had the time, and to set it to auto-publish later.

Be honest: would you have expected anything else?

Over to you

I've suggested in this article a few ways in which I think the scheduling facility is a real boon. Can you think of any others?

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Music While You Work

When I was a teacher I used to play music in the background, whilst the students were working. Not House, or Funk or whatever the current fad happened to be, but baroque music such as, and especially, Vivaldi.

I found that the music calmed the students down if they were a bit 'hyper', and they also worked better, and for longer. I didn't know it at the time, but there is, apparently, some research which shows that this was not a figment of my imagination. Listening to baroque music is not only soothing but it also, or so I've read, makes the brain waves more coherent, ie work together, like meditation.

If you think about it, that is, counter-intuitively perhaps, exactly what one needs when working on a highly logical problem such as the ones encountered in ICT.

Notwithstanding such benefits of this type of music, was I abusing my position of authority by not allowing the students to listen to the music they liked? I don't think so, because the purpose of the exercise was not for me to enjoy 'my' music, but to create a calm, ordered atmosphere in which we all get on with our work. Much as like the deep bass drum, hi-hat and general 'groove' of House music, I have never heard anyone argue the case for its being conducive to quiet, serious work.

If I were teaching now, I would involve the kids more, simply because the technology allows it. For example, I might ask them to compile playlists based on users' preferences. That would entail compiling a questionnaire, collating and analysing the results, coming up with a solution (or set of solutions) and then  seeking client feedback. It would also entail examining copyright issues, an whether it's worthwhile paying for advertisement-free versions of services like Spotify, rather than make do with the no-cost version.

In short, I would be able to integrate the use of background music into the ICT curriculum in a way which would not have worked as well when the selection was confined to my CD selection. How come? Because ultimately, whatever solution my students would have come up with would have been unfeasible unless I happened to have those CDs in my collection, and we had the time to record, mix and compile a physical playlist – illegally. In fact, unless I had the CDs in my possession, or the local library had an extensive selection, even sampling different sorts of music or artist would have been far too cumbersome a process to be viable.

With Spotify or Last.FM or similar services, you can easily find different types of music, find out what others rate as worth listening to, try out different combinations of tracks (another example of modelling) and come up with a draft solution to run by the client.

And at the end of the whole process, the whole class can work with their own playlist going on in the background.

If that isn't an incentive to approach the work seriously, I don't know what is!

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Projects to Try Out

So far in this series we've looked at various types of application that fall under the Web 2.0 umbrella. But what does a Web 2.0 activity actually look like, and how can you go about setting one up?

Those were the kinds of questions I set out to answer when I embarked on the Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book activity. Previously, I had compiled a list of around 60 projects that teachers had undertaken, using Web 2.0 applications. That proved to be quite popular, and it met my aim of wanting to spread ideas and practice.

A truly amazing collection of project ideasNotice that I didn't say 'spread good practice'. Clearly, it is not my intention to spread bad practice, or even mediocre practice. But it seems to me that the very terms 'good practice' and 'best practice' are value-laden. What I, in my circumstances, may regard as 'good' may, given your students and school set-up, be fairly pedestrian as far as you're concerned.

So, this updated collection of projects are largely self-selected. I invited contributions, and    quite a few came in. I asked would-be contributors for answers to specific questions, such as 'What challenges did you face in introducing this project into your school, and how did you overcome them?'

Where necessary, I emailed people individually to obtain further information. I was very clear in my mind that I wanted the projects to be replicable. So, even if providing a website for people to look was out of the question for safety reasons, I made sure that the description of the project, preferably with accompanying screenshots, made it possible for the reader to get a very good idea of what it was about, and what it looked like.

Although the book is arranged in order of student age, starting with All Ages and then from  Primary to Adult, I believe that any project can be used at any age, with a bit of tweaking obviously.

Certainly, the challenges people faced, the concerns people had, and the contributors' recommendations are not differentiated by age group.

I hope you will find this resource useful. If nothing else, it will give you a good idea of how some of the applications we've looked at in an abstract sort of way have been put to use by real teachers, in real classrooms, with real kids.

Enjoy!

You can find out more about this free resource by going to our Free Stuff page, from where you may download it.

Stop Press! At the time of writing this, the Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book has been downloaded by 2,142 people.



Web 2.0 For Rookies: Mashups

A mashup is the combining of two or more sources of data to form a new data set. In principle, there is not really any difference between a mashup and the situation in which you trawl a few websites for data, paste the data you find into a spreadsheet, and insert some formulae to work on the data to yield different, and potentially more interesting and revealing, results.

The kind of mashup we're talking about here is (usually) on the web, and is updated automatically in real time.
A kind of low-level mashup is, I would say, inserting an rss feed into your home page so that people can see what you've been saying on Twitter, or the comments people have been making about your articles. If you think about it, that meets the criteria for a mashup which I have just outlined: it's on the web, it combines one set of data (the comments) with another (your blog's front page) to yield information that is updated in real time, ie immediately.

You could argue that this isn't a real mashup in the sense that it doesn't reveal anything new, and certainly doesn't give you anything you could not have found anyway. However, by adding the comments to the front page of your blog, it provides the visitor with a richer experience and, furthermore, saves you and them time: why go looking for the data if if you can have it delivered.

More adventurous mashups combine data from sources you may not know exists, or does so a lot faster than you could without assistance.

Take Trendsmap, for example. This takes Twitter trends and places them on a world map. Want to see what's hot news in British Columbia right now? Look no further. Is this a solution looking for a problem? Not if you're a journalist or a blogger wishing to write about the latest news on everyone's lips.

It should be obvious by now that this sort of application does not merely present you with two or more sets of data. By combining the data sets in new ways, the information you obtain is itself different to what would otherwise have been the case. Anyone who has ever used a pivot table in Excel will know exactly what I'm talking about: by mashing up the data, you start to see patterns that were hitherto hidden.

This has business and social applications too. The UK government has recently made publicly available sets of data in ways that techies can use them to create mashups, as described in Hacking For Good Reasons. Mashups which let you see what jobs are available locally without having to stir from your kitchen table, or which tell you which areas of your town are safest, or what was in the news when your local politicians were waxing lyrical to the press -- all these things matter to real people.

As far as business is concerned, mashups can form an essential component of a company's data-gathering armoury. The real-time characteristic of mashups can even be put to use for defence purposes.
An interesting exercise for students might be to ask them to come up with ideas for mashups. They can explain why they think the mashup would be useful, and who for, and what data sets they would need in order for it to work. They would not necessarily have to create the mashups, although as part of a unit on sequencing (programming), or in an after-school club, such an exercise could be very interesting indeed. The idea would definitely fit in with the section in the National Curriculum (in England and Wales) which looks at the effects of technology in Society and the importance of client feedback. Other curricular include similar demands.

In many respects, mashups are among the most exciting of Web 2.0 applications -- not least because they are all different from each other.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Photo-sharing

"Upload your photos and share them with friends and family!" That's how photo-sharing websites such as Flickr are often promoted. But in education, there is a more serious side: photo-sharing sites make available a huge repository of pictures.

Pupils like to illustrate their work, but unfortunately all too frequently neither they nor their teachers seem to fully appreciate the concept of copyright.

Here's the deal: whoever owns a photo owns the copyright in  it. Just because they allow anyone to see it, does not mean they allow anyone to use it. Just because it's available through Google, doesn't mean you're free to use it. Bottom line: if in any doubt whatsoever, assume that you can't use it, and you should be legally safe. Do not be tempted to use something you have no legal right to. Not only might you get caught, it also sets a bad example to your students.

So at the very least you must look at the licence terms next to the photo you want to use. If it says 'All rights reserved', it means you can't use it unless you write the owner a very nice email and they take pity on you. Even better, find a photo that is free to use, usually for non-commercial purposes, and as long as you give credit to the owner.

My tools of choice are Flickr for the pictures, and the Creative Commons search engine for finding pictures with the right licence terms.

When you find a picture you like, if it has the legend "Some rights reserved", click on the text and see what you're allowed -- and not allowed -- to do. You will see something like the Creative Commons licence agreement shown in the illustration.

Find out what you're allowed to doRegardless of whether you make use of other people's pictures, I would always encourage schools to create their own repositories. After all, it's highly unlikely that other people will have taken photos of your street, your school or your neighbourhood. And even if they have, they may not be exactly right for your purposes. Flickr is free, or a modest amount for an unlimited amount of space, or you could use a dedicated hard disk or server in-house. Think about it: if each class spent one lesson a term taking photos for the school repository, by the end of the year you'd have hundreds, possibly thousands, of pictures that anyone in the school could use to illustrate their work.

You can even build in curriculum work. Depending on your subject and students' age group, have a session taking photos on the theme of shapes, or the colour green, or weather, or ... well, you get the picture.

If you do use Flickr, there are 3rd party applications which allow you to do more with your photos than simply share them with others. For example, you can create mosaics, or posters, or magazine covers. One of my favourites is Flickr Toys.

If you like the idea of making more use of photos, you know what to do: start snapping!

My photos on Flickr may be found here.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Instant Messaging

Instant messaging, or IM, is the name given to communicating with someone else, via a keyboard, when that other person is online at the same time, as you can see in the screenshot below. In this respect it differs from emailing, tweeting or texting, where the other person may pick up your message later -- when perhaps you are offline.

IM is great for sharing informationWhen IM first appeared on the scene it achieved notoriety because of the way some people conducted themselves in chat rooms in Yahoo!, MSN and other providers. In fact, in the teen rooms especially, but also in 'adult' rooms, some people would use IM for writing sexually explicit content. I found that the sensible rooms were sometimes quite useful, as there were rooms for all different interests, but because it was always a bit hit and miss as to who was going to be online at the same time, these were never as good as today's communities and the ability to 'friend' or 'follow' someone.

There was also the ever-present danger that, because IM is text-based, you could never be certain that the person you were speaking to really was who they purported to be. Not that that particular danger has gone away, as the recent Facebook murder story sadly illustrates. However, there are ways of teaching youngsters about this sort of thing, as Dughall McCormick illustrated in Computers in Classrooms last April.

Today, many of the original chat rooms have disappeared, and those that remain seem to be overrun by spam. However, IM has entered the mainstream, insofar as anything Web 2.0 may be termed 'mainstream'. You will find it in applications such as Skype, streaming video, Facebook, Google Wave.

The reason is that IM is a brilliant way of communicating with someone else instantly. You can quickly share an opinion, ask for a file, give them a useful URL. Used sensibly, IM can provide a rich extra dimension of communication whilst engaged in another activity such as taking part in a discussion or watching a video.

Like anything else, such as text messaging, just because IM has been abused, does not mean it should be abandoned all together.


Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development

An interesting issue arising from people's use of Web 2.0 applications like Twitter, Facebook and social networks is that casual or informal learning has now become embedded in people's working lives. In the past, there was a fairly clear division between the kind of learning you experienced by chatting with colleagues in the staffroom or watching a TV programme on the one hand, and going on a course (usually for a day or a series of evenings) on the other. Recording the former never really came into it, and recording the latter is fairly straightforward: you just need to decide how you're going to do so, as discussed in a 5 Minute Tip on the subject.

But the landscape has changed now. Many people, myself included, tend to either have a stream of tweets constantly going on in the background, using 3rd party tools like Tweetdeck, or make a point of checking their Twitter stream, Facebook messages and so on at certain points during the day. Given that on most occasions you are bound to see a message containing information that is likely to prove useful, I think it's legitimate to regard these tools as an integral part of one's professional development. If so, the question is, how can you record that for the purpose of being able to complete the part of an application form which asks what training courses you've been on, or what professional development you've had, over the last X years.

Having given this a lot of thought over the years, I've come to the conclusion that recording professional development in the Web 2.0 sphere is not possible in the same way it is when recording ordinary training courses. If you were to note down every useful tweet or message, or even simply the dates on which you received useful tweets, you would give yourself a nervous breakdown and cause the person reading your application form to die of boredom.

It seems to me that the best way of recording, and proving, professional development in the Web 2.0 world is as follows:

  • If you go to a conference seminar, like the ones at the BETT Show,you can usually pick up a certificate of attendance. Do so.
  • If you 'attend' an online discussion, such as the Classroom 2.0 Live talk I spoke at ask the organisers for proof of your attendance (the Classroom Live folk do this automatically if you indicate that you'd like it).
  • Record your attendance at such events as the ones described so far.
  • Keep a weekly journal listing, in broad terms, the things you've learnt or come across that week. This can be in the form of a blog or eportfolio, as suggested by Andy Hutt and Ray Tolley respectively in response to the 5 Minute Tip already referred to, or as annotated social bookmarks (which may be able to be set up to appear on a blog automatically).
  • Ensure that somewhere in the application form you make it known that you're a member of such networks and therefore have a rich and varied informal learning experience.

Bottom line: I think it's important to bear in mind that what the application reader is looking for is not likely to be a list of every single professional development opportunity you've taken advantage of -- which could mitigate against you if you give the impression that you never have time to do any actual work. They're almost certainly looking for evidence that you're up-to-date with developments in your subject area, and that you know what's going on and what the issues are.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Commenting

If there is one thing which really characterises Web 2.0, it’s the ability to comment on people’s work. Commenting is what can, or at least should, make a conversation possible. In this article I’d like to look at comments from both an educational and an etiquette point of view.

Educational

I’ve been to several presentations in which the speaker shows a screenshot of someone’s MySpace page indicating that they’ve received 1500 comments about something they’ve posted. My take on this is as follows:

  • How can anyone read, let alone respond to, 1500 comments?
  • If most of the comments are ‘Wow’, or ‘Cool’, how does that benefit the originator of the post, except for giving them an ego boost?

A more important, but more difficult to measure, criterion is how much influence your post has. Shelly Terrell made the following observation in a response to one of my articles:

I have used these posts at various times so just because I'm not commenting on them doesn't necessarily mean they weren't useful.

I’ve sometimes had people say to me, months after I’ve written an article that nobody commented on, that they found it useful.

Also, it’s now possible to read an article in one place and comment about it in another. I typically see comments about my articles on othert blogs, in Twitter and on Facebook. It’s possible, through the magic of RSS feeds, to collate various streams into one place and display it on your website. I find that looks a bit too messy for my liking.

Something I have done in order to keep track of when I or my articles are mentioned anywhere is to set up a Google Alert and a Twitter alert. These let me know, by email, whenever my name is mentioned on the internet.

It seems to me that used wisely, comments on students’ work could form part of your assessment for learning approach. The key to success in this respect is as follows:

  • Be aware of when comments are posted.
  • Discuss the comments, and what might be learnt from them.
  • Work out suitable responses whilst taking into account e-safety and time management issues.

Etiquette

I have set myself the following rules:

  • I always try to respond to comments. If someone has gone to the trouble of making a comment, the least I can do is acknowledge it.
  • I never post anything which is likely to offend people, such as swear words.
  • If someone makes a sensible-sounding comment, but has a website like ‘easyescorts.com’, I won’t publish it.
  • If someone tries to advertise their services in a comment, when the service has nothing to do with the subject in hand, I won’t publish it. Sometimes, I’ll even report it as spam.
  • I never respond to trolls, which is the name given to people who are just plain nasty. They have no interest in furthering the conversation, and usually hide behind a wall of anonymity. If you get targetted by a troll, it’s a compliment in a way because these people only attack those who are patently better than themselves, ie more educated or more informed. The common advice is: don’t feed the trolls. That is, don’t give them any attention. Here is a great post on this subject:

Trolls, meatheads and my mom

I like this video too:

Don’t feed the trolls

That video is a good thing to show to pupils to convey the effects of cyberbullying (because that’s what trollism is) on people.

I also love this feisty response to troll comments. Go to the YouTube site itself for the lyrics.

 

I found this on the Grammar Girl site about making comments online. It’s a great post and you should definitely read it with your students.

I’d love to know what you think of my comments on comments – but nice ones only please!

 

 

 

 

 



Web 2.0 For Rookies: Presenting

I can't think of any course in ICT, apart froma  few very specific application-centred ones, that does not require students at some stage to present their findings, views or designs to the rest of the class. The good news is that there are a few applications online which make it very easy to create presentations, share them, and invite comments. Here are four which you might like to explore.

Slideshare

This is like an online version of PowerPoint. Indeed, you can uipload your PowerPoint presentation to form a SlideShare version. Unlike PowerPoint presentations, SlideShare ones can actually be embedded in your blog post or web page.

http://www.slideshare.net

VoiceThread

This enables you to create a presentation from your photos or other pictures, and add a soundtrack (music or commentary) to them. Nothing unusual here, you might say, except that viewers are able to leave their own audio comments on each slide.

The fascinating thing is that once the comments start to build up, unlike the case with some applications, they seem to become an integral part of the presentation. In other words, they enrich the original upload. Great for letting kids collaborate in an easy way!

http://voicethread.com/

Glogster

One does not often associate the word 'fun' with presentations, but it comes naturally when referring to Glogster. Imagine a poster that can contain not only text and graphics, but sound and video too, and that's Glogster.

It's supremely easy to use. The real challenge is ensuring that your 'glog' tells a story: with all those wonderful options available, cacophony is never far away!

http://edu.glogster.com/

Animoto

Last but not least, Animoto, as the name implies, makes it easy to create a video from still pictures. LOad the pics, select some music, add text if you like, and Animoto does the rest, creating an animated display of your 'slides', synchronised with the music. It's a good way of creating a dynamic presentation without needing very much technical know-how. The skill lies in deciding whcih photos to use, and what music to choose to accompany them.

http://animoto.com/

Go on, give these applications a whirl! Get the kids to try them out. Unlike PowerPoint, these don't tend to channel you into creating lots of bullet points -- well, apart from SlideShare I suppose, but then that would have come from the priginal PowerPoint anyway!

If you enjoyed this article, check out the others in this series.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Creative Writing

One of the big issues of our time seems to concern writing. Or, to be more specific, NOT writing. And to whittle it away even further, boys' writing. Apparently, boys don't like writing. If that's the case, perhaps Web 2.0 can help?

I think the first thing I'd like to say is that if it happens to be true that boys don't like writing, perhaps that's because they're not being asked to write about anything they're interested in. I know that's either a really facile statement or a no-brainer, depending on where you stand on the issue, but it strikes me as pretty obvious that if you ask someone to write about something they have no interest in whatsoever, why would they?

You might say that the same argument applies to girls, and you'd be right. Except that in my experience girls tend to (a) be more compliant than boys and (b) like writing for its own sake anyway.

I recall that in one class I had I could not get one of the boys to settle down for more than ten minutes at a time. Then one day, he was really quiet and engaged for about 25 minutes before I could risk breaking the spell by talking to him.

"I don't understand this.", I said. "Normally you're a complete head-banger, and all of a sudden you're a model pupil. How come?"

He laughed and then gave the brutally honest response, "'Cos usually I don't find it interesting enough to bother."

So what was so interesting that captured his attention for the entire lesson? He was compiling a list of all the games his team had won in the last ten years, from a whole load of football programmes he'd brought in. For me, that would be the most boring thing on earth. For him it was captivating. As my American friends might say: "Who knew?"

But even if you regard this example as an aberration, is even the broad statement about boys and writing true?

I think not, because boys write all the time. Perhaps what is meant is discursive writing, but boys text each other, and send each other games cheats by instant messenger or Facebook, to take a couple of examples.

Well, that's a start for an article like this, because there are several ways in which teachers can take the enthusiasm of boys for writing, which I believe does exist, and the variety of Web 2.0 applications, and harness them together. Here are some suggestions.

  • Get the pupils to take it in turns to act as the class scribe. The scribe writes down the main points covered in the lesson, and writes it up in the class blog. Check out Sue Waters' Using Scribe Posts on Class Blogs for some tips and references about this.
  • Get the youngsters to write film and book reviews, either using a blog, or using something like Blippr. Blippr is a social network which specialises in reviews. It gives you 160 characters -- the same as you get for a text message - in which to have your say. It's possible, and it's fun -- but it's challenging (which is, more than likely, WHY it's fun). Have a look at mine for some examples.
  • If 160 characters strikes you as far too easy, how about 140? You can use Twitter for the same sort of thing, or for writing short (very short!) stories. See, for example, Twitterfiction.
  • If you like the idea of a book review in 160 characters, but not the idea of a social network, try Wallwisher. It's like having post-it notes, and you can type up to 160 characters on each one. You can also include pictures and, a big bonus, everyone can see each others' efforts. Maybe you could even get boys to work together on some writing.
  • Blogs are useful for writing book and film reviews too. There are one or two great examples of this in the forthcoming 'Amazing Web 2.0 Projects' book.
  • Also in the book are some creative uses of Twitter, including its use in getting a class of primary school children to understand what life on the run must have been like from the standpoint of one of the Gunpowder Plotters.

I could go on giving example after example, and don't forget there is also the writing involved in podcast and video scripting - not just the dialogue but 'stage directions' too.

I think that by using a variety of Web 2.0 applications it can't be that hard to get kids -- including boys -- writing.

Of course, finding a topic they're actually interested in -- or making a topic interesting to them -- no doubt helps!


Web 2.0 For Rookies and Other Matters

I've had to put the 'Rookies' series on hold for a bit -- not because I've run out of things to write about, but because I've run out of time!

I've been working on my two presentations at BETT, and trying to earn a crust too!

For Web 2.0 enthusiasts, the second edition of the Web 2.0 Projects Book is now in its first proof-reading stage. Around 90 projects and resources, 40 applications, over 90 contributors and loads of URLs to explore. Attendees at my presentation on Saturday will be given a URL to download a preview edition which they can start to enjoy and use right away. You can find out more about this new free ebook  in the next issue of Computers in Classrooms -- which, as luck would have it, will be sent out to subscribers at 11:30 this morning, UK time. For more details about this free e-newsletter, look at the newsletter page on this website.

It also contains information about the Safer Internet Day as well as the full article about the BETT show: how to prepare for it, how to get the most out of it, how to follow up afterwards and other useful information. A lot of this will be useful for people going to any conference.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Photo-Sharing

Let's face it: clip art is, generally speaking, boring. And the reason is not hard to fathom: if a popular program comes with clip art all ready to use with no extra payment needed, then people who are in a hurry are going to use it. The question is: should we not encourage children in schools to look beyond the standard fare?

The answer is a cautious "yes". Why cautious? Because one of the things we should be teaching children is that there's no point in reinventing wheels just for the sake of it. If a piece of clip art is just right for the purpose, then why not use it? The problem is, many teachers seem to go no further than telling kids where the clip art menu item is. In the words of the standard school report, they could do better.

One way is to create their own photographic clip art with a digital camera. Storage is no longer a problem if a class Flickr account is opened: it's free. What's more, there are thousands of photos on Flickr which have been uploaded by other users, many of which can be used free of charge under certain conditions. Most of these pictures are as unique as the people who took them.

(Incidentally, there are other photo-sharing applications on the web, but I've chosen to use Flickr. If access to Flickr is blocked in your school, you may still be able to enjoy an approximation to its functionality if your school or Local Authority has installed a Learning Platform/Virtual Learning Environment which allows photos to be uploaded and tagged. But unless your lucky it's likely to be a very poor approximation because of the many features that Flickr boasts.)

There is another outcome of going around taking photos: you start to notice things more. Here's an example: when I went around taking pictures according to a theme of "numbers", I noticed for the first time ever that London buses have *three* numbers: the licence plate or registration number, the bus number itself, of course, and also, inexplicably, another number displayed in the driver's windscreen.

That outing also made me start to notice that some shops advertise goods at 50% off while others advertise goods at half price. Does that make a difference to people's perceptions? I have no idea, but I do know that once I'd got going I started to notice numbers all over the place -- and I noticed even more numbers in some of the pictures when I looked at them afterwards on my computer screen.

What better way to fire up a young person's interest in numbers and in their environment?

One venture of mine was to take pictures of patterns in the street: it's astonishing what you notice once you really look. Some are very nice indeed. And there would have been even more of them had I remembered to charge up the camera battery and the spare battery before leaving home!

You can see all the photos I've referred to, and more, by going to www.flickr.com/photos/terryfreedman.

So where does Web 2.0 come into all this? There are 3 ways in which it does:

  • Uploading photos in this way paves the way for sharing. For example, if I see a photo of yours that I like, and which I think will fit perfectly with the theme of my story, I will be able to use it as long as the licence assigned to it allows me to do so. The licence terms are clearly stated by the side of the photo. If it says 'All rights reserved', I'm not allowed to use it. But if it says I can use it as long as I give an attribution to the owner, that's fine. Nancy White has provided a useful review of a couple of online applications to help find photos with what is called a Creative Commons licence. A nice side effect of all this, of course, is that it gets across the point that you can't just go around taking stuff you like from the internet: at the very least you have to give credit to the originator. If you don't, it's rude to say the least. And if you use an image for which you don't have permission at all, it's theft.
  • Sharing isn't the same as collaboration, which involves more interaction. There are several ways in which people can collaborate on Flickr, or with Flickr, using various options ranging from joining a Flickr group to annotating photos to manipulating them with a number of 3rd party tools. I intend to write about some of these but in the meantime you might like to check out The Great Flickr Tools Collection.
  • You can use the photos as a starting point for discussion or creative writing. For example, you could incorpoarte a picture into a mindmap, as I have done on my Big Freeze example (shown below as well), and take it from there.
  • Snapshot of The Big Freeze Mindmap

Before closing this article, a few words of caution about using Flickr, some of which apply generally.

  • It's good practice to tag photos, and discussing with children the most appropriate words and phrases to use is a worthwhile exercise. Part of the information & communication technology (ICT) curriculum in the UK is concerned with finding things out, so pupils need to know that the use of appropriate tags makes this process a whole lot easier.
  • You will need to exercise the same sort of attention to what pupils search for as you would for any internet search. Although I haven't found anything explicitly pornographic on Flickr, there are pictures with ample amounts of flesh on display. I'm not sure if they would be blocked by an ordinary filtering system.
  • Remember that people own the copyright in their pictures, so you can't use them without permission. Flickr makes available 6 different kinds of copyright licence and explains what each one means in terms of what people can do with the photos. It might not be a bad idea to put a summary of these on your classroom wall or on the school intranet or home page. Children should be encouraged to check to see what, if any, licence has been assigned to the photos they wish to use -- and to ask the owner's permission if none has been assigned (or ask you to do that for them, to prevent their identity being revealed). By the same token, you should decide what rights you're going to assign to th class photos you upload to Flickr -- what a great opportunity for a class discussion followed by a democratic decision!
  • You can't take pictures of people and post them on the web without their permission -- at least, that's the position in the UK. However, I understand from a talk I attended at a recent Society of Authors event that you don't have to worry if the people were not the subject of the photo, such as if you were taking pictures at a fottball match. But I'm not a legal expert, so if in doubt seek advice, or err on the side of caution (see the next point too). You will also, obviously, need to ensure that photos of children are not published without their parents' permission, and to make sure that the children cannot be identified individually: see the UK's Information Commissioner's advice on taking photographs in schools, or UNESCO's guidance for broadcasters. (Thanks to Neil Adam for disocvering the latter whilst researching an article for Becta's TechNews.
  • I'd also recommend going a step further and not taking photos that easily identify businesses or which feature car registration or other identifying details. Perhaps I'm being unduly cautious, but it seems to me that we should at least be encouraging pupils to consider the rights of other people. I for one would certainly not like my car or house details plastered all over the internet, and would feel pretty aggrieved if I discovered that someone had done so.

But notwithstanding those few caveats, digital photography is a great way of creating clip art, and for making the environment come alive and helping children to seen new things -- or new aspects of old things. And Flickr (and similar tools) help take it all a step further by encouraging and facilitating the cross-fertisliastion of ideas, and collaboration. That has to be a good thing!

STOP PRESS! I've created a group on Flickr called ICT in Education for the purpose of sharing photos to be used as a stimulus for discussion. Contact me if you'd like to join it. (I declined to make it completely open because I'm fed up with spammers getting everywhere!)

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Offline is Important Too

Spike Milligan, the British comedian, was once working in his study at home. All of a sudden the doorbell rang. His wife answered it. Standing there was a postman bearing a telegram that Mrs Milligan had to sign for. When she opened it, she saw that it had been sent by her husband. It read:

VERY THIRSTY STOP MAY I HAVE A CUP OF TEA PLEASE

My wife and I sometimes communicate like this, in an updated way.If I have been upstairs for a few hours, and she is downstairs, she will sometimes send me a message on Facebook to suggest we have supper in half an hour's time.

This cartoon seems to me to encapsulate the funny side of all this.

 

 

But there is a serious side too. Kahlil Gibran, in The Madman, describes a man who is standing on a beach with his back to the sea, listening to the sound of a seashell.

Gibran says:

He is the realist, who turns his back on the whole he cannot grasp, and busies himself with a fragment.

The beach at Aldburgh, Suffolk, England

I think sometimes we need to remind ourselves that actual physical experiences are important too:
There's a joy to be had in walking around the school playground looking for minibeasts to photograph, instead of just looking on Flickr.

There is pleasure and much 'hidden' learning to be had in visiting somewhere in real life, if you can, than looking at it on Google Earth, or experiencing it vicariously through someone else's eyes via a video stream or webcam.

And everyone I meet agrees that, whilst online communication is wonderful, nothing quite beats actually meeting people face to face.

And there's another consideration too. Many years ago, as a form tutor, I decided that I was going to play some classical music to my registration class each morning. Not because I thought that music was superior to their own, but because I didn't think they would even get to hear classical music in their everyday lives. They really enjoyed it.

In the same way, if it is true that youngsters today are always online in some fashion, especially as many parents are afraid to let their children play outside on their own, don't we owe it to them to provide a few quality offline experiences during the course of the week?

If this post has seemed very un-Web 2.0, don't worry: normal service will be resumed tomorrow!


Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Working Together

Web 2.0 is about nothing if it isn't about working with other people in some way. It doesn't matter what application we're talking about, working with other people is what it's designed to do. That, in fact, is what Web 2.0 is, hence my very pragmatic definition: Web 2.0 is as Web 2.0 does, as explained in the very first article in this series.

It's not just kids who work togetherNow, the reason I'm talking about 'working together' rather than 'collaborating' is that it seems to me that 'working together' is more encompassing. Why? Because there are so many ways in which people can work together.

They may indeed collaborate, for example in the development of a mindmap using a program like Bubbl.us or Mindmeister. Or they may contribute a note or a comment which, while possibly insightful, is not as involved, perhaps, as collaboration.

Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but I am thinking in particular of the sort of youngster I had in my Business and Information Technology class 20 odd years ago. Group work was the order of the day, but he preferred to chat with members of a neighbouring group about last night's soccer. Nevertheless, in a feat of multitasking not usually seen in males (sorry to sound sexist, but it's true), he was also able to follow the discussion in his group.

Thus, every so often he would look back over his shoulder and say, "Well how about a targetted advertising campaign?" or "An overdraft would be better." Invariably, the rest of the group would continue in this new direction, and he would go back to discussing the game.

The interesting thing here is that the rubric supplied by the Examinations Board (now called an Awarding Body) didn't have any provision for that sort of contribution, which meant that my colleagues and I spent ages debating whether he was really good at collaborating, or excruciatingly bad at it - because he wasn't really collaborating at all in the true sense of the term. Had there been a box for "Makes useful contributions" it would have been a non-issue: A for contribution, D minus for collaboration.
I'll deal with assessment issues in a separate article. The point I'm making here is that Web 2.0 facilitates working together in all its guises.

Now, if you think of Web 2.0 from this point of view, it makes life easier if you're not allowed to use Web 2.0 applications in your school, because there are alternatives to some applications. For example, some Learning Platforms and Virtual Learning Environments include a forum feature that takes the form of an area on which people can post 'stickies'. So, if you can't use Wallwisher you may have something like that instead. It will have a limitation in that nobody will be able to view it without logging in to the VLE, but for many schools that would be seen as an advantage anyway.

And at the risk of causing you to shudder, even a program like Word, or the OpenOffice version of it, has a review facility whereby people can make suggested changes and leave named comments. OK, it's not something you can use in real-time, and you can end up with the most terrible problems of version control if you're not careful, but if push comes to shove you can use it instead of a wiki or, say, Google Docs.

Now, I have to be honest with you and say that in my opinion non-Web 2.0 applications do not have the same level of excitement as proper Web 2.0 ones. They don't have the same breadth of collaborative features as a rule, and working in real-time, or near real-time, is exciting in itself. Most of all, though, is the tremendous buzz that everyone gets from working with someone thousands of miles away without having to email documents back and forth.

However, if you have been unable to convince the powers-that-be of the need for access to Web 2.0 applications, it is not the end of the world.

The important thing, I think, is not to think in terms of application but in terms of the activity and the learning. If your school has a VLE then it probably has a built-in word processor application designed for collaborative working, if what you'd like pupils to do is work on a story together. If you would like them to be able to upload and share photos, there's almost certainly a facility for that. I've already mentioned the post-it notes approach to discussion.

When pupils have completed their work, they may still be able to show it off to the world by uploading it to the server to enable it to be embedded in the school's blog or website, as described in the article about embedding.
Getting back to the idea of working together, what lies at the heart of it is a particular philosophy of education and an underlying theory of how people learn. If you think that the teacher is the expert, and people learn best by keeping quiet and taking notes, then Web 2.0 is not the approach for you. If you feel that everyone has or should have an equal voice, and that people learn best by discussing things and working together, a Web 2.0 suite of applications will be on your list of 'must-haves'.

In reality, these approaches are not mutually exclusive, but are dependent on circumstances. For example, if I am going abroad, I would like someone to tell me what sort of plug adapter I need. I don't want a discussion about it, or someone's opinion; I want an expert to say to me: you need X.

In an ideal situation, the teacher will have  access to a whole range of types of application and classroom repertoires.

And the knowledge and skills to use them effectively. 

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Social Bookmarking

Have you ever signed up for one of those dating agencies? No, I haven't either, as it happens, but we know how they work. You fill out a form saying what your interests are, and what drives you nuts, and the agency tries to match you up with someone with similar predilections.

Social bookmarking can work in a similar sort of way -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

You're probably aware that when you come across a website you like, and wish to return to, you don't have to write down its address. All you have to do is bookmark it, usually by pressing Ctrl D on a PC and Cmd D on a Mac: job done.

However, this approach has some limitations. Firstly, the bookmarks reside on one computer only. If that's not the one you're using when you want to return to the site, that's pretty inconvenient to say the least.

Secondly, if your computer gets stolen or trashed, your bookmarks are lost (unless you've had the foresight to back them up; I doubt many people do).

Those reasons are good enough in themselves for wanting to do things differently, say by saving your bookmarks online somehow. But there is also a third reason…

When you come across a site you like well enough to bookmark for future reference, that's great. But there's only one of you, and only so many hours in a day. Moreover, because you think the way you do, you're going to search for, or come across, or take notice of, particular websites but not others - meaning that you will probably miss some which could be just what you need. You've heard the saying, two heads are better than one. Well, social bookmarking is a good illustration of that principle. Here's how it works.

Let's say I come across a website I think is wonderful. Instead of (or as well as) bookmarking it on my own computer, I could use a social bookmarking website like StumbleUpon, Diigo or Delicious to save it there.

In order to help me find it again, and to help other people find it, I can put tags in the description box for the bookmark. (If you're not sure what tags are, see the article on tagging in this series.)

Example of a social bookmarkOnce I've bookmarked the site I've discovered, I can let other people know about it, in various ways. For example, people can subscribe to my bookmarks (and I theirs), and I can set up Delicious and Diigo to alert people in my Twitter network automatically. I could also, if I wanted to, embed my latest bookmark updates to my website through the use of the update's RSS feed. You can see why it's called social bookmarking.

But I can go even further, and here's where the dating analogy comes in. One thing I can do is click on the tag I've used to see what other people have found on the web and tagged using the same descriptor. And let's say I realise that one person in particular seems to consistently bookmark websites I will find useful. What I can do is hook up with that person by subscribing to their update feed, a possibility which I've already alluded to. OK, it's not as potentially romantic as dating, but I think you'll agree that the analogy works!

Another nice illustration of, if you will, the corollary of  following someone's bookmarking activity is to be found in this advertisement for British Telecom, made during the 1980s. If it were made today, and if it concerned websites rather than household appliances, Mrs Jones would be a person to subscribe to!

If you found this article useful, you may also like to read 10 Reasons to Use Diigo.

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

At this stage in the series, I think it's worth taking some time out to consider what is not Web 2.0. In the first article  I said:

… my view of Web 2.0 is that if something lends itself to collaborative working and can be worked on over the web, let's call it Web 2.0.


I think we can go a bit further and take into consideration the spirit of Web 2.0, because just because something looks like Web 2.0 doesn't mean it is Web 2.0. The underlying philosophy is one of sharing and mutual benefit. Or at least, in my opinion, it should be.

I'm thinking in particular of newspapers online. All of them encourage readers to post comments, but I haven't found one that does this in a true Web 2.0 kind of way. Admittedly I haven't looked at every newspaper online, but after a couple of experiences which put me off forever, I stopped bothering to think about posting comments to online newspapers.

For me, here are the fundamental tenets of Web 2.0, especially when it comes to commenting on blogs:

  • It should encourage a conversation.
  • There should be equal mutual benefit.
  • No copy, including comments, should be edited without the author's permission.

I've commented on newspapers online twice. In both cases, my website was omitted. To me, that breaks the first of my 'rules':

It's hard for any other reader to have a conversation with me, if they want to, or me with them, if there is no way to find out any contact information. Obviously, I wouldn't expect, or want, a newspaper to publish people's email addresses, but if they publish people's website/blog addresses then at least other readers have the option of seeking them out if they want to.

But it goes deeper than that. The first thing I do when I read a comment that interests me is have a look at the person's website to find out more about them. That helps me work out where (I think) they're coming from.

For example, if someone posts a comment like "It's appalling that teachers are allowed to take time off school to go on courses", and their website is selling online courses that teachers can do in their own time, that would colour my view of the comment. In other words, the person's website often provides a context for their comment.

It also provides a way of checking the credentials of the commenter. Otherwise, a professor who has been working in that field for 30 years has the same status as someone who has only thought about the issue in the last 5 minutes. In terms of their value as a human being, I would certainly not say one is better than the other. But in terms of expertise in a particular area, not including commenters' 'credentials' reduces everyone to the level of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".

Getting back to my experiences, the last time I commented on an article I wrote a blog post about the issue, and drew my readers' attention to the newspaper article. I then commented on the newspaper article, and in particular the comments of another reader, and included the article I had written. Not only did the newspaper not include my own website, but they only published the first sentence of my comment, thereby removing all qualifying statements, and didn't bother to include a reference to the article I'd written in which I mentioned them. Thus, the newspaper broke all of my 'rules':

  • They didn't include my website.
  • They had the benefit of getting readers from my site, but that wasn't reciprocated. 
  • Finally, they edited my comment without my (explicit) permission. I say 'explicit' because there is probably something in their terms and conditions that says if you post anything on their site they can do whatever they like with it. I think it's fine to edit a comment for grammar and formatting, say, or to insert an explanatory note, without the author's permission. I don't think it's OK to make changes which have a direct bearing on how their message comes across.

I've checked the Guardian newspaper, and it seems that you can include your website and so on in the sense that you can put such details in the personal profile you have to create in order to leave comments. But what if, like me, you don't want to register on the Guardian's website?

There are some general principles we can glean from this venting about my experience of commenting on newspaper articles. When coming across a blog or wiki, say, or even when setting one up oneself, there are questions we can ask:

  • Does this allow anyone to contribute without having to register first?
  • Will they publish my website/blog address if I provide it (unless I ask them not to)?
  • Do they seem genuinely interested in a conversation, or is the sole purpose of the comments facility to increase traffic to their website?
  • If they want to make substantial changes to my comments, will they consult me first?

I think that if the answers to these questions are not satisfactory, the editor/owner of the website in question is only playing at Web 2.0.

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: What is Tagging?

Tagging is the a way of labelling something, such as a website, an article on a blog, a photo, video, or any other object. By tagging things you group them together. This makes them easier to find.

You may not realise it, but you see examples of tagging every time you go shopping. Go to the supermarket to buy milk, and you'll find cheese and butter nearby. That's because all those items have been, in effect, tagged with the term 'refridgerator'.

In another example, I was watching an episode of Numbers recently, and Professor Epps mentioned that a supermarket analysed its sales figures, and discovered that sales of nappies (diapers) peaked and troughed in synchrony with those of cartons of beer. They drew the conclusion that men who were sent out to buy extra nappies were taking the opportunity to buy extra beer, so they placed the items next to each other and sales of both increased. I'm not sure if that story is actually true, but it's a nice illustration of the concept of tagging because both of these items were, in effect, tagged with the label 'items bought by men sent out to buy nappies"!

Now, you might say we don't need tagging in the context of technology, because we have categories. This article, for example, has been published in a category called 'Web 2.0'. Why give it a tag as well?
The trouble with filing things in categories is that, as a rule, you can only file them in one category, whereas they could, logically, be stored in a different one. This restriction does not apply to this blog, because Squarespace lets you place articles in more than one category at a time, but it was certainly the case with my original website. If I'd been writing this article for that website I'd have to choose between the following categories:

  • Web 2.0, because this is about Web 2.0;
  • Using and teaching ICT, because it's about using an aspect of ICT;
  • Leading and managing ICT, because it's aimed at helping colleagues understand an aspect of ICT, which is one of the things ICT leaders and Co-ordinators tend to do.

None of these is inherently right or wrong, but whichever one you choose precludes the others. If you forget where you 'filed' it, or if other people don't think in the same way you do, the article will, to all intents and purposes, be lost, because nobody, including you, will be able to find it!

There was a marvellous illustration of this many years ago in one of the Professor Branestawm stories (I've included a couple of these books on my Amazon Books page).

Professor Branestawm, as the name implies, was an absent-minded professor. In one of the stories, he borrows a book from his local library, but 'loses' it. So he borrows the same book from another library, and then 'loses' that. Eventually, he has borrowed the same book from over a dozen libraries, and spends all his time cycling from one library to the next renewing the one copy he has managed not to lose, in order to avoid paying a fine for late return of the book. In the end, he decides to come clean and so he invites all the librarians round to his house so that he can tell them all that he has lost their books.

While they are waiting for him to appear, they browse his bookshelves, and start to find their books. What had happened was that Professor Branestawm had filed the book in different sections of his library. I can't recall the exact details, but it was something like this:

One copy was stored under B (for biology). Another was stored under 'P' (for plant). Another was stored under 'T' (for tulip). You get the picture.

Now, that's quite humorous on one level, but at a deeper level it illustrates perfectly the problem with hard and fast categorisation.

Tagging cuts across all that - in fact, you might want to think of it as a kind of horizontal categorisation rather than a vertical one.

Take this article. It's tagged with, amongst other things, the term "Web 2.0". That means that anyone searching this website on the term "Web 2.0" will find it. They will also find other articles tagged in the same way, along with any videos, photos or podcasts I happen to have given the same label too.

I've also tagged these articles with the term "Web 2.0 for Rookies", which means that if you look for that tag you will see all of these articles bunched together. In fact, in a Branestawm-like fashion, I'd completely forgotten this, and have been advising people to search for these articles in the alphabetical index! It was only a message in Twitter from Sandy K giving the tag URL which made me remember! (You can follow Sandy on Twitter.)
There are some things you need to think about when it comes to tagging.

Firstly, you have to be consistent, even down to deciding on what case to use. For example, I discovered, by accident, that the tag "Web 2.0 for Rookies" is not the same as "Web 2.0 For Rookies" (spot the difference!). If you're not consistent, people, including yourself, will not be sure what to search on and will still have difficulty in finding articles.

Secondly, this has an implication when it comes to working with colleagues and students. Do you allow them to create their own tags? If so, should there be rules about tagging to ensure consistency?

Thirdly, bear in mind that tags need to be specific enough to filter off irrelevant search results, but not so specific that people would never think to search on that term. An example of a tag that would not satisfy the first condition would be, on this site, ICT. Given that every article is about ICT in some way, searching on that tag would bring up the entire collection of articles! At the other extreme, a tag like "Terry Freedman's article about tagging in his series about Web 2.0 for rookies" would be as much use as a chocolate teapot because nobody would ever think to use it.

Fourthly, how far should you go in tagging? I know that some people recommend tagging articles with every conceivable label and variation they can think of, in order to maximise its chances of being found, and of being picked up by search engines. It's up to you whether or not you adopt that approach. Personally, I find it boring to spend ages tagging articles, and I've found that tag generating applications are so 'efficient' that I have to spend ages weeding out the ones that I don't think are that useful. Aside from all that, I simply don't like the fact that having loads of tags at the top or bottom of an article takes up so much space!

Used well, tagging is a perfect example of a Web 2.0 'application': it's very effective in linking up disparate objects, and therefore people, as will become apparent in the article on social bookmarking. And it's conceptually simple. What more could one want?

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Embedding

In this series I'm looking at Web 2.0 for the benefit of the complete novice. If you would like to get your colleagues or, conceivably, even some students up to speed, these articles should help. At least, I hope they will provide a good starting point. In this one, we look at the idea of 'embedding'.

You've almost certainly already seen examples of embedding. Go to any website where there's a video clip on the page, and you're looking at it in action. In other words, embedding is simply the act of inserting code into a web page or blog that puts the object right there on the page. This 'object' might be a video, a presentation, a document, a picture -- just about anything, in fact.

One thing that's important to bear in mind is that when you embed an object all you are really doing is inserting a link to it -- but a special type of link which puts the object itself, rather than the usual sort of blue underlined hyperlink, in front of people.

So, a reasonable question would be: why bother? After all, how much effort is it for people just to click on a link to take you to the object itself? There are several reasons why you might want to use embedding rather than plain old-fashioned linking.

Firstly, why encourage people to leave your site when you don't have to? Go into a department store and you'll notice that there is, say, a Costa coffee bar: not a sign telling you where the nearest Costa is on the high street, but Costa itself. Embedding is the same sort of idea.

Secondly, in some cases you might not want people to go off-site because you have an enclosed space like a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Learning Platform.

Thirdly, if you have embedded more than one object in the page, it would become tedious for the reader to have to keep going somewhere else, and then coming pack to the original page.

And fourthly, as implied by the previous point, placing the object where the reader is, rather than expecting the reader to go to where the object is, provides a service to the reader -- a bit like meals on wheels.

A couple of things to bear in mind about embedding are as follows.

Firstly, because the embed code is really just another kind of link, if the object itself is moved or deleted, or if access to it is blocked, then embedding it won't do you any good. For example, if YouTube is banned in your school, there's no point in trying to embed a YouTube video.

Secondly, if YouTube, say, is not banned in your school, you might still want to place some sort of disclaimer on the page to the effect that you can't guarantee that the object will always be available. Teachers need to understand this, because if they have prepared a lesson based on watching an embedded video, and that video is no longer there when they start their lesson, they need to have something else to fall back on (which is good practice anyway).

Thirdly, although embedding an object is not the same as downloading it and then uploading it onto your own website, you should still be aware of copyright issues. Some sites specifically state that you're allowed to use their materials for educational purposes. With those that don't, you may wish to seek permission. Where this is impractical, my own suggestion would be to make sure you include citation information if this isn't obvious. For example, a video hosted on YouTube will have the YouTube logo embedded in it, but a photo from Flickr won't have any such logo, so a proper citation is in order -- assuming the owner has allowed people to use his or her photos in the first place.

Example of a video embed codeHow do you go about embedding an object? In the case of YouTube or TeacherTube, the embed code you need will be right there on the page, as illustrated in this screenshot. You select the code by clicking in it and pressing Ctrl-A, and then copy it to the clipboard by pressing Ctrl-C. Then, in your blog editor, find a button labelled 'Source' or 'HTML', click on it, and paste the code there by pressing Ctrl -V. If you paste it into the normal editing window, all people will see is the embed code. (Note that some blogging platforms, such as Squarespace, which is what I use, have a facility which enables you to paste the code into a special window without having to find the Source area.)

What if it's your own video, hosted on your own website, or the school's server, or your Local Authority's server, that you wish to embed? Where do you get the embed code from? The best site I've come across for this is the Video Codemaker site.

To embed a picture from Flickr, go to the size of the photo you want to use (by clicking on the label 'All sizes' above the picture), and copy the code under the heading 'Copy and paste this HTML into your webpage:'.
But why stop at video? The article, How to embed almost anything in your website is very good, with instructions on how to embed files of all descriptions in your website or blog. The only thing I would say is ignore the instructions for embedding video: they're far too unwieldy. Use the Video Codemaker site instead.

Finally, don't forget to check out the other articles in this series by looking in the alphabetical index for 'Web 2.0 for Rookies...'.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: What is a Wiki?

A wiki can best be defined as a web page which can be easily edited. The emphasis here is on the word ‘easily’. It’s true that editing web pages these days is far easier than it once was. Programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver have made it a simple task to create nice-looking pages without knowing much about HTML, the underlying coding that makes web pages work. Also, programs like these get rid of the need to have to design each new page from scratch. Nevertheless, there is still a certain degree of skill involved, and in any case, the problem with locally-installed programs like these is that anyone to whom you give editing rights has to be on your computer.

Enter the wiki, a special type of web page which can be edited by anyone no matter where they are. All they need is your permission, ie user rights, to be able to do certain things, and access to the internet. The question arises, however, why exactly might the facility  to edit a web page be of any use to anyone except yourself?

The answer lies in that magic word, ‘collaboration’. Placing stuff on a web page makes it easy for anyone to see it. Placing it on a wiki makes it easy for anyone to contribute. There are lots of ways in which you could use a wiki in an educational setting. For example, it really lends itself to collaborative writing, especially where the pupils doing the collaborating are in different schools or even different countries.

OK, you say: why not use a word processor? Well, for a start, sending a word processed file backwards and forwards between two people may be just about workable, even though it can be slow and clunky. But between three, four or more people? Forget it. The version control alone is a nightmare. In my experience, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into making sure people save it in a particular way, someone will always find a way around it and save the latest version as ‘Fred’ or something equally useful.

In any case, being a web page, a wiki lends itself to including far more than text. For example, you can embed videos too, as can be seen on wikis like the Flat Classroom project.

In fact, the Flat Classroom is an example of a huge wiki which involves lots of people in several countries collaborating, and potentially editing the pages more or less at the same time. Although there can be a danger of someone’s edits being lost because someone else saved a different version at the same time, in the last five years that has only happened to me once. It’s highly unlikely, but the solution as always is very straightforward: save your edits frequently, and if you see that someone else is editing the file at the same time as you, leave it and come back later just to be on the safe side.

The most famous example of a wiki is Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia which has been created and expanded by anyone who wished to contribute (although some restrictions have been imposed recently because of false information being published, and no doubt genuine information being unpublished).

Another example is Wikibooks, which enables anyone to help create a textbook. I have to say I don’t much like this idea, as I prefer textbooks to be written by people I regard as experts, which is difficult to surmise from anonymous entries, and who can explain things well (I looked at an explanation of the concept of marginal utility, a term used in Economics, and thought it clumsy and not very informative; I realise that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but I think it’s illustrative). Also, I am not sure why any autodidactic student would use a book created in this way when there is no guarantee that the information in it is accurate; I for one would not entrust my examination success to a wikibook, but perhaps that’s just me.

Whatever your opinion, it’s important to distinguish between the tool, in this case a wiki, and what it might be used for.

If you’re involved in drafting policy documents then wikis can be a great time-saver. I’ve been in the situation of having a Word document doing the rounds, and when twenty or more people have to be consulted, that approach can be a nightmare: give me a wiki any day!

An excellent book on this aspect of using wikis (amongst others) is Wikified Schools, by Stephanie Sandifer, which I reviewed in Computers in Classrooms.

An important way in which wikis lend themselves to this sort of work is that they automatically record a history of changes, so you can always go back to a version which was, if I can put it like this, several changes ago. I especially like Wikispaces because it has a discussion facility, so you can discuss the changes which have been made, or which are being proposed.

So can anybody view or edit your wiki pages  ad infinitum? No, because in at least two wiki applications I know of you can choose whether or not to make your wiki visible to the public, and whether or not they can edit it, and to what extent. These applications are generally free to use, but having extra facilities such as keeping your pages completely private, or being able to assign different levels of rights, sometimes come at a premium. You can also lock the file to prevent further editing.

Examples of wikis include Wikispaces, which I’ve already mentioned, which has a great free version for school use, PB Works, ditto and Google Docs, with Google Wave for all on the horizon.

Finally, don't forget to check out the other articles in this series by looking in the alphabetical index for 'Web 2.0 for Rookies...'.