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Why blinging your blogs and wikis can drive you crazy!

So you set up a blog or a wiki- great you achieved that! For a few days life is good; then you start thinking that everyone else’s looks nicer than yours…. So you decide to amend that. This is where the frustration starts to settle in. We all get sucked into the same trap. Over the last week my two friends, Frances and Sue have both set up blogs (and in the past few weeks – wikis). Both have then spent hours trying to get more out of their site’s look. End result they start going crazy; things never go to plan!

To make matters worse, they improve the look of their site, so then I can’t stand the look of my site, so then need to bling up my blog. Unbelievable – with all my experience I really should know better. So this post is dedicated to all those, like us, who just have to do it because we like our sites to reflect who we are!

Personally I like Sue’s solution on her blog, the presentation theme she uses has the option of bringing in photos from flickr that have been tagged with the tag name she nominates. Quick and easy, looks nice and clean. She is using the theme Worldpress Silver II. This means she has not had to stuff around with anything. Except for the fact that I think she spend half a day trying each different theme until she found one she liked (would be nice is there was a quick like to a list of which edublog themes supports additional theme options and what these options are).

I could not use these theme because she is using it. So I decided I would insert my own customised header. That is easy; create in Photoshop – find a theme that supports your own header and done! Especially since I was using Regulus theme should be simple.

Hehehe, I should have known better. First you have to link to a URL that has the theme. So had to set up Flickr account. Would not like to Flickr account. So googled and found a suggestion to locate at OurMedia (great that meant I had to set up account with Internet Archive as well). Cool – did that! Nope, still did not work! So I thought maybe there is a problem with putting it on those types of site. So then I remembered that I get some free web space with my broadband account. Problem – had never tried to do it before and had no idea. Time to phone a friend – thankfully my friend Phil talked me through how to do it – learnt how to set up website using FrontPage (yes I know Dreamweaver is better) and how to remote transfer files to website. New skill learnt! But no, didn’t work. I must be doing something wrong!

So then decided to change theme because I could not let their blogs look nicer (the principal). Amazing when I tested another theme, that supported your own header, the linking to the URL worked. Only problem was the header size you need depends on the theme. Each theme has a different size header required (would also be nice if each stated what size works best – at least Regulus does that). So I discovered that Fleshy, Fauna and LetPrime all support headers (there are probably more themes at Edublog that do but it really gets frustrating searching). Thanks Graham for putting me onto LetPrime.

So after a lot of hard work, I changed to Fleshy. But still was not totally happy, especially how the text wraps too closely to pictures when they align in the text. So when Graham suggested LetPrime I thought that is a good idea – looks nice. Spent another few hours changing the size and look of my header only to realise that it does not support any other pages at the top of the site except for Home and About (sorry if I have that information wrong).

Back to Fleshy I went. Though picture was still bugging me! Mmmmm there must be a simple solution…. Idiot html. Definitely worth getting a basic understanding of html as it does occasionally help you out. I use the HTML Quick List (which I keep bookmarked in my del.icio.us account) when I need to work out which code I need. All you do is click on HTML icon above then insert the required bit of code. This is the page of the HTML Quick list I used to make the picture fit better with the text. So now the picture looks ok in the post and I can live with the theme (and Frances – the IT lecturer – says that solves the problem – she also did not think of using the html).

My thoughts on why blinging sites can drive you crazy. Well the great thing about these sites is they set them up so that they are easy to use. Sure they can add more features, so we can customise more, however this often means the harder they are to use. That then defeats the point of making them easy to use. At the end of the day it is all user error because we want too much!

If you want to learn more about working with edublog blogs check out “how to edublogs v.2“.

Adevărat Lume fame – True world fame

As mentioned in previous post Gabriella (Despre chestii din viata (cu si fara tehnologie) in Romania and I have been informally networking with one another through our blogs; which to me has been a really amazing example of how social networking can cross language barriers and great distances.

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While Gabriela can read English, I can not read Romanian and yet each day I follow the great links on her sites and learn so much from what she shares with me. And she follows my blog, wiki, podcasts and checks what I have bookmarked each day in del.icio.us. Then bookmarks the items that interest her using her del.icio.us account. This is a classic example of what Sean O’Driscoll is calling “author drafting” on his blog Community Group Therapy. Sean describes author drafting as following behind a “fast rider” you already know tags topics you care about and you are “drafting” behind them. This is the strategy on my wiki site I call building your network and fans when using del.icio.us; so instead of searching for articles, others do the searching for you (however I really like Sean’s name for it).

In some ways it is like we follow in each others foot steps. And if you carefully read back between each of our postings it is like she reads my mind and knows what topic I am researching and posts a great link to help me out. Reality, that is probably what she is doing. She subcribes to my feeds from my different sites and they give her an idea of what I am working on. So thanks Gabriella for thanking me, in English, for all the wonderful educational resources I share with the World however I also thank you for everything that I gain from you.

My friend Frances, did the translation into Romanian, using an online translator, we hope we have translated it correctly. You have given me “True World Fame”, and the same for you, because my blog is on the other side of the world from you and it is amazing that it is read by someone whose native language is not English.

P.S I know that you will have already checked out RSS in plain English but if you haven’t definitely worth it. If it is not working please be patient – he has had technical difficulties with his site (probably as a result of his “fantastic snow day” – i.e. the video has been very well received) in which case I would go back and watch in a few days. Poor Lee reports he is still having technical difficulties, thankfully he has also put on youtube because that will probably help some of his problems (which I am sure are because his site was so overwhelmed – well done Lee – enjoy the snow – however working fine in Google Reader). So I have embedded the video here for you to watch.

Interesting point Lee tells you to locate the RSS feed and paste into Google Reader (and it is important that he shows people how to locate RSS feed). However with Google Reader, if there is an RSS feed on the page, you do not even have to locate the feed all you have to do is paste the web address into add subscription and normally Google Reader will all automatically locate the feed.
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Most Popular Smartphones and PDAs

My friend Frances has set up her own blog “My Mobile Technology Addictions“; personally I think her site should be called “My Technology Addictions” because she is fairly addicted to it all. While I commented that Sue was not even in the competition, when it comes to me and Frances, I am not in the competition.

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Frances is a brilliant PDA programmer, she has developed excellent software for PDA and is fantastic at teaching people how to use PDAs. Unfortunately she is not recognised for her great work and people perceive her, compared to me, as just starting out in mobile technology. Which is totally the wrong assumption; important not to confuse web presence with ability.

I gain so much from my relationship with Frances (yes Sue – you too); I believe that my relationships and networking with others is mutually beneficial. For example; Frances has helped me out of many at tricky situation (like the “I most almost destroyed my video ipod‘) or simple and obvious tricks (saving PowerPoints as jpg) and I have fed her technology addiction by challenging her thoughts on using e-learning strategies with IT students (she is now setting up a wiki for her students).

Back to work – Frances posted Mobile Software Top Sellers which is cool because it gives you an update on the sales on software from Handango Yardstick – lets you know what software people are buying for their PDAs, which is great because there are so many software and freeware options that it can be overwhelming.

Also got me thinking that I am often asked for advice on which PDA or smartphone is worth purchasing. I think it is always a good idea to check out what is popular. I suggest you look at Brighthand “Most Popular PDA and Smartphones” and Consumer Search Best PDAs then ask advice from people who use them; because ultimately there is a lot of individuality with mobile devices (I personally would not like a large PDA with keyboard; and while my current model does not have a keyboard – which is not an issue- I would be happy with a keyboard only if it slide in and out). If you want an inbuilt phone make sure you buy 3G, or you will be playing a lot more to access the Internet.


You say widgets, I say gadgets….we might as well call the whole thing off!

The pressure is on – two on my friends – Evil Sue and Frances – have both got into blogging at the same time…which I am really pleased about…:( but it’s like double trouble.

As Evil Sue post grab my attention first lets start with her. She ended her first post with “Good Sue said to use the easier blogger. But buggar that, what she can do, I can do better! Muwhahahahahah – bring it on!” Honestly at this point, I had thought she had finally lost it because “Girlfriend you are not even in the competition!“:) (If you have been following Sue and my exploits on my podcast site you will be aware that we are a bit competitive! – in a nice way).

So Evil Sue, over the past few days, has been struggling to learning how to use her edublog blog (I did warn her!) and is feeling very old at 34 as she realised the world has changed while her head was buried in work! However she has risen to the challenge and posted an excellent read on “Widgets, Widgets, Widgets” which made me investigate widgets more.

Poor Evil Sue, like most of us, is struggling to keep up-to-date with all this web terminology and widgets is a classic example. In simple terms widgets are mini web applications that you can put onto your website (i.e. blog, wiki, homepage). For example, the feed from my del.icio.us account in my sidebar is a widget. The following pictures are examples of widgets you can get for your site from Widgetbox (unfortunately I am unable to install any at the moment as most run on javascript and it has been disabled on WordPress blogs at the moment due to security issues – however these widgets will embed okay within wikis).

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What makes matters confusing is that there are alternative names for Widgets (Other terms used to describe a Web Widget include Gadget, Badge, Module, Capsule, Snippet, Mini and Flake). Google is a classic example of this, they call their widgets gadgets, when you add stuff to your personalized Google homepage Google says you are adding gadgets. While as an end user, a names does not mean much to us (we just want to put cool things on our site that will interest people that visit our site), for a developer gadgets and widgets imply two different types of applications.

If you want to enhance your website then I suggest you check out the great selection of widgets at Widgetbox, with so many to choose from there is no way you will not fail to bling up your site. Interesting post on the Widgetbox Blog about what make a widget popular – social (built around what you want to share with your friends); personalized (it is your baby’s due date, your website or your blog, your videos, your playlist); simple and catchy.

From my point of view, the only problem with widgets, is I can not always embed the one I want in an edublog blog. Check out my cool animated glitter art on my wiki. So I have had to go with glitter words here instead!

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While Evil Sue has an issue with the idea of a “widget week” because she is feeling overwhelm by all this technology. I think what a cool idea! I think it is time we all started blinging up our sites with cool widgets! Frances I will talk about in my next post (sorry Frances but this post is already too long!)

Open source software (community developed software) – What’s it all about and how does it impact on me?

Proprietary software (e.g. Windows XP) is own by a company, they own the source code (i.e. basic foundation of a program) and the code is built in isolation by their developers. Whereas the principal of open source software is based on the fact that the source code is freely available online and anyone can use it for their own use (without paying to use). Most importantly often a community of developers contribute to the the development of the software. This model works for the same reason that Wikipedia works; based on the Wisdom of Crowds – increasing the number of individuals working together collaboratively increases exchanging of ideas.

To me Firefox is a classic example of the potential impact open source software. Firefox is an open source web browser which many people are starting to use as an alternative to Internet Explorer. Since it’s release on November, 2004 its usage as a web browser has risen from 4.64 % (Dec, 2004) to 15.10 % (Mar, 2007) compared to Internet Explorer that decreased from 90.31 % (Dec, 2004) to 78.57 % (Mar, 2007) (data from Market Share by Net Applications). I, like many others, use Firefox as my preferred browser because I find it has more functionality compared to Internet Explorer. I originally installed Firefox because Internet Explorer kept crashing when I was using WebCT 6.0, and I do not have any problems with this happening with Firefox. Also Firefox has some great add-ons that make it such an excellent web browser.

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Currently the biggest reason why more people do not download open source software is that they do not feel comfortable with the idea of installing software on their computer (in case it damages their computer). Increased user confidence over time will, I believe, lead to increased usage of open source software.

Never work with kids…. or husband!

Absolutely unbelievable. First my son Liam’s ToonDoo comic is more popular than mine (238 views as well as making Editor’s pick) and now my husband, who has only posted once on his site, “The blog of a technology widower” has been written about on another person’s site. What can I say, speechless, luckily I can still type!

Letting it all go…..Gabriella after reading my post on ToonDoo checked it out and obviously had some fun as she made her own comic. I believe she has written that ToonDoo is really easy to use! And she has yet again given me a fabulous link to a site, Comeeko, where you can make comics from your photos. Absolutely brilliant, this means I can now easily create comics from characters, using ToonDoo, or if I want to use my own photos I can use Comeeko.

ToonDoo is a lot easier to use than Comeeko. I love the fact that when they designed ToonDoo software they created it so that kids could easily use – these means that it works so easily and well for anyone. However I like the fact that you can use your own photos with Comeeko and you can download your finished comic onto your computer then easily insert your comic into your blog without having to mess around with code.

From my point of view they are both excellent free online comic creators. Definitely you should give both a try – lots of fun!

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How will organisations meet “Mobility: the next big thing”

Contrary to popular belief I do actually go out. Today I had to take the kids to swimming lessons, which goes for 45 minutes, so it is a good opportunity to catch up on some reading, so I bought myself a Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine to read while I watched them swim (oops was I meant to watch?). Yes I know, probably not the normal magazine a mother would read while her kids do swimming lessons but it really does have excellent articles on PDAs and was well worth the read.

Their article on “The 4 Most Common Mobility Myths” really made me think because mobilising and equipping our vocational and educational training workforce to meet training needs is an important issue in Australia. There is a strong emphasis in Australia to de-institutionalise VET training (move from solely campus based delivery and embrace workplace training as well as industry and community workplace planning & development). Lecturing staff will need to be equipped with mobile devices that both increase their mobility plus enhance their work practices. There will be increased need for training to include e- & m-learning solutions for this transformation of TAFE colleges to occur.

Read what Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine (Feb/Mar 2007 Vol 10, No 1) says about the future of Mobility:

“Corporation limit mobile deployments due to a lack of imagination. They’ve become too focused on the components and are missing the bigger picture. Mobility right now is like the Internet was in 1996; then everyone discounted the Internet, or worried that it would just encourage employees to play games.

Now, companies understand that the Internet is a tremendous resource for accessing and exchanging information, and a powerful platform for commerce. Likewise, companies need to embrace mobility instead of being afraid of it.”

My thoughts on implementing mobility in the TAFE sector:

  1. Focus on the desired outcome before focusing on the technology – Consider what we are really trying to achieve. For example; a workplace assessor who has 50 trainees (able to select from 50 units). This person is going to have to assess and visit lots of trainees in the workplace plus record lots of evidence of these visits and any assessments. If they need the mobility to assess the trainee while the trainee is doing the task in the workplace will a laptop give them adequate mobility while they are conducting the assessment. Unlikely – a PDA may be a better option.
  2. Recognise there is a level of individuality – Individuals will have different personal preferences for which mobile device ends up suiting their needs. For example, some people love the idea of a PDA with inbuilt phone, others prefer separate phone and PDA, and others will not like to use a PDA (e.g. small screen size) and prefer to use a small Tablet PC. We can not nor should not expect one solution to fit all scenarios and all individuals.
  3. Realise that individuals will not know their needs until they actually trial possible solutions – If you asked a person before they ever used a PDA what features they needed, undoubtedly they would choose a model with a large screen, keyboard and phone enabled (and most likely when they get it they will find it is less mobile/desirable than a smaller device). They will have based their decision on their knowledge of PCs because most of them probably have no idea of what a PDA is. Far better to trial a few different types of mobile devices based on advice from people (even if it is outside the organisation) who have had a reasonable amount of experience with a range of mobile devices.
  4. Back up implementation of mobile technology with adequate professional development to ensure the devices will be used effectively – without adequate professional development the full potential of these devices will not be recognised (may become good for playing games or packed away in the cupboard). For most of these devices, extensive PD is necessary and should include not one but several PD workshops (with adequate time between workshops to practice skills).

Why having responsibilities suck (sometimes)!

On Tuesday, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, is coming to Perth; which is amazing because Perth is often referred to as the most isolated city in the World. Yet when I check out the facts on Perth in Wikipedia I am soon set straight by the fact that I live in the second most isolated city in the World, Honolulu is actually the most isolated place (although in my mind there is no comparison).

Besides our isolation we are very lucky to have Jimmy visit Perth for Education.au first seminar for 2007 to present on “Challenging how Knowledge is created” because this is an important event.

Who would have thought that encouraging everyone to collaboratively write information, in the form of a free content encyclopedia, using a wiki, would result in a website that ranks in the top ten most visited websites. Considering Wikipedia has only been going since 2001 and studies have shown that Wikipedia has comparable accuracy to other modern encyclopedias it is an amazing accomplishment. From my point of view, Jimmy’s seminar is a must, because there is obviously so much we can learn from his achievements and his knowledge of collaborative learning using social computing technology.

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But – while it is a must – I can not be for me. He is doing his seminar on Tuesday, the only day of the week that I can not change my work commitments. I have teaching all day for aquaculture and am unable to amend my teaching schedule because my classes are already too disrupted this year due to my heavy e- and m-learning obligations. Perhaps I should send my technophobic husband (to the seminar not my teaching)?

Jimmy Wales presenting for Education.au on “Challenging how Knowledge is created”on the following dates:

  • 23 April Adelaide Hilton Hotel, 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • 24 April Perth Burswood Entertainment Complex, – 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • 26 April Sydney Hilton Hotel, 9:30am – 4pm
  • 27 April Melbourne ZINC at Federation Square, 9:30am – 4:00pm

You can book online!

Please let me know all the wonderful things you learnt from his seminar!

The world has changed….social networking

Michael Coghlan is right “the world has changed…”; it is amazing to consider how the evolution of the World Wide Web and technology has enabled us to network with others using social computing plus maintain these connections and networks with each other regardless of where we are (e.g. sitting on the beach connecting via our mobile phone, PDA or wireless computer). If we reflect back in time, back to the introduction of the World Wide Web, there is no way we would anticipate this would be one of the outcomes. It still amazes me to realise that there are so many people online that I network with, who help and assist me and yet I have never meet.

More amazingly are the different forms of networking involved; and the fact that not all of the networking involves formal contact or communication and yet you gain from the networking. Take for example, Gabriela Grosseck. I came across her blog when I noticed that people were visiting my podcast site as a result of her post on wikispaces which included my interview with Adam Frey, co-founder of wikispaces. Not sure exactly how she came across my podcast site, possibly as a result of post on wikispaces blog.

I now subscribe to Gabriela’s blog because she post excellent information with lots of fantastic links to resources and information that have been of great value to me. She obviously values what I do because she posts about my blog, del.icio.us and wiki site as well now. And the only problem is I don’t read Romanian – well who cares (although I would like to read what she says about me) – doesn’t matter because I follow her links and guess the meanings she is saying. To me that is an amazing example of social networking, to be mutually assisting one another, globally dispersed, and one not able to speak the others language, and yet be able to connect on some level.

To highlight this connection, let me share what I learnt from Gabriela’s post today. I have been putting together tips for using del.icio.us on my wiki because it has taken me awhile to realise the true value of del.icio.us and I meet many people who have the same problem which I think relates to not using it effectively. Today Gabriela introduced me to del.icio.us Network Explorer . This cool application lets you check out yours and other peoples del.icio.us networks. Which is amazing when you start seeing, without realising it, there are many connections between the different individuals within each network. More importantly I then checked her recent bookmarking in her del.cio.us account which gave me additional web sites to more information that help me add to my tips for using del.icio.us on my wiki and I realised the benefits of using networks in del.icio.us and how you can share links with people in your network.

Look at my screenshot below from del.icio.us Network Explorer. Each dot represents a person’s del.icio.us account (191 people shown – if I kept pressing each dot there would have been more people with more connections). Each line shows a connection to another. Amazing to realise that some people you networking with more formally, have network members who connect with people that you informally network with. For example, Graham Wegner I know networks closely with Alex Hayes, and I have spoken a bit with Graham through my connections with Alex and would not know him without this connection. Yet Graham subscribe to many of the same blogs as me.

Yes Michael the “world is definitely changed….”, there is no way that I would have so many social networks that help me with my work and as Thomas Friedman says “The World is Flat“. Thanks Vicki Davis for putting me onto this great book.
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SWAN TAFE PD day

I am part of the Fresh Thinking Program 2006/07 which is funded by the WA Department of Education and Training. Each year a few lecturers from each of the different TAFEWA colleges are selected for the program, to run workshops, on request from other Colleges, on their area of specialty, and the Department covers the cost of the workshops. I was selected to be part of this program as a result of my m-learning work in 2006.

Today was my first workshop commitment as part of this program and I had to present two 1hr 20 min workshops on “E-learning’s evolution into m-learning” at two of SWAN TAFE campuses (Midland and Thornlie). Participants were from a wide range of industry areas (e.g. building and construction, horticulture, aviation) and had differing levels of exposure to e-learning. However most do not use e-learning with their students and were interested to learn more about e-learning. Bit of a problem as the workshop’s focus is meant to be on m-learning.

All was good though, because my presentation started by first looking at how technology has changed dramatically since 1991 and how this has resulted in the evolution of e-learning. As I worked through some of the key dates, in terms of e-learning, in the evolution of the World Wide Web (e.g. World Wide Web; WebCT; Elluminate; Wikipedia; blogs; wikis; Youtube) I was able highlight different types of e-learning that they could use with their students. I then moved onto m-learning and they each got to use a PDA (to see how they work and to check out some of the student resources); try out the spyglasses and some checked out the video ipod. End result I certainly had a good time and I hope they all did as well.

Probably for many of participants the major issue is time; most lecturers, especially those in trade areas, are struggling to keep up with training demands. Western Australia currently has an unemployment rate of 2.7 % (which is the lowest in Australia). So while e-learning can assist their programs they do not necessary have the time to learn the skills to use it effectively.

My suggestion to lecturers new to e- or m-learning is to focus on learning one main skill so they do not feel overwhelmed. There are some many possible starting points – probably the best idea is to first think about what you are trying to achieve and then consider the possible e- or m-learning solutions. For example with remote students, loss of face-to-face student interaction is an issue, and Elluminate (using web conferencing technology) is an excellent e-learning solution for enhancing the program and it is very easy to use (TAFEWA has the licence for Elluminate which means all TAFEWA lecturers have access to it).

This has been a very hard post to write. Not because it was hard to think of what to write but because tonight my girlfriend came to visit. She convinced my husband that he has to set up his own blog (I would not exactly say he is into technology – for example – insists always on spending days reading instruction manuals and then still have to ask me for help) and then proceeded to help him set it up (they have been sitting next to me all night chatting – very hard to concentrate). If you would like to check out his progress with technology, marriage to an Internet addict and kids who are almost as addicted as their mother you can find his blog at The Blog of a Technology Widower. Please, I beg you, do not subscribe to his blog or post comments, the family has too many people into the Internet (and I do not want to share my computer!).

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