The ability to post my blog from email

I have learnt today (from James Clay of elearningstuff) that it is possible for me to update my WordPress blog by sending emails – which is what I am doing here. Now this is a very useful tool, as it makes it easier to post whilst on the move (I am writing this whilst on a train – while not having internet connectivity) – and strengthens the case that I have been trying to make in recent weeks for the value of the blog as a tool for reflective practice.

Instructions on how to do this are available at http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/post-by-email/

Food labels – are we trying to confuse people?

There are often reports in the media about people not understanding the nutritional information on food labels, which is partly due to a lack of understanding, but also related to the food companies deliberately try to mislead people to make their foods sound more healthy e.g. advertising a yogurt as 0% fat, only to find it has been filled with loads of sugar
I once saw an advert at a farm in Wales selling fresh milk that is ‘96% fat free’. Now 96% fat free means 4% fat – which is actually full fat milk – brilliant campaign though, wonder how many feel for it.

One thing that I don’t understand though is this food label, as there is 67% wheat 34% sugar (that’s 101% with only the first 2 ingredients) Glucose syrup is then next, followed by honey at 3% (so Glucose must be more than 3% – so in total there is at least 107% of ingredients in this box!

People like me that work in education are keen to raise the standards of people’s basic skills (numeracy, literacy, IT etc) but it doesn’t help when we get information like this out there.

Confidentiality when using a blog for reflective practice

Following my recent post on using a blog for reflective practice I have been asked about issues of confidentiality with these ideas, and this is of course a very important area, but one that can be resolved by applying some common sense, and thinking about each case individually. Here are a few pointers and an idea of the thought process that I go through when designing or advising people on such systems.

For example if you want learners to use a blog for reflective practice:-

The first decision is ‘Do you use an in house option, or go for a free external service?’ To many it may seem obvious to go for the in house option, which has obvious advantages of:-

  • Being secure behind an organisations system
  • Being easy to set up (as may be an existing feature of an existing VLE)
  • There won’t be any advertising
  • The service is unlikely to go bust
  • Etc.

However, there is one major disadvantage of this – and that is the organisation would ‘own’ the blog, not the individual – which in many cases would mean that when the individual leaves the organisation, they would lose their blog. This for me would not be acceptable for a reflective log, as the learner should have the reflective log for the rest of their lives.

Yes there may be the option to package and export an in house blog to give to the learner, but this would almost certainly lose some of its functionality, and any links to it from other people’s blog or websites.

So I think that the external option has to be seriously considered – which brings us to the next decision – ‘Do we force the learner to have a blog?’ One thing that I think would be morally very wrong would be to force anyone to subscribe to any internet service for them to complete their studies – so any of these ideas have to be optional for the learner, the way that I would play it, is to insist that the learners carry out a reflective log, but leave it up to them how they do it – so some may use pen and paper (or at least type it into Word) – but show them what the advantages are of having an electronic tool such as a blog – and then give them confidence that you will accept just about any format of reflective tool.

If some or all of the learners like the idea of having a blog, there is a need to educate them about safe practice, appropriate use, copyright issues, confidentiality etc – all of these things being skills that realistically they should know and have in this media rich environment, especially if they are on a course such as teacher training. With just about all the web2.0 options available an individual can make things open to everyone, private to themselves, or private to a small group of people, and again these options need to be explored and the advantages and disadvantages considered. I personally keep most things open for the whole World to see, but it is more likely that people may want their reflective logs to be private, but shared amongst their peers and tutors.

People often ask me about what happens if the blog providers goes bust, or starts charging, and again this is a real issue to consider, and my line of approach is to ask myself the question – how does this service make (or plan to make) money? There are generally 4 options.

  1. Making money from having a higher level of service that people subscribe to (e.g. Flickr, WordPress)
  2. Making money from advertising on the site (e.g. Blogger, BlogSpot YouTube)
  3. Making money from selling associated items (e.g. Skype makes money by selling Skype phones)
  4. Providing a successful service that then gets bought out by one of the big boys (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft etc) – this is the model that many web2.0 tools work by, but changes in the global economic situation has meant that less of these acquisitions are taking place at the moment, so the web2.0 tools are having to use the other options of making money, which in most cases means option 1 – introducing charges for the service, in the case of Flickr or WordPress, the ‘free’ option provides enough for us to use educationally – other services will offer a free limited service to get you hooked, but then introduce charges to open up additional features, this is OK as you know where you stand, where it goes wrong is if they introduce charges for the entire service – in this case it is about exporting the content and moving to another tool.

In terms of blogging tools, Blogger and BlogSpot are both owned by Google, who then make money from advertising. Google is unlikely to go bust, and is unlikely to stop offering a free service, so I think it is highly unlikely that these tools will disappear – but you do have to accept the advertising on the site. I personally use WordPress for my blog, as I think that it looks more professional, it doesn’t have any advertising, and the way that they make money is by selling a higher level service to advanced users, and I believe that they make enough money from this that my ‘free’ blog isn’t at risk.

So to conclude – I am trying to get people interested in the ideas and thinking about the options, if someone does want to take these further, then applying a bit of thought and common sense and ‘walking’ through the options is required – but a sensible, practical solution can be achieved.

Tagging videos as an educational tool

Over the last 12 months I have regularly demonstrated Veotag which is an excellent site where you upload a video, you then go through the video and apply ‘tags’ and a textual description to parts of the videos. these tages can then be used to navigate to a certain point within the video, or you can directly link to one from somewhere else (e.g. a blog being used a reflective diary), or just to provide additional information about what is going on in the video. This could be used by the tutor creating resources for learners, or by learners showing their understanding of a topic. An example of a veotag output can be found here.

However Veotag have announced this week that they will be stopping the free service, which is a real shame, so I have started looking at alternatives.

One option would be to use YouTube and the caption tool built into that – an example of which would be (I have used the same video and added a couple of captions at the beginning. This wasn’t as easier to do as with veotag, but I think that YouTube is unlikley to ever go away or to start charging.

Another option is something called Viddler which does allow tags and captions which are quite easy to add, and by the looks of it, other people can add captions and tags to my video, which could have huge educational benefits (as well as a few undersireable side effects) – and the output from this looks like

Now I still think that Veotag does the job the best, so I guess that I will have to look at how much it costs to subscribe, but at least I know that there are other alternatives out there that can be used.