Lame Encoding

Part of the setup for Radio EDUtalk consists of AutoDJ where various rotations of mp3s are automatically played on the Live shows and stream EDUtalk page. We have now got about 4GB of audio from the broadcasts and podcast. These files are uploaded to the Radio server. As we pay for storage I cycle through a few sets from time to time.
When we set this up initially it involved converting all of the mp3 files to 64kbps and mono. I posted a description of the workflow I used to do this here: Summer pt 1: Radio EDUtalk.

Since then I’ve been gathering all the audio added by simply subscribing to the Edutalk podcast in iTunes. Today I thought I’d sort out the most recent files (104 episodes had build up) and add them into the mix. The last time out I used id3tool to add tags to the audio. Unfortunately this uses a old version of id3 tags which means some of the titles are truncated. I decided to look for a new workflow.
I found ID3 Editor which has mac, windows and linux versions, costs £10 and comes with a commandline utility.

This means I can use LAME to make 64kbps mono versions of the files and then just copy the tags across from the original files. I think, in theory, I could extract the original tags with exiftool and pass them to LAME to write them to the new file, but that seems far to hard for me to work out.

So in the terminal I move into the Edutak directory and convert all files to 64 mono in new folder with:

mkdir save && for f in *.mp3; do lame -m m -b 64 --resample 44.1 "$f" ./save/"${f%.mp3}.mp3"; done

This takes a wee while, and then this copies the id3 tags:

for f in *.mp3; do /Volumes/ID3 Editor/Extras/id3edcmd -import "$f" ./save/"${f%.mp3}.mp3"; done

I have a folder full of files to upload to the server (which looks like taking a few hours).

I've been thinking a lot about glow recently. Banging on the new 365 facility when I can and going over some old thoughts. I felt it might be good to get a few posts out over the break before I start the new post of 'glow product owner' in January. This should let me look back and think ‘how naïf’ or let other folk say, but you said…

One of the complaints I've heard countless times is the glow passwords are too complex for pupils, especially younger ones. Of then teachers turn up to glow training courses without their usernames and password and these have to be reset.

The reason given for problems with passwords is generally, they are too complex, or 'I have too many passwords'. I don't think either of these ring particularly true. I think David Gilmore told m something like, 'people will remember passwords if what is behind them is important enough'.

So part of the problem may be that what you get for remembering your glow password is not perceived as valuable enough. Perhaps we need 'stuff' in glow that is of enough value that folk remember their passwords or do not mind the hassle of getting them reset. Being able to reset your password via an email, as in most online services, might just be a good idea. It would certainly have cut my workload down a wee bit over the last few years.

By valuable I don't just mean a pile of resources, but the password protects a system that  is both powerful and easy enough to use.

The other aspect I think needs addressed is the matter of what is password protected. Should a list of resources be protected? I don't think so. A simple example might be a list of links for a class and a learning opportunity to go with it. Does that need to be behind a password, I don't believe so. If this resource also has a place for pupils to discuss and report then this may need to be password protected, to avoid spam, and perhaps protect pupils.

Likewise resources for staff do not need to be behind a password, it might be handy if tools to organise these resources could be associated with a teachers login, but folk would only need to login to do that organisation or storage.

So there may be value in having part of the new glow being free and open on the web, and for the bits behind the padlock to add value and be easy to use.

Wordpress code skew

A while back when posterous shut up shop we took and made it a wordpress site. I blogged some of the process EDUtalk Setup – WordPress Tech Notes.

This weekend I’ve been trying to improve the workflow for the live shows we do as part of the site.

Previously we have a page which lists all of the planned shows. This page is just edited by hand, and show information needs to be deleted after the show goes out.

I’ve felt for a while that we should be able to do something better. My idea was as each show was arranged it should be a post which would be published on the Forthcoming page until it was broadcast and recorded, the post would then go to the main page. The problem I for saw was that the posts would be dated when first published and not when the audio was added. The Radio ‘episodes’ would then not fit in with the main flow.

I did a bit of googling1, and found you can:

  • create custom posts types in WordPress which could have extra fields, for example date.
  • sort post by this date field (on the Forthcoming page)
  • publish/show ‘draft’ posts (on the Forthcoming page)

So this is what I did:

  1. Made a custom post type called show
  2. Gave the editor for shows a ‘Meta Box’ with a field for the planned show date.
  3. Added a datepicker with jQuery UI.
  4. Created a schedule page where draft shows are shown sorted in order of the datepicker field

The process of posting is now:

  1. When a broadcast is arranged we create a draft show. This then shows up in the correct order of the Schedule page.
  2. After the broadcast we will add the archived audio to the ‘show’ and publish it, it will then be automatically removed from the Schedule and be posted, with the correct date onto the blog.

What is to Love?

Out the box a wordpress blog is a useful publishing system, it is pretty easy to use. I’ve found when introducing staff to blogs they can use them quickly without much explanation. They usually find it easier to use than editing their school websites.

The next step is to activate some plugin, edit themes and add some widgets, this will enable lots more functionality. For example the FeedWordPress plugin pulls in audioboos tagged edutalk and publishes then on the Edutalk site. The WPBadger plugin allows us to issue open badges.

After that you might need to dig a little deeper and edit the code, this is a lot less scary than it sounds. It looks like wordpress is designed for folk to tweak and edit even if they have no real coding chops. Everything seems to be in its own we compartment and made to be easiy to edit. Experimenting with code in a child theme makes it easy to step back if you get into trouble. There is also a huge community of folk posting information on the web, and the WordPress Codex: the online manual for WordPress and a living repository for WordPress information and documentation..

I had only the vaguest idea of what I was doing to improve our workflow, but a very short time on google sorted it out.

This makes wordpress a very nice platform for developing online spaces, there is not a huge gulf between just using the software ‘out of the box’ and beginning to customise it to your needs.

Glow Blogs

Tomorrow is my last day working in North Lanarkshire before I take a secondment to work with glow. At the moment, thousands of glow blogs exist, running on a fairly old version of wordpress with very little opportunity to do much in the way of customisation. I hope that glow will both continue to supply WordPress blogs and to make them much more powerful. I’ve no idea if I will be in a position to influence this, but this is what I would like:

  • The MextAwebLogAPI to be activated, this allows posting to blogs from mobile applications.
  • More plugins, especially FeedWordPress that would allow a teacher to ‘collect’ their pupils blogs or anyone to create a space were others could easily contribute from their own blog.
  • Access to editing the code, either through the web interface of via ftp (I guess this might be the hardest one to pull off).
  • More themes (there are only about 6 in glow) would not do any harm.

One way to do this, would be for glow to supply web hosting, these spaces, like cheap webhosting all over the internet, could allow one click installs of WordPress (and lots of other software). I explored this in a recent post here: Glow should be at the trailing edge? but have not really got an idea if this is possible from either a cost or execution point of view? I hope to find out soon if this is a possibility or a pipe dream.

A final note, this blog does not run off wordpress but pivotx. Edutalk, ScotEdublogs and my DS106 blog, 106 drop in, are all WordPress.

It has been five short years since I left the classroom and much to my surprise I am going to be moving on, for a secondment. Recently I was approached to take a role in the development of glow. The role is one of three product owners, I am not sure exactly what I’ll be doing but it involves working with the team at Scottish Government to develop the ICT in excellence recommendations.

Exciting stuff, as I understand it I’ll be working with a team of developers as a ‘product owner’, this is a completely new direction for me. I’ve read a description or two of what the being a product owner entails and it seems somewhat daunting. I am hoping that my enthusiasm for ICT and online learning will carry me through. I’ll also be relaying on Ian Stuart, a member of the ICT in excellence group and one of the other product owners to get me up to speed. (Ian tweeted as Islayian until now, this post requires relocation and a new twitter name: @IanStuart66)

I was interested to read a few tweets in response to Fearghal Kelly’s tweet about the advert for the job for the third product owner. Fearghal had been asked to do this, but a replacement biology teacher could not be found. Fearghal’s tweet surfaces a wee bit of less than positive feeling towards glow from others in Scottish education.

Today Fearghal came back with a solid response on this blog, Glowing Forwards explaining that it the potential not the reality of glow that is exciting.

Personally in private and public, I’ve spent a fair bit of time musing on and criticising glow. A lot of my work in the past five years has been in supporting the use of glow, and I’ve heard a lot of folk talking about the problems. From the start I’ve believed that the concept of a national space and set of services/connections is a good thing but have sometime been disappointed with that is provided. I’ve posted a lot here, varying from beta test reports, through moans to weird hacks to get glow to behave as I think it should. I am not starry eyed about glow but I do think it is needed.

One reason is the uneven access to online tools across Scotland. Some authorities are risk adverse, some are neophiles. There have been some attempts to change this politically for longer than glow has existed they do not seem to have move the goalposts much. Perhaps a new glow could help. To do so it would need to provide a good set of standard tools, the sort that are used for all kinds of things across the internet. I am not talking here about VLEs or LMS, but blogs, wikis and other malleable systems.

A few years ago when I started using some Web 2.0 tech with my pupils I was breaking new ground, at least locally. Luckily for me I was too naïf to ask permission, it would probably not have given. I was also excited and pig headed enough to keep banging away at getting the technology to work. Not everyone likes to spend there time this way and nor should they.

I think there should be two ways to use glow: 1. pick it up and run, 2. Hack and modify. The first would be the general way to use it ,the second would have space for innovation. I do not mean hack in just the realm of software or code but more generally. A way to take a tool and use it in a completely or slightly new way. Teachers constantly do this across the curriculum and across age and stage. They take lessons, topics, ideas and make them suit their class, pupils and situation, it should be possible to do this with online tools.

I also think that Sharepoint, behind the original glow portal and being developed by Education Scotland as a major part of the new glow is not the best way to go about this Eduhacking. I might be wrong about this and look forward to finding out more of how it will fit in the new service. I hope it is just one of a range of tools. To me, Sharepoint looks like a powerful toolkit for centrally designing online spaces. To exploited it best it needs professionals. These professionals can design tools and spaces for teachers and learners based on what is understood about the teaching and learning process. But it does not feel friendly to the casual user who wants to bend it to a particular task. It does not feel like a space where the users will innovate.
I’ve blogged about this recently, Glow should be at the trailing edge.

We need other technologies too, VLEs, mail perhaps video hosting, these are often available at a price or free online already, but I’ve watched quite a few services come and go over the last few years and we need to keep in mind that the developers of these services need to make money somehow:

If you had asked me a couple of years ago about an interesting blogging tool that might be a great fit for the classroom I would have pointed you towards posterous. This was a service that was always going to be free, until twitter bought it and it closed down. Personally I was left with nearly 1000 posts on edutalk to try and sort out into a new system. (The provided tools didn’t work very well with audio!). The point is that teachers comfortable with online spaces would roll with it and find new tools if say Edmodo disappears but a lot of others will become frustrated and disenchanted. Hopefully the new glow will provide a bit of stability if not all of the polish and gloss of brand new and shiny tools.

There is a lot of work to do, glow has suffered from a barrage of criticism and slow response its critics. The transition, and uncertainty around it have not helped much, but it does look like the government is going to push ahead with glow taking the ‘ICT in excellence’ groups advice and that sounds like an interesting place to work.

I’ve been reading a lot about teaching code in schools and computational thinking recently, good to see an alternative view Why Pushing People to Code Will Widen the Gap Between Rich and Poor | Wired Opinion |

Public vs. Private – Should Student Work Be Public On the Web? | The Edublogger, When I started blogging with my pupils, the whole point was to be public. Recently, I’ve been involved in setting up e-portfolios with hundreds of pupils and the idea we are missing a trick by making these private is always at the back of my mind. In North Lanarkshire, where I work, there has been a recent flourishing of use of glow blogs, but a lot of the public ones are written to by staff as an adjunct to their school website. I wonder if this will develop to more pupil publishers? I also notice that now blogging is much more widespread that many using them are not involved in the social aspect of blogging: commenting and reading other blogs. The are perhaps being used more for communication with parents and the local community? – one click video conversations is one several sites that have popped up recently offering WebRTC video conferencing in some browsers (Chrome, Firefox, opera).

I’ve been doing a bit of iPad screencasting of late this is a good guide on how to do it. I use Airserver and screnflow rather than the applications Ben Rimes use but the process is the same, Ben’s scren cast is in a competion at the monet so if you want to help him win give his youtube the thumbs up. How To: Screen Record Your iPad – ScreenChamp Finalist 2013 – YouTube

Here is how to turn your smartphone into a digital microscope for just $10: DIY

Recently we have had quite a few guests on Radio EDUtalk who have talked about or been interested in open badges1. As I’ve blogged about before I am not completely sold on badges for learning but I am interested enough to want to try them out is a small way. Unfortunately I don’t have any pupils to use a guinea pigs. I therefore though it might be worth a wee experiment on EDUtalk badges.

A little googling lead me to davelester/WPBadger, A lightweight badge issuing platform built using WordPress and I’ve installed the plugin at EDUtalk. After installing there are a few different additions to the dashboard:

  • In the settings there is a WPBadger Configuration section where you set up an email that will be sent when a badge is awarded.
  • The Badges section is where you create Badges, these look like custom posts. They contain a description and an image.
  • There is an Awards section where you award the badges by creating posts.

It took me a few attempts to get to a system that seems to work. I had to use the version rather than the one in the wordpress plugin repository. I also made a few mistakes setting up badges, you need to limit the description string to long and then had single quotes in a description. Once I had changed that things began to work.

I’ve not tested the system to any great extent, Robert Drummond kindly helped, but it seems to work. I don’t think I’ll award badges willi-nilly to all our previous guests of contributors, but please get in touch if you have been a guest or contributed audio if you want me to send you a badge and help testing the system.

It looks as if setting up a badges system is pretty simple for teachers who have access to a wordpress blog they can install plugins in via FTP and pupils or learners with a mozilla backpack.

I went along to the High School of Glasgow this evening for TeachMeet Tablet 2. Work and traffic conspired to make me pretty late and I had missed the first set of presentations, arriving in time for the round tables.

At the last minute I had volunteered to organise one of these, on workflow, handing out work and gathering it in on iPads. I demoed showbie and we had a chat about some edge cases and how these could work.

After that we had some more presentations:

Sally Foster talked about using one iPad in class, with more ideas than I could take notes for. I liked, in particular, the idea of a the teacher moving round the classroom and showing pupil work on the smartboard via Apple TV (you could use a computer and AirServer too).

Paul Casey showed some apps for teacher workflow, Planbook, Gradebook, HanDBase, and iBooks (and Author). All of these apps look as if they can help with teacher planning and organisation.

Both Sally’s and Paul’s presentations were of interest to anyone with an iPad, you didn’t need to be in a 1-2-1 classroom to get some great ideas.

David Muir then started what looks like a long term view, over several teachmeets at the SAMR moodle. Using iBooks he too us from substitution to augmentation, demoing some nice features of the iBooks app an a few minutes.

My own presentation was the last. I was showing an example of using several different apps in a row do preform a task. I’ve found myself often doing this in iOS and noticed in classroom visits that primary pupils seem to pick this up naturally, more so perhaps than with traditional desktops.

I’ve seen this referred to as app smashing or chaining, I prefer the idea of a playflow, having fun with a series of applications. (I do not want to smash or chain anything up;-)). Here is a quick and dirty screencast of the process I demoed, the only difference was at teachmeet I recorded an audience produced series of croaks as an audio track to the final movie.

This particular flow is adapted from one shown to me by my collegue Ian Sorensen.

Here is the process.

  1. Starting in Safari, use to find a copyright free photo.
  2. Save to Photo Library/Camera Roll
  3. Use superimpose to save a ‘mask’ with a transparent background.
  4. Saved To Photo Library
  5. Explain Everything: Import background then add image with transparent background. Create recording of image moving across background.
  6. Export movie to Photo Library.
  7. Open in iMovie for further editing.

I was delighted to see this tweet linking to a video today, showing I had at least a little impact:

Watch the #TMTablet tweets for the next teachmeet tablet.