Life in Links 2015-05-21

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Being Swayed

After testing Slate a while back I though I’d try out Microsoft Sway. I downloaded the app to my phone on the bus and made this while traveling home on bus and train.

Sway feels much like Adobe Slate, I used the same words and pictures to test Slate on my iPad a few posts ago: Chalking my First Slate.

Both Apps produce stylish, responsive webpages with nice fonts, full width images and slick galleries created from blocks of content.

Both host everything for you at no cost. Neither lets you download the work locally.

I am ‘reviewing’ them for a position of using them once. Given Sway is beta and I only used the iPhone app I take everything here with a pinch of salt.

While Slate was iPad only ,the iOS version of Sway is for the iPhone. Sway in the browser seems to be more of a web producer fitting in with your MS office account apps.

I’ve also installed Sway on an iPad and it just scales the interface to fit the screen, it seems to work just as well there as on the phone.

I was surprised to find how pleasant Sway was to use on a phone. The interface made it easy to add the content blocks.

The browser version of Sway allows video and access to photos from Flickr, OneDrive, Youtube and more. Slate give access to Lightroom, Creative Cloud and DropBox. The Sway iPhone app only gives access to your camera roll at the moment.

Sway is in preview and the iPhone app indicates that there are more content block (called cards) in the works. Currently you can add Headers (image and text), photos text and More. The more turns out to be ‘cards’ currently groups and stacks of images, more are coming:

sway-comingsoon

Sway on Glow?

When I posted my sway on twitter, I got a reply from someone from Microsoft. I had the chance to ask if Sway would be usable with a edu O365 account:

Sway would make a nice presentation tool for use in Glow.

I’ve got a few negative feelings about all of these services.

Firstly the lack of control of the data you publish to them. I’ve watched a few web services disappear. I generally like to at least have an export option. I’d love one of these tools to give you the opportunity to publish to your own space or download copies. That said it seems unlikely any of these companies are going out of business soon.

I also wonder if all of these highly polished presentation tools take away some creativity. Making anything with technology gives a range of choices about how near the metal you get with your tools. If we were trying to teach learners about presentation there are limitations.

Effortless design

Sway’s built-in design engine takes the hassle out of formatting your various pieces of content by integrating them into a cohesive layout. From there, you can easily adjust the design to create a look and feel that reflects your unique style.

from: Office Sway – Create and share amazing stories, presentations, and more

Some might think that the hassle is part of the fun or learning?

I am quite likely wrong about this. I’ve be saying it for a while. I though the same about iMovie trailers, too easy to learn with. But I’ve seen some nice examples of learning using iMovie trailers.

There is also this problem

Is the Medium the Message?

Both Sway and Slate remind me of medium, I’ve put the same text and images on medium as a comparison.

I also created a home knitted version The Devils Pulpit. This is somewhat less polished, but fun to do.

All three applications are easy to pick up an use. They do not allow much customisation of the layout. Sway having more choices medium the least.

Sway and Slate both offer embed codes, Slate’s is limited to a clickable splash screen that takes you to adobe’s site. Sway’s embed is, in my opinion, much nicer.

For the words and images I was using I prefer Slate’s presentation a little. I like the ‘letterbox’ background images that scroll a lot. I did manage to get these working to some extent (no mobile) on my hand knitted attempt.

Medium is more focused on writing than Sway or Slate.

Medium is the only one that offers something in the way of guidance and suggestions as to what to read. I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of writing on medium through my daily email.

Both Sway and Slate are particularly nice ways to publish when you want your images to be as important as your words. Given Sway has an iPhone app it would be a good choice for using on the move (and on the bus). Sway would be a great tool for producing good looking reports from school trips. For myself I’ll probably stick to blog posts and hand knitted solutions where the fun is in the making.

A Little Aggregation

Starlings

The new Syndication plugin gives Glow Blogs the ability to bring content in from other sources aggregating content into one space.

For example a School site could aggregate several department or class blogs. This gives the classes/departments a degree of autonomy and control. Schools could decide to only pull in posts with a particular category or tag onto the mothership site.

I’ve been a big fan of aggregation of information ever since I started blogging. Blogs provide a stream of their posts as RSS. This can be used to keep on top of a lot of content through an RSS reader and RSS can be used to distribute information. For example you can show posts from one blog on the sidebar of another with the RSS widget.

Going further than that usually takes a bit more work and either a plugin, specialised software or a workaround. For example on the Blogging Bootcamp I am pulling in links from over 50 blogs through one aggregate RSS feed. The aggregation is being done by an external site inoreader. The only option was to display this in the blog sidebar. I hope to be able to do similar projects from now on with the syndication plugin and displaying posts.

The Syndication Plugin

In phase 2.2 of the Glow Blogs project we added the syndication plugin. This is a simplified version of a more complex plugin being developed by Automattic. The plugin allows you to add RSS feeds so that their posts appear on the syndicating blog. Once you have activated the plugin you can create a group, add sites to it via their RSS feeds and pull that content onto your blog where it is published. Importantly you can set it so that the source link for the post is the original blog and commentators will be redirected there, you do not need to steal the content.

This is what we do on ScotEduBlogs where over 100 blogs are aggregated for easy reading. Until now it would not  be possible to do this in Glow.

It is also how the best, in my opinion, course on the internet is run DS106.. There the course activities are posted and participants responses, published on their own sites are pulled in. the syndication plugin will give us a chance to do this inside Glow Blogs.

I’ve started a guide to using the plugin on the Glow Help Blog (Syndication Plugin | Glow Blog Help) and am starting to use the plugin for a couple of projects (#ShareOurLearning | Gathering Learning from around Scotland).

Glow Cast

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Glow Cast is a new podcast. Just one episode so far.

As you would imagine it is a podcast about Glow. The idea is to keep the episodes short and fairly casual. The more important function is to demonstrate how easy it s to podcast and provide some resources for would be podcasters.

Glow Blogs now provide a very good podcasting platform. The increase upload file size will ensure that reasonable length podcasts can be published with ease.

I’ve long believed that podcasting is a very underused technology in the classroom. It can be a very motivating tool that can touch on any area of the curriculum as well as hitting multiple literacy experiences. Podcasting can provide great opportunities for projects and collaborative learning. In the past it was quite difficult technically but now it is very simple indeed.

**If you are thinking of dipping your toes into podcasting but are unsure of the first steps check out Glow Cast the resources are only beginning to to build.

#GlowBlogs get your Jetpack on

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I’ve not had much time to blog about the Blogs Update Phase 2.2 – WordPress 4.1.2 in Glow Blogs, but I spent a wee bit of time on a new blog showing the features the Blogs gain from jetpack. Imaginatively I called the blog Jetpack. There are lots on nice things for blogs and school websites in Jetpack.

There are a couple of nice new themes and other plugins too. More later.

Life in Links 2015-04-12

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From Pinboard: bookmarks for johnjohnston for the most part.

Open Serendipity

One of the things I love about open education in general, and open educational resources in particular, is the creative potential they offer to find, use, reuse, create and recreate such a wealth of diverse content and resources.

Lorna Campbell: Creativity, serendipity and open content | Open World

The post has some lovely examples of sources of surprising  stuff, great rabbit hole links to dive into. Most of the sources could easily be used to inspire some digital creativity, storytelling or practise using media tools. Or just for a little silliness!


Tit-Bits – digitalvictorianist.com

Chalking my First Slate

I had a bit of a play with Adobe Slate this morning. It is an iOS app for publishing words and pictures.

The Devil's Pulpit
The Devil’s Pulpit

It is quite a very process which allows you to get good looking results quickly. Macworld points out some limitations that struck me immediately.

It’s dead-simple, but also quite limited. You can choose from a handful of themes to change the whole look of the story, but can’t adjust individual fonts or formats, or even add a link within a larger block of text. (You can, however, place links as standalone buttons.) You can change image formats so they appear full screen, inline, or as a scrolling “window,” but you can’t add borders or freely move images around. Video isn’t supported at all.

What we gain

I guess slate is part of the same move to allowing producers to concentrate on the content while the ‘professionals’ provide the design.
Like Medium you cannot argue with the results from a clean readable point of view.
We can publish text and pictures easily on a blog. I am sure we can find a theme or two with typography that is as good, but I suspect it might be hard to find such elegant handling of images.

What we lose

I am not a professional writer or photographer, neither am I a designer or coder (obviously;-)).
I publish ‘stuff’, sometime approaching stories, because it is fun and I want to explore the potential of these activities for learning. I have different degrees of interest in all aspects of the process, I think I can learn from each.
I’ve been thinking about the tension between ease of use and creativity for a while. For learners we will sometimes want them to concentrate on one particular aspect of the work. I can’t be the only teacher who sometimes asked pupils to leave font and style changes till the story was finished. At other times we will want them to get fully involved in messy learning.
We also lose some control of the data when we publish to silo sites. I am pretty sure that Medium and Adobe will be around a lot longer than Posterous, but I still like backups.

Alternatives

Just as I am writing this I remember an earlier experiment A Walk to Loch Oss using Odyssey.js

The odyssey.js library is being developed to help journalists, bloggers, and other people on the web publish stories that combine narratives with maps and map interactions. The library is open source and freely available to use in your projects. It is initially being built to work with most modern browsers

from: odyssey.js README on GitHub. Odyssey.js adds maps to the mix but might be an interesting alternative to Slate that allows you more control and ownership. I am sure there are others out there.

update

After I posted this I kept thinking about the ‘own your own’ argument and decided to have a wee go at replicating the story myself.
A bit of googling for CSS hints and a couple of JavaScript libraries and I have The Devil’s Pulpit 2, handcrafted.

It is nowhere near as slick as the Adobe version(surprise) and so far does not look good on mobile.

It was a lot of fun to play with but I noticed a lack of attention to the actual story in my process.

I guess the best thing about tools like slate is the way they get out of your way and let you focus on content. I just like some of the fussing and futzing that goes with more basic solutions sometimes.

#GlowScot Wiki Warm Ups

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Over in the day job, most of my energy is spent on Glow Blog. I am also acting as ‘product owner’ for Glow Wikiis too. The went live with little fanfare in January and have been ticking along ever since.

We are now about to offer some support in using the wikis to interested teachers and classes. This support will take two different tacks, one aimed at individual staff and the other at classes.
The support will be online, through Glow Meet, documentation and some wiki tasks.

The Staff support will consist of a Glow Meet going over the basic of wikis and some practise in wiki editing supported, if needed, by the meet.

The class support will be for classes with an idea of what they want to do. A wiki will be set up and the pupils initially introduced in the same way as the staff. Ongoing dialog with the class will be kept up in their wikis discussion.

You can read more on a page the main Glow Wiki: Wiki Warm Ups where there is a link to register interest, help decide dates etc.

I feel wikis are Glows secret weapon, their simplicity and ease of use offering an quick way into online collaboration, collective publishing and more.

We probably need to give more thought and discussion as to why you would use a wiki as opposed to a blog, OneNote or a SharePoint group and I hope to think aloud about that here soon.

A peep through the periscope

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 Periscope is a new video streaming service that hooks up through your Twitter account. It seems to have stolen a march over its rival Meerkat: Periscope v. Meerkat: Our Initial Re/action | Re/code

I gave periscope a quick test yesterday afternoon. In a break in the rain I headed to The Whangie for a quick walk. When I got to the Whangie itself I had I blob of 3G on my phone so without much hope I fired up periscope.

I was quite surprised that I seemed to connect and started walking and talking. I could not really see the screen due to lack of reading glasses and s rain speckled screen but I think a few people connected.
After nearly four minutes I finished. He app seemed to be trying to upload the video? Given the poor connectivity I was not surprised that it failed. The video was saved to my camera roll though.

Later reviewing the video I see that I made the mistake of assuming periscope would do landscape videos. The video look like a misty day in minecraft, I guess quality is decided by connection?

  

I’ve watched a few other streams and the quality has been a lot better than mine. It is quite strange watching random streams as folk try to figure out what is going on. I did see a broadcast of a ‘sporting’ event from quite nearby as swimmers in wetsuits tackled the Maryhill canal locks.

Educationally, what is this good for? Perhaps live links beamed back into classrooms from field trips or broadcasting egg incubators out to pupils at home after school.
The app is optimised for iOS 7.1 or later and iPhone 5 and up which I guess rules out my old iPhone 4 for experimenting with.
Why use it rather than other streaming apps, ease of use first and perhaps the low bandwidth requirements.