Life in Links 2015-04-12


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 –

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.


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.


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


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

 periscope icon

 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.

Unexpected Practices

it is seldom about technology designers’ a priori plans for a technology, and more about users’ unexpected practices with it. That, to me, is the most fascinating and useful basis of research inquiry.

via Brief statement on ‘Digital Wisdom’ | Ibrars space.

I love ‘unexpected practices’ it is why we need flexible technology in Learning and Teaching.

My favourite use for word when I was teaching primary 6 was as a poor man’s vector editor, Sandaig Otters » Seeing Stars, and I’ve often been surprised by how pupils and teachers bend unsuitable software to their needs.

Talking Big WordPress

Last week I attended the WordPress Big Media & Enterprise Meetup in London.

I was asked down to talk about Glow Blogs. Given this was a meet up of pretty serious WordPress developers I was reasonably nervous about talking to them. I decided that I’d give an overview of Glow Blogs through the lens of a look at the parallels between of the benefits of publishing in the open by pupils and teacher and open source software.

My point was that the benefits of sharing collaboration and serendipity are applicable to blogging in education and developing open source software.

The VIP wordpress folk have been kind enough to post the video WordPress For Weans – how the Scottish education system is encouraging kids to contribute with confidence

Apart from anything else this makes me realize that the number of physical tics I have when speaking means I should stick to podcasting.

I was fortunate to be speaking first, which left me able to listen to the other presentations in a more relaxed frame of mind. In each one of them I found ideas that would fit in well with the Glow program.

These presentations are beginning to find their way onto the WordPress VIP News

WordPress on the inside: bringing humanity to the corporate intranet

Steph Gray & Luke Oatham, Helpful Technology talked about WordPress On The Inside – how the UK government is deploying WordPress as an intranet platform
My main take out from this was how powerful and simple WordPress can be for providing information. Steph and Luke talked of how they hard replace a Sharepoint intranet with WordPress, one of the most interesting benefits was reducing the amount of time that people spent on the site. Rather a different aim from most sites! The site they spoke about was designed to help people:

  • Work out how to do something
  • Find a person
  • Find a document

Perhaps having a chat along the way
At the moment Glow blogs are used for school web sites, class blogs, e-portfolios, information portals and more, but this presentation points to other uses I’d not even considered if we can develop the service further.

Snakes In A Plugin

Duncan Stuart is Head of Products at dxw presented on
Snakes In A Plugin – WordPress plugin security. He started by getting the room on their feet and then sitting down if they did not have various security procedures in place. Glow was one of the last ones standing, speaking to the formality of the testing that we do on the program.
Duncan then demoed hacking a WordPress site though what appeared to be a regular comment notification email.

Scary stuff but I am somewhat reassured by the Scottish Government development and testing team. I’ve often moane about the time taken for testing and security, this talk clearly demonstrated how valuable this is.


Matt Haines-Young, Human Made: ‘Making WordPress shortcodes a piece of cake’ (link to video to follow)

ShortCake is a plugin that allows developers to develop further plugins to allow users to insert Content Blocks into their posts in the same sort of way they insert media. Dialogs to enter content without codes and WYSIWYG editing in the post editor after it is inserted.

This supports the kind of thing that users have been requesting for Glow Blogs and a much nicer experience for bloggers. Given that we still need to develop the process for getting plugin and enhancement requests and implementing them I am not sure how we would do this, but on a brighter note there was some discussion of this becoming part of the core WordPress system. We would then have access to it when we upgrade WordPress in Glow.

The Tab

Jack Rivlin & George Marangos-Gilks, of The Tab: ‘User generated plus: blending professional journalism with a disparate network of voluntary contributors’ (again link to video to follow)

The Tab is a bit like your student paper – except better. We cover the news students care about, in a style they actually want to read.

The Tab is actually quite like a red top, not only in it colour scheme. What is interesting is the system, based on WordPress, allows a mix of professional and amateur content. This was a great demo of the power of WordPress to bring content together and present it. students from across the UK contribute to this huge online student mag.

Off to the Pub

In a TeachMeet fashion everyone headed over to a nearby bar and I had some fascinating chats. This reinforced my feeling that we can do a lot more with GlowBlogs, there are endless exciting possibilities.

I was also impressed by the amount of effort some WordPress developers put into giving things away for free. This extends way past source code to education projects of all sizes. I spoke to someone planning a huge project to educate prospective journalists through blogging in school and college, the idea being that the WordPress editor would be custolmised to help the students write balanced and well researched pieces.

If you are interested in Educational blogging I’d recommend the videos linked above, not because they are directly aimed at education but because they point to and hint of endless opportunities for different ways to use blogging in education.

Thanks to the Organizers for inviting me.

Digital literacy | NET BLOG

About 20 years ago at an education conference one of the speakers said: “To be literate is to fully inhabit a culture”. At first it felt a little affected or a bit too “luvvie” for my liking. Over time however I have repented. I find it useful rather than struggling with new words like “learnacy”.

via Digital literacy | NET BLOG.

I really like this idea of literacy covering the whole of a culture. It seems to hint at avoiding any worrying about the word digital and accepting that it takes it place in a range of areas we can be literate in. We can escape the worry about being too luvvie by considering the range and Types_of_cultures.


The iOS WordPress App Editor

The new iOS WordPress app editor is so much better than before. I am not sure when this happened.

It is a vast improvement on the older version that I looked at before, much simpler and a reasonable WYSIWYG experience. 

The only useful feature I can think of that is missing would be an in app image resize to upload photos quicker on poor connections. 

I posted  #glowblogs improvements: mobile a few weeks ago praising the mobile browser but this is tons nicer. 

We ruled out using the mobile app for Glow reflecting security concerns from the technical team. I hope the mobile web follows some of the same design. 

This post is, of course, completely constructed in the mobile app.  

Rethinking comments

I would say that it might be worth rethinking “comments” on student blogs altogether – or rather the expectation that they host them, moderate them, respond to them. See, if we give students the opportunity to “own their own domain,” to have their own websites, their own space on the Web, we really shouldn’t require them to let anyone that can create a user account into that space. It’s perfectly acceptable to say to someone who wants to comment on a blog post, “Respond on your own site. Link to me. But I am under no obligation to host your thoughts in my domain.”

from: Men (Still) Explain Technology to Me: Gender and Education Technology

There are a lot of interesting and powerful parts of this post by Audrey Watters but this interests me in all sorts of ways.
Thinking from the pov of a teacher working with primary pupils I’d want the ease of posting comments for pupils to continue, but if that could be done on their own space, with the option for some sort of universal trackback notifying the site commented on it would be really interesting. This of course links in to my reading around POSSE & the indieweb.
The whole post addresses much more important issues and I recommend it highly.