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.

Make you own SPLOT


Like anyone with any sense I read Alan Levine’s blog religiously. It has given me more ideas to think about and play around with than any other site on the Internet.

The other day I read Share Images By Email to SPLOT Collector (this post is now well down the post list as Alan blogs like a manic).

I was very interested in this, as I’d loved posterous until it was abandoned. One of the main things I liked about posterous was the posting by email facility. This allowed me to publish photos from my phone even with a terrible connection. I first noticed this on holiday in Galloway when I didn’t see a signal all week. I did keep my posterous updated with photos because the mail app on my phone magically seemed to be able to find a signal when I was asleep and send the photos over. I’d got it in the back of my mind to replicate this behavior with WordPress sometime, Alan’s post gave me the details of how to and the impetus to do it.

I’ve already got a reclaimhosting account for quickly setting up things to play with. It took me a quick 5 minutes to install wordPress, set the theme to the one Alan recommended (Fukasawa by Anders Norén), add the Jetpac plugin to handle mail, another plugin (Auto Thumbnailer) to automatically use images as featured images and add a css tweak. All following Alan’s instructions.

This had me covered for the main features of posterous, post via email and handling images in a pretty way.
As I wanted to post multiple images I also turned on the ‘Tiled Galleries’ and Image Galley Carousel provided by Jetpac and tweaked the CSS
a bit more for that. Another couple of minutes.

The system seems to be working just the way I wanted and yesterday I added a couple more features. Posterous had an interesting feature that allowed you to automatically forward whatever you posted to other services. I had a quick search for a WordPress plugin to do this but ended up at ifttt.com. There I found: Post WordPress Featured Image to Flickr. This just deals with the first image, but a quick test proves it works. I’ll probably explore posting all the images later.

While I was on ifttt I also notice Instagram photo to WordPress blog so have thrown this into my mix. I can now post to Instagram, have that picture added to the blog and also sent on its way to flickr.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.22.52

Apart for the sheer fun of doing this, it also fit in quite well with the POSSIE, own your own space agenda.

Alan’s SPLOT | Smallest Possible Learning Open Tools project is fascinating.

Smallest/Simplest * Possible/Portable * Open/Online * Learning/Living * Tool/Technology

About | SPLOT

Update: forgot to add the link to the blog: Mobile Photos — From my phone via mail

Searching Flickr Again

search and fetch

Over the years I’ve been very keen on Creative Commons and using CC material in blog posts by pupils.
Pupils (and adults too) find attribution difficult.

Back in around 2008-2009 I made A flickr CC search toy aimed at pupils, to help them attribute. Later I added a feature that stamped the image with the attribution, which hopefully was easier than embed code. Later again, in 2010 I made FlickrStampr the same sort of search but squarely aimed at users of iPod Touches. At the time I believed that iPod Touches would be big in schools (Lot of ipodtouch posts here).

Both of these webpages were knocked up fairly quickly and had various modifications over the years. A couple of years back I made the iPod size one a bit more responsive so that it displayed a little better on an iPad or computer. I’ve now taken this and worked on it a bit more with the intention of replacing both of the above pages.

Earlier this year Jo Badge pointed me towards Photos For Class which is a very similar beast, except that it is built by professionals. I wonder if I inspired them?

So over the last couple of weeks I’ve been updating a new version: FlickrCC Stampr combining and improving (I hope) the two pages.

This new one will search flickr for cc images and then give you a stamped version or embed code. If this new page works out I’ll redirect the old pages to is soon.

I got boost to my interest in this playing with Alan’s flickr attribution helper: Now Three Flavors of Flickr CC Attribution Helper. I found out how to and added the code that gets all available sizes from flickr and lets you embed or stamp any particular size.



If you have an interest in this sort of thing, please give  FlickrCC Stampr a try. I’d be interested in any feedback.

Some Simple Aggregation

A couple of weeks ago I kicked of a blogging bootcamp as part of my day job. The idea is to help folk through getting started with class blogging. Each week for 10 weeks there are, technical tasks, discussions and blogging challenges which participating classes (or teachers) can choose to do.

My thinking is based on my own experience in a few online classes/MOOCs and, of course ds106. The bit I really wanted to do was aggregate the participants blogs back to the bootcamp blog. Hopefully this would lead to some connections and community.

I had hoped as part of the progress with glow blogs we would by now have had a plugin in place that would help with this. Unfortunately this has not happened yet.

My next though was to set up a blog outside glow, install the necessary plugin (FeedWordPress probably) and aggregate the posts there. This aggregation could be brought back to the bootcamp blog as an RSS feed.

I ended up going for much less work. I use Inoreader as my RSS reader. It has the rather nice feature when you can get an RSS feed for any of your folders of feeds. This is how it works.

After participants make their first post, they send me a link. We are asking them to categorize their posts bootcamp so I use the feed for that. For example Wemyss Bay Primary P6, their bootcamp category is:


So the RSS feed will be


I add that to my Inoreader and put it in the BootCamp folder:

inoreader screeshot

From the Folder Settings menu I can then get a link to the aggregated RSS feed and a page that aggregates all the posts too.

Back on the bootcamp blog I’ve added a RSS widget to the sidebar using this feed. This displays the last 20 posts from participants on the blog.

rss widget on bootcamp blog

I’d prefer to show more of the participants post on the main section of the blog but I believe this is a further wee story that shows how nice this sort of technique could be. If we get a suitable plugin in glow blogs, we could run all sots of ‘events’ and learning experiences by just aggregating participating class or school blogs through a ‘mothership’ blog.

One Bug’s Life


I’ve not blogged much about work recently, but this story is a good one if somewhat tangled.

We are working, in the Glow blogs team, on the next release. This is mainly to address any problems with the upgrade to WordPress 4.0.1 that came out in January.

My work includes: watching reports come through the help desk; passing on problems that come directly to me (twitter, email and phone) through to the RM. I do a wee bit of tyre kicking and talking to the test team on the way.

On Tuesday I got a mail from a teacher, to the effect that the link to My Sites from the Local Authority home pages didn’t work. Talking to Grant, one of the test team, I found out he was chasing the same problem. We kicked it around a bit and found that if a new users creates a blog on their LA before accessing My Sites, the link did not work, it leads to a list of blogs that the user has a role on.

This is not a show stopper as the user can click on any of the blogs and then the My Site link in the Admin Bar as a work around.

While testing this out we noticed that although the Admin Bar is visible on any Glow blog in your Local Authority, the My Sites link on it leads to the same error (with a list of your sites page).

Thinking these were linked I raised a call to the RM help desk. This got passed through to the team at Automattic. They have quickly fixed the first issue and recorded the fix in our system (JIRA) for following development. The code will be in the next release, hopefully in tow or three weeks.

At this point we asked about the second bug, we were told that is was in WordPress core and the team had not only reported it but proposed an initial fix. It is worth pointing out that this was put into the WordPress tracking system at quarter to eleven on Thursday night:

#31314 (My Sites admin bar link broken when on blogs you have no role on) – WordPress Trac

You can see from the linked page, that the ticked was closed at 6:29 on Friday morning. The fix and some improvements are currently attracting the attention and input from three other developers who are completely unconnected from Glow.

So What?

The people that helped with this one included:

  • The teacher who reported the problem
  • The Testers contracted to the Scottish Government
  • The RM Help Desk who are the first point of contact for Glow fault
  • The Developers from Automattic working for Glow
  • WordPress developers who have nothing to do with and likely no knowledge of Glow

Which quite a complex system, but it seems to be working. Most of these people are on the hook and doing their job, but I wonder if a bug in a commercial system would be fixed so quickly? We don’t have the bug fixed in our system but it looks good for being sorted out in a subsequent upgrade.

For me this was pretty exciting. It feels pretty good for those of us who think that Open Source and Openness in general is a good idea in Education.

10 Years Blogging


Ten years ago today I made my first post on this blog. 882 post (plus this one) for a total of over a quarter of a million words. I’d posted to blogs before this one, but this one stuck.

You would think, by this time, I’d have some sort of plan going, but no, this blog continues to be pretty haphazard without a real sense of audience or single purpose.

It does provide me with a thinking tool and scrapbook which I continue to enjoy and that is still enough for me.

The blog has been the starting point for all sort of online and offline experiences. I’ve dallied with other online spaces and playgrounds, but keep coming back here.

The blog itself has moved and changes: starting as a sub weblog of my school/class site using pivot; it moved to this domain and got a change of name when I left school; got upgraded to pivotx; and then moved to WordPress. I still think of it as the same place.

Along the way, I’ve broken links, lost images and comments, but still have a reasonable portfolio of my ramblings and technological roaming.

The image with this post is to remind me to try and reflect rather than ramble;-)