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Blogging on the iPad


I have been looking for a good way to blog from my iPhone and iPad for a while now, and I think I may have found a promising solution.
Up until now I had not been able to find an application that could do more than simply post text and image to a blog. Although that is nearly enough, I found email to be an equally effective tool for this. Why pay for an app which cannot offer any editing of image layout, or any other visual aspects, when you can do it for free via mail?
Well, last night I finally decided to buy a blogging app to see if I could upgrade my mobile blogging. Enter BlogPress.
BlogPress seems to offer quite an improvement over the old post-by-mail method. The things that stand out most to me (in the first 24 hours still…), are the ability to work with multiple blogs on multiple platforms, the ability to resize & align images, and the HTML menu.


So far I have connected with both my Blogger account and this self-hosted WordPress blog. You can see that the images added to this post have been aligned, and the first was even edited to link to an external website. The second image is of the initial HTML drop down menu, and you can use that for a number of things.
* font family, color, and size
* bold, italic, etc.

You can even include block quotes, which is a nice touch. Of course, if you are a bit old school, you can just type in the HTML code yourself. If I had wanted to use an actual HTML list for the items above, I would have had to written the code myself,as there is no such option in BlogPress that I can see.

Overall, I would say that BlogPress is worth the current price of $2.99 (¥350 here in Japan).

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Hamada,Japan

OS X Instant Alpha

seesightDon’t you just hate it when you add an image to your blog, presentation, or Moodle course and the image background does not match the site?  I have come across this problem in the past few weeks with some colleagues who were working on Keynote presentations and Moodle courses for the new semester.  When I heard that one of my colleagues had bought Photoshop in order to edit out image backgrounds I decided to step in and show him how to save some money.

OS X has a powerful image editing tool, called “Instant Alpha”, which you can access in some of the basic programs.  For my colleague, I pointed this out in Keynote, but it is also available in the standard image viewing application, Preview.app.

The image in the upper right of this post is from a blog post by one of my students.  He included an image of the university mascot, Ororin, but the white background really stood out.  It was this image which motivated me to create a quick tutorial video on how to use the Instant Alpha tool in OS X to remove such backgrounds from images.  Here is the video below:

 

After

Now, I can’t really show you the before an after images here, as the current background on this site actually matches the background of the original image quite nicely, but I will add the final PNG file anyway.  Download it and pop it into a Keynote file with a dark background and see the difference that a little Instant Alpha can make.

 

Student Feedback: Spring 2009

Google Visualization As a teacher, I take student feedback very seriously, but it has always been difficult to compile student comments from the old-school handouts which seem to be the standard.  This year I decided to do something a little different, so I set up a Google Form and asked the students to complete it online.  This was not too much of a problem logistically, as many of my classes are taught in the computer/language lab anyway.  I simply embedded the Google Form in the university e-learning course for each class and pointed them at it.  The results were near instantaneous, and Google did a rather nice job of compiling the data in visual form for me. (bottom left)

Wordle VisualizationWhereas the visualization of the multiple-choice questions is done quite well in the Google Form summary page, I found the display of the data from the open-ended questions to be far less satisfactory.Certainly, I could go directly into the spreadsheet to view the data, but I wanted a better way to visualize it, so that I could post it somewhere in my office as a constant reminder.  It was this desire that reminded me ofWordle.net, which is a great resource for visualization of textual data. I have used this before for visual representations of articles I have written, and as slides introducing presentations,and I have found the results quite pleasing. So, here is a Wordle map (below right) of the most common words used by my students in response to the following question: “What did you like about this class?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if Google added this format automagically?

L1L2 Blog Exchange Presentation

I gave a presentation at JALT-CALL this past weekend, entitled “Blogging in Two Languages: An International Peer Assistance Exchange”, and I just made a quick VoiceThread version to share online. The project involved the interaction between both native speakers and language learners of English and Japanese in language courses at two universities. Japanese language students from the University of New Hampshire and English language students from the University of Yamanashi collaborated in a blog exchange, where they all created content in their target language while serving as native language consumers and peer-teachers to the other group.The goals were to provide the students with broader access to native input in the target language, create a social learning network to extend the learning beyond the classroom, and help students to start developing a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) to provide a framework for more autonomous language learning.[voicethread b=149376]Just in case you skipped over the presentation, here is a link to the Ning site that I set up to facilitate creating such blog exhchanges for your Japanese or English language learners: L1 L2 Blog Exchange.Questions and/or comments greatly appreciated!

Does speaking English make people happier?

I just came across an interesting site with a “Happiness Map” of the world, and it seems that most of the English speaking countries rank highest. It also seems that both Africa and the old U.S.S.R region have some rather depressing languages…

Happy Map

Certainly, I do not think that the language we use defines our mental health, but I wonder to what degree different languages lean towards positive or negative feelings… I have often heard Japanese people say that it is easier for them to express themselves in English, as they find the language less restrictive socially, but I wonder if any studies have been done on this.

Visit the map in context here.

Blog Readability

I just came across a link to a Blog Readability Test, and decided to test this blog out. While I was there, I decided to test the blog of my English class here at the university. This blog is the work of 12 sophomores and juniors at a Japanese university. They are all Japanese, so English is their second language. Here are the scores that we received…

Can you guess which one is for this blog?

Junior High

High School

Well, it seems that I should ask my students to tone it down a bit to make their blog more readable… According to this test, they write at a higher level than I do. I guess I could just take the credit for that ;-), but I think something else is going on here. So I fired up MS Word and decided to test out the readability stats of both blogs using the tools there. Word will test your document for Flesch Reading Ease, and give it a Flesch-Kincaid Grade level.

ETT ReadabilityStats for EdtechTESOL blog.

Student Blog ReadabilityStats for Student blog.

These two screenshots of the statistics from each blog’s front pages tells a different story. According to Word, this blog ranks at about the eighth grade reading level, which is consistent with the previous test, but the student blog ranks at about the sixth grade level. Could the smattering of Japanese words, both in kanji and anglicized versions confused the web tool version? Either way, it is an interesting tool for checking the readability of your blog, but mileage may very…

Via: Thinking Stick

It’s All About the Discussion

As I sit here writing a paper about augmenting textbook-based courses using Moodle, I took a quick break to sift through Google Reader and came across this graphic.

Conversation

It fit right in with what I was writing about, and I couldn’t have said it better.

Source: Indexed (Take the time to peruse this site. There are some great index card graphics there. They remind me of the reason I carry such cards in my pocket all the time. I just wish I did it as well as Jessica does…)

Via:Dangerously Irrelevant

Avoiding Dead End Blogging in the Classroom

Dead EndOne of the great failures of blogging in the classroom is that the blogs rarely extend beyond the semester. Why is this?

I think that most teachers underestimate the blogging process and simply think that students will just do it without proper scaffolding and guidance. This is a great failure, as what this turns into is a simple journal activity done online, which completely ignores the greater possibilities of a learning blog. Why not introduce students to the full blogging cycle of reading -> commenting -> posting -> discussing?

Students need to be made aware of the benefits of reaching out and reading other blogs as resources of information, sources of discussion and ideas. They must learn to comment to start discussions with other authors before posting on their own. They should know what is out there before adding to the discussion in their own blogs, so that they know where to start. Teachers need to provide the required scaffolding to walk the students through this process before allowing them to jump in too quickly. Too often new tools fall by the wayside simply because we are not shown how to use them properly… With proper guidance, students will be able to create their own social networks around their blogs, benefit from collaboration and discussion with other, and take more control over their own learning environment…

I have come across two great resources this week about how to set up blogging in the classroom, and I highly recommend checking them out if you are looking to kickstart your students’ learning blogs. It could make the difference between your students blogging because “they have to” and blogging because “they want to”…

First, check out the post “Blogging: It Isn’t About Writing” over at The Four Eyed Technologist. This is a great post about the cycle of blogging and gives some great tips on how to properly scaffold the process in your classroom. Next, take a click over to the presentation page for “Sustained Blogging in the Classroom” by Jeff Utecht. He also has a wiki page set up on the topic. Jeff gives a 23 minute presentation on blogging in the classroom that will really help you set up your classroom for blogging success. The video download is a bit heavy at 291MB, but well worth it.

Image credits: Rosino on Flickr

A Great Digital Story Telling Resource

I just came across a great link to a wiki page about 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story. This is a great resource for teachers looking to find a way for students to create their own stories or presentations online. The wiki page gives a link to 50 demonstrations of the same story using different Web 2.0 tools. The author, Alan Levine, gives brief summaries of each tool and links to examples of each. Out of the 50 he demonstrated, I have at least nine that I want to follow up on…

Check out his wiki. There seem to be a lot of other great pages there as well…

Via: Alvin’s Educational Technology Blog

Digg for Education?

Educators worldwide seem to have latched on to social bookmarking tools such as del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia, Furl and others, but why not take it a step further? Personally, I like to take a look through the links of others in my network, but sometimes the plain links don’t tell the whole story. Why did they save that link? What is special about it? What do they think about it? These questions all pass through my mind as I view these links, and it makes me wish that these services offered “discuss this” links. Sure, I could simply email my comments and/or questions, but why not have that built in? Wouldn’t that put a little more ‘social’ in social bookmarking?

So this is why my interest was peaked when I saw that my hosting service added a new “one-click install” to the Goodies section. The new software is Pligg, and it is an open source Digg clone. I couldn’t resist, so I decided to install the program to see how hard it is to set up and get running. As I write this now, I am still waiting for the “one-click install” to complete. Any moment now…

Edtags.orgBefore deciding to give Pligg a try, I did to a quick search for social bookmarking sites specifically for educators, but I did not find much. One interesting site is Edtags.org, which seems to be the work of a doctoral student at Harvard. It is interesting, but seems to be for the use of Harvard students and staff only. Perhaps this is only while they work out the system? I was surprised though as their seems to be little “social” activity on the site currently. They claim over 500 users, but the articles with the highest “votes” only seem to have around three! I was also unable, in my brief search, to find an article that had been commented on. The site seems to be a work in progress, and you can get more details from their blog. I will probably keep an eye on this one, as it would be interesting if they opened it up beyond the Harvard community.

In the meantime, I guess I will just be playing with Pligg, as I would love to see a fully functioning Digg-type site specifically for educators…

Do you think that educators would use such a tool? The Edtags site does seem to lack in the actual social interaction aspect. They have the communication tools built-in and available, and they are certainly sharing links, but are they discussing them? Are they interacting in any real way? After all, without the communication aspect, why not just share a del.icio.us account? Don’t get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for their work, I am just curious why so little discussion seems to evolve from the sharing…