Tag Archives: blog

Android for teachers: simple, tasty photos for the web

One thing I really like about my Android phone (LG P500) is the camera feature. It’ll never replace my real camera but it’s always with me, so I can take a quick snap even when I’m teaching. Plus there are imaging apps which make it a great tool for fast and easy creation of images.

For example, Vignette is a camera app for Android which has a free demo version as well as a paid version. The free version is limited to .3M pixel images, but these are fine for small illustrative images on a web page. The software has a wide range of effects which are fast and easy to use. And they provide some useful tweaks for web display.

For example, some of these effects produce a small square image (about 500 x 500) with a white border. So it’s really easy to produce a web-optimised image that is small and fast to download and has a built in margin for text wrapping. The image shown here is just 49KB and uses the Velvia filter which increases colour saturation. It’s not a great photo, but I love how fast and easy it is to capture an image like this, all ready for sharing on the web.

And because Android is a very ‘open’ OS, once you’ve captured the image there are many options for sharing it. Vignette will send the photo to Twitter, Facebook, email or other apps you use. I use the WordPress app which allows me to edit posts and pages on my phone, and Android makes it easy to send the photo directly from Vignette to a new WordPress post. Again, fast and easy – and a lot more flexible than just having a ‘Send via email’ option which I got used to on an iPhone.

Where there is a need for high resolution and high quality images a phone camera is not going to be appropriate. But where all that’s needed is a quick informal snap, a phone camera can be a great tool. Many of the teachers I work with don’t find it easy to get to grips with optimising images for the web. An Android phone* with Vignette is an easy way to get images into a blog or an LMS like Moodle, and it also integrates well with many of the social software platforms they use. I’d recommend it as a useful tool for teachers wanting a simple and convenient way to enhance their online presence with images.

* Note: not all phone cameras are equal. I chose one with 3 MP resolution and macro capability, but no flash as I prefer to use natural light anyway. Others will have very different needs.

The iPad in education

Wordpress on iPod - edit postIn an earlier post I discussed how Apple’s software development efforts seem very focused on consumption of media.

I’m interested in learning which incorporates producing information (not just consuming it) and which makes effective use of Web 2.0 tools to publish, not just to read. Given the iPad currently appears to have pretty much the same features as an oversized iPod Touch, the software limitations are likely to parallel those of the iPod. These include:

  • The only multitasking available seems to be that music can be played in the background while you use other apps. So moving content from one app to another is clumsy. Given the size of the iPod, this is not such a big deal. But if I purchased the much bigger iPad, I’d expect it to be more suitable for productive work such as editing web-based content.
  • Many web-based systems use WYSIWYG editors for creating and editing content. These are not available using the current iPod OS, so editing is restricted to plain text – unless you can use markup. This affects all kinds of web-based systems used in education: Moodle, PBWorks, Blackboard, Mediawiki, etc. In a wiki you can use wiki markup to get around this, otherwise you’ll need to use HTML. Either way, this will be seen as a big step backward by many educators and learners!

There are many apps which allow the user to access content as consumer but few apps which allow authoring. One that I really like is the WordPress blogging app which allows me to create and edit posts and pages and manage comments. Like WordPress, it’s simple, straightforward and effective. But notice from the screenshot above (on an iPod Touch) that the editor shows only source code (HTML). Now I work in that mode most of the time anyway, but I know many of the teachers I work with would see the loss of the WYSIWYG editor as a return to the dark ages!

Since the iPad is not yet available, my comments are merely predictions based on the current technology. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect the first iPads will not solve these problems. My advice to teachers: if you are using Web 2.0 tools or an LMS such as Moodle, you may not find a shiny new iPad is a suitable platform for creating and editing content. Unless of course you are prepared to learn some markup!

WordPress 2.7.1 an improved tool for teachers and writers

Wordpress logo

Like many education bloggers, I tend to write less frequent posts but have a lot of drafts that I am working on. It often takes some time to fully develop the ideas in these posts so they are ready to publish. So managing my draft posts is important to me.

I also use WordPress in my professional development activities with teachers, helping them to use it as a tool for their own reflective practice as well as explore how they might use it on their own teaching. They too need to be able to manage drafts effectively and easily.

However, using the old WordPress dashboard interface (up to version 2.6) to access your drafts was a little clunky. And when working with teachers, I found the interface to be non-intuitive and a barrier to their effective use.

The new version puts a list of recent drafts right onto the dashboard page – this is a great improvement for anyone like me who has lots of draft posts on the go at once. And it will remove a barrier for teachers learning to use a WordPress blog as part of their own professional development or in their courses. It’s a simple change but a significant improvement.

A few other changes I’ve noted:

  • Earlier versions had a problem with the dashboard ‘External links’ block – any changes to the configuration were not properly saved. I’m pleased to see this is now fixed.
  • The Flash-based image uploader tool no longer works as expected on Mac running Firefox. When the image is uploaded, the ‘insert into post’ button does not work the first time round. The fix is to use the browser uploader tool, or insert a new image in two stages: ‘insert into post’ seems to work fine with images that have previously been uploaded.
  • Because the dashboard screen layout is slightly different, older plugins that write text to admin screens need a little tweaking to display correctly. For example, I had to change my Scottish Proverbs plugin slightly – luckily, the version of the Hello Dolly plugin distributed with WordPress 2.7.1 provides a clear guide to exactly what needs to be changed!

All up, WordPress 2.7.1 is a ‘must-have’ release and incorporates a much more user-friendly dashboard interface. It’s an excellent example of how effective the open-source approach can be in developing great software tools.

Web 2.0 tools: new territory for many learners

World map by Abraham Ortelius (1570)

For some time I have been incorporating the use of blogs and wikis into professional development for teachers as a tool for writing and thinking. This has ranged from one off workshops on topics such as read-write learning to Masters-level papers in education technology. Consistently I have found that participants have little experience in using Web 2.0 tools for writing.

In general, teachers are very familiar with using the web in a Web 1.0 mode – to access research and other resources. They are much less familiar with using it in a Web 2.0 mode – to write and publish. This appears to be consistent with recent research into other target groups: Luckin states that use of wiki technology is limited mainly to use of Wikipedia. (Luckin et al, 2008, page 5) and Kennedy states that The net generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies (Kennedy et al 2007).

Within the ‘write-and-publish’ mode of Web 2.0, there are some big differences in complexity. For example, maintaining a social presence (eg using Facebook) can be a simple matter of filling out an onscreen form. Writing and publishing with a wiki, however, is a far more demanding task both technically and cognitively. Educators need to bear in mind that even those learners who seem very comfortable on the web can struggle with the task of creating a wiki.

In an earlier posting I suggested that educators need better models for the use of Web 2.0 tools. I now believe that the models we need should be based on much clearer distinctions between the specific technologies that are often lumped together under the term ‘Web 2.0’

References and links

Kennedy, G et al (2007). The net generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies: Preliminary findings. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007.

Luckin, R et al. Learners’ use of Web 2.0 technologies in and out of school in Key Stages 3 and 4. Becta, 2008.

Millea, J. The Net Generation are not big users of Web2.0 technologies.

Validation problem with Feedburner email subscription

In an earlier post I described a problem with HTML validation of a WordPress site when inserting links using the WYSIWYG editor.

I recently enabled email subscription on my site and inserted Feedburner’s code on my front page. Now I find this too causes a validation error – validator.w3.org doesn’t like the ampersand character (&) in the subscription link code:


The suggested fix is to replace the ampersand with & but unfortunately WordPress promptly turns this back into an ampersand, so it still won’t validate.

The work-around is to remove the &loc=XYZ entirely from the end of the URL – Feedburner doesn’t seem to mind. I guess the problem is that this will default to an English language subscription form at Feedburner… perhaps another example of how English language is dominant in the online world!

Maybe I need to stop worrying so much about validation and just pretend it doesn’t matter…