Tag Archives: writing

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.

Helping learners write and think with a wiki

A tool for thinking

In my professional development activities with teachers I often build in opportunities to learn using wikis. For many, it’s the first time they’ve edited a wiki so these activities provide useful exposure to the technology. But for me the key benefit is that wikis provide a tool for learners to organise their thinking as a key stage in writing, publishing and collaborating.

Read-write matrix screenIn an earlier post I’ve talked about the benefits of read-write learning in professional development.

See also the read-write matrix of web 2.0 tools for learning.

Since I like to focus on the cognitive benefits of wikis, I try to avoid spending too much time on how to use the wiki. I also like to keep participants focused on the thinking aspects of writing rather than the more mechanical aspects. In other words, I don’t spend time on the features which are more related to ‘making text pretty’, but I do spend time on features related to ‘organising thoughts’. In fact, I like to eliminate anything which gets in the way of the thinking process at this stage.

Features which support thinking

In practice, this means that once learners know how to go into edit mode, they need to find out how to create a link to a new page very quickly. And since unexpected new pages and links get in the way of the thinking process, I turn off CamelCase linking if possible and focus on using square brackets for links. That’s quick and easy to demonstrate and learners can be creating a multi-page wiki resource in just a few minutes.

If we’re using Mediawiki, headings are important since they provide structure to the page through the automatic table of contents. In other wiki software where a heading is primarily a formatting feature, I don’t spend time on this.

Lists (ordered and unordered) are also very useful for organising thoughts, so that’s something else which I tend to demonstrate reasonably early on.

Tables are another strategy for organising text – unfortunately the wiki markup for creating tables tends to be confusing for learners. Where the wiki software has a WYSIWYG editor inserting a table is fairly straightforward. But if you’re using Mediawiki then a tool such as Shawn Douglas’s Excel-to-Mediawiki converter might be useful.

Of course, once the writing process is further down the track, learners do want to ‘pretty up’ their text and that’s perfectly valid – that’s when ‘just in time’ learning has its place! In fact, learners mostly work the formatting stuff out for themselves anyway – if the wiki has a WYSIWYG editor the toolbar is very familiar. If they have to use wiki markup, I show them how to get to the editing help page and leave them to it.