Google Docs on Android

So I’ve been playing with and liking Swype. I’ve set up a quick WordPress blog and installed the WordPress App so I can quickly write notes and post a blog without much effort. Not so much microblogging as miniblogging.

What I also thought I’d be able to do was to edit Google Docs directly from my phone. That’s what I thought, but I was wrong. It turned out Android isn’t set up to do that. But there is an App called GDocs that is supposed to help out with this and allow you to edit your Docs. However, again my experiment was dashed by problems as GDocs doesn’t seem to work on the HTC Desire. Whilst I could download documents to the App on the phone and edit, the upload didn’t work as it should. So the search goes on. Hopefully there’ll be a solution; possibly the next upgrade on GDocs will do the job, or maybe Google will release a solution before too long. Fingers crossed.

Advertisements

Data Visualization

For a long time I’ve been interested in infographics. More recently I’m finding myself increasingly interested in data visualization. I don’t currently have the time to study any programming necessary for manipulating data, so I turned my attention to something I do know about – identifying and using freely available online services. So for the last couple of days I’ve been looking at what’s available, and here are some of my findings.

I’ll start with Tableau Public. On the site there’s free software to download, and the video provides an excellent introduction to the capabilities of the software and service. It’s simply a case of importing your data set and using the intuitive and straightforward operations of the software to quickly create visual representations of the data for easy interpretation. But that’s not all. You can now upload the graph, or map, or dashboard to the web onto the Tableau Software server. From there you can access it and embed it into a blog or elsewhere. But the information is served live, so it’s interactive, therefore the readers and other users of the information can manipulate the representation to narrow an area of the data, to target specific information of interest; heck, they can even embed it into their own blog and distribute the information more widely. The fact that the Wall Street Journal and UNESCO have used it to illustrate points from raw data has to speak volumes. I’ll certainly be using it in earnest from now on.

Another service to consider is Widgenie. This is a completely online service that allows you to create five types of graphical output. There is a very useful realtime representation of the graph alongside the creation ‘wizard’. Once you’ve finished creating your ‘widget’ you can then link to the graph for example to give co-workers access, you can publish to your iGoogle desktop, or you can embed it using the supplied code into a blog or webpage. There are some useful instructional video screencasts to help you get started.

Finally, if you are wanting to study some existing data sets, relating to the UK ecomomy for example, I’d suggest having a look at Timetric. Here you can view graphs, and manipulate the data, adding in additional elements from a series to compare the data graphically. Here’s the Retail Price Index, UK: average prices of the basket of goods used as an example.

Blogs and Blogging – Teaching 2.0 Circle

This post has been written primarily to support a session about blogs for the November 2008 Teaching 2.0 Circle at The University of Sheffield.

Further information about blogging at The University of Sheffield and the Teaching 2.0 Circle is available on the Good Practice Wiki.

Presentations

Visual representation of blogging

cover1

More detailed presentation about blogging in education

Useful Links

Links about blogging

What are blogs? What is blogging?


A blog is a website that can be individually edited using just a web browser.
It consists primarily of periodic articles, most often in reverse chronological order. Whilst blogs can contain photos or media, they are primarily focused on the easy ability to post written thoughts. Typically, a blog ‘post’ can be ‘commented’ on by others, allowing for a dialogue on the topic of the post. This allows a system of ‘peer review’ to be used in education.

Things to remember about blogs:

  • Everything you post is public
  • It goes everywhere with you
  • It’s easy to find using Google

Tools for blogging include:

As always one of the best explanations of read/write web technology is available via a Lee LeFever ‘Plain English’ video from the CommonCraft Show:

A Robert and Maryam Scoble presentation gives amusingly presented pointers about blogging:

  1. Blog because you want to
  2. Read other blogs
  3. Pick a niche you can own
  4. Link to other blogs
  5. Admit mistakes
  6. Write good headlines
  7. Use other media
  8. Have a voice
  9. Get outside the blogosphere
  10. Market yourself
  11. Write well
  12. Expose yourself
  13. Help other people blog
  14. Engage with commenters
  15. Keep your integrity

The full presentation can be seen:

But has blogging had its day? Well according to Wired Magazine article, ‘Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004‘, yes. I don’t think that’s the case. There is very much a vibrant blogging community, and the good outweighs the bad. Certainly blogs have great potential for educational use. (And blog posts can still be the number one returned item in a Google search, mine are.)

Educational Uses

Will Richardson writes a blog called Webblog-ed and has written a book:

† Richardson, W., (2006) Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Sage Publications Ltd.

The following contains some useful extracts from the book for what we’re considering.

Research has shown that blogs can †(p20):

  • Promote critical and analytical thinking
  • Be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking
  • Promote analogical thinking
  • Be a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information
  • Combine the best of solitary reflection and social interaction

Blogs allow for a wider participation beyond the institutional boundaries. They provide a useful archiving process for learning and interactions for the student. Using blogs can enhance the development of expertise in a particular subject: students blogging on a subject tend to focus their research and writing activities specifically to a topic leading to greater expertise. Combined with the archiving process, this can develop into a useful database-like resource for the student. The use of blogs can allow students to develop the newer literacies for an information society; where analysis and managing of information is a critical skill. †(p28)

A spectrum of the different blog post types has been proposed †(p32):

Post Type Comment
Posting assignments Not blogging
Journaling Not blogging
Posting links Not blogging
Links with descriptive annotations Not blogging, but getting close depending on the depth of the description
Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked A simple form of blogging
Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links Complex writing, but simple blogging – commenting would probably fall in here
Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience response in mind Real blogging
Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments Complex blogging

.

Whether you or your students become bloggers, blogs are already an important source of information for studies. Therefore, there is a requirement to evaluate their content for accuracy and trustworthiness; after all this is all unedited comment. Steven Downes says you need to determine for yourself who to trust. Evaluating and developing this trust take time, something that students may not be used to having to do. Whilst suggestions have been made about how to evaluate the credibility of a blogger, I personally believe that you have to develop a ‘feel’ for the quality of the content yourself, though this is something you could discuss with your students. †(p38-38)

Importantly, I think that for students to relate to the significance of blogs and blogging you as an instructor have to engage with them yourself. This may be identifying and following some blogs regularly in your own subject area, participating in the commenting process, running your own blog(s), developing and practising the analysis skills required to evaluate the quality of other people’s blogs.

Blogs – What to include

What to have in the sidebar

Basics

  • Categories
  • Blogrolls
  • Recent posts
  • RSS Feeds
  • Site Search
  • About Page

Other stuff

  • Email subscriptions
  • Top 10 Most Popular or Favourite Posts
  • Widgets

The generally considered advice for the different types of posts are:

News Posts – News posts usually take about 10-20 minutes to write.

Regular Posts – Regular posts should account for more than half of your posts taking between 45 minutes and 2 hours to write.

Great Posts – These are the posts which your readers will really enjoy and find very useful. These posts generated :

  • Much more comments than normal
  • Much more links than normal (i.e. trackbacks)
  • Much more social votes than normal (i.e. diggs and stumbles)

Because of social votes and incoming links these posts increase traffic to your blog in the short term and in the long term they bring a lot of traffic via search engines.

These posts take time to write; they are research-led, so some effort has to be put in researching the subject. This takes several hours or even days. The majority of people don’t want to dedicate the effort to creating these information posts, and that is why they are popular with readers. Effectively you’re doing the hard work for your readers.

Against this more considered advice, I tend to spend all my blogging time on my Never Mind the Pedagogy blog creating this final class of blog posts.

Making your blog more successful

To increase the usefulness of your blog you need to increase the about of traffic (readers) to your site. This is all about optimization. More traffic means more interaction, more comments and discussion, which increases your credibility.

The following is taken from a presentation by Rohit Bharagava:

Social Media Optimization

This is a process of optimizing your blog to be more visible in social media searches and sites, easily linked by other sites, and more frequently discussed online in blog posts and other social media.

We need optimization because there is an increase in ‘noise’ online. Human filtering is a key component in the way we’ll be working from now into the future, call it the wisdom of crowds. This allows you to access the long tail of interest.

Five basic rules for Optimization:

1. Increasing Linkability

  • Update your content as often as possible
  • Create sticky content features – Downloads, Lists/Rules
  • Use catchy headlines and branding
  • Follow the Permalink conventions

2. Make Tagging and Bookmarking easy

  • Use quick buttons to let people save your blog to any social bookmarking tool they use
  • Add relevant tags to each blog post so these posts can appear in aggregations listed by keyword on sites like Technorati
  • ‘Claim’ your posts first by bookmarking them in delicious

3. Reward Inbound Links

  • Display trackbacks, comments on your blog automatically
  • Add a list of ‘blogs that link here’ or ‘recent comments’ to feature contributors to your blog more highly (and therefore potentially send more of your traffic to them)
  • Offer thanks by adding comment to a linking blog post or directly thanking linkers
  • Add links to further thoughts as updates on your original post

4. Help Your Content Travel

  • Syndicate your content in RSS and provide direct links for visitors to subscribe
  • Offer email subscriptions to content through services like Feedburner
  • Don’t be afraid to submit your own posts to sites like Digg or Marktd, assuming the content is relevant (relevancy is key)
  • Tell other bloggers about your blog or a recent post – especially bloggers you admire

5. Encourage the Mashup

  • Choose a Creative Commons licence for your content
  • Find blog networks that can help you distribute your content and fit the premise of your blog
  • Pursue guest author or contributor arrangements with blogs in your industry to spread the word about your blog

The full presentation:

Interesting Blog Example

WW1 blog

This interesting use of blogging was highlighted on various BBC Radio programmes.

WW1 Blog