Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Blog wrangling.... a guide for beginners

Ok so this isn't actually going to teach you anything about blogging (or cattle wrangling come to that).... rather it's an account of how I have been getting on with constructing a class blog.

In the past couple of years I have set my final year students a task of conveying their reflections on leadership values through the medium of interpretive dance the photostory. This year I decided not to repeat that exercise (as this particular cohort had already done something similar in their first year) but instead asked them to write a blog post - working in small groups -  about what leadership means to them.

I was inspired to do this by a colleague who had dome something similar with his class the previous year: however, in his case, he had asked his students to develop their ideas in a Word Document which he had then uploaded to a blog he'd created. (Sensible chap it turns out).

Naturally that wasn't complicated enough for me; no, I decided to create a multi author blog which the students could edit themselves. I figured that learning to blog was a useful 21st century skill in itself, so, heck - why not?

I tried to smooth the process along by creating a couple of screen cast videos to show them how to post, step by step, and this has worked well in the majority of cases, but a few are still struggling to create and publish their first post. However, that is understandable. What is surprising (as always) are the unforeseen "challenges" of a multi author blog composed of almost complete blog novices.

So - first problem: I send out invites to the blog to the students' Uni emails and they then set up a Blogger account using a different ID (particularly if they have created a multi-access account/password), so it's quite tricky (but not impossible with a little lateral thinking) to work out who is who.....

Then because they are working in groups I have to set up a spreadsheet that records who is working with whom. Again, not too difficult as they email me with the details, but a bit of extra work.

The real doozy is how they then seem to get lost somewhere between setting up a Blogger ID and accepting my invitation and end up creating a completely separate blog !?!?! I have managed to guide most of them back to the correct site - and one student decided she liked hers so much she is going to carry on using it as her reflective space for the remainder of the year - but I really didn't see that coming.

I have had some positive feedback from students: some have really enjoyed learning a new skill, especially, the older students in the group who worried they weren't cut out to handle this "internet technology thingy". There are also some really creative, fun, engaging and reflective posts being published, so the exercise is achieving its main aim. But I am left wondering what if anything I could do to make things run a little more smoothly next year - short of asking them to send me a word document which I upload....

And maybe some of the learning that comes out of these missteps will actually prove valuable: one student told me that she had previously been asked to write blog posts for the charity she works for - but only in a Word Document and never actually posting and editing on line herself. She was really pleased that she had now had this experience of actually contributing to a "live" blog - and indeed of setting up her own (which, naturally, she did by accident!).

The next stage is to try and get the students to leave comments for one another (I admit, I am going to moderate these!) and I will give each group feedback in the form of comments too. Once everyone is happy with the finished product, I am going to ask their permission to publish the blog so that they can see their efforts out there in the public sphere.

*UPDATE* here's the link:

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Office Mix is Awesome

Had a very frustrating day yesterday trying to edit and upload a short screencast video to show my students how to post to a blog. I used ScreenCastOMatic (works just fine!) but then really struggled to edit it in Movie Maker (admittedly an old version that really doesn't work well with Windows 10). Adding an audio track also proved impossible as the Windows 10-provided Voice Recorder kept crashing on me. So I tried downloading other recommended Windows movie maker apps but found them too irritating with in app purchases and ads etc.

Next I uploaded the video to old favourite WeVideo online platform: all went smoothly but couldn't for some reason manage to publish it with an audio track (it's never failed me before.... I'm beginning to dislike Windows 10......)

I ended up doing a second screencast of my screen cast (!!!!) this time with audio, editing the video also using ScreenCastOMatic and then finally publishing that to YouTube. I know I could have done a voiceover from the get-go but there were reasons why I couldn't that I won't bore you with.

Anyway, a relatively happy ending.

But then today I remembered someone mentioning Office Mix. So - I downloaded it, watched the introductory tutorial videos, created a screen recording within a slide, with audio, uploaded it to Office Mix online, copied the link into my learning room and "Voila!!"  I think it took about 20 minutes.

Oh - and it's free!

So happy am I that I am going to recommend this to my students as the number one tool for creating their digital stories next term :)

In the meantime, the students are about to embark on creating a class blog about leadership values. I decided to move away from the simple photostory we had done in the previous two years, partly because this cohort already did that in Year 1. And because I think writing for an audience is a useful skill which is a little more taxing at this level than a simple photo +caption artefact.

More on this in my next post :)