Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Topic Tweaking

Yesterday was a double lesson and today a single lesson.

Looking at the postings from yesterday I felt that they were somewhat superficial. I was also not entirely happy with the amount of work being done. It took me overnight to consider what was happening and discussed this with the group today.

I felt that the students probably

  • do not have much experience with business
  • do not know much about life in general prior to the internet and www
  • have not undertaken a research quest that was as formally collaborative as this - ie getting use to a new way of doing something

The topic asks for comparisons to be made that are easy for me being an old fella - not so easy for them. Discussion today in class confirmed this.

Topic has now been modified to "Investigate the ways that the www is used in business today"

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

First 'serious' entries made

 Double lesson today with all in attendance.

We watched a video produced by the South Australian Government's Information Economy Policy Office called "The Internet... it is your business".  An email was forwarded to each student in the class stating the following.

Please ensure that blog entries have the following three components

  1. State the reference or resource. In most cases this will be the URL
  2. Summarise the content of the resource
  3. A statement about how this resource related/impacts on the topic.

The Topic is "Discuss the impact that WWW technology is having on business"

Remember that www <> internet.

Following the video, the class became a little noisy at first but with minor restating/clarifying of the topic and expectations they settled and got to work.

Some students were seated at different computers today and so needed to install feedreader and set up the feeds again.  They seemed to be able to do this without my help.

Internet access was very slow so I stressed the point of writing posts offline and using email to add posts.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Can you all add this to your feed please?

Had a single (45min) lesson today.

Got last student's atom feed url working (ie the one that was away yesterday) - a student peer was able to direct this process using the instructions recorded in yesterday's blog post.

I was ale to say to the class "Can you all now add <studentname> to your feed please?"  They all knew what this meant and were able to do it.  We then laughed about what this statement might mean in other classes.

I talked briefly about the topic again (ie did that on the day that we started this exercise - Wed Oct 13).  We discussed my suggestion regarding targets for each lesson.  Students are happy and comfortable with this exercise.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Getting aggregation working

It was very simple to get one of the non-working student feeds working (the other student was absent).  We went to the feed settings of her blog at blogger.com.  We did not need to make any changes to her settings.  We pressed save settings on this screen and then republished her blog.  The change was effective immediately.  My observations are that WHENEVER a blogger goes to the feed settings page THEY MUST save settings and then republish.

God knows how I would set all of this up without a face to face situation.  It would be so much more difficult and would certinaly have to stretch this out over a longer time frame.  With f2f we can just stop the class and ask questions like

  • Who has not been able to prove that they can create a new post via email?
  • Who has not been able to prove that when a new posting is made that they get notification via email
  • Who has not been able to prove that when a new comment is made on a posting that they get notification via their email?

We got 100% results on these questions today and then moved onto installing FeedReader.  This was easy for all students.

Configuration involved the following

Use menu options - Tools, Properties, Connection - and tick to use the proxy and add the proxy settings.  When you press OK on this screen it asks for a proxy password and presents this in clear text.  (Students will need to physically hide this) This could be an issue in class.  My technical support has informed me that the login credentials are stored in the user profiles and are not available to other users (password is encrypted).  This makes this program very usable on a school network.

Students then added new feeds to feedreader using my circulated list.  This worked well.

A couple of students put the wrong password into feedreaderduring the configuration process.  and so would not connect producing a 407 error.  We had difficulty changing this password but have found a way.  

  1. Close Feedreader including exiting from it in the  bottom RH of the task bar notification area (ie near the time)
  2. In C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Application Data\FeedReader there is a file feedreader.ini which will open in notepad.  
  3. Find the line that looks like this - ProxyPassword=1796471d209511471f
  4. Delete the encrypted password leaving only ProxyPassword=
  5. Now re-open Feedreader, go to the Tools, Properties, Connection screen and press OK.  You will be prompted again for a password.

Students were noticing that they added comments to posts but they did not seem to be displayed on the blog.  The reason is that we have a proxy and they needed to press ctrl-F5 so that a fresh copy was downloaded from the blog site.

On a quick feedback where I asked them to correlate fun and learning for themselves, the vast majority of students said that they were having solid moderate fun and solid moderate learning. The tone of the class is constructive and productive.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Blogs are good - syndication creating hurdles

Today was a double lesson (1.5hrs). Three students were here today that were not here for our last lesson where we each set-up our blog accounts in a fairly lockstep way. Today we went through the process again but more of an over-view for the benefit of the three new-ones and as a revision for the rest. I re-emphasized the personal safety and libellous statements issues.

These three students set up there accounts and all students sent me the url of their feed. I published this and made it available via a shared folder using a spreadsheet file format (student name, feed address, feed works). To get the url of each others blog, students needed to remove the atom.xml filename from the end of this feed address url.

Students were asked to ensure that they could

  • Look at each others
  • Update via web
  • Update via email - few
  • Get email when people comment
  • Get email with new post

While they were doing this I wanted to check that 'FeedReader' would accept all of the feeds and that the students had set these options correctly at blogger.com. The site feeds did not all work initially. We quickly got to 4/9 not working. I checked the settings at blogger.com and they seemed to be OK.

Finally another one worked. The only thing that we may have done again was republish the blog (we had done this a number of times previously). I checked at lunchtime after the class and another one again worked. I recall the student stating that he had 'got something working' and had read that to mean the ability for others to make comments on his blogs. AT this point we are down to 2/9 feeds not working

At the moment we have done the following

  • All students can use the web to look at each others blog and make comments
  • All students can update their blog via a web interface
  • A few have tested that they can create a new blog entry via email
  • We ran out of time to determine the rate of success with getting an email when people comment on their blogs and getting an email with new postings.

Soooo - setting up a blog account and getting started was easy. Getting things to a point where we could think about automating the syndication and so aggregation created some complexities that are not resolved for all students at this time.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Collaborative Research blog update

We had a single lesson today (40 minutes) where I introduced the idea and gave an overview of the game plan.

We talked about personal safety.

Students each created a new blog account.  We went through each of the settings.
They were to record the address of their blog and the site feed address and email these to me.  I have two of them but we ran out of time. 

We worked hard and students left with many questions.  There is a degree of confusion.

Next session

Once I have all of the addresses I will create a list and share it with each of them.  They can then have a look at each others blog.  I want them to practice creating blog entries using the web interface and via email.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Collaborative research blogging trial

I would like to experiment with using blogs for collaborative research and so I have decided to use the next issues topic to make this happen. We start this topic tomorrow.

TOPIC:- Discuss the impact that WWW technology is having on business.

PROCESS - setup and test the technology

3 lessons

Each student will set up a blog account and a test/personal blog at blogger.com

· Care will be taken that settings are adjusted so that anonymous comments can not be made.

· Students will ensure that they have a syndication feed for their blog

· Students will be instructed not to identify themselves or others i.e.. personal safety issues

· Students will be instructed not to make comments that might be defamatory or libellous

We will test by making some blog entries using the web interface and also by making entries using email.

3 lessons

Each student will set up Feedreader as their aggregator with each class members syndication feed. This means that they will all share their research.

More test blog entries will be made.

We will try to comment on someone elses entry.

Now we should be ready to do the research and record and share our progress.

2 lessons

Students will setup a new blog specifically for this collaborative research project along with feeds from all of the other students in their aggregator.



2 lessons

We will watch a few videos in class on the topic. Students will use their blogs to react to these videos.

6 lessons

Students will research the topic using the internet. They will make a blog entry on any relevant url quoting the url and giving a brief summary indicating how this url relates to the topic.

Students will comment/discuss/debate/question/affirm/reason on other students blog entries (urls and their summaries).

I will subscribe to all student blogs and will make comments on at least 6 student blog entries per lesson

Students should aim at making either a single blog entry per lesson (45 minutes) or comment on at least two other student's blog entries and conducting some searches for suitable material.



2 lessons (double lesson)

After the research period, students will produce a personal mindmap of this topic during a double lesson period.


I have not idea about how long to make this exercise go for. I will monitor and adjust. Times are best guess at this time and frankly quite crude.

School Yard Cleanliness

Staff got a survey in our pigeon holes today asking for suggestions to improve
  • Yard Cleanliness
  • Uniform.
A similiar process could be used for both of the issues and is consistent with good quality improvement management.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Why do schools pay for software licenses?

Just got an email from one of the members of my school's Governing Council with a link to a news story about how Newham Borough Council , as a consequence of serious research into converting to the use of Open Source software, was able to negotiate a far better deal with Microsoft
This reminded me of another story relating to Thailand where Microsoft refused to negotiate until it was too late.  The headline "Microsoft Loses to Linux in Thailand Struggle" - http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/32110.html
" First-time PC users in Thailand find that the Linux Thai Language Edition is easier to use than Windows. Because most computer users in Thailand are first-time users, Microsoft doesn't benefit from market inertia the way they do in older markets." - http://www.cabalamat.org/weblog/art_86.html 
Market inertia might be developing in other ways in these countries.
These stories are exactly the point of pursuing Open Source software strongly at my school.  I want the whole region to get the benefit of what we are trying to do for our kids. 
In my experience, people tend to want stay with what they learn first.  Learning something new = effort.  When they are given the second alternative they invariably say it is more difficult to learn, is not as friendly, etc. 
Lets teach them the 'free' stuff first -  seems the only responsible thing to do.  Why do schools pay for software licenses when they (schools) are putting the marketing hooks of the software manufacturers into the students for them?  It seems that they (software manufacturers) should be paying us to give students exposure to their software.


I have opened my blogger.com account and conducted various tests so that I felt confident that I can use it effectively. I have come to the conclusion that blogging is rather useless without syndication and aggregation and so have been hunting for an aggregator. I have determined that the two main syndication options are atom and rss but at blogger.com, the host controls how this is done, and this is with atom.

I have tried and have now given up on Awasu. It had a nice look and feel but when it came to get any documentation is was considerably lacking. Upgrading was difficult because there was no documentation relating to how to do this. It was trial and error and ended up being as simple as replacing the files in the Awasu program folder with the downloaded files. Upgrading was necessary to get access to atom feeds.

I should have looked in sourceforge.org first rather than last as I found two good suspects for aggregators there. 'Feedreader' and 'rssowl'.

'Feedreader' It is free but only works on windows. It says that it needs IE4 or better but it seems that it can be configured reasonably easy for Mozilla. It is a small download and appears to be a pretty lean and functional product.

'rssowl' This might end up being the preferred candidate because it is cross platform and also Open Source. I like the fact that it displays more of the text from the feed, by comparison with Feedreader, giving more of an idea of what the post is about. I noted that I needed to have Java 1.4.2 or better installed but a link to this is available on the homesite for download. Rssowl seems to be rich in tools eg options to output as rtf, html and pdf. It comes with a host of feed specifications built in, most of which I deleted but the education related feeds looked good and i added them to the ones that i already were using. Adding feed sources was easy.

I do not know how either of these tools will work on a school network. It would not be useful for one student to be able to overwrite the feed sources for another student. We really need each student's configuration to follow them around the school and have good export options.

I was thinking of maintaining both feedreader and rssowl and run them in parallel for a while. I think that I will simply stay with rssowl for now and continue to work finding out about things like its use on a school network.