Blog Importification

I love having smart friends.

As UNIS Hanoi moves towards a school-wide blogging platform I’ve been looking for ways to make life easier for teachers wanting to implement blogging in class. One of the big questions I’ve had  has been “How can teachers get only the information that they want/need?”

What stuck in my mind was a comment that I heard in passing back at Learning 2.010. Somebody (who???) mentioned using Google Spreadsheets to build RSS feeds. Since most school URLs are predictable, that sounded easy enough. It turned into my own personal Fermat’s Last Theorem though. What seemed easy turned out to take me a few years to solve and then only with the help of my aforementioned smart friend.

@zomoco has rigged up a Blog Importificator for me. Here’s how it works:

  • Teachers create a class list using Outlook contact groups and send that to me. (In the future, this information could also be pulled out of our student information system.)
  • Teachers also tell me what category they want the students to use in their blog posts (grades 6 – 10 use MYP subject related categories that have been pre-loaded on each blog; grades 11 and 12 create the category they are going to use) as well as what grade level the students are in (our blog addresses are dependent upon graduation year for ease of maintenance).
  • I erase the header from the text file they sent me so there are two columns of data: student name and student email/username. I then upload this text file to the Importificator, fill in the category slug, the folder name and the graduation year.
  • The Importificator spits out an OPML file that can then be imported into Google Reader, Outlook or just about any other RSS reader.

From the time I receive the class list to the time teachers are subscribed to all of the blog posts in that specific category: about 2 minutes!

While this particular version of the Importificator is very UNIS Hanoi specific, @zomoco has released his code over at GitHub licensed under ASL and CC BY NC SA. If you use it, please be sure to drop him a tweet and say thanks!

One day, after a few more lessons at Codecademy, I hope I’ll be able to modify the code myself!

Is there a better/easier way of doing this? What do you do at your school to help teachers with their blogging students?

International Collaboration – NISTech 2011

After the UNIS Unconference in January, I received a comment from Ivan Beeckmans, the Technology Integration Specialist at NIST in Bangkok. He told me about the weekend PD workshops he was organizing for the teachers there and we discussed how the unconference format could be incorporated as a way to empower teachers to be learners and leaders.

One thing led to another and Ivan invited me to join the NIST staff at NISTech 2011 last weekend. Considering the similarities between NIST and UNIS – Tablet PC program, SharePoint portal, IBO World School to name a few – and the proximity – Hanoi is closer to Bangkok than it is to Ho Chi Minh City – I jumped at the chance!

The weekend was full of great conversations by a group of teachers committed to learning. Julian Edwards, the secondary school principal, made the important distinction between dialogue and discussion at the beginning of the weekend. We weren’t here to prove that we were right or to win any debates; our main purpose was to talk with each other and explore ideas.

It was interesting to be the only non-NIST teacher at the event. It gave me a different perspective on things, even with all of the commonalities. It was great to see and hear how students and teachers are using similar tools to achieve similar objectives in different ways. It was also reassuring to hear the same concerns surrounding effectiveness, time management and student learning that our teachers at UNIS voice.

I managed to get in and facilitate a few sessions on blogging with WordPress, OneNote and Creative Commons. I even managed to geek out a little with Jay Priebe, the Tech Director at NIST, over SharePoint and Veracross.

I’m hoping that NIST and UNIS can continue to build a strong cooperative partnership between our two schools. At the very least I’m hoping to be able to reciprocate the hospitality that was extended to me by Ivan, Jay, Julian and rest of the great staff at New International School of Thailand.

#BlogAlliance Week 1

This past Monday and Tuesday I held my first Blog Alliance sessions for 10 teachers here at UNIS. It was a bit of a slow start since our network has been curiously lagging lately but it went well on both accounts. In my groups I’ve got a wide range of teachers: lower and upper elementary, elementary art and technology, middle/high school languages, math, drama, humanities, and even one of our Vietnamese support staff!

We discussed some of our essential questions, most importantly: Why do you want to blog?

The main reason, not surprisingly, is to create a professional blog to establish connections with other teachers. We also discussed using the blog as an online portfolio, highlighting some of the successes in the classroom as well as documenting the process of different units or projects. I mentioned how I recently created my own online resume and how rewarding it had been sifting through my blog posts to add hyperlinks for support. I’m hoping that as all of these various blogs develop, maybe by the end of this academic year, we can all come back together and discuss different ways that this can be accomplished.

In terms of actually doing, it didn’t feel like we did very much to be honest. In the 45 minute session, in addition to our discussion, we all managed to sign up for a WordPress account and create our blogs. I took them through the dashboard and through process of writing a post as well as some of the admin options.  That’s about it, but it was enough. In the next few weeks we’re planning on learning how to personalize each blog, how to work with various media and how to manage comments.

I’m pretty excited to see how “into” this idea these teachers are getting. There is a wide range of technology savvy in the group and many of them are definitely stretching their comfort zones. They also all seem to get the idea that we, as teachers, need to practice what we are preaching to the students. I certainly admire the general risk-taking nature of this group!

Once their blogs get up and running, I hope you can take a moment to support them along the way!

image credit: Wall of Peace by Jeff Bauche licensed under CC BY NC ND

image credit: Risk Takers by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA