Education Eye – Mapping Innovations

education eye

I received an email today from Sarah Grier at FutureLab to inform me that my blog has been selected to feature on Education Eye.

In her words: “Education Eye is a free resource for the education community, pulling together a wide range of relevant and useful innovations selected from the best of the web and updated daily.”

In my words: Education Eye is a search engine by which you can find useful articles, blog posts and resources. Many of the articles (innovations) have been suggested by users of the site and the information is presented via a visually engaging user interface that brings joy to your searching.

The site also offer a variety of features which I have yet to try out but seem at first glance very useful, including the ability to register for email updates, a personalised home page and the ability to favourite articles and resources that you find useful.

So go on, click on the link and give it a try. If you’re not sure where to begin, how about a cheeky search for “James Michie” – you never know what you might find!

Blog Aesthetics & Improved Functionality

blank book

I had planned to blog about my use of Google Docs this past week. With it being half term, I certainly had the time to do so, but instead, I ended up using much of my time improving the design and functionality of my blog.

Here is a summary of the changes that I have made.

Design
One of the key things that I wished to change was the appearance of the blog, particularly the home page. I wanted it to be more minimal, have less information, with limited colour. Ultimately I wish to just show the 10 most recent blog post titles but for now I have set the blog to simply show the most recent post. I also changed the colour of the “visited links” as they were too light.

I created two new static pages. The first of which was a contact page including a self made form utilising the site:EmailMeForm. The other a dedicated page for the #movemeon book which I contributed to. This allowed me to remove a badge advertising the book from the blog’s sidebar as well as some text and hyperlinks.

To further improve the look of the blog across all of the pages I made further changes to the sidebar. I began by removing my Twitter stream and some unnecessary text.  I then considered changing the subscription and follow links from plain text to attractive “minimal” buttons.  Using my Twitter PLN I found some links to different button sets. After settling on a set which I found here, I created two mock ups and tweeted them out asking people to vote for either the set on the left or the right.

blog buttons choice

The set on the left received the most votes and that was my preference as well so I decided to go with it and went about adding the buttons to my blog (more about this process below). I also moved the buttons up to the top of the sidebar to increase their visibility. (I’m still mulling over the final row at the bottom which would include my Google Reader shared items, a link to call me on Skype and a link to my school Media Studies blog.

Finally, I edited my About page, updating sections with some of the projects I have been involved with this year.

Functionality
In making some of the aesthetic changes mentioned above I was also able to make some improvements to the functionality of my blog.

Changing the subscription and follow links from plain text to buttons meant that I had to learn more about HTML. (I already had some limited knowledge.) I learned how to add the buttons, hosting them in picasa and then linking to them. I wanted them to open in a new window/tab so I researched the code needed to make that happen and I also learned how to make text appear when the cursor hovers over them. I am very pleased with the finished functionality and hope that their placement at the top of the sidebar will help to increase my web presence.

Having learned how to make web links open in a new window/tab I set about editing all of my blog posts from May to do the same. Sticking with HTML I also added some code to my blog’s template to display related posts titles at the bottom of each post.  This should hopefully keep visitors on my blog for longer reducing my bounce rate. I then also removed the Sharethis widget (and related functionality) and replaced it with a TweetMeme retweet button. (See the bottom of this post.)

Finally, I made two significant changes to improve the subscription feed and data that I can get about my blog’s site traffic. I began by signing up with Google FeedBurner and syncing my old blog feed. I implemented a variety of additions (“FeedFlare”) to improve the promotion of my blog including syncing my Delicious bookmarks into my blog’s feed and making a wide variety of options for sharing my posts available to subscribers. I also set up subscription by email which I had seen on several blogs by people that I respected so felt it would be wise to offer my readers something similar. The final piece of code that I added to my blog was that of my Google Analytics account. It has already provided me with far more interesting information about my blog than the simple visit counter sitting at the bottom of my sidebar (which I may remove very soon).

So, no post about Google Docs but a lot of blog activity none the less. I am happy with the way the blog is looking and for now will give the tweaking a rest. I am not done though. Once the summer holidays begin I think that I will return to this process and do the following:

  • Add code to my blog so that only the blog post titles are displayed on the home page, archive page and label pages.
  • Display both the archive and labels in the sidebar as either a drop-down menu or expandable widget.
  • Add a blog roll of blogs I enjoy reading – also to be a drop-down menu or expandable widget.

I am always happy to know what people think so please comment below or tweet me @jamesmichie.

Image courtesy Štěpán Prokop on Flickr.

Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog!

“Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog!” or to those of us who speak English: “It’s worth taking a look at this blog!” Thank you to Jan Webb for including me in her list of 10 blogs that are worth taking a look at.

If you are included below and wish to take part in the project; simply copy the image from above and the title of this post. Make a new post on your own blog; including them, and your list of the 10 blogs you think others should take a look at.

Okay. On with my list:

Doug Belshaw is an inspiration to many of us who marvel at his insane levels of productivity! His blog is always insightful, always useful and being someone who loves clean aesthetic design, his blog is beautiful to look at/read. Doug and his blog were one of the final catalysts that led to me writing my own blog and I have tried to borrow some of those design aesthetics in putting together my blog.

Richard Byrne seems to be a man on a mission to catalogue and provide his PLN with an entire library of educational tools, apps, software and websites; keeping them innovating in the classroom until the end of time. He is the most prolific blogger in my Google Reader. Simply awesome!

Tom Barrett quickly became one of my heroes when I joined Twitter. He will retweet you, recommend you and help you get your PLN off the ground. His posts centre around educational technology posting about great apps and tools. However, as a leader in the edtech community, the true worth in Tom’s blog comes from his ideas and thoughts about edtech itself and the pedagogy involved. To see what I mean check out this post called “Whispering Change”.

James Clay‘s blog is another great edtech read, particularly his series of posts titled “100 ways to use a VLE”. As an avid user of my schools VLE (Moodle) I find these posts exceptionally useful whether they introduce a new idea, reinforce something I have already been doing or remind of something I had forgotten about. This brings me nicely to the next two blogs which are also Moodle related.

Ian Usher is Buckinghamshire’s eLearning co-ordinator and helped set up our VLE. He is a “Moodle” afficinadao and his blog tends to centre around this – exploring the use of Moodle across a series of schools which he has worked. He also blogs on other edtech related ideas, pedagogy and tools. And as an added bonus, if you subscribe to his blog feed you will also get regular updates from his delicious links.

Kristian Still is someone I have gotten to know recently; he, being directly involved in this years Moodle Moot. (You can read his guest posts featured on Moodle Monthly about the #mootuk10 here: Day 1 and here: Day 2) Kristain posts regularly on a wide variety of education related areas including edtech, leadership and 21st Century Learning – a topic that is if great personal interest to me as it has been at the forefront of my thinking and classroom practice for the last few years. His writing style serves him well, creating clear and informative posts with a personal conversational tone.

David Mitchell‘s blog is really interesting as he is simply not afraid to try out new and innovative ideas inside and outside of the classroom. Search back through the posts to see how he is getting on with using mobile technology in the classroom, Cover It Live, Voicethread for peer assessment, Twitter and class blogging amongst other things. Reading about his methodology and his sheer willingness to give it a go serves as a constant reminder that you must not stay stagnant as an educator. You must keep looking for ways to improve the learning for your students.

Dai Barnes writes on edtech, pedagogy and innovation. His posts are always stimulating and, like several of the other educators I have included in this list, he is leading the way in thinking about 21st Century Education. His blog is well structured to allow you to find information on key areas of interest including Moodle, eLearning and mobile technology.

Chickensaltash is a great educator who waxes lyrical on day to day learning, edtech and the 21st Century Classroom. His posts regularly end up in my Instapaper account to read later as the guy can write and write and write! Therefore, I often need to save them till I have more time to read them and digest the ideas within.

I have included the Instapaper Blog in this list as Instapaper is my favourite web app of all time. It is integral to both my web work flow and personal productivity. It was the second web app that I used Fluid to turn into a desktop based app and the excellent, regularly updated iPhone app has become my most used app on my iPod touch. You can read my post about creating desktop apps with Fluid (including Instapaper) here. Their recent posts have included many updates on the development of their iPad app which looks stunning…check out the pics in this post. If you love design simplicity like I do you will love the way this app looks!

And that’s it; 10 blogs I think you should take a look at. Please leave comments if you wish and as always you can contact me on Twitter @jamesmichie.

WordPress or Blogger?

WP or BL

Today’s post was going to focus on my first classroom and what it meant, having a classroom to call my own but I will save that for next week as I got a little sidetracked, moving my blog from WordPress to Blogger.

Yes, after just two posts I have moved my blog from WordPress to Blogger today.  I have been using Blogger since 2006, posting resources, links and ideas on my school media blog here.  It has served me well but I had been impressed by some fellow educators’ blogs on WordPress so I thought that I would give it a go.  However, sitting working on the blog today, attempting to edit the look and feel of it, I ended up being very frustrated.

The move from WordPress to Blogger is simply due to the fact that I do not wish, at this moment in time, to buy a domain for myself; my funds need to go elsewhere.  Furthermore, Blogger offers far more freedom and control over the look of my blog at no extra financial cost whereas WordPress wanted me to pay to edit the CSS features of my blog.  This made the move a no-brainer for me. I do not want to pay out money each month to make the blog look and work for me the way I want it to when Blogger will let me do this for free.  This is not to say that Blogger does not have its own limits but these are not so plentiful that I feel I need to use a service in which money needs to be exchanged to achieve my goals.

I hope that I have not confused too many people?  I will keep tweeting that I have moved over the next couple of days to get the word out!