It’s OK to miss things

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Originally uploaded by Kilgub

My best mate at school was a huge music fan. Dave had thousands of albums by bands I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone remember. He was always ready for the next big thing, spotting the likes of Pulp and many others long before the likes of you and me had come across them. I was fortunate to borrow a few CDs now and then – I distinctly remember him introducing me to Nirvana, and many other groups you’d likely never have heard of – but I was never really up on the whole music thing.

I always felt slightly envious of him – because he never missed anything. He knew exactly what was going on and always kept his finger on the bleeding edge (I do love a mixed metaphor).

In the years since then I’ve met lots of people like Dave. When I first started teaching I worked with Darren Smith, an early Moodle adopter who seemed to be very well up on where ICT in schools was going. When I first got into blogging it was all about Islay, and Islay Ian was my go-to guy for all things Web 2.0 and technology in the classroom. Once I got into Twitter it was the likes of Doug Belshaw who seemed to be the kind of person who knew exactly what was going on and somehow managed to keep lots of fingers in lots of pies, while still maintaining excellent classroom practice.

And as great as Darren, Ian and Doug are, they’re also pretty daunting as exemplars. Like my friend Dave, they seem to never miss a trick, to always be up on the next big thing and they can easily make the rest of us feel, if not inadequate, certainly less successful.

A couple of years ago my morning routine used to consist of reading through all of the overnight tweets in my timeline, lest I miss some key conversation or idea. Then going on to my RSS reader and seeing what was going on in the blogosphere. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would miss out on something.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. There are bound to be conversations I’m not part of, blog posts I don’t get to read and ideas that pass me by entirely. That’s as it’s always been and how it should be. It’s OK if I don’t hear about a piece of software before a colleague, or if someone in the staffroom is sharing a new online tool with me instead of the other way around. And it is important that I take time away from reading up on ideas and actually try using them in the classroom (that and eating, sleeping, spending time with my family…).

What brought this to my mind is the collection of tweets, blog posts and the Teachmeet livestream coming out of the NAACE conference over the last few days. I’m not really involved with NAACE, although I know many who are. And for a moment I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending my Saturday watching the Teachmeet being beamed out live. And that I hadn’t followed who was presenting what throughout the conference. But if it’s important or key, I know that some very good people will make sure it floats to the top. Because the good ideas do tend to do that, and those very good people are on the case.

And at the next Teachmeet, I’ll try to do the same. I’ve not been to one yet that hasn’t resulted in a number of blog posts and many tweets – and those who aren’t there might pick up on one thing or another. Or they might not. And we’ll all cope, because it’s OK to miss things. We’re only human, after all.

Web Design in WordPress?

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Image: eisenrah

In Y8 our students do a web design unit. We do a little HTML, introduce Dreamweaver, plan a 4-5 page site and build it using templates and tables. The end result is, largely, not very good. We’ve tried a range of contexts; ‘choose your own’, ‘rock bands’, ePortfolio of DT work – and the result is always a plain looking website that isn’t finished and students that don’t really understand what they’ve done or how to do it again. Those that have their own website outside school generally use a website builder to do it, and feel a lot more ownership of it (that said, they’re also not very good in general).

On the other hand, what I do in terms of web design usually involves Moodle, WordPress, Joomla or some other CMS (Content Management System) in which the design and the content are separated. I hack a round a bit with CSS, I change images, I install the odd widget or external module. The individual content blocks (like this) are either written in a WYSIWYG editor or done quickly in Kompozer and the HTML cut and pasted in. Although I both have and do write website from scratch, it’s pretty rare these days.

A third option would be to us an online website creator – Google Sites, Wix, whatever else is equivalent to Geocities. The students use these as easy ways to quickly create a website – the reason being that they are easy. The problem with that is that the underlying skills are not being taught and there is little or no understanding.

So what skills do we want the students to pick up? HTML coding, how to set out content (whether through CSS, DIVs or tables), the nature of embedding media (tags linking to images, videos, etc.), hyperlinks, design principles…

There’s no reason why you couldn’t do this with WPMU blogs. Students choose their own theme, customise the layout, change the banner and add the bulk of content as pages rather than posts and use the blog feed as ‘news’. The hardest task would be the logistics of setting up the software on a server and getting the LDAP authentication working.

Any thoughts?