Zenification of a Presentation

zen_snail

In September of this year I was invited to present at the AppsEvents European Summit regarding Google Sites. In fact, I had two presentations: The Basics of Google Sites which I presented with my colleague Jags Myanger and Advanced Google Sites which I presented individually. It was a great honour to be accepted to the conference as a presenter and I was looking forward to the opportunity. I had quite an extensive array of websites on the Google Sites platform which I used to extend the learning from my Grade Five classroom or to support the various sports teams, clubs and activities I coordinate at my my school.

As I was creating all of this content for my students and parents; I felt starved for best practice examples of how to use Sites in an educational context. I wanted to know how to best plan and organize my information so that it would be the most helpful to those trying to access it. I worked and reworked these pages and content leading colleagues from my school who also had curriculum websites. With upwards of 40 pages created on Google Sites I felt confident that I would be the expert that many other could turn to when in need of advice or guidance in this medium. I had embedded my Twitter feed in my site as well as calendars, YouTube playlists galleries and had really focused on turning over the creation of content to the students. That was the big feather in the cap, that students were driving their own learning. I was ready.

Then everything changed. Prior to the summer, I had made two proposals to present at the conference which were approved by my school. My co-presenter and I worked hard to have everything ready before we split for our summer break. Over the summer, Google released a new version of Google Sites rendering most of the work we did useless. Back to the drawing board we went. A silver lining? Time to apply Zen presentation principles to our work. Embedded in this blog post you will find the initial Basics of Google Sites and Advanced Google Sites pitches we made to the Administration of our school and a video which highlights the changes we made to our presentation and how those design features are setup to enhance usability, style and communication of our message. These principles now permeate my work and have become second nature to me when planning information to be shared.

Pitch for Basics of Google Sites

Pitch for Advanced Google Sites

A video highlighting Presentation Zen principles applied to my Google Sites presentations I made at the European Summit:

Remix of an Athletics Site

msgs-team-shot

To demonstrate my understanding of the principles of Presentation Zen and how they apply to content I have created; I have chosen the rebuild of my Middle School Girls Soccer website. I am the Head Coach of this team and use this site as the primary method of communication with athletes, parents and members of the school community. The website needs to be a place where information is interesting to look at and easily accessible. I must admit that the redesign is greatly aided and abetted by the upgrade Google Sites has recently gone through; but as can be easily seen, the content and style of the site are vastly different.

Turntable

Sir Remix-a-Lot: it can be enjoyable to re-envision material using Presentation Zen principles.

In the first site, there is a very different feel to the information. It is much more a recap based medium with pictures from the fixtures, write ups of game action and scores. Design wise, there is a lack of alignment between game action youtube videos of pictures of the athletes. Headlines and titling are inconsistent throughout the site, resulting in a decreased impact of the information. At the bottom of the website, the formatting of the fixture list is unattractive and unorganized. The link to Skills & Development is not noticeable on the left hand side and when a visitor uses the link, the resources on that page are not enticing for further exploration. These design flaws aside, the site was quite popular, as the target audience frequently visited to view the posted content.

Using many of the concepts taught through Presentation Zen the website has been re-envisioned and re-purposed. It it likely that the Google Team themselves were greatly influenced by Garr Reynolds and his teachings when developing the upgrade. The new look Google Sites are cleaner and more streamlined to bring the information to the forefront. Sites are certainly easier to use and I explore these features further in depth in my post Zenification of a Presentation.

Unfortunately, the new MS Girls Soccer Team website is currently a part the whole school revamp of our communication methods and therefore not yet published. In fact, the biggest problem with the new Google Sites is the fact that the sharing permissions have changed and it is possible to either share within our school domain or with the world. In the past it was possible to selectively share the information, limiting the exposure and range of posted content. As the new site is for the school community and not accessible to outsiders, I have taken a short video overview of the site to review the highlights. I am sure there are many applications to other activities in other schools. I hope this helps. Enjoy.

Local & Global Interactions

mail

Within our Grade Two classroom the focu2ag-post-boxs has been “communication systems enable local and global interactions”. As part of the student inquiries they investigated the postal system, how mail travels and by extension the mechanisms which work together to deliver messages across the world. A strong language focus included letter writing and the conventions surrounding sending messages in an addressed envelope to another person and place. Visual literacy plays a strong role in communicating the framework and function of systems, as well as the structure of a letter and layout of addressed envelopes.

In our unit, students decided that communication systems are developed to meet a need. By examining the people, parts, organization and purpose of systems; they inquired into how communication systems help us and why we need them. They French Post Boxcan explain how accessing and sharing information enables us to connect locally and globally through the use of maps and technology.

The students created a postal system for the primary school and used self-selected images of post boxes to help create their own. As we are an international school, we were able to find images of Switzerland and our home country’s national post boxes increasing global understanding. Strongest was making a local connection, as they chose to paint the class post boxes orange & black writing, which are the school colours.  

Visual imagery supports the language curriculum extremely well. Graphic organizers are key to supporting students in their writing development and allows for more successful communication opportunities. As they begin to blog this year, our Grade 2 students make strong connections to Digital Citizenship practices and are learning to cite their sources. Our class uses the visualizer in our room to explore stamps from around the world and were able to connect to their developing understanding of the globe. The wall map in our room is a place of annotation and engagement. Experiences are share as our Flat Stanley pictures are posted upon their return from adventures with relatives in other countries. Our class continually adds layers to the web of our personal connections through imagery on our wall map.

As I mentioned previously in my post Fight the Empowerment, imagery is incredibly important to me when communicating my message. Often they are the source of my inspiration to get writing DODH and help me to develop my author’s voice. Imagery tells the untold story and Postes Canada - Canada Post Mailboxfuels my creativity. I am especially pleased that the new theme showcases my feature images so nicely; although my categories absurdly cover them. I have yet to figure out how to remedy that, so if anyone knows please pass it along @GroverAndrew. While using the Creative Commons to search for digital images I found that tips from Kim Cofino’s video were very helpful. Do not underestimate the power of a visual explanation, accessible by users at their own pace and specific learning needs. I appreciated how I could split my screen and follow along while selecting an image. Personalized tutoring.

One of educational technology’s greatest strengths is the ability to connect and collaborate in meaningful ways. Just as my hero Alvin Toffler predicted, workflows have changed as computers enhance the ability to tailor the access to information.

Resurfacing after a Dive in the Deep

sun dive I

Resurfacing. End of school, start of school with a glorious summer bridging the gap. Time off to think a little more holistically. A bird’s eye view. Oh thank goodness. Just like so many projects that I start, even with the best of intentions and the best laid plans; this blog has grown a little out of control. Digging Out of a Digital Hole needs a revamp, a rethink and some serious redesign. Much like the tomato plants on my balcony, or my garden in general; this has organically grown into a minor (digital) jungle. Time to break out the machete and bring order to the chaos.

Luckily, a new school year and the first assignment of CoETaIL Course 3 allows me to step back and take a long hard look at my blog and measure its effectiveness. So far I would say it is “a good first effort” but not “amazing”. When I began this course last year, I had never blogged before. I was quite adept at creating and maintaining websites as I had used both the Moodle and Google Sites platforms to create close to 40 different pages; supporting the learning of close to 400 students. However, I found that Edublogs, although the same in many ways are not quite as intuitive with their editing structure. I found the learning curve to be quite steep and making progress has been difficult. I believe I am starting to get the hang of it now; but it always seems to be the little tricks of the trade which still elude me. I think in part, it was my desire to stick to one theme and try to build within as opposed to jumping formats. As I was not an expert in using this platform, I spent a lot of time researching and searching out best practice examples to mimic and learn from. In 1824, Charles Caleb Colton wrote “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and I intend to incorporate examples of visual literacy within my own blog.

First off, I will give a quick overview of what my blog looked like at the end of Course 2. I quite liked my header image, although I was disappointed because it is actually an animated gif. The gif showed you traveling through a worm(digital)hole and I thought it would be quite cool to have a moving image in the header. It did not stay animated. Above the title, all of my categories were listed; which is clearly not the place for them and they will be one of the first elements to change in the remodel. Below my header were links to pages on my blog which as empty, have proven to be not as relevant as I had hoped. In order to initially populate my blog, I added messages which said that they are under construction and have now been removed. The widgets on right side of the page proved to be a mechanism for the blog with which I struggled in the creative process. Never having had experience with this before it took quite a lot of trial and error to develop the space. New vocabulary. Concepts and design principles make the process a slow undertaking as I view this as my professional face. At the moment, the content I want my visitors to be able to see is too far down the page and essentially unavailable. I quite like the tags and the structure of my widget sidebar, although I dislike greatly the font and the red color. Unfortunately these are not editable in this theme. At the bottom of a page shows the post that I have previously made, although I have not figured out how to show 5 different posts as opposed to five of the identical link. On posts, the theme seemed to make it difficult to cycle through. When you click on a post the widget sidebar disappears and you were left with merely the post content not additional links. Although a less cluttered page is ideal for readers but obviously makes it more difficult to engage with your content as it does not then lead them deeper into the digital hole. In pure readership terms, you want to attract avid readers or subscribers and keep them by offering interesting and varied content in multiple media platforms. Basics.

To achieve that I will be implementing many visual literacy strategies to help improve my blog. This may not be so easy, but will prove to be very exciting. In addition to course readings, I have been studying the design principles applied to web sites such as the excellent Beyond Digital, Principal of Change, edublogs by Ewan McIntosh and Backward by Design. What I have learned from these websites end designers is this:

Speak clearly. Speak interestingly. Speak your mind.

What I have learned from the readings? Stop waffling on. Be shorter and catch that moment. A fundamental change in style is also in order to develop as a writer. That will be exciting. It is not just all technological gimmicks that I am interested in. I have enjoyed the writing process more that I thought I would. Aside from time it actually is quite nice to compose your thoughts and develop ideas on paper. Being creative is always good for the soul.dodh-headerCheck out a guided tour of the changes to DODH

At last! Now that I have completed the revamp of my blog I am pleased to highlight the following improvements. I have removed two unused pages and changed the style of the menu bar at the top of the page. A newer, cleaner look was achieved by removing the categories from the header which is less cluttered and more straightforward. I chose a new  theme which allows me to add my tagline and better lays out previous blog posts. It also highlights the individual images which I so carefully chose in the first place. A small annoyance that I have not yet found the answer to is the fact that the categories cover the thumbnail Image of the posts below. This obviously lessens the impact of the visual, clouding the clarity of my intended message. With a new theme, I had to re-add elements in the widgets such as my Twitter profile forcing me to reevaluate the content that was displayed there. I removed links to other blogs and re-positioned the information to highlight my own content and creativity. I also added the widgets to the sidebar of all the pages on my blog and highlighted my  recent presentations at the Google European Summit.

Digging Out of a Digital hole has evolved and changes are designed increase the visual impact and organization of my information. I am looking forward to continuing my educational technology journey with you. Swim? Let’s dive in.

tank man

Fight the Empowerment

tank man

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

 

What a powerful image.

When I’m writing a new blog post, the biggest struggle is always to have the idea to get started at first. Of course many aspects of the content become immediately accessible within my mind, but I find it extremely difficult to actually start without a previously determined idea. Usually that focal point comes from one or two sources of an image which I choose to be my header; or I write a title, which then gives the editorial slant I intend to take about a topic. However this time, after watching an inspirational TED Talk about student action Extracurricular empowerment by Scott McLeod; two songs leapt into my mind. A mini battle of the bands ensued for the right to title this post. Since we are talking about  empowerment of students using technology; the word power floated upwards, like the cream to the top of milk. Rage Against the Machine’s 1991 song Take the Power Back not only has power in it’s title, but also contains strong verses about making the content of the curriculum relevant to learners and shaking up archaic educational structures. In the other corner,  Fight the Power, a 1990 track from Public Enemy makes a similarly strong statement about making change and advancing progress. As you can see from the title of my post, remixed title of these songs was the winner. Of course, as I wrote my first paragraph, many other songs containing the word “power” have bubbled to the surface of my consciousness including The Power by Snap! and Powerslave by Iron Maiden. Feel free to add your contributions or suggestions of great “power” songs in the comments below.

Now that the title and beginning of my post has been taken care of; the discussion of  technological empowerment in an education, has one key component to it: how educators can empower students and how students can empower themselves. I am lucky in that my classroom has a variety of technology at the students’ disposal. They have access to visualizers, digital cameras, iPads, Chromebooks and Smartboards and as a result, students are proficient with their application within the classroom. As a teacher, I post information on our class website and Home Learning tasks on our Google Classroom. Students have the ability to self-monitor and direct their own learning once they understand the established protocols. Before fully switching over to a digitized classroom, homework was previously posted on the board and copied into student agendas. Time consuming and apt to important details being missed. Once students had access to technology, often in the form of personal telephones, a quick picture of this list a

The French philosopher Rousseau's du Contrat Social inspired European political reform.

The French philosopher Rousseau’s du Contrat Social caused widespread European political reform.

nd out the door they walked. Now, with my curriculum so digitized, students are already accessing content related to their learning on their commute home. Students are adept at using technology collaboratively for learning purposes.  As students mature, they often choose to be involved in clubs and activities which make a difference in the lives of others. There is a deep engagement in Round Square, Student Council, Model United Nations and Global Issues clubs. Youth are naturally forming their opinions on issues related to their local community, school or personal life.  Students join groups which are often used for discussion and sharing of content whether it be for educational or personal use.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau posed that “Man was basically good”  and from the desire to be good, a social conscience is formed.

In our How We Organize Ourselves inquiry on Fair Play we discover which individuals and organisations have promoted human rights. They look at the actions taken by others to address problems and want to contribute. The outstanding TED Talk by McKenna Pope Want to be an activist? Start with your toys is an excellent example of how youth can leverage positive change. Students connect with local experts and sometimes leaders in their field. One student  pursuing his inquiry had the opportunity to interview the CEO of the National Civil War Museum and have a personalized tour via Hangout. Our Primary Round Square Club uses Google Docs to plan the logistics surrounding the school dance. The Primary Student Representative Council uses To collect feedback about school initiatives  and communicate developments throughout the year. As part of their exhibition action the students participated in a JR Action showing how they can make a difference in their own personal lives. Their final product was filmed with multiple iPads and the final movie edited and published across the school platforms by the students.

McLeod posits that “we must get out of the way and allow them to be amazing”. As an educator we want to create the structures and opportunities to allow our constituents to Achieve your Potential, Pursue your Passion & Fulfil your Responsibility as our School Mission states. Natural curiosity, fused with an interest in action; arises in a collaborative environment. Students want to develop their leadership capabilities and we as Educators always encourage the active pursuit of their goals and dreams.

Cus·tom·ize or ˈkəstəˌmīz/

Making your blog more personalized

Meditations, musings and methods of how to personalize your blog.

I think the title of this post just about sums up where the construction of my blog stands, as I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce the word on the right hand side but is apparently identical to the left. To someone becoming accustomed to new technology, phonetic transcription can make the settings panel of a blog feel a lot like learning a foreign language.  In reality, as understanding develops and I make connections between the settings and appearance of my blog; I feel I can differentiate between hieroglyphics and mother tongue. The challenge is to customize my blog to it to make more personalized. That’s an ambitious goal when the language I want to communicate in is no longer native.

The old adage of one step forward, two steps back, applies to this journey. My vision is clear in my head and examples of excellent practice are plentiful. I wanted to add a featured image to my latest post, but I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Eventually I realized that you actually had to embed the image in the post in the first place then set it as the featured image. Of course, this allows for more than one image to be placed in the post with the chosen depiction appearing on the homepage and as the article header. I have chosen Monochrome as my theme for my blog because I consider the color schematic and layout to fit my style; however it often presents problems because the theme is not built so that it supports all of the features that I have tried to add. Frustration.

As I continue on my learning journey I find that I am not digging a deep hole but a wide hole. I am expanding my understanding of a number of different platforms, not just WordPress in order to create my blog. This past week, I wanted to create a picture to my post Exploring Fields of Knowledge which showed two contrasting types of farming practices, an analogy which supported my growing understanding of different concepts and learning connections.

There's always light at the end of the tunnel

The light at the end of the tunnel is not always a train

However, to combine the two desired images into one for the header for my blog post, I needed to use Instagram, a program I had an account for, but only basic knowledge of. Once I had found my two  copyright free images on WikiMedia Commons, I went Instagram to meld them together. One step forward, two steps back. In order to merge them, I needed to download the Layout extension. Once downloaded, it took me 20 minutes to learn how to edit my pictures and add the layers of coloring and style that brought my picture to life. This process is kind of like working on my blog; but not really, because I get dragged off task to do something more interesting or to acquire the knowledge in the first place. Now that I have the layout app and the knowledge, I have been able to drastically reduce the time to alter images to just 60 seconds. One step forwards….

Two steps back….Other style points that sidetracked me from writing was trying to add subscribe buttons & search bars to my theme. As I alluded to above, some of the elements that I was trying to include are not applicable for the theme that I had chosen on WordPress. The Monochrome theme simply does not have the same menus within it as other themes do; therefore I could not add the desired item where I wanted to. My RSS feed was an example, I know I have one established already, but can I not add my Digg Reader list of RSS’ to my site? Did I need to select my RSS sources twice, or was there something I was missing? Of course that issue seems straightforward, but it still takes you the time to figure out what the problem is. Troubleshooting is never easy when you’re not sure what the trouble is, where it’s located or how to fix it. Hindsight is always 20/20 once you know how to do it the first time.

One step forward…. an area that I feel like I’m getting a good handle on now, but one that came with its own set of struggles, was using the tags and categories. Tags and categories help to make blogs and websites more searchable, interesting and ultimately relevant to readers . my first mistake was watching the video but not realizing that hashtag # was not needed when creating tag words. I discovered this after my second blog post and needed to go back to eradicate the erroneous entries. Despite my efforts, I still have one hashtag up on the right hand side in that menu. However I am starting to build a database of my own tagged word dictionary.

Two steps back….perhaps the most frustrating of all, was my inability to link my Twitter account to my blog. I have been tweeting pretty steadily since November and prior to starting CoETaIL it had been the focus of my own digital learning, as I wanted to add the world of Twitter to my personal digital portfolio. Like many of the applications, widgets and technological tips above, there is a learning curve but I feel now that I have a good understanding of how to use Twitter in an educational setting. I even ramped up my Twitter use while taking CoETaIL, because I know it is an excellent way connect with my cohort. Nonetheless, I was extremely stumped when I will needed to get a confirmation key and consumer key which link the two. After spending close to an hour trying to figure it out myself, including searching Twitter and WordPress settings, I finally asked for help from our resident digital expert. I am now happy to say that it works….or is at least closer to working. Still tweeting, just not being picked up on my blog. Yet.

One step forward….help menus, video tutorials and online forums. I just can’t get enough. Still, if everyone else was able to do it I am sure I can. Persistence and perseverance will pay off. I just need to stop wanting my blog to look so professional so early. It took me around a year to get my Grade Five and Coaching Google Sites up to snuff. I guess I just need to stop obsessing. Yea right, this is too much fun.

One step forward….

 

 

Citations
Keller, Smith. customize+button+small. 2013. Customized Themes, Colours, And Fonts For Your Restaurant Website. Web. 3 Mar. 2016. <https://www.appetas.com/blog/2013/11/11/customized-themes-colors-and-fonts-for-your-restaurant-website>
Skitterphoto.com, . sky-ditch-eye-hole. 2014. Pexels. Web. 3 Mar. 2016. <https://www.pexels.com/photo/sky-ditch-eye-hole-3828/>.

Exploring Fields of Knowledge

fields-of-knowledge

Connections can be examined through different farming practices.

 

The learning curve is starting to get steeper.

As my course continues to peel the layers off the technological onion, I continue to find areas in which I am very comfortable; yet others reveal areas which proves I am out of my depth. To me, it seems to be similar to an aerial view of the English countryside; a window seat-view which I was lucky enough to have at the beginning of my journey in technology. A myriad of multi-coloured fields of knowledge; fertile and ripe for harvesting, are separated with hedges, rivers and stone walls. Often there are gates or pathways which connect this knowledge to each other, similar to the Rights of Way in England & Wales. I just need to find them.

The challenge for me, will be to conect my current expertise with new concepts and growing understanding. In “Living & Learning with New Media” the authors contend that “messing around represents the beginning of a more intense, media-centric form of engagement. When messing around, young people begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding.” p.20 As a first time blogger, yet experienced digital practitioner, encountering my own new media for the first time; I find a deep connection to this assertation. I authored an extensive array of Google Sites supporting both for my Grade Five classroom and as a Sports Leader at my school. I feel as though I should be better at this blogging racket. Of course I expected the actual writing of content to be challenging, but what I did not anticipate was how different WordPress is to creating a Google Site.  Google Sites and WordPress allow users to post content relatively easily to the web, the establishment of a basic web page can be quite easy. It is only once the architect cares about the content, style and potential impact of information that the two  platforms become trickier. Actually trying to propagate your vision digitally, has proven to be quite difficult indeed.

Within my own learning journey is a developing understanding of what is possible in on a blog. I have found parallels between the bottom and top of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking. On one hand, right at the top of the pyramid, is creating. In order to bring my vision to life, I am working through the top tiers of the edifice, designing and constructing; cycling through the analysis and evaluation stages while applying them to Digging Out of a Digital Hole.  However, on the flip side, I bounce between the lowest rungs of the ladder as I try desperately to remember what I did last time to make an idea work, or understand the complexities associated with new platform possibilities.

All the while, a clear vision of what could be, drives me forward. An additional other quote from “Living & Learning with New Media”  applies to me in these circumstances. “…players who enjoyed experimenting with the authoring tools embedded in games. Games such as Pokémon or Neopets are designed specifically to allow user authoring and customization of the player experience in the form of personal collections of customized pets. This kind of customization activity is an entry point into messing around with game content and parameters”. p24-25. I do this every time I open my blog. I am far more concerned with the structure so far than the content. I am trying to figure out what these menus mean or what these options, tick boxes and fields contain. Do they help me? Are they relevant?  The adaptations sure do not write blog posts for me. I’m behind, but fascinated.

At school, while constructing my own curriculum websites, it was easy to connect with colleagues on a personal level who were also learning.  As the article so aptly describes, “messing around with media is embedded in social contexts where friends and a broader peer group share a media-related interest and social focus.” p26 At school, I had a group of peers at the same level, experiencing the same pedagogical awakenings. Online, by myself, I have yet to establish connections with these pillars of support. I know they exist within CoETaIL; apparently at my fingertips. As I am still coming to terms with my educational blog and commenting responsibilities however; I have not yet found the correct doors to knock on, or rooms to wander into, in order to connect with the experience of my Cohort. A week from now, a month from now, or a Course 2 from now; those Rights-of-Way will no doubt be established. As the connections strengthen, I will transfer from my small but fertile English farmer’s fields; to the vast expanse of the Canadian Prairies, where creativity roams free like the bison do.