Medium as student blogging platform

with Adobe Voice & Adobe Slate

This article was originally published at Medium.com and is cross posted here for archiving purposes. Please read and comment on Medium.


Experience shows us that students’ performance increases dramatically when they know their work will be shared with a wider audience. This is even more true when students are sharing their work with a wider public audience.

Ever use Blogger or WordPress on mobile? It’s like taking a time-machine back to 2005. Can we really expect teens to embrace this?

Many schools have been using student blogs to give students an authentic platform to share their learning with a global audience. Some schools use Blogger, EduBlogs or some blogging feature of an LMS. These tend to provide the structure and control that schools want, but are so locked-down and walled-off from the rest of students’ social media identity that they really have zero chance of being valued by students.

Terry Heick really nails the point:

The truth is, every platform has its strengths and weaknesses. My argument here is pretty simple–there is no perfect platform for student blogging because everything that does exactly what a teacher wants sucks for students, and anything that is exactly what a student wants will probably get a teacher fired.

Terry concludes, as I do, that if we want an authentic, valued experience, we must move toward the students rather than trying to jam them into our little box. His answer is Tumblr, and I almost agree. We use Tumblr for school trips and some larger school events. It’s easy for students and staff to use, it has a strong modern mobile platform and it’s very social. But Tumblr has one fatal flaw: the user doesn’t have their own stream that contains all of their posts regardless of which blog they were posted to. This means that students cannot post to a class blog, but still have it be part of their growing body of work. Students (or other readers) cannot follow other users, just the blogs they write to. This is ok if all we want is a simple platform for a class to share links on, but it doesn’t provide a place for a student to set down digital roots and to start growing an online identity.

It may be naive, but here’s my wish-list:

  • Social media paradigm
  • Modern mobile interface
  • Simple media embedding
  • Equally strong at quick posting and long-form writing
  • Posts can be grouped or submitted into collections or publications
  • User, rather than school owned with super-simple setup

Medium

Medium is all of that and more! I’ve loved Medium for a while, but didn’t really consider it for a school environment until recently. Over the last month, I’ve been working with a select group of grade 6 students. (I like testing systems with this age because they serve as a good indicator of how well something could work with both upper primary students and secondary students.) Not only does Medium hold promise as a student blogging platform, but possibly for all of a school’s publishing needs.

Aesthetics matter to our students. Medium has a simple, modern interface.

Student blogs & student portfolios

Students publish everything to their Medium stream. Whether they love cupcake recipes or video games, encourage students to write about them on Medium. If the post is related to a class assignment, teachers simply ask students to use a unique tag. That way, teachers don’t have to follow students, but simply follow tags, so they only see relevant posts.

Students would all set up a Medium Publication to serve as their online portfolio. Portfolio posts would simply be a currated collection of their best school-related posts throughout the year. As they are the owner of the Publication, the content would travel with them from year to year.

Class blogs

Primary teachers would also create a Publication to serve as their class blog. It’s incredibly easy for teachers to re-post (embed) student posts if they want to share student work and it’s an attractive platform to share with parents. Some teachers may find it limiting, since they can’t set up complex pages like they can on WordPress or Google Sites, but I actually see this as a positive. I don’t want teachers to feel pressured to set up complex sites. I don’t want them to spend lots of time setting up resource pages when instead they could be posting casual updats and photos of students working. I don’t want them spending hours playing with layouts and colors instead of creating content. Medium forces students and teachers to focus on actually creating content, and it’s almost impossible to make it look bad.

Secondary school class blogs would work a bit differently, but I still haven’t finalized how. Should secondary teachers create a publication for each class? Each subject? That seems like too much, so I’m inclined to have one Publication for each homeroom cohort, which all teachers of that cohort contribute to.

Rich media

As excited as I am about Medium as a blogging platform, I’m even more excited about tools such as Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice to empower students to move beyond text. In the past, the difference between student-published work and professionally published work was so great that students couldn’t even imagine moving toward more professional media creation. Adobe Voice and Slate change that. When combined with a modern blog publishing platform such as Medium, students can quickly achieve amazing results.

Examples

The following are two examples from G6 students who were asked to write a brief reflection on a unit from their MYP Design class. As part of the unit on the client-designer relationship, students were asked to use the information gathered in client interviews to create a brand/logo pitch. They drew their logos in Adobe Draw and put together the pitch in Adobe Voice. Later, they took their refined logos and created a simple brand concept using Adobe Slate to create a simple website. Voice and Slate URLs embed beautifully in Medium.

Conclusion

There’s a lot left to figure out, and I’m prepared for pushback on two fronts: some teachers and administrators may worry that a consumer product is too ad-hoc and doesn’t offer any domain-wide automation or auditing. Others may worry about having public blogs. This isn’t Medium specific, but it is an issue that some schools struggle with. I’m firmly in the camp of if it isn’t going to be public, it is almost completely neutered of it’s educational power, and it isn’t worth the trouble of doing.

Is anyone else using Medium in a K-12 environment? Am I crazy?

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Leadership: indicatives vs imperatives

As a qualified administrator, I have a vested interested in believing that my formal qualification indicates that I am a leader, and moreover, that I deserve to be. Not so.

While studying leadership at Johns Hopkins, the literature suggested over and over that leaders were more born than made, and coming to believe this more and more myself, I guess I should have dropped out.  Irony aside, I now interpret everything I read about leadership differently.  Whether reading about authentic leaders or servant leaders, we should see lists of characteristics as indicative (these characteristics describe the type of leader), not imperative (do these things and you will be that type of leader).

This isn’t to say that there is no room for development, but there are very real boundaries. For example, collaboration and transparency can be practiced.  Other traits of successful leadership such as candor (Murphy, 2007) are difficult to practice, because they are simply a personality trait.

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Why does everyone want to be a leader?

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job.
– Douglas Adams

I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychology of leadership lately. Both my own and that of others. Every sector has its share of people in leadership who just don’t belong there, and education is no different. Education is unique though in that leadership really is the only path available to those that have professional and/or money ambitions.

A relative of mine who just took an entry-level coding job in silicon valley told me that after three weeks on the job, he received a $20k raise. If he is ambitious, what will he do? He will continue to work hard, develop his skills and learn how to make even better products within a team. If he does, he will almost certainly have many more $20k raises in his future, and with a little luck, he will hop to a new job with stock options or hit it big working for himself.

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Google Forms with iBooks Author

iBooks Author is an awesome tool for teachers. I was recently sitting with a few ADEs who are math teachers. While they really like the idea of iBooks Author, they are concerned about a few things. One problem is that the Review Widget doesn’t do anything with the data, so it doesn’t work well as tool for assessing students.

A Google search turns up some promising solutions. I found Mike Seyfang’s technique of using Google Forms worked pretty well. I’ve modified it a bit, but the credit should go to him and Jim McKeeth.

Download wdgt file

All you need is this tiny file and a Google Form you would like to embed. This file is actually a special folder with three small files in it, one of which you will need to edit. When you download it, you may be asked to install it to your Dashboard. Cancel this – you don’t want to install anything.

 

Now watch this video to see just how easy is is:

*Please note that this post is a rush-job; there is a group meeting at a conference in a few minutes who may find this useful. I’ll revise with better written instructions ASAP.

Photo Credit: fragility_v2 via Compfight cc

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Typing: iPad vs Computer

Most adults can’t imagine typing anything more than a few words at a time on a virtual keyboard, but with practice, is it really any worse than a traditional keyboard? After getting several requests from teachers to buy keyboards for our iPad 1:1 program, I decided to do a little research project with our elementary students. It’s a simple study with some limitations, but maybe it’s a good place to start when discussing the efficacy of virtual keyboards:

Video Abstract:

Introduction:

As iPads and similar touch-based tablets gain popularity in schools, many express concerns over the efficacy of a virtual keyboard. Many believe that a traditional keyboard is necessary for students to develop typing skills sufficiently. At our school, iPads are used throughout the elementary and students in years 4-6 (grades 3-5) each have his or her own. Several teachers have expressed concern about typing speed and technique, and it has been suggested that external keyboards for the iPads may improve keyboarding development, at least for some students.

This research was designed to answer the following two questions about our students:

  1. Is there a difference in speed between using a keyboard and using a virtual keyboard?
  2. Are some students significantly better at one form of keyboarding than the other?
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1:1 Elementary iPads – Reflecting on the First Months

Everyone knew that the transition from 1:2 laptops to 1:1 iPads would be messy. As the person most obviously responsible for the change, it has been an interesting tactical tightrope to walk: enthusiastically promote the transformative power of the iPads while keeping expectations low as everyone adapts to new opportunities and limitations.

Over the summer, I had lots of time to think about our decision to go 1:1, and by the time the new school-year started, I had come to terms with the idea that this would be a two-year project that would look more like a failure than a success for the first 6-8 months. Nothing in the first two months of school gave me reason to modify my projection, but something started to change in early November. It’s too early to declare victory, but there is already a lot to celebrate.

We’ve certainly made some mistakes and we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. Here are four key things we’ve gotten right:

  • Serious setup
  • Training
  • A new integration model
  • Students leading the way
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Stop Safari Reloading on Back Gesture

The Inconsistency

Like countless others (1,2,3), I’ve been frustrated by recent versions of Sarai on OS X Lion and Mountain Lion. It’s great to have mouse-gestures built in to the OS, but why on earth would a “back swipe” be processed by Safari differently than a back button press or key shortcut? Those of you with blazing internet speeds may never notice it, but when I swipe back on my Magic Mouse, a JPG preview of the last page appears briefly while the page is reloaded back to the top regardless of last scrolled state. Even Apple’s cute little demo in the mouse settings shows a page needlessly reloading. This can be particularly infuriating when going back to search results and basically having resubmit the search each time. Of course, if I click the actual back button or use “Command-[” Safari instantly displays the cached page right where I left it.

Why on earth would this be different? What actual command is OS X sending to Safari ? Obviously, it’s not simply “back”.

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iOS App Management

A principal from a neighboring school recently asked for our thoughts on iOS app management, so I have written down some of what we are learning and some of the things we feel are important to consider. We, along with most other schools, are still unsure about what is the best way forward, so we still have more questions than we have answers, but at least we are starting to be able to articulate the questions.

Apple does not currently make their educational Volume Purchase Program available outside of the US. There are some schools (with some sort of US business address) that have been able to get Apple to approve them for a business volume licensing program. This apparently does not include any volume discounts. At a recent tech conference in HK, the regional Apple rep assured a large group of educators that Apple would be rolling out the Volume Purchase Program internationally. (I’ve had the opportunity to speak with high-level Apple reps a few times over the years, so although I’m optimistic, I won’t hold my breath.)

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iPads vs Document Cameras

I sure am glad for competition. We the customers almost always benefit. Where else can that be more true than for educational technology hardware. You know, the stuff: clunky, overpriced, and just plain ugly; The “breakthrough” product to help dyslexic students that now sits in the cupboard because even if someone wanted to use it, they can’t because the special proprietary connection has gone bad.

They’ve gotten better, but just take a stroll through the vendors at ISTE and you will still see a whole lot of junk. Things are changing though, because society as a whole has become much more savvy. People know better now and teachers (and students) won’t put up with it. If you have guessed that I don’t love Smartboards, you’d be correct. They aren’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s hard for me to justify their price. Same goes for document cameras. Teachers love them and they do actually do a good job at one thing. But do we really want to spend that kind of money on something that students will probably never touch?

Speaking of touch, that’s where iPads come in. One of the reasons they are so great for education is that they aren’t designed for education. Instead, they are designed to be amazing, interactive tools that can do just about anything. I know they don’t do everything, but if you had to choose between a document camera with Smartboard and a cart of iPads for the students, which would you choose?

We’ve been in a bit of a battle over classroom budgets over the last month. Teachers must use or loose them. We have some document cameras and several year-levels are pushing to buy sets of them. No doubt they would put them to good use, but is it really the best use of our limited resources? This video is a quick capture of me practicing the demo I will be giving to administrators tomorrow. They may still choose to approve the document camera requests, but at least I’ve still helped advocate for the power of iPads (which we will be getting one way or another).

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#BeyondConferences – a model for multi-school collaboration

I’ve had the privilege to attend four tech conferences this school year: Learning2.0TechEx21CLHK, and most recently, #BeyondLaptops in Yokohama. They are reliably inspiring yet simultaneously frustrating. On one hand, it is always great to get together with likeminded people to share ideas, affirm our hard work, and get some answers. On the other hand, the Déjà vu gets old, and I feel guilty about the money my school spends to send me to another country just so I can have the same conversations I’ve been having for the last 10 years. In a way it’s a bit like a fan club that gets together to talk about their band. (Sure one might prefer Paul to John and some might think Revolver was better than The White Album, but everyone agrees that the Beatles were better than the Stones.)

That’s why so many of us were so excited about Kim Cofino‘s effort to bring people together who were ready to start making their own music. (And to stretch this metaphor to the breaking point before dropping it,) that’s how I envisioned #BeyondLaptops — as a songwriting workshop where musicians get down to the very difficult task of transferring their skills and passions into a recognizable form that the band can follow along to. It’s hard work and some wanted more. Sure, I had lofty goals that weren’t fully realized, but I think Kim was right (and the only one brave enough) to try to start somewhere.

#BeyondLaptops certainly helped to validate some of my medium-term goals, but more importantly, it reinforced my belief that conferences are not enough. They are just a quick introduction to a group of individuals — speed dating, if you like. It’s great to chat and swap a few stories, but now it’s time to choose whose phone numbers we want. Blogs and Twitter are a start, but we need something more substantial. We need a model that will help leaders meet somewhat regularly, not to simply discuss, but to create a tangible, actionable program to take back to their schools. Maybe something like this:

The idea is that traditional conferences are big and people’s goals varied. For those of us looking to do the difficult work of dramatically re-imagining an ICT program or writing curriculum, we need a much smaller group that can meet several times in the year. These people must come from schools with similar challenges and similar goals. Here’s the kinds of schools I would be looking for:

  • IB World Schools
  • Medium sized with existing 1:1 program and solid tech infrastructure across the school
  • An existing integration model that isn’t working as well as people would wish
  • Wide (if not deep) use of blogging or social media
  • Empowerment from administrators to make bold changes
  • A desire to synthesize an integration model (describing what an integrated classroom looks like) with a practical collaboration model (how coaches help teachers)
  • A desire to map major ICT initiatives to ATLs and TD Skills
  • BONUS: Bullish on iPads

I’m sure there are more, but if I could find a handful of other good people from schools like these, I’d gladly give up my tickets to traditional conferences in order to pursue closer collaboration.

Would this provide value to you #beyondconferences? Can schools find enough common ground to collaborate this closely? Is anyone already doing something like this?

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