I moved to the new Blogger starting last Friday and then more over the weekend. The substantive changes for the visitor to the site are mostly in the right sidebar and I want to go through those because in the back of my head I’m asking whether this sort of thing can be a model for a faculty member’s research site or possibly even for a course site (as opposed to using the LMS). I chose a different template, which at least for me gives a cleaner look – whether that is substantive or not may depend on how good your eyes are. I also want to talk a bit about how this works for content creator. The tools for adding sidebar or footer content are quite easy to use. There is drag and drop for positioning particular elements. And in that sense it is fun to be an author.
Now let me talk about the individual items on the sidebar. I mentioned the Good Reads item in the post Snow Daze. Here is a bit of extension to the idea. First, there are some very good comprehensive blogs that cover what’s happening in learning technology; Stephen Downes Old Daily is one, Ray Schroeder’s Educational Technology Blog (and his two other news blogs) are some others. We’re after something quite different with the Good Reads, though it might be that occasionally there is some overlap. The goal is to create a feeling of uplift in the reader for having read the piece. I do note that in del.icio.us there are others who have the tag Good_Reads, and if they were trusted then there would be value in the pooled resource that del.icio.us generates as part of its raison d’etre. For a well knit group where the trust already exists, this type of sharing would seem to be a natural. It can readily be accommodated with this approach, just choose a tag that others are not likely to imitate by happenstance.
These items are followed by three different RSS feeds. In the prior incarnation of my blog, I disdained in putting in these type of feeds, which as I mentioned appear as lists with links of subject headings. I’m not yet sure I’ve really changed my mind; this is an experiment at this point, not a commitment, but let me explain what I’m trying to do.
The Low Threshold Applications, from the TLTGroup is a nice idea in concept – the idea is to identify things people might try that aren’t so hard to implement and are useful to. The issue in practice is whether the particular applications tickle our funny bones. I don’t know that they will or not, but I’m quite sure that most people on campus including many readers of my blog have never heard of this. So here I can be a conduit, not a creator. If you try one of these out and like it, I’d appreciate learning that. It would contribute to keeping that feed on my site. I believe they don’t update this too often, and in that sense it fits in with the Good_Reads content.
The Google Docs feed is there simply to suggest a possibility for the future – Web distribution of content. I found this little piece of hope/hype about the possibility that Google will expand its array of online offerings to include PowerPoint like functionality in addition to docs and spreadsheets. That would be an interesting development but here I’m really more interested in this for students uploading content a la homework submissions than I am for faculty distributing the content to begin with. On the homework submission front it would a great boon for the instructor/grader to see the content online, perhaps comment there, perhaps comment a la del.icio.us as I’ve suggested earlier, without having to download and then re-upload. It would make the workflow so much easier for the evaluator. On the instructor distribution of content issue, however, at least at present permissions for these documents are set on a document by document basis and if access to the content needs to restricted, say for reasons of copyright, LMS distribution still seems to be preferred.
The Charlie Rose Show feed is there for a variety of reasons. First, there may content that is quite interesting for us to use that is coming from outside Higher Education. Whatever you think of Charlie Rose as an interviewer, you must admit that this show has a variety of interesting guests who don’t appear on other talk shows. This show provides a path into those people. Second, it is a reminder to us about producing our own talking head instructional content. TV has opted for this dialog format. There may be monolog segments on talk show television, but dialog is the rule. There must be a compelling reason for that and I believe that reason is not hard to identify. Instructors who produce online video content may not feel it natural to produce dialog content, but they should be encouraged to strive to do so. Third, we’ve reached the point now in terms of video quality that talking head plays reasonably well in the 320 x 240 windows that are what Google Video delivers, as long as the video itself was captured reasonably close up. My sense is that for doing more technical content, say a screen capture of a spreadsheet manipulation or of a hand written out analytic exercise done on a Tablet PC, then the rendering image needs to be larger, say 640 x 480. So Google Video (or uTube) is not yet the right home for that type of content. But give them one or two more iterations of Moore’s Law and we’ll be there.
Let me make a few other general points and I’ll close. Blogger allows for only one sidebar – on the right or on the left is a designer choice – but not on both the left and the right at the same time. As Web widgets become increasingly popular, for example see Yahoo’s offerings in this space, blog creators may want to put more and more cool stuff on their sites and then the double sidebar view may become necessary to manage all that stuff. Alternatively, the individual blog creator may simply want to bring in more stuff of her own. Personally, I prefer the one sidebar look as it allows more of the screen space to be blank, which for me is better for contrast to the real content.
Blogger’s labels (tags) seem to only exist within a single blog. If they were able to use labels across blogs (at least for those blogs hosted at Blogspot) then one could produce some really interesting aggregated blog sites. It would be good to see Blogger go that route in the future.
And I’m a bit confused on the audio content front. The Google provided services don’t seem to enable individual podcasting. Why not? Is it for fear of illegal file sharing? If not that, then what else? How can they promote video sharing, but not do likewise for pure audio files? If they had it, I’d have a podcasting piece to my blog for sure.