Life Streaming

About two years ago I was hooked on the idea of building a social life stream application … I went so far as to email a few of the smart people I know, sharing diagrams, and video chatting with said smart people to see about building something. After I spent hours and hours drawing sketches and driving myself crazy I sort of gave up on the idea. My idea was to not only stream my stuff into one place, but to organize all my friends stuff based on the social network/online spaces they publish in. We’d all have accounts with our own stream in them, but could pull together everyone else in a nicely organized way. FriendFeed was close enough, so I gave up on building something.

That hasn’t stopped my intense interest in powerful aggregation and life streaming options. It is so important for so many things. We are all spreading our identity across several sites and having a place to assemble the meta identity seems as though it is still an emerging and powerful need. When you think about teaching the notion of powerful and well organized aggregation gets even more critical. Think of a class where all 350 students have blogs and are writing on a regular basis … now that we disaggregated the content management by moving outside the LMS/CMS, we need new ways to pull it all back together (sort of ironic). Here is another killer use for a solid life stream style application.

This past spring my colleague, Scott McDonald, and I used Pligg to aggregate all of our students’ posts into one place. It worked well, but Pligg was not ready for non-technical folks to administer. It has to be easy.

This morning I came across my next tool du jour … SweetCron. This life stream application is the first one I’ve come across that I would use to replace the front of my own site. It is a very slick open source solution that looks great and (so far) works really well. It needs work as it is a pre-one dot zero release, but it is still a breeze to use and great to look at. I took 15 minutes this morning to get it installed and to add a few of my feeds. The admin side is easy enough and with a few tweaks to the css, the end user version looks really nice as well. My own SweetCron powered page is sitting over on my space.

My Life Stream

My Life Stream

I will be working to look at this more so we can understand the affordances, but right out of the gate I am impressed. On a professional level, what I am really looking for are several options that could be used for teaching and learning and for events. This seems so much more powerful than simply showing a Twitter stream at a conference — tags could be subscribed to from all over the web to really a paint a killer picture of what people are saying about an event. As a matter of fact, the TechCrunch 50 conference is using it. So for now, take a look and help me think about how this could be used within a teaching and learning context.

The META Blog

I am getting really excited about the potential for our PSU Blog Project … just last week we made some significant progress that I am hoping will lead us to the potential of a pilot for the Spring — maybe a specialized call for a series of Engagement Projects. What is great about that is the fact that I am teaching and could use our environment to support my efforts. I’m working on a post that will highlight parts of the PSU Blog solution … for now I have a question.

If I give all my students blogs in the new PSU space I will want to aggregate all their posts into one META Blog for the class. I know it can be done, but what is the easiest way to pull it off? Anyone have advice for me?

The Casual Podcaster

For some reason I felt like firing up GarageBand on Thursday and creating a podcast.  Since I am stuck in PSU Podcasting Project Land I thought that would be a good topic to discuss.  I know it is probably becoming a very tiring topic for most people around me, my head is planted squarely in the middle of it all and there are times I need to get some of it out.

Even though I have the pleasure of working and talking with Chris Millet everyday, I thought having Chris join me via iChat AV would be a good idea.  Chris has been visiting all the people at Penn State who are interested in podcasting the last four weeks or so and is really starting to get the lay of the land.

In this podcast, we discuss all sorts of stuff in 20 minutes … topics run from the training he and Tim Perry are designing, to tools, to project goals, and more.  The thing that turned me on the most was Chris’ statement about wanting to create opportunities to enable the “casual podcaster.” What I loved about Chris’ comment was that his expectations are all about this being so easy that faculty, staff, and students can create digital content without thinking about the technology or the approach. You know, real digital expression. He wants it to be like when you currently want to say something in a digital sense, you click on Word and write it … this thought is about being able to capture the moment in a digital, first person sense and share it instantly. Just goes along with all the things Chris and I have been discussing for a number of years in this space.

At any rate, it may be worth a listen. Direct link to the 14 MB podcast.

Interesting Comments

On Wednesday I was asked to present a breakout session for my unit’s all staff meeting on podcasting and iTunes U. I did the typical thing, but very quickly as I only had 20 minutes. Again, I should have recorded it, but I blew it again. One of the things I discussed was the choice of supporting Audacity on podium machines for faculty podcasting during class. Yes, there are better tools to create podcasts with, but Audacity is a cross platform solution. One of the things that struck me were the comments by one person after the session that there were so many better solutions on the Mac. I told him I understood, but he insisted that we were cheating faculty by pushing Audacity. I hate to say it, but I sort of agree … unfortunately, the reality of our situation is that only about 75 of the hundreds of podiums on our campus have Macs in them. Maybe in the next couple of years I can rely on more Macs and push some of the best software out there … between GarageBand and ProfCast there is so much we could be doing. All of our Macs do have GarageBand installed.

I imagine over time we’ll develop more instructional material to support all these tools. We are collecting a list of all the software pre-installed on the podium Macs and PCs and will begin creating instructions on how to use them all. Until then, we’ll train on Audacity because it can serve the masses.

Podcasting Scenarios

As we are moving closer and closer to full blown podcasting service here at PSU, I have been working up some scenarios to help us talk to faculty and students about podcasting.  What I am interested in doing is getting people turned on to podcasting by creating contextual references to podcasting opportunities.  While I think it will be helpful, what I am hoping for are some novel uses of podcasting to turn people on.  So far all I really have are fairly common examples to share:

  • Podium Podcasting: Providing the right tools for faculty right from the podium in a technology-supported classroom.  In our environment this means having the right tools in place in all podiums — software, wireless microphones, support, and easy content storage/distribution.  Actually this sounds difficult, but given the way Penn State manages classrooms it can be straightforward.
  • Faculty Podcasting: I’d really like to provide faculty with the ability to check out a physical kit to support their out of classroom podcasting efforts.  What I’d like even more is to provide them with a bundle from our Computer Store to purchase the right stuff to do it on their own.  We have a Faculty Multimedia Center here in ETS that can provide the hands-on training, so this is a good option as well.  Honestly, I like this model of podcasting much more than podium podcasting.
  • Activity Podcasting: This is what I am calling the opportunities where students get in the mix.  We have a group here in ETS that runs Studio 204, a student studio where they can go and get help with audio and video development.  More interestingly is the option of faculty coming in and working with the instructional design staff on pedagogical innovations in this space.

All of these are built more around a consulting model — one where faculty want to learn and do things themselves … that is also a much more scalable approach to this challenge.  Are there other scenarios that might interest faculty?  Some that impacts their research?  Outreach activities?  There has to be more.

Blogging at a BIG University

As the three people who regularly read this blog know, I work at Penn State. Those of who know Penn State know it is big. Somewhere in the 80,000 student range across all the campuses. There over 40,000 here at our University Park campus alone. We are starting to talk about giving blogs (as James Farmer would say). Clearly we’ve thought about why it would be a good thing and are now moving into the land of what we would do and how would we do it. Our IT people are very smart and understand scale in a way I do not, so I am not going to argue with them when they discuss things like server load and security. I am lucky enough to be a guiding member of the team, so I am taking my thoughts public … I usually stay away from large-scale work projects here, but I thought since this is a blog project what a better place to start than to solicit feedback from the blogosphere. So please help us think about this!

What follows are some general thoughts about where we are after a bunch of general conversations and one meeting … oh and a lot of this is my thinking along with one other colleague — in other words, this doesn’t represent Penn State’s position on any of this. Please feel free to leave comments or email me ideas. First the basic assumptions:

Blog installation/activation managed centrally (vs. local installations) a lot like to provide:

  • activation via an easy to use control panel
  • no access to underlying code
  • blogs are published into individuals’ personal web space via a static publishing model (a lot like MoveableType or remote Blogger publishing). At PSU we provide faculty, staff, and students with 1 GB of hosted web space.

Why would we do this? Well, for one reason we can maintain a single code base for all blogs … so when things need upgraded we don’t have to do 40,000 updates at once. It also facilitates integration, ensures security, professional look and feel can be maintained on blogs (esp. important if student blog being used like ePortfolio), and we absolutely don’t want to end up with scattered, disjointed collection of blogs, and have no way to fully leverage this service.

Some of the Features

  • Group blogs with multiple authors
  • RSS 2.0 with support for enclosures to allow for podcasting
  • Control Panel model
  • Allow individuals to create and post to multiple blogs
  • Access controls to enable public/private blogs as well as public/private posts on blogs
  • XMLRPC – if it can be secured
  • Tagging at some level — to be discussed further
  • Categories – critical feature for the creation of custom URLs and custom RSS feeds
  • Themes so end users can skin their blogs
  • Blog Rolls – manage a group of links in multiple link categories
  • Track backs
  • Allow local search on a per blog basis
  • Spam protection
  • Allow for comments
  • Comment controls — approval, edit, delete, etc.
  • Text formatting — do we use a WYSIWYG editor for posting?
  • Plug-in architecture?

So as we are going forward we have many questions and are in the early stages but are very excited about what is going on … we still have questions and are very open to suggestions. I would be curious to hear about others are doing at their schools to enable blogging in a quasi-controlled environment.

Podcasting … to Learn Podcasting

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with a member of my staff at Penn State’s Education Technology Services. I’ve been promoting podcasting on our campus for quite some time and people are catching on. We are putting together a University-wide podcasting solution as I type … it addresses podium recording all the way to final distribution. It has been an interesting and fun project — with lots of issues to navigate.

Tara is a member of the ETS Marketing Team focusing mostly on PSU Training Services (TS). Our TS group wants to start offering podcasting sessions as soon as this summer … we’ve been talking about everything from how you do a podcast to how do you subscribe and so on. Tara took the time to sit down with me and learn a little about podcasting. We went through setup, recorded a podcast, edited it with GarageBand, and published it to the Podcasts at Penn State site — all in about an hour and a half. All in all, it was fun and a nice break from all the stuff I am usually doing during the day.

Tara asked me a bunch of questions about teaching and learning with technology — specifically blogs, wikis, podcasts, and more. Pretty standard stuff, but it was all about learning to podcast. Jump over and take listen if you are interested.

Personal Content Management

Several years ago, when I was working in the School of Information Sciences and Technology the Dean gave my a beautiful leather journal as a Christmas gift. In the front he wrote, “To help you keep your stuff straight.” To this day I still track a ton of what I do in numbered leather journals … but the times they are a changin’. The journal is just one piece to my personal content management strategy …
Clearly I am not the first to do this, but I finally got sick of using all sorts of apps to keep track of private thoughts, ideas, planning documents, meeting notes, etc.

Yesterday after a brief talk with one of my colleagues I went ahead and installed Movable Type on my 15″ PowerBook. I am doing local publishes, but it feels so much better than the apps I had been using to track all my stuff. As a matter of fact, it seems to work better for me than my recent shift to BaseCamp. Prior to BaseCamp I was using a custom FileMaker Pro notebook application I had built a couple of years ago. It was nice, but just had too many limitations and too often as I was writing I would stop and say, “why don’t I just tweak this and fix that …” After a short time, that really started to get in the way of the writing.

So here I am … using MT as my personal content management system. Thanks to an amazing tutorial over at MacZealots I was able to get the whole thing running on my system. It was a lot funny geeking out with it all yesterday. I am still struggling with where all the add-ons for MT go, but it is making more sense to this old WordPress user. MT doesn’t seem to match the simlicity, elegance, and flow of WP, but it does seem to work really well for what I am using it for. I won’t be switching to MT for this space anytime soon, but who knows. What kinds of tools do you all use to help kep your stuff straight?