Saturday, 20 April 2013

Battle Sites

Suddenly, and with no prior warning, Google Sites stopped working in our school.
Investigations followed and it appeared that the enemy was within: our ISP, or rather their hit squad Protex. Sorties revealed that Google Sites is now considered a potential threat. The fact that I've been using Sites with my troops for three years with no sign of danger make this very annoying indeed. The fact that, in one fell swoop, Protex knocked out Mission Control (our Start Page) and Base Camp (our e-portfolios), made this potentially disastrous. I've been carefully constructing a whole Scheme of Work round Sites; hours of my own time spent thinking and making. It was working well.
But as C-in-C I could not allow my injuries to affect the welfare of the PBI. The headless chicken situation could not continue.We needed a revised strategy.

Two things were clear: we needed replacements for the Start Page and for our e-portfolios. The other sites I had built could wait.  Fortunately the Easter break gave me a chance to lick my wounds and to think about Other Things.
I returned to the affray refreshed and determined to organise a tactical withdrawal from Sites - though fear not, the battle will continue; but using commando tactics and targetting senior officers...

Back last summer I started to build a Spicy Nodes page to use as a Start Page. But Internet Explorer 7 could not cope with it and I returned to the standard Google Apps start page. We have Chrome now, so back to Spicy Nodes I went and created a new Start Page. It had enough links to be useful, but, based on my previous experience I wanted to trial it on the ground before committing to too many hours work.
So, tentatively, I sent my new group of Year 7s a shortened link yesterday and, to my relieved delight, the node map below appeared screen by screen. The student's brief was to explore two apps they had not used before and prepare to post a review of them to their new blogs (see below). After five or ten minutes my suite management screen showed me a fair number of students still on their Start Page. I went to investigate and found one student dragging the hapless nodemap around the screen like a digital octopus. He looked up with a huge smile and said, "I'm making it dance!".
Result... I think...

Casting around for an educational blogging site to use as an e-portfolio, I settled on Kidblog as answering my requirements most closely - free, powerful, easy-to-create classes and simple for students to access. It's built on the open-source Wordpress code and so was reasonably familiar to me. My intention was to use it as a temporary replacement for my custom-designed Google Sites e-portfolio template. That template had separate pages for each step of the Design Thinking process I've adopted, a front page for displaying badges earned and a separate "blog" page for reflections on the process. Kidblogs, unsurprisingly, display a series of posts in chronological order which would mix things up much more, in theory making it more difficult to assess. But the Kidblog class home page will list posts in chronological order making them simple to comment on, both for me and for fellow students. We had to create a special site for our Sites to be accessible. Since almost no-one but me ever commented on their Sites e-portfolios, I was delighted to find that Jason (who had been diddling about all lesson) had a comment on his blog from a fellow student - "Rather short" - even before I "marked" his post. I suspect I know of whom he will take more notice...
I've created a visitor account which will enable anyone who wishes, to see what we've been up to (Ofsted are due soon).
I've uploaded all the badges to the media library making it simple for students to award themselves badges when they've have earned them.

And so, with a quantity of other ideas swarming in as I drove home, I'm beginning to wonder if  the Battle of Google Sites was such a disaster after all...

But the last word should go to Sarah who said quietly and thoughtfully, "I think I prefer this to our old e-portfolios - I found those rather complicated to use."

*PBI - Poor Bloody Infantry