Edublogs webinar overview – a look at some avatar makers


As always we recorded this session in which we took a look at some avatar making tools in one of our “quick and easy tools” explorations. These are occasional sessions where I put up a list of 5-10 tools and each participant chooses one (preferably one unknown to them) to explore for ten minutes and then give feedback to the rest of us. The first time I did this the tools were a mixture of different functions however more recently I have chosen ones with similar purposes.

My personal rationale for “ten minutes to explore” is that if it takes too long to “pick up” the basics of using any tool then the focus of the “lesson” in which it is being used may change from the educational purpose to the tech being used. In other words we risk using “tech for tech’s sake” rather than as a tool to achieve the educational purpose.

The Session

The tools explored in the session were:

We started with a have you used it and to what degree on the five tools to be explored. This revealed that most of us had some awareness of, or familiarity with at least one or two of them and a couple were reasonably familar with all.

The next step was for everyone to choose an avatar maker to explore and then explore for ten minutes with the following considerations in mind:

  • how easy to learn the basics
  • how engaging to use
  • a lesson/context in which to use it
  • whether they personally would use it with students

After the ten minutes everyone came back, added their avatars to the whiteboard and talked about the ease of use and other features of the tool they had explored. We did have someone drop out and be unable to rejoin when trying to add their avatar – the avatar is still in the composite image.

Throughout the whole session there were lots of links shared in text chat and on the whiteboards: to avatar making sites, to sites which list avatar creators and to sites which illustrate many creative ways of using them. After the session Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) added a “My Avatars page” to his already amazing collection of pages of useful education related links.

We finished with some feedback and a look at our best takeaways from the session.


This was great fun! Everyone always seems to enjoy sessions like this. Those of you familiar with the webinars will know I have something of an obsession with making them as interactive and “hands on” as possible and from that perspective these tool explorations work really well. Avatars have been on my mind a lot at the moment as I have been looking for an easy to use creator that my not necessarily very techie distance students can use. I would love to give them a list and let them choose but needed to fix on one so that I could do a stepwise process as in this slideshare for them to refer to. The challenge with wholly online students is very much that the lecturer (teacher) is not there standing behind and able to coach them through the steps. I do do this individually with Application Share in BbC/Elluminate however my students are often working asynchronously so we are not in virtual class at the time they have the problem!

Next Webinar

Our next session will be an Edublogs “Serendipity” session on Thursday March 29th at 23:00 GMT/UTC (Afternoon/Evening USA) or Friday March 30th at 7am West Aus, mid morning Eastern States Aus depending on your timezone (check yours here) – in the usual BlackboardCollaborate room. This is one of our fortnightly unconference sessions where we invite you to bring along your “hot topics” and “burning issues” for our poll on the topic.

The demise of an icon – Goodbye EB in print!


Many of those of us who are “booky” will have the Encyclopaedia Britannica as part of our childhood. Certainly in my case there was never even the possibilty of having it at home! The price would have been well outside the reach of my parents’ income. However I was lucky enough to attend a grammar school of very old foundation (Queen Elizabeth the first) in the UK and the old creaky library had two Britannicas one fairly old – one rather newer – ie only several years old.

As an 11 year old the EB seemed to contain all the knowledge I would ever need – I was both awestruck and awe inspired by so many volumes. Every time I opened one of those volumes it was a journey into adventure.

Why are we all so sad ?

Last week it seemed I couldn’t access Facebook, Twitter or the Internet in general without seeing a reference to sadness at the demise of a printed Britannica. I too felt sad! This made me explore the “why” in my own mind. I am definitely a “book” person of eclectic tastes – we have several thousand books which travelled half-way round the world with us when we moved from the UK to Australia. So there is at least one reason why I would be sad – loss of any printed book option is sad for me. However the comments I have seen and my own thoughts go beyond my normal response to loss of a print option.

The disappearance of print versions of many texts has been happening for quite a while but this seems something of a watershed for many of us. Perhaps (and I feel this is definitely so for me) this stems from reasons that are more to do with our “comfort zones” and the iconic nature of the EB than with its undoubted former value as a reference. I certainly feel that a childhood friend is lost to me forever – an over-reaction certainly! After all the print versions of the EB won’t simply vanish, there will just not be any new editions. I am sure that the EB will remain on many shelves for many years so that we can still access and savour the feeling of exploring a topic in a printed form. I know that his is something I do even though I have been fully aware for many years that much content in any large reference book is out of date well before it is printed.

The very fact that the content of a book once published is “cast in stone” has given us interesting opportunities to explore change in meaning, understanding and development of knowledge over time. Even as a child I often looked up a topic in both editions of the EB available to me in my school library (one about 30 years older than the other) and saw the changes in understanding and knowledge that were reflected there. I suspect that seeing these differences was fundamental in shaping both: my own awareness of the non-immutability of some “facts”; and my understanding that perceptions of events and information changes with time. In my opinion it is much harder in an online context to chart those perceptual differences as there is often no definitive change of edition – online material is often continuously updated in small increments. Finding previous versions can also be difficult as they may be deleted or overwritten. This is not to say that I don’t love being able to access vast amouts of information and soak up knowledge anywhere, anytime – I most definitely do. For me the Internet is a “magic carpet” and “open sesame” and I would never want to go back to having only printed books as information sources!


I count myself lucky that I now have a set of the EB! As a child I would have given much for this. A friend and colleague recently moved and was going to get rid of her set of Britannica – I couldn’t bear the thought of this and they now have a home with us. For myself this feels very much like the beginning of the end of an era. I am still sad at the loss of this particular printed text. I suspect I will be even sadder if/when the day comes when that other (for me) great institution as a reference text  the Oxford English Dictionary decides to be available online only!

Edublogs Serendipity webinar overview – iPads in class?


This recorded Serendipity session was again one where the topic chose itself. There were only three of us in the room a topic choice time and we were all interested in the initial suggestion of “iPads/tablets in classrooms (1:1 models)”. This being a Serendipity session the consensus was to go with that topic.

The Session

This was a great session, mostly audio with some text chat and a number of links shared both through text and on the whiteboard.

As always the discussion ranged across a wider field than the topic title would imply. We were talking mainly of iPads, however much of the conversation would apply also to other tablets.

We also talked briefly about sharing devices in class and also about the added difficulties of “bring your own device” scenarios and the need for activities not device specific.

One of the main themes running through the discussion was how difficult it is for many teachers adopting iPads in class to get started.

Reasons for this may include:

  • lack of availability of pre-existing activities “lessons” that can be used as they are or easily adapted;
  • lack of time to learn the device

I think that these issues apply to introducing any new device/technology but that the problem is becoming more apparent as new devices and technology proliferate. Also increasing adoption of devices/technologies in “schools” is forcing those who are not by nature “early adopters” and experimenters to use these new tools before they are ready!

We shared many links, tips, ideas and solutions to issues of using iPads and other devices in class – particularly with respect to the various non-compatibilities.


I personally enjoyed this session immensely, not least because I came away with a couple of new apps to try out on my own iPad!

Our Next Session

Our next Webinar is an Edublogs “Fine Focus” session. “More quick & easy online tools!” In which we will explore and share our opinions about a few online tools that are potentially quick and easy to learn for teachers and students.  Join us on Thursday March 22nd at 23:00 GMT/UTC the time for you will vary depending on your timezone (check yours here) Thursday afternoon/evening in the USA, late night Thursday in Europe, and Friday morning March 23rd in Australia – in the usual Blackboard Collaborate virtual room.

Edublogs webinar overview – big brother (Google)!


In this recorded session we took a look at the recent changes in Google privacy policy. A current issue of interest to most educators who are online because the majority of us use Google applications and also we often recommend them to our students.

The Session

We started with the usual “where are we coming from” on the topic – taking a quick look at whether and which Google products we use and at our awareness of the privacy policy changes.

Next we took a closer look at some of the changes. We raised concerns and looked at some of the possible impacts.

Then came the interesting bit!

I asked participants to take a look at their own Google Dashboard and particularly their Web History. Everyone explored, made changes and shared thoughts about the amount and type of information and the sometimes worrying preditions/assumptions made by the algorithms. After the Dashboard  everyone accessed the Ad Preferences where it is possible to make some changes to the way Google targets you with advertising.

We finished with some feedback and a look at our best takeaways from the session.


I enjoyed this session although I felt that I talked too much! I found it interesting to get the perspectives of others on the policy changes and planning the session made me dig a little deeper than I might otherwise have done. We all find the advertising annoying but as someone said in the session this is how Google makes money and is able to provide all the apps we like so much!

I also realised that I am getting better at what used to feel like worrying silences – those that occur when people are exploring something and changing settings.

Next Webinar

Our next session will be an Edublogs “Serendipity” session on Thursday March 15th at 23:00 GMT/UTC (Afternoon/Evening USA) or Friday March 16th at 7am West Aus, mid morning Eastern States Aus depending on your timezone (check yours here) – in the usual BlackboardCollaborate room. This is one of our fortnightly unconference sessions where we invite you to bring along your “hot topics” and “burning issues” for our poll on the topic.

Read it when you need it!


This post was triggered by a tweet from Jess McCulloch (@jessmcculloch) that initiated a train of thought much longer than suggested by her original question.

Jess’s tweet  raised the issue of the “Read later” tag/list asking does anyone get round to their “Read later”s. I sent a reply to the effect that I never use “Read later” options as I know perfectly well that I will never read them! This started me thinking about what I do actually do with respect to dealing with the myriad links and posts that cross my desktop each day.

My online “imperatives”

These are some of my personal strategies (other than using an iGoogle page for easy access to many things):

  • Don’t try to read/view (or promise myself to read/view) everything that passes across my desktop.
  • Don’t collect “read later” lists because I know I won’t do it.
  • Have in my GoogleReader feed only very few feeds from blogs I have a particular reason to follow. Even then I don’t expect to read them all in depth or even at all.
  • Skim anything that attracts my immediate attention eg from the title or topic mentions and then tag with Diigo. That way I can find it with a search of my Diigo tags.
  • Adopt a read it when I need it approach – hence skimming & tagging in Diigo for those items that interest me at first glance rather than reading them in depth.
  • Adopt a find it when I need it approach – use my search skills to find what I need when I need it then tag in Diigo for future use. This saves me inordinate amounts of time as I rarely read, and therefore don’t catalogue/tag, an item until I need it.

  • Use different bookmarking applications for different purposes – for example all my virtual room links and a number of frequent access sites are saved via Google Bookmarks for easy access whereas I use Diigo for web pages, blog posts etc that need to be tagged for me to find relevant ones.
  • Never re-share, re-tweet, re-post links without reading or at least skimming them first! This is one reason that I don’t re-tweet often. I know it is counter to the way most people operate on Twitter but I am unwilling to re-share anything I haven’t accessed myself!
  • With anything that gives me a daily/weekly email of updates I rarely open these until I want information from them. I simply file them in a folder labelled with the source and then access & keyword search the folder.


I think I am lucky in that I remember key information relating to things that interest me (I have a magpie mind) even if they have only been briefly mentioned or have been submerged in other content. Also I am  a relatively good “searcher” and usually find it easy to access the information I need quite quickly when I need it!.

Edublogs Serendipity webinar overview – projects, community


In this recorded Serendipity session we didn’t actually vote on a topic! There was a consensus to briefly discuss three of the topics and that the fourth one perhaps merited a FineFocus session of its own (see next week’s topic at the bottom of the page). In fact we looked at two of the topics in the end – they were:

  • project based learning & using the strong language of online programs
  • community involvement in content delivery

These blended together very well and generated lots of discussion.

The Session

Initially we shared concerns and misgivings about:

  • some of the possible issues  of being locked in to any one of the increasing number of publisher owned and operated student/content management systems;
  • increasing curriculum rigidity and standardisation of “learning”

Then we moved on to discuss the advantages project based learning “PBL” and the difficulty of doing this with the increasing constraints on educators. This conversation blended well into community involvement in content and gave rise to many ideas on possible community projects. There were also suggestions for other ways of increasing community involvement in educational organisations as a strategy for breaking  down the barriers that often exist.


This session was fascinating – truly Serendipitous in the way that we ranged across the related topics. It seems to me that increasingly in our sessions we are hearing the frustrations of educators in schools, who meet with severe constraints on how they teach as well as with the ever narrowing and more prescribed curriculum. As an adult educator in literacy/numeracy I feel that I am incredibly lucky at the moment in having a less rigid and constrained curriculum than colleagues in schools but it is probably only a matter of time!

Our Next Session

Our next Webinar is an Edublogs “Fine Focus” session. “Big Brother (Google) is watching you!” In which we will take a look at some of the implications of the recent changes in Google.  Join us on Thursday March 8th at 23:00 GMT/UTC the time for you will vary depending on your timezone (check yours here) Thursday afternoon/evening in the USA, late night Thursday in Europe, and Friday morning March 9th in Australia – in the usual Blackboard Collaborate virtual room.