University Of Dayton Launches “MyLife” Blogging Service

An interesting new website has been launched by the University of Dayton. “MyLife“, described by URLWire as a “student blogging service”, features the blogs and podcasts of six current “student bloggers (who) were hand picked by administrators and earn $500 a semester for writing at least one blog entry per week.”

While this could be something worthwhile for UD, and it’s great to see a University integrate podcasts and student voices into a service for students, I have a feeling that the approach may be a bit flawed. For me when I think of bloggers that that I follow regularly, there are a few “criteria of appeal” that seem relevant.

– I usually have something in common with the blogger, other than being a professor, student, educational technologist, etc. Those I read express views that I share, or put forward ideas that help to disrupt the views I hold. I have a feeling if anyone chose six bloggers for me to read, it just wouldn’t hold my interest.

– Bloggers that I read (as far as I know) aren’t paid to blog. Rather, they blog because they love to write and have found themselves empowered by the medium. While I have nothing against writers being paid for their craft, I wonder if students as “professional” bloggers may lose the sincerity, spontaneity and irregularity that I find most appealing in the feeds I choose to read.

– Blogs that I read are written in an environment that is entirely unregulated. Writing formally for a University will certainly shape the posts that appear. While it does appear that the administration of UD is promoting a hands-off approach (“In the spirit of free and open communication, we’re not editing or approving anything they write. We’ll read them, and if there’s something horrifically egregious, we’ll address it”), I have a feeling that the hired bloggers will still be particular in what they put forth, and may therefore lack the cutting critique that makes so many blogs interesting to follow.

I do agree with one statement, however. Vice President Robert Johnson of UD states, “The people in the best position to tell the UD story are UD students.” Yet, the stories of only six students aren’t going tell very much of the story. Offer this service to the entire campus, let the popular, the most critical and the best-written blogs surface to the top through social selection and reputation … then you will start to see “the real deal”.

Back To School

Yesterday, was the first day of classes at the University of Regina, although my first day of teaching is today. This semester, I am teaching two sections of ECMP 355 (under a CC license) which will be held face-to-face this time around. ECMP 355 is an introductory course to using technology in the K-12 classroom. It’s a very popular class here, although, still not a mandatory requirement in our program.

Like the last few years, I will continue to use blogging for the duration of the course, although the emphasis is increasing. I’m looking forward to using James Farmer’s system this year. In past semesters, I’ve had students use Blogger usually, unless they had access to their own server and a bit more-than-usual technical ability. My issue with Blogger has always been the environment … it’s hard enough to convince teachers/schools to use blogging without having to use the Blogspot environment which is full of innappropriate content. Having a WordPress-based hosting service like Edublogs is a real a treat, and will be invaluable to my students. Kudos to James.

I’m also experimenting with podcasting this semester. I’ve put together the first ECMP 355 podcast on the ECMP Blog. I’m interested to see how students react to the idea of podcasts in a course such as this, or in their own future teaching.

There’s lots to do, and I’m excited, as always, to start with a new group of preservice teachers this semester. I’ll keep you all posted.

NY Times: Blogs, Podcasts & Virtual Classrooms

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today titled New Tools: Blogs, Podcasts & Virtual Tools. The article featured “Room 208“, the podcast classroom project headed by teacher Bob Sprankle. Additionally, another classroom from Del Valle High School in Texas was touted for its recent use of VoIP (Skype) in their foreign language lab program. The article proceeds to go toward a conclusion that most of my readers already know well, standardized testing and quality learning are not usually parallel pursuits.

In relation to the VoIP project:

But Mr. Cunningham, himself a former principal, said that principals were rarely interested because the program’s impact on standardized testing was difficult to gauge. His own principal, he said, was hesitant to allow some students to participate in a 24-school virtual debate last year with the National Urban Debate League because the scheduling conflicted with a practice test for the statewide assessment exam.

“I think the testing model is working against education,” Mr. Cunningham said. “With Skype, you’re opening up the whole world to the student, and that can’t help but be good.”

I have to agree.

Recording Skype With WireTap Pro

I’ve been using Skype with both my Mac and Windows machine (and a l’il on Ubuntu Linux), and while it has been working fine, I haven’t been able to record the conversations easily on my Mac. I attempted an overly complex solution using Soundflower, Audio HiJack Pro & Audion, and even played around with Audacity and Garageband as other possibilities. Still, nothing was as simple as I wanted.

Well, then I tried Wiretap Pro. I had previously used Wiretap (-Pro), but that only seemed to capture he Apple audio, and didn’t catch the line-in audio. However, I upgraded and Wiretap Pro is exactly what I need, and very easy to use without messing with audio preferences. Just use WTP to record Apple audio, line-in or both … very simple, and easily picks up Skype conversations. Additionally, you can record straight out as AIFF, AAC, Quicktime or MP3. Yea, I paid $19ish … however (lesson to for-money software developers) I will still pay for proprietary software when there is no good and easy open source equivalent. Until then, WTP is worth my time.

Neat Skype Add-Ons

Skype Journal presented a list of the best five software add-ons for Skype. The number one pick was Pamela-Systems Pro, something the EdTech Posse has been using successfully lately, and Rob wrote briefly about. There were some neat addons in the list including Video4IM, which integrates video into Skype calls, and Jybe, which enables document sharing.

Unfortunately most of the tools are for Windows only, so off goes the dustcover … its’ time to experiment.