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Just wanted to post that last night I hit my 10,000th view. That’s in a little over a year and a half (no record, I realize, but I’ll take it). So thanks to everyone that visits and views.


A Bit of a Rant on Apple’s Podcasts App

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I’ve been frustrated by Apple’s Podcast app for a while now but am just now finding the time (or residual anger) to write this up. Part of the lag time is that, as in any dysfunctional relationship, I’d been blaming myself, assuming that I was missing something, that if I could just find the right setting or radio button, everything would magically work the way it’s supposed to. I have arrived at that moment when I realize sadly that it is not I but the app that is to be blamed. (And I’ve included at the bottom of this post the first five hits for ‘Podcasts app review’ in Google, many of which share my frustration.)

Ultimately it comes down to this: at best the app works very clunkily; at worst it doesn’t at all do what it’s supposed to do.

But first some background. I’m not a power Podcast listener. I’m consistent but limited in my use of Podcasts. I have a 35 – 45 minute commute (the former in the morning when there’s no traffic, the latter in the afternoon when there’s more). I listen to PTI (ESPN) on the way in to school and Fresh Air (NPR) on the way home. I sometimes supplement with 60 Minutes (CBS). I don’t ask much of my Podcasts / player; I expect it to be easy to get a new episode (not even expecting it to download itself, as it seems it should; dare to dream…) and to be easy to find unplayed episodes when they start to pile up (as Fresh Air sometimes does).

Here’s my experience of the Podcasts app, in order of most frustrating to least:

  1. Episodes appear downloaded (i.e. no down-facing arrow next to them to indicate downloadability) when at home in the comfort of my wireless network but, upon arrival in the car away from the network, the arrow mysteriously appears and, more important, the episode is not on my iPod (and not iPhone, so no downloading on the go, not that that would make it right).
  2. The concept of played and unplayed appears remarkably more fluid to my iPod than it does to me. When I download a number of episodes at a time (see below…) or when I plug into my computer (honestly I don’t know which, the idiosyncrasy of the app confounding in my mind any potential for data), it seems that this somehow resets all of those now frustrating blue dots. What was played is now miraculously unplayed.
  3. As much as it would be great to have Podcasts automatically download in the background (the technical limitations of which one of the reviews below covers), at this point we’re trying to crawl before we can walk. So I’ll find myself downloading a number of episodes of Fresh Air at a time. Apparently, I have to hover over my iPod, preventing it from going to sleep, lest those numerous downloads stop mid-stream. Again, it seems not too much to ask for the app to evince the basics of intuition (i.e. knowing that if I start a download I might want it to finish; I’m not asking for WOPR here).
  4. The settings seem to have little bearing on the behavior of the app itself (or at least a more flexible definition of what that connection should mean). I have it set to keep unplayed episodes. Which technically it does. But when those unplayed episodes appear amidst an entire list of undownloaded episodes, this becomes less than efficient, i.e. if I want an episode from December (that indeed is unplayed), I’m scrolling through two plus months worth of undownloaded episodes.

So that should do it for now. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for an app to do what it purports to do, especially when it’s a new app that is supposedly designed to minimze hassle by de-bloating iTunes / Music. But, as one of the reviews suggests, Apple here is presenting a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Podcasts aren’t the issue and were integrated fine with iTunes (and I agree with one of the reviews that I miss Podcasts in playlists; I will sometimes use my commute to prep for class. I have a playlist for each of my units and those playlists might include iTunesU content, Podcasts, or .mp3s of lectures ripped from CDs, none of which can now go together).

Any time, Apple, you want to do a major overhaul of the Podcasts app, I, and more than a few of your other faithful customers, would welcome it.

Here are those other reviews:

The Efficacy of and an Approach to 1:1 Schools

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An interesting post here on whether schools should adopt 1:1 and the mindset with which they need to approach such an adoption. Much of the post resonates with me because one of my concerns about my own participation in the 1:1 is that I am still teaching mostly the same way but with a more expensive tool at my students’ disposal (the $1,000 pencil approach mentioned in the article; I might shift that to the $1,000 notebook; my students often love taking notes on their laptop but I wonder if that’s what they’re for). I have had moments during the year when I felt like I was maximizing the use of the laptops but my goal is to have more of those moments as I become more facile with the pedagogy of a 1:1 environment.

First Impressions of eduBlogs

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Thanks to a Wayland Public Schools Foundation grant, we were able to secure a subscription to edublogs, a service that, as the name implies, facilitates blogging for schools. The advantages to edublogs over more mainstream (and free) blogging services, e.g. WordPress and Blogger, is that edublogs facilitates teacher access to student blogs automatically and allows teachers better control over security and access.

I had heard about edublogs this summer during a two day TEC course on blogging. Maybe 4 or 5 sites were introduced / discussed, many of which I at least checked out if not tried out but none worked for my purposes. Blogging tends to have its focus at the elementary grades, so some sites were more geared toward that age student. So I wrote a Foundation grant and received it, which allows us 20 teacher blogs and unlimited student blogs under each of those teacher blogs. (You can see the price structure for edublogs here.)

Once the grant came through, it took a bit of time, especially with the holidays, to get our account up and running but it is and I have launched edublogs with my classes (and in the interest of full disclosure, launched means introduced it to them, had them start a blog, and write an About Me page; but more on that below).

So here are some first impressions of edublogs, some good, some not so good / jury’s out, in no particular order.

  • It was more difficult than I expected / anticipated for students to set up their blogs / accounts, especially if you want them to use a formulaic name for their URL (more on that below). After doing it three or four times, I finally settled on a system that seemed to work better: have a student come up to the front of the room with his/her computer, hook into the projector, and make their account for the class to follow along with.
  • Jury’s still out on the dashboard. The dashboard, of course, is where you manage the aspects of your blog. On edublogs, one of those aspects is the number of student blogs that you sponsor / oversee. Initially, I have my security settings on relatively tight, such that any post or comment must be approved by me. The problem so far, though, is that to approve posts, it seems that there is a(n unnecessarily) multi-step process. It would seem to make sense that the post itself would show up on the dashboard to make more efficient the process. Instead, you use the dashboard to click to the student’s blog / dashboard, then click on the post itself, and finally on the approve button. I’m hoping there’s a more efficient way to do this.
  • When I first conceived of how I wanted to set edublogs up, especially in terms of managing all of those student blogs, I wanted my dashboard to be organized. To do this, I wanted a standardized name / approach for my students’ URLs. The right naming convention would allow the order that my blogs appeared in my dashboard to mimic the order that they appear in my gradebook: alphabetical by class. What I came up with was this: course|year|period|lastname. So if I were a student in my Medieval Lit course, the end of my URL would be med134dehoratius. This seemed like a good plan. Until two things. One, in the midst of my discussion with one class about privacy, cyber-etiquette, web security, etc., as I was saying that they could put out as much personal information as they wanted, one student pointed out that their last names were part of the URL (as per my instructions….). Not a huge deal, I suppose, especially since these are seniors, but it seemed like an easy enough fix. So the formula was slightly altered to, rather than last name, first three letters of last name (med134deh). Two(a), students that didn’t follow the directions closely enough made their URL something other than the formula, which can’t be changed. Two(b), I realized that students who have multiple teachers that use edublogs wouldn’t be able to follow two different naming conventions. As far as I can tell they get one blog on edublogs rather than one blog per teacher (their account with edublogs is tied to their email address). So the naming convention sounded like a good idea, but I might, especially in the future, just have to deal with a disorganized (or less organized) dashboard.
  • The students seemed more into setting the blog up than I expected. They seemed to enjoy being able to customize the blog (edublogs uses a WordPress interface, though does not make available the variety of themes that WordPress itself does). I also like having them have an easy place to write. So I’ve done one assignment using the blog, and it was very nice to be able to say to them to answer it / write it on their blog, rather than setting up an assignment in ItsLearning (now the reading of those posts might nullify that efficiency; see managing the dashboard above).
  • I wrote out guidelines for blogging that focus more on cyber-etiquette than grading or writing (that will come later). You can check them out here if you want. I also used an ItsLearning survey as a way for students to ‘sign’ off that they had read them / to ‘sign’ the contract.

Finally, my blog, which I’ve not done much with yet, can be found here. Hopefully, especially if I can make more efficient the reading and approving of student blogs, it can be a place for parents, teachers, students, admin, and others to go to see what’s going in my classes.

Pictures from Classical Lit’s Field Trip to the MFA from the MFA

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I’m here at the MFA in Boston on our research project kick-off field trip and brought e iPad mini along to take some pictures. Because the MFA has an open guest network, I can upload them from here. So, thank you WHSPO for the iPad mini (which was much easier to carry with me than the full size would have been), thank you tour guides for some great tours, and thank you MFA for having an open network.