Monday, 28 March 2011

Google presentation plus live twitter feed

On Friday afternoon I hosted a celebration event for The University of Leicester Internship Programme, otherwise known as TULIP (you remember, the one we got shortlisted for a Times Higher Award for). When putting together some slides quickly on the morning I thought it would be good to have a twitter hashtag feed as part of the presentation. I posted a tweet asking if anyone knew if I could add a twitter feed to a Google presentation. Then I thought about it the other way around and asked if a Google presentation could be embedded in Twitterfall. This would be easier if I just storify-ied it.

So the clever (and simple) way to do it was as per Matt's suggestion of using a Google site. I just used the default theme and stripped out the navigation, then added the Google presentation and found a twitter widget (Insert > More gadgets > Featured > Search 'Twitter Widget' - it's by - make sure you include the 'Featured' step otherwise you get all sorts of exotic gadgets!). It took me less than 5 minutes.

So here's the google site with the live twitter feed from the #uoltulip tag (and I used <F11> to make it full screen).

I figured that if the twitter feed was abused I could just click on the button to open the presentation full screen, but this wasn't needed, partly due to the specificity of the hashtag and partly due to the fact that Twitter is much better at blocking spammers than it was a few years ago.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Google docs not so good for long docs?

Since being introduced to Google docs a few years back I've become a big fan. It's now the only office software I use at home (and I'm slowly persuading the rest of the family) and is beginning to overtake my use of Microsoft Office at work. It's fast, it's easily accessible, the revision history is brilliant and the sharing and collaboration features are super useful. There is something that I would like it to do better though and that's the long document stuff.

About five years ago I wrote a course for students here at Leicester on Using Microsoft Word 2003 for long documents (I nearly called it Getting Microsoft Word to do something useful) when I discovered that lots of people seemed to be wasting lots of time formatting dissertations and theses - and often doing a shoddy job of it. I also wrote an accompanying workbook. Since then I've updated it for Office 2007 and it continues to be extremely popular. I've lost count of the number of times I've run the session and it's had 1000s page views on our website. Here's an extract from the booklet's introduction explaining what it covers.
Long documents, for example a dissertation or thesis, can be difficult to work with for a number of reasons. Microsoft Word provides you with some useful features to make managing long documents easier. Many of the features are also useful for shorter documents that require internal referencing. The features include:
  • style formats to apply to different types of text;
  • captions to label objects such as figures or tables;
  • tables of contents;
  • tables of figures;
  • cross-referencing;
  • master documents and sub documents to divide large documents up into smaller, more manageable chunks whilst still retaining referenced links.
What I'd really love to do though is find out how to do all of the above using Google docs because of the additional advantages of its revision history, sharing, collaboration features, etc. (although I don't think the master/sub-document stuff would be necessary as Google docs seems to be so much more stable than Microsoft Word with lengthy documents).

So here's is the Google document where I tried to find the features, but as you'll see when you read it - it was rather a disappointment.

In summary:
  • heading styles work nicely;
  • multi-level lists aren't supported;
  • captions aren't an option;
  • tables of contents work fine but I can't see how to add page numbers;
  • tables of figures aren't supported;
  • and neither are cross references (although see update below).
You'll see if you look in the document that I've put in various links to work arounds suggested in the Help forum - but most of them are far too fiddly to be viable for your average user.

Given the brilliance of Google docs in so many other ways I'm wondering if it has some of these features and I just can't find them, or am I just asking it to do things it isn't designed for? I love Google docs and I'll continue to use it but it seems like it's not very suitable yet for long, formal, documents. Or am I missing something?

Update re bookmarks

Just realised that Bookmarks are a reasonable alternative to cross references (although if captions were supported this would be much better). I've added one in the Google doc example at the end. If I was to change the text in the bookmark it wouldn't update in the link but it does still provide the ability to cross reference.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Observing Emerging Student Networks on a Microblogging Service

My involvement in actually writing this paper was, shall we say, slim. But nonetheless AlanJo and Alex graciously put my name on it because of my involvement with the project as a whole. It's a bit dated as it took a while to publish and it's a fast moving field - but published it is.

The impact of social networks on lives of the majority of young adults has been enormous, although their impact on education is less well understood. Some consideration has been give to the role Facebook plays in higher education and in the transition from secondary to tertiary education, but little analysis has been conducted on the role of the microblogging social network Twitter. By examining the use made of this service by two cohorts of students, this study found that Twitter is easy for students to use and popular with the majority once they have experience with it. For this study different patterns of use between individuals in the study and between the two different student cohorts were observed, as was the emergence of informal online peer support networks. The results of this study suggest models for future use of microblogging services.

Joanne Badge, Stuart Johnson, Alex Moseley, Alan Cann. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 7, No. 1. (March 2011)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Ideas for this year's team building day

After the success of last year's team building day where we did a community project at a local primary school I'm struggling to think of something for this year. It's not something I've been involved with before - the previous ones were organised by my predecessor, Maria. The trouble with the last one was that it was so good in will be difficult to top. It also took our Volunteering Team a lot of time to organise - something that is going to be less available this year.

We had a bit of a brainstorm at our last team meeting in January - the suggestions that we came up with ranged from more volunteering (most people were extremely positive about last year) to things that were 'just for fun'. I'm not sure we have any university guidelines as to what we can and can't do - but clearly budget will be a factor in what we choose. Also it needs to be something that everyone can do. I blogged about some other factors here.

Has anyone got any thoughts or experience of what has or hasn't worked for them?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

HootSuite have finally caught up with me

Since blogging about our post-HootSuite options back in August I've been keeping a low profile on the subject.  That's because, admittedly rather sneakily, I realised that if I neither up-graded not went free then when I exceeded the 7 days grace period colleagues I'd registered as administrators for the accounts could still access it. I couldn't access it but that didn't matter because I'd devolved responsibility for the updates (although, rather pleasingly I was still able to access it via the iPhone ap). Anyway, as of 15 March Hootsuite are, quite rightly, closing that particular loop hole. My email from them read...
Hello Stuart Johnson,

We have you listed as the account owner of the "uolsd" profile on TWITTER on HootSuite. To ensure continued service, we require you to migrate to a current HootSuite plan. We're here to help and are emailing you to encourage you to take action and migrate your account.

For some background, since the new HootSuite plans were announced in August of last year, we grandfathered your account until November 2010, then provided a 7-day grace period to ensure time to decide on how you'd like to proceed. Further, our business sales team unsuccessfully attempted to contact your organization to provide assistance in choosing a plan. To continue using HootSuite, the listed owner of uolsd needs to sign-in to HootSuite [...] then migrate the account to a Pro plan or downgrade to the Basic (free) plan. Otherwise, we will disable HootSuite access to your social networks on March 15th.
Which is completely fair enough. So currently I've downgraded and have simply shared the password with colleagues. But this is very limited as it provides no workflow - which is the most useful aspect for us as it enables us to see who has replied to what. Also there are no analytics on the free account and they're useful too. So I need to think about whether we want to pay for their pro-plan - $5.99 per month for pro and then $15 per month per additional team member. Which is a considerable improvement on their original price plan - I wish I'd taken a screenshot at the time but I'm sure we were going to have to pay $99 per month which was simply prohibitive. Maybe they've listened to feedback from customers and come up with something more reasonable - or am I not remembering that correctly?

HootSuite certainly seem to have cornered the market. Of the options I blogged about back in August only MediaFunnel seemed like a goer for us but when we experimented with it we found it quite slow and limited (although it may have improved since then). With an reliable platform rich in useful features HootSuite have done an excellent job. What do you think? Should I upgrade? Or are there any other platforms out there that I don't know about?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Update on developments for tagginganna

Apparently someone suggested on twitter last week that AlexMark and I might be keeping our tagginganna project secret. I just checked my blog and the last time I blogged about it was on 7 September when Alex presented at ALTC and before that it was July so I can quite understand why it might be thought we were being secretive. Unfortunately the reason is much more mundane; we've just been busy. The autumn term was a bit of a write-off for me because of the acting-up, but we did make some progress using a new tool from Birmingham City University's Research and Development Unit for English Studies (RDUES). This is how they describe the tool.
The wiki interface supports the collaborative close reading and analysis of texts, by allowing researchers, teachers and students to attach comments to individual words or phrases within these texts or to whole texts. These comments take the form of analyses or interpretations, and can generate intra- and inter-textual links.

The 'Wiki without a name' from RDEUS has been an exciting development and one we'll be reporting on when we have more data - but feedback from students so far has been very positive and we're looking forward to testing it further.

Meanwhile, we commissioned Eddie Tejeda, the creator of to do some development work on the site to make it more suitable for our needs. We are in the process of testing the developments but the items we requested were as follows:
  • tag comments
  • search comments
  • layered tables of contents
Which seem to be nearly there. More to follow...