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On Gadgets and Widgets

This post is dedicated to Blogging for Begginners

Today I went into the B4B PBWiki to get to know the tasks for week five and ... lo and behold! My FCE Blog has been mentioned on a list of blogs of the week. This means lots of colleagues around the word will be asked to have a look at it as part of their online training.

First things first. I’m honoured.

Second, this poses a little issue on me. I confess I do not think blog surfing or commenting should be homework at all. At least not my blog project as I conceived it. So I hope no one feels too obliged to pay me a visit (or read this wordy post!).

Let’s stop rambling about and get down to the topic in question.

Widgets

As B4B blog is discussing widgets this week, I though it would be interesting to post a little something about my use of widgets and why I try to stay away from them these days.

In my FCE Blog sidebar you can find several widgets. I have displayed them in a particular order. Why? Well, not only because design is very revealing about the blogger's purposes and relationship to the reader, but also because this order answers my own needs when I browse blogs. They need not constitute a pedagogical purpose per se.

I think there are several ways of looking at this issue of widget choice for your blog:

  • the widgets we like
  • the widgets our students like the most
  • who benefits more from a widget? The teacher-blogger, the audience, the community or our students?

Clarification of terms

A widget is a bit of html code that you add to your template and may or may not have animation (java).

A teacher-blogger is an education professional who may be blogging for countless different reasons. Sometimes they do so for their students.

By audience I mean anyone stumbling upon your blog. Need not be the original intended audience of the blog.

The community is that portion of your audience that finds your blog interesting and most definitely bookmarks it or comes back at some point. (Hopefully!)

Your students are the ones that can and should make a difference. In class and in the comments section. If you are writing for your students, but most comments or widgets are addressed to colleagues or family and friends something is wrong.

There. Much clearer now, I guess.


Now a few things about the widgets in my blog.

To begin with there are technical considerations. The more widgets you add, the slower the page will load. Not every browser will support them. Your blog will not be perfectly seen everywhere when there are many widgets. These are accessibility issues; therefore, top issues. After all, we all love how the web has made the unthinkable 15 years ago so accessible today.

Frappr

So what I do is to use some widgets in blog posts –particularly those that take some seconds to load. An interesting example is the Frappr map of fcebloggers.

I just use a badge on the sidebar and a link to a post to explain how I intend it to be a Guest Map. A curious stat about it: Most people who added themselves to the map have never left a comment. This is interesting because the map creates a sense of belonging, of community building. It opens the door to participate for those who do not feel they have something special to say. And many of them are teachers! No further comments.

Oh stats... I just love stats!


Then there are stats. Everywhere. Stats speak to the audience, community and students in different ways. The first time viewer might reflect on how far this blog has been viewed or how many times. I guess they may decide to come back based on this. Call it going-with-the-flock principle.

To my own students, visual stats have been quite a revelation. They were faced with the fact that the world is watching. This was in my class - I believe- a double edged-sword. Some people who saw the blog being born felt it was just a thing between us. Our blog, period. It gradually dawned on them that the things we write there should make sense to other cultures as well. Otherwise, why not create a private Yahoo group or intranet or moodle? But to blog is meant to network with the world.

Chat

The shoutbox, which is not a sync chat but a simple short message board, is something completely inspired by students. There are terms of use for it.

This is something that everybody uses, students, audience, community. It is a leveller. At first site it is hard to tell who writes there: Is it one of my students, a teacher or an FCE student in Argelia like Mustafa (who writes the sweetest letters calling me "my dear teacher")? The shoutbox is the point where people express more emotionally and fast. A comment requires some thinking that bars people with little time.

Note: I do not recommend the widget provider I am using at the moment. For several reasons. Mainly not having RSS to be notified of new messages. You cannot check your blog every single day and it gets easily spammed.

Community of teachers

There are two widgets that have to do mainly with the community of teachers and educators.

My del.icio.us network


Del.icio.us -unlike Blinklist and other social bookmarkers- is the closest thing to a blog. They are kindred. Creating a network allows you to access instantly to what the people in the network have saved. You can connect and even meet people by del.icio.us. (If you understand Spanish, here is a Spanish edublogger who tells the story of how we met in his blog!)

My del.icio.us network is full of edubloggers and EFL teachers. All those links would be of little use to students, but it is certainly good to show ourselves as learners in front of them, and to let them see how we choose and tag information.


Cocomment is a blog comment/posts tracker and aggregator. It is useful to bring to the fore some comment in a previous post in your blog. I also use it to bring to the FCE Blog the conversations I am having on other blogs – in different languages- about blogging, wikis and education. Another way to expose my learning paths to students.


Conclusions

My use of widgets is not exactly didactic. It is all about informing, integrating and showing the audience what this blog deals with. Or what this blog might soon be dealing with because I am conversing about it on other blogs. Above all widgets should help your blog become a meaningful node in an ever growing network.

At the beginning of the post I said that I am staying away from them these days. The point is that when we just discover one of these widgets we want to use them instantly. Our own learning need makes us practise on our student’s blogs and adding widgets for the sake of practice is creating a noise in communication with students, audience and community.

Widgets are meant to be simple. Learn about them, know what there is available and trust yourself that you will manage to install them pretty fast when you or the purpose of your blog post needs them.

The first teachers who saw my blog, teachers who had never seen a blog before, told me things like: “I’m impressed at your cyber-skills”. No further comments made about the purpose or the ideas reflected on my blog. If teachers or students get paralysed and notice you instead of your blog, or they imagine that you have to know all that to have a blog, then we have definitely missed the point.

Sadly, don’t you think?



Follow-up link on my del.icio.us for this subject

http://del.icio.us/fceblog/widgets

Related ELT Notes posts:

A Blog Genesis (how The FCE Blog was born)

Blogging for Teachers


Labels:

Dear Claudia,
Thanks for this post on widgets. You've said all that our beginners bloggers should take into account when using them on their blogs. You're right when you say that we may fall into the temptation of using new gadgets as soon as we find something attractive in somebody else's blog, just for fun. But it may have nothing to do with the spirit with which the blog was created. You make a good account of the purpose behaind each widget you use, and that's the kind of reflection we'd like to promote at B4B.
Thanks also for not minding my using your blog as an example even when I forgot to ask you. I'll refer B4Bers to this post on the list. I hope we'll get many interesting comments.
And finally, thanks for your contribution to the discussion and to our widget list.
Claudia

Wow, oh, ah, Claudia! Your post is so complete, informative and impressive that I'll need to write a whole post to organise everything I wanted to "say" as I wnet through each section!

I promise I'll come back here anpost a direct link to that entry as soon as I can afford to post it. For the time being, I didn't want to put off saying THANKS!!!!

Gladys(B4B)
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Claudia B,
No need to apologise. Linking is nettiquette enough.

Gladys,
Did you say continue the conversation in your blog? Yes, please!!! (Do not forget to come back and post the permalink to your post.)

Let me congratulate you both and all the B4B blogging team -Silvana, Carla and Erika- for the task of titanic proportions you are doing there.

Until last month my blogging was an inward journey sometimes exposed to the world in posts. I've come a long way on my own. However, getting in touch with the ELT world community is making all of this much, much more enjoyable.

My pleasure to have you both as commenters in my blog.

Hi Claudia C., what an excellent post you have here. It is very true that there is a stage when we tend to grab any widget we find and simply embed it in our blogs. I do that in my two personal blogs to experiment tools and how they work but feel it would be inappropriate for class blogs that have a very specific purpose in mind. Widgets are fun, though, and I bet students would love to play around with them. So to find a balance between what to use from what is available and free requires further a clear idea of the course objectives, students´needs and blog purposes. Thanks for sharing.
Saludos, Berta

Dear Claudia,

The post on widgets just has everything: it is as complete as it can get and your pertinent and critical remarks are extremely useful, I was tired of all this crazy enthusiasm :)

Berta,

You have moved the right piece in the chessboard here. Widgets contribute to the entertaining part of the online experience we propose to students.

Let's face it: our employers are not including blog assisted lessons on our responsibilities checklist. Most of us teacher bloggers take to blogging because we have discovered a ground where the line between work and play is blurred.

Better not forget that the nature of informal learning is serious stuff!

So Dan, I must admit my post is by no means exhaustive. Perhaps some additions on positive aspects of widgets would be in order.

Thank you both for your thoughts.

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