Friday, May 13, 2011

Weekend Assignment - Back-up Your Blog and Other Files

Image Credit: Jim Linwood
From time to time events occur that remind just how important it is to regularly create back-ups of important files. This week's problems with Blogger reminded me that we should all be in the habit of regularly creating offline copies of our blog posts. This is especially true if your blog has become your professional portfolio, your students are blogging for a grade, or you just can't face the thought of losing everything you've written on your blog. If you use Blogger or Edublogs, I have directions for creating offline back-ups of your blogs here.

While you're backing-up your blog's content, it wouldn't be a bad idea to make sure you have back-up copies of some of your other important files. If you have things saved in Google Docs, select "download" from the "file" menu when you have a file open. If you're interested in creating back-up copies of files that you only have offline, try using Drop Box or Sugar Sync to save copies online. You can read about Drop Box here and Sugar Sync here.

Flip Snack - Add Page Turning Effects to Your PDFs

Flip Snack is a free tool for turning your PDFs into ebooks with page turning effects. To use Flip Snack you have to create an account. Once your account to create a page turning display of your ebook you simply need to upload your PDF and select the color, style, and size of display that you desire. The free version of Flip Snack allows you to embed your document anywhere you like, Tweet it, email it, and post it on Facebook. The premium version of Flip Snack allows you give people the option to download your document. You can see my Flip Snack document below.

Applications for Education
Flip Snack doesn't change the way students write or that teachers teach. What Flip Snack does do is provide a nice way for students to show-off their work in a visually appealing format.

Why I'm Sticking With a Hosted Blog

As many readers know from first-hand experience, Blogger was in "read only" mode for most of the last 24 hours. This meant that you couldn't post new content to a Blogger-hosted blog. It is frustrating to not be able to write a blog post when you want to. It's even more frustrating to have blog posts disappear into cyberspace ether (I lost eight posts and their associated comments). Those frustrations led some people I respect to question on Twitter if they should move to self-hosted blogging platforms. My response to that is "no."

Why I'm sticking with a hosted blog.
In short, I don't have the time for the responsibilities associated with self-hosting Free Technology for Teachers. As things currently stand, I spend between 35 and 40 hours a week on tasks related to Free Technology for Teachers. Between researching, writing blog posts, replying to emails and Tweets, and developing workshops, I just can't squeeze in another task. Oh yeah, that's after taking care of my full-time teaching responsibilities. Granted the tasks related to self-hosting a blog aren't everyday tasks, but I know that if I did self-host and have a major problem it would take me longer to fix it than it took the Blogger team of professional engineers to restore service.

The benefits of a self-hosted blog.
A self-hosted blog definitely offers some advantages for the right people. In short, a self-hosted blog gives you the most possible options for creating and sharing content. A self-hosted blog means that you can back-up, export, and move your content to a different host whenever you like. (You can also do that with a number of hosted blogging services). A self-hosted blog means that you can change the infrastructure of your blog whenever you like. For example, one of my favorite blogs recently switched to WordPress from Drupal. And if you like to tinker, you can tinker to your heart's content with self-hosted blogs.

The drawbacks of a self-hosted blog.
Although a self-hosted blog gives you the most freedom, it also requires the greatest responsibility on your part. Unless you actually own a server and keep it in a place that you can access (and if you do, you probably stopped reading this already), you're going to have to find a hosting service. Finding a good reliable host isn't difficult. Finding one that can give beginners lots of hands-on attention could be a challenge. Once you do find a host, there's nothing to say that it won't occasionally have glitches that take your content offline. Rackspace, one of the largest and most popular hosting services, had an outage last fall that was about the same length as Blogger's was this week.

Unlike using a hosted blogging platform, if you self-host your blog you are responsible for updates to software, updates to security patches, and trouble-shooting any number of glitches that may arise.

The Food Price Rollercoaster

The Food Price Rollercoaster is a new infographic produced by the World Food Programme to illustrate fluctuations in food prices over the last three and one-half years. The infographic highlights some major world events that happened at the same time as some large food price fluctuations. The infographic also illustrates the disparity between what families in rich countries spend on food and what those in poorer countries spend on food. You can view the infographic here or below.

Applications for Education
To support your use of this infographic, the United Nations' World Food Programme's website has excellent resources for learning about world hunger and fighting world hunger. On the website teachers can download lesson plans for use in grades four through nine. These lesson plans call for a mix of online and offline activity. The lesson plan that teaches students what it's like to live on less than two dollars per day struck me as being a potentially powerful lesson for some students. Before using the lesson plans, you may want to have students review Hunger 101 on the WFP's website. In Hunger 101 students will learn basic world hunger statistics and vocabulary.