Monday, September 12, 2016

The Problem With Automating Your Blog

The web is great. Everyday a new tool appears that makes some task easier than ever to accomplish. But not every task that can be automated should be automated. For example, let's say you decide that your organization (perhaps SETDA) needs a blog, but you cannot find time to have someone actually write blog posts on a regular basis. So instead of making a commitment to authentic blogging you find a free blog template and some free software that automatically aggregates and displays blog posts from the RSS feeds of some popular blogs that you like. Then you sit back and never have to worry about your blog (perhaps called EdTechUpdate) again because all the work is done for you. If only it was that simple...

The problems with creating a blog that just aggregates and displays blog posts from RSS feeds:
1. If you use the wrong settings, you'll end up publishing full blog posts without permission of the authors. In other words, you've just automated your plagiarism.

2. You're not really doing anything to promote your own thoughts or your organization's mission. Even an blog run by an organization should have some kind of voice of its own. Take a look at any of the large, successful, multiple author blogs and you'll notice that their is an editorial style present throughout the blog.

3. The service that you think you're providing, isn't much of a service. Sure, some people might discover a new blog through your aggregation, but that's about it. Once they've found a new blog that they like, they're going to visit it directly instead of going through your aggregation of dozens of feeds.

Things you can do instead of automating your blog:
1. Put someone in charge of writing original blog posts on a regular schedule. One post per week on the same day is better than five posts randomly distributed throughout a month. Take a look at as an example. I publish only one post per week on it and it has 11,500 subscribers. It serves my mission of providing practical tech tips for teachers.

2. If you must use other bloggers' content, add to it with your own thoughts and commentary. Explain to your audience why you think someone else's blog post was particularly useful and worth sharing.

3. Use social media and email to distribute the handful of original blog posts that you do publish. Even on their favorite blogs most people don't read see every post the first time it's published. Use social media and email to redistribute your original posts on a regular schedule.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Campaign Comics Templates for Kids

Make Beliefs Comix offers comic strip templates and writing prompts in up to seven languages. The templates and prompts can be completed online or you can print them out to give to your students. Recently, Make Beliefs Comix added templates centered around the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. These new comic templates include prompts for writing theoretical conversations/ debate points between Clinton and Trump, templates for political bumper stickers, templates for writing campaign promises, and a neat graphic organizer for designing your perfect candidate.

Applications for Education
To some students creating a comic feels less daunting than sitting down with a blank piece of paper and being told to write about something. The structure and visuals of a comic can help students craft a story or illustrate a point. These new campaign comic templates could be particularly useful in helping students break a complex topic into smaller chunks to write about. Through their comics students could demonstrate their understanding of candidates' positions on a variety of topics.

How to Create Shared Google Calendars

Last week on the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page someone asked me for a recommendation for creating and maintaining a shared calendar. My immediate suggestion was to use Google Calendar. Google Calendar can be used in your web browser as well as in its respective iOS and Android apps. In the video embedded below I provide a short demonstration of how to create a shared Google Calendar. In the video I also explain how shared Google Calendars can be used by teaching teams.

Youngzine is Updated for 2016-17 School Year - Great Current Events Resource

Youngzine is a great service that provides teachers with current events articles written for classroom use. I first used the site in 2012 and it has only gotten better since then. Youngzine has been updated for the 2016-17 school year with a fresh and responsive design, new classroom discussion features, and easier sign-in options.

Youngzine articles feature a mix of news, sports, and entertainment stories for elementary school students. A new edition is published weekly. Most articles on Youngzine are accompanied by a supporting video. Articles that reference locations include a map so that students can quickly identify the setting for a story. All articles are accompanied by critical thinking prompts for students. Those prompts can be used in Youngzine online classrooms created by teachers.

In Youngzine online classrooms you can assign articles for your students to read, ask them to respond to articles and discussion prompts, and view their scores on the Youngzine weekly quiz. This year Youngzine added support for sign-in with a Google Account.

Applications for Education
Elementary school and middle school teachers looking for current events materials that will suit their students' reading abilities will find Youngzine to be a great resource. In addition to the classroom blog option featured above, Youngzine also offers students the option to contribute their own reporting to the site through the U-Write section of the site. Students can sign-up individually to contribute to Youngzine's U-Write section or a teacher can register his or her entire class.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Check the Source Before You Subscribe or Buy

The online education community has a problem. We want our students to be aware of copyright and respect the work of authors yet we don't respect the work of our colleagues. Three times this month I have found my blog posts re-used in their entirety on other blogs. Those are just the obvious examples that pop-up in my Google Alerts. Last week Doug Peterson wrote a post about plagiarism. Someone commented on his post with a related issue facing the online education community. That is the issue of people stealing the work of others and selling it on Teachers Pay Teachers and similar sites.

Why it matters!

Short version: stealing deprives original content creators of financial opportunities. You wouldn't allow students to plagiarize so don't allow adults to do it. 

Long version: read on...
Blogs like this one take a lot of time and effort to maintain. For every post that you see there is lots of time put into reading, testing, and learning about how new tools work. There is also a lot of time spent trying to answer as many email requests for help as possible. That time comes at a cost which is why you see advertising on When someone syndicates or outright copies and pastes my posts without permission, it takes away pageviews for me and the advertisers which affects the bottom line.

I'm not the only blogger to earn advertising revenue. And the popular bloggers that you see that don't use advertising and making money in other ways like book sales, Teachers Pay Teachers sales, and consulting fees. In short, anyone running a blog or other social media account with a large following is selling something.

The Teachers Pay Teachers issue in some ways is even worse. When you take a blogger's blog post and republish it without permission you don't instantly profit from it (it takes tens of thousands of pageviews to make any significant money from ads). When you take someone's work and sell it as your own on Teachers Pay Teachers, you can profit quickly from just a few people making a direct purchase.

What can you do about it?
Before you click the purchase button on Teachers Pay Teachers take a quick look around and see if someone else has published the same thing. A quick Google search for the title can yield some blatant copies. Use the "date range" search refinement tool and see who the original creator of the work is. If it's not the person doing the selling, don't buy it.

When you come across a blog or website that is syndicating lots of blogs and blog posts in their entirety, it might be convenient to just visit that website instead of going to individual blogs. Don't do it. That website is getting the benefit of the traffic without doing any of the work that it takes to actually create original blog posts.

Notify the author. I always appreciate it when someone tips me off to blog that has been using my posts without permission. I know many other bloggers who feel the same way.

"Richard, stop ranting!"
Long-time followers of this blog are probably tired of reading my rants about bloggers stealing the work of others. I plan to rant for as long as it takes to get people to understand this problem.