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While I attended the NYSCATE Leadership Summit last week for a variety of reasons, the main motivation was to hear the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) presentation on their proposed state technology plan. Beyond the presentation there were roundtable discussions to provide input and feedback followed by an opportunity to ask questions.

When the opportunity to ask questions arrived, I raised my hand. I told the them that I hadn’t heard about the proposed tech plan through regular channels, rather through Twitter. Then came the question: Would they consider setting up an account and using Twitter?

The answer: We’ll have to check with our counsel.

Let’s juxtapose this with Goal Two of the Statewide Technology Plan:

Learners, teachers, and administrators are proficient in the use of technology for learning.

Proficiency is defined, in large measure, by standards for desired levels of skills, knowledge and performance. Proficiency encompasses such areas as social networks and internet safety.

Apparently, while NYSED wants students, teachers, and administrators to use social networks, they fear doing so themselves. They seem flummoxed by the same issues that technology pioneering districts and practitioners have been wrestling with for years. The message is that NYSED regards the very activities in which they wish us to engage as legally questionable.

Educators know that good leadership involves modeling the desired behaviors. NYSED knows that and should do the same. Using social networking tools shows that they understand them. They could model what they regard as best practices.

To succeed NYSED needs to help cut through the systemic fear and uncertainty that runs from practitioner to district to BOCES and beyond. Hesitation is the enemy of change and innovation. We need some degree of guidance in what are acceptable practices.

Twitter is a simple tool. It’s a good place to start. The US Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control, and President Obama tweet. NYSED needs to tweet too.

I plan on a number of posts on aspects of the NYS Tech Plan soon. I’m eager to hear comments.

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Elgg’s new support community has brought new contributions from Elgg’s Development team.

Ben Werdmuller created a COPPA plugin. COPPA is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which prohibits website from collecting personal information from children under thirteen. This plugin inserts a check box into the registration page, requiring individuals to affirm that they are over 13. One small mistake with this plugin is that sites can collect information of children over 12, not 13.

I have edited the languages/en.php file changing I am over 13 years of age to over 12 years of age. I notified the creator, but I uploaded the revised version here.

Dave Tosh contributed a Twitter Widget. This widget allows users to put a twitter feed from any user in their profile or dashboard page. Just enter the twitter username and the number of tweets to show, then set the access.

Once displayed it displays the user’s tweets:

Both of these plugins are installed by uploading them to the mod folder and activating through the Tools Administration interface.

I look forward to seeing more plugins from the developers, particularly some that I see on their community site. They have a Privacy and a Terms of service plugin that displays links to these pages on the Elgg community site’s footer. Additionally, the site has an Events plugin that I’m sure everyone would like to have access to.

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I remain enthusiastic about using Prologue for school “twittering.” I was disappointed when it came to my attention that a regular self hosted version of WordPress did not have the option to keep the blog private by requiring a login to read. This is an important function for privacy of students in a school setting. I found a way to hack the wp-blog-header to make this possible. I tested it on a WP 2.3.2 installation and it works great. If you go to the blog’s url, you are presented with a login screen. Once a user has logged in, it brings them to their backend. While, I’d rather it bring them to the frontend, all they have to do is click the prominent “View Site” button. I’ll see if I can change that at a later time. Simply download the file wp-blog-header.php.zip, unzip it, and upload it via ftp to the blog’s main directory (public_html/wheveryourblogresides/

I also changed the Prologue user interface a little. The build I downloaded had a number and an “e” next to the title of the post. The Number reflects the number of responses. You have to click on the number to make a comment–not very obvious to my fifth grade users. I modified it so the word comment or comments appears next to the number. The “e” stand for edit. I simply changed the file to say edit instead. Download index.php.zip, unzip, and upload to public_html/wheveryourblogresides/wp-contents/themes/prologue. Make sure don’t put it in the main blog directory because it will overwrite the wrong file.

Another hack to create a more appropriate opening message was mentioned in the previous post.

Here’s a link to the files and the zipped Prologue. Just push the log in as guest button and the next screen will have links to the files.

Please let me know what you think. If there is interest, I’ll package the whole WordPress set of files up. I’ll also to continue to look for more ways to make this great theme work even better for those in a school setting.

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I got my students to try out the Prologue installation today. They really enjoyed it and took to it instantly. Conversation was wild and somewhat unfocused at first. Before I knew it, there were twenty odd posts. I directed them to feel free to socialize, but I’d want them to avoid totally frivolous posts that would be of little or no interest to the “community.”

As I see it, there are two ways to respond–either by creating a new post, or by creating a reply. They all started by just creating new posts until I pointed out that they could click the comments button to respond. Now that I reflect upon what has been done so far, I’m not sure what is best. By creating a new post, all information is right there on the page–more like twitter itself. By using comments, more “starting posts” are visible and you can click on comments if they interest you.

I look forward to seeing how much it is used after school and on weekends , and how the usage evolves over time. Of course, I will prod it in certain directions.

Here’s the promised zipped file of Prologue. It is the latest update. I will try to keep it reasonable current until it becomes generally available in this form.

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I have been intrigued by Twitter since going to our state Educational Technology conference. I know it has potential and I’ve been eager to give it a try. When Will Richardson blogged about the WordPress theme Prologue, I was excited. First, I am reluctant to use “hosted solutions” especially with elementary students. Secondly, we already have a WordPress MU installed on our server space.

The first obstacle was that the theme was not packed into a zip file as most templates are. I had to learn to use a subversion client to gather the file for the template (Subversion or SVN is very cool as I have discovered and I plan to explore this avenue more). Once I put the files into a folder to ftp up to the server, it is a simple matter of selecting the Prologue template. Next, I wanted to change the opening message. After a brief look through files, I found the text in line 13 of post-form.php in the template folder. I created accounts for my students and I was good to go–or so I thought. To make this work, users had to be set to “author.”

It is all working now and my superintendent has given me the go ahead to try this out with the provision that I keep it out of public view. Only the students and I can view the contents (Using the “More Privacy Options”) extension for WordPress). Students will give it a test run today. I’ll post later along with a link to a folder with all the Prologue files for easy download.

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