Issue importing references from WordPress to Endnote using Academic Blogger’s Toolkit.

Issue importing references from WordPress to Endnote using Academic Blogger’s Toolkit.

I love Academic Blogger’s Toolkit (ABT). It allows me to add references to my WordPress research and reflection blog (which isn’t this one and I don’t have a link to it as it’s for my eyes only—sorry). One particular feature I quite like is the ability to export references I’ve created in Endnote and have them imported into ABT.

That is, until recently. For some reason, the last update to Endnote has caused it to stop working. To resolve the situation, I sent a Twitter message to the creator of the plug-in, Derek Sifford, via Twitter (@flightmed1). Within a day—a day!—the issue had been reviewed and solved. Now that, ladies and gentleman, is what I call impressive.

So, if anyone else has the same issue, here’s what to do.

  1. Export as RefMan (RIS) file. Text only.
  2. Rename the file extension from .txt to .bib. On a Mac, you MUST …
    1. Select the file and choosing File -> Get Info
    2. Click the arrow to the left of “Name and Extension”
    3. Click return key
  3. Import using ABT

* Annoyingly, you can’t merely rename the extension on a Mac by clicking it. All that does it add .ris to the end of the file (so you end up with FILENAME.txt.ris). Go figure.

And, again, a huge thanks to Derek. You’ve got a fan for life now, sir. 🙂

Shifting to Twitter & creating multiple Twitter accounts

Last week my students suggested we should move away from TodaysMeet and try Twitter. Today was the 2nd week of using it and it’s interesting to compare the two programmes, particularly in light of observing and interacting with my students.

Personally, I quite like TodaysMeet. I’ve explained why in previous blogs (here and here) so I won’t bore you with the details again. Suffice to stay I wasn’t particularly keen on the move to Twitter as I felt we were in a good ‘groove’ with TodaysMeet. However, the students wanted to give it a go so fair enough.

The first issue was ensuring all students created a professional twitter account using their university email address. I needed to reiterate that this was linked with their professional persona and that comments needed to reflect this.

The students decided the easiest thing to do would be to follow me (and for me to follow them) on Twitter. This would allow all of us to see each others’ tweets without the need for a hash tag. These accounts were set up specifically to be used in classes at the University and that others outwit our class wouldn’t be linked so this alleviated my concern about all of the students (and my) linked friends getting a plethora of—what would be to them—unintelligible tweets.

The next issue was finding a programme which would display the tweets large enough to be read from the projector. The only programme I could find which seemed to do the trick was Twitterfall. This seemed perfect until I realised it was very slow at publishing the tweets and, at times, didn’t seem to update itself. Perhaps it’s the connection in this particular building but I’m not convinced. I ended up just showing the main Twitter page at http://www.twitter.com. It wasn’t nearly as good, in my opinion. However, the students didn’t seem to be too bothered about the tweets not projecting as nicely as I wanted them to. They were more comfortable using Twitter and they liked the fact their conversations were threaded/connected and also that they could see only their own tweets.

The students did seem to engage a bit more with Twitter, possibly due to being more comfortable with it. I’m still not convinced that it has merit over TodaysMeet for our use in lectures and tutorials but the fact students are able to view only their own tweets is the winning variable here, I think.

The one issue that I had, though, was trying to figure out how I could use Twitter with all four year groups. Twitter only allows one account per email address. This wasn’t a problem for the students but it is a problem for me. I didn’t want my tweets with one year group being published to the other year groups. I also didn’t really want to create four bespoke gmail accounts.

The solution was to use one gmail account and the + symbol. So, when creating my new Twitter account for my 1st year students, I used my gmail account but added +year1 at the end of the email address (e.g., myemailaddress+year1@gmail.com). For the 2nd year students, my twitter account was linked to myemailaddress+year2@gmail.com — and similarly for years 3 and 4. All of these email addresses come to me—Google doesn’t see them as separate accounts!

I then created filters in Google so that any message to +year1 would go into a specific folder. It was a bit of a pain setting it up but it wasn’t too time-consuming and it wasn’t too onerous.

So we’ll use Twitter for the rest of the term, despite my earlier plan about waiting until next term. We’ll see which programme the students prefer.

I just wish I could find a decent way to present the tweets like I can with TodaysMeet. Any ideas anyone?

TodaysMeet—A head-slapping ‘duuuh’ moment

TodaysMeet—A head-slapping ‘duuuh’ moment

Sometimes something is starting you in the face and you don’t even realise it.

Today I was working with my 2nd year students. As usual, we were using TodaysMeet. At one point in my class, I needed to discuss another issue which I wanted to keep separate from the conversation in TodaysMeet. I was asking my students a question about a possible change in procedure to their course and I wanted their anonymous feedback.

It suddenly dawned on me that I could just create a new room, get the students to ask questions or make comments and then return to the 1st room.

I mean, duuuh. It’s so obvious. Sheesh.

An amalgam of Twitter and TodaysMeet

An amalgam of Twitter and TodaysMeet

live-tweeting-history-gallery-660x433-130122-pictureI like TodaysMeet. It’s similar to Twitter in that you have a defined, limited number of characters in which to write whatever you want to write about. Unlike Twitter, you don’t need to have an account, you don’t need to worry about hashtags and the room is self-contained. In other words, unless you go to the specific room which has been created, you aren’t going to see any messages/tweets. It’s very good for conferences and, in my case, for classes.

Twitter, on the other hand, vomits out every single tweet to every single person who is following me. Sometimes this is a good thing but, often, it drives me nuts. Some of the people I follow tend to tweet when they are in meetings, lectures or conferences and I’m inundated with tweets that, to me, make absolutely no sense. And there are 250 of them. I tend to scroll right past them which is a shame, in a way. I just don’t have time to read them all and engage with them. Maybe once I retire …

To avoid all of my students’ Twitter followers from receiving a plethora of tweets, we use TodaysMeet. No problem there. Except …

The one thing Twitter does do is allow the user to see only his/her tweets. TodaysMeet doesn’t do this. Students who have been trying to take notes or to engage more with TodaysMeet have identified this as one potential problem. Some of them do want to take notes using TodaysMeet. Great! But they also want to be able to review their notes/comments without having to hunt for them in a forest of other people’s comments. Fair point.

So I need to find something which is a blend of both Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Any ideas anyone?

Taking notes – paper or tweets?

Taking notes – paper or tweets?

Today I introduced TodaysMeet to my 3rd year students and a very interesting discussion arose. I’ve compartmentalised the discussion into some headings. Although the main conversation focussed around taking notes or taking tweets, some other interesting points came up.

Note-taking on paper is easier than tweeting

There was a good discussion about why the students felt this way. My argument is that because they have been conditioned to listen to the teacher and take notes, this is naturally going to be easier. If they had gone through their formal education writing their notes in short form and online, they may have found ‘traditional’ note-taking equally challenging.

My argument is that taking notes on paper and tweeting your notes are both very similar, except in the case of tweeting you are limited to what you are writing to a certain number of characters. This can be a bad thing if you are trying to write something complicated but, equally, it could be a good thing as you need to reflect on what the main concept is and then re-write it in your own words which helps you to process the information (and hopefully retain it better).

Note-taking on paper may be similar to tweets but the feeds from other people are distracting

This is a fair point. When taking paper notes, you are writing on your blank/lined piece of paper and you don’t have other people writing as well. (Of course, if you were like me in high school and University, there is always someone sitting next to you eager to draw or write something ridiculous on the corner of your notes). TodaysMeet doesn’t have a feature which lets you see only your own input. Twitter does, though. I find it interesting that this year group found the tweets distracting but, to be fair, this could be more my fault. I didn’t drip-feed the use of TodaysMeet in quite the same way as I did with the other year groups and perhaps my expectations were too high. Still, it’s fair to say that try to read others’ responses (and respond to them) can be distracting during a lecture. Which brings me quite conveniently to my next point…

Tailor the teaching to match the tweeting

I can’t help but think this may end up being a little mantra of mine. So far, with the 1st and 2nd years in particular, I’ve been tailoring my lectures/tutorials to ensure the students can use TodaysMeet effectively, giving them time to reflect, tweet and respond. When I am lecturing, I’m only talking for 4 or 5 minutes at a time and then getting the students to review what I’ve said and to tweet the main points. I also give them time with a partner or in groups to engage in further thinking on the subject and to post their replies on TodaysMeet. So I’m weaning them a bit. Today, however, I didn’t do this quite as well which would explain the students being a bit more unsure and less confident. Due to time restraints, I missed out a chunk of the teaching I wanted to do – and this missing section would have, I believe, supported them in becoming more confident with how to use TodaysMeet (and tweeting in general).

The size of the group makes a difference

I had 5 groups today. Each group had around 6 students. One group had 2 students. The group of 2 students found it challenging to listen to the lecture, take notes and respond on TodaysMeet. This could, in part, be where they were sitting as they weren’t able to see the 2nd board where the tweets were being shown. However, in discussion afterwards, the students identified that other, larger groups had one person scribing and 3 or 4 other who were able to view the incoming tweets, discuss them and suggest a response to the scribe. The group of 2 had too much to do.

I’m still of the opinion a group of 4 is the best size. Everyone takes part and, so far, groups of 4 seem to break down into: 1 scribe/typist, 2 readers (reading the incoming tweets) and 1 facilitator (i.e., informing the scribe/typist what to write) with all 4 students engaged in the conversation.

A positive, ‘give-it-a-go’ attitude is essential

The GTCS (General Teaching Council of Scotland) has produced the document The Standards for RegistrationThis document includes information about the standards required for student teachers—The Standard for Provisional Registration. Section One focuses on Professional Values and Personal Commitment and contains a sub-section Professional Commitment. Here’s the first bullet point in this sub-section:

  • engaging with all aspects of professional practice and working collegiately with all members of our educational communities with enthusiasm, adaptability and constructive criticality.

I believe learning new technologies (and how they could be used as teaching and learning tools) falls into this umbrella of ‘professional practice’. You have to try something out and then engage in ‘constructive criticality’—reviewing, reflecting, discussing, researching, experimenting, etc. In my class today, I had to push some of my students to go beyond their gut-reaction and to look at the pros and cons from an objective viewpoint (or at least a less-subjective viewpoint).

Students are more critical of their colleagues than I am

It was interesting listening to my 3rd year students using TodaysMeet for the first time. The students were unsure of its use longer-term and they believed that once the novelty wore off, students would ignore the tweets and would end up playing games, on Facebook or generally off-topic. In other words, they would not be paying attention. (This cynicism seems to stem from previous experience).

And yet, in my experience with the other year groups, the opposite is true. Yes, you’re always going to have the odd student who sneaks onto Facebook for a quick update. On the whole, though, I have found the students are on-task, are engaged and are paying attention—even though it may look as if they aren’t. It is a bit odd to talk to students who aren’t looking at me but, to be fair, if they were taking notes, they’d be looking down at their paper and so there is little difference. It just feels weird. But the proof is in the pudding, as it were. The online tweet conversation has improved considerably in the past 3 weeks and there is a sense of engagement and interest.

Perhaps I need to encourage peer-monitoring and to have students nudge each other when they are off task. Or perhaps it just means I have to ensure I follow the rule above (“Tailor the teaching to match the tweeting”). If the teaching is excellent, the engagement will be excellent—Better teaching = better learning.

In conclusion

I’ve done quite a bit of reflecting on my class today. There were a number of very fair comments but there was some fair points raised about the use of this type of social media. I believe the main reason the students were uncomfortable was my fault. I removed a chunk of the teaching due to time restraints. This was my big mistake as I didn’t set a good, solid foundation. I rushed them a bit and expected too much, forgetting they hadn’t had the same inputs as the other year groups.

Of course, if things had gone well, I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to reflect as I have in this entry so perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all. 🙂

Reflecting on whether to move from TodaysMeet to Twitter

Reflecting on whether to move from TodaysMeet to Twitter

Had an interesting conversation with a 2nd year student today. We were discussing the use of TodaysMeet and whether it was useful. This student had some interesting points worth considering.

As someone who prefers to take notes on the iPad, this students felt it was, at times, challenging to jump from a note-taking app to TodaysMeet. There were times when parts of the TodaysMeet conversation were being missed as the student flipped back and forward from tweeting to note-taking.. This led to an interesting discussion about trying not to take notes in the ‘traditional’ sense but using TodaysMeet to note down the main points – or working as a group to have one person tweet whilst another takes notes.

At this point, the student made the point that unless there was a way to only view only your own tweets instead of the whole conversation, students would be very reluctant to embrace this new note-taking paradigm.  A very fair point. I certainly wouldn’t want to scroll through 20 PDF pages of conversation to find where my own thoughts and notes were hidden.

So what is the alternative?

One suggestion made was to have all students create a new, professional and bespoke twitter account to be used only for my classes at University. Students could follow each other (and me) but add no one else. That way the tweets would still be self-contained. Once everyone had signed up, the settings could be changed to private. Students could then easily read their own posts or read the whole conversation.

It’s a sensible idea with a couple of slight issues.

  1. If a student already has a Twitter account linked to their University email address, they cannot create another one;
    As I already have a Twitter account linked to the university (@agpate), I would be stuck too.
  2. All students would have to have a username which was relatively easy to find and all students would have to follow all other students.
    Something like “UoGMAPEStudent12345678” would probably do the trick but it’s a bit cumbersome.
  3. I cannot save a Twitter ‘conversation’ as easily as I can on TodaysMeet.
    Well, I can but it really isn’t pretty. There’s tweetdownload.net but it’s ugly as sin.
  4. Students could DM (Direct Message) each other which could reduce the input (and impact) in the main conversation.

On reflection, I think I’m going to stick with TodaysMeet for this term. At the beginning of next term we could switch to Twitter and see how that works out. TodaysMeet and Twitter could then be compared in more depth. Something to consider anyway.

Students’ perceptions of engaging online

Students’ perceptions of engaging online

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I’ve been having a very interesting conversation this evening, talking about flip teaching with some of my students. We’re trying a new way of teaching and learning and, so far, it seems to be quite a positive experience.

An interesting point was raised in the conversation which got me thinking. There was a comment that perhaps TodaysMeet could be used throughout the week for students to talk to each other about their learning because (and here’s the interesting part) the private forums which have been set up are considered too formal.

I have created a forum for each week of the course so students can go in and do exactly that—ask questions, talk to each other, etc. But the students aren’t using it (and, really, never have). And now I know why. They have an impression it’s too formal.

Fascinating (as Mr Spock would say).

Now is this because the forum is linked to our online Moodle learning environment? Would students use a forum more if it was, say, Facebook? Are they hesitant to use a system knowing their tutor(s) can read what they are writing? Or has the concept of bespoke university forums had their day and students would prefer to use a system they know (Facebook/Twitter/etc.)?

I think it’s going to be an interesting conversation next week when I see my students.

And it just goes to demonstrate what I’ve always said — I learn just as much from my students as they learn from me.