Building a course reading list in Grazr

After reading OpenLearn Unit Content Feeds via OPML and Click On Series 2 by Tony Hirst (both of which use Grazr: “Easy feed grazing and sharing”), I was today inspired to create a bookmarks and RSS feed aggregator for one of my courses which starts in a week and a half. Here’s a report on my experiences!

First-off I should say that Grazr is a web tool that takes either an RSS feed or an OPML file and, through the magic of Javascript, creates a dynamic feed viewer that can be embedded into any web page. Or altenatively, using the default tools provided, added to your Facebook, or Google start page (among other things). To use it, I first needed to create an OPML feed that would enable me to aggregate my bookmarks, RSS feeds, Podcasts, and other useful learning resources in one place, so I signed into and created one.

Next I went to my account and pulled out the RSS feed for my module and added this to my new OPML file. I realised, that the tag eg-259 would be too generic so I created RSS feeds for eg-259:lecture01, eg-259+xhtml to allow some finer granularity. Finally I started to go through my “External Links” page on the Blackboard site to ensure I had all the links in and properly tagged. Next I exported the OPML file from and imported it into Grazr as a reading list. Finally I created a widget from the reading list which is here:


Good hey! A similar widget is also now embedded in the External Links page for this module. The beauty is that this widgets are dynamic and populated from Grazr on page load. As I continue to add new RSS feeds or bookmarks to this on-line reading list, all of the embedded Grazr widgets will automatically be updated. The widgets can be shared using a mailing list feature familiar to Flickr users, and the embeddable code can be grabbed or shared directly from each copy of the the widget itself. And of course, if that’s insufficient, the OPML can be used to create feed aggregators for your students which can be embedded in Oremi or inside their favourite RSS feed reader (did I mention Facebook is supported?).

The limitations of seems to be that each subscriber can only create one OPML feed per person. This won’t work for my application as I expect that I’ll want a custom feed for each of my modules (or perhaps even aggregated across a whole programme). But it turns out to not really be a restriction because the OPML format is very simple and once you’ve created your first OPML file online, you can either export it as a file, edit the XML code directly, and re-import it or, preferably, edit the XML source on-line at the Grazr site.

Stop Press
As this article went “to press” I noted that Tony Hirst has blogged about the new Grazr 2.0 Beta version which looks awesome and will feature it’s own OPML editor!

Google docs launches presentation tool

And Common Craft tells you why it matters!

On on Tuesday 18th September, Google [announced]( the arrival of a new collaborative presentation tool which they call simply *presentation *. Annew member of the [Google Docs suite]( (which already includes a collaborative Word Processor and a Spreadsheet application), *presentation* provides a web-based tool for creating and developing presentations. It’s not as capable as PowerPoint, but probably passes the 80-20 rule. Plus it’s collaborative (you can share presentation development duties with others) and web publishable. Here’s a [quick and dirty presentation]( I made to test the tool and its sharing capabilities. If you’d like to test it’s collaboration capabilities, leave me a comment with your email and I’ll share it with you. In a carefully timed release, our friends at [Common Craft](, released another “plain english” video to [explain why collaborative tools like Google Docs]( are important. It’s Google centric (presumably Google commisioned the video), but the central tenets apply to other collaborative systems even *sharepoint*. Are you ***listening ***dear colleagues of mine!

Here’s the video:

Powered by [ScribeFire](

I’ve Made a DokuWiki Plugin!

I have just created my first [DokuWiki]( plugin (in fact it’s my first PHP program!). It provides a way to mark-up Command Line Interface (CLI) transcripts, such as UNIX shell sessions, etc for user documentation. I’m using it to format a [UNIX tutorial]( for my students, but it could be used for other things. For some examples see: [test:cli]( For the plugin itself see [plugin:cli]( at the DokuWiki [plugins repository](

Powered by [ScribeFire](

Note taking for students

Just a quick blog to note a couple of articles on effective note taking for students from [](
– [Taking notes that work](
– [Using a wiki for note taking.](

Link from Wendy Boswell on [lifehacker](

Powered by [ScribeFire](

Creating a custom search engine in Google

I was at a “lunch and learn” session on Monday talking about Personalized Learning Environments and someone asked a question about custom searches for research and RSS feeds. I just found this [article]( cited in [Lifehacker]( which may answer those questions.

Powered by [ScribeFire](

Air Display in Swansea

Renate and I watched the Red Arrows from Swansea Beach today. The display was part of a two day Air Display put on by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Swansea City and County Council. I took a little bit of footage on my little Canon IXUS 50 and I edited the footage into a little movie which I uploaded to YouTube.

I’ve also uploaded a few photos to Flickr. Enjoy!

Thoughts on “First Programming Languages”

Howard Lewis-Ship has blogged about the [recommendation of Java as a First Language]( This is a topic that has been exercising me for a couple of years (although I no longer teach an introductory programming course). Howard is right when he states that:
> Java is extremely monolithic: in order to understand how to run a simple Hello World program, you’ll be exposed to:
> – Classes
> – Java packages
> – Static vs. instance methods
> – Source files vs. compiled classes
> – Editing vs. Execution
> – Using a compiler or an IDE
> – Method return types and method parameter types
> – The magic (for newbies) that is “System.out.println()”

For a while I was content to go along with the [BlueJ]( “[objects first](” approach which seeks to hide some of these details behind a graphical user interface. But having observed the experiences of students who find it difficult when they need to graduate from the “training wheels” of interactive objects on the screen to raw unadorned, *textual*, Java code, I’ve been having doubts. Howard himself advocates [ruby](, and interestingly the [inform]( language (that seems to be designed for creating virtual worlds). This year, I am supervising a student project evaluating [python]( so expect more on this topic.

Powered by [ScribeFire](