Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘first

Recently I created a seminar and workshop resource in the new version of Google Sites.

I tried the new Google Sites out as soon as it was publicly released, but had no reason to jump on the bandwagon. According to my account, I last edited a new trial site in April.

I had good reason to not adopt the new version immediately. New releases are always buggy and there was no tool to mass convert old Sites to new ones. It has been months since the new Sites creation tool was made available to all and my concerns are still valid.

But first, the good stuff.

My old Google Sites list looks like a roll of toilet paper while new Sites are photos in an album. This is because the new version looks like Google Drive with thumbnails of Sites. This gives it a more modern and unified look.

I created several pages using my MacBook Pro and thought that they looked better and more functional on my iPhone than on my laptop. It took me a moment to figure out why.

I discovered that the design templates insert lots of white space between page elements. Depending on your screen resolution, the elements might spread out too much on a desktop browser. Mobile browsers have less real estate, and while the elements are squished into a smaller screen, the white space creates a pleasing balance.

The navigation on mobile is restricted to the expandable “hamburger” menu (see GIF above). This is not intuitive to users who are not familiar with this mobile standard.

However, the navigation on a desktop always remains in view at the top. Depending on the template you use, the navigation bar might even change colour to remain obvious (see GIF below).

The page creating and editing interface takes some getting used to if you are an old Sites user like me.

For example, once you find and insert an element like an image or a video, you can drag-and-drop it into place or resize it. While this sounds convenient, you have to follow Google Sites rules. One rule is that it decides how many columns there are on the page. Another is that each element is assumed to be standalone.

The number of columns seems to be decided on how large the element is; larger artefacts create fewer columns while smaller ones create more. Refer to this TechCrunch article for a GIF of this.

The standalone element rule seems like a fair one until you realise that each page has chunked elements, e.g., header-text-image chunk; video and source chunk. After inserting separate elements into a page as standalones, I had to drag them one on top of the other to associate them (see GIF below). This was like grouping items in PowerPoint or Google Slides. However, there did not seem to be a way to ungroup them quickly.

The interface is designed for creators with no knowledge of HTML. While this seems like a fair assumption, it dissuades more advanced users from tinkering under the hood. This means not being able to fine-tune or customise the look of a page or to add outside-Google elements.

During my two hours of creating and editing, the new Google Sites interface produced the same error message four times. Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to screencapture them. Fortunately, after I clicked “OK” on the messages, the editor interface refreshed and I did not lose any work.

Other bugbears I have with the new Google Sites:

  • I like how you can search for and use freely available images. However, Sites does not attribute such images. This not only prevents Sites creators from giving credit where it is due, it was a lost opportunity for Google to take leadership in the open resource movement.
  • The new Sites does not offer uploads to each site or page. If you do not already have an element online, e.g., an image of a QR code or PDFs, you need to upload to Google Drive first and then insert it from the Sites interface. The old Sites allowed you to upload a limited number of files to every page.
  • Each page in the new Sites does not seem to have comment threads anymore. Perhaps Google wants to distance Sites from its wiki roots and the feature has low usage. However, this is shame because comments are a way to capture the history and development of collaboratively-generated pages.


Video source

Despite my complaints, I am glad that Google not only decided to keep Sites alive but also gave it some love and development. The Sites faithful like me had to wait a long time for this and I hope Sites becomes a mainstay instead of an odd poor cousin to G Suite. After all, the pages in Sites are a way to bring the rest of the family together.

My first major note about Chromebooks was over two years ago. Back when they were new, I wondered if Chromebooks were the new netbooks.

While Chromebooks evolved, I waited. And watched. And waited some more.

I added the Toshiba Chromebook 2 to my Amazon wishlist last year after reading how it topped many reviews. I had also tried one out when I visited a Google Store in London.

Then I bought it. It arrived at doorstep two days ago.
 
Toshiba Chromebook 2
 
I have a new Chromebook baby. I am a Chromebook baby. Here are some things I have learnt about it.

Freebies

Chromebook owners are eligible for “freebies” and this is the official place to check. There were three on my list.

  • I was expecting an additional 100GB of Google Drive space for two years and I got it.
  • Google Music is not available in Singapore so I do not benefit from the deal.
  • I am not in the US so 12 GoGo in-air Internet passes on domestic flights there are useless.

Hardware

I have been spoilt by the trackpad and keyboard of MacBooks. The Chromebook’s trackpad in tap mode is good, but to click it requires too much depth and force.

I paired the Chromebook up with a Logitech bluetooth mouse. While I could change the trackpad scrolling to “Australian” mode (Apple calls this natural mode, where up means up), there was no option to change the mouse scroll direction.

The keyboard is too sensitive with some apps (e.g., typing in Google Docs can rrrrresult in repeeeeeated letttttterrrrs.) and not enough with others (e.g., the ported Android version of Evernote). The keyboard also picks up and shows off fingerprints too easily.

The Chromebook has an HDMI video out port which I tested with an HDMI cable and an HDMI-to-VGA adapter (important as VGA projectors are still more common).

I discovered that some HDMI heads are a very tight fit for the port. Once connected, both HDMI and VGA video outputs default to extended screen. I had to manually switch to mirror mode.

Wireless@SGx

Yesterday I decided to test the Chromebook at a library and use Singapore’s Wireless@SG and Wireless@SGx wifi networks. Wireless@SG requires manual logins and is older. Wireless@SGx requires a one-time set up, typically with phones, and it connects automatically.

Wireless@SGx is more convenient and I wondered if anyone here had tried this on a Chromebook before. I was not disappointed. Here is a detailed guide by Geek Bryan.

I found out that I could only set up the connection on-site and not in advance. I also had to use a “long form” version of my user ID instead of the simple one illustrated in the guide.

I only realised this option would work because my normal user ID — the one I use to manually log in to Wireless@SG — did not work when I tried. I had generated the long version of my user ID for my iPad several months ago using this SingNet/SingTel site and choosing the Type 2 option.

The longer version of my user ID coupled with the instructions by Geek Bryan helped me connect to Wireless@SGx.

Battery life

I spent about two hours at the library getting some work done. The battery gauge let me know that the Chromebook could go on for another 6.5 hours. Only my MacBook Pro could offer that sort of run time, but it is a heavier beast.

The Chromebook does not gulp. It sips.

Coming up next

It is unwise to spend any amount of time on a public wifi connection. So tomorrow I share how I set up my Toshiba Chromebook 2 for a virtual private network (VPN).

Typing “first” as a comment in response to a YouTube video is like a dog marking its territory.
 

 
I am not the first to dislike this relatively harmless but pointless behaviour. Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning got lyrical by way of response.


Video source

But even something as seemingly mundane as this is worth discussing in digital citizenship. Unpacking reasons for why people want to be first might reveal why some people need to get attention, whether this is a worthwhile pursuit, or how small things add up.

It is also something kids relate to. You cannot really teach them until you reach them first. So forget about well thought out but theoretical scenarios. Start with real life.

Twitter turned eight this week.

I jumped on the bandwagon to get @ashley in January 2007. But according to first-tweets.com, my first tweet was in October that year.

Admittedly, my first tweet was not as good as these ten first tweets. But it was not as bad as some of the first tweets by these celebrities.

I wondered out loud then and I have since answered my questions.

Twitter was an answer to a question I did not have (why use it?). I did not use it for several months because I did not have a purpose for it. I know that to this day Twitter (and many educational technology) workshops are run without answering that purposeful question.

I have since found out how to use Twitter to connect loosely with like-minded others, be a member of an online community, access the latest information, share nuggets, and teach informally.

I have moved from wondering to wandering. Twitter has allowed me to explore new ground and to teach and learn in ways I would not have considered before.


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