Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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Filtering by Tag: Mobile Blogging

Finally, A Phone Blogging Service to Replace Utterli?

I've been busting to post about this for a few weeks. I was so annoyed when Utterli cut their services, because I had seen how easy it is to get students to use their phones for learning.

A company called 'Learnosity' has a fully functional voice learning system that requires only a telephone for students to use.

First, the teacher logs in at a computer and records some audio questions into a website (no software required, the audio goes straight into the website).

For languages, this could be a question the students need to answer in the target language, but I can envisage History or English teachers elliciting student responses on a range of topics. Students could be asked to defend a perspective, with evidence, or define their opinions, or deliver a persuasive speech.

Then students simply ring a local telephone number and listen to the teacher and then record their responses. They can re-record if they want to. The teacher can set the service to ask a particular set of questions.

When the teacher goes to the website, they see an interface like this:

For question 1, the teacher can see all the student responses running down the page.

The teacher can leave some text feedback for the student (which they can get by logging in).

They can assign a mark to each question (useful for official assessment tasks).

They can nominate certain responses as 'sample' responses - these ones are tagged as ideal responses and can be listened to by the other students.

I'll use this service systematically next term, getting all my students to ring up once a week and answer a whole bunch of questions. I'll identify some 'sample' answers - some excellent answers that the others can then log in and listen to.

Notice there is an RSS and an iTunes symbol on the page? Students and staff can subscribe over iTunes to the teacher recordings and student responses! I've been experimenting to see if I can then embed the iTunes feed into another website. Basically, yes I can, I just need to figure out how to do it more elegantly. Those of you looking for a viable alternative to Utterli, the mobile phone blogging system who have annoyingly cancelled their local phone numbers, will realise this system has potential to let students run mobile phone blogs, that can even be subscribed to.

This system meets my requirements of being:
1. Efficient (easy, low time input, and much easier than managing computer headsets)
2. High impact - because students need more speaking training. This is a real axe I wish to grind. I don't think most teachers to oral literacy well. And yet arguably the students' ability to express themselves, to persuade, to present themselves in a certain light, will have a life-long impact on their opportunities. Everything from finding a partner to finding a job is affected by speaking confidence.

Steve Collis' Cat

Yet, often, teachers neglect speaking skills, except for a fob-off class speech once a year, where the students panic and get emotionally scarred!

This system offers regular speaking scaffold to truly impact student speaking confidence. 

Want to give it a try?

This service is essentially a 'start-up' service, i.e. it works fine but the company are looking to build a userbase. My contact, Mr Mark Lynch, is happy for other teachers to use it on a demonstration basis. There is no pricing schedule available yet. I'm impressed enough to be happy to fork out some cash to make this a standard component of my French classes. My students always need more speaking practice.

If you want a demonstration account, email Mark Lynch from Learnosity - marklynch (AT) gmail.com

I'll keep you posted as I use the system over the coming term!

My Step by Step Mobile Audio Blogging for High School Classes

I've created this page to bring together everything I've learnt about using mobile (cell) phones for audio blogging. You can set this up easily, and for free. Students only pay for a local call.


Students ring a local number, and what they say is recorded and then published at the class website. The two pilot projects I've been involved with are http://wordsworthreflections.wordpress.com and http://australianenvironment.wordpress.com . In each case we added a map with red dots representing visitors to the website, so students could see they had a global audience.

I've created two tutorial videos, below, showing you how to set this up. Importantly, in the tutorials I assume no technical expertise. You should be able to follow the instructions exactly as shown, and have yourself set up within half an hour or so. To set up the students will take a little longer, but it's very easy, just time consuming. A class of 20 students might take an hour to set up, once you've passed around a bit of paper for them to write down their mobile phone number and email address.

Parental permission is a good idea, especially because there is a small cost involved with students ringing a local number from their phone. You can see a letter I used here.

Before I go further I had better post the tutorial videos. They go for about 18 minutes and show you exactly what to do, including how to set up a pin number for the student so they can audio blog from any phone, even a landline, and how to put one of those maps on your website. Here they are:



A summary of the steps:

1. Get parental permission.

2. Create your wordpress.com website.

3. Gather student information - their mobile phones and email addresses.

4. Set up the students at utterli.com and set up cross posting from utterli.com to your wordpress website.

Then you're away!

There are SO many applications for this technique:

- students could be roving journalists, posting one audio story a week about local events and issues

- students could interview family, friends, local community members or experts, with their phones

- students could broadcast persuasive political speeches each week

- or poetry, or short, dramatic stories

- they could give a 'position statement' on a particular issue

- they can record their reflections

- they can role play important historical or fictional people

- they could record 'good ideas', i.e. the whole class, over many weeks, rings and records whenever they get a great idea. The class website would become a repository of the class' great ideas.

Why bother with mobile phone blogging?

In all of these cases, students are developing their oral literacy, learning to speak deliberately for different audiences, contexts and purposes. I have a feeling that a lot of schools don't do oral literacy well. We focus on writing as a means of expression, and then 'do' oral literacy once a year with class speeches, which scare the students to death. Or is that just me??

Please, if you try this system with your students, let me know how it goes.

Below I'll link all my previous posts about mobile phone blogging:

1. My first post, before the projects launched.

2. A report on the first day with the students.

3. An audio blog recorded by myself on an excursion with the students.

4. A video blog recorded by myself on the same excursion.

5. A word of warning about using your mobile phone to record ambient conversations, such as a presentation - I found the volume wasn't high enough.

I still have some footage of the students talking about the value of the mobile phone blogging. I'll put this footage up on this page at a later date once I have permission.

Failed Attempt to Use Utterli to Broadcast Audio of Conference Presentations

Utterli is a webservice that allows you to ring a local number on your mobile phone and broadcast what you say over the phone to your website. It works very easily.

Can you use it to broadcast conference presentations? So far, it appears probably not. Here is a report on my experiments so far.


1. Report on Poor Result Today

2. The Technique DOES Work for Interviews

3. Using uStream to broadcast live

Steve collis dogs on whiteboard

(I got carried away drawing dogs and pasting them everywhere on one of the IWBs on display heh heh!! The poor guy trying to demonstrate its abilities! You can see his notes interfered with by my dog drawings)

1. Report on Poor Result Today


Now, at the ACEC 2008 Conference in Canberra earlier today my Deputy Principal Craig Linfoot presented his observations about digital virtual classrooms, from his research trip to exemplar schools in the USA, UK and Finland. Then he and I gave some quick tours of our digital infrastructures - websites such as http://hsconline.nsw.edu.au and http://beyondborders.edu.au, and http://pete.nbcs.nsw.edu.au

It occurred to me 10 minutes into the presentation that I could perhaps record the audio directly to the internet using the mobile blogging service Utterli. My friend Lucy Barrow had tried this earlier in the day, although I hadn't seen the results (actually I can't find them now - Lucy, how did it go for you, can you comment?).

So... I rang the Utterli number on my mobile phone. The resulting audio, here, is very poor (no fault of Utterli's of course):

Mobile post sent by happysteve using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

I was sitting about 4 metres from Craig, who was presenting, and a similar distance from the audio speakers. The sound was clear and loud from the speakers.

My mobile phone was using a Bluetooth ear piece - perhaps this was not a good idea, because as you can hear from the recording the sound was barely picked up.

About 10 minutes in, I took the ear piece with me and put it on the lectern as I presented, and when I finished I left it there for Craig.

This improved the quality, but it is still not nearly good enough to be a viable way of recording and transmitting presentations. I suppose that mobile phones are designed for people speaking directly in the microphone, and indeed are designed to exclude ambient noise.

I'll keep experimenting.

Apologies to everyone who visited this post earlier on and tried to listen - it must have been disappointing.

A worthy experiment, to be sure, and I'll leave the audio here for you to see the results.

2. The Technique DOES Work for Interviews


On the other hand, you can definitely use a mobile phone with Utterli to record an interview. I tried this here: /2008/08/impromptu-inter.html . In this case no Bluetooth ear piece, just me holding the mobile in between me and the victim, ahem, I mean interviewee. I wonder if this would have been clearer if I had used the Bluetooth earpiece like an interviewer's microphone that is passed backward and forward.

Lucy Barrow has used Utterli to record interviews quite a few times - see here: http://lucybarrow.edublogs.org/

3. Using uStream to broadcast live


This works an absolute treat! Get a free account at ustream.com, click "Broadcast Now", and bang! You're transmitting video and audio to the net! uStream can automatically send a message over the text messaging system "Twitter.Com" so people will know you're broadcasting. They can text chat with each other and to you, too.

This worked fine today... after I remembered to press "Start Broadcast", which was unfortunately 10 minutes before the end.

You can have uStream keep a recording for future access too. I'm going to start using uStream more and more.

So why muck about with Utterli if uStream works so well? Ah just that Utterli is embedded directly into your own website, which is not the case for uStream broadcasts and recording, Also, to broadcast with uStream I believe you need a computer/laptop, but Utterli works on any phone or mobile phone.