Sunday, April 09, 2006

My Web log is not fancy…

It has been fun to watch the web grow up over the past ten years. In the early days, (My early day’s anyway.) I would sit down at my computer and painstakingly type crazy things like:



<title>My Web Page</title>



“Hello World”



Imagine all that just to have the screen read “Hello World” and to create a table, well start with three aspirin and begin to type.

To be honest those days were fun, creating a page or site took time and if you knew how to manipulate the html code, you had a skill set that other people wanted. Soon the WYSIWYG editors began to appear. Pagemill was my early favorite until I discovered FrontPage. A few others have been on my machines over the years but I always manage to come home to FrontPage. I guess old habits die-hard.

Is there a point in all of this? You bet, stick with me. <Smile>

When we started making web pages, we were just excited to be able to publish something that could be seen around the world. (Even today, that concept still blows my mind.) Soon, we became board with the text-based sites and programs like Shockwave and Flash began to emerge as well as web sites that were able to churn out database content in a format we could read. Many of us rushed to learn these new fancy tools.

It did not take long for fancy new splash screens to become annoying and a waist of time. I often found myself book marking the real page and bypassing that silly Flash intro all together. For the same reason, my own web sites quickly went back to basics. Black text, white background, an image here and there makes an easy to read, easy to navigate site. (By the way, I am red / green colorblind so some of those cute sites are tough to read!)

On to the crux of this post. I recently began to web log (Blog) and I wanted to use the tools we have available in my district. (Peoria Unified Schools District #11 We use SharePoint Portal Server from Microsoft. Utilizing the built in discussion board tool, I was able to create my web log ( which even includes an RSS feed. Life was good. I then started looking at other web logs. (Can you see my sad face?) I caught a bad case of cool looking
web log envy.

To cure this terrible disease, I went to and created This site contains the same information as the other site. Only this one looks cool. Life was good.

Enter the RSS reader. Now that I had a web log on my districts system and a mirror that looked cool, I subscribed to each web log with my favorite RSS readers. As the two web logs updated, I realized that I had just wasted a substantial amount of time. Each web log containing the same content looked the same in my RSS reader. In addition, they looked the same in Yahoo’s reader and Google’s. Is a cool looking web log really that important?

Let me summarize this entire post this way. Years ago, I had this old boat. It was not pretty it was not fast, but, it did float, run and pull skiers. I would put it in the water next to these new shiny fast boats and I would watch those boats leave us in their wakes. Later we would pull up next to these new, fast, shiny boats at Sandy Beach. My old boat was not as fancy, but it did what it needed to do.

The moral of the story here is simple. Spend time on content, not flash. Remember content is king!

Comments are always welcome.

Incidentally, due to the fact, I have advertised to a number of people; I will continue to maintain the two sites. However, content may differ from time-to-time.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why Web log (Blog)

This question is one that has been asked of me often in the past several weeks. Why? In the past few weeks, we have demonstrated how our Portal can be used as a web log. (Link to my web log on the PUSD system - While it is not as fancy as the commercial web logging tools, it is still effective. This explains why I have been asked the question. The question itself is not as simple, and one I will try to answer as I see it. Note: This certainly will not agree with conventional wisdom.

A few years back, my former boss Ladd discovered Blogging, he became very excited about the process, (Ladd was also and English teacher), and he would talk about what an effective collaboration tool it could/would be. In fact, he even installed Blogging software on his home computer and enlisted several teachers to use the software in a book study. They discovered Blogging to be a most effective tool. No shock to most people who have been Blogging for a while.
So why would I jump off the dock and a try web logging now? Growing up there was one class I dreaded more than any other, (If you are thinking English class… You are correct). The rationale of why I dreaded this class so much will be saved for another entry, suffice it to say writing makes the list.

While I realize this next statement is not true, it seemed like every time I walked into my English classes, my teachers assigned a writing assignment. I would sit down with pen and paper and slowly, painfully try to put words down. While topics based on facts were difficult, creative writing was excruciating. When the process was finally complete, I would turn the paper in and wait for “her” comments and the impending failing grade. For years, I thought my teachers required a new RED pen when they completed grading my works. Most of my work then and even today contains mechanical mistakes, those issues seemed to over shadow the content. At least they did in my mind.

For the past nine years I have worked in a job that requires me to write. I live in Outlook and Word. Outlook obviously is required to communicate with other teachers, administers etc… During this time, I have discovered the ability to be clear and concise is paramount. Word is utilized to create technical documents explaining how to complete specific tasks using various pieces of software. This type of writing I actually enjoy and I consider myself to be a competent technical writer. (Considering some of the assembly manuals, I have read over the years, (Yes I am a man and I do read directions.), this is not a skill all people possess.) Seven of those years, I worked for Ladd. As I said, he taught English for a number of years and working for him, I quickly discovered why he was a successful teacher. Ladd wore out several red pens on my works as well. However, he was great at pointing out the value of the content. While he would not discount the mechanical issues, he would always say, “Oh, those are minor”. Over the next several years, the red marks became fewer and fewer. Then the day came when he handed me back a letter with no marks. He told me it was good, send it. This was not uncommon at this point. I would often get a document back with a couple punctuation errors to fix before emailing or publishing to the web. This particular day, there were no marks. I accusingly told him he had not read the document. Ladd looked up from his computer and said, “I read it, now send it.” Maybe I was looking for that “A” on the paper. Nevertheless, the absence of red marks to me was the same as an “A”.

As stated above, I enjoy technical writing. However, I find creative writing extremely difficult. Over the past couple years I have begun writing short stories as part of the e-newsletter I send out to the district staff. (Visit the Tips & Tricks web page. - Sometimes the stories were written to inspire and others were written to invoke thought. They were always written to force me to do something that terrified me. (I wrote these stories for the same reason basketball great Larry Bird would shoot over 1000 shots a day… PRACTICE!) With each issue, something amazing began to happen. Readers of the newsletter began commenting on my stories. In fact, several people have written back stating they look forward to my stories and didn’t read the software tips contained in the newsletter. WOW… for the first time I felt as if my content mattered and was appreciated. Additionally, more than one person was reading my work, something that never happened when I attended school.

Today, I don’t always have time to write an inspirational or thought provoking story. Fortunately, a number of readers have shared stories of their own or stories that have been passed along to them via email. However, I have come to realize the tremendous value of having others read my work.

Why would I start keeping a web log now? It is a great way to keep a written journal of my thoughts. (Obviously, the ones I feel compelled to share.) It is a great way to allow others to read my thoughts and make comments. Finally, it is an alternative method to do something I feel I need to improve. Conventional wisdoms call this Blogging or Web logging. I call it PRACTICE!

Thank you for your time. Comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Recording our history

Earlier tonight, I was listening to the Moving at the Speed of Creativity a podcast run by Wesley Fryer. ( This particular podcast was an interview with a Library of Congress employee at FETC. The interview was great and it gives me a desire to look at the web site more closely. Having said all that, I don’t want to write about LOC. Not yet anyway.

One of the items spoke of was American Memories. From what I understand, this is audio recording of Americans in history or discussing a historical event. Again, I need to review the web site. This reminded me of a story on NPR where children were recording interviews with their Grandparents about their lives. This is where I want to start…

I had an opportunity to interview my Grandfather when I was an eighth grade student. At the time, my class was engaged in decade reports. My group had the 40’s. My Grandpa had served in the Marine Corps during WWII. More specifically the invasion of Iwo Jima. The discussion was fascinating and quite freighting to listen to. I am however, grateful I had that opportunity to talk with him. (He lived in Illinois, I lived in Arizona, and opportunities to talk didn’t happen often.)

Today I look at my aging parents and recall the stories of their childhoods (Even the stories were my father walked to school in the snow uphill. Both Ways ) and I would like my children to have those memories if their Grandparents. Given the current technology, it would be terrible not to record a conversation between my daughters and their Grandparents. What a great way to capture living history. (I see a recording session in the Wheeler family future.)

Being an educator, I have to imagine what a library of community history would sound like. Consider all the children that attend our schools. All the history their parents and grandparents possess. What a great way to teach our children that history is a part of us and it is all around us.

My world went flat!

Last summer I read a wonderful book titled The World is Flat authored by Thomas Friedman (See for an abstract) and most recently I purchased the audio version from so I may listen to the content while I drive to and from work.

One question Friedman asks those he interviewed for this book was “Where were you when you realized the world was flat?”

Now I have worked in the technology field as an educator for the past 14 years. During this time, I witnessed the rise and fall of the Dot com era. (What a ride we had…) As Friedman’s book clearly points out, the rest of the world became benefactors of the Dot Com bust. As I read and listened to the book, I still felt I had not personally experienced the “Flat World”. Sure, I own products created outside of the United States and I traded email with family and friends while visiting Paris in 2002. In my mind, this was nothing more than a letter that got there quickly. (Okay, so I am a bit jaded toward “Been there, done that!” technology.)

Recently my world when FLAT. Oddly enough, it went flat using that same “Been there, done that technology.

The story… A month or so ago, Peggy George of Arizona State University shared my personal podcasting web site ( with Terry Freedman of Information & Communication Technology in Education in the UK. Terry was kind enough to mention my site on his Blog. Needless to say… I was excited and of course sent Terry and email thanking him. Over the course of several weeks, Terry, Peggy and I communicated (Often in real time. (Peggy and I apparently are night Owls.)) about various topics concerning education and technology. Terry even asked me to contribute an article to a booklet he is planning to publish.

As clock continued turn, I learned of though Terry’s Blog and placed the stat counter on my podcasting page. I was fascinated to learn that people from around the world were now visiting my podcasting page. (Hmmm… Maybe the world is getting flat…)

Last week, I received a draft copy of Terry’s booklet. Reading the document, I began to realize I was keeping “virtual” company with some impressive people from around the world. (If memory serves me, five counties are represented in this document.) The first part of this week, this group of authors traded several email messages (Again, spanning the globe.). Wow, I thought to myself, THIS IS SO COOL!

Side bar… I have not mentioned it yet but one of my latest passions is podcasting and I have been working on this topic for the past 5 months. Why does this matter you ask? I just wanted to get that on the table and I think it will help pull this story together.

Back to the Story… Today I completed uploading a new podcasting site ( on the district Technology Training web site. Being pleased with my effort, I sent the URL to Peggy and Terry for comment. Three hours later, I saw a reply form Terry. His short reply was heard around the globe. His reply included the authors who contributed to his booklet. By 11:30 PM, I had responses from two of the recipients who had been copied on the email. Once again, I thought… Wow, THIS IS SO COOL! I also thought I was a bonehead and forgot to put a stat counter on the web page.

At midnight, I began the process of placing the stat counter code on the web page. As I reloaded the page to verify the counter was properly functioning, I notice an extra hit. (Odd… Who else could have just hit the page?) Clicking the link to view the statistics on the page, I learned I had a visitor from the Philippines. My world just went flat!

It is time to tell my story. It is now 1:20 AM, and I am about ready to close this story. Just for giggles, I will check the site stats once again. WOW!!! As of March 30, 2006 at 1:20 AM, the site has had visitors from the:

• United States
• United Kingdom
• Netherlands
• Philippines

So… To answer Thomas Friedman’s question. Where was I when I realized the world was flat? I was sitting at my desk in Phoenix, Arizona reading email and learning of visitors to my newly posted web page from around the world.
Technology is a wonderful tool. However, it is only a tool. The communication and collaboration with people in different, time zones, countries and continents makes the difference in our “Flat World”.

Comments welcome. Shawn Wheeler (