Setting Up Flock: Blogging and RSS

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

And last but not least for the first week of setting up the blogging classroom: What Jenn will cover on the first day of the computer lab. I am going to outline the “lecture” (not really a lecture but whatever. . .) here step by step in broad terms. A few of the specific steps I might expand later. But my hope is that by the end of this class all of Jen’s students will have posted to their blog and learned how to use an RSS reader. I am going to assume for the sake of this outline that all of the students have blogs set up, and have email Jenn the links (in practice I suspect their might be a few problems with this, but these could be handled at the beginning of class).

  1. Step One: Hardware.Make sure that everyone who has a laptop can connect to the internet. Have them access any webpage, google is a good bet. If they have a flash drive make sure that it works in the classroom, if they have one of those evil u3 drives and they have not reformatted, they can hold down shift as they put it in the computer will prevent the autorun from running.
  2. Step Two: Software. The first thing that needs to get done is getting all of the students a copy of Flock. There are two ways this happens in the class, one for students who bring their laptops and another for students who have flashdrives:
    1. Laptops: This is the simple one. Visit Flock and download the browser onto your desktop. Now install. Once installed students can open up the browser.
    2. Flashdrive: If students do not have a laptop and they come to class with a flashdrive, they will need to install Flock on the flashdrive so that they can use Flock from any computer to which they can plug their flashdrive into. First students should go to Outraged-Artists and download Pocket Flock-this is a version of Flock that is built for installing on a flashdrive. When the file is downloaded it comes as a .zip file, which means that students will need to extract the file onto the flash drive. Most computers at schools have a program called winzip which will let you do this, some you will need the Tech Services people to enable this feature, so it is worth checking out before you get there. At any rate you click on what is downloaded from Outraged-Artists, and click on the button in winzip to extract it to the flashdrive. Now have students click on the Flashdrive to open it, click on the folder labeled “Pocket Flock” and click on the icon of the world (in grey) this will launch Pocket Flock. I noticed for whatever reason that the first time you install Pocket Flock it takes a while to load (like a minute) but after that it is fine, so be patient.
  3. Step Three: Tab Browsing: It is my experince that many students (over half at Albany where I teach), particularly those raised on Internet Explorer have no idea about tab browsing. I plan to write a longer post here about explaining the importance of this to students, but for now here is a quick intro. If you are unfamiliar with tab browsing visit the explanation at Mozilla. This is specifically about Firefox, but covers the concept for all browsers except Internet Explorer which does not have tabbed browsing (although IE7 apparently will). Tabbed browsing is a must for doing academic work on the web, and it is important for using Flock. Most important is that students learn that they can click on a link and have it open in a new tab (this way the old page stays open, but the page they just clicked on is also now open). To open in a new tab, usually you hold down control while you click, (command on the Mac) or right click and select open in a new tab. (In the preferences menu you can also make it so that new tabs open behind, that way you never have to leave the page you are reading.)
  4. Step Four: Configure Flock to Blog.Students should have blogs set up, but rather than acces them through the dashboard of wordpress, if students are using Flock, it is much easier. The first thing to do is to set up Flock to recognize a specific blog.
    1. On a Mac: Select Flock from the Menu Bar and select Accounts and Services. A new window should open up. Select the blogging icon and click the button for “Add Blog.” You will be promoted to enter the web address of a blog. The next screen will ask for username and password. You are now set to use Flock to Blog.
    2. On a Windows Machine: Select Accounts and Services from the Tools menu. A new window should open up. Select the blogging icon and click the button for “Add Blog.” You will be promoted to enter the web address of a blog. The next screen will ask for username and password. You are now set to use Flock to Blog.
Now Flock should be able to “talk” to the WordPress account students have set up. With WordPress this is pretty seemless, with other blog providers there can sometimes be a bit of a hick-up.   
  
**Important:**If students are using a flashdrive they will have to enter their password each time, as the passwords are erased each time you close Flock. This prevents someody from finding a left behind flash drive and acting nefariously.</li> 

  * **Step Five:Blogging**. There are two ways to post to a blog using Flock. The first is just like using a word processor. From the file menu select new blog post. A window will open that looks like a small word processor page. Type whatever you want to blog in here, hit publish. At this point Jenn is going to have them all try this, adding a short post to their blogs. The second way is unique to Flock. Highlight a bit of text with the mouse, and right click (or control click on a Mac) and select &ldquo;blog this&rdquo; from the menu that pops up. This will automatically open a blog post and insert the selected text. I am not going to explain this too much because you can read the [much better explanation][5] at Flock, or better yet watch the [video][6] on the Flock site. This also shows how to add photos to blog posts etc. At this point Jenn will have them add a blog post this way.  
    **Important**: Currently there is a small glitch in Flock that when you start a blog post with text from the web it formats in such a way as to make it impossible to add text before the quoted text. To fix this all you have to do is click the source tab in the blog post which will take you to the html, move the cursor before the first tag that reads {blockquote} and hit return a couple of times. This wll create space so you can write before the blockquote. 
  * **Step Six: Set Up RSS**: By now every student should have at least two new posts in their blog. So now the trick is to get all the students set up with the RSS features of Flock. You can see the Flock demonstration [here.][7] And if you are unfamiliar with RSS read my [previous run down of the &ldquo;Joys of RSS&rdquo;.][8] Students should click on the newspaper icon at the top of the flock window, located just to the left of the web address. This will open up a new tab with all of the news feeds. First students need to delete the default news feeds they do not want. I would recommend deleting them all so that students don&#8217;t feel overwhelmed by the information, and they can always add in more later. To delete a feed right click (on a Mac control click) and select delete. Once they have a clear feed list, it is time to set up the feeds for all of the students blogs. Jenn has previously added all of the student blogs to her own reader and exported the feeds to a .opml file. (I will do a step by step break down of this later-for now just know that Jenn has a file with all of the students blogs listed in it specially formatted for all of their feeds.) Jenn emails all of the students the copy of the opml file. Now students download this .opml file (works just like downloading a .doc or .rtf) to the computer they are on, or their flashdrive. Go back to Flock, click on the <img src="http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2006/09/uploads/rssadd.png" border="0" height="21" width="27" alt="rssadd.png" align="" />, located all the way to the left and just below the My News Feeds, and select &ldquo;Import News Feeds&rdquo;. Select Browse and locate the recently downloaded .opml file and click import. The RSS feeds should all now load, along with each students two new posts.
  * **Step Seven:Show them How to Use RSS** Refer again to the [previous run down of the &ldquo;Joys of RSS&rdquo;.][8] The key here is to show students how they can view all of the new posts by their classmates as excerpts, and than right click (or command click on Mac) and open the selected one in a new tab to read the whole thing, how they can navigate thru all of the feeds, and how they can mark them as read. </ol>