Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hack or Crack?

I'm far from a hack with computers. But I do enjoy figuring out how to do things with technology for the classroom. Today, I'm not sure if I'm more a crackbrained fool than any kind of hack. I guess it comes with the territory of perpetual beta that comes with trying to keep up.

Let me explain. This year I am trying my class blogs with Edublogs. Having used another basic provider since 2003, I'm lured by the bells and widgets of Edublogs and what I thought would be the stability of using a popular site designed for educators and powered by the respected WordPress. Tonight I'm not sure.

A fellow teacher down the hall has switched to EB with me. A few weeks ago he noted that the site when down and we all had to reset our passwords. This afternoon, he stopped by again to see whether I had noticed that Edublogs had suffered another attack and was requiring its users to reset their passwords, again. Ugh, I had just set up sixty student accounts! Not that big of a deal, unless you have your student users all wired to one Gmail account.

It's actually a hack technique suggested by Edublogs, and it's a clever way of getting by not having your students sign up with third-party services. You can set up the blog user accounts without requiring students to have their own email accounts. Students at our district cannot access email at school. So trying to recover passwords can be an impass during the day.

But a teacher can create an email account on Gmail and simply add the student user names to the formula of Gmailaccountname + studentusername @ gmail . com. Gmail ignores anything between the plus sign and the at sign, and all the mail comes to you, the holder of the Gmail account. Thus websites requiring accounts get a real email address and your students get the accounts without disclosing emails, and you get control over retrieving passwords, spam, and errant messages. Nifty, yes.

That is until something like what happened at Edublogs today. All of the passwords need to be reset. This involves a login, an email, a hyperlink, another email, and resetting the password to something the students will understand and remember. This painstaking process made worse by the slowness of the site (perhaps because of everyone resetting their accounts). It's slow-going. Each account adds up about 10 minutes to reset and then redo the profile, maybe more. A process that's taken me five hours and counting. I'm a git more than half way, and I've had to . stop working on the redo because Edublogs seems to have gone off line again. Yikes!

I'm not sure I can endure another crash and run at this process. Better to start fresh, no? As I've said before (here and here) teaching with technology is not for the feint at heart. Times like these I gotta wonder whether I can hack it.
Image remix: Red envelope is a trademark of Google's Gmail and the blue "eb" is a trademark of Edublogs.

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