Photobook Adventures (and advice)

Spoiler Alert: If you are my father or someone who knows my parents – stop reading now! You can read this after Christmas.

I’ve slowly become aware of the existence of photo books, but for a long time saw them as an oddity, and kind of egocentric. But eventually, after seeing some well-made ones of specific events, and watching people pour over them, my attitude began to shift. I also noticed that I rarely went through either my old photo albums, which had a discouraging habit of dropping photos because the glue holding them had dried, or looking at my picture files on my computer. And some pictures I just didn’t want to put up on Flickr, even keeping them private. Plus, my parents (the intended recipients) are more book-oriented, The thought of a photo book for my parents slowly emerged, and I decided to make one. Simple, right? As you will read, not-so-much!

My previous experience with book publishing sent me to photobook-publishing site,

Lulu Photobook
Lulu Photobook

There are three things to notice:

  1. The ‘tray’ at the bottom contains the already-created pages (I made many before …)
  2. The page layouts available only sometimes allow text
  3. The photos can be found and chosen from the field on the upper right (and searching for the one I wanted was annoying in this small space which took time for each grouping to load.)

You can see, if you have really good eyes, that some of the photos have small yellow triangles on the upper left. This means they won’t look good when published. After asking friends, I discovered this meant the dpi was too low, whatever that means;-> My husband informed me that my photos had to have a dpi of 300 or above, (whatever …) So I went to some old Photoshop software from years ago and tried to re-save the pictures. Didn’t work. These were pre-digital photos. I knew the paper originals were somewhere, which led me to the next time-expanding steps: scanning!

I pulled out our old, falling apart hard-copy photo albums and started scanning at 300 dpi, but soon changed to 400 dpi because I read somewhere that the photo book pictures should be between 300 and 600 dpi, and decided to go up a little rather than stay at the very basic.

Scanning is slow; you have time to think. I thought that I didn’t have a complete enough chronology. I phoned my parents and made up some lame excuse for borrowing their photo albums. I came home with a large shopping bag full of albums. I emailed their best friends and asked if they had photos of the four of them together, and was delighted to get some photographs in the mail.

More scanning, more thinking. I decided to put all the photos I planned to use in one folder (duh!). I remembered the pain of searching in that tiny, slow-loading field and had a moment of brilliance (if I do say so myself).

Great Advice

I set up categories, in my case, chronological, and numbered them:

  1. Growing up
  2. Courtship
  3. Wedding

etc. Then I put the relevant number at the beginning of every file name. Presto, photos in approximately the right order! Less searching among the photos because they were logically grouped together. See, brilliant!

Advice over, back to experience gaining!

I felt so good, I twittered about my photo booking. A very kind friend mentioned Scrapblog. Oh! More than one site creates photobooks! Who knew! thought the naif. I checked it out and was VERY impressed. I’m not THAT naive, so I poked around the site a bit. They are primarily for online albums, but they announced that they were now printing albums. After a faux start, I checked the printing page, and sure enough, there was a “country” field showing the U.S. but with a downward-pointing triangle beside it. That felt like enough research, so I took my folder of highly organized .jpg s and uploaded them.

Scrapblog building
Scrapblog building

Notice how much more flexible this is – I can angle photos, and add as many or as few as I want.

  1. The intelligently-ordered photos are in a tray on the upper left this time
  2. I can add text boxes anywhere, anytime, and backgrounds and frames etc. Nice.
  3. The tray at the bottom contains the already created pages and makes it easy to navigate.

I loved setting up my Scrapblog! I recreated what I’d done in Lulu but with more creativity and fun. I showed the finished online version to my husband, and he was impressed! (Well, he had to be, didn’t he?) But no, he really was!

I went to the printing page, and began to fill out all the fields, feeling proud of myself, and virtuous because it wasn’t quite the last minute. I got to the country field. I clicked on the downward-pointing triangle. Nothing happened. Maybe that was connected with the state field only offering American states, I thought, and tried again. This got old quickly so I searched for the contact information. It was after business hours on a Friday, but what the heck, this is a hobby site, I tried to phone. Left a message. I emailed. Monday, mid-morning, I called. Left another message. Emailed again asking for a work-around. Monday, late afternoon, got an email explaining that the printing option was new and they would, sometime in the future, be expanding to other countries. They suggested I get some one in the States to order my printed scrapblog and mail it to me. I suggested they should mention somewhere that the printed option is only available in the States currently.

I thought of the daughter of someone I know, then looked at the calendar to see how close we were to Christmas. Swore. Swore some more. I thought of the amazing collection of knowledge and talent in the professional organization I belonged to, Halton-Peel Communicators Association, and Google-Grouped them. Within a very few hours, I was given probably 8 recommendations, including a graphic designer offering to do it for a third of his usual hourly fee! Very kind, but I was determined to manage on my own. I was delighted and impressed with the number of suggestions; there are a lot of photo book applications out there. I began to do the first thing I should have done after I decided I wanted to make a photo book. I researched and compared. I finalized on two.

I really like the look of the Blurb site. I’ve found that the evidence of good design on the website often indicates the good design of the application. (I’m a Mac user, so you see where this belief comes from;->!) I checked out the printing and delivery dates, and felt it was a pretty tight squeeze, and if Murphy’s Law intervened, I would be in trouble.

I finally went for PhotoInPress, which is Canadian-based, and appeared to offer equivalent or lower pricing and much more attractive delivery times. (Fingers crossed!)

PhotoInPress Website
PhotoInPress Website

You can see the price for the fancy version, and the delivery information.

You have to download their free software and then design the book.

PhotoInPress Book Designer
PhotoInPress Book Designer

This is similar enough to the others that I was able to quickly pick it up and create the third version of my family photo book gift!

  1. I’m in the “Edit Book” tab and it’s easy to see where to go for what.
  2. The layout is less flexible than Scrapblog, but a bit more flexible than Lulu. Layouts are based on the number of photos and whether they’re horizontal or vertical, and you can choose from a number, most include text space.
  3. The photos are stretched along the bottom, so you see more at one time than in the others, and there’s a nice feature where there’s a check on any photo you’ve already used, but you can use it more than once, if you want.
  4. Moving around in the book after creating it is a little klutzy – you have to go in sequence – but it’s clear.

So I made my order two days ago and paid for it with PayPal, and now I wait. I hope to get my copies next week.

I’ll let you know what happens.

Higher Education’s Survival

Sometimes you find someone saying what you have been thinking about. I think the future of higher education is in danger, and I would hate to see the loss of something so precious. Through Stephen Downes wonderful newsletter, OLDaily, which can be linked to here –, I found David Wiley’s 2008 ELearn presentation – – which I’m embedding below. Serious food for thought

Kluging: An LMS Alternative

I confess I’m ambivalent about Learning Management Systems such as WebCT ad Desire2Learn. (I’m not at all ambivalent about Content Management Systems, such as WordPress – I am an enthusiastic user.) The distinction is that an LMS is a container for class work –

Learning Management System is a broad term used for a wide range of systems that organize and provide access to online learning services for students, teachers, and administrators. …

and a CMS is

used to edit your website by giving the user an interface where they can log in and make text, graphic or structural amends to then publish the new pages on the live website. …

I’m ambivalent about LMSs because I learned to use the web in teaching using an early version of WebCT – it was a scaffold for my learning and, as such, I hold it in some affection. However, as a teacher of communication skills and arts, as someone fascinated by language, I continued to learn about what could be done on the web, even outside of the LMS. Both passion and a sense of (teacher) responsibility drove me.

Currently I avoid, as much as I can, LMSs. Instead I kluge together a loose collection of free web applications, (Eduspaces Community blog, PBwiki, Pageflakes, Audacity, a password-protected mark site, and whatever free file-hosting service my current students recommend.) It’s a bit more work than using a LMS but I believe this approach, the kluging together of a selection of free web services, is a richer and more productive teaching practice.

Pageflakes - the homepage for my kluged together cellection of web apps for my course
Pageflakes - the homepage for my kluged together collection of web apps for my course

Instead of keeping my students within a walled (and very expensive for the institution) garden, I am requiring them to learn how to use sites that are easily available to them for their personal and professional purposes. I am helping them become more indenpendant and sophisticated users of the most profoundly new communication tool our species has ever seen. And I’m pulling/pushing them into being part of creating the evolving web culture.

Publishing Changes

The web is less than 20 years old, but I see some remarkable yet indirect changes in the other media which are occurring because of it. Newspapers, magazines, tv shows, publishing, and textbook publishing are all being affected.

About a year ago I noticed that the way the Toronto Star, numbered its sections had changed. I had grown up with the sections in most newspapers being alphabetical, which seemed natural in our print-based society. The change was to a system where the sections were labeled with the first letter of the section’s name. So the Sports section was “S”, the Living section was “L”, Ideas was “ID”, only the World section had the atypical label, “AA”. It looked to me like the web-created concept of tagging, where you label sites you bookmark with terms that indicate what makes them relevant for you, (an approach made workable by hypertext linking) had ousted the print-based alphabetical approach. The Toronto Star had a number of their journalists blogging by then, but to me that seemed like a less significant change. Writers write, and any medium will do. Labeling sections in a new way and expecting readers to ‘get’ it and seamlessly shift to it, was a subtler but more radical change, to my way of thinking.

When magazines started developing an online presence that seemed pretty sensible to me too. Nothing too radical, just information, text and visuals, also available online. There was a cultural and economic bump, though. The paper & print versions of magazines and newspapers charged money. Customers had to pay for their copies. The web culture is based on free access, a very different approach. There are some sites that demand payment, but the practice has largely shaken out to the current web business culture: something for free, and payment only for more advanced information or features. The money is made from advertising revenue.

I also watch TV news shows, and my two most watched, the CBC and the BBC, provide extensive online news, with the BBC even offering one minute world news available any time!

BBC Website
BBC Website

Book publishing, in my opinion, is going through the most radical change. The gatekeepers that made publishing difficult and limited which books were published are gone, along with the jobs (and skills) that used to be required. Typesetting is now done on the author’s computer, using software. Editing is also the author’s responsibility, whether done by the writer or hired out. The expense of a set number of books published in the hopes that they will all be sold is becoming a thing of the past, replaced by just-in-time printing. Self-publishing is now possible and growing.

Last year I tutored a 14 year old who wrote a very really good coming-of-age novel. Rather than seek out an agent and pitch the novel, we went to, worked through the set-up process, and ordered enough copies for her family. They are attractive books that make her, and her readers, proud. Another friend wrote a good, but atypical detective novel; he used Amazon self-publishing because his book would then be part of their catalogue. And I’m putting together a collection of family photos for a Christmas gift (for someone whom I hope doesn’t read this ;-> ) that I will self-publish.

What inspired me to write this blog post was a textbook publishing site I just stumbled upon, Flat World Knowledge Its study texts (read about their very different approaches) won’t be available till 2009, but it is a very interesting and web-culture concept.

So the web is bringing all kinds of changes to the media world, in fact, –

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Analyst Marcel Fenez has told the World Association of Newspapers readership conference that traditional media has 5 years left until the death clock kicks in. –

So what are business and education doing to prepare for this evolving new media environment?

Dan Tapscott and Educating the Digital Students

I attended some very enjoyable PD sessions today in the beautifully old University College building at the University of Toronto. I was drawn to these sessions because Dan Tapscott was the featured speaker, and I had read, learned from, and admired Wikinomics

Don Tapscott, speaking about Grown Up Digital, at University College, U of T
Don Tapscott, speaking about Grown Up Digital, at University College, U of T

Today he spoke on the digital generation, based on research that he includes in his new book, Grown Up Digital, that’s Grown Up Digital, not his earlier book, Growing Up Digital. I loved what he had to say about the pedagogical implications of teaching students who have grown up in the digital age, and he articulated what I have been observing when I teach. Our students increasingly need, require, respond to, a different approach than the traditional lecture and regurgitate.

I’m not going to cover what he said – he was very amusing and entertaining – I’m just going to suggest you read his book. If you’re a teacher, you really, really, REALLY need to read it and take what he says seriously. It’s very hopeful about the future, and it’s a chellenge for our current teaching practice.

Teaching Communication Now!

As a longtime communications teacher, I am fascinated by our changing communications media and platform. And when I’m teaching, no matter the direct subject I’m teaching, I never lose awareness of the changes our culture is going through, and the responsibility of teachers to help prepare our students for this new and rapidly evolving communications environment. They will be swimming in it for the rest of their professional and personal lives.

What is often unnoticed is that in just over a century we have gone from having one way of recording, putting marks on paper, to multiple ways of recording, all more viscerally immediate than text. Photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures all speak more directly to our senses and emotions than squiggles on paper – which our minds must translate into meaning before we can have our sense and emotional responses. It is easier to think critically when text is what we are ‘reading’ than it is when we see and hear less mediated (so to speak) representations of the world we live in. We are now living in what Ong called “secondary orality” and that is what our students have been growing up in, and to a certain extent, what we grew up in too.

I have never known a world without photographs, radio and records, movies and television. However, text was still the dominant medium, at least in my educational experiences, for most of my early schooling, and mass media ruled. I looked, listened and watched, but I could only critique; I couldn’t participate.

Now I can sit in my study and produce multimedia, as in this blog post.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The audio is poor, but understandable, and I’m combining text with video. I can embed other sites, like what I thought about this new multimedia platform that we can access using computers –

and I can link to other sites for readers/viewers who want to explore more of the educational possibilities –

and I can make movies using my screen –
Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Generating a Table of Figures in Word…”, posted with vodpod

There are other tools that I can use to create a mixed media text, and, here is the point I want to make:

We need to be teaching our students (technical and non-technical) how to compose using the expanding possibilities of the web as a multimedia, participatory communication platform!

Twitter – a Brief Intro

I’ve been ‘playing’ on Twitter for a few months now. I choose who I follow based on whether we appear to have similar interests, and I let anyone who wants to follow me. There are people who I follow who don’t follow me, and people who follow me who I don’t follow back. It makes for a kind of discontinuous ‘conversation’, and you might wonder why I bother. Here are some reasons:

  • it can be interesting seeing what people are doing/thinking in different parts of the world;
  • I find links to sites about things that interest me, mostly about the impact of social media on education and small businesses;
  • I find blogs I want to add to my RSS reader;
  • reading Tweets can take the boredom out of waiting.

If you’ve heard the buzz about Twitter but don’t ‘get’ it, here are two resources that might help you start, but you have to play on Twitter for at least a month to find out how you might want to use it, and if it’s useful for you.

CommonCraft’s Twitter in Plain English by Lee LeFever

Biz Stone’s How Do You Use Twitter, on Vimeo

The discipline of only having 140 character spaces helps you practice alternative phrasing, brevity, and, possibly, texting spellings. The availablity of Twitter on mobile devices allows you to do silly things like watch political debates while reading Tweets and writing them while the debate (or game or show) is still going on.

Personally I use a variety of Twitter applications:

  • On my laptop
    • – the home site
    • – which allows me to see any Replys or Direct Messages even if I’ve missed them when they first showed up on Twitter
    • There are many, many Twitter applications – use Google if you want to try some of the others.
  • On my iPhone
    • Twitterific – which is free from the App Store
    • Summizer – $2.99 from the App Store and allows you to search for topics and/or follow hashtags (Look it up;-> I had to).

So give Twitter a try, but do watch out; it can become addictive;->

udutu – Free, Easy, and Perhaps Unnecessary

udutu – The price is right, free if you don’t use their server.


It’s fairly straightforward to use –

udutu work screen
udutu work screen

You can put it up on Facebook and learners can access it there –

My course on Facebook
My "course" on Facebook

The teacher’s view above and the learners’ below –

Self Assessment
Self Assessment

I like udutu’s encouraging course creators to use the assessment tool for learners to self-assess, rather than scoring with it. It allows learners to repeat going through the materials as often as they want.

I like the ease of use with no coding, and only some figuring out needed. The small “course” I created took 2 to 3 hours and was based on a pre-existing PowerPoint, an udutu suggestion. That’s pretty quick for a first try.

I like the appearance, what the pages look like.

I have two provisos:

  1. For a highly factual content course, it might be a good fit, but for a course with a lot of student input, the kind I usually teach, it could be too prescribed.
  2. As the early WebCT did for me, udutu could provide a kind of scaffolding for teachers new to using the web in their teaching. However, having read Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined – at an impressionable stage in my learning about the web,  I prefer to use separate applications linked to each other. For my fall course, students will be using a class wiki, which will be linked to a class community blog, which will be, of course, linked back to the wiki. Within the wiki and the blog, there will be other links
  • to web applications needed to complete the course
  • to tutorials and information about those web applications
  • to student-chosen links
  • to assignments

To me, this is the most efficient way to set up a class, and it matches the overall web culture, as I understand it. Students will be living, learning and working in that culture in their futures, so why put them in a tight framework in this part of their learning.

So udutu might work for some purposes, but not for my current ones.