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October 14, 2006

Ever wondered just how useful all these free online services are? Here’s a suggestion for how you can use them to make a school trip available for everyone!

I’ve taken several school trips to parts foreign in the past, and am in the process of organising one to the WW1 battlefields in Northern France and Belgium. On the last trip I took, I used my .Mac account to upload pictures and details, but most of this was done after the fact. This current trip promises to be a lot more interactive because I’m using a host of programmes I hadn’t encountered last time round. Have a look at my suggestions, and feel free to suggest improvements and/or use the same ideas.


The first thing I set up was a specific blog for the trip using WordPress. I chose a suitable URL for the blog PABattlefields (, and got going. The blog allows me to keep parents informed of the admin details, and has links to some of the sites we are going to as well as links to previous trip photos. I think the ability to post quickly is one of the real strengths of the blog, and I really like the templates you get with wordpress, especially as they allow you to customize the header to something appropriate.

Where the blog will come into its own is when we are in France. Chateau d’Ebblinghem, where we are staying, has internet access for teachers, so I will be able to post a summary of what we’ve done each day for parents and pupils back at school to read. As I will have a couple of laptops with me (doesn’t everyone?), I’ll be using Ecto (for the Mac) and Livewriter (for the PC) so that I can write posts through the day before uploading them in one go in the evening.

More importantly, I’ll be using one of the laptops for the pupils to post THEIR reflections on what they’ve seen and learned.


How do I love online photo albums… I can’t live without Picasa on my PC. It’s the closest thing to iPhoto I’ve found yet. It’ll work with numerous cameras, so no need to load different drivers for each, and I really like the ease and ability of its (basic) photo-editing tools. Picasa also has a really useful (ie: FREE!) online gallery facility… however, the obvious service to use is flickr. Flickr has a couple of really clever little  tricks that make it perfect for using on a school trip. It’s really easy to use, and the ability to add comments and notes to the photos means you can highlight specific parts of photographs. Click here to see an example from the last trip. However, the one thing I think is really useful is the ability to add geotags to the photos so that the parents can see exactly where you have been. Here’s the map for some of the photographs from my last trip. You can click on the coloured circles to be taken to the photos. This is one service I’m really looking forward to providing on the next trip. Daily photos uploaded for the parents and pupils back in Perth, cool or what!


YouTube! I don’t know if I need to say anymore… we hope to post some quick videos of our escapades whilst in France. This is the one thing that will be totally new to me, and may be constrained by the connection speeds at the Chateau. Either way, we are taking a camera crew (they’re called ‘the pupils’), and will be attempting to use one of the online video hosting services to let parents see what we’re doing.


How do I get the parents to keep in touch? Simple, I email them. How do I prevent them from sending me emails at my ‘real’ email address? Simple, I set up a new email account for a specific task. I think that the abundance of free online email services is one of the features of Web2.0 that is vastly under-used and under-rated. It is the easiest thing in the world to set up an online email address, and that makes it a perfect way of allowing people to get in touch. For this trip, I have set up a new Gmail account, which also gives me a new picasaweb account, a new flickr account, a new youtube account, a new… well, you get the picture! These can be used and then discarded, and I don’t have to worry about my personal email being abused. As a final point here, it is also very easy to name the account so that it is specific to a particular event or purpose, eg: (Not a real address!). This makes it more likely that parents will remember the ID for flickr/email/etc.


I could have also set up a wiki, and in future may do so. The main benefit a wiki would bring from my point of view as the organizer of a trip is that it would allow me to make all forms and handouts available as downloads, however, I prefer to handle these in school as that way I know who has received the forms and who has not…


One last little addition. Online spreadsheets courtesy of Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I almost lost the Hard drive on the school’s laptop. So, using my new Gmail account, I uploaded the admin spreadsheet to the web. Now I have access to it anywhere I have an online connection… sweet!


So, what I’ve done is set up an email account, a blog, a flickr account, a youtube account, and an online spreadsheet for the trip. All of these tools are free, and all serve a specific purpose, they allow the parents and pupils back home to take part in the experience in a way that just wasn’t possible the last time I took a group… all of two years ago!

I’m really looking forward to the trip, but is there anything else you think I could do to improve on what I’ve already done? Please let me know. 


10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2006 7:48 pm

    Hi Neil,
    All sounds great and the blog looks sweet.
    We’ve done a few short term trip blogs and they are always well received by the parents. The hard bit is usually finding time and a connection to update the blog, it sounds like you have the latter sorted, I hope it is not dialup which makes uploading photos a bit of a chore.

  2. October 14, 2006 8:01 pm

    Hi John,

    I’m trusting NST when they say they have internet available for the teachers (it’s actually something I asked them to provide when I was there in 2005… but I’m not going to take all the credit!)
    As you say, it may just be dial up (the Chateau is rather remote), but if so, there is always the school mobile phone as a modem… it’ll cost a fortune, but the school is good for it…I hope! ;0)

  3. October 14, 2006 9:22 pm

    This is a super idea and I sure will be incorporating your ideas into our adventures into the land of wikis, blogs and podcasting. Well done you.

  4. October 16, 2006 11:07 am

    I wonder if it’s worth setting up a route for phone blogging to WordPress? Might be handy if you’ve a message to get out, but no internet access. Also means students could immediately post an mp3 from the sites you’re visting, or while travelling.

    PhoneBlogz is compatible with WordPress – see Free option gives 1 free 20 min message per day, although “free” means users do have to put up with adverts. 😦 You dial an 0845 number in the UK to post.

  5. October 16, 2006 4:07 pm

    Tecoteach – Thanks for the praise. I’ve actually thought of another thing I could include – CafePress Merchandising. This means I don’t have any of the usual overheads for getting t-shirts et al done, and can actually offer MORE merchandise… mugs and badges as well… must check this out!

  6. October 16, 2006 4:09 pm

    Hi David,
    I did actually consider this very seriously, but as I just use the standard, I don’t think I can add plug-ins? If I can, I’d be VERY interested in this facility…

    Mmm… wonder if I can persuade the school to spring for a new server? (As if!)

  7. October 16, 2006 6:59 pm

    The plug-in is an option, but you can post directly to any WordPress blog (there is a limit on versions…can’t remember just now) using its XML-RPC ( interface.
    Set-up looks like this:
    NOTE: If you’re using the WordPress plugin, you need to choose the “WordPress – plugin” setting above. This setup posts directly to WordPress WITHOUT using the plugin.
    Domain: Example:
    Path: Example: /xmlrpc.php
    Register at PhoneBlogz, and see

  8. Adam Sutcliffe permalink
    October 17, 2006 6:52 pm

    Fantastic idea. Has given me inspiration to try to do similar thing on next years trip to France/Germany.

  9. October 17, 2006 9:15 pm

    Thanks, Adam. If you need a gmail invite to get started (though I think it’s a free for all now) let me know. I’ve still got about 30 left.


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