Personal datashed using Twitter, IFTTT, and Gmail filters

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

The more I attend inspiring conferences like EduCon, EdCamp, BLC, and the like, the more ideas I have about ways to improve my learning, my teaching, my business, and my life. These ideas strike me at all times: while talking, listening, tweeting, blogging, emailing, running… and I have found that it is difficult to remember, organize, evaluate, and improve upon my ideas after I have time to step away from them. Ultimately, I need to be able to separate the nuggets from the noise. If only I could go to Google and enter s search string like:

site:my_brain ideas

Alas, Google’s search engine is no more successful at searching the stores in my head than my own brain is!

This summer when I was at the BLC11 conference, I was inspired to create a service that would automatically collect and tag my ideas when I have them, and then make them searchable later when I need them.

By allowing such a service to eavesdrop on my digital life, it would follow my tweets, read my emails and blog posts, and like a jeanie in a bottle, I could call upon it any time to record my thoughts and conversations, and regurgitate those valuable nuggets at my request. It would need the ability to tag my nuggets with little intervention from me, and it would need a powerful search engine.

No such service already exists, but if I’m correct, I am not the only person with this need. Brad Ovenell-Carter hoped to use Twitter as a “data shed” in this way, and eventually as a “label maker,” and when I told Andy Marcinek about my plan, he expressed much excitement.

After months of procrastinating, I have realized that, though a single tool does not exist to realize this dream, I can combine several existing services to do much, if not all, of what I desire in this tool.

This is how I built my own datashed, triggered by Twitter and email, routed by, and tagged with gmail’s filters and labels features:

First, using (“If This Then That”) I create a few triggers:

  1. Forward all of my tweets and RTs to my gmail account
  2. Forward all mentions of me on Twitter to my gmail account
  3. Forward all Twitter direct messages to my gmail account
  4. Any email I sent to will be forwarded to my gmail account

Now that my tweets, RTs, DMs, and emails are being forwarded to my gmail account I just have to create some tags in gmail. That is, filters that file emails with specified keywords into specific folders (with tags, unlike folders, you can have multiple labels on each email, rather than filing an email into a single folder). These will be specific to your needs, but here are some examples of the tags I created:

  • Apps
  • Books
  • Ideas
  • Blog
  • Conferences
  • EduCon
  • BLC
  • EdCamp
  • Digcit
  • Web sites
  • Readitlater

I also created similar gmail filters to tag emails that posses the above keywords.

Here’s an example of how I’ve been using these triggers: while I was at the EduCon conference, I might have sent out a tweet like this:

@andycinek We should discuss our student-created #digcit blog posts. Loved your ideas #educon

Because IFTTT is following my tweets and direct messages, this tweet triggers an email to my gmail account that quotes the tweet and time stamps it, and the account “” delivers the email (alternatively, if I am having an in-person conversation with Andy, I write an email in the same format and send it to and it will be processed similarly). When the email is received in my gmail account, my gmail filters take over. First, anything from is archived (removed from my inbox) and tagged with the label “DataShed.” Then other filters kick in: I have already setup filters to tag emails that contain the word digcit (digital citizenship), blog, idea, and educon.

When my natural buzz from EduCon dies down in a week or two, I will remember that Andy and I had a good idea, but I may not recall what the idea is, so I will go to my DataShed and search for “@AndyCinek.” Or maybe I will remember that I shared with someone a great idea about how to teach digital citizenship, but I can’t remember who. In that case I can go to my Shed and search my digcit emails from EduCon and I will find the reference to Andy.

The next step might be to go in the other direction to share anything in my DataShed. That is, if I email something to and tag it with “#dshed”, IFTTT will automatically create a Tweet on my behalf and share it with my followers. But I’m not there yet.

For the past couple days I have been using these triggers successfully, and it has made it SO much easier to find these little lost nuggets from the EduCon conference. We will see if it holds up in a few more week. If you try out this strategy, please leave a message in the comments describing your successes, your questions, and your struggles.

BONUS 1: I created a DynDNS custom URL ( that takes me straight to my DataShed folder in Gmail.

BONUS 2: There’s an app for that! Since I use the default Mail app on my iPhone and iPad for my regular email, I configured Google’s Gmail app to log into the gmail account I am using for my datashed, so this app provides a searchable, portable repository for my thoughts!

Update – BONUS 3: Per Andy Marcinek’s suggestion, you have an iPhone 4S, you can have Siri trigger additions to your DataShed by voice – just dictate an email or Tweet to her and address it to!


Problem Seeking/Problem Solving Flow Chart

August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Problem Seeking Flow Chart

Problem Seeking Flow Chart

In my quest to… how did I put it? “…end world hunger and. . . .[solve] other large problems” I have advanced a step or two. (For some background behind this quest, please read my previous blog post here.)

  1. I have made arrangements with several schools, educators, and other programs to incorporate problem seeking classes into their existing offerings.
  2. At EdCampCT [ ] this week, I lead a workshop on Problem Seeking & Problem Solving where together we:
  3. …used Brad Ovenell-Carter’s draft of a problem seeking flow chart (linked on this blog post) as a foundation to create a more complete algorithm for how to seek and solve problems (image shown right).
  4. I am starting up a non-profit organization for students and central to its mission will be a large Problem Seeking and Problem Solving component.

As I make progress, I will continue blog more about my thoughts and experiences. In the meantime, I am looking for feedback for the process outlined in the flow chart displayed on this post.

Thank you to everyone at EdCampCT who participated in this workshop – I hope you found it as helpful as I did! A thank you also to Brad Ovenell-Carter [ ] for his blog post and for creating what became the first draft of this flow chart.

(If you want a laugh, check out this alternative problem solving flow chart. Warning: Contains explicit language.)

How to end world hunger and the solution to other large problems

July 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

At around 3:30 AM in the middle of a sound sleep, I awoke to a moment of complete lucidity.

The Process of Finding a Problem

Process of Finding a Problem

I awoke so suddenly because I realized I had solved the problem of world hunger. No, really. I LITERALLY (by the literal definition of the word “literally” – see the recent Boston Globe article here) have in my own possession the tool that will CURE cancer.

Let me repeat that: I have in my possession the tool that will solve the problems of climate change!

No, I posses the tool that will end homelessness… This tool can even get the Republicans and the Democrats to avoid defaulting on the country’s debts AND agree on the best way to do it.

Well, maybe that’s pushing it.

But I CAN end the recession. I DO have the ability to resolve the energy crisis. End poverty, and war, and oppression. I can abolish slavery for once and for all.

The tool I posses tool is my own brain. I won’t do it with my brain alone, though. I have at my disposal the problem solving capabilities of the most amazing brains of hundreds of people… Thousands… MILLIONS (thanks to the Internet) – and those brains belong to our students.

Building Learning Communities Logo

Building Learning Communities Logo

This week I attended a conference in Boston called Building Learning Communities (BLC). I can’t do the conference any justice by writing about it on this blog – I will leave that to some of the awe-inspiring educators I met this week (Here’s a simple Google searchthat will show you some of the blog posts that reference the BLC conference as they are written over the next few weeks, but I will update this post with links to specific blogs as more bloggers post their thoughts.)

[edit: Here is a perfect example of a very eloquent blog post written by Brad Ovenell-Carter, head of Think Global school(@Braddo on Twitter):]

But here’s the important part: At the end of the conference, the organizer, Alan November, put out a challenge he’s calling “Stand on our shoulders” [ ]. I don’t think the site is even live yet, but here’s the gist:

Alan has put out a call to action. He has asked all educators to work with their students to find and address the world’s most difficult problems: locally, regionally, internationally – you name it. And the reason he has challenged us to take on this awesome task is because we CAN.

We have the ability to solve the world’s problems, and it is simply a matter of sourcing our students – and teaching them how to use the greatest tool at their disposal, their brains – to solve these problems together. Alan wants all educators to put out their hands and figuratively lift our students up onto our shoulders so that our students can take advantage of all of OUR accomplishments, and all of our parents’ accomplishments, and so on. From up on our shoulders, our students can reach even higher, lifted up by humanity’s history of accomplishments.

I am taking Alan up on this challenge. This fall, I will facilitate at any schools that wants to have me, a class on “Problem Finding.” In each of these classes we will find a problem of value to us, and we will spend the semester, the year… The rest of our lives, if need be, addressing that problem; attempting to solve it.

I will help students learn how to use their most valuable and accessible tool – their brain – and I will help teachers coach their students on becoming the best problem finders and problem solvers they can become.

Together, we WILL end world hunger! We CAN, and we WILL.

Thank you, Alan. I guess all we needed to solve the world’s problems was the right tool and the right inspiration.

(A little bonus inherent in this challenge: The best way to evaluate the success of this achievement will not be a standardized test, as so many politicians would have you believe (see this site from another BLC attendee, Angela Maiers or @AngelaMaiers on Twitter). The success of these students will be assessed by the actualization of the real change that these students enact, their ability and desire to repeat their results on future projects, and the benefits to humanity that will be accomplished. Maybe our politicians could learn something from this challenge, after all!)

That’s my take on it, anyway.

(Image credit: Image taken and posted by BLC participant Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches on Twitter) and linked here is a photo from @ewanmcintosh’s keynote presentation on Problem Solving

EdCamp Book Club

June 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve noticed something in myself that I find intriguing: When I am participating in conversations on Twitter I am drawn to find a way to bring those conversations off the Internet and have them in person.

On the other hand, when I am at a conference, I find myself compelled to participate in backchannel conversation while I converse with folks face-to-face. At first I contributed this peculiarity to my “grass is greener” syndrome, but now I’m not so sure.

Earlier this spring I made an attempt to bridge my online conversations with a face-to-face meeting when Eric Hileman ( @ittosde on Twitter ) – an educator from Oklahoma whom I have never met in person – and I conceived of a face-to-face component of the weekly Twitter conversation #edchat. You can read about it here.

While #edchatf2f (“EdChat Face-to-face”) was by no means a failure, I have not given the experiment a chance to succeed. The maiden meet-up was close enough to the end of the year that very few teachers could participate, and though summer is almost upon us, I haven’t planned another gathering.

BookshelvesI read something on Twitter this morning that got me thinking about another way to bridge online conversation face-to-face conversation: a Twitter-based book club. The idea is simple: A handful of people get together and read a book together – a standard book club – but instead of meeting regularly in person, the group meets online via Twitter. This already exists.

Now take that idea, and apply to it my desire to continue online discussions in person. Suppose you time it so that the group finishes reading the book just in time for a conference that the group of readers will be attending (or most of them). Imagine it: several weeks spent reading the same book and discussing it online culminating with a face-to-face wrap up of the discussion at a conference!

With EdCamp CTfast approaching, I think I may try this experiment. If you’re interested in joining me, send me a message on Twitter (@MyTakeOnIt). I will organize a group of interested participants, we’ll pick a book and a weekly meeting time, and we will discuss the book on Twitter. We will then organize a corresponding session at EdCampCT to wrap up the book discussion and also debrief on the experience.

I think I want to start with an educationally relevant book – maybe even something about online learning or collaboration. I’m open to suggestions. We’ll work out the rest on Twitter… Maybe even bring it up at EduBloggerCon East 2011 in a few weeks… Though may need to begin sooner.


My mind is racing after #edACCESS11

June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

After several years of yearning, I finally made time this year to attend the annual edACCESS conference, hosted this year by the Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ. edACCESS is a national association of information technology staff at small schools and colleges, and the annual conference uses the peer conference model, developed and facilitated by edACCESS co-founder Adrian Segar and described in his book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love, for the majority of its conference sessions.

Tom Daccord presents for edACCESS11

My colleagues and peers have been reporting back to me for years on how beneficial edACCESS is. With a style very similar to an “unconference,” the attendees are the presenters, planners, and participants. The collaborative environment speaks volumes to the personalities of the attendees: It is as important to us that we share our own ideas and experiences as it is that we learn from others.

This year, discussion sessions included many (participant-chosen) topics that spanned the educational and technological sides of EdTech. Some years a keynote speaker is invited. This year Tom Daccord of the blog EdTech Teacher spoke about a topic near and dear to my heart: steering a school’s technology decisions based on its mission and pedagogical goals.

Upon splitting up into peer sessions, we discussed topics including:
-Disaster recovery setups and power requirements
-PC and Apple coexisting
-Teacher Accountability For Use Of Technology
-Favorite iPad apps & how to find more
-Reporting structure: Do you report to the Head Master? CFO? Pros & Cons?
…and many more topics.

The audio from all of these topics is recorded, notes are scribed, and at the discretion of the members of each session, both formats are usually posted to the edACCESS wiki.

I can’t put too fine a point on how valuable it is to get peers and colleagues together, supporting each other, and collaboratively learning and working out our problems. It’s incredibly active learning, and even after the conference my mind continues to race with new strategies I can’t wait to test out, and new ideas that rush through my mind, unable (and unwilling!) to turn down the spigot.

It was a pleasure to participate: learning from my peers, and facilitating when appropriate. For me, edACCESS11 has not truly ended. I have extended my Personal Learning Network, I have made new friends, and I plan to continue these rich conversation year-long. Plus, I have edACCESS 2012 to look forward to!

Thank you to everyone involved at edACCESS – it was a pleasure and a valuable experience!


p.s. Thank you, Steve, for encouraging me to go this year!

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