30 November, 2005

lynda.com Online Training

If you want to learn how to use a piece of software that is new to you, lynda.com is a very useful place to get started. I've recently been going through the Flash 8 and Dreamweaver 8 training, and have learned a lot.

The training involves you watching movies of the teacher going through certain tasks and talking you through step by step, which I personally find much easier to follow that reading it in a book.

There are a few free clips, which might get you started with a piece of software. After that you might want to pay the $25 per month for full access to all the training, especially if you can find some large blocks of time aside to do it. For example the full Flash 8 training takes about 12 hours.

29 November, 2005

Useful little digital photo toys

Not really anything to do with e-learning and pedagogy but a useful suite of toys to play with if you have a digital camera.

25 November, 2005

Top Educational Blogs

Peter Sheim has put together a list of his Top 20 Educational Blogs.

If you have time to explore this list you might find one you get into.

Personally I find George Siemens Connectivism blog interesting, but it's not a light read. He talks a lot about creating networks of people, where learning can take place.

24 November, 2005

CLTR’s Learning and Teaching Symposium: Web 2nd November 2005


While this conference was not focussed on e-learning, things related to our work came up several times.

Most interesting from that point of view was Lai Chan’s research on Web Based Learning. Her research explored post-registration student’s views on web-based learning in HE and asked whether Web based learning promotes of meta-learning.

Nine volunteers participated in the interview, all females between the ages of 38 and 52.

Her conclusions were that there were issues to do with:
-Communication and students feeling isolated. She quotes Anderson et al (2001) who observed that discussion stalls when there is a lack of teacher’s presence.
-Time management was an issue that come up with all students.
-7 out of the 9 had problems with reading online. Some of the students had physical disabilities that prevented them from reading online, and others said that it was uncomfortable.

In response to these issues, she advised that:
-Potential students should be prepared for silences in discussion, and the teacher should make known their presence from time to time.
-Students should also timetable regular times to study as part of their preparation to study online.
-Bernard et al (2002) were quoted as recommending shorter line lengths of 40-60 Characters per Line, for online materials.

An interesting point brought up by this research is the difficulty reading online. Is there text-to-speech software that we could recommend to students which would mean that they didn’t have to read online?

Could we record audio versions of text and use them as an alternative to text based materials? It seems from that small sample that there are accessibility issues with the materials that we are producing, and we should look at the possibilities.

I’d be interested to hear what people think about these issues.

22 November, 2005

Another way to use your GMail account

GMail Drive is a Shell Namespace Extension that creates a virtual filesystem around your Google Gmail account, allowing you to use Gmail as an external drive.

GMail Drive creates a virtual filesystem on top of your Google Gmail account and enables you to save and retrieve files stored on your Gmail account directly from inside Windows Explorer. GMail Drive literally adds a new drive to your computer under the My Computer folder, where you can create new folders, copy and drag'n'drop files to.

You can transfer files up to 10mb to your GMail account.

17 November, 2005

A new wordprocessor?

An article in the Guardian suggests another way to use GMail - as a word processor! As the article says:

"Apart from 2.6GB of storage (far more than Yahoo and Hotmail), it offers plain text or a rich text mode. The latter has seven fonts and four type sizes (including huge) plus colour, bold, italic, indenting, justification and quite a good spell checker.

It also has a link button of the kind you get on blogs, which inserts a hypertext link to a website behind a word you have highlighted without the need to type in any code. The only thing it seriously lacks is a word counter."

For anyone who doesn't want to buy Word or learn how to use OpenOffice, Gmail could be the answer.

15 November, 2005

ALT: The Association for Learning Technology

The Association for Learning Technology is a UK based "professional and scholarly association which seeks to bring together all those with an interest in the use of learning technology".

Their newsletter is now available online. The current one (Issue 2) includes reflections on their 2005 conference, including summaries of some of the presentations.

07 November, 2005

Emerging Technologies: A Framework for Thinking

The 'Australian Capital Territory Department of Education and Training' have produced a quite comprehensive basic guide to emerging technologies.

It begins with sections looking at the wider political, educational and technical context, before moving on to focusing on individual technologies.

The sections on specific emerging technologies cover everything from Interactive Whiteboards to Podcasting to Tablet PCs, including links to case studies. They also list possible educational benefits and issues related to the use of the technology. These sections might be a useful starting point when looking at the current and possible future use of these technologies.

04 November, 2005

Recording Audio and Accessibilty


Sometimes when we start on a new project, accessibility issues are approached with the attitude "How can we make this accessible?".

While this is still important with what we are doing, recording the audio from lectures and making the audio available online is actually making the lecture itself more accessible to students with certain Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD).

I've had a short talk with Sue Williams, who manages the Edge Ahead Centre, and it seems that the SENDA working group were pleased to hear about the Audio Development Project. Some of the students supported by the Edge Ahead Centre are suplied with MiniDisk players anyway to record lectures. If recording lectures became standard, then these students would be catered for, especially those who do not want to disclose their SpLD to others.

Perhaps the accessibility and inclusivity angle will encourage the uptake of the technology by an increasing number of Lecturers. It is certainly another reason in favour of it.

03 November, 2005

Enabling Collaborative Document Creation

People keep mentioning the need to create collaborative documents.

Firstly working on the new WebCT area for the Edge Ahead team, we want people to add links, and thoughts and ideas to documents… but at least in the short term we are not wanting to train them to upload and download documents into WebCT.

The second issue was brought up by Lindsey Martin, regarding the lack of options for students wanting to work collaboratively on documents. Unlike staff, students don’t have a G:Drive, meaning collaborative work on documents is difficult. Lindsey was interested in using a website called Writely and seeing if the use of this was realistic.

I therefore want to compare the uses of two technologies, to look at their use in the collaborative development of documents.

WebCT Student Presentations Tool: This is an area that a group of students are given access to. They must upload files, the same way the course designer can, to create a website within WebCT.

Benefits: Allows anyone in a group to upload documents into and download documents from WebCT.

Anyone can visit the site that is created, and the URL of the document can be linked to from elsewhere in the WebCT area for anyone to see (as long as the name of the document is never changed).

Drawbacks: No version control. Two people could be working on the same document at once.

Requires some training on how to upload files to WebCT.

Writely: This is an online application which allows the creation and development of documents by a group of invited people.

Benefits: Once the document is created online, or uploaded to Writely, the URL can be linked to.

The ‘Edit this page’ link allows anyone who has been invited to make changes in a user-friendly seamless manner.

Writely allows version control. Users are warned that someone is already developing a document that you’ve logged into. Not only that, but you can look back and see who made what changes when.

Drawbacks: Setting up the document and giving permissions might require some training.

With the documents being stored externally, we have no control over the site disappearing one day. However, all your documents can be saved in a zip file and downloaded, which means if people take responsibility to do occassional backups, this is much less of an issue.

It requires a user to log in again to edit pages (unless they set machine to remember password – which is not always possible if people are sharing machines).

My conclusions:

I would like to pilot both methods, but I think we need to create training materials.

Firstly we could ask the Edge Ahead team to trial Writely, as it could make it easier for them all to quickly add to documents.

We'll post any feedback from the trials, and if anyone has or wants to try using these technologies, it would be interesting to get feedback their use and on any training materials that are created.