26 January, 2006

Building a successful online community


The 'Creating Passionate Users' blog may be well worth a read if you're interested in thinking of ways to inspire your students.

This post called "Building a successful online community" looks at way that forums on the Web, similar to discussion areas on WebCT are managed. This may be of some interest to you if you are running a WebCT course where discussion is being used to a major extent.

In case you are not very nerdy and find it confusing, 'Slashdot' (aka /.) and 'Javaranch' are web sites/online communities where people discuss computer programming issues.

25 January, 2006

EDUCAUSE Review Magazine: Multi-Disciplinary Teams and Podcasting

EDUCAUSE is in it's own words "a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology".

The EDUCAUSE Review magazine is available on-line. While many of it's articles are American focused or relate to IT support rather than our Learning Technologist roles, there are some very interesting ones.

In the January/February 2006 issue it is worth reading "The Myth about Online Course Development", by Diana G. Oblinger and Brian L. Hawkins. This is quite a concise but complex article discussing issues surrounding the development of online courses. The major point being made regards the importance of a multi-disciplinary team approach in the creation of a course, and everyones need to know their role in it. From this they bring up some of the important issues that need consideration at course conception.

The November/December 2005 issue has a very positive article about Podcasting, and the possibilities that can be enabled by it's use. Here in Learning Technology, we have been developing an easy way for Academic Staff to record their lectures, or discussions and put them online in various formats. The next steps that I see are to look at distributing the recordings through RSS feeds and iTunes (as done by Stanford Uni), and creating training for students to begin using these technologies if they don't already.

23 January, 2006

More Screencasting

I'm still quite excited about the possibilites of what we can do with the Screencasting software. We want to create good quality and easy to use training on the website and could perhaps cover WebCT 6, troubleshooting and any FAQs.

Had a look at CamStudio (recommended by Tim in the comments) and it does a good job of screen capture, although you get less control of screen sizes compared with Camtasia. Creating recordings in CamStudio and importing them into Camtasia for finer editing works well, meaning we only need one copy of Camtasia and several people can develop training.

Donationcoder.com have an in depth review of similar pieces of software. Most interesting to me from that article is Macromedia Captivate, which can create interactive tutorials with quizzes and hotspots. It can create much more complex training than Camtasia. While creating this training takes much more time, in the long term Captivate allows more options to easily tweek and update training materials.

Camtasia is a lot quicker to pick up and easier to use. It also encourages a conversational style of narration which I find easier and much more pleasant to follow if it is done well (see also the Creating Passionate Users Post by Kathy Sierra, "Conversational writing kicks formal writing's ass" which kind of makes sense in this context too).

For us, at least in the short term, Camtasia is going to be the way forward. Captivate could be something that we look into over a longer time period. If anyone has access to Edge Hill's 'Developers' Information Base', click on 'Screencasting' for a demonstration training page.

17 January, 2006


I've been using Lynda.com's online training library a lot recently. It's helped me learn to use some new programs quickly and got me through some difficulties. Therefore I was excited to discover the software that they use to create the videos. I was even more excited to discover how easy it is to use.

Camtasia is the name of the software, and it allows you to record your computer screen (some call this a screencast), your voice, and if required, video from your webcam. It can all be recorded live and you can have a recording ready in minutes, or you can edit it and add complexity later on if need be.

I think this could be a major part of our future online training development. It is suited for training to use computers rather than anything else, but it does this excellently.

Below are useful links relating to Camtasia and screencasting.

Purchase educational licences for £80

Examples of training created with Camtasia

Support Site

Video introduction

Getting started guides

What is screencasting - This document by Jon Udell ends with a quote that describes the use of screencasting well. "The blogging revolution has shown that, while there are few professional writers, there are lots of people who can productively use the textual web to communicate their personal and professional agendas. Podcasting is likewise reshaping the audio web, and videoblogging will do the same for the video web. When the subjects of our videos are experiences that intersect with cyberspace, or occur primarily within it, we'll use screencasts to describe and explain them."

13 January, 2006

Auricle Podcasts: ELGG, Blogs and Moodle

The elearning team at the University of Bath have a public blog called Auricle, which contains several interviews with people who work in elearning on its Podcast feed. I found some of these very interesting as they might feed into our work here, and I've summarised them below.

ELGG has come up in conversation and on Cakes before, and March 2005 saw an interview on Auricle with one of ELGGs founders, David Tosh.

ELGG is introduced not as a VLE, or even really as an alternative to a VLE as its focus is not on holding course content at all. It is described as a 'Learning Landscape' and its focus is on providing tools which can be used to build "a community where knowledge transfer takes place".

ELGG gives a lot of control to the learner, to create groups and discussions. It is noted that many institutions would not be happy with giving students this level of control, but also that students who are used to using technologies like Blogs and Wikis are not going to be impressed with many of the VLEs in use, which (in my view) seem to restrict rather than enable in many ways.

Blogs: Warwick are well known for their elearning developements, and there is an interview with John Dale from Warwick from April 2005.

Warwick developed their own blogging software called BlogBuilder, as existing systems didin't do everything that they wanted, and there could have been issues with scaling and managing the number of blogs they wanted to plan for. There are over 3000 blogs on the system, but they believe they can cope with 10s of thousands.

Students at Warwick had always been encouraged to develop their own web pages, but blogging made it possible for those without much technical knowledge.

I think an issue that Edge Hill would be concerned about is what might be said on the blogs. There is no proactive policing of the blogs at Warwick, but the blogs are covered by the acceptable use policy and there is a link at the bottom of every page that people can use to report 'problems' with posts. This doesn't happen very often as people tend to comment on posts and potentially offensive messages are 'neutralised' by plenty of comments stating different viewpoints.

Moodle Migration: Dublin City University migrated from WebCT to Moodle in 2003. Unike ourselves they had only used WebCT in a pilot and so it wasn't as big an issue as it would be if we wanted to. June 2005 saw an interview with Morag Munroe from DCU.

They created a wishlist of what they wanted from a VLE, in close colaboration with the staff who would be using it. From that they created a short list of Caroline, Bodington and Moodle. In case you are interested there is a full list of VLEs on Wikipedia, and DCU if they had to migrate again say that they would be interested in Sakai.

Strengths of Moodle that have been identified by DCU are the user community, the rapid development of new functionality and the Social Constructivist model of learning that underpins its development. Quality support has come from moodle.com. On the downside, issues have come from the rapid development of many tools, meaning that the large amount of choice can be overwhelming for new users. Also functionality for group work needs improving.

10 January, 2006

Displaying an RSS Feed in WebCT

I've created a new How-To Guide. This covers adding a link to an RSS feed, that will display the feed in a WebCT area.

The guide is designed to help WebCT Developers set links up, but may be of interest to developers using other technologies than WebCT.

09 January, 2006

Now that I know PowerPoint, how can I use it to TEACH?


Patric Crispen has put together a presentation about using powerpoint in teaching. He makes interesting points, for example that PowerPoint's 'fancy' capabilities were developed for the business community where the aim is more entertainment than teaching and not for us where the aim is to teach.

He also quotes interesting research findings. For example that students appear to learn less from expanded, fancy powerpoint presentations than pure text slides (see page 33 of presentation), at least on fact based tests.

So in conclusion! He's saying that we should write powerpoint text only (unless images really assist understanding and the text). It is quicker, just as effective and you can save the powerpoint as outline (.rtf format) to give out as a handout, saving time in the creation of these. Take a basic typography or graphic design course and you will be able to create good looking slides with a minimum of images, fonts and colours.

05 January, 2006

Simple guide to Blogs, RSS, Podcasts, Webcams and Video Streaming

George Siemens has pointed us towards a nice little guide created by Will Richardson that covers Blogs, RSS, Podcasts, Webcams and Video Streaming in an easy to understand way. Might be a useful guide to use with less technical academics.