24 February, 2006

Stop! Hammer time!

Blogger inform us that MC Hammer is demonstrating mobile blogging with his Blog, using his mobile to send photos, and phoning Audioblogger to send audio messages. Currently the Audioblogger number is in America meaning audioblogging from our mobiles would be expensive.

Until then we can't touch this unless anyone knows another way. Meanwhile today or tomorow I'll try and use Feedburner to see if we can actually start podcasting the lectures we've been putting online.

Helping Students with Pop-up Blocker Issues

We continue to see a lot of problems with people not being able to access things on WebCT due to pop-up blockers on their computers preventing the windows from opening.

The following text can be included in an email to advise students on getting past the problems. It might not be perfect, but it's the best we've written so far...


It sounds like you might have software on your computer that blocks pop-up windows.

You can test this by holding the ‘Ctrl’ key on your keyboard down, while you click on the link.

This should allow it to open. However you might want to solve the problem long term by changing the settings on your computer, so we’ll go through how to do this.

You are probably using an Internet Explorer Web Browser. Go to the 'Tools' menu at the top of the screen, and look for the 'Pop-up blocker...' option. If there is one, you can select 'Turn off pop-up blocker'.

If there is not, or if the problem persits, the following link will help you disable other pop-up blockers on the computer that you are using.

Go to:http://www.webct.com/tuneup/viewpage?name=tuneup_start

On the first page, select the Operating System that your computer is using. It will probably be 'Windows'.

On the second page, select the Web Browser that you are using. It will probably be 'Internet Explorer'.

On the third page, scroll down to near the bottom of the page where there is a section called '6. Disable Pop-Up Blocking for WebCT'. In this section are links to pieces of software which might be stopping the discussion windows from opening.

Hope that is some help, but please get back in touch if you need any help.

Dull Universities can Damage your Brain!

This creating passionate users post looks at the effect of different environments on the brain’s development. To quote, “research suggests is that in unstimulating, unenriched, stressful environments, the brain STOPS producing new neurons”, which I guess is added reason to invest in the college environment at all levels, from art exhibitions to attractive, effective architecture to innovative classroom environments.

Also see the comments on http://goldenswamp.com/2006/02/20/what-makes-kids-grow-new-neurons/

23 February, 2006

CLTR Symposium: E-Literacy

The CLTR Learning and Teaching Symposium on Wednesday 22nd February 2006, had a focus that was quite relevant to our work. I‘ll try to note in these next posts some things that will be worth considering from our point of view.

The ‘round-table’ discussion that I took part in was about e-literacy, and led by Lindsey Martin. The supporting paper was subtitled ‘Providing non-technical support for online learners’, which points towards an idea of what e-literacy might cover.

The discussion looked at how ‘e-literacy’ was different to ‘literacy’ as that term has been understood, and it was noted that the understanding of this term has changed through time. A couple of hundred years ago, someone would be considered literate if they could write their name, whereas now we expect more. It was suggested that in time, e-literacy would be just part of what we mean by literacy. But deciding on a definition will help us move towards that place by enabling informed and directed teaching. Literacy involves understanding and being understood, and as such e-literacy involves understanding and being understood in the digital age.

So what skills do people require to understand and be understood (trying to keep away from basic technical skills as an answer)? Well an understanding of conventions on the web would be an example – knowing how sites generally work (e.g. hypertext), that a picture of a house will take you to the site’s main page, that a blue underlined word is a link… there are probably huge amounts that I take for granted.

E-literacy also moves ideas of literacy away from just looking at text, which reminds us that literacy is only meaningful in particular contexts. I could be able to read books, but struggle to read txt msgs, struggle to navigate web sites (even those using general conventions).

How can we help our students to become more ‘e-literate’? We can help them by designing online materials that have intuitive designs, making the strange digital environment a little more accessible. I guess our ‘Introductory Module’ on WebCT is an example of e-literacy training, and as has been noted in earlier posts online discussion (even face-to-face discussion) requires skills that people will not necessarily come to Higher Education with, and training for discussion could be experimented with.

Here are some links that might have more ideas:

The International Journal of E-Literacy – This has a definition: “the awarenesses, skills, understandings, and reflective approaches necessary for an individual to operate comfortably in information-rich and IT-enabled environments.”

19 February, 2006

Add yourself to our Frappr! Map

Thanks to Frapper! we have added a map where readers of Cakes can add themselves so we can see where you are all from. Click on the "Where are you?" link on the right and get yourself on the map!

09 February, 2006

Online Discussion: Research

Last night Cathy Sherratt and Graham Rogers presented us with some facinating research on online discussion. It will be certainly worth catching them at a conference this year, perhaps if they present SOLSTICE or at Lancaster, because online discussion is something that we use in so many courses. By the time they next present, I think they will have taken their research and findings further.

They have studied the posts in several different groups from the same course, and found unexplained variations with student interaction with online discussions. The presentation was a search for reasons why.

Very basically the groups who posted fewest messages and interacted in a very simplistic way, were posting statements of their own belief, often addressed to the tutor. The group posting most messages tended to engage with each other, posting shorter messages, asking questions, and developing ideas together.

While there are many avenues to go down to further this research, I think one thing that we as the Learning Technology team need to do is to look at the need to give students training in discussing online. Graham Rogers pointed out that discussion, whether online or face-to-face is a complex skill, and I suppose that it is not something that we can necessarily expect students to have developed.

So is 'Being Involved in Discussions' training, something that we can develop online guides and training for? Or should learning those skills be more integrated in the students' courses?

06 February, 2006

Mobile learning and e-books

Personally my experience of ebooks has found while it's great to have access to large number of books, they are generally difficult to use. Downloading a page at a time and using Word Verification every few pages, doesn't allow you to achieve any kind of focus or flow state.

New devices like the Sony Reader look like they might make it easier to read onscreen. Auricle (the elearning team at Bath University's blog) has taken an indepth look at the possible effects of this and similar technologies.

03 February, 2006

WebCT 'Blogs'

From what I remember from the WebCT North-West User Group, WebCT 6.0 has an add on pack which contains blogging capabilities among other things.

There is a short debate on James Farmer's blog about the worth of these WebCT blogs, which is worth looking at (including the comments).

From these comments I'd think it better to set up blogging software on the server, as Warwick have. That seems to have worked well there, and a blogging culture developed. I'd guess that this is because students can write different blogs on the topics that interest them, rather than the subjects and contents being controlled by tutors?

01 February, 2006


Apple have set up iTunesU with Stanford being one of the forerunners to use it.

To access audio that has been made available through iTunesU, iTunes must be installed on your computer. You use it to access audio files from lectures, conversations or whatever has been put on there. The idea is that any university can set a page up, and upload audio files to it.

Visit Burks on Learning and look at the links in turn to follow an interesting debate on the value of using this, rather than other methods of giving access to your materials.