19 December, 2007

ALT-C 2008: Call for Papers

The Association of Learning Technologists Conference (ALT-C) is in Leeds in 2008, and they are now welcoming submissions of either research papers for publication in the peer-reviewed proceedings or abstracts for demonstrations, posters, short papers, symposia and workshops. The deadline for submissions is 29 February 2008.

ALT-C covers pretty much everything that you might call Learning Technology, and if you are using new technologies in teaching and learning there is a good chance you'll meet other people there who are doing something similar. I found it a good place to talk with people and consolidate ideas I'd been thinking about - but to do that you need to avoid spending all 3 days in sessions, or you'll just arrive back at work with a head full of ideas and no time to sort out what they mean to your future work!

To read of people's experiences at ALT-C visit Technorati, or read my posts from 2007 in Nottingham (day 1, day 2, day 3, after), and have a think if you've got anything to present there.

14 December, 2007

The Ecology of Games

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have released their series of books about Digital Media and Learning. Not only that but they've made them available to download free for those of us with little disposable income :)

The one I was interested in was "The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning", which contains a variety of articles which together are "pointing toward a more sophisticated understanding of the myriad ways in which gaming could and should matter to those considering the future of learning."

If you are seriously interested in using games, especially digital games in teaching and learning, this is a very valuable collection of writings by experts in their field.

I'd also recommend James Paul Gee's book "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" as an introduction to get you thinking about the topic. There are some copies in Edge Hill's Library and a revised edition out in April.


06 December, 2007

Screencasting: Install Camtasia 3 for Free


If any of you are wanting to have a go at Screencasting, you can download a free version of Camtasia Studio 3 at the moment.

Earlier in the year I created a series of screencasts that goes through how to use the Camtasia software technically, why you might want to use it in the first place, and details of good practice. These are available below on the streaming server and YouTube. They might be useful to get you started.

01. Introduction - Streamed wmv / YouTube (2:14)
02. Installing the 30-Day Trial Copy - Streamed wmv / YouTube (2:15)
03. Choosing a Microphone - Streamed wmv / YouTube (1:00)
04. Starting a Recording - Streamed wmv / YouTube (2:13)
05. After Recording - Streamed wmv / YouTube (1:00)
06. Producing a Sharable File - Streamed wmv / YouTube (3:11)
07. Hints and Tips - Streamed wmv / YouTube (2:37)
08. Accessibility - Streamed wmv / YouTube (1:16)

If you're at Edge Hill and you decide you want to use screencasts in your modules, get in contact with us here at Learning Technology Development. We're based in the SOLSTICE centre and you can arrange to come in and use the decent quality equipment and microphone that we have here for creating screencasts. Trust me, it's worth making sure the sound is of a high quality. Otherwise the experience of using the screencasts can be a painful one for the students.

27 November, 2007

spokentext.net - More Converting Text to Audio

Following on from the post on Converting Text to Audio, there is a fantastic service at spokentext.net.

This service allows you to upload a file (be it .txt, .pdf, .doc or .html) and it converts the file to .mp3 for you. The voices are OK, but it's the small things that are the best part about the service. You are provided with an RSS feed, meaning that every document that you convert becomes part of a podcast. You can subscribe to this in iTunes for example, and that will sync to your iPod if you use one.

Also there is a Firefox extension for it. Install the extension and you get a tool bar.

Select text in the web page that you are viewing, click the 'Record Selected Text' link, and it will add an audio version of the text to your podcast feed.

Using the Firefox extension and the RSS feed make this a very easy way of keeping consuming textual materials on your portable media player while you are on the move. It is free at the moment, but if you'd like to help the development of the service they are asking for donations to help pay for better voices.

22 November, 2007

Using a Social Network instead of a VLE: Getting Started

We've set up a Social Network on the Ning.com site for one of our modules, to help the students share their work with each other and keep in touch during the module and the module placement.

We have an area for them on the institution's VLE, but Social Network sites work differently meaning that in some situations they are a better option for a class.

Social Network or VLE?

Our first decision was whether to focus the students on using the VLE or a Social Network area. The main differences are:

  1. In our VLE (WebCT/Blackboard CE) there are limited options for students to add content easily. Many Social Network Services make simple, and empower the students to share, create and communicate more.
  1. Students have to be invited to the area, and then set up their own accounts. This is an added level of complexity for them over having an institutional account to log into everything, but none of the students who started using the area today had a problem and it only took them half a minute.
  1. You can subscribe to RSS feeds detailing activity on the site. Although not everyone uses feeds, if you follow a lot of sites there's no good reason not to! If the VLE that we use had RSS feeds of updates, it would make it much easier to follow what is going on in each area.

Why use Ning?

There are many different social networking sites, and they are all different. This means the interaction of people in each of them is different. We’ve chosen the Ning social networking site to test at Edge Hill because:

  1. We wanted people to be able to join the private group without accepting the module leader as a friend. This seemed to be the case with Facebook (let us know if there are any settings to change this). We thought that students might not want to accept their tutors as a Facebook Friend as this gives them access to your updates about what you are doing and photos. Using Ning feels a lot less intrusive into students private lives.
  1. The groups can be set so that the module leader (or whoever set the group up) accepts requests for membership of the group. This means that they can keep control of access, but students can still take the responsibility to join themselves.
  1. Once students are members they can use the Video tool to share videos, the Music tool to share audio, the Photos tool to share images, the Forum to share ideas and attach documents. The module leader can send out notices via the Blog tool. This covers everything that they might want to share.

I'll try and write an update on how this Social Network was used, to see if there is anything that we can learn from it for the future. I think that using Ning is much more likely to encourage informal learning networks and connections that would benefit learning.

I've just watched Sugata Mitra's talk at the Lift conference about his work with kids in remote areas of India. Basically PCs were installed in a wall in a village and the kids who'd never seen a computer before, all helped each other learn to surf the web (including learning English). It's well worth watching as it goes to show the power of informal learning networks when people have something (like the internet) that empowers them, and they connect together to help each other learn.

16 November, 2007

Corporate Learning: Trends and Innovations Conference

Been having a look at the 'Corporate Learning' conference that is going on at Complexitive.com.

This is a free online conference that is being run using Elluminate Live! and while some of the sessions are very focussed on business, I think that there is a lot that Higher Education can learn from the group of people involved.

Have a look at the conference wiki to see a list of past recordings and future presentations that you might want to attend (add 6 hours to the time if you are in the UK).

This got me wondering; how is what corporate educators are doing, different to Higher Education's focus? Elliott Masie points out at the SCIL Conference, 2003, there are a lot of similarities in at least how on-line content and experiences are (or should be) developed.

I certainly hope that, in the future, developments that we do will be part of projects, with plans and service level agreements - more like what I've seen in the business world. Most developments I see in HE run much more informally. I think when SOLSTICE pushes the idea of New Academic Teams this project based approach will be an important part of making it work. The plans would also have to take into account invisible costs like levels of student support, and maintenance which tend to be ignored.

14 November, 2007

Social Networking Sites in Education

I'd say using Social Networking Sites in education is the big topic of the day in Learning Technology. I'm in the process of setting up an area on Ning for a group of students on placement to use right now.

Dana Boyd is one of the leaders in the academic study of Social Networks and if you're interested in joining the debate about how they could/should/shouldn't be used it's worth having a look at Dana's blog (see the best of page if you're short of time).

If you're interested in current research have a look at the most recent issue of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. This journal presents a lot of research relevant to those using communication technologies in education, and this issue covers research on Social Networking Sites in detail.

It's worth subscribing to the Journal's feed if you have a feed reader - and if you've not sort yourself out a Bloglines account or use Feedblitz to get email updates. Just go to the bottom of the Feedblitz homepage and add http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/loi/jcmc as the website address.

30 October, 2007

Creating and Editing Audio Using Audacity

We've been asked a few times about using Audacity to create and edit audio files - but sadly I've no time to create training materials.

But wonderfully there is plenty of help out there on the Web. GuidesAndTutorials.com have a getting started guide for Windows users, while Steve Sloan at San José State University has created an Audacity getting started guide for Mac users.

If you've got something a bit more advanced to do have a look at the Tutorials section of the Audacity Wiki.

And let us know how useful you find these tutorials and if you think there is anything missing - if there is a demand for it, we'll try and develop our own.

26 October, 2007

Out Of Institutional Control

Been reading an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about Northwestern University closing their own email system. Instead students get their email hosted by Google Apps Education Edition.

This article gets me thinking because often in Learning Technology Development we use similar freely available or relatively low cost services to create learning resources and experiences, or as easier to use tools than the ones available in an all-in-one VLE solution.

The things that we have to consider are:

Extra administration - Students might need accounts setting up (will the process put any of them off from doing this?). Can we support any problems the students have when using the service (the institutional VLE takes a massive amount of time to support just by itself)?

Here today... - How long with the services be around for? Can we back up what is created (for reuse, migration to another system, in case it needs to be shown in the future during an audit). If you created things in a more closed environment (e.g. Second Life) you might not be able to back them up as such. Materials in an environment like this won't have the lifespan of those 10 year old OHP slides that were still in use when I was a student. Is that seen as acceptable by the academic staff who use them, and those in management positions who will be allowing people time to keep creating resources?

This extra work can put people off using technologies, and that's not bad if it means the benefit of using the technology isn't worth the effort. I think some of the best and most innovative use of technologies in Teaching and Learning is done by people who are passionate about what they think can be done, and therefore put a lot of time, effort and focus into integrating it into their teaching. The worst uses of technology are probably by people who are told they have to use something, don't want to or know how to use it, and therefore don't integrate it's use into a larger strategy. There's nothing wrong with choosing to use 10 year old OHP slides over a Second Life meeting area, if they fit in with what you want to achieve.

12 October, 2007

Converting Text to Audio

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning has articles in MP3 format. It's useful to me as I don't get much time to read, but spend ages walking to places. Perhaps we could similarly offer resources to students in multiple formats and a central copy of text to audio conversion software in Learning Technology Development, could be used for this.

I've looked at two pieces of software that can create audio files from text files. NaturalSoft's NaturalReader, and TextAloud from nextup.com. It's difficult to compare them completely as NaturalReader doesn't give you a full demo, while TextAloud does, but I can compare:

Quality of voices:
Both let you use high quality voices (e.g. AT&T NaturalVoices, VoiceWare's NeoSpeech) which we'd need to use, and both allow you to change the speed of the speech in the recording. NaturalReader allows you to choose which voices you have, including UK English which is nice.

Import Function:
Both allow you to import text, PDF, Word and HTML files to convert to audio.

NaturalReader Professional Basic costs about $40 (£20), including a high quality natural voice, and NaturalReader Enterprise Basic costs $80 (£40) for 4 voices and a batch conversion function. Important if we were going to use it a lot.

TextAloud would cost $55 (£28) with 2 high quality voices.

So really there is not a lot between them as far as I can see. I'd like to test the NaturalReader Professional as this looks best value. If it was used a lot we would perhaps need the NaturalReader Enterprise. There is also a Developer version that can other applications can call on the command line to convert and batch convert files. This would be useful if we tried to put together an automated system, where perhaps staff could send in a text file and automatically receive an audio version back.

11 October, 2007

Basic Internet Security: Version 1.0

The Basic Internet Security guide for students without security software on their computers is now updated and on the Edge Hill University: Learning Services website on our guides page.

It contains information on useful free software that can help keep your PC safe from harm, and tips on other things that you can do.

Thanks for suggestions on how to develop it from people.

04 October, 2007

Methods of Distributing PowerPoint Files in WebCT

We've been asked about how to prepare PowerPoint files for use in WebCT.

Nothing particular has to be done to prepare PowerPoint presentations for use in WebCT, unless they are very large. For PowerPoint presentations with very large file sizes (e.g. over 50 MB) it is worth staff asking your contact in Learning Technology Development to run a copy of their file through a piece of software called Impatica for PowerPoint which reduces the file size.

If staff link to the PowerPoint presentation from an Organiser Page (e.g. the Homepage) they should set the file to open up in a 'New Browser Window' to enable the students to save or print the file.

Even then, occasionally some students have had problems saving or printing the files. This is because there are both browser settings and operating system settings that could affect how the file opens. Because of this some staff choose to set up a discussion area on the Discussion Tool and attach new PowerPoint files to discussion messages on there. This seems to work very well as the student has to download the file to their computer before opening it.

02 October, 2007

Video and Audio Files in WebCT (Version 4)

We're having more and more people using video and audio files in WebCT. There have been a few issues with student computers reacting differently, and the files not working for some.

The methods of distributing video and audio that seem to work for all students are:

1: Put the file on the streaming server. You'll need to speak to the Learning Technology Development officer that works with your faculty. This is the best solution for video files as they are large, and there is limited space on the WebCT server.

2: Add the file as an attachment in a discussion message. The students can download the file from there and listen to it on their computer or portable media player.

3: Add the file to a .zip file (in Windows right click the file and select 'Send to > Compressed (zipped) folder) and make the file available from an Organiser Page, for example the Homepage. Putting the file in a .zip file means that WebCT won't get confused by the settings on different computers, and will allow the student to download the file before trying to run it.

4: If you don't mind (or like the idea of) files that you've created being available publicly, you could host video files on a video sharing site (e.g. YouTube) and link to them from WebCT. For example Professor Alexandra Juhasz of Pitzer College is using YouTube as a central part of one of her modules.

14 September, 2007

An Introduction to Blogs and Podcasts: Video

A group from Lancashire County Council came this month to learn about new technologies that they could use in their work. As I was asked to do a session on blogs and podcasts, but as I was at ALT-C I recorded a screencast of the presentation for them, and then left some tasks for them to do.

This might be of interest to someone as an introduction to the technologies. I'd like to develop it further as a staff development session, but I'm not sure that most of the academic staff here really want to create podcasts. I'm even less sure that the students want to subscribe to them on a large scale. It might be better to develop staff development sessions about on-line audio and include podcasting as a small section of that.

Basic Internet Security

I was asked by a member of academic staff to come up with advice for the occasional students who haven't got anti-virus software or similar security software.

I wrote this document advising on useful software. I'm no expert on internet security so any feedback would be appreciated before I put it on the web site with our other documents.

07 September, 2007

ALT-C 2007: Looking Back... and Forward

Well it's OK going to a conference and hearing people speak... but how had that affected the way I intend to go about my role as a Learning Technologist?

What we using the potential of the technology for?

I think I've had time to reflect on how we work while at the conference - helped by talking to people in similar role. I see a clearer distinction between the work we do enabling administration using technology, and the work we do enabling learning using technology. I think that is an important distinction to use when talking with academic staff and will help us and academic staff keep away from investing all our time in what is really administrative work. Examples would be putting course booklets online, or using discussion tools for announcements. Even uploading learning resources that would otherwise be photocopied and handed out in class is using the technology for administration, rather than using it's power to aid learning in a way that photocopied documents couldn't.

Formative Feedback

Partly because it is part of the focus of my SOLSTICE research I noticed a lot about formative feedback, both the importance of it and potential ways of using computers to assist with this. I want to do a bit more thinking and reading in this area and then perhaps work with some staff creating learning objects. These might involve creating complex multiple choice questions for use in sessions with voting software, and for use on the VLE. It might involve games that give immediate feedback on actions, like the Traveller IQ Challenge game on Facebook.

Recording Lectures

Regarding recording lectures, I can better see that there is a definite limit to the amount of lectures we can really manage the recording of manually. If the institution wants to record all, or most lectures we'll need a automatic lecture recording system like Lectopia. I'm not sure of my opinions on the benefit of recording all lectures, but it has certainly been beneficial to record some, from an accessibility point of view.

Don't Be Scared!

Talking to people and listening to presentations, I feel a lot more comfortable about trying things on Mobile devices and in Second Life. Small projects might not be as time consuming in development and student support terms as I had thought.

It was well worth attending a conference to help me move these and other projects forward a bit. I hope next year I can perhaps present, and put a little more into the pot of ideas, as it were.

06 September, 2007

ALT-C 2007: Day Three - Automated Formative Feedback


Today I've been to the 9:00 session William Billingsley from the University of Cambridge and Pete Thomas from the Open University.

William was talking about the use of Intellegent Books and Massively Multiple Choice questions. Intellegent Books are an attempt to create a reactive learning environment (Brown, Burton and Bell, 1974). They give students feedback on their actions, perhaps calculating the consequences of a decision in a model simulation.

Massively Multiple Choice questions are an attempt to remove the possibilty of students guessing answers, and giving teachers a better chance at understanding how the student understands the topic, like what Dylan Wiliam was talking about yesterday.

Pete Thomas spoek about their work on automating the assessment of flow diagrams in subjects like computer science. Their ER Tutor Tool can work out how a students model of a process differs from the correct one and gives feedback on it.

In Conclusion

I've seen a lot this week about formative feedback and the potential use of technologies to automate the process or to simplify the process for the teacher. After what Dylan Wiliams said about remembering that the most important piece of the process is the teacher, and the teacher's skills, we should remember that the teachers need to do the designing of automated feedback alongside Learning Technologists (in a 'New Academic Team') who can advise from a technical point of view.

05 September, 2007

ALT-C 2007: Day Two - Formative Feedback and Mobile Learning Resources


Formative Feedback

This morning got off to a good start with Dylan Wiliam's Keynote about the importance of formative feedback, and how technologies can play a part in helping teachers with this task.
His work focussed on school children rather than Higher Education (see Inside the Black Box for details), but what he talks about relates to us in HE too.

Research shows that adding technology (for example whiteboards) to classrooms has no effect on attainment overall. Of all the things looked at the biggest factor is the teacher. Teachers who have developed their teaching skills over many years can help students much faster.
He quotes the work of Nyquist, 2003, on types of feedback and talked about how formative feedback was effective in promoting learning.

Wilson and Draney, 2004, have done work on creating multiple choice questions, for example with more than one correct answer, or questions that don't have correct answers as such. These allow teachers to get an idea of how the student is understanding what they have been learning. Dylan spoke about ways in which this feedback could be given instantly to a teacher in a class situation, allowing them to talk with students there and then about their understanding, help them develop better understanding, and get everyone involved in the classroom.

Voting systems kind of go there, but from what I've seen I'm not sure whether they tend to allow this more complex questioning. I'll have a look at Optivote, which we bought, when I get back to Edge Hill.

Mobile Learning

Creating resources for mobile devices has seemed overwhelming to me, because of the massive amount of devices and platforms. Therefore I was interested to hear Geoff Stead from Tribal CTAD talk about their work.

They have 2 main projects. MyLearning Author is software that allows teachers to create simple games/quizzes for mobiles. The Media Board is web based tools that enable the students to upload resources that they have created on their mobile devices to the web, either individually or as a group.

I'll need to look at this further, but I left this session a lot more confortable with the idea that we could create resources for mobile devices without spending most of our time supporting students with issues.

By the way, if you want to learn where Tanzania is, log into Facebook and have a play with TravelPod's Traveller IQ Challenge. That'a formative feedback in action.

04 September, 2007

ALT-C 2007: Day One - Podcasting and CMALT


So I'm at ALT-C, and here's what I've heard about today.

Keynote by Michelle Selinger, CISCO.
This was on at the unearthly hour of 9:30 :) Frances Bell was paying attention though.

Online Audio and Podcasting
Charlynn Miller and Leon Newnham from the University of Ballarat spoke about a project they had been doing related to online audio. This project involved incorporating a 5-8 minute audio recording into the Business Information Systems programme each week. This recording would cover what was to be learned that week and contain a FAQ section.

At the end of week 7, students completed a survey that they were given and it was found that 97% used the audio files and 90% said that they made the lectures easier to understand. From the server stats it looked like perhaps half the students were using the RSS feeds, although they weren't asked directly about this.

Someone from RMIT University spoke about a larger scale project where the audio from lectures were recorded by 6 lecturers in 7 subjects, covering 2100 students.

Their process involved the lectures having voice recorders, recording the lectures, and sending the .wav files to the technical team. The files were then converted to mp3s and made available both via the Blackboard VLE for download and via a podcast.

It was found that 51% of students used the files. Of these only 4% used the podcast feed, 14% downloaded files to Personal Media Players, and 71% downloaded the files to off campus PCs.

43% of students who used the files did so becasue they had missed a lecture, 34% to revise for exams and 23% to review a lecture after class. Interestingly 10% seemed to struggle with the sound quality, and there were issues surrounding the time it took the technical staff to edit the files, sort problems with lost equipment and low batteries... all stuff that we faced when we did something similar (see link)

They are currently looking at the Lectopia (now Echo360) system as something that will be more scalable that that time intensive manual system. I think that if we wanted to record a lot of lectures, we would have to use something similar.

Relating these presentations to us in other ways, it seems that students aren't using RSS feeds to syncronise media files with their portable media players. Perhaps more would if they had a good few podcasts to subscribe to - both produced in the institution and elsewhere?

Introduction to CMALT: Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology
CMALT is a scheme to enable professional accreditation for Learning Technologists. It involves a peer-reviewed portfolio of your learning technology related work being submitted, and if it meets their standards you gain accreditation.

This seems straight forward, and it is advised that the process of putting the portfolio together should take about 6-9 hours and be about 8 sides of A4 with hyperlinks.

The cost is quite high though. £95 for each attempted submission and you will be required to pay £80 per year for Certified Membership of ALT. That's where it lost me, otherwise I'd be saying that all the LTD team should go for it and Edge Hill should pay the £95. Perhaps if I start looking for work elsewhere, it might be useful to be a Certified Member of ALT though.

All in all I'm glad I've been to the sessions that Ive been to, but part of the benefit of coming to a conference like this is that you get inspired by the people around you and think of ways to move forward projects that you are already working on. That's definately happened here.

23 August, 2007

Google Earth

With the new release of Google Earth (4.2) , it might be worth taking a quick look at how we might use it in teaching and learning. George Siemens argues that this is the sort of inspirational resource that educators and educational institutions should be focussing our resources on developing, rather than focusing on Learning Management Systems.

The easy place to start is looking at what people are already doing with Google Earth, whether in formal education or not.

Brian Romans started a Where on (Google)Earth? Quiz on his blog. This developed into a community effort. People try to work out where the screenshots taken in Google Earth are from. For example here is an example of a question and an answer.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, USA is an example of an institution who have created a KMZ file which if you open will turn the campus in Google Earth into quite a complete campus map with 3D buildings, photos and annotations. You can learn about creating 3D buildings on the Google Sketchup site if that is of interest to you. Also you can add photos at panoramio.com; see the post on my experiences if you want to know more.

While there might be no reason for creating a campus map from a teaching and learning point of view, you might want to create annotations or use existing resources to bring an issue that you are covering in an academic programme to life. Google Earth Outreach has helped non-profit organisations work on this, for example those raising awareness of deforestation in the Amazon.

For more ideas, have a look at Google Earth Community discussion boards specifically the Educators discussion board.

Frank Taylors 'Google Earth Blog' is a great place to go to keep track of developments and uses for the software in the future. Subscribe to it's RSS Feed with your feed reader. If you don't have one and want to start subscribing to blogs, it is worth getting a Bloglines account.

More technical information can be found at Stefan Geens' Blog 'Ogle Earth' and at 'Google Earth Hacks'.

15 August, 2007

Sharing RSS Feeds with Bloglines

We've written quite a few posts about sharing information from RSS feeds (see RSS tagged articles) from allowing people to subscribe by email to displaying content of your feeds on your web site.

I think one of the simplest ways has been overlooked - that is creating a Bloglines account containing the feeds that you want to share, and setting the 'Show My Blogroll' option in 'Options/Blog Settings' to 'Yes, publish my Blogroll'. The NHS National electronic Library for Medicines have created a Bloglines account to do this. My own account can be seen too at http://www.bloglines.com/public/pfh.

This gives an easy way to allow people to keep track of a set of feeds by visiting your page. Alternatively they could download the OPML file containing your subscriptions (by clicking on 'Export Subscriptions') and upload it into their own Bloglines account. This would allow them to add and delete feeds to suit themselves.

If you're interested in following peoples thoughts on using technologies in teaching and learning why not download my OPML file, set up your own Bloglines account, upload the OPML file using the 'Import Subscriptions' link and delete the categories and feeds that you don't need. That's a quick way to get started building a library of RSS feeds of your own.

Producing Learning Resources on DVD

When looking at formats for resources that most students could access, DVD would probably be among them. If a module was producing a large amount of video and audio resources, I was wondering how realistic it would be to distribute them this way - or at least have this as an option when students were struggling to download resources.

We have software to burn DVDs and create simple menus - iDVD on the Macs in the LINC Building, Pinnacle Studio, Premiere Pro and Ulead's DVD MovieFactory. We've not got higher end software such as DVD Studio Pro and Adobe Encore anywhere here (as far as I can tell), so we couldn't currently create more professional looking DVDs with things like multiple language support.

The book Designing DVD Menus is available in Edge Hill Library and is a good introduction to the possibilities and challenges involved in creating DVD menus.

09 August, 2007

Social Bookmarking in Plain English

The Common Craft Show have released another video in their Technologies in Plain English series, this time highlighting the power of Social Bookmarking.

The short video, (3.25 min) focuses on Del.icio.us, and simply illustrates how to get started and why you should want to. Another really great video - which is definitely worth watching.

01 August, 2007

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

I've been having a look at the new issue of IRRODL. This is a peer-reviewed Journal, which "aims to disseminate research, theory, and best practice in open and distance learning worldwide".

It's certainly has an international focus, for example the paper "Integrating Mobile Learning into Nomadic Education Programme in Nigeria: Issues and perspectives". This gives you a different perspective that just reading about stuff in the UK and US HE sector.

I really liked the fact that they've produced MP3 versions of the papers. These are computer generated, but good enough quality to listen to. The audio files are great because I'd never get time to read a journal like this but I've listened to a few papers in the gym this week on my MP3 player. It'd be even better if there was an RSS feed that allowed you subscribe to the MP3s as a podcast in software like iTunes, but there is a feed you can subscribe to that lets you know when each issue is released.

27 July, 2007

ccLearn: Creative Commons' Open Education Resources Project

Creative Commons is an organisation founded in 2001 with the aim of creating copyright licences that you can use to make it easy for others to share and build on your work. Some videos explaining it are available.

For example, if I has written some music that I wanted people to feel free to listen to and use in their own work (e.g. in videos) I could apply a Creative Commons licence to it. I could then make it available on a site with other music that has been given a similar licence. Examples of Creative Commons music sites are Jamendo and Magnatune.

Recently an educational division - ccLearn - has been started with the same sort of focus. It's mission is "minimize barriers to sharing and reuse of educational materials — legal barriers, technical barriers, and social barriers."

My hope is that this and similar projects that we could get involved with, will help us to use and develop resources that would otherwise be too difficult and time consuming to develop, by building on others work. For example the educational potential of games is very interesting (see James Paul Gee's book as a good introduction), but at Edge Hill we cannot really find the time to develop them by ourselves.

For more links and resources about open education resources, have a look at the Wikipedia OER page.

17 July, 2007

E-portfolios: Update

It's almost a year ago that I posted 'An Overview of E-portfolios' which I hoped would help us think through whether we would want to develop the use of e-portfolios, and if so how and in what areas.

Over the past year, several Academic members of staff have expressed interest in using e-portfolios - as far as I know all who talked to Learning Technology Development wanted to use a specific piece of software to do this, namely PebblePad.

Some of the interested staff had their projects funded by SOLSTICE, purchasing 12 month licences for using PebblePad so that pilots could be done - it will be interesting to see the outputs from these projects and what the staff consider was successful. I'll aim to share those on this blog.

In the 'An Overview of E-portfolios' post I also mentioned the institutional 'PDP Audit' which would affect our long term approach to e-portfolios and portfolios in general. As far as I can tell, this hasn't been completed yet. Again, when we know something we can share it here, along with how it might affect the use of e-portfolios.

Finally, if you're interested in e-portfolios, Graham Attwell (Director of the Wales based research organisation, Pontydysgu) has released a presentation called 'Eportfolio Development and Implementation' which is a good introduction to how and why e-portfolios might be used.

26 June, 2007

Using Speech Recognition Software to Help Create Accessible Resources

We've been working on creating more audio and video resources recently, and we've wanted to develop a process to allow us easily and quickly create transcriptions of them.

Transcriptions, we think, would be a step towards helping make resources accessible for all potential users. Not only that but it's nice to have a transcription so people can scan the contents to see if they want to spend time watching a video.

We've just purchased a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Preferred, which transcribes audio files in several formats:


This is suitable for us as the software we are using for creating video (Premiere Pro 1.5) and screencasts (Camtasia Studio 3) both allow export of the audio as .wav files.

To test it I transcribed a short (134 second) video manually. This contained 391 words and took me about 20 minutes to transcribe (without any special transcription software or peddles).

Dragon transcribed this (before I trained it to recognise my voice) and it got 296 words right. After 30 minutes general training it got 308 words correct, and adding special words that I used in the videos but which weren't in Dragon's vocabulary pushed that to 311 words.

To correct this final file took about 10 minutes, indicating that this way of creating transcriptions would half the time it has been taking me to create transcriptions.

Spending 30 minutes training Dragon to recognise my voice raised the accuracy from 76% to 80%, which doesn't sound like much but I think would be worth asking staff to train Dragon if they were creating a lot of resources that were to be transcribed.

In conclusion, this doesn't look like it will make transcriptions almost automatic, and that would be important if we were to transcribe everything. However it will help us create transcriptions when we want to.

Looking online at transcription services, they charge from about £0.60 per minute for 1-2 speakers to £1.25 per minute for 5 or more speakers. Outsourcing to these services might be a good solution if we have too much work in this area.

06 June, 2007

Web2.0 Explained

The Machine is Us/ing Us

This is a great video created by Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University.

The video introduces the Web 2.0 concept,("..the so-called second wave of Web-based services that enables people to network and aggregate information online"*), and highlights the impact it is having in less than 5 minutes.

*A Lesson in Viral Video, an article written by Elia Powers back in Febuary for Inside Higher Ed, gives some background to Wesch's video.

The Medieval Helpdesk

Introducing new concepts has always been difficult...technology is no different...

This is a great video illustrating this exact point:

01 June, 2007

SOLSTICE Conference 2007: One Minute Mix


This video is a one-minute encapsulation of the May 2007 SOLSTICE conference.

SOLSTICE is Edge Hill's Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. It's aim is to help develop a method of course delivery that has the use of technology integrated into it, rather than added on to it.

Using YouTube to Host Learning Objects

Some members of staff here have been talking about using video sharing sites like YouTube to host their videos, so I thought that I'd look into this a bit more so see what I could learn.

I've uploaded my 'Screencasting with Camtasia' screencasts to YouTube.

Screencasting Using Camtasia: 01 - Introduction
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 02 - Installing
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 03 - Microphones
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 04 - Starting a Recording
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 05 - After Recording
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 06 - Producing
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 07 - Tips
Screencasting Using Camtasia: 08 - Accessibilty

So, what are the benefits and drawbacks of releasing materials this way, over putting them on the streaming server?

-Should be no access problems because YouTube uses Flash video and almost everyone has the Flash plugin installed.
-Easy to embed the videos in your WebCT area.
-Doesn't use the limited space on the streaming server.

-Quality is almost always lower after it has been re-encoded during the upload to YouTube, although the 'What's the best format to upload for high quality?' page will give you advice on the formats to save your video in for the best results.
-YouTube seems to cut the end off my videos - you need to remember to leave a bit extra video at the end to compensate.
-Can't update videos on YouTube without uploading another version and changing the link. We can do that easily on the streaming server.

Anything else I've missed?

31 May, 2007

Screencasting Using Screencast-O-Matic.com

We use Camtasia Studio to create screencast videos, and I'm quite pleased with it. However at £80 for an educational licence it's not realistic to get licences for everyone who might just want to use it occasionaly.

CamStudio and ZDSoft's Screen Recorder have both been looked at here on Cakes as free alternatives, but the new free online service Screencast-O-Matic looks like it would be a better option for staff here to use.

Firstly it is online, meaning there are no issues getting it installed on people's computers.

Secondly it is even simpler to set up and use. You just need Java installed (the site will test this for you) and then to choose the basic settings.

I've created a quick training video if you'd like help using it - but you probably won't need help, because it is so simple. Go and have a play!


Wikis: The Development of a Wikipedia Page

I've heard people criticise Wikipedia a lot, mainly in academic circles because staff don't like the fact Wikipedia pages get referenced by students in essays.

That's fair enough, but I find it incredibly useful as a starting point for looking into topics. Yet I've heard people sitting near me in academic conferences, go into quiet rants when it's been mentioned at the front.

John Udell has created a very interesting screencast about the development of a particular Wikipedia page. I love the way that showing the development of the page puts it in context, and I think that it would help anyone appreciate better how Wikipedia and wikis in general work and should be used.

Before you watch the screencast be aware that 'naughty words' appear on the page from time-to-time :) Wikipedia Screencast (Via: Weblogged)

30 May, 2007

Wikis in Plain English: The Common Craft Show

The Common Craft Show have released another video in their technologies in plain english series. This time they cover Wikis in their inimitable low-tech style, but you might also want to see their 'RSS in Plain English' video.

This demonstrates a visual engaging way of explaining why people might want to use different technologies. I think that if I was explaining to academic staff how these technologies work and might help their teaching and learning, these videos would be a good place to start.

25 May, 2007

Creating Screencasting Videos Using Camtasia Studio

I did the 'Creating Re-usable Learning Objects using Camtasia Studio' session today as part of the Learning Services Technology Month. A few people couldn't make it and I said I'd do a screencast version of the training.

Here is the screencast version (16 minutes) - hope it's OK! Let us know if you need any advice or have any comments about anything that's been missed.

Note that there is the free CamStudio software available for those who cannot afford Camtasia Studio, but it requires a bit more technical knowledge to use.

These videos are all in Windows Media Video (WMV) streamed format.

01. Introduction (2:14)
02. Installing the 30-Day Trial Copy (2:15)
03. Choosing a Microphone (1:00)
04. Starting a Recording (2:13)
05. After Recording (1:00)
06. Producing a Sharable File (3:11)
07. Hints and Tips (2:37)
08. Accessibility (1:16)

Organise and Protect Your Bookmarks with Zinkmo

A couple of weeks ago my PC crashed and all Firefox profiles were deleted, including bookmarks. This wasn't a massive problem in this case as I'd backed up the most important ones, but I've heard of other people who have had similar problems when using Firefox.

So I was interested when I saw Jane Hart mention Zinkmo on her blog. This is a piece of software that you install on your PC (not Mac) and it allows you to syncronise your bookmarks across multiple browsers and to access them online if you aren't on your own computer.

Now my bookmarks are the same in Internet Explorer, Firefox and accessible online - so I can't loose them again! However I noticed that the software at times runs quite slow - and other people have noted this too, so you might want to wait for the software to develop before you install it?

23 May, 2007

Free Sound Effects for your Videos: The Freesound Project

When creating video and audio, you often need access to sound effects - but a complete library can work out as very expensive if you aren't earning money from your videos.

The Freesound Project aims to create a huge library of sound effects available under a Creative Commons Sampling Plus licence. This means that you just have to recognise the author or owner of the work in your work, and the Freesound site makes it easy to put this information on a page that can be linked to.

You can search for effects that you need, browse the top 150 tags, browse by location and add your own.

15 May, 2007

FormLogix - Online form maker


Whilst helping my son who was frantically trying to get all his ICT coursework finished over the weekend, I came across this online form maker.
FormLogix is an online form builder tool for creating web databases and web forms. It allows forms to be built easily using a drag and drop interface and the data collected can be managed using a simple database management tool.

But the best thing about it is that it is completely free!

The forms can be embedded into a website, blog or even be emailed. It enables a user to easily create web forms and web databases such as: Contact us forms, Feedback forms, Events registration forms, Surveys, online Polls, Invitations...

We have looked at a number of survey and poll tools but I think this is by far the most sophisticated and easy to use.

14 May, 2007

Podcasts: Choosing Podcast Aggregator Software

I'm trying to write a document to introduce staff to Podcasting and it's possibilities for use in education. Over the next few weeks I'm going to write some posts covering various topics relating to podcasting - before developing them further and putting them together in an easy to distribute document.

If you want to subscribe to a podcast you need software that automatically downloads new episodes of podcasts that you have subscribed to. This is often called podcast 'aggregator' software, but you might hear 'podcatcher' software too. There are dozens to choose from, but for this post I've looked at 3 popular ones:

If you cannot install software on your work computer, or if you use many different computers at your library - you can use a web based service like Bloglines to subscribe, just as you would if you subscribe to blogs. This allows you to access your subscriptions from anywhere. It doesn't download the files in the background like aggregator software, but it will help you keep track of when new episodes are released.

All the pieces of software have different functions, so you need to choose one that fits in with the way you want to use the podcast files that are downloaded. I have a Samsung MP3 player (512MB) that I listen to audio on and I watch the videos at my PC, so I need a piece of software that organises the files and that makes it easy to copy files into my MP3 player.

While many features are standard between all the choices, the list below details the important functionality that varies:
  • Lets me copy and paste files from it's interface, directly into my MP3 player: iTunes
  • Allows organisation of podcasts into folders (useful if you are subscribed to many): Democracy, Bloglines
  • Keeps track of the number of unwatched files from each podcast (again useful if you are subscribed to many: Democracy, Bloglines
  • Allows import and export of OPML files for transfer or backup: iTunes, Juice, Bloglines
  • Web Based: Bloglines
While iTunes doesn't offer the functionality to organise large number of podcasts, it does everything else well, and I'd recomend this to someone getting started subscribing to podcasts, especially if they own an iPod. Democracy Player is still very new, but looks like it could offer iTunes some competition in the future.

10 May, 2007

dotSUB: Add Subtitles to Your Videos

dotSUB is an online service that allows you to upload videos, and makes it very easy to add subtitles (closed captions). You can add them in more than one language if required - in fact you can allow anyone from around the world to translate the video.

I've added our most downloaded Web Cats episode, and added subtitles just in English for now. It's embedded below. Click on the up and down arrows on the bar at the bottom of the video to move to the subtitled version.

Is was quite a quick process to add the transcription that I'd already created, as dotSUB allows you to use some helpful shortcuts.

The 'RSS in Plain English Video', embedded below, has been translated into several languages. Again click on the buttons on the bar under the video to flick through the languages.

More information about subtitles and other ways of making online videos accessible are available at webaim.org.

04 May, 2007

Using Edublogs.org: Questions

As well as my Blogger blogs, I’ve been using an Edublogs (which used Wordpress software) blog to record how a project was progressing . I’ve also had questions about using Edublogs from staff at Edge Hill, and this post aims to answer all the issues and questions that I've come across.

01: How can I filter spam comments?

I’ve had trouble with the amount of spam I get, and it has made it impossible to check through all my comments to moderate them and allow the real comments to be shown. Also the comment notification emails from this blog have filled up my inbox.

However, now the Edublogs Tutorials blog has brought the Akismet spam filter plugin to my attention. It seems to be working well for me.

02: How do I create Tabs at the Top of the Page?

Basically the tabs are links to information pages rather than blog posts. You can choose which you are creating when in your Edublogs admin area by selecting the ‘Write Page’ option under ‘Write’.

Whether the information page that you have created appears as a tab (as with the blog shown below)...

...or just a link (in the blog shown below they are links under the ‘Pages’ title)...

...depends on the theme you choose for your blog. You can choose themes by going to ‘Presentation’ and selecting ‘Themes’.

03: How do I make the blog (or sections of it) private?

All I’ve been able to find regarding this is a plugin called ‘Edublogs only’ that makes your blog only available to people logged into Edublogs.org. Find it in your Edublogs admin area under ‘Plugins’. This obviously doesn’t give you complete privacy, and after trying a few things including setting the Post Status (below)...

...to private I don’t think Edublogs is the way to go if you want complete privacy. Blogger seems to do this well though.

03 May, 2007

Experiences of Recording Lectures: Part Two – LNG2104

This Semester (Spring 2007) I’ve been working with Deborah Chirrey in the English and History department to record her LNG2104: Analysing Discourse lectures. We recorded them because there was a student in the group who was hard of hearing, and it was thought that she would benefit from being able to listen again to anything that she missed in class.

The lectures were recorded using one of our Olympus DS-2 voice recorders and an attached clip mic. Deborah would return the recorder after each lecture, and I would edit it and save it as an MP3 using the free WavePad software. I’d then upload it to a new ClickCaster podcast that I’d created. The process of editing and uploading took about 10 minutes per lecture.

ClickCaster is an online service that hosts your files, automatically creates feeds for you and keeps tracks of how many subscriptions and views each episode has had. These are publicly available but I decided that no-one who wasn’t on the course would search for LNG2104, and therefore the benefits outweighed the potential issues.

This week I interviewed the student for whom the recordings had been made, to get an understanding of how she used the recordings:
  • She said that the recordings had been useful for her and she used them every week unless she was too busy with assignments. She had a facilitator taking notes in the lecture, but the recordings still helped.
  • She listened at her computer (and didn’t have and MP3 player anyway), and was happy listening this way.
  • I asked her if she would have subscribed to the podcast if she’d known how, and she said that would have made things easier for her, but it wasn’t a problem going looking for new episodes.
  • Transcripts would have been very useful for her.

So in conclusion:

Helped student when she missed something in the lecture.
Quick to set up.
RSS feed available.

Recordings and feeds potentially publicly available – might this be an issue for some staff?

To do in the future:
Create training for students on how to subscribe to podcasts.
Look at transcribing recordings with Dragon NS Pro.

Experiences of Recording Lectures: Part One – LIT1000

I’ve been involved with a couple of projects recording lectures to make them available online for students. I’ll make some posts as overviews of what we’ve done in the projects, what I feel we learned and how this might feed into future research.

The first project in the 2005/06 year was for Rob Spence’s LIT1000 class. He wanted to see if recording the lectures and making them available online was useful for the students. We made then available in WebCT as files to download or to stream online, as shown in the screenshot below.

I like that the students had a choice about how they could access the materials, but it did take me perhaps 40-50 minutes a week once I’d received the files to get them all online. This wouldn’t be scalable if more than a couple of people were recording lectures each week, so I talked with Rob about him putting the files online himself. We came across issues that prevented this. These included Rob’s PC not really being powerful enough to be converting and editing large audio files and time issues for him.

We didn’t do any organised research on the students’ use of those lectures, and because we housed them in WebCT there were no stats of their use. Robs conversations with individual students suggested to him that they were used, but not that much. He is talking about recording audio materials to support lectures in the future, rather than recording the lectures themselves.

So in conclusion:

Easy access to resources.

Time consuming to prepare.
Not widely used.
Unsure of educational benefit.

To do in the future:
Explore how audio might be used to support learning in other ways than just recording lectures.

[part 2 to follow...]

30 April, 2007

Using FeedBlendr to Organise Your Podcast Subscriptions

I subscribe to quite a lot of podcasts on several subjects, but iTunes doesn't allow me to organise them in a useful way to me. This means keeping track of my feeds feels very messy.

FeedBlendr is an online service that allows you to combine several feeds into one - this could be used in many ways. For me, it means that I can have one feed for each subject, for example:

Educational Technology

Web Design

General Technology

The above links give you the RSS feeds that you can subscribe to using iTunes or other software. Give it a go! Many people listen to audio podcasts on their MP3 players while commuting to work or at the gym, instead of listening to the radio.

But as I said, FeedBlendr could be used to do other things, such as easily combine feeds from several blogs that are relevant to your subject. The feed could be then displayed (perhaps on your WebCT area) using some of the technologies and techniques we've mentioned before, e.g:

By email

On a timeline

Displaying recent post titles

25 April, 2007

Setting up a Webcam Feed

You may want to set up a webcam up so that people can watch a live event, or watch something develop over time.

This is a very easy thing to do with just a webcam and Windows Media Encoder software, which you'll probably have on your PC anyway.

There are simple instructions on Tech.Blorge.com which will talk you through setting up the feed from Windows Media Encoder.

We set up a FishCam(TM) below to demonstrate. For the next few days you will be able to check the 'Grow Your Own Fish' demo, running in my office. Be amazed as the fish grows!

Jake Ludington's MediaBlab blog supplied the code to set the above viewer up if you want to set one up yourself.

If you cannot see the FishCam pilot (and note that it'll be a bit hard to see at night):

-Open 'Windows Media Player'.
-If you cannot see the menus, right-click the top bar and Choose 'File' > 'Open URL'.
-Type in:

24 April, 2007

Putting DVD Content Online Using HandBrake

We're occasionally asked to put DVDs online, when the original video files no longer exist to work from.

Usually we'd create the video file to put online by connecting our DVD player to a PC with Premiere Pro on, capturing the DVD with the Premiere Pro software and then exporting the video to the file format we want.

There is free software that can do the same thing in one step, without the need for expensive software like Premiere Pro. HandBrake is an example which is quite easy to use. I've used this to convert a one hour 40 minute DVD to MPEG, and it took my PC about 45 minutes to complete the task.

I tried the convertion with a few settings and not all worked (when I saved it as an .avi video, it was upside down), but it provides a solution without you spending any money.

For help with using the HandBrake software have a look at the links on it's Wikipedia page.

18 April, 2007

Using Instant Messaging to Help Support Staff and Students

I've heard of library helpdesks having Instant Messaging accounts to allow easy access to support, and thought this interesting because it's more immediate than email.

Lindsey blogged about Plugoo which is a service that allows people to communicate with your IM account direct from a web page. I've created an example that links to my personal account below.

I like this because it lets users know if you are available and allows you to chat with them, without any barriers to them at all (e.g. logging on to email). On the other side it is impossible to identify people so you couldn't accept requests to change account details through this, and while you were logged on to IM you'd potentially be interupted all the time.

Even so it is an interesting use of IM technology.