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.