27 February, 2008

Second Life: SciLands Solar System Tour

There are a lot of educators using Second Life and looking at possible ways that this and other similar environments might be used to improve teaching and learning.

While not every use is really suited for the 3D environment occasionally there is across something that uses the strengths of the space well. SciLands is a mini-continent devoted to science and technology, and one of the things it contains is the Solar System Tour which aims to demonstrate the massive distances in space - something that isn't easy to do in 2D.

If you're new to Second Life you can sign up for free, read 'The Unofficial Complete Fool's Guide to Second Life' and subscribe to the SL Educators mailing list. To look at other educational uses of SL watch 'Educational Uses of Second Life'.

I'm in the process of trying to calculate what sort of costs occur (time and money) to both Edge Hill staff and students when creating and accessing various resources and learning experiences in this environment and other similar ones. This will help us make decisions about what we can try to achieve if people want to use the technology.

20 February, 2008

Harvard Referencing: Online Audio and Podcast Episodes

Learning Services has been asked several times about how to reference online audio files and podcasts. I guess students are wanting to reference interviews and conversations that are being increasingly made available as audio online.

Looking at what other institutions recommend, Coventry University's 'Harvard Reference Style Guide' advises to "reference the broadcast in the normal way but then add all the information to enable your reader [to] locate this source online".

They say the sections for a broadcast are:
  • TITLE of the broadcast in italics
  • Year published in brackets
  • Online in square brackets
  • Station or channel followed by a full stop
  • Date of broadcast
  • Full web address starting with <>
  • Date of access in square brackets
This would mean to reference an episode of a podcast, lets say Boagworld:

...part of the Boagworld podcast:

It's reference could be:
111. Utopia (2008) [online] Boagworld. 14 February 2008 < http://www.boagworld.com/archives/2008/02/111_utopia.html > [17th February 2008]

This is:
  • TITLE of the episode in italics
  • Year published in brackets
  • Online in square brackets
  • Podcast name followed by a full stop
  • Date of release
  • Full web address of the audio file starting with <>
  • Date of access in square brackets
The document ‘Citing and Referencing Guide: Harvard Style’ from Imperial College, London gives similar guidelines, but also adds that the access date should include the time and timezone that the file was accessed down to the second. For example. [Accessed 2nd October 2007. GMT 18:11:06]

For a standalone audio file that is not part of a podcast, I would recommend changing the Podcast name to the person who is speaking or organisation who published it.

So for the audio file entitled 'Online Discussion' at:

the reference would be:
Online Discussion (2007) [online] Cathy Sherratt. 16 January 2007
< http://stream.edgehill.ac.uk/Solstice/forum_january/03_cathysherratt.wma >


Online Discussion
(2007) [online] Cathy Sherratt. 16 January 2007 < http://stream.edgehill.ac.uk/Solstice/forum_january/03_cathysherratt.wma > [Accessed 2nd October 2007. GMT 18:11:06]

Obviously this would be adjusted a little to fit our guidelines, but what do people think?

I think that the addition of the time accessed down to the second is important with many of the new Web technologies, as they can be changed on a very regular basis. For example Wikis which usually give you the ability to see how a document looked at any specific date and time. Audio and video files are more difficult to change, so would probably go through less changes, but some podcasts still re-edit and re-post episodes (e.g. GeekBrief).

12 February, 2008

More Survey Tools: Using Google Docs

Following on from the recent post comparing three survey tools, I thought it was worth mentioning a feature in Google Docs. Google Docs is a free online office software suite and its spreadsheet tool allows you to set up a simple survey very easily. It collects all the responses in a spreadsheet for you. See Darren Drapers instructions if you want to give it a go, and you can look at an example form that took me about a minute to create.

I'll try and compare this with the other 3 tools that we looked at (remembering that it is in Beta testing and still has some bugs).

-Form creation, duplication and management among a large number of people

It is very easy to create simple forms. You're not going to create anything as attractive or complex as FormAssembly allows, but you can create something that does the job in minutes.

Regarding duplicating the form and allowing other people to use it (for example to share a generic end of module survey that someone else might want to use in their course) you can upload a spreadsheet downloaded from someone else's account but it doesn't store the formatting of the questions. This is a bit of a drawback if you want to use this for large generic forms as you'd have to reset the question types.

Google Docs allows you to create a form and invite people to collaborate in its development if you want. There is a synchronous chat tool built in to help collaboration at a distance. As Google accounts are free anyone who wanted to use it could just create their own account and their own forms if that is required.

-Completing the forms

No issues there. The survey creator even has the option of including past answers at the bottom of the page in case that helps or interests the person completing the form.

-Data management and analysis

The data is stored in a spreadsheet which can be downloaded in various formats, or displayed in a chart. Pretty much like the other three services we looked at.

-Financial cost

None. It is free.

-Potential longevity of the service and any other things

Well I'm sure Google isn't going away, and as they are developing the service and everyone seems to be using it, I'd say it has a long term future.

In all, this is a great tool for easily setting up forms. Hopefully the drawbacks (issues when duplicating forms, bugs seen when changing forms that have already been released) will disappear in time.

In my mind FormAssembly is still king when it comes to complex forms that you can take time creating, and Blackboard's Assessment tool is great for end of module surveys because it is integrated into the VLE and you can upload and develop a generic set of questions. Google Docs though is probably the easiest and quickest method if you are wanting to create and distribute a simple survey quickly.


11 February, 2008

Spark08 Website: Ways of displaying information on-line

We've finally finished working on the Spark08.com [note that they've made big changes to it now] website for the World Firefighters Games. The idea of the site is to connect with a younger audience (7 – 16 yrs old) encouraging them to explore fire and rescue services across the world and the World Firefighters Games via four national curriculum subjects: History, Art, Geography and PE.

This was a big thing to attempt in the very small amount of time available and while the site is far from perfect I've appreciated the chance to explore various ways of displaying information using various free on-line services. Using these services you can very quickly display information in more appropriate ways, and I've explored how we've used some of them below.

Google Maps: To display information geographically (example)
While you can do very useful and clever mashups using data sources and Google Maps if you have the technical know-how, anyone can use Google Maps to display their information.

Log in using your Google account and click on the My Maps tab. From here you can choose 'Create new map' and easily add placemarks containing the information that makes more sense displayed geographically.

Flickr: For displaying and annotating photographs (example)
We've used Flickr to display a series of photos as a slide show, which also displays information about the photo.

You can create slideshows in Flickr by creating a new Set from the photographs that you've uploaded. When you've done this you can click on the 'View as slideshow' link and link people to the URL of this page so that they can see the slideshow.

Xtimeline: For displaying historical information (example)
This allows you to upload text and related images that are best displayed by date.

Not all of these would be useful for your projects, but they provide a simple alternative method of displaying information that might be more effective than just text. As always when using external services keep a copy of the resources on a computer that you know is backup up, so you cannot loose it all.

08 February, 2008

Introduction to Online Tools for Teaching and Learning

There are many beginners guides to new web technologies, but I was especially impressed by Jeff Cobb's concise and well illustrated 'Learning 2.0 for Associations', which covers some of those that are becoming mainstream as well as the theory that is often linked with their uptake in teaching and learning.

The document won't take long to browse through, and if you want someone to talk to about how and where you might implement any ideas that you have, contact your local Learning Technology Development Officer. At Edge Hill University your current contacts are:

-Faculty of Health: Adrian Cain, David Callaghan and Lisa Bushell
-Faculty of Arts and Sciences
: Peter Beaumont and Carol Chatten
-Faculty of Education
: Paul Duvall and Megan Juss


04 February, 2008

2008 Horizon Report: Future Technolgies and Trends

It can take many years from the early adoption of a technology until it is realistic for us to use institution wide in a Higher Education context. The Horizon Report (2008 Edition) by the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative takes a look at six emerging technologies that are likely to see mainstream use over the next few years, as well as challenges and trends that will be faced during this time.

It's well worth having a look at the document - perhaps just go to the sections that interest you if you're short of time. Below I'll look briefly at how each might relate to our context.

Section One: Grassroots Video (1 year or less to adoption)
It is now easy to create, edit and publish video. Most mobile phones have some capability to record video, operating systems come with basic video editing tools and there are many online services that will host video for free. The wide uptake of broadband means that low bandwidth isn't a great barrier to people accessing the video.

All this means that it's becoming more realistic to incorporate video in educational programmes. It might be creating video resources for the students or asking students to create their own videos as part of their learning. As with any data (espacially external services) it is important for both staff and students to keep their work backed up in case there are problems with the service, but that shouldn't prevent the use of the technology.

How could this integrate with the VLE? If the video is hosted externally staff can share links via the VLE and the students can using the discussion tool on the VLE. If you only want videos to be available to the class in question, a service like Ning or eportfolio software like PebblePad make it easy for students to share various media inside a private social network site environment.

Section Two: Collaboration Webs
(1 year or less to adoption)
Google Docs is one of many possible examples of web services that enable groups of people to easily work collaboratively on a piece of work, or easily share work. With Google Docs it would mean office documents, but other services allow work on other types of projects.

This collaboration has been something that staff at Edge Hill have experimented with over a few years. Generally it has been collaboration and sharing within a single class using a wiki or social networking site, but there is the possibility for classes studying the same subject at different institutions to perhaps work together. In fact due to licence restrictions with a VLE like Blackboard, an alternative like an external service would be necessary for collaborative work that involved people from outside the institution.

Section Three: Mobile Broadband
(2 to 3 years to adoption)
While mobile phones are becoming more powerful and ubiquitous, I think that there is still limited benefit right now from us to try and make large amounts of resources more suitable for mobile devices. Our VLE isn't really designed with this in mind and that is a possible obstacle. However it's time to start small scale pilots (as some people round the institution are doing) and these projects will get people thinking about how we could be producing resources that would be suitable for mobile use. This will feed into larger scale decisions about future directions.

It would be good to hear what people are doing in this area. For example I know Media Development are looking at creating video suitable for mobile devices which could be accessed and used on field trips.

Section Four: Data Mashups
(2 to 3 years to adoption)
Data mashups as we know them now still require some technical knowledge to set up. This means that it is not something that everyone can create themselves. However using services like Yahoo! Pipes and Google Mashup Editor they would be achievable for some staff. As we've seen with the other technologies like video, as time goes on tools will be available to make creation even more intuitive for non-technical minds.

The actual use of mashups in HE could obviously involve displaying geographic data on a map, and this is what many users are doing (see http://googlemapsmania.blogspot.com). Other uses have explored various ways of visualising data, for example Gregory Chatonsky's Flußgeist / L'attente / waiting (2007) which mixes Twitter microblogs with Flickr images that have been tagged with a word from the post to create quite a hypnotic piece of art.

Section Five: Collective Intelligence
(4 to 5 years to adoption)
Collective intelligence seems different to the other things on this list, in that it is less a technology that we might use and more a shift in a way of thinking that will affect us (perhaps whether we want it to or not). Because it is an international thing, it won't be Edge Hill University 'doing collective intelligence', it'll be something much bigger.

However ways in which we could use these ideas could be, for example, getting students to tag (Folksonomy) or write about how they used the books in the library (as well as other resources and experiences that have been involved with their learning). This collective knowledge would show the University and future students resources that would be useful for different tasks and areas of study and would work alongside existing more formal ways of organising information.

Section Six: Social Operating Systems
(4 to 5 years to adoption)
This section covers the power of linking Social Networking Site technologies with Operating Systems. Operating Systems currently are focussed on content but not relationships. Social Operating Systems would make it easier to see who created resources, who they interact with and therefore to see other people doing similar work and research. This would enable you to read their work or perhaps collaborate with them. It would also make it easy to discover someone's complete body of work - similar to what some people want to use e-portfolios for.

It'd be interesting to hear from other people about how they see these new technologies and trends affecting us, and how we might best react to them and use them.