Category Archives: blog

On the tech side…

Birmingham

As some will now as well as talking about e-learning stuff, I also like to talk about the tech side of things too. Over the last few months I have been talking about things I have written about on this blog before.

In my blog post Mobile WordPress Theme I have covered the update to WP-Touch, which adds a dedicated mobile theme to WordPress blogs really easily and looks great. If you have your own WordPress installation, then this plug-in is really easy to install.

Mobile WordPress

In another article I talk about how we melted the wifi at the recent UCISA event on digital capabilities. The conference centre struggled to cope with 120 delegates as the wifi, that in theory could cope with 250 wireless clients, failed to deliver a stable consistent wifi connection.

On this blog I wrote about the fickle nature of the web based on the original article which appeared on the Tech Stuff blog. This was in response to the original decision by the BBC to remove the recipes from their BBC Food site.

Weston Village

In addition to the individual post mentioned above, I have also written about my continued issues with getting FTTC at home. As well as my new Three 4G connection, where I am getting nearly 50Mb download speeds.

So if you fancy a more technical read, then head over to the blog.

The impact of the fickle nature of the web

Broken Web

Over on my tech blog I have been writing about the fickle nature of the web, it is one of those things that I find annoying. You post a link, embed a video and then a bit later you find that it has gone! This was very apparent today with the news that the BBC are, in order to save money, will close down their recipe website. For me this is a mistake, however I also understand how this can happen, not just with textual content, but also media too.

Now as I write this blog post, it would appear that the BBC have climbed down somewhat and the recipes will be moving over to the commercial BBC Good Food website.

Screengrab from BBC Food website - Eton Mess

The impact of archived, expired and missing content may be annoying for me, but it is probably more annoying and frustrating for teachers who have created or curated content using third party links and embedded media and find that the learners are unable to access the third party content. These links need to be fixed or replaced, embedded media needs to be found again, or an alternative discovered. I know when I was working with staff, this was an issue they found very frustrating when creating courses and content for the VLE.

Personally I when writing content for my blog, I try not to use third party sites (in case they disappear) and try not to embed content if I can help it. There are times though when people have removed a video years later and looking through an old blog post you find the embedded video has disappeared as the obscure service you used has shut down, or was taken over.

As I said over on the tech blog, sometimes I think, why do people and organisations like the BBC do this? Then I remember I have done this myself and sometimes you have little choice.

WCC Logo

Back in 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and we had a nice little website and the domain of westerncc.ac.uk and the consortium was wound up in 2006. As a result the website was shut down and the domain lost.

Back in 1998 when I created my first web site, using Hot Metal Pro I used the free hosting that came with my ISP account. A few years later I moved hosting providers (as I was using too much bandwidth) and had a domain of my own. I did leave the old site up, but due to bandwidth usage it was eventually shut down!

I remember creating a course site for my learners using one of those services where you got a free domain name and free hosting, should I have been surprised when they shut down and asked for large fees for transferring the site and the domain. It was often easier to create a new domain and get new hosting. The original site was lost in the midst of time.

We have seen services such as Ning, which were free and well used, but once the money ran out and they started charging, lots of useful sites shut themselves down. People then moved to different services.

For these small sites, it probably is less of an issue, annoying, slightly frustrating, but you can live with it, it’s part of what the web is about. However with big sites, like BBC Food, then it becomes more than annoying, especially if you have a reliance on that content for your course or your teaching.

Since I wrote my blog post yesterday , the reaction on the web has intensified (and it looks like has had an impact). One blog post from Lloyd Shepherd, one of the original team who worked on the archive makes for interesting reading.

It was my team that ran product management and editorial on the new Food site, and the site that exists today is largely the site we conceptualised and built at that time.

He explains the basis behind the site

The idea was very simple: take the recipes from BBC programmes, repurpose them into a database, and then make that database run a website, a mobile site, and who-knows-what-else. Create relationships between recipes based on ingredients, shows, cuisines, and who-knows-what-else. And then run it with as small an editorial team as possible whose job was simply to turn telly recipes into database recipes.

He continues to point out that as far as the remit of the BBC as a public service broadcaster, the food archive hit two key points.

Did we discuss ‘public service remit’? You bet we did. Every day. And it really came down to two things:

These recipes have already been paid for by the BBC licence fee payer, and they’re being under-utilised. A new service can be developed out of them for very little up-front cost.

Nutrition is now a public health issue. Obesity is draining NHS coffers, government guidelines are badly understood and terribly publicised. There is a role for the BBC to play in this, and this is the way to do it.

Though at this time we don’t know for sure where the content will be archived, rumour has it, it will be archived on the Commercial BBC Good Food site, one impact which I know it will have will be on catering courses that use the BBC content to support the learning of the students. A lot of the recipes are from professional chefs and provide guidance and inspiration to learners who are starting out on their careers. Additionally the way in which the archive works, they can find ideas and recipes for different ingredients. Even if the archive is moved, one aspect of the BBC Food site that will be missed, is the lack of distracting advertising.

It would appear that the BBC are moving away from an archive to library of content, which can be “borrowed” for 30 days before it expires. That got me thinking…

In the olden days when I was running libraries, we use to “weed” the collection of book stock which needed replacing, was out of date or no longer been used. We would buy new content to either replace or update existing books, or buy books that were completely new. One thing we were clear about was that we were not an archive, old stock was to be removed and got rid of, usually recycled or sold. The copy of the Haynes manual for the Hillman Imp from 1972 was interesting in its own right, but from a teaching and learning perspective wasn’t actually of any use any more.

Haynes Hillman Imp manual

We didn’t have the space to store and keep books and journals just for the sake of keeping books and journals. Of course with online materials that space argument becomes less critical, but there is still the resources required to manage curate large quantities of digital content to ensure that the content is accessible, searchable and relevant.

I personally don’t think the BBC Food archive is a library that needs to be reduced, refreshed and restricted, I think it is a great archive that should be kept. For me there are two services here, one is the archive and the other is a service delivering current and new content. It’s a pity that the requirement of cost savings means one was planned to go. Hopefully the recipes will be saved and restored when they move over to the new site.

In my post on Ning starting to charge  back in 2010 I mentioned above,  I did say one of the issues with using any free Web 2.0 service is that they may not be here forever.

Gabcast is no longer free, but Audioboo is. Jaiku is pretty much dead, but Twitter is alive and well. Etherpad has gone, but iEtherpad is up and running.

I still think what I said in 2010 is still relevant today when talking about services and web tools.

At the end of the day this is not about a service disappearing or now charging, it’s much more about how when using these services you don’t think about long term, but have the capability and the technical knowledge to move between different services as and when they become available.

Use what is now and in the future use what is then.

Though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain and moan when something like the BBC Food “closure” happens, as sometimes there aren’t real alternatives, especially when it comes to content rather than a service.

What this whole story tells us is that the web can be fickle and relying on the stickiness and permanence of web content can be a challenge for teachers and lecturers. How do you cope with the transient nature of web content?

Image Credit: Broken by David Bakker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

e-Learning Stuff – Top Ten Blog Posts of 2013

Oxford

A little later than planned. Well 2013 was an eventful year for me, moving jobs after seven years at Gloucestershire College. I have continued with writing blog posts. There was a lot less writing on the blog this year with just 64 posts, which averages about one a week. Here are the top ten blog posts of 2013. Interestingly this year eight of the posts are from 2013. Half of the posts are app reviews from my series “App of the Week”.

10. Frame Magic – iPhone App of the Week

I wrote about Frame Magic in June and it is one of the many photographic and image apps I have used and reviewed.

9. Is the Scroll of Death Inevitable?

This article from May looked at how the default setup of a Moodle installation, the way in which we do training will inevitably result in the Moodle “scroll of death”.

8. Comic Life – iPad App of the Week

Though I have been using Comic Life on the Mac for a few years now I realised I hadn’t written much about the iPad app that I had bought back when the iPad was released. It’s a great app for creating comics and works really well with the touch interface and iPad camera.

7. 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

This is an older post from July 2011, that looked at the different comic tools out there on the web, which can be used to create comic strips that can then be embedded into the VLE.

It is from my ongoing series of ways in which to use a VLE. This particular posting was about embedding a comic strip into the VLE using free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet.

It is quite a lengthy post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE.

The series itself is quite popular and I am glad to see one of my favourite in the series and one of the more in-depth pieces has maintained itself in the top ten, dropping two places from last year.

6. Show what you know [Infographic] – Updated

I liked Tony Vincent’s excellent Infographic on apps that can be used for different activities. This post was showing off his updated version.

5. Keynote – iPad App of the Week

Probably one of my longest blog posts that explores the iPad presentation app from Apple. I used the post to help me to understand the app better and what it is capable of.

4. VideoScribe HD – iPad App of the Week

I talked about VideoScribe HD in July and was impressed with the power and versatility of the app for creating animated presentations.

3. Educreations – iPad App of the Week

I was introduced to this app by a colleague at Gloucestershire College in 2012 and used it and demonstrated it a lot to staff. It was great to see how they and their students used it to support their learning over the year. 2

2. Thinking about iTunes U

Maintaing its position at number two, is this blog post on iTunes U, which followed posts on iBooks 2 and iBooks Author. I discussed the merits and challenges that using iTunes U would bring to an institution. Back then I wrote, if every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U. I still stand by that, I like the concept and execution of iTunes U, but in the diverse device ecosystem most colleges and universities find themselves in, iTunes U wouldn’t be a solution, it would create more challenges than problems it would solve.

1. The iPad Pedagogy Wheel

This was my most popular blog post of the year (and if the stats are to be believed of all time on my blog). I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”.

It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

Allan Carrington who drew up the diagram has published a revised version, what I like about the original is the simplicity. The revised version is more complex, but as an introduction to what the iPad can do, I much prefer the simpler diagram.

Experimentation and Exploration – ocTEL

Google+

Activity 0.3 of the ocTEL MOOC asks

Experiment with and/or reflect on different ways of communicating with fellow ocTEL participants.

I have been using most (if not all) the different ways to communicate and chat with fellow ocTEL participants. I have posted and responded using the ocTEL JISCMail e-mail mailing list. I have posted to the Twitter and replied to other participants. Similarly I have done the same with the ocTEL forums. I have posted links and discussed using Google+. Finally I have posted blog posts to my blog (this one) and responded to blog postings from other participants.

What forms of reflection, challenge and learning do each of these do best?

How do they support relationship forming and community building? Is that important for learning?

Which do you prefer and why?

Each form of communication for me meets different needs.

For me the blog is an ideal place for reflection, well more posting my reflective thoughts. I actually do most of my writing in a word processor (Pages) on my Mac and then copy and paste into the blog. I have also made an effort to add an image to my blog posts. Partly so they stand out when linked to from in Google+ (and Facebook) but also so they add a visual identifier to those reading the blog posts and then trying to find it again.

I wonder if the ocTEL course reader would pick up the images in a similar manner to Google+ and Facebook.

Though people can post comments to the blog, one of the reasons I have posted the links to Google+ is that I find the discussion on Google+ is much more of a level playing field. My blog is mine and as a result I see it as a one to many form of communication. It’s not a place for community discussions, its a place for me to share my thoughts with others. What Google+ allows is a many to many communication. The Google+ community that was formed (sorry not sure who did that) makes it much easier to manage.

I have never felt Twitter is an ideal tool for conversations, it’s so much more of a broadcast medium. However it has worked for me as a discover tool using the #ocTEL hashtag. It is possible to have a chat with Twitter, but the 140 character limit makes more meaningful conversations much more of a challenge. This is where Google+ comes in, as there is no character limit.

As an active member of the ILT Champions mailing list and ALT-Member list, I would have anticipated that the ocTEL JISCMail e-mail mailing list would have been an ideal mechanism, and it would feed direct into my e-mail client. However the huge influx of e-mail to the list resulted in lots of people complaining and asking to be removed from the mailing list. The fact they were adding to the problem was completely missed by them! I found so many of the postings were “complaints” that in the end I stopped reading the mailing list. I am hoping that after the dust has settled that it becomes more useful.

I think one of the real challenges is using any form of communication tool to build a community. Very often the 1% rule comes into play. I am seeing similar engagement on this MOOC.

From my initial observation the rule does seem to be applying on the ocTEL course. The tools are been used, but not by most of the course participants. Will that impact on their learning? Well they will certainly lose a lot of the value that the interaction and engagement that these tools bring to learning, which will be a pity.

I am disappointed that we’re not making more use of video and audio, we’re not seeing participants creating short videos or podcasts.

Of all of the tools I use, I much prefer using the blog for posting and sharing information, however for conversations the winner for me is Google+, it works and is much more useful and flexible than the Twitter.

e-Learning Stuff – Top Ten Blog Posts of 2012

A somewhat quieter year this year with just over 100 blog posts posted to the blog.

As I did in 2011, 2010 and 2009 here are the top ten blog posts according to views for this year. Interestingly, the VLE is Dead – The Movie blog post which was number one last year and number two for the previous years, does not appear in the top ten , it was the 15th most viewed post.

10. Keynote – iPad App of the Week

The tenth most viewed post was my in-depth review of the Keynote app for the iPad. I wrote this review more for myself, to get a my head around what the app was capable of. Whilst writing the blog post, I was very impressed with the functionality and capability of the app, it was a lot more powerful and flexible than my first impressions of it.

Keynote opening screen

9. ebrary – iPad App of the Week

I spent some time trying out the various mobile ways of accessing our college’s ebook collection which is on the ebrary platform. This was a review of the iPad app, I was both impressed and disappointed. It was much better than using the web browser on the iPad, but was less impressed with the complex authentication process which involved a Facebook connection and a Adobe Digital Edtions ID. Very complicated and as a result less than useful for learners. Though it has to be said once the book was downloaded it did work much better than accessing it through the browser. The only real issue is you have to remember to return the books before they expire!

8. MindGenius – iPad App of the Week

MindGenius is not the best mind mapping app for the iPad, that has to go to iThoughtsHD however if you have MindGenius for the desktop then this app is an ideal companion for starting mind maps on the iPad and finishing them off on the computer.

 7. iBooks Author

In January of 2012, Apple had one of their presentations in which they announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app that built on the iTunes U service in iTunes. At the time I wrote three blog posts about those three announcements. All three of those blog posts are in the top ten, the one on iBooks Author was the seventh most popular blog post in 2012. It looked at the new app. I’ve certainly not given it the time I thought I would, maybe I will in 2013.

6. A few of my favourite things…

Over the last few years of owning the iPad, I have downloaded lots of different apps, some of which were free and a fair few that cost hard cash! At a JISC RSC SW TurboTEL event in Taunton I delivered a ten minute presentation on my favourite iPad apps. The sixth most popular blog post of 2012 embedded a copy of that presentation and I also provided a comment on each of the apps.

5. 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

The fifth most popular post this year was from my ongoing series of ways in which to use a VLE. This particular posting was about embedding a comic strip into the VLE using free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet. It is quite a lengthy post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE. The series itself is quite popular and I am glad to see one of my favourite in the series and one of the more in-depth pieces has made it into the top ten. It was number eight last year and tyhis year was even more popular.

 4. I love you, but you’re boring

This blog post was the first in a series of blog posts looking at Moodle and how the default behaviour of the standard system results in problems for learners and staff.

 3. “Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

In January of 2012, Apple had one of their presentations in which they announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app that built on the iTunes U service in iTunes. There was a lot of commentary on iBooks and how it would reinvent the textbook. Looking back I think I was right to be a little sceptical on this one. Maybe in a few years time, we will see e-textbooks that change the way in which learners use textbooks.

2. Thinking about iTunes U

The blog post on iTunes U, which followed posts on iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, is the second most viewed blog post this year. I discussed the merits and challenges that using iTunes U would bring to an institution. Back then I wrote, if every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U. I still stand by that, I like the concept and execution of iTunes U, but in the diverse device ecosystem most colleges and universities find themselves in, iTunes U wouldn’t be a solution, it would create more challenges than problems it would solve.

1. Every Presentation Ever

Back in January I posted a humourour video about making presentations, this was the most popular blog post of mine in 2012.

It reminds us of all the mistakes we can make when making presentations.

So that was the top ten posts of 2012, which of my posts was your favourite, or made you think differently?