Category Archives: 100 ways

100 ways to use a VLE -#50 Showing a photo album

A photo album is merely a collection of photographs (or images). They may be connected they may not. A series of photographs is a useful way of displaying how to undertake a particular activity or as a way of showing instructions.

For example showing learners the techniques for a recipe can be enhanced with a series of photographs that shows the different stages within the process.

The learner can then click an image to see an enlarged version.

This example made use of the Lightbox Gallery plugin.

By placing a photo album on the VLE it makes it very easy for the learners to find and see them, but also unlike an online photo service such as (the free version of) Flickr won’t have restrictions on the number of albums (sets) you can have and therefore could potentially confuse the learners about which images they should be looking at.

Having said that if you have a Pro Flickr account or are using another service such as Picasa then embedding a collection of images into the VLE can be done easily using the provided embed codes that these services provide. This is a set of images I have on Flickr that makes use of the iPhone Paper Camera App.

The disadvantage is that, of course clicking the images takes the learner away from the VLE, but they could probably find their way back.

100 ways to use a VLE – #87 Embedding an Animation

Mention animation to most people and they will think of cartoons. However animation can be used in many different ways to inform, as well as enhance and enrich learning.

This particular animation from CNET shows the history of the iPhone.

You can find similar animations across the web for the whole curriculum. There are also much simpler animations available, these for example show the inner workings of two types of engine.

Animations can often be clearer than videos and of course as with the engine examples they can show stuff in a way a video never could!

You could of course just link to an animation, but the advantage of embedding an animation into the VLE is that you can combine it with text, or questions. A link will take the learner away from the VLE, whereas embedding an animation into the VLE allows you to enhance the animation with extra content or questions that turns the content into a learning activity.

100 ways to use a VLE – #34 On a mobile device

When you consider the success of services such as Twitter, Facebook and even Google+ you do have to wonder if the availability of these services on the mobile platform have had any contribution to their success?

There has to be something about been able to access a social network at a time and place to suit the user. While you queue for coffee, wait for a train or bus. Travelling as a passenger in a car, even sitting on the sofa for ten minutes waiting for the programme that you do want to watch start. Even just before a lesson or lecture starts

During these short periods of time it would be possible to do some useful activities on the VLE, however if you need to start the laptop or PC you’re not going to be doing that in those short periods of time.

Of course most VLEs work fine on something like the iPad platform, even without Flash (which can be an issue with some learning objects). The advantage of the iPad is that it can be quickly switched on and stuff can be done. However though as popular as the iPad is, it probably isn’t something that most learners have.

So the next question to ask, is your VLE available on a mobile platform? Will it work on the iPhone or iPod touch? Will it work within a mobile browser on an Android or other smartphone?

Even if it does work within the mobile browser, is it a good user experience? Or is it a frustrating experience?

What functionality is lost when the VLE is accessed through the mobile browser?

There have been some native mobile apps developed for some VLEs, notably Moodle and Blackboard. These native apps offer a much nicer experience for users. In a similar vein that Osfoora for Twitter for example on the iPhone is a much nicer experience than the Twitter mobile web experience. Though of course based on software which was originally designed for the desktop browser they don’t always offer a 100% mobile experience of the VLE.

What these apps do is using a native mobile interface allow the user to interact with the VLE rather than using the default web browser view. How this works depends on both the app and the VLE, but the concept is that it makes it easier and quicker for the learner to access their learning via a mobile device. However even with mobile apps some learners may still not find using the VLE on their mobile device a useful or engaging process. Part of the issue has to be that often VLE courses are designed around content rather than activity and most course content does not sit well within mobile devices. Reading lengthy Word documents or viewing Powerpoint presentations out of context are quite passive activities and are not really suited to viewing on a mobile screen.

VLE courses that have content that focuses on activities, such as quizzes, discussion forums, interactivity probably fair better when used on a mobile device.

Another thing to think about is using video and audio on the VLE for learners to access through their mobile device. We come back to Flash again and if you are using a service such as YouTube or Vimeo these also have an HTML5 or h.264 version that does work on those iOS devices that don’t have Flash.

Of course using the VLE through the mobile device is not an alternative to accessing the VLE through a computer, it is complementary, it’s about adding and enhancing the experience, not replacing it. No one would expect all learners to only access the VLE through a mobile device, but by failing to even consider the opportunities that are offered by learning via the VLE on a mobile device is missing a trick.

Access and using the VLE through a mobile device does require the teacher to think much more about what they want the learner to do and achieve whilst using it. It isn’t just about providing a nice mobile interface to the VLE, the actual activities and content also need to be thought about if learners are to learn.

100 ways to use a VLE – #26 Lesson Plans

When I first started teaching, a fair few years ago, I didn’t see the point of lesson plans, they were onerous things that only needed to be done if you were been observed or during an inspection.

As I gained more experience of teaching I came to realise the value of lesson plans in supporting the process of learning and importantly making life easier for me.

My lesson plans were never inflexible and didn’t stop me changing when things needed changing. They were there for support not as a constraint. They were flexible and elastic enough, so if there were issues with topics or subjects I could change or add as and when required.

Along with lessons plans were resources, links and further reading. These gave me extension activities or additional resources if the learners needed further coverage. Each lesson plan had an aim and learning objectives. Clear indicators of what we were trying to achieve in that lesson with measurable objectives that would indicate if learning had taken place. Within the framework was signposts to other modules or units, as well as other topics in the module I was delivering.

At the time we didn’t have a VLE so I put all these resources on a website, some as HTML, but most in a PDF format. This enabled learners to access the plans, the resources at a time and place to suit them. Though at that time it was less at a time or place to suit them as home internet access was quite rare. Most would either access in college or from the workplace, though some did have the Internet at home. All who did use it told me how useful it was to them.

Some teachers I know do not agree with this, and plan only a week in advance at most. As I knew I had a lot of stuff to cover, I would plan for a whole academic year in advance. The flexibility I built in ensured that if things didn’t go quite to plan then I could accommodate those changes. Planning only a week in advance is leaving a lot down to chance, especially if you don’t have a scheme of work in place to ensure full coverage of the syllabus for the course.

Today the VLE is an ideal location for those lesson plans, the framework for a module. A place to store the resources, embed the links and signposts to the resources form the lessons and additional resources to extend the subject to those wanting more.

Some people argue that learners shouldn’t have access to the lesson plans. Well maybe not the detail, but certainly they should know the aims and objectives of the lesson. Access to the resources is also useful if not essential.

On most VLEs it is possible to “hide” resources from learners, by hiding the detail, but showing the core, learners will have a better idea of what they were suppose to be learning in each lesson.

If learners know where they are, where they have been and where they are going then they are in a much better position and research has shown that this can have a positive impact on retention and achievement.

By placing lessons plans on the VLE you not only make things better for the learner, but you also make planning much easier and faster in subsequent years. This can make life easier, giving you more time to do new things, enhance what you do already and increasing the amount of time you are supporting learners.

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

Often many VLE courses look very “boring”, a list of resources and activities. Often many VLE courses look very “boring”, a list of resources and activities. This is partly down to the fact that a VLE is often seen by practitioners as a repository of content, with links to resources and activities. One way to break up the list is to use embedded graphics to enhance the visual appeal of the course on the VLE.

One use of graphic that can enhance the look of a VLE course or as a mechanism to engage learners is to embed a comic strip into the VLE course.

Comic strips can be serious as well as humourous. They can be used as the starting point for a discussion, to emphasise the key topics in an assignment, to engage learners in a particular subject or just to break up a list of other resources.

You can either use an existing comic strip or using a tool create your own.

Continue reading 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

100 ways to use a VLE – #55 Embedding Titles

Often many VLE courses look very “boring”, a list of resources and activities. This is partly down to the fact that a VLE is often seen by practitioners as a repository of content, with links to resources and activities. One way to break up the list is to use embedded graphics to enhance the visual appeal of the course on the VLE. Graphical titles are an easy way to add visual appeal and signpost activities or content within a course on the VLE.

Of course using graphics instead of words is generally an accessibility no no and even an ALT tag isn’t usually enough. However my view is for titles (and accompanying graphics in general) that though not 100% accessible if not essential to the actual content in the course won’t be too much of a loss or a distraction. For most learners though the graphical titles would (if done right) enhance their experience on the course and engage them.

One of the issues with titles is creating them and there are various tools available. I am sure a lot of people have used WordArt in Microsoft Word. I have used Fireworks, Comic Life and other applications to create titles.

Another issue is design and “taste”, here are some examples of good and bad practice, I will leave you to choose which is which.

Enhancing Lessons

Topic 5

Using the VLE

Module 13

Module 4

The way to add these is by adding an image, ensure though that you add an ALT tag. In Moodle 2 you can change the topic names from “Topic 1” to a more suitable title making the use of graphical titles slightly less inaccessible.

The main reason to use embedded titles is that though the standard CSS (stylesheet) may allow for nice headings it may not be something that every practitioners wants to use. In some cases embedded titles may be used in addition to standard headings to emphasise an activity or an event.

A criticism often laid against the VLE is that it is “boring” to look at. There is very little to stop making the VLE engaging and attractive, with a little thought and the right graphical application, you can enhance any course on the VLE. There is the danger though that with excessive use of fonts, colours (and even animated gifs) that the VLE course could turn into a ghastly MySpace page! So be careful out there.

100 ways to use a VLE – #88 Embedding Images

Gloucestershire College

Often many VLE courses look very “boring”, a list of resources and activities. This is partly down to the fact that a VLE is often seen by practitioners as a repository of content, with links to resources and activities. One way to break up the list is to use images to enhance the visual appeal of the course on the VLE.

Within Moodle this is done through the use of labels, though the process of embedding an image is not that simple. If you are on Moodle 1.9 many staff find it complex and difficult to follow. One issue that does arise is the necessity of resizing images, especially those taken with a digital camera. Though Moodle allows you to resize the images from a resolution perspective, this doesn’t reduce the file size of the images, so the page on Moodle containing the image will take a long time to download.

The process in Moodle 2.0 is much much easier and if your Moodle is configured to use external repositories such as Flickr and Wikimedia it is even easier to embed high quality and relevant images into a course on the VLE. However if uploading your own images, the size problem will still be there.

One solution to this is to use an online service such as Flickr which will then allow you to embed a resized image into the page on the VLE. You do need to understand a little about how images are embedded into a webpage, but the process once done can be easily replicated into other pages or activities on the VLE.

Firstly find the image on Flickr. Using Advanced Search will enable you to find images that are available for reuse (through Creative Commons).

So make sure you have checked the check box for Creative Commons.

Having found a suitable image, on the image page there are options available from downloading or sharing via other services.

From the Share button.

Grab the HTML/BBCode

<a href="" title="Gloucestershire College by James F Clay, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="375" alt="Gloucestershire College"></a>

I have used this embed code at the top of the blog post. Flickr allows you to use different sizes of images, so you can go for smaller images.

On the Moodle page or label the key is to click the relevant button to switch to HTML.

On Moodle 1.9 it is called Toggle HTML Source.

On Moodle 2.0 it is called Edit HTML Source.

Paste in the embed code into the window.

Images in themselves offer lots of learning opportunities and can be used in a variety of ways to extend and enhance the learning process. The VLE as a tool to support learning shouldn’t exclude the use of images, so practitioners need to learn how to embed images withint the VLE.

The end result is an image embedded into the course on the VLE. Images can add a visual appeal to a course, emphasise a topic, or enrich an activity.

100 ways to use a VLE – #22 e-Library

So what do I mean by an e-Library?

Well maybe by starting off describing what it isn’t might give you a better idea.

Some people’s idea of an e-library is a website (or a section on the VLE) with information about the library, the services it offers with links to online resources. Some people take this a little further and have a link to enable users to search the online catalogue.

For me though an e-library should be an online environment that learners go and visit for the same reasons that they visit a physical library. I don’t think I have ever had a visitors to our libraries from any learners to find out what services we offer and how much the photocopying costs. Okay we might have had one person coming in to find out vacation opening times…

Most of the learners who come into the physical library are going there as they need some support, help to support their learning to achieve their qualificational goal. This support at a basic level might be a quiet environment or access to a computer. However a library is much more than just a place to study, there are resources: books, journals and online resources. There is access to collections and catalogues. Also a key part of the library are the library staff, the information professionals who are there to support and help the learners.

An e-Library should have those within it and should be seen as a support tool that is used by learners to support them on their learning journey.

The VLE is a an ideal location for such an e-Library.

Of course all that information on photocopying costs and opening times can be placed there and as the VLE can be searched (usually) then this allows learners to find that information if they need to.

Another obvious thing is to put in a link or search box to allow learners to search the library catalogue. Key question once the learner has searched and found a book, can they reserve it? Can they access their record on the library system and renew stuff?
So as well as the things that are obvious what about other stuff for an e-library?

Well the VLE can act as a portal to any e-books the library holds. With the addition of guides on how to use the e-book platform, this will enable learners to access e-books through the VLE. You can do something similar with e-journals.

The VLE is also the obvious portal to signpost ay digital and online collections that the library subscribes to. As well as providing the link, it could include additional information and details about any of the collections.

Tools within the VLE also allow for discussions and FAQs, using the forum functionality, learners would be able to post questions and importantly get answers about learning resources needs. You do need to manage expectations, so learners posting at two in the morning realise they may not actually get an answer from the library until it opens at 8.30am! You may want to post any questions you get from learners on a regular basis actually in the library to the FAQ (with the answers) so that learners can find it themselves, or useful for signposting when answering e-mail queries.

You may want to use forums (or other tools) as a method of eliciting feedback from learners. Listening to the learner voice and getting feedback is an important part of our self-assessment and review of how we work.

Immediate support on a learning resources issue is generally quite easy within the physical confines of a library, on an e-library, might be more challenging. You could for example use the live online chat facility to enable learners immediate access to an information professional who could provide support and help as well as links and advice, just as they do in the physical library.

One thing I expect my team to do, is to support learners through a reader development programme. A series of events and offers of training that helps learners build up their study skills. The VLE in conjunction with a virtual delivery system (such as Elluminate or Adobe Connect) would allow for both the delivery of live and recorded study skill sessions. This would help learners improve and enhance their information skills.

An e-library should be a place that supports and develops learners in their learning journey in the same way that the physical library does. The VLE is an ideal location for an e-library as it sits alongside the virtual courses they are already using. A familiar environment that they already know how to use.

100 ways to use a VLE – #75 Streaming live audio

In the past if you wanted to “broadcast” live audio to learners you basically had to be the BBC or use a CB radio. The challenge was that the learner who was listening needed a receiver at their end.

The internet now makes it much easier to broadcast live audio using tools such as Nicecast.

Nicecast is the easiest way to broadcast music from your Mac. Broadcast to listeners around the world.

The thing about Nicecast is that the stream is a simple URL. For learners this is not always that simple, for example they may lose, delete or be unable to find the e-mail that contains the URL. If printed on a handout may contain an error, or the learner may type it into their browser wrong.

Putting the URL, or even better embedding the live audio feed into the VLE will ensure that learners can not only find the feed, but also listen to it whenever the practitioner broadcasts. To be honest you probably want to e-mail the URL anyhow and any other communication channels that the learners use, Twitter for example.

The VLE is only really one medium and reliance on any one medium is not good practice. However though if the VLE is used regularly for posting these kinds of feeds and links, then the learners will become familiar with going to the VLE to access them.

100 ways to use a VLE – #32 Calendar of Events

On many courses there are often many events taking place, from exams, deadlines, guest speakers, field trips. So how do you let learners when all these events are? How do you provide them with updates when things change? How will they access the list or calendar of events?

There are various ways of providing a calendar of events to learners, from paper to an Outlook calendar. Many VLEs such as Moodle do have a calendar function and this can be used to provide learners with a calendar.

The reason for using the VLE is that if this is the place where learners are going to get course information, download resources, converse in forums, etc… then it’s the ideal location to keep learners updated with what’s happening and when. It can be easily updated when those inevitable changes happen.

it’s useful if the calendar on the VLE can be exported, for example Moodle can export its calendar as an ics file. This ics file can then be imported into other calendars such as on a mobile phone, or a calendar app on their computer. This way learners can take the event calendar with them or access it with their other calendars.