Category Archives: news

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?


…and then everything changes

Over the last couple of months, on some of the learning technology mailing lists I belong to there has been a lot of discussion about tablets. Despite the fact that it dominates the market, considered by many to be an industry standard, popular with consumers and revolutionised the tablet market; there was a significant number of respondents on the mailing list who had decided that the iPad was not the right device for their learners and/or institution and were looking for some other tablet.

There were also others on the list who felt that the iPad was an expensive toy…

This attitude does surprise me slightly as, yes though Apple usually do charge more for their devices (and I guess this is where that attitude comes from) when it comes to the iPad they are one of the cheapest tablets on the market.

Yes, you can buy cheap Android tablets from Amazon, but in terms of comparable specifications, I have found that most Android Tablets are just as “expensive” as the iPad, if not more so… The Motorola Zoom for example was £499, though now it is only £350.

When it comes to WIndows tablets, Microsoft recently said in their Surface announcement that the price would be comparable with other Ultrabooks. Most Ultrabooks are in the £800-£1000+ price point, significantly more expensive than the iPad.

The newest iPad is £399 and you can get last year’s model for £329. Yes you will need to pay more for increased storage and more for 3G, but the same can be said for Android devices.

In terms of functionality, it is quite normal for someone to explain loudly how limited the iPad is and how much more functionality other tablet devices or Windows netbooks have.

The iPad 1 didn’t have a camera, the iPad 2’s camera is poor quality. There is no USB port on the iPad, no way to add external USB storage. The screen resolution is poor, it doesn’t play DivX natively out of the box. There is no Flash player on the iPad, nor Silverlight. The OS is locked down, you can’t install any app on the iPad, you can’t tweak the OS, it doesn’t run Office! The on screen keyboard is “unusable” and you can’t plug in a USB keyboard… etc… etc…

Then the “virtues” of other devices are added into the conversation. It has a proper keyboard, removable battery, proper USB port, good camera and it supports Flash!

The problem with these arguments is that they often fail to take into account usability and the user experience. The reason that people like the iPad is very little to do with the hardware, but how the operating system works and their own user experience. The iPad is responsive and meets users’ expectations.

A week ago my recommendation for a tablet would have to be the iPad.

A week later, well a lot can happen in a week, and it did this week. It was a week that everything changed.

What changed?

The Google Nexus 7 was announced.

Now it will be a few weeks before someone like me can get their hands on it, but this is the first Android Tablet that I think can be a real game changer when it comes to using tablets in education.

Firstly it sounds incredible value for money, just £159 for the 8GB model, £199 for 16GB.

It looks great and hopefully with Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, this will be a mature tablet operating system that just works, and works just as well as iOS does on the iPad.

If this tablet is as well tweaked as the Google Nexus One was then this is going to be one useful tablet. The initial reviews talk of fast performance, beautiful screen. The only real failing is that 8GB is way too small! So if you are going to buy one, go for the 16GB model.

I’ll be honest I have been meaning to buy an Android tablet for a while now. Most of the really cheap ones didn’t even run the tablet only version of Android, Honeycomb, but only ran 2.2, Froyo. Those that did run Honeycomb were quite expensive and in most cases more expensive than the iPad! I really quite liked the look of the Sony Android tablet devices, but the reviews were quite scathing, saying they were sluggish and not powerful enough. They soon dropped in price too, indicating poor sales.

Things have changed recently, but I really do like the idea of the Nexus 7 and like the fact it will be running Jelly Bean the latest version of Android OS. So as they say, watch this space.

The Emerging Technology Seminar

Next week I am speaking at The Emerging Technology Seminar in Birmingham.

This one-day event has been specifically designed for leaders and managers and is your chance to gain insights into technologies that are on the learning horizon. There will be input from Google, Microsoft, sector experts and your peers who are already working with these new technologies. You will have plenty of time for discussion and to consider how these technologies may facilitate improvement through efficiencies, innovation and new ways of working.

Myself I am talking about horizon scanning, new technologies and the inevitable cultural resistance that colleges will face .

What new technologies will be having an impact on teaching and learning over the next five to ten years? How should colleges prepare and utilise the potential that these technologies will bring?

How is practice changing within learning providers? How will learning and the delivery of learning change over the next five to ten years? How can technology facilitate changes in practice? How can colleges prepare for the challenges and opportunities new ways of learning bring to education?

This session will provide an opportunity to discover, share and discuss the challenges and new technologies and practice bring to colleges and how they can best prepare for the change that is going to happen.

The Emerging Technology Seminar takes place on the 22nd February 2012 in Birmingham.

e-Learning Stuff – Top Ten Blog Posts of 2011

A somewhat quieter year this year with just over 150 blog posts posted to the blog.

As I did in 2010 and 2009 here are the top ten blog posts according to views for this year.

10. Using the VLE more

This posting was very much an opinion piece on how learning technologists could engage teachers in using the VLE more to support learners. The key behind this quite short post was about moving the responsibility of using the VLE to the practitioner, and their continuing personal development in the use of the VLE.

9. Moodle 2 Teacher’s Guide

This post proved popular and it was an opportunity to remember where I had seen this great guide to Moodle 2, but also embed it into the blog using Issuu.

8. 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

The eighth 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.

7. Paper Camera – iPhone App of the Week

This review of Paper Camera as part of my App of the Week series certainly struck a chord with many who thought the app was excellent.

This really nice image manipulation app creates cartoon or sketch like images from either your photographs, or applies the filter in real time so you can see what your image will look like through the live image from the camera.

The review which included images I had created using the app, demonstrated to readers what the app was capable of, but also some of the limitations. For me I only review apps that I use and think can be of value to my readers (well apart from one or two exceptions where I want to tell people not to buy the app).

6. “The Best Moodle Tools You’ve Never Used”

Tools such as Moodle have a range of functions that I know many of our staff are using, but of course not everyone knows everything. I like this presentation from the Columbian MoodleMoot 2011 by Michelle Moore, in which she explains some of the other functions of Moodle that can be used to enhance and enrich course delivery.

I do like that I can embed presentations such as this into my blog using a service such as Slideshare. It means I can easily share things I have found, but also curate them with other finds for sharing with others.

5. So how are students using mobile phones?

A simple infographic on how US students were using their mobile phones proved popular and demonstrate their is real interest out there about mobile learning and the use of mobile phones for learning.

4. Podcast Workflow

This was probably my favourite post of the year and is also the longest blog post I have ever written at nearly 4000 words! The post outlined how I recorded the e-Learning Stuff podcast and went over the planning, the technical techniques for recording, editing and distribution. It was a post that I had been writing for a year or so, but back in July decided to finish it off and get it published.

3. Tintin – iPhone and iPad App of the Week

So my third most popular post on my e-learning blog is of a review of a game for the iPad… It’s not even a very good review, as at the time of writing that blog post I hadn’t even played the game as I wanted to see the film first! The reason why it is popular is that the blog post had quite a high search engine ranking and people clicked to see what it was about… I expect they were slightly disappointed.

2. Ten ways to use QR Codes

This post was a very reactionary post to all the posts I was seeing at the time about how to use QR Codes.

Sorry, this is not a blog post on ten ways to use QR Codes, but it is a blog post about what you actually can do with QR Codes. There are in fact only five ways to use QR Codes! Once you know what you can do with QR Codes then you can build learning activities round those functions.

Got people thinking.

1. The VLE is Dead – The Movie

So the most viewed post this year was from 2009 and is the video of the VLE is Dead symposium that I was part of at ALT-C 2009. Considering this post was originally published in September 2009, the fact it is my most popular posts demonstrates the enduring substance of that debate. Is the VLE dead? Well the debate isn’t, it’s alive and well.

Newspaper Boy

In the past (over forty years ago) you needed to be a post graduate student to access old newspapers in the newspaper and library archives. They would need to go through the newspapers one by one until they found the articles they needed.

Twenty years ago, undergraduates could access newspapers on microfilm in their university libraries. They still needed to go through paper by paper, however microfilm allowed access to a wider range of newspapers and was in many ways faster than leafing through an actual newspaper.

Ten years ago, learners in colleges and schools could access newspaper articles on a CD-ROM using a computer in their classroom or library. The text was searchable and could be easily copied into a different medium.

Today, archives of newspapers from the last two hundred years can be accessed via a web browser on a mobile device or from a computer in the home, workplace or at college.

In the past the process of researching past newspapers was time intensive, expensive (travelling to archives) and exclusive; there was no way newspaper archives and university libraries would allow college students or school pupils access to their collections.

In the past learners would be dependent on text book interpretations of newspaper articles or even the author’s interpretations of events based on other sources. Today primary school children can access a range of newspaper archives covering the last two hundred years and that alone can and should have an impact on the delivery of learning.

SlideShare moves to HTML5

In an not an unexpected move, SlideShare, the presentation hosting service has moved from Flash to HTML5.

When SlideShare launched it used Flash to create an online slideshow of your presentation slides. It is a service I have been using now for over three years and have found it a useful place to put presentations, but then to also embed them into the blog or the VLE.

However as it was Flash based there were issues when people viewed them on a mobile device such as the iPhone or the iPad. They did fix this for viewing a SlideShare presentation on the SlideShare website and released an API. Last year I reviewed the Slide by Slide app for the iPad and was not impressed. However this wasn’t an official iPad app one that merely used the SlideShare API.

Even though you could view the presentation on the website on the iPad when the SlideShare presentation was embedded into a website, all you got was a blank space.

So it’s interesting to hear that SlideShare are losing the Flash and moving to HTML5.

  • Your slides will display flawlessly on an iPhone, iPad, Android and any other mobile platform. You can send a link to friends and colleagues, and they can view it on the go regardless of what device they are using.
  • Your slides will now load 30% faster. On the web, faster is better.
  • Your slides will be a part of the web. No plugins or downloads are required to view them.

They are certainly convinced that mobile is the way a lot of people will view presentations on the web.

Define Success

Going around the Twitter a week or so back was a video from TEDx London from Goldie about despite dropping out of the school system he has made a success of his life. Given the choice again, he would drop out of school again!

It reminds me of some (most) of the presentations from Handheld Learning 2009 in which Malcolm McLaren, Zenna Atkins and Yvonne Roberts.

Back then I wrote about how they all felt they were failed by the formal education system, but had made a success of their lives.

…next was Zenna Atkins… She felt she had been failed by the formal education system and despite this had a made a success of her life. She recounted tales about her children and their experiences in the education system. I am sure she knows more about the UK education system then someone like me, but you have to ask this question, if the education system is so wrong in the UK, despite the best efforts of organisations like Ofsted which are there to check the quality of the education system, then maybe we need to rethink the whole education system and the quality checking that takes place. I did feel that alienating your audience who are generally all from the formal education system and indicating that they are the problem was an interesting way to present the issues.

With Malcolm McLaren up next… He was also failed by the formal education system but found success, notice a pattern here?

Yvonne Roberts was the third keynote and having alienated the audience with a throwaway remark about dyslexia once more recounted how the formal education system had failed her and here she was speaking as a keynote presenter.

All of these speakers talked about how the formal education system was rubbish and needed a revolution. The pattern behind all their talks was that the school system had failed them and despite that they had made a success of their lives.

What annoys me about giving these people a platform is that it sends completely the wrong message to young people.

“Drop out of school and you will be successful!”

We never hear from those thousands of people who dropped out and didn’t have success in the same way they did. Those thousands who for whom school failed them and they feel they have failed.

Let’s remember that there are many more people that didn’t drop out of school and have led happy successful lives.

I think a key question is how do we define success?

Do we measure success by how many column inches you have in the Daily Mail?

Is success measured by economic success, how much money we have earned? Wealth?

Is success measured by popularity? By the number of Twitter followers you have? How much you are liked on Facebook? How many hit singles you’ve had?

Is success measured by how high you get in an organisation? Are you a Chief Executive? Are you a senior manager?

Is success measured by some weird happiness index that takes into account multiple factors? Do you need to be successful to be happy?

There are issues and problems with the formal education system, however those issues are institutional, cultural, societal and governmental. Changes need to be made at all levels, in government, in government departments, officiating quangos such as Ofsted, examining boards, local authorities, funding bodies as well as schools and colleges.

When an individual is successful despite failing at school, in some ways yes we should celebrate this, but we must also question why they failed within the formal system. Likewise we mustn’t forget those for whom not only did the school system fail, but have not had happy successful lives.

However we mustn’t forget those for whom the school system did work and who have also led successful lives. Let’s also celebrate when it works, but not be complacent when it doesn’t.

Mobile Learning Challenge

The International Association for Mobile Learning (IAMLearn,, in collaboration with Epic (, is proud to announce the Mobile Learning Challenge.

The Mobile Learning Challenge is searching for innovative and visionary solutions for learning using mobile technologies.
Practitioners, students, and young researchers are particularly encouraged to contribute their inspiring and visionary concepts. Specific technical skills are not required for participating!

Full details here.
The first prize

The winner of the Challenge will receive £1000. The winning solution will be presented to the mLearn 2011 conference audience either by the winner (if present at the conference) or by the President of IAmLearn.

This prize is co-sponsored by IAmLearn and Epic.

The second prize

The runner-up will receive a prize of 5 years’ free membership of IAmLearn.
Deadline for Submissions is Wednesday, 14 September 2011 24:00 GMT.


I have been using Skitch for a while now and more so more recently for making screengrabs, annotating screengrabs and for sharing them.

In this example I used it to show a member of staff how to backup their course without the user data so then been able to create a fresh version of their course. This makes it much easier for the member of staff to see what I mean.

The advantage of Skitch over using the built-in screen grabbing tools in OS X is that you can edit the screengrab, add comments, highlight areas or even redact sensitive user information if required.

You can of course do all this with an image editing programme such as Photoshop Elements, however the advantage of Skitch is threefold, firstly it does the grabbing as well as the editing and has a bundle of editing tools. Secondly you can grab the entire window, a snapshot of part of the screen, or a delayed screengrab. Thirdly it comes with image hosting, so it’s very easy to upload and share the screengrab.

I have had the free version since it came out and due to my increased usage was considering buying the $20 plus version that has a few more features. Well as of today, Skitch has been bought by Evernote and as a result the plus version is now free.

The plus version has a few more features, the main one is that it can grab entire webpages and not just the part that is viewable in the browser.

So if you have been sharing screengrabs and want more than just the built in version that you get in OS X then get Skitch.

Get Skitch now in the Mac App Store.

Some more Screencasting

I have written and spoken before on this blog about screencasting. Three years ago I went through some of the possible applications that you can use on the Mac for screencasting. This is a bit of an update to that post and added ideas on screencasting for Windows.

Last year I posted a video on how to use the free online service Screenr. Screenr is a very clever free service that I use a lot for demos and training. However it is limited to five minutes, you need to ensure you get a perfect “take” as you can’t edit the resulting screencast and one further downside is that it is public, though it is possible to “quickly” download the Screenr recording as an MP4 file and then then delete the online screencast!

JISC Digital Media have a lot of resources on screencasting including tips and advice. I embedded their 6 Quick Wins presentation into the blog a few weeks back.

I also recorded a podcast with Gavin and Zak from JISC Digital Media in which we discussed what is screencasting, what can you do with screencasting, what tools are there for screencasting, top tips on making screencasts and delivery of your screencasts.

In Snow Leopard and Lion it is now possible to record screencasts using the built in Quicktime tool.

However as with Screenr you need to ensure you get it in one take, or stitch smaller videos together.

For a little more flexibility than the whole screen you get with Quicktime, another application IShowU gives you a few capture options, such as ½ or ¼ size. It also allows you to capture part of the screen, whereas Quicktime captures the whole screen.

iMovie on the Mac, which is usually used for video editing can be used to edit screencasts from recordings made from Screenr or Quicktime (or any of the other tools too).

One tool that I know a lot of people use for Windows is CamStudio.

CamStudio is able to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and create industry-standard AVI video files and using its built-in SWF Producer can turn those AVIs into lean, mean, bandwidth-friendly Streaming Flash videos (SWFs)

CamStudio can also add high-quality, anti-aliased (no jagged edges) screen captions to your recordings in seconds and with the unique Video Annotation feature you can even personalise your videos by including a webcam movie of yourself “picture-in-picture” over your desktop.

It’s open source and free to download.

One tool I do use for Windows is Captivate. This is very powerful software from Adobe that allows you to not only capture what is on the screen, but also edit the capture afterwards, add further audio, more screen capture and add captions. The main difference I feel with Captivate is that it is less reliant on making the screencast as a pure video file. You can add interactions and even quizzes to turn a simple screencast into a learning tool.

For the Mac I use Screenflow and this has been recently updated to version 3.

Get your video on the web with Telestream ScreenFlow screencasting software. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your entire monitor while also capturing your video camera, microphone and (with optional components) your computer audio. The easy-to-use editing interface lets you creatively edit your video; add additional images, text, or music; and add transitions for a truly professional-looking video. The finished result is a QuickTime or Windows Media movie, ready for publishing to your Web site, blog or directly to YouTube or Vimeo.

Use ScreenFlow to create high-quality software demos, tutorials, app demos, training, presentations and more!

Again one of the reasons for using Screenflow is that you can go in and edit the screencast, add more screen capture if needed, annotations, captions, subtitles. You can add audio, stills and video to enhance the screencast. You can also capture video at the same time, to add a picture in picture to your screencast.

If you rarely make screencasts then spending £70 on Screenflow is probably not good value for money. However if making screencasts is something you do on a regular basis and you have a Mac then I can recommend Screenflow as a useful and powerful tool.

Camtasia is another tool that is available for both Windows and Mac. Though for some reason the Mac version is much cheaper than the Windows version!

Create eye-catching training, presentation, and demo videos…the easy way. Camtasia for Mac screen recording software is streamlined, intuitive, and makes you look like a pro.

Easily record onscreen activity, Keynote slides, camera video, microphone or system audio—all with sparkling clarity. Record in front of a live audience or at your desk. Edit to perfection. Turn it into a stunning, HD-quality video at the perfect size to share on popular video sites, Apple devices, your website, blog, or anywhere you like.

A very similar tool to Screenflow and one that I know is used by a lot of people, especially on the Windows platform.

There are many ways in which screencasting can be be used to support learning and having covered some of the tools in this blog post, I hope to cover some of the ways in which it can be used in a future blog post.