Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Google documents get better and better

The addition of a presentation tool isn't why I had to be so enthusiastic. In fact I still prefer Thumbstacks. What I really find useful is the addition of folders so that I can finally organise what was becoming a huge list. Sharing items with people is now a dream. Write some notes in class and then e-mail them to a group. Charts in spreadsheets too and several other tweaks regular users will appreciate.

Read all about them here.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Microsoft curriculum materials

More from Big Blue: especially for ICT teachers or anyone wanting to learn more.

At this link choose from the Digital Literacy Certificate referred to in a separate post, a range of other topics and, interestingly, some courses for key staff and managers in educational development. Fascinating, especially when one thinks of all the time and effort put into similar but still unfinished projects by LSDA, LSN et al.

Microsoft resources for teachers

Their Digital Literacy Curriculum may sound a bit of a mouthful but there is some excellent-looking content across a number of courses that are now available on Microsoft's site.

The Digital Literacy Curriculum consists of five courses:

Computer Basics

The Internet and World Wide Web

Productivity Programs

Computer Security and Privacy

Digital Lifestyles

These could be ideal for some of our students, or even for use by trainers with staff in the business sector.

There's also the Digital Literacy Certificate Test which can be taken on-line, whether or not you've done the courses. So, if you're feeling confident, go for one of the first Certificates in your organisation!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Google desktop search to the rescue!

You know you've got that document somewhere. But where did you file it? One of the nice things about having huge hard drives these days is being able to save things without pausing for a moment to think whether you actually need to. One of the consequences, though, is that you have an awful lot of clutter to go through when trying to find something!

I wanted a document I wrote back in April (nearly six months ago). Trawled through the obvious places where, if I'd been vaguely awake and sober, would have been sensible places to put it. No luck. Tried the less obvious places. Found lots of things I'd forgotten I had but still not the document I needed.

So I typed web design degree into the Google Desktop search bar that floats around the screen and hit Enter. Not obvious in the first few items it offered so I went for the View the 1086 results in your browser. They arrived in date order and I reached April without a problem. And there it was! But that alone wouldn't have prompted me to scribble this in celebration. No, it was where it was filed: it was a document saved on my pc at home, not on the laptop I was using! Amazing. OK, so I couldn't open the document there and then but I could see the text which was really all I wanted.

I keep saying this but it's a really good idea to get a Google account and try out some of the tools available.

Thursday, 17 May 2007


I have never liked the plural fora which I believe Jumbo Jenkins, my Latin master, would have preferred. But this isn't about Latin, but to report on some interesting discussions in the East about what should happen about some E-learning Forums that we have in the Six Counties.

Briefly, there has been the E-learning Forum and a Technical Managers' Forum for many years and a Staff Development Managers E-learning Forum appeared on the scene a year or so ago. For a long time the first two were so well attended that it was sometimes difficult to get everyone into the rooms provided and also difficult to get a word in edgeways sometimes as there was so much to talk about and so many people good at talking about it. Recently, though, numbers have plummeted. It may be due to some venues being at one end or the other of this large region and dates being inconvenient but it certainly isn't due to people not needing to have a place to discuss issues and share developments or ideas.

It's more likely to be because it's quite difficult nowadays to find time to get away for a day. ILT managers or those in relevant roles are now inundated with training staff, writing or implementing strategies, interpreting initiatives or, more often now, teaching and simply find it impossible to spare much time. Before they needed to get to grips with things and see how others were getting on in order to get on with confidence and the sort of meetings we had were pretty much an essential part of the job and not as much queried by anyone who might have been required to authorise the trips and absence.

Strangely, the very pace of developments in this field, the advance of Web2.0, 3.0? even and all the problems that using all these wonderful new tools throw up actually means we should be doing more talking and comparing of notes but with all the Agency support drying up, project funding disappearing apart from the expert bid-writers fayre, LSN in Regional limbo and Becta so quiet one wonders whether the H2G2 mice have taken over at Coventry.

There had been a steady attendance at the SD Forum but myview is that the individuals would have felt just as at home at the other Forum and so I'm inclined to suggest that we have just the one to which everyone can be invited. RSC Eastern's lovely staff help run it and do all the arrangements, the last of the Agency e-Mohicans in many respects but hopefully with a better prognosis. We could have more meetings and build an excellent discussion and local support network that could be a good example for the rest of the country.

At a time when the Government seems to be telling those who they rain money onto that there is no need to fund more ILT 'Champs' and there is a huge workload now in just writing and implementing strategies and training staff and fewer hours allocated in which to do so, it is not easy to go against the flow and say that a day out with colleagues elsewhere would be useful. But we shall try.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

webtools updates

There's a web log now which I'm using to update the 'updates' page on the webtools site. Now, obviously, you could just go to the web site and see but if you want an RSS feed then you can pick that up from the blog. If you need help with that bit let me know!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

£200,000 would come in handy

JISC have a couple of bid opportunities that I'm interested in. Here are the basic information summaries:

Institutional exemplars
Projects to develop exemplar technology and practice solutions to large-scale institutional problems (in the areas of administration for teaching and learning and for digital repositories).
Total funds: £1,400,000
4-5 projects £250,000 - £300,000 available per project
18 month duration

Use of e-Learning to Support Lifelong Learners (round 2)
Projects to implement and evaluate the cross-institutional use of e-learning to support lifelong learning, including the provision of personalised learning experiences and flexible delivery to support progression, widening participation and work-based learning.
Total funds: £1,200,000
c. 6 projects, up to £200,000 available per project
18 month duration

Apologies for copying them from the JISC documents - if you really want to read everything, go to this link.

I feel that a lot of what several colleagues and myself are doing: looking at ways to utilise Web2.0 and similar developments in e-learning and considering ways to cut through the crazy repetition of data entry both within and across organisations fits well with the general thrust of what JISC seek to encourage. However, I'm just me and the institution I work for doesn't have 400FTEs in HE so maybe someone out there would like to discuss a joint venture I can contribute to?

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Moodle VLE . . . or is it?

Have a look at these two links:




Monday, 23 April 2007

Through the glass, darkly

Landed on tumblr which may provide one solution for my problem in what to suggest instead of Blogger. Only had a quick look and grabbed the nice address six.tumblr.com while I was there which I shall now proceed to experiment with. Not sure how the RSS feed works but it certainly looks simple, very simple, and clear and is another way for any of you to publish stuff like this.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Why Blogger gets banned

Just returned from a very interesting Web Technologies Day, organised by RSC Eastern, at which I was, as ever, keen to get people using web logs and talking about how Blogger makes this pretty simple and how the built-in RSS feed can be used to weave a bit of magic. I was initially dismayed to find that blogspot.com urls were blocked by the venue (an FE institution) but they were kind enough to remove them for us on this occasion. What I hadn't appreciated before, though, was the reason for the block in the first place. That is the 'Next Blog' feature that is built in to a navigation bar that comes with all the templates. This is a bizarre and, in my view, totally useless feature, taking people to another random blog which could throw virtually anything onto the user's screen. I've written to the Blogger people to suggest that this is revised at the very least and preferably removed as I can't see how anyone finds it of any value.

Just as I don't want young or easily-offended people in my sessions to get offensive material thrust at them when they might just have thought it was my next blog or another on an associated topic that would be presented, so too, I imagine would someone with a passion for, say, Something Deep & Dark be particular happy with my e-learning ramblings popping up between Revues of Gothic Blackness and Even Darker In The Night or whatever their taste may be.

Anyway, there are ways to edit the template that I've discovered and you'll see that the whole bar has disappeared on this blog but (a) it's fiddly and (b) I've lost the useful Dashboard link so it's not ideal. I also understand that the contract entered into upon setting up a Blogger account does require that users retain specified features of the navigation bar but it does not appear to specify that one has to include the annoying links and I would relish the publicity that Blogger banning me for not showing the bar as I don't think I have much choice.

So, if you want to know how to do it I can supply some instructions but what I really hope is that Blogger see sense and, at least, make the Next Blog an optional thing. If they don't, and in anticipation that they won't, I am now on the look out for an alternative web log provider that is as simple to use and which can be simply edited, can incorporate the same types of additional content and also looks good. Suggestions much appreciated and I'll let readers know what happens.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

slides with a difference

Slideshows ancient and modern

Another addition to the webtools site soon will be slide.com. With a bit of luck there'll be some pretty flowers above in a display made in just a few minutes with that tool. Substitute pics of students doing things or some course-related visuals and you've got a nice change to PowerPoint.

Don't get me wrong, PowerPoint is one of the Microsoft greats, its oldest features being, in my view, some of its best - like being able to make quick graphics and save them has got me out of trouble time and again when there's no familiar image editing applications for students in classrooms and it's an excellent way to fill the screen with something attention-grabbing.

However, just try figuring out animations and orders and the rest for something like the show above, never mind putting on-line for everyone to see at their leisure. That would take more than a few minutes!

For an imminent webtools session or two I'm using another alternative - Thumbstacks. Very simple, no special effects but I love the way you can just do it there, on the screen, and it's there, wherever you can access the internet.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

I keep remembering things I forgot to include

. . . in the new Webtools site, that is. Think I might call it Webtools2.0 for a while because I'm doing an event soon with a worrying title that includes the words Web2.0 technologies. Ah, but that would then imply that I know what web2.0 is which I'm not sure I do. Hmmm. The point is I spent many nights burning the old midnight oil on this and you ought to have a look at least. Only published it a couple of days ago and there have been 930 page views already which beats anything else I've done so hopefully someone somewhere got inspired and will be making a better impression in class after the break.

I can just see it now: that usually apparently ICT-illiterate old lecturer who normally heaves the OHT from the window cill and passes that huge pile of still-warm photocopies of some book pages to the poor lad whose name just happens to land him in the front row left or right and the next ten minutes are taken up by the sound of transparencies slithering around and notes being passed around - but this time he walks in, naked, in a manner of speaking and drops a url into the stunned silence or slaps a really smart-looking web page on the screen. "How did you do that, Sir?" someone asks. The emphasis could be on any of the first five words.

There's the usual brief descriptions of what things with mostly pretty odd names and pastel logos are supposed to do and I'm hoping that people will use the Comment links to add something about what they might to or even have done. That bit's possible thanks to a wiki - pbwiki are really making life easy in that respect - and one or two other interactive features courtesy of Google's Notes and Labpixies' Todo list.

And yes, I'm sure I'll have omitted someone's favourite - so don't whinge, just tell me and I'll do my best to remember to add it. Incidentally, there's something called the Curriculum Champs list here in the UK where some really clever people recently listed their choices of software and I've tried to include as many of their suggestions. Trouble was, over half of them were quite expensive things so I couldn't include them. All the stuff I've added is free, almost entirely ad-free and most of it doesn't need any special knowledge or complicated downloads / installations but works on the web wherever you happen to be.

Hope you find something inspiring.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Sunday, 18 February 2007

e-portfolio thoughts

I've roamed the streets of Google searches and looked at all sorts of commercial products and web sites created by enthusiastic tutors and students in the States but haven't found what I'm looking for. So, once more, I guess I'll have to have a go myself! I have a feeling that the technology is going to a be a bit beyond my skills, however, in terms of the under the bonnet stuff but if I can get my head round what an e-portfolio is and what it should do and look like then that'll help me sleep at night.

First of all, usual question: why I am doing this? It all started when, in the same week, the topic came up at a meeting of LSN e-learning co-ordinators and I got a big plastic folder in my pigeon-hole at College. The plastic folder was red and bore the title Staff Development Folder on a sheet of A4 inserted at the front. Inside were several dividers but within each section there was precious little - some very general information about the College, a procedure or two and that was, surprisingly, about it. Now, normally the word launch is followed by to great acclaim but I think it is fair to say that although there were neat rows of these red things protuding from all the tutors' pigeon-holes which had some transient artistic merit no-one has actually done much with them and they are now sitting on shelves or desks or the floor in staff rooms. As one of the people who do the staff development sessions which the College runs, and being someone everyone expects to come up with some idea for what to do with things like this, I have this feeling at the back of my mind that I have a duty to come up with an answer, and a plain English one at that. That's one reason why I'm bothered by not having being able to do so to date.

The topic came up at the LSN meeting because we have been working on their Framework for Professional Development in e-learning which used to be called eCPD. At events around the country we have spent the year telling people how they might meet the e-learning part of the LLUK teaching standards with all sorts of assessment tools and the like. Various organisations have been doing projects which relate to staff training and we were trying to figure out how what they had done could be best recorded and linked to the Framework. Colleagues mentioned a few different ways that CPD was recorded at their institutions, which included some more folders, and one particularly bright member of the group mentioned PebblePAD.

Just had a look at this and it really does look excellent and is the sort of thing I wish I had created! My only problem is it seems a little too good in a way - and users may find that they have a few too many choices or things to think about. Not a bad thing in itself and those of us who enjoy thinking about our strengths and weaknesses, assessing ourselves and others, planning to make good deficiencies and who can quickly identify which standards, and which set of standards even, a particular bit of work might be good evidence for will love it but we're not the main group of users and, however good it looks, it still requires quite a bit of effort.

So, what am I looking for?

At one extreme we have the aforementioned plastic folder and a load of Word documents. People have a list of standards and a pile of activities, attendance certificates, training notes and appraisals etc. Bung 'em all in the right sections and toss the folder in the direction of anyone who needs to see it.

At the other extreme we have something more akin to a DVD adventure movie, well the second disk you usually get that isn't quite as well produced with games based on the movie, background and production notes and things. People go round getting colleagues to video them in action and have the whole gamut of facilities and support in using them at their elbow.

Somewhere in between is the solution I seek. And we have to ask the question why do we want staff to have e-portfolios in the first place? Yes, it's all good practice, we know, but so are many things that are only done reluctantly and really most staff just want to do their job and get on with life. They're busy people and we have to recognise that the real reason they'll keep an e-portfolio is because we tell them they have to. It'll tick the box that HR departments, Staff Development managers and the like need to tick. It won't, in itself, make a huge difference in the quality of teching or students' results. Yes, what they pick up at training sessions and in talking about ideas will but not the process of self-examination and life-filing. Many will see it as a chore and that's why we need to come up with a way to do as much of it for them.

We need this because we need to satisfy others that staff have fulfilled the CPD requirements for their profession and further requirements in their job specification. Taking the basic, legal, requirements these are represented by the LLUK Teaching Standards. Within them, the LSN Framework tries to set out the e-learning standards. (I shall not talk about their 'criteria' not being criteria or the thorny business of figuring out what evidence is sufficient - that's another matter!)

So, one way or another, it should be pretty simple to set up a list of things that they should be able to do - the standards.

Next, how are they meeting those standards? Evidence for those that are being met and training needs for those they or we wish them to develop further.

I thought there might be more but, in essence, I do think that's about it. Reflection, levels, techniques etc are optional extras.

So, I need somewhere to store a list of standards and I'd like to click on a standard and have a range of things I need to do to meet it, which may also meet or go towards meeting other standards. If these 'things' were readily recognisable by staff then they could see what they had or hadn't done.

Clicking on one of the items could produce either their evidence if they had any or be a link to further information.

We're almost there! Something tells me that this also needs to work in reverse. That is, when they do something it gets added to their portfolio and when managers arrange training sessions they add the detail to the potential evidence list. Haven't quite figured that bit out yet. I'll work on it but I think I can see a way forward for one direction now. The list of standards is easy because that exists in various formats and should be reasonably straight forward to put on the web in a clickable form. The sub-set, or elements / criteria, are part of the same structure and the same technology would apply there. The tricky bit is matching what people do to the standards. If we look at training sessions, events, project activity and learning activity or skills development that are provided for groups at an institution then it should be possible to get the designers of the activity to tag them with the appropriate standards or elements so that they get added to the appropriate lists. the word tag is important here because that's how - I think - we can get to a solution. (There may be a route via tortuous Excel formulae but I hope I don't have to go down that route!)

Tools like del.icio.us and wink - social bookmarking, I believe the jargon goes, - do wonderful things with tags and I'm sure the answer lies with one or other of them.

I have just uploaded all my bookmarks to my del.icio.us account and tagged them all to see what happened. I'm quite pleased with the results which now enable me to click on classic and up come all the things I have added a classic tag to (old tv and radio programmes!). So, presumably, if I publish something on the web with a StandardA6 tag I can get that and any others similarly associated by a click in the right place too. To prevent absolutely everyone's StandardA6 tags coming up and my adding others' evidence to my portfolio then I guess I'd need to add Dunstable or something, maybe even my name. But I can a glimpse of light at the end of this tunnel I've been crawling through since that flaming meeting.

Next I shall experiment with some pages where tags work and see what happens. Perhaps a shorter, better structured post next time.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


Here's a new application that is worth a look and I'm sure you'll think of some way to use it. Splashcast provides a nice way to construct a web show that can contain video, images, text, narration or a soundtrack. The end result can be displayed on a web page via a little bit of code. Visitors got a neat frame with a rather obvious start button and your show will be streamed on your page. It looks as though all the heavyweight files are stored on the Splashcast servers too (so I don't know how long this will stay free or ad free!)

It's a very neat and smooth product and I can see it at one extreme as being a nice change from PowerPoint and, being web based, looks easier to make available anywhere than PhotoStory and certainly has better text addition features.

So far I've only played with a folder of images but I'll try doing something a bit more challenging in other traditional applications and see what happens when I get a spare moment.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Coffee: for a few dollars free

The boys at CoffeeCup have been making fun tools for web design for years but I didn't make more than occasional use of them having Dreamweaver for most of what I needed at the time and most were only free for a limited period. Period expires and that's that. The regular mailings continued which I ignored until I got one about a web album which was pretty smart and, before discovering JAlbum, I decided it was worth the few dollars and went to their site to buy it. There I spotted an offer to buy everything they do for just a few dollars more and their marketing worked.

In the long list of software I can now use I found some interesting items, some I don't understand, one or two a bit odd but some more that I have been using, including a nice CSS Style Sheet maker, something that makes putting videos on your web site a cinch, an RSS news feed reader and several others which have definitely been helpful and avoided long sessions of trying to figure out how to do things in Dreamweaver. But this post isn't intended as a sales pitch for them. You should know that I like free stuff and try to avoid recommending anything that costs money - and I'm not about to break the habit now. You see, a week or two later I had an e-mail asking whether I'd like to be something grand like a CoffeCup Ambassador. Naturally, my vain side said "Yes, if it's free." and then I get an invitation to apply for the whole shooting match for free for use by students at the College. I filled in the form expecting it to be restricted to US only (as so many offers seem to be) or to find a catch but, no, I got approved and now have a CD with all the stuff on and permission to spread it around College machines liberally.

Naturally, I can where they're going: get the kids hooked and then sell 'em the set. With that wealth warning, however, I am quite looking forward to giving people an alternative to Dreamweaver and some genuinely fun and easy tools to play with. I may even learn from some of the smarter students what to do with the more strange-looking things!

I don't know if the offer's still there but why not contact CoffeeCup and ask? And any firm that substitutes "Cool" for "OK" on the button deserves a mention in my book!

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Photo albums

Quick reference here to JAlbum - a very nice, and free, application that creates decent-looking alums from folders of photos. Unlike some of the other tools I've mentioned elsewhere, and, indeed, their previous versions, the album settings and image selections are easy to change. Still not suitable for anyone with no idea about uploading to web space (stick with Picasa and Frappr for now!) but great if you can manage that.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Wild Apricot

Had a look at Wild Apricot a while ago and included this in some of the sessions I've doing around the country. Not sure what to do with it but I'm sure it has distinct possibilities. Hopefully we can turn them into probabilities! This post has been prompted by a nice message from one of the team behind the application which I reproduce below. Answers on a postcard . . .

Well Andrew, you certainly have a refreshing writing style (and I mean that most sincerely)!

So, it looks like you’ve started a website using our Wild Apricot software, and have even pointed out on your home page that its usage scope is more than just for members, but rather any community of people with common interests. Is this what you have in mind eventually, or is this just playing with a new tool (either way is OK with us, that’s why we offer free accounts!). However, it does seem, from both your work experience background as well as your own interests, that you are likely an ideal person to provide feedback on our product. We launched the production version in September of this year, so we are absolutely anxious to receive early user comments and suggestions, whether they relate to the experience of setting up the site, or to features/functions that you like/don’t like.

And of course, if there is an organization that you know of that could use this type of service, we will shortly have a partner program in place that will “reward” such referrals.

At your earliest convenience, could I ask you to jot down your early impressions of Wild Apricot, the good and the bad (please, no ugly, we have feelings too!), and send those along to me?


Al DesRoches

eBusiness Solutions Specialist

Google Account

You don't need a gmail address to get a Google account now and there are so many things you can do with one. Here's the link that isn't as obvious as it might be.

Whither LSN now?

The National e-Learning Support network Co-ordinators have been asked to contribute ideas as to where LSN should concentrate the e-learning and technology team's efforts in 2007/8. This year has been dominated by the continual development of eCPD, about which I have written separately, and the 'Framework'. What next? My view is that we need to get out more. In many senses of the phrase! One of the great things about the old Q projects was the comparative freedom I had to help FE Colleges develop their ideas and I had time to visit them and talk about solving their problems rather than the somewhat false ones 'created' by awkward eCPD project requirements. The money wasn't much but I felt that I was useful. Hopefully we can get back to simple support in explaining and understanding what all this new technology can do, with the main effort being made to help those to whom it really is still 'new'. Just as ICT skills really do need urgent updating as so much has changed since we did CLAIT and IBT II or III, so too has all the ways those skils can be applied. Indeed, so much is so much simpler now and I feel that those whom we never really reached in the old days can now be inspired as they could, with minimal training, do so much more than before with the newer, more user-friendly, and exciting tools and applications. So my vote is for a return to Q projects, with minimal bureaucracy and well-managed advanced promotion so that we can make sure that not just the bid-watchers apply.