Archive for March 2008

Blog on the move!

You may have just been redirected here from the previous location of my blog (at http://kmi.open.ac.uk/people/alex), if so then please update your links 😉 – though hopefully the redirectors will remain in place for a little while! I put a handcrafted rss and atom postings so those of you accessing via rss readers etc should also find out that I’ve moved the site.

Moving over to my own domain is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but have never quite got around to doing it until now. It was relatively painless to move over from one wordpress install to the other, the main problems were references to images and other postings (where the full URL is embedded) – this was additionally complicated by the fact I changed the formatting of the URLs, so rather than use “/?p=123” it’s now “/2008/03/26/mypost”, so much more user friendly!

Please let me know if you spot anything that isn’t working correctly (links going nowhere etc!), cheers 😉

To do lists

I usually use a task/todo list to remind of what needs doing when and up until now I’ve just been using the task list in Outlook, which has been kinda fine, the only irritating thing is that in the Outlook Web Access version you can’t view/edit/sort by the categories that you might have put tasks in.

So I’ve been having a quick look at the numerous other options for online to do/task list to find if any of them are suitable for me. The main ones I looked at were Ta da and Remember the Milk (RTM). Ta da is very very simple, but for me, too simple, I need to be able to put due dates, reminders, notes and also have recurring tasks, so that one wasn’t for me. Instead I’ve gone for using RTM, which seems (so far) to do everything that I need. I did find to start with that it was fiddly to move from a highlighted task over to edit the properties (due date, tags, recurrence etc) without inadvertently having the cursor move over another task and highlight the properties for that task instead – however, using the keyboard shortcuts made it far easier to use than with the mouse.

To really make best use of RTM, e.g. getting task reminders by email or IM, changing the default task lists you need to get into your account settings. Another bonus for me was the fact that it makes use of Google Gears, so I’m still able to use RTM even when I’m not online.

Why no search facility?

I’ve just submitted my assignment for the OUs Effective Leadership Skills course (GB003). It’s only a short course (approx 20 hours), and non-credit bearing but it’s taken me little while to get through. It’s different from most of the other OU courses as there are no fixed start and end dates, which I think the OU should probably be doing more of – though I know there are plenty of reasons as to why the OU still has fixed start/end dates for the vast majority of it’s courses (including tutor workload planning and exam timing). But there have been lots of times when I thought about doing a particular course, only to find it’s not running for another 6 months.

This course content is pretty much what I’d expected, though there was less reading than I thought there would be – especially compared to the Law course (W200) I took couple of years ago. My feeling is that most of these types of courses (e.g. effective time management etc) generally contain common sense approaches to work that you should probably know anyway – but sometimes they just need to be reinforced.

The assignment itself was very reflective and making you look at how you going to apply what you’ve learnt directly to your work, which is the whole point of doing the course in the first place, though I generally find these types of reflective activity quite hard!

Only had a couple of little niggles about the course and these are totally related to how the course delivery software (Moodle) forces content to be given to users (rather than anything to do with the course content). Firstly, that the navigation was quite poor, once you were on a content page, there was effectively only 3 links to navigate the content – (a) return to course homepage, (b) go to next page or (c) go to previous page. There was no quick way to jump back to a particular page in another section that you wanted to refer to. This is also a problem I’ve had with course content in OpenLearn (but we’re working on that one).

The second problem was that there was no search facility on the site, so the only way to try and find the page that I’d read about ‘virtual leadership’ on was to just scan through all the pages. Not a huge problem for this course (not too many pages), but frustrating nonetheless, but this would be infuriating for much bigger courses. I had a similar issue with the law course, in that we were provided with the course manuals in paper form and I asked to have the manuals in pdf format too, basically for ease of searching and for taking away with me (didn’t want to be lugging around heavy course material when I’d already got my laptop). My request for this was rejected (on what I thought was a fairly lame excuse), even though I know the manuals are produced in pdf format to send to the printers!

Hopefully as Moodle (sorry, OU VLE!) is rolled out and more courses have their full content online, this search issue will be sorted out!

Online Users Map now shows offline users too


I’ve just updated the online_user_map block so you can optionally show offline users too – the offline users will be displayed by a grey marker and the online users will be in green.

To enable the display of offline users, update the block with the new code, run ‘notifications’ from Moodle admin to update the database, then go to the block settings and select Yes to the option to display offline users.

For info, only the 50 most recent online users, and (if applicable) 50 most recent offline users will be displayed – this is just to ensure that the map doesn’t try to download 100’s or 1000’s of users to display.

Any comments, feedback etc welcome 🙂