Archive for July 2008

Revise this

It’s been long time coming but now the OpenLearn LabSpace allows users to edit (remix) units online – rather than the rather cumbersome method of downloading a Moodle backup file then re-uploading – or worse, trying to work with the OU XML format in notepad!

To create a new version of a unit, find the unit you’d like to edit then select the ‘make a copy for revising’ option from the ‘Versions’ block. After it’s created the new version you should see it listed (mine is v1.3 in the example image on the right).

On visiting the new unit you should see the ‘Revise this unit’ button in the top right (see highlighted area in image below).

When you click this you’ll get a warning message like the one below (as it’s wiki-like you’re able to edit other users content – they can also change yours!):

Finally you need to click the ‘Turn editing on’ button (this appears in the same place as the revise this button) and you’ll arrive at the standard Moodle unit/course editing page (as below), with all the links etc for adding and editing resources and activities.

Hopefully this new functionality will encourage more people to add their own content and edits (which has been somewhat lacking in the LabSpace so far) and also allow users to create much more interactive content (by adding Moodle activities to the units)… have fun!

(O)Unified messaging

Found out this morning that the OU are going to be trialling unified messaging with MS Office Communicator. Up until now we’ve basically used email (and occasionally the phone!) to get in touch with colleagues, but we’ve never had any actual presence information alongside this  – so you’re not sure if someone is actually in the office or away on holiday (people don’t always turn on their out-of-office auto-replies).

Some of us use MSG for getting presence info to see if people are around and available and having quick chats, but there hasn’t been a big take up in the organisation for using instant messaging (well, not for work anyway!). So I wonder how much the instant messaging aspects of Office Communicator will actually get used. I guess the integration with Outlook/Exchange would have a big bearing on this. If you know that someone is in the office and free you might just call or IM them instead – so maybe we’ll see a reduction in the number of emails flying around?

Not sure what all of this means for MSG and FlashMeeting (Office Communicator also has video-calling) – though I’m sure they’ll live on, especially for communicating with people outside the organisation.

Cohere website relaunched

This morning we relaunched the Cohere website. It’s almost a complete re-write of the old site and has a much improved user interface (we did plenty of user testing to try and get this right) as well as:

  • Group management – you can now create groups of users for collaborative working
  • API – for remotely adding, editing and reading data from the Cohere database
  • Scheduled RSS importing – you can now set your RSS feeds to be imported into Cohere daily
  • Firefox plugin – for creating ideas and connections as you browse the web

If you find any bugs or have any suggestions for improvement then please visit the Cohere support site.

Usability of OpenID

Mike Ellis posted an interesting article up about OpenID, which is quite critical of OpenID and although I do like OpenID, I agree with much of what he’s saying. Maybe I like OpenID because it’s a way of reducing the number of usernames/passwords I need to remember, rather than being a good way of reducing password overload.

I’ve recently been in conversation with the OU Communications group about how they can OpenID-enable some of their sites and my feeling is that it’s going to be difficult explain what OpenID is how to use it. I feel that to be able to use an OpenID at all you need a basic grasp of how it functions, which may be why it appeals to techies? I’m sure using a url as your identity is going to be an alien concept to people used to using usernames & passwords.

Also there’s plenty of room for confusion when logging into an Open University website using an OpenID… is my OpenID something the Open University gives me?

Social networking for voluntary groups

Today I met attended a workshop with BTCV to try to decide on the future of the Volunteer Passport that I was involved with a few months ago (especially as I’m not going to be here to maintain it).

The Passport hasn’t been used that much yet – but there are several reasons for this, firstly that it’s not been promoted anywhere yet (many people in BTCV don’t know about it), secondly, it’s functionality is slightly confused and thirdly, it still need finishing off.

The original purpose of the Passport was to allow volunteers to record their skills and experience and then use this as evidence to put towards formal qualifications (NVQs etc) and act as an ePortfolio system. However since we decided to use Elgg as the basis for the system, this opened up the possibility of it becoming a social network for BTCV.

Much of our discussion today was about whether or not BTCV should be providing a social networking system for it’s volunteers (why not just use facebook?) and how it could be justified. We eventually came to the conclusion that it probably could be justified if we had some good use cases and evidence of how it would benefit current BTCV activities, but that the system as it stands would need  work on the interface design (layout, structure and terminology).

If there is anyone out there who is interested in following up this work (especially from a technical/development point of view) then please drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with the BTCV team 🙂

Making the headlines (part 2)

clipping from the Hampshire Chronicle a week or so ago.

How to keep in touch?

Over the last few weeks I’ve found (or they’ve found me) a number of people who are going to be heading out to Ethiopia on IT VSO placements in September, plus a guy from US Peace Corps who’s already over in Gondar. This set me thinking about how we’d keep in touch/discuss things once we’re all on placement (we’ll be spread all over Ethiopia), and how we’d introduce new contacts to each other.

Using the VSO forums site didn’t really seem appropriate, as it’s only accessible to VSO volunteers, so people from other NGOs wouldn’t be able to join in. So… I’ve set up a new Google Group ‘IT Volunteers in Ethiopia’ that we can all join to keep in touch – anyone else is free to join too!

Not sure if this is the best way to achieve this, but have a discussion area like this seemed to be the most appropriate. Will also have to see if we get internet connections reliable enough to actually check for new messages!

Workshops, games and SKWID

Got back last night from my latest installment of VSO training courses, this time it was a half day Health and Personal Security Workshop, followed by the 4-day Skills for Working in Development (SKWID) course. As with the previous Preparing to Volunteer course, the SKWID course was very intensive but also extremely good fun and the trainers were excellent.

VSO courses aren’t really like any other training courses I’ve been on as they use such a variety of participation tools like role playing and games, and there’s no chance of just being able to sit there and not take part!

One of the main themes in the Health and Personal Security workshop was about treating water and the various water borne illnesses you may get from drinking untreated water. Anglian Water had unexpectedly provided me in training in this respect, as in Northampton, we’ve been having to boil all our water for the last week or so (though it is safe to drink again now!).

We had “energiser” games a few times a day – the first couple the trainers ran, then we had to run our own. The group I was in picked ‘Port/Starboard’ as the game we’d run, a game we used to play all the time in cubs, but that I’d completely forgotten about until Nono reminded me.

The bulk of the SKWID course is training us in how to use participatory approaches whilst on placement, how to get the communities interested and involved and how to be a facilitator for workshops we run. Much of the remaining parts of the course were about negotiation and conflict.

At the end of first day I was slightly unsure of how relevant what we were learning would be to my placement, but then we had to run a couple of workshops ourselves – using the other volunteers and trainers as guinea pigs – and everything started to make more sense!
The first workshop we had to run ourselves and had an hour to prepare for, the aims and approach used were entirely up to us. The aim in my workshop was for me to find out the IT skill level of the participants (something I’m sure I’ll need to do when I arrive in Ethiopia), but also so they can find out what IT skills each other have. I had 6 particpants divided in to 3 pairs, each pair had to write down 3 IT skills they had which they thought they could train others in (their ‘supplies’) then another 3 skills they’d like to learn (their ‘shopping list’). After writing these down they could then visit and chat to the other groups to see how many items they could tick off on their shopping list based on the skills offered by the other teams. This all went really well, though I needed to have summed up a bit better!

The second workshop we ran had a bit of a twist in that we weren’t allowed to use paper/pens, although we did run these workshops in pairs. I was working with Janine, one of the observers over from VSO Netherlands and the aim of our session was to find out where best to build a new healthcare centre in a village. We had the others role play being local villagers and they had to create a map (using anything they could find around – but no paper!) of their village, and then we asked them where the best place for the health centre would be – naturally they put it pretty much in the middle. They we told them that one of clinics would be for HIV & AIDS and (unsuprisingly) they immediately moved the centre to way outside the village. After a bit of suggestion that it might not be practical to get their children there for immunistations etc, they eventually move the clinic to the outskirts of the village.

The course was excellent fun but very tiring, so when we finished on Sunday lunchtime, a few of us had little while to wait for out trains home, so we headed off to Cadburys World just down the road… here’s Heloise, Thom and me sampling the chocolate…

Heloise, Thom and me