Posts tagged ‘openlearn’

Blog tinkering

IMG_4216Over the last few days I’ve added a few features to my blog which other blogs have had for ages…

  1. Comments subscription. Get email updates to post’s comments. I’ve never quite understood why this isn’t a standard feature of WordPress. Does anyone ever subscribe to an RSS feed of comments? I don’t think I ever have.
  2. Gravatar. Updated my theme to include comment author’s gravatars
  3. Tag cloud. Seemed an obvious thing to add to the side bar, given the time I’d spent tagging old posts.
  4. Clustr maps. A little sidebar widget to show where the site visitors are coming from.

As, I assume, most people will be reading this through a feed reader, all of my tinkering will be irrelevant/invisible. Which means you won’t see the long (pointless?) sidebar of widgets now on display.

Does anyone ever look at these sidebar widgets? I’m sure when I view others’ blogs/sites I tend to block out anything down either side of the page assuming it’s peripheral, unless it looks like a menu for navigation. So why should I expect anyone to look at the ones on my site?

On the OpenLearn project the number of Moodle blocks (down either side of the page) grew to an unmanageable number. Deciding which (or rather whose!) block should be removed or put at the top was a tricky task. Though, this problem has now been solved by moving all the tools into one block.

[The photo above, which I took yesterday, has nothing to do with this posting, other than to show I have done something else over the last few days apart from tinkering with my blog.]

Goodbye OU & thanks!

After over 7½ years at the OU, today is my last day. Still hasn’t quite yet sunk in that I’m leaving, or that in only 2 weeks time I’ll be beginning my placement in Ethiopia.

I’ve really enjoyed working here, in IET, KMi and on the OpenLearn team, have learnt loads and have met lots of great people.

Also thanks for all your generosity in donating to VSO to help with the work they’re doing – very close to reaching my fundraising target now 🙂

I’ll be making sure that I keep my blog up to date so you’ll be able to keep track of how things are going, so keep in touch and there’s an open invitation if you fancy a holiday in Ethiopia!

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!

MoodleMoot08 – Padova, Italy

On Friday I gave an “Introduction to OpenLearn” presentation at the Italian MoodleMoot08 in Padova. The first day started in true Italian style – about an hour late – though to be fair this was actually more due to the fact there had been a train strike in the morning which had delayed a lot of the people arriving. The transport strike also explained why my bus from the airport to Padova on Thursday had been free, I’d tried to buy a ticket from the driver but he refused my money and just indicated for me to sit down, so I spent the hours journey wondering if the ticket inspectors would get on and I’d get fined! Fortunately not, and it was explained to me later that the refusal to take money is unofficial strike action by the drivers, for fear of robbery if they are carrying cash.

I was the only English speaker at the conference, but thankfully John Hannon (English teacher from Bari )translated everything on the fly for me, for the benefit of the entirely Italian audience of about 200 teachers. I just about managed to understand some of the other presentations, with help from little translations from the people sat around me.The conference was also being webcast – so I’m hoping that the replays will appear soon. [Update 15/5/08: the replay of my presentation is now available at:, my talk starts at about 1’08. Presentations from the other sessions are also available – all in Italian ;-)]

My presentation seemed to go really well, I certainly had plenty of people asking me about OpenLearn and our tools (especially FlashMeeting), so I gave a few demos when I could get on a PC with an internet connection. A wireless connection wasn’t available, which meant there was virtually no-one using a laptop on the audience (so no complaints about noisy keyboards), still I managed to grab a machine with in connection so I could give a few demos of FlashMeeting (or the FM project as it’s now officially called), though it was a little tricky with no web cam and no speakers!

Roberto Pinna from the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) dept at the Università del Piemonte Orientale gave me a demo of their MeetingPoint application – it’s a web based video conferencing tool, so similar to FlashMeeting although it uses the opensource Red5 server (rather than the paid-for Flash Comms Server). The main differences (that I can see) are that MeetingPoint doesn’t record the meetings for later replay (as far as I’m aware), but it has a plugin architecture, so if there’s a tool you’d like to embed then you can do so – or (for example) replace the provided whiteboard application with something else.

Luckily I had the time to spend the rest of the weekend in Padova as it’s a really nice city – not far from Venice (but far fewer tourists), but plenty of historic monuments, and being Italy, churches. It’s home to the second oldest university in Italy (Bologna University had opened 3 or 4 years before) and where Galileo taught and his observatory it still standing. Some parts of the old university are still standing (see my pics) – the crests you can see in some of these picture are the shields from the previous directors of the university and faculties.

Other sights I got to were the Basilica di Sant’Antonio and Cappella degli Scrovegni. St Antonio relics, seem to consist of slightly more gruesome relics than I’ve seen before (usually bits of bone), including his lower jaw, tougue and larynx… hmmm…

Far less grim were the botanical gardens – “regarded as the most ancient university garden in the world”.

MSG Installation screencasts

I’ve just posted up some installation screencasts for MSG server to help out anyone trying to install it… more info.

Has also made me think that maybe I should go back and create one for using MSG within OpenLearn – specifically with a scenario for why you would want to use MSG within OpenLearn.

Reviewing the OpenLearn tools

Firstly, a slightly belated Happy New Year!

Yesterday we had an interesting discussion about how we could evaluate and review the social tools included in OpenLearn, namely, the Knowledge Mapping (with Compendium & Cohere), MSG and Flashmeeting. Our feeling is that they’ve not been as successful as we first hoped, and there maybe lots of different reasons for this. For MSG I’ve detailed some of the possible reasons in a JIME paper that will be published soon.

It’s quite interesting to compare how OpenLearn is viewed externally to the OU vs how it’s seen internally (and within the OpenLearn team). The feedback we have from external users is that, to paraphrase, “OpenLearn is great, I can get free OU content”, whereas I’m slightly dissappointed that MSG isn’t used more than it is. I guess the difference is due to the fact that users may see the site as a way of getting content, and not necessarily somewhere they can come to to gain access to tools, such as IM, video-conferencing etc.

Video/audio chat in MSG…

Ever since I started working on MSG we’ve been asked for extra functionality to be added, most notably group-chat and option to have audio/video chat. We’ve always tried to resist giving in to these requests – on the basis that other IM services already do these things so why reinvent them, also, it’s all open source so if you can add them if you want!

However we’ve kinda given in to one of these, the video/audio chat one, the reason being that it’s actually relatively little work – we already have a service (FlashMeeting) which provides this type of functionality – so just need to link the 2 together. Well, we’ve nearly got this finished so when you’re in a chat session, there’s a one click launch flashmeeting – which automatically books the meeting and gives you the link to it…. so far so good – and also dubiously solves the group chat issues, since flashmeeting is multi-user rather than 1-1 (in fact better at multi-user than 1-1)…. but then we realised that we’ll only be able to apply this solution to the OpenLearn server.

The FlashMeeting and MSG OpenLearn servers have the exact same user base and account ids/emails etc all match up – so it’s quite trivial, however we run into problems with our general FlashMeeting and MSG servers as they have different user bases and even different policies on who can get accounts on each server. FlashMeeting accounts are only created by the FM team (you can’t self register – well, not without an OU email address?), but MSG has (or rather, will very shortly have) the ability for anyone to register – so we can’t then automatically auto create accounts the FM server. I know there are ways we _could_ do this but too many variables and too much if.. else if.. else if.. else.. code for my liking 😉 Another case for us to seriously look into whether OpenID and oAuth can really help solve these types of problem for us.

There are other services that we could use (recently found MeBeam – or rather they found us) which offer free to use, no-registration multi-user chat/audio/video facilities. However, we’ve not finally decided on any of these yet… and any other suggestions for services we could link to gratefully received 😉

Chat history

We’ve (finally!) got round to releasing the chat history function on the live OpenLearn server (more details).. so pleased we’ve now got that done 🙂

OpenLearn conference

Spent the last couple of days at the OpenLearn conference, which was all quite interesting, although maybe not directly relevant to my day-to-day work – the things that were really relevant I should know about already!! – but interesting nonetheless. I won’t write about all the presentations I went to as there was some active blogging on all the sessions – so pointless for me to replicate all that here. The sessions I found most interesting were… John Seely Brown, Alan Cann, Erik Duval, Ray Corrigan and Tony Hirst.

One thing I did notice was that whereever Open Educational Resources (OERs) were discussed it generally referred to content – and essentially static content at that. Whenever tools were discussed they were as a surrounding/supporting activity rather than being OERs in their own right – as mentioned in the wikipedia OER article.

Live blogging

I’m currently at the OpenLearn conference and have helping with the live blogging effort on the Ochre website. However I’m finding this a little tricky – I’d be fine taking notes then writing up later, but my brain doesn’t work quickly enough to form sentences worth posting up as people are presenting. Think the best bet for me is to listen to the presentations then write up my overall thoughts at the end.

Think I may be making thing even harder for myself by writing to this blog and the Ochre blog at the same time…!