Monday, 19 November 2012

Moodle Private files

Oh, useful!

Just stumbled across a nice little function of Moodle 2.3 that I don't want to forget about.

If you have a file that regularly updates and is used in more than one course, you can now keep in in your Private files and add a link to it in the course pages.

This way, you can update your Private Files and not worry about updating all your courses separately.

There are still problems with the Private Files, sadly. I really want people to be able to message each other and attach files in the Private Files area to the message. It would also be great if you could edit a file and save it directly into the Private Files area instead of downloading a copy, saving it locally, editing and uploading the edited document to Private Files.

This may be possible, but I've looked, and I don't think it is. It's just one of those things that seems so obvious to me that I assume it's there, but does not seem to be.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Augmented Reality (Part 2)

I forsee this (AR) becoming a theme in my blog over the next few weeks.

Have you seen this?



I love it. It was mentioned during the Augmented Reality in Education Event I mentioned attending in my previous blog.

The criticisms I hear about AR include the fact that it is only accessible if you have the technology.

This is very true - but here is an example (I haven't seen the actual prospectus, so cannot confirm if this is exactly true for what is demonstrated here) of how AR can be used "properly".

Augmented Reality - it's not a whole new virtual world, it's an additional source of information to give you a deeper insight into the normal world you see before you.

Many prospectuses include image of happy students and snapshot references to thier experience. Let's assume the AR kit gives you access to a video where students retell those stories in their own voice, and the written word of the prospectus is just a transcript of the best bits. How perfect is that?
  • If you have the kit, you get the additional information, the personal connection, etc.
  • If you don't you still have the same prospectus with the same information.
This is what I need to consider - any materials that utilise AR must be a duplicate of existing accessible information until the students are known to be happy and comfortable with the concept and are all known to have the required technology to view it.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Augmented Reality

I attended the Augmented Reality in Education Event 2012 (#aree2012) last Friday and one message came through loud and clear:

The people using this technology are in Sales and Marketing. Educational uses are waaaay behind.

The thing that strikes me as weird about this is that education and sales/ marketing actually do the same thing. We try to introduce new concepts in a way the customer/ learner will remember and consider.

Brands want us to know their jingle, catchphrase and/ mascot (how many meerkats can you name? And how long did it take you to understand the reference?). Teachers want us to know the cosine rule, where the wind comes from and the difference between weight and mass.

Now admittedly, sales people have the freedom to build a story around their product which is easier for us to buy into and remember, but we should be able to employ the obviously successful techniques in education.

I'm very optimistic that this will be easier using AR than it has been in the past with other technology/ techniques precisely because it seems to be more about incentivising the learner to seek information than it is about engaging them with the information directly.

Anyway, that is the basic direction for my research into AR - how has it succeeded before and can I use that?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Customising my Moodle theme

Since the very beginning of my position as eLearning CoOrdinator, one of my goals has been to customise the appearance of our Moodle site, to bring it in line with our external websites and make it feel a bit more like a website and less like a filesystem.

We use the formfactor theme and it's already astonishingly close to our website layout - considering the alternative core themes. But we upgraded to Moodle 2.2 at the end of February and I knew my time had come. I don't know if this is the officially recommended way to go about things, but I was reasonably confident I wouldn't destroy the world so I took the following steps.

Step 1: make all changes on the development server only! This is a duplicate of our live server taken shortly after the upgrade. In terms of course materials it's out of date, but in development terms, it's exactly the same.

Step 2: figure out how much of the alterations/ customisations can be made from the site administration panel. Not a whole lot, as it turns out, but one or two things that I would have spent a while beating my head against if I was trying to do it through the css; mostly block related. Surprisingly, there isn't an easy way to turn off a block column through the Site Admin panel. Thanks to Mary Evans I know the changes would be easy enough to automate but I suspect, from a comment she made, that Moodle won't incorporate the option because it causes problems with other aspects of the site (notably Grading).

Step 3: locate the theme files on the server, identify the css, start making changes and refresh the website endlessly to make sure it's doing what you think it should. Yeah. That's the bit that should probably be formalised. In reality, the Moodle 2 theme setup is really impressive. They've seperated out the core CSS into a file called "core.css" (in a folder called "style") making it easy to locate and make alterations. I uploaded the picture I wanted in the header (pictures are stored in "pix") and redirected the path in a few quick strokes. Similarly, altering the gradient pictures used took seconds. These areas are really sensibly named in the css (page-header, page-navigation, breadcrumb), so it's easy to identify what the alterations you are making should affect, as long as you're comfortable recognising the html names used (li, a:hover, etc).

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the "custommenu". It took me ages to identify the difference between menu-content and menu-item-content. I'm still not sure I've got it. However, the menu is in working order despite not looking exactly the way I want it to, so I'm happy enough.

I resorted to moodle.org and the inestimable Mary Evans for advice on removing the left hand block column and I am now literally at the last stage - the part where I turn the topic box on the home page and the Summary box on the category pages into a resplendent piece of artwork stuffed with buttons. However, even if that doesn't happen I'm rather chuffed with what I've acheived and I don't think this is beyond anyone who has the interest and commitment to give it a real go.

I am deeply impressed with the Moodle team right now - there aren't many organisations who will go out of their way to make it this easy to change the appearance of their product.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

“E-Learning? There’s an app for that!”

I got round to reading an excellent article I've had favourited on Twitter for some time about trends for the future of eLearning and there was a knee jerk reaction I had to something I frequently hear. The article is good; I recommend you read it if you haven't already, but it's definitely open to discussion.

E-Learning?  There’s an app for that!” Actually, no. It's just not possible and the reason is right there in the article: "an app is generally created to do one specific thing…..and they do it well! "

However, that isn't my specific objection, which is that eLearning - whether we like it or not - is not one thing, nor is it something that there is a quick fix for. We can use apps in eLearning, absolutely no question, but if we're ever in the position where we equate eLearning with using apps we start missing out on a huge range of opportunities. I mean sure, check the weather with an app and you have it there whenever you want, specific to your location, and with the most up-to-date information. If you do your eLearning through apps, you can... well, what can you do? You can use an app to do (or learn) trigonometry, or social history. But what if you're so busy using an app that you forget to look around at all the other media through which eLearning may be delivered?

My plea is simple: Do not promote use of the phrase "eLearning? There's an app for that!" because there are so many aspects to eLearning that apps cannot meet, or if they can, something else can do it better. It's so easy to forget that while the phrase literally means "an app can meet this need at least as well as the other options available", the success of apps and the severity with which Apple governed the marketplace for apps means that they are now seen as the best way of doing things by many people (even those who use Android or other systems).

The rest of the article (and I can't emphasise enough how happy I am every time I see somebody say these things, because I do feel so strongly about them) talks about how the future of eLearning is in responding to the learners needs and giving learners the freedom to meet educators on an equal plane as facilitators to their exploration rather than dictators to their every action. This is what education as a whole needs to be, whether society implodes or electricity no longer works or any other rewrite of our world that eliminates the possibility of "eLearning" existing as it is generally defined.

Sadly, what defines education today isn't the carrot of interest and enthusiasm that we wave at students to get them through the doors, but the measuring stick which is applied on the way out of exactly how well they answered the questions supplied in the exam, and how they regurgitated facts on that one day, regardless of whether they have been forgotten since.

One day this will change and instead of an A, B, C system, the employers of the future will be able to rely on some other measure. Perhaps a review of the student by the educating body - including perhaps a brief part which contains formal exam reports (perhaps a 1/5th?) to demonstrate impartial assessment but the rest is made up of a report from their tutor, to outline their personality and individual strengths and weaknesses, brief subject specific reviews to enable them to move forward on an academic path, evidence of how the student works (video clips of the class, samples of project work) and a self-assessment from the student.

Sure, it's not as easy to read as "Art: A, Physics: C, English Lit: B", but how much space does that take up on your CV anyway?