Embedding LAMS sequences

This is just a quick test to illustrate the new embed feature of LAMS sequences. You can now get embed code for sequences from the LAMS Community site. You should be able to preview this sequecce, and edit it using LessonLAMS if you have an account. A great step forward from the LAMS team.

LAMS Sequence: Exploring Song Lyrics
By: James Dalziel      License:

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Social Media and Academia

Glasgow is one of the participating cities in the global Social Media Week. I was pleased to be able to attend the Social Media and Academia workshop at Glasgow University earlier this week; organised by Edinburgh Beltane, Beacon for Public Engagement and EDINA.

The event generated a really interesting discussion around use of social media from three main perspectives – teaching and learning, the library and community engagement. Nicola Osbourne (@suchprettyeyes) live blogged during the session and her account really captures the varied discussion that took place.

The things that struck me most were around the power to use social media to connect (or perhaps) reconnect place and community. Being a bit of a transient soul, I tend to use and think of social networks as virtual space devoid of location. However a sense of place is important for institutions, and it was interesting to hear about the various uses of Facebook within Glasgow University and also the discussion around the dangers of being in too many networks – particularly related to staff time to monitor these networks for any request for information. We also heard form Chris Speed and Peter Matthews about a really fascinating project in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh, were local residents are sharing their memories of places, and place through voice memories via social networks – in this case primarily Facebook. I also found out about how Oxfam are using tagging of objects so you can now trace things you donate and see how much money they have been sold for.

There also seems to be a growing recognition in academia of the power of social networks – are we, in Gartner terms, on the slope of enlightenment perhaps?

I’ve also pulled together some of the tweets from the session too – which gives more of a twittter stream of conscious feel for the session too. All in all a really thought provoking session which I’m still thinking through. Many thanks to EDINA and Beltane for organising the session and to colleagues at Glasgow Uni for hosting it.

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How would you build a widget authoring tool?

Yesterday along with about 20 others I attended a Design Event organised by the Widg@t project, which is being funded through the current round of JISC Learning Teaching Innovation Grants (LTIG).

The aim of the day was to help the team “define the design specification for the WIDGaT toolkit, in particular the Design Decision Maker and Authoring Tool interface.” The team are planning to build a tool specifically aimed at non-techies – ” The WiDGaT toolkit (Design Decision Maker, Authoring Toolkit) aims to enable staff or students without technical expertise to easily design, develop and share widgets that support personalised learning. It enables the creation of widgets that address particularly (but not exclusively) the needs and preferences of disabled students.”

Splitting into small groups, the morning session was designed to get us thinking not about the authoring tool, but rather on designing widgets. Using the paper based design process the team had used during their previous WIDE project (see my previous post on this), each group had to create a design specification for a widget. The picture gives an idea of how the group I was in used the Design templates and flip chart to record our ideas.

widgat design template

widgat design template

The afternoon was then spent thinking about what kind of tool would allow people without any development experience build our, or indeed any other, widget. So we were thinking around a set of questions including:
*What would be the best way to replicate the f2f, paper supported, decision making process we had gone through?
*What kinds of interface, components and services would need to be available?
*Would templates be viable/useful?
*How would you save/share/publish outputs?

The group I was in spent quite a bit of time discussing the need to include some of the information made explicit in the Design template sheets e.g. detailed “personna” and “scenario” (basically the who, why and how of widget use). Although fully appreciating the need for them, we did wonder if they are better done offline, and if too much pre-authoring form filling might be off putting and actually slightly counter productive? We were also concerned with scope creep and very aware that the team are working to a tight timescale for development. So again we spent quite a bit of time discussing how to create an environment that gave enough options to be useful/useable, extensible to allow new functionality to be easily integrated and also, most importantly, was feasible to build.

During the feedback session it was clear that everyone in the room was broadly thinking in a similar way – particularly around the pragmatics of building a working system within the project timescale. The use of templates was also popular, as that provides a way to show users what is possible and also define an initial set of components/services.

I found the day to be very stimulating and very well structured, so thanks to all the team for their efforts in planning. As with any well designed design process, our input doesn’t stop after one day. The team are now pulling together all the ideas, reflecting on the themes emerging from the day and are going to produce a draft specification which we will be asked to feedback on before producing their final specification. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the toolkit develops and enjoying being part of a collaborative, user centred design process.

Design bash 11 pre-event ponderings and questions

In preparation for the this year’s Design Bash, I’ve been thinking about some of the “big” questions around learning design and what we actually want to achieve on the day.

When we first ran a design bash, 4 years ago as part of the JISC Design for Learning Programme we outlined three areas of activity /interoperability that we wanted to explore:
*System interoperability – looking at how the import and export of designs between systems can be facilitated;
*Sharing of designs – ascertaining the most effective way to export and share designs between systems;
*Describing designs – discovering the most useful representations of designs or patterns and whether they can be translated into runnable versions.

And to be fair I think these are still the valid and summarise the main areas we still need more exploration and sharing – particularly the translation into runnable versions aspect.

Over the past three years, there has been lots of progress in terms of the wider context of learning design in course and curriculum design contexts (i.e. through the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes) and also in terms of how best to support practitioners engage, develop and reflect on their practice. The evolution of the pedagogic planning tools from the Design for Learning programme into the current LDSE project being a key exemplar. We’ve also seen progress each year as a directly result of discussions at previous Design bashes e.g. embedding of LAMS sequences into Cloudworks (see my summary post from last year’s event for more details).

The work of the Curriculum Design projects in looking at the bigger picture in terms of the processes involved in formal curriculum design and approval processes, is making progress in bridging the gaps between formal course descriptions and representations/manifestations in such areas as course handbooks and marketing information, and what actually happens in the at the point of delivery to students. There is a growing set of tools emerging to help provide a number of representations of the curriculum. We also have a more thorough understanding of the wider business processes involved in curriculum approval as exemplified by this diagram from the PiP team, University of Strathclyde.

PiP Business Process workflow model

PiP Business Process workflow model

Given the multiple contexts we’re dealing with, how can we make the most of the day? Well I’d like to try and move away from the complexity of the PiP diagram concentrate a bit more on the “runtime” issue ie transforming and import representations/designs into systems which then can be used by students. It still takes a lot to beat the integration of design and runtime in LAMS imho. So, I’d like to see some exploration around potential workflows around the systems represented and how far inputs and outputs from each can actually go.

Based on some of the systems I know will be represented at the event, the diagram below makes a start at trying to illustrates some workflows we could potentially explore. N.B. This is a very simplified diagram and is meant as a starting point for discussion – it is not a complete picture.

Design Bash Workflows

Design Bash Workflows

So, for example, starting from some initial face to face activities such as the workshops being so successfully developed by the Viewpoints project or the Accreditation! game from the SRC project at MMU, or the various OULDI activities, what would be the next step? Could you then transform the mostly paper based information into a set of learning outcomes using the Co-genT tool? Could the file produced there then be imported into a learning design tool such as LAMS or LDSE or Compendium LD? And/ or could the file be imported to the MUSKET tool and transformed into XCRI CAP – which could then be used for marketing purposes? Can the finished design then be imported into a or a course database and/or a runtime environment such as a VLE or LAMS?

Or alternatively, working from the starting point of a course database, e.g. SRC where they have developed has a set template for all courses; would using the learning outcomes generating properties of the Co-genT tool enable staff to populate that database with “better” learning outcomes which are meaningful to the institution, teacher and student? (See this post for more information on the Co-genT toolkit).

Or another option, what is the scope for integrating some of these tools/workflows with other “hybrid” runtime environments such as Pebblepad?

These are just a few suggestions, and hopefully we will be able to start exploring some of them in more detail on the day. In the meantime if you have any thoughts/suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Summer round up from the institutional DVLE projects

Summer generally provides a bit of time for reflection and gathering of thoughts. It also marks the start of the final phase of the current JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) programme. For the five institutionally based projects, this summer has provided a short break before some major implementations and evaluations get underway in the new semester. This post summarizes some of the developments and future plans as outlined by the projects in their recent interim reports.

To give a bit more context the original call for funding for the institutional projects specifically asked for bids that would:

” . . .review their virtual learning environment and related systems to establish to what extent they meet the current and projected needs of the wide range of users in the institution and beyond, and implement technical work to widen the range of functionality the VLE can provide in an interoperable way.”

Which would lead to a set of deliverables including:

“• Enhancing the flexibility of VLEs to meet new and developing user requirements and to permit future expansion and changes.
• Demonstration of a range of architecture models for composing institutionally delivered learning environments.
• Guidance on, and models for, expanding VLE functionality and delivering it in different ways to meet institutional needs.
• An increased number of high-quality sharable widgets and applications made available to common web platforms in UK institutions, and an easier process of deploying them.”

So what progress is being made?

ceLTIc, University of Edinburgh
Progress continues with deployment of LTI connectors across a range of platforms including BB, Pepplepad, Elgg. You can get more of a feel for what the project has achieved so far from their recent presentation at our IMS LTI and LIS in Action Webinar. The project are now entering their evaluation phase which aims to “explore the impact of the implementation of LTI connectors with a VLE and four applications: Elgg, WebPA, PebblePad and Learning Objects in a number of higher education institutions from the perspective of:
tutor; developer; e-learning support; administrator.” More information about the evaluation methodology can be found on the project blog.

DEVELOP, University of Reading
The DEVELOP (Developing and Enhancing Virtual Learning Environments and E-Learning Options) team at Reading have primarily been exploring the extension of their BlackBoard VLE to allow greater pedagogic flexibility and their portfolio provision so that it can be used for teaching and assessment purposes. Scoping documents for their widget development (Tagging and recommender, portfolio, ASSET Video, content) are available from the project blog. At the moment, the widgets are all at various stages of development and user testing. The user evaluation and testing are part of the rapid prototyping approach the team are using (you can read more about the technical evaluation part of this process in this post. These evaluations will form the basis for a set of case studies around the effectiveness of each of the widgets. The case studies will be based on the templates created at Reading as part of another project JISC funded project, OULDI, which is part of the Curriculum Design Programme. The team have also been working closely with their key internal technical stakeholders to ensure sustainability of developments. The University of Bedfordshire is also testing the video widget.

DOULS, OU
The DOULS (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) team have continued with key user engagement processes to scope, define and specify the set of Google gadgets they are going to develop: Assessment Helper; Forum Recommender; Forums; OU Buddy; Study Planner. Draft gadget functionality specs for each one is available the project blog. The team have also documented their process and have produced a number of useful guidelines relating to usability and accessibility in terms of testing gadgets and overall management of accessibility within a VLE. These are openly available from the blog. The team are continuing to learn the “ins and outs” of working with the Google Apps for Education API for widescale adoption. Again the team are sharing some of their “visions” for potential Google App/Moodle integration and thoughts around potential uses/extensions for the Google start page on the blog. There will be more code releases in September, when they will also start their evaluation. Their interim report is also available for download from the blog.

SLEP, University of Southampton
The SLEP (Southampton Learning Environment Prototype) project is part of a wider institutional wide initiative at Southampton to restructure both its research and teaching and learning environments. As you’d expect from Southampton, open and linked data are central to their approach and the team have used a “co-design” process “made up of a large- scale student survey, smaller focus groups and one-on-one interviews) has revealed a preference for a small number of key services in our initial launch (including email and timetabling).” This process has also surfaced the importance of groups and communities, and the team’s prototype interface design highlights these and makes “ them the lens through which students and staff access all of the data and services of the institution”. The project is now coming out of “stealth” mode with their first round of apps being released in September accompanied by a large scale (c. 1,000 students) user evaluation of their new user interface. More detail on their overall approach and the co-design methodology is outlined in this paper presented at the PLE conference earlier this summer.

W2C, MMU
The W2C team continue to make good progress with what they often refer as their “megamash up”. The team have made steady progress developing web services including: PC Availability; Fee Status (RSS); WebCT Areas & Announcements (RSS); Library Reading Lists (RSS) & Podcasts (RSS); Integrating Talis Aspire and Equella. Providing this information in a mobile friendly way has had a dramatic impact on the number of hits these services are now getting. The team have been closely monitoring the usage of these services and shared how they collect the data and some of their insights in this post. The team have also been involved in a study of student use of mobile devices with a number of other institutions. Preliminary findings from the on the MMU part of the study are available in this post .

The team have prioritised the development of web services for mobile devices and have been working with oMbiel’s campusM mobile phone product. This has allowed them to rapidly deploy their web-services and create a user feedback loop. The team have also undertaken work in developing open source widgets for their Moodle installation which I’ll refer to later in this post. The W2C project, again is part of a wider institutional change process around provision of teaching and learning and the team have been very pro-active in sharing their “core- plus” model with the rest of the programme and the wider community.

Reflections
The CETIS Distributed Learning Environments briefing paper was a key starting point for the programme, and particularly for the institutional strand, JISC wanted to find out the key institutional infrastructure issues are surrounding more flexible creation distribution of apps/gadgets/widgets and how data can be shared and re-used effectively.

Again going back to the funding call: “ The following technical approaches are of particular interest:
• Widget platforms external to the VLE displaying content from a range of sources including the VLE.
• Plug-ins to the VLE or other institutional web platform demonstrating the use of open educational standards such as IMS LTI (learning tools interoperability).
• The VLE providing some of its data and functionality as widgets/and or plug-ins to be consumed in other environments.
• Enabling access to particular research equipment in VLEs via widgets.
• Identity and access management approaches, such as OAuth.
• Approaches which illustrate innovative creation, use and consumption of data sets (including linked data ) sets across multiple platforms.”

Security has been and continues to be a key concern for projects (as highlighted in this post from Mark Stubbs after the programme start up meeting last September). Accessibility is also a concern, and it’s probably fair to say that the DOULS and others at the OU have had to spend more time than they probably first envisaged ensuring that their Google apps provision met required accessibility guidelines.

However there have been some quick wins for example W2C have been able to accelerate their mobile app deployment using an external partner which freed up the team’s time to work on developing web-services. We are also beginning to get a far greater understanding of student mobile device ownership and indeed from all the user engagement across the projects a greater understanding of the key data/services which staff and students actually want and use regularly.

In terms of standards/ specifications we have a stalwart supporter of the IMS LTI approach from Stephen Vickers at the ceLTIC project who clearly thinks the IMS way is a win, win, win scenario. There is still some resistance to implementing LTI in other projects – partly due to their unfinished status. Reading are keeping a watching brief on developments and are concentrating on developing widgets they know will work in their VLE. Whereas Southampton prefer to work with more conventional, non education specific web service approaches. However the recent announcement from IMS that they are now merging the development of full and basic LTI into one specification may start to convince more potential adopters. Once again the security question raises its head. Whilst there seems to be more convergence across the IMS, Open Social and Wookie development communities around the use of services such as OAuth, and the development of data handling process which sh/could start to allay common concerns around security of sensitive data such as assessment information etc. However, there is still probably a need for quite a dramatic culture shift within institutional provision and access before OAuth is widely adopted across the sector.

The programme has also afforded the opportunity for projects to explore the W3C Apache Wookie (Incubating) approach to the building and deployment of widgets. Our widget bash provided hand on opportunities for developers to get started building (and repurposing their own apps) wookie widgets. Despite the (relative) ease of building widgets, there has been some articulation surrounding concerns around the institutional deployment of a wookie widget server see this post from the W2C project. There continues to be an appetite for a stable sandbox/test server that projects could experiment with. This has been discussed before through our widget working group (pre-cursor to the DVLE programme) and it is something we at CETIS do recognise. Unfortunately we aren’t in a position to guarantee stability of any such service, and so we have being advocating a community based solution (perhaps augmented with a bit of funding from JISC). This is bound to be something we return to at the end of the programme once the projects have completed their reviews of their approaches and we can get a more informed view from across the programme.

There is also the question of where widgets/apps/gadgets should be accessed from after the projects finish. Should the code be available only via project websites? Do we need think about developing education app store (again this brings up similar issues as the wookie test server). One potential interim measure we are starting to investigate is the use of the JISC Design Studio which is primarily being used to share outputs from the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, but there are plans to use it to share other programme outputs too.

In the final stage of the funding cycle, the projects will be reflecting more on their infrastructure and how they relate to the models outlined in the CETIS DLE briefing paper. Both DEVELOP and W2C are seeing alignment with Model 2 “plug-ins to existing VLEs”.

screen shot of DLE Model 2

screen shot of DLE Model 2

W2C have begun to articulate their model in a some more detail in this post.

Over the coming months as evaluations begin in earnest, it will be interesting to see any convergences of approaches/models start to appear, and to explore what kind of affordances the projects distributed learning environments have to offer over traditional approaches.

More information about the projects and the programme support activities can be found on the CETIS wiki. There is also a public netvibes page with feeds from all the project blogs.

The timeline below also gives another view of programme activity through aggregated tweets using the programme hashtag #jiscdvle and with an RSS feed from the related Learning Platforms topic page on the CETIS website.