Tag Archives: LMS

Android for teachers: simple, tasty photos for the web

One thing I really like about my Android phone (LG P500) is the camera feature. It’ll never replace my real camera but it’s always with me, so I can take a quick snap even when I’m teaching. Plus there are imaging apps which make it a great tool for fast and easy creation of images.

For example, Vignette is a camera app for Android which has a free demo version as well as a paid version. The free version is limited to .3M pixel images, but these are fine for small illustrative images on a web page. The software has a wide range of effects which are fast and easy to use. And they provide some useful tweaks for web display.

For example, some of these effects produce a small square image (about 500 x 500) with a white border. So it’s really easy to produce a web-optimised image that is small and fast to download and has a built in margin for text wrapping. The image shown here is just 49KB and uses the Velvia filter which increases colour saturation. It’s not a great photo, but I love how fast and easy it is to capture an image like this, all ready for sharing on the web.

And because Android is a very ‘open’ OS, once you’ve captured the image there are many options for sharing it. Vignette will send the photo to Twitter, Facebook, email or other apps you use. I use the WordPress app which allows me to edit posts and pages on my phone, and Android makes it easy to send the photo directly from Vignette to a new WordPress post. Again, fast and easy – and a lot more flexible than just having a ‘Send via email’ option which I got used to on an iPhone.

Where there is a need for high resolution and high quality images a phone camera is not going to be appropriate. But where all that’s needed is a quick informal snap, a phone camera can be a great tool. Many of the teachers I work with don’t find it easy to get to grips with optimising images for the web. An Android phone* with Vignette is an easy way to get images into a blog or an LMS like Moodle, and it also integrates well with many of the social software platforms they use. I’d recommend it as a useful tool for teachers wanting a simple and convenient way to enhance their online presence with images.

* Note: not all phone cameras are equal. I chose one with 3 MP resolution and macro capability, but no flash as I prefer to use natural light anyway. Others will have very different needs.

Six tips for setting up a small-scale e-learning site

Rodin's ThinkerI often hear from educators and others wanting to set up a simple, small-scale e-learning platform to support their activities. While such a site has the potential to be more flexible and adaptable than a large institutional setup, it’s important to start it off on a sound footing to avoid wasting time and money.

My suggestions:

  1. Start with and maintain a strong focus on using the web to support learning, not to merely publish information. This should underlie all the decisions you make on technical matters.
  2. Don’t spend any money on arranging hosting until you have made decisions about the software platform (eg LMS or CMS) that will best meet your needs. Some platforms require much more robust hosting than others do.
  3. Don’t spend any money on a software platform until you have made some decisions about exactly how you are going to use the site to support learning. In fact, once you have done this it’s very likely that you can identify free and open source software (FOSS) that will be very suitable.
  4. Get help to identify your needs and make decisions. Not just because you may not have all the knowledge required, but also because an outside perspective is invaluable.
  5. Seek out independent help and advice. Talk to lots of people, but be aware that many of the people who will offer advice may not  have an objective understanding of what you want to achieve.
  6. Spend money on what matters – apart from ongoing payments for hosting, you probably have a small budget for initial set up. Since it’s very likely you won’t need to spend anything on software (see point 3 above), set aside at least some of your budget for buying the time of someone independent to help you identify needs and make decisions.

Presenting content in Moodle: Files

moodle-logoOne of the problems facing teachers using Moodle is how to present content when there’s a lot of it. Typically they have a set of weekly or topic blocks and start adding links, files and page into the blocks. Pretty soon they have a long list of resources and it becomes off-putting and hard for the student to find anything. The ‘hide block’ buttons can help but for various reasons I won’t go into here they are less than ideal.

My approach is to move as much clutter off the front page as possible. The best way to do this depends on the nature of the content involved. In this post I’ll look at ways to manage content which is based on files: eg PDFs, text documents, etc. These files might be readings or templates for project work. Ideally, the process would be something like this:

  1. If you’re really well organized, you can create a directory structure on your hard disk with all the course content files in a directory structure. All the files should have meaningful names and the directory structure reflect the topic structure of your course. If the files belong in a certain order, start the file names with a number: eg 01-project-plan-template.doc. The directory structure could all be inside a folder called (say) XXX-course-files where XX is the Moodle short name of the course.
  2. Next, create a zip archive of the whole directory structure – in Mac OS, go to the parent directory and right-click on XXX-course-files. Choose Compress “XXX-course-files” which will create a zip archive of the whole directory structure inside that one folder.
  3. Upload this file into the files area of your Moodle course. If you have lots of files inside the directory structure, this may take a while.
  4. When the zip file is uploaded, click the unzip link next to its name in the file list. This will unpack the directory structure.
  5. Now you can create links in the course topic areas to individual files, or better still use Display a Directory in the Add a Resource popup menu to create a link to the subdirectory which matches the topic you’re editing.

Using Display a Directory means you can avoid having long lists of files on the front page of the course. Students are generally familiar with files within directory structures, so provided the files are well-named (see above), they’ll have no problem accessing them. And the front page of your course will look much more user-friendly.

FLLinNZ Postcard 7

From 9 to 10 December I attended the Australian Flexible Learning Leaders Sharing Workshop at Coogee Beach, Sydney. For me this was very valuable: not just the content of the presentations but the whole approach to presentation and reporting back on their projects. Many of the leaders used narrative techniques such as metaphor to tell their stories. This got me thinking about my own report back at the FLLinNZ sharing workhop later in 2005.

On 13 December I attended a presentation at AUT of Desire2Learn, a commercial Learning Management System: thanks to Peter Mellow for organising this! Although I’ve mostly focused on open source systems over the last couple of years, it was interesting and worthwhile to see a new competitor to the big players. It will be interesting too to see how the market for these systems develops over the next few years!

My final activity for the year (21 December) was to visit a small private training provider in Rotorua. The provider had a connection with Nga Kiwai Kete, John Delaney’s TEC-funded project, and I met and talked to the staff about how I could assist the development of eLearning in the organisation through mentoring and staff development. For me this was very productive: it was great to have the opportunity to work with a provider where there was little or no existing eLearning involvement but a great desire to get involved!.

FLLinNZ Postcard 1

I have just completed my involvement in a research review which was carried out by the University of Oklahoma. The project involved the development of a set of criteria for evaluating learning management systems. The process was an interesting one as it took place over 3 weeks and involved an expert panel. Each week, as panel members we downloaded a PDF document and gave feedback using an online survey – we didn’t know who the other panel members were and had no contact with them.

In the first week, we were presented with a set of criteria which had been collated from elsewhere and gave feedback on their completeness. In week 2, a revised set of criteria was supplied and we rated each on importance. In week 3, we reviewed the resulting new set of criteria as a complete set. Now we’re awaiting the final results.

Although I felt the process could have benefited from some group interaction between panel members, I thought the process was well designed and managed and could be a very useful model for an organisation looking to undertake evaluation of a system prior to purchase or development. It provided a very structured and focused process for consulting stakeholders – I’ll be able to use my experience as a panel member as a model in the future.

There is more information at the project site www.hqranch.net/ but the surveys etc are not openly available.