Tag Archives: moodle

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.

The iPad: a tool for teachers

When the iPad was first announced I posted some brief thoughts about its potential for education. Since then, it’s been released and I’ve had the chance to spend some time playing with one. It’s been an opportunity to see to what extent the device itself and the software available would be a useful tool for supporting the work of teachers and lecturers.

My initial impressions that the iPad functionally resembles a giant iPod Touch have been confirmed. Still, I use my iPod Touch all the time, so all the advantages of a bigger display are very attractive. The key question for me is to what extent the bigger display makes the iPad a great device not just for consuming media but also for generating content.

The iPad is a great device to view content – it’s fast and the display quality is impressive. And of course there is a huge number of apps available for it,  given that it’ll run existing iPhone / iPod Touch apps as well as apps developed just for the iPad.

But as a working teacher I also want to generate content. And it has limitations here:

  • Want to edit online content such as Moodle or mediawiki pages? Results vary – you’ll almost certainly need to use HTML or wiki markup since the iPad is unlikely to work with wysiswyg editors. I don’t mind that – in fact I prefer to use HTML or wiki markup – but many teachers will find this a real drawback. And things are worse if you’re one of the many educators using the PBWorks wiki- at the time of writing it was impossible to edit a page with the iPad.
  • You can’t print. So you’ll need to rely on a desktop or laptop computer for this.
  • Using Google Docs? At the time of writing you can view but not edit using an iPad.
  • Want to create media resources?  There are useful apps becoming available, but the lack of native support for accessing the iPad file system and the use of proprietary file formats is likely to be a barrier. My two-year-old grandson loved using the built-in mike to make that cursed animated cat speak funny – but there is no obvious way just yet to record audio to standard file formats that can be moved easily to a desktop, edited in other applications and published.

In my mind, Apple has focused too much on the entertainment aspect of its portable devices and neglected their use for real-world work. I’d like to see both, and I don’t believe they need to be mutually exclusive. The iPad is not quite ready to meet my needs as a working teacher – can’t wait to see the next version.

Image: Glenn Fleishman

The iPad in education

Wordpress on iPod - edit postIn an earlier post I discussed how Apple’s software development efforts seem very focused on consumption of media.

I’m interested in learning which incorporates producing information (not just consuming it) and which makes effective use of Web 2.0 tools to publish, not just to read. Given the iPad currently appears to have pretty much the same features as an oversized iPod Touch, the software limitations are likely to parallel those of the iPod. These include:

  • The only multitasking available seems to be that music can be played in the background while you use other apps. So moving content from one app to another is clumsy. Given the size of the iPod, this is not such a big deal. But if I purchased the much bigger iPad, I’d expect it to be more suitable for productive work such as editing web-based content.
  • Many web-based systems use WYSIWYG editors for creating and editing content. These are not available using the current iPod OS, so editing is restricted to plain text – unless you can use markup. This affects all kinds of web-based systems used in education: Moodle, PBWorks, Blackboard, Mediawiki, etc. In a wiki you can use wiki markup to get around this, otherwise you’ll need to use HTML. Either way, this will be seen as a big step backward by many educators and learners!

There are many apps which allow the user to access content as consumer but few apps which allow authoring. One that I really like is the WordPress blogging app which allows me to create and edit posts and pages and manage comments. Like WordPress, it’s simple, straightforward and effective. But notice from the screenshot above (on an iPod Touch) that the editor shows only source code (HTML). Now I work in that mode most of the time anyway, but I know many of the teachers I work with would see the loss of the WYSIWYG editor as a return to the dark ages!

Since the iPad is not yet available, my comments are merely predictions based on the current technology. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect the first iPads will not solve these problems. My advice to teachers: if you are using Web 2.0 tools or an LMS such as Moodle, you may not find a shiny new iPad is a suitable platform for creating and editing content. Unless of course you are prepared to learn some markup!

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.

Wiki markup in Moodle and Mediawiki

Some have asked whether wiki markup is dead, but when editing a wiki or teaching others to do so, I usually prefer to use markup tags to format text and create links. Why? Because the WYSIWYG editors tend to be:

  • a bit unreliable and don’t seem well-supported across all browsers.
  • likely to cause problems with boundaries – eg further editing next to a list item can cause new text to be mistakenly inserted into the list. This can cause major confusion for new users. Since often the only solution is to edit the source anyway, knowing how to do so becomes an essential skill.
  • not very intuitive to use – eg some of the buttons in the Mediawiki toolbar below are obvious, others much less so:

wysiwyg editor toolbar

There are some important differences between the markup used by various wiki systems. Because I use a range of wiki software (Mediawiki and PMWiki for my own sites, Moodle wiki and PBWiki for some of my courses) I find I sometimes use the wrong markup for the one I’m using and need to refer to the documentation.

Here’s a handy table comparing the markup for a few common functions of Mediawiki and Moodle wiki:

Function Mediawiki Moodle wiki
Small heading ====heading==== !heading
Medium heading ===heading=== !!heading
Large heading ==heading== !!!heading
Internal link [[pagename | text to display]] [text to display | pagename]
External link [http://www.verso.co.nz text to display] [text to display | http://www.verso.co.nz]
Bold ”’bold text”’ __bold text__
Line break <br> %%

There are other differences between the markup of various functions, of course, but in my view headings and links are the most significant because of their semantic purpose.