So Google was very briefly down this morning. I’ve heard of it happening before, whispers in dim, smokey corridors, but never experienced it personally so I thought it worth recording for posterity. That and because the little robot on the error page is cute.
Month: July 2014
I’ll quote the blurb from Jisc’s email:
Jisc Legal now provides a ‘need to know’ online training course in copyright law – designed to bring academic staff and those supporting academic staff up to speed on legally using other people’s materials in teaching and learning.
It is a standalone learning module which takes about an hour to complete and consists of some video, some audio segments, some animations and some text pages. The course is free to use and is available to HE institutions in the UK to train staff on how to use other people’s work in their own lecturing resources and academic work.
To register or find out more about the short practical online course please visit – http://jiscleg.al/copyrightcourse
Looks like another great free resource from Jisc.
Have discovered Flubaroo today. Well, I can’t really lay claim to the ‘discovery’, I’m sure other people knew about it, but it was new to me. Flubaroo is a plugin for Google Docs Spreadsheets that can automatically grade the submissions from the corresponding Form and email the students their grade, turning Forms into a very useful quiz tool.
The background to this was an academic who wanted to transition from paper based assignments, for a cohort of around 300, to online submission. The easy option, use the Exam tool in the VLE, was not suitable as it does not have a calculated numeric question type. There are many, many quiz tools out there with similar functionality, but I suggested adapting Google Forms because the results would go straight into a spreadsheet and he was already having to use an Excel spreadsheet because of the complex formulas in question (entering the student’s work manually, time consuming and introducing a source of error).
Looking for a way to automatically send students their marks led me to Flubaroo that can not only do this, but can also automatically grade responses based on a specified answer row. Usage is straightforward: set up the form as normal, complete the form yourself entering all the correct answers (this is an important step, you’ll see why in a moment…) and then in the responses Spreadsheet find and install Flubaroo from the Add-ons menu. You run the tool from the same menu, so Add-ons > Flubaroo > Grade Assignment and then you will be asked to first assign points, or not, to each column, and secondly to specify a row to use as the ‘correct answers’ row, which is why it is important to take the quiz yourself first.
There are a few points to note. First, it will not allow you to grade an assignment until there have been at least two submissions, which is logical when you think about it, one to be assigned as the answer row, and at least one to actually grade. If you want to re-grade an assignment you have to go through the set-up process of assigning points and correct answers again, and similarly there is no option to simply grade new submissions to catch the stragglers or anyone with dispensation to submit late. Finally, the ‘Grade’ sheet which is produced is not live-updating, so if you want to manually grade some questions or award extra points you need to update the column in question and then the Total Points and Percent columns manually as well, it’s a shame those two columns are not formulas instead, but these minor quibbles do not mar an excellent little tool.
A colleague (thanks James) sent me this article on the The Post-LMS LMS which makes for an interesting read, but it made me curious to see if there was any hard data out there to support the speculation and I came across this analysis of relative market share of various VLEs up to 2013. Of note is the continuing rise of Moodle, Desire2Learn and the ‘Homegrown Systems’ category which includes the various MOOC platforms, and of particular interest to me was the realisation that eCollege was one of the first, but never seems to have taken off, although it is reassuring to see a little rise since Pearson’s acquisition and the quality of the platform has, according to my colleagues, noticeable improved in the past couple of years that we have been using it.
This is the third, and hopefully final version of the Sunderland branded Storyline template I have been working on. All colours and styles used are now in-line with the official branding guidelines from our Marketing department, and indeed this template has been approved by them. The only thing I am really unhappy with is the logo. You are restricted to a bitmap image with a maximum width of 200 pixels, anything larger is scaled down. I’d love to be able to pop a nice clear SVG in there instead.
Not quite sure how I stumbled down this particular rabbit hole, but I have just discovered the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool made by WebAIM, and what a wonderful tool it is. Like the W3C’s HTML and CSS validators, WAVE evaluates a given web page for conformity with the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, identifies errors, warnings and suggests solutions.
Yes, I ran it on this site, and no it doesn’t score well in the contrast section due to all the shades of grey. I’m going to shuffle responsibility down to the person who designed the theme, but in due course I would like to look at customising the CSS a little. I’ve already had to make one change to fix a glaring bug in the calendar widget (white on off-white). My other sites do very well I’m pleased to say. For fun, run it on the home page of the university or company you work for…
Well, I have now worked for the University of Sunderland for a month so I think it is a good time to step back a moment and reflect on how I’m finding it and what I think of all the systems and services which are new, or not so new to me.
The most striking difference for me is the culture which is open and receptive to ideas, thoughts and opinions. I think I, and the team are very fortunate to be based in the same building as the service director as she is very approachable about all issues, trivial and major, and that is something which I haven’t experienced for a long time. Everyone at the University seems to be happy. Even the unhappy people are still pretty happy, their unhappiness compartmentalised, and this is reflected in, if I recall from my induction correctly, a 96% satisfaction rate in the latest staff survey. There is a great deal of trust and respect, everyone seems to have their heads down doing good work, and I find that there is a genuine desire to keep students at the heart of everything we do, even if it means creating extra work for ourselves. The two campuses in Sunderland are both excellent, very smart and professional. The London campus also looks good and I hope to get the chance to pop down there at some point.
Pearson Learning Studio (SunSpace)
The big one. The VLE. All over IT you see a dichotomy, two big players doing similar things or selling similar products but coming from different cultures – Linux and Windows, Apple and Microsoft, iOS and Android – around which are clustered a number of others either trying to break in, offering a niche or which are fallen stars. The VLE market is no different, and so we have Blackboard and Moodle. When Sunderland reviewed their VLE provider a couple of years ago they, however, took the brave decision to go with something different and chose Pearson Learning Studio, formerly eCollege and branded internally as SunSpace.
Learning Studio is provided as a software-as-a-service model; at Northumbria we self-hosted Blackboard so it is a completely new experience for me. The plus side to that is that we are largely unaffected by the performance problems which plagued Blackboard and which on occasion drove me to the edge of sanity, but of course Learning Studio has it’s own issues. The core functionality is pretty good, but there are a lot of features which I am used to and which I think are reasonably standard that are simply missing. Customisation is also very limited because every institution which uses Learning Studio is using the same Learning Studio, so for example we once asked for a default setting to be changed which was done, but the next day it had been reverted because other universities didn’t want it that way and I guess they had more clout. Using it as an administrator or academic can be a little clunky at times due to some questionable UI design, but for the most part, and for students, it is not bad at all. Overall, and from my perspective, it’s a definite improvement.
Another Pearson product which we purchased alongside Learning Studio, Equella is a content repository which links into Learning Studio fairly seamlessly. I like Equella too for the most part, it is a very polished nice looking application and unlike Learning Studio it is self-hosted which gives us complete control of the application and content. That, of course, has its drawbacks too and our installation can be frustratingly slow at times which makes me wonder if it needs some optimisation or improved hardware. Something for my to-do list.
Also like Learning Studio there are some usability issues. After you have finished contributing a new item the ‘Save’ button is the wrong place, in the top-right, instead of being on the bottom-right where the next button has been on the previous screens. When contributing an item there are three screens of information to be completed, but the second two screens – Classification and Format – would seem to be redundant as the information you can enter there doesn’t seem to be used anywhere. There is no advanced search functionality, for example, which would allow someone to search for only files tagged as a specific type or format. What is worse is that none of the fields on these two screens are required, but you cannot skip them and just press ‘Save’ after entering information on the first screen, you are forced to skip through them. I still have to work through the Equella training materials in detail though, so perhaps these are mysteries that will resolve themselves.
It doesn’t seem to be being used a lot at the present time which is a shame, as it makes it very easy to add complex items into Learning Studio such as the package files produced by Storyline. It is also great for any materials which you want on multiple locations, help guides to go into Learning Studio and on the website for example, as you can then just update the material in Equella and the content in the module and on the website is updated to the latest version automatically. Like the Content Collection system in Blackboard, but much more versatile as it is not tied into the VLE alone.
JIRA and Confluence
These systems were nice surprises. JIRA is a project management and service desk application which I am loving, and Confluence is a wiki solution which we are using to host our intranet and a team knowledge base. Both products are from Atlassian – https://www.atlassian.com/ – and integrate seamlessly with each other.
There are lots of other applications we are using which I have had demonstrations off but not yet had the chance to evaluate in any great detail. Mahara is our ePortfolio solution, Helix Media Library is being used to run our streaming media server which is an application I have known about by good reputation for some time, and our public website is powered by TERMINALFOUR. There are a few old faces here too, SITS is chugging along in the background powering all the student data, Turnitin is available as an assignment option and even good old Blackboard Collaborate is available within SunSpace under the pseudonym of ClassLive.
The presentation I put together for student submission was well received and it has led to others. This one is for markers where there is only a single marker. The tool that the team is developing has the ability to accommodate multiple independent markers. The player is looking a little better now and I added the video in a different way with better results, more like an actual video than a series of screenshots.
Making these has been a little difficult as Storyline kept crashing on me when I was using the precision timing editor. Upon investigation I found that this was because I was running Storyline on a Windows 7 virtual machine in Parallels and had all my files on the desktop of my computer. Parallels has a nice little feature whereby it links the desktop on the host Mac with that on the Windows client, but it does so by making the drives on the Mac a pseudo-network drive in Windows. I discovered on Articulate’s forums that working on, and saving files to a network drive can cause various performance problems, and when I moved my files to the actual C drive it solved all of my problems.
So I had to access my email in a Windows virtual machine today which didn’t have any email clients set up, so I thought I would use the Outlook Web App. Much to my annoyance, this was stuck in the light version which doesn’t have all the features. Some Googling (not Binging…) found a solution, I had to manually add the University’s domain into the Compatibility View Settings (Tools > Compatibility View Settings). Once this was added reloading the OWA log-in page un-greyed out the light version checkbox. I shouldn’t have had to do this. This was a vanilla VM, Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 11, fully patched and up to date, accessing a Microsoft service. Integration should have been seamless. It just goes to show that however far Internet Explorer has come in recent years, it can still be a pretty – shall we say – problematic browser.