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Category: 2014

Socrates on Writing

In The Phaedrus, Plato recounts a dialogue between his tutor, Socrates, and Phaedrus which contains possibly the earliest known denunciation of ‘newfangled’ technology, writing. I love it. It makes me smile whenever I encounter resistance to a new learning tool and it reminds me that all technology, no matter how humble, can be used to enhance learning.

“And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/plato-the-dialogues-of-plato-vol-1

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Badges

I’ve been experimenting with badges over the past couple of days, inspired by the fact that the ocTEL course is awarding badges for completing certain activities. This is very appealing to me as I am, by nature, a collector, but it is important that they enhance the learning experience and don’t just exist for their own sake. Badges can be used to provide structure and focal points in a course, with a large number of small objectives relatively easy to obtain on their own, incrementally building to a greater goal. I think one benefit of badges over traditional forms of on-going formative assessment is that they feel more tangible, more like little mini-qualifications of their own which can be collected and displayed as evidence of achievement even if you don’t or can’t complete the whole course.

The ocTEL badges are, thus far, and I expect it will continue to be the case, keeping me interested in the course and checking in to the site on a regular basis, when it can be so easy to abandon a MOOC after the initial excitement fades and pressures from other areas take precedence.

Another appeal is the openness of the standard and the fact that you can keep all of your badges from different sources in one place, such as the Mozilla Backpack. Behold, for example, my first set: https://backpack.openbadges.org/share/49e081c9e30cbc0c237ca5430c8e0642/

http://openbadges.org
https://credly.com/
http://www.hastac.org/digital-badges-bibliography

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New Analytics Report

analytics_report

For the past three years now I’ve been running Google Analytics on Blackboard and compiling a monthly report for senior management and steering groups. A standard was agreed for what this should contain by consensus fairly early on and it has changed little since, until a couple of months ago when, due to the changes in management, I was asked to revamp the report to remove some things which weren’t required any more and to report on anything new which I thought pertinent. The biggest change was the request for a ‘commentary’ on each page explaining some meanings and trends. I have also integrated the PebblePad usage by Faculty report I wrote last month into this, as PebblePad has a tendency to be overlooked and almost forgotten about.

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Positive PebblePad Feedback

From a student:

“Excellent, it’s there! thank you so so much for this! I’m so grateful honestly! Thank you so much for helping me :)”

She had lost some work from PebblePad which I was able to recover from the server, with some difficulty. Feedback like this reminds why I love my work; it’s wonderful to be able to help people.

After receiving confirmation that what I had done worked I did a little more experimentation and worked out exactly how and where the backups were being created and then wrote a short procedure on how to recover documents for future reference.

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Twitter Account

Today I created a Twitter account for the team and styled the pages in line with the University’s new corporate blue and orange style. I got the ball rolling by posting some tweets, following some interesting TEL people and companies we have relationships with, and created a couple of widgets to post our tweets and a list into a Blackboard course site, just as a proof of concept really, to demonstrate that it can be done and looks pretty. In due course the idea is to have a public organisation for the team where we will have a blog and news, and a page for our Twitter feeds.

https://twitter.com/NorthumbriaTEL

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Onwards and Upwards

Well, it is now officially official. Everyone who needs to know now knows so I am free to tell the world. After six and a half years, next month I will be leaving Northumbria University to join Web and Learning Technology Services at the University of Sunderland as a Senior Learning Technologist. Happy days.

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New Help Guide Interface – Simple Menu

Our Blackboard help guides have always been hosted on their own little mini-website hosted in a Blackboard organisation, but set to public availability. You can see them here: http://northumbria.ac.uk/elphelp for the student guides, and here: http://northumbria.ac.uk/elphelp for the staff guides. These were created a couple of years ago by the awesome Chris, but with his departure from LTech last year I was tasked with updating or replacing these websites to bring them into line with the university’s new colour scheme and style. I took the originals as a starting point but pared them back to just the essentials (there were lots of extraneous files and code), implemented the new branding, and took the opportunity to make a few improvements.

One of the best improvements I have made is the implementation of media queries in the CSS to automatically adjust the height of the iframe to best match the user’s screen resolution. I did get to a point where I was able to automatically adjust its size to 100%, it worked a treat in Firefox and I was really pleased, until I tested in other browsers and got tiny little windows. I hate iframes. If I had more time I would have created something completely new and truly responsive, but I had to get this done quickly as the eSAF help guides were ready to go live and we have so much other work to do with the upgrade.

Another improvement I have been able to make is to implement Google Analytics tracking code across all of the guides. Previously this was only on the home, or landing page. What I have been able to do this time around is to separate out the tracking code into it’s own javascript file which each one of the help guide pages calls, so that the code only needs to be inserted into the one place.

The eSAF guides have all now been transferred into this template – http://elp.northumbria.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/orgs/ORG1/help-esaf/index.html* – and the Analytics works as I had hoped allowing us to track which guides are being most read. The template can easily be applied to the student guides now, but the content of those all needs to be revised for Service Pack 16, or ‘April Release’, or whatever Blackboard decide the new naming scheme will be, and that will be a massive task.

Still on my to-do list is getting the nested menu working which will be required for the staff guides.

* I know what you’re thinking, and yup we could use a short URL for this one too.

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PebblePad Usage by Faculty

A complex report for a simple request – how many people are using PebblePad per faculty? Complex because the user data in PebblePad doesn’t contain any information beyond key, username, forename, surname, email and a few other non-pertinent bits and bobs. But I am not easily daunted.

One of these ‘non-pertinent’ bits of information is a ‘last login’ date so I was able to restrict the report to people who had logged in during the past thirty days. I ran a query on the PebblePad database to get all relevant username data for this time period, and then ran a query in Blackboard to get all user data full stop. Why? Because the ‘user’ table in Blackboard does have a field for Faculty. Well, actually it is in a different field because of the way the user accounts are imported from Active Directory, but it was sufficient. Then it was simply a case of importing both resulting CSV files into an Access database and running a join on the username.

Unsurprisingly our Faculty of Health, Community and Education Studies were the biggest users, but it wasn’t as clear cut as I had suspected. They accounted for just under half of all usage, with Engineering and Environment accounting for around a quarter, and the remaining two faculties and service departments sharing the remainder.

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PebblePad 3 Demonstration

The wonderful, magnificent, brilliant Alan gave me a demonstration of PebblePad 3 today using his private account – it looks great but retains all the same functionality. This is a long overdue update, the old Flash interface was okay five years ago when we first got PebblePad, but technology has moved on so much it’s a bit embarrassing now, and of course doesn’t work on tablets.

I wasn’t able to see ATLAS though as you need at least two accounts and Alan is the only person I know who has one on account of his special relationship with Pebble Learning (or he just paid for one in an act of admirable selflessness). ATLAS will be the stumbling block for us as it is such a big change for our academics; the students, with the exception of a few areas, will be just fine with the new interface I’m sure.

Hopefully we can upgrade this summer.

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