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TEL Sonya Posts

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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Customer Support Calls

In preparation for my official* move to TEL Support my two bosses wanted to know more about the quantity and type of customer support Blackboard and PebblePad require, as I will be transferring the bulk of this work to the Senior Helpline to concentrate on technical admin and content development in TEL Support.

Creating a suitable report was an interesting challenge as there was nothing in SupportWorks, our call logging system, that quite did what was required.

The closest was a report on the number of calls resolved by category and person but it was all in code so I had to combine this with data from other sources, using Access and some joins, to turn the username code in an actual person’s name along with the team there were in, and another data set to convert the category code into the actual human-readable category, ‘INCI-BB00-BB01-BB14’ turns into ‘Incident > Blackboard/eLP > System Issues > Site/Module Content’ for example. Finally I turned the data into a pretty pie chart showing number of calls resolved by team.

The results of this exercise were fascinating. I now know that while I resolved 180 calls during February, which feels about right, our front line Helpline combined resolved a massive 481! I had no idea our front line were fielding and resolving so many calls at the first point of contact – it just goes to show what a great service we have.

* Bureaucracy is a magnificent beast is is not? Almost a month since I got the news no-one is sure if my secondment has actually started yet, though the bulk of my time is now spent doing work either directly for TEL Support or preparing documentation for the Senior Helpline. It also means I have two line managers.

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PebblePad Training and Submission Fault

Delivered a training session to a cohort of around a dozen nursing students today who had been having multiple problems completing and submitting a particular portfolio. I had been working with one of their tutors on this for some time but wasn’t really getting anywhere as the portfolio was set up correctly and working for a test student account I put on the Gateway. In the end it was, essentially, a training issues as the student’s didn’t realise that they couldn’t just upload a Word document and submit to the Gateway, but had to complete the portfolio or copy and paste anything they had written in Word into it, and it was then the portfolio itself which has to be submitted to the Gateway.

It was a very useful and successful session. I not only cleared this long-outstanding problem, resolving three calls in the process, but was able to fix a number of more general issues too.

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Hello World

Greetings, and welcome to my fifth blog, if memory serves me correctly. My first was a personal blog, written entirely in code as I used it as an exercise to teach myself HTML and CSS. This was probably around ten years ago now. I was proud of this one, but posting anything was cumbersome and after a while I transferred it all to WordPress. The third was just a revamp, a new theme and ‘relaunch’, but Twitter came along in between times and took over, so all these sites are gone now, like tears… in rain. Still going strong though is the fourth blog I created – http://www.attackhamster.co.uk – which is dedicated to my furry little friends. This is still WordPress, but now it’s hosted on my own web space as I wanted to learn more about WordPress, how to install from scratch and customise. There’s a story behind that domain name of course, but I’ll save that for another time.

This blog is a little different as it’s purpose is largely to provide me with a platform where I can talk about my work as a learning technologist and reflect on what I’ve learned in order to keep improving. I have also now reached a point in my career where I feel a certain responsibility to contribute more and give back to the learning technology community which has taught me so much over the past few years.

Another reason for starting this blog now is because a couple of weeks ago I was given the very happy news that I was going to be seconded into the University’s new TEL Support team, initially for three months but the indications are that it will be made permanent. It’s no secret that I was really disappointed by the decision to effectively disband the former LTech team last year, and with it my transfer onto the Senior Helpline, so this secondment is great news for me and it will be wonderful to get back to being a full time learning technologist again.

Finally, and with an eye on my CMALT renewal next year, this blog is providing me with a space where I can host a portfolio to showcase some of the things which I have created and am proud of, and to give me a smarter, better way of recording all of the CPD training I do and events I attend.

Note that while I am styling this as a professional blog, I fully reserve the right to delve into other areas of interest to me, technology in general, philosophy and literature for example. My Twitter on the other hand is the other way around, in that it exists mostly for personal use, but I do use it for work too sometimes.

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