Top Ten Tools

This is my top ten tools list for Jane Hart:

Enjoy …

I still think that PPT can be one of the more powerfull tools avaialble to a teacher – if used thoughtfully.

New to market over the last year and a bit, this UK based service offers transcribed MP3 production via telephony. Lots and lots of uses here for all types of learner.

I only came to this a few weeks ago but can see great potential for doucment sharing and presentation online.

APPs: various
I wonder if we overlook the power of Apps which are aviable for use on a variety of mobile phones. The Apple App store obviously rules the roost, but there are equivelents for most other platforms – Android being the one that most easily comes to mind.

There are many blogging sites and many ways of using them, but during the last fifteen months or so, I’ve grown to like the way in which WordPress works. Email to it, link to it from other blogs, see it on your phone. Great for reflection.

Generically, there are many photo hosting sites but Flickr has never let me down. It integrates well with blogs and allows me (and other learners) to share their static images.

Videojug, YouTube and/or TeachTube may well have been my previously preferred video hosting sites but this one, a result of the projects in UK further education, allows me to upload, view and/or download materials that are UK curriculum specific – now with a Moleshoot App for instant uploading.

Dropbox gives me 2 gig of online storage and sych’s it to any computer I download the software onto (3 in my case). it makes sharing and/or accessing files easy and convenient. Other sites offer more storage but why change? I used to use e-Snips but the adverts (often inappropriate) killed it for me.

Mobile Phones:
Why not? – They are in the learner’s pockets – let’s use them!

Etherpad type wikis:


File storage and e-Portfolios

One of today’s topics of discussion was file sharing and the use of various facilities to create personal e-Portfolios. The e-Portfolio aspect of this discussion is certainly something that has taxed me for a long time and one that I have had a few goes at creating.I used to use e-Snips ( (Screen shot) and to promote it as “my own VLE” but over the years it has become unsuitable for use due to the way it has evolved. It now has a tremendous amount of adverts (Screen shot) not all of which are appropriate for use in an education setting. So, although it is there and although it offers up to 5 gigabytes of free storage (with sharing options), I choose not to use it. This is a real shame because it used to be the way I easily shared files with colleagues and people who had attended sessions I’d delivered.

Instead, I now use Dropbox ( for storing most of my files. The benefit of Dropbox, is that I can access my files from any computer I use, provided it is connected to the internet. Where one has the software downloaded and installed on computers (I have mine on my Mac, my XP machine and my Vista machine) even the internet isn’t needed. Files altered or added to the offline version are synchronised between all machines as and when they do go online. If we like, we can share individual folders on Dropbox (which I have done on several occasions) for all sorts of reason. I have a folder I share with my wife, because it’s easier for us to share particular documents that way (easier than email or saving to external media); I have a folder I share with colleagues when working on collaborative projects and an further folder I share with my iTQ assessor. Furthermore, I have the Dropbox App on my iPhone – which allows me to view most of my documents pretty much anywhere T-Mobile allow me to have a connection! This is my real portfolio now.

To make the portfolio have more value and to stop filling up the 2 gigabyte free space, I also use YouTube; to store video and to store images. This saves room because each of these services provide embed and share codes which direct the viewer back to the hosting site – meaning that the portfolio document need only contain the code (URL).

Other facilities I’ve used are Scribd (see in use for presenting word processed files online and Tiny Grab (see for example) for sharing screen shots.

Use of these facilities makes my working life, my social life and my learning life much easier, whenever I have a need to share or access any form of digital documentation. They could easily be put to effective educational use if only institutions were able to agree on an acceptable use policy.

‘Virtual’ – an environment for learning?

Well, it’s been a while since my previous post, which received an unusual amount of (quite positive) attention. Many thanks to everyone who contributed and to James Clay for tweeting the fact that he was reading it!

I’ve considered the online replies, and the comments I’ve received from people who read the post and told  me personally that they enjoyed it. Furthermore, I’ve begun to work with some a secondary school and the practitioners who are building their own first VLE.

I feel that some development of this discussion is required and today’s post is aimed at prodding more response.

In her first comment Louise Jacobson directed me towards her own (February 2010) VLE blog post which drew her reader’s attention to a book chapter she’d written back in 2008. I think it is an excellent stepped approach to VLE development and one that can perhaps be measured: whereas I see my own 4-stage model more as a roadmap; each stage a means of guidance rather than a target in itself. Some institutions do in fact take a more stepped approach to VLE development, as I am reminded by Ellen and whilst I think that this can be a good idea, there is always the danger that the ‘level’ becomes the goal, rather than pure and simple pedagogical interactivity and engagement.

I do agree with Ellen, and perhaps all my contributors agree, that the first stage is just to get something on there! But it’s where to go from there and how quickly (and how much corporate interference there is) that needs discussion. What other factors come into play when trying to convince colleagues to use the VLE? Steve suggests that despite his keen and forward looking developments, he continues to be thwarted by the institutional IPD ( and ( which is sad, given that he (Steve) has a fine list of suggestions for VLE development:

• Plan it on a blank piece of paper – What do you want it to do and how do you want it to look is appropriate for the subject matter?
• Use Icons or pictures for links – Most of my links lead to web pages which I have made in Publisher and include embedded objects; make sure you set the links to open in a new page – even my PDF’s have pictures as the Icon.
• Try not to use it a filing system – Some of the VLE’s I have seen are sooooo boring, just lists of files! PowerPoint doesn’t fit too well in Moodle. Also, there are compatibility issues with Ms Office, and Open Office. Web pages, PDF’s and Flash are a lot easier for access anywhere.
• Embed RLO’s – Hot potatoes that kind of thing.
• Get your colleagues to test it – check for typos, broken links etc.
• Never assume – not all learners are confident ILT users.

(Steve Halstead)

So, should a VLE be developed strategically with only senior management involvement throughout? Do they know enough about what is needed, to lead such a project or not? Who should lead such developments then – teachers? .. Should the learner be involved? .. Should there be some sort of learning technologist involved? When and how much should IPDs become involved? Who is responsible?

Personally, I think that they should all be involved – and be committed to the project. Senior managers should realise that a final ‘finished’ product can never be achieved (certainly not “by the end of the month”) – it will always be a work in progress, with new possibilities being explored all the time. Teachers should be guided by their learners and not be pressured into achieving something too quickly – but they should nevertheless, mark their progress against a carefully considered roadmap or (if it works for them) a Gold, Silver and Bronze level of attainment. A learning technologist should be on hand to offer coaching, guidance and direction but not to interfere so much that he/she becomes the developer. His/her role is to help all parties to understand the VLE’s potential and how to avoid the pitfalls. Perhaps his/her most important role would be to be the lubricant that makes all of the various cogs run smoothly, with special responsibility for understanding the fears of IPDs and helping to assuage them.

In this way, strategic necessity is balanced against pedagogical need and the institution benefits as a whole – rather than (as I’m sure happens now) in silos.

I still wonder if my evolving model works the same for all areas (school, WBL, F.E., H.E., ACL etc) so comments really are welcome.


(Previous post regarding ‘levels’ –
James Clay e-Learning Stuff Podcast on this subject:

Building VLEs

I used to hate the idea of VLEs because all they were becoming was online pigeon-holes for storing paper documents (paper-under-glass). I knew that there had to be a better way of delivering learning online, but then my work took me in other directions and I maintained only a cursory eye on VLE development. Over the years I’ve seen some fabulous examples, but remained wary.

I got the idea that there could be a carefully thought out process approach to building an effective VLE from James Clay’s e-Learning Stuff blog – – and all credit for that idea should go to James.

However James’ five stage model didn’t sit well with the way I was thinking and needing to work. So with his permission, I have made my own attempt at developing a four-stage model. You might say that I have cut out the middle man. Although I’ve reduced the stages to four, my attempt extends the work originally proposed by James. What do readers think? Is it a worthy model? What am I missing? Is there something dramatically wrong with it? Might it work in H.E., F.E., Schools, ACL, WBL. What do you think?

Good Coffee

picture shows coffee service and a slice of cakeAt the risk of annoying my American friends and relatives – I think that in Vienna, I found my Coffee Homeland!

I’ve talked about coffee before [], when I actually said: I .. realised a long time ago that .. I just don’t like instant coffee (‘instant coffee’ is an oxymoron). I do however enjoy drinking coffee – proper coffee made with fresh ground beans and very hot, not boiling, water. I love the taste of coffee, I adore the smell of coffee. I am (despite being a tea drinker) a coffee addict.

As a result of my personal taste, I find it hard to get the hot drink preparation operatives (I hazard to say the word Barista, as they are patently not so qualified) employed by national chains to understand that I want less water in my Americano – or that I need just a little hot water adding to my double espresso. And I just want a little hot milk adding (preferably on the side): I don’t want it making with milk and I don’t want foam. As Ellen said in my earlier post “you can tell when someone cares enough to spend a little bit of time to get it right.” In Vienna, my requests were adhered to, easily and without note until one day a waitress said “ah yes sir, you want a large brauner” (she actually said this in German and I understood every word – how cool is that?).

So, I then asked for a ‘large brauner‘ everywhere we went. The taste was superb too. It wasn’t just strong, but it was flavourful and not burned – i.e. left on the grounds for the correct amount of time and not stewed. It was the same at breakfast time when large pots were placed on the table. Unlike most hotels and conferences in the UK, the coffee actually tasted nice, stay hot and was carefully prepared.

Another pleasant custom in Vienna, is that they always serve your coffee with a glass of cold water. It’s never questioned – they just bring it. This is a pleasant custom aimed, I suppose, at helping to rehydrate you after the ‘caffeine hit’.

As those Twitter followers who accessed the Julius Meinl web page I posted recently will know – there is a huge variety of coffee tastes avaialble in Vienna. Anything from the sublime [small or large brauner] to the ridiculous [Kaisermelange]. As much as I like coffee, I’m not sure I would want that!

I did buy a big bag of Julius Meinl ‘brauner’ beans at the airport and it’s a pot of coffee made from those that has prompted this post. MMmmmm coffee.

Good night Vienna

We’d had a great evening on Saturday, cold food notwithstanding, and all parted in good spirits. We arranged to meet Christophe and Edith for breakfast as they didn’t have a plane to catch – just a 600km drive back to Ansbach in Germany. Edith is composing a bid for a G1 project next year and wishes to include Eduvel Ltd as one of the partners. This is something we would enjoy very much and so, we therefore had quite a bit to discuss.

It was a beautiful morning, just like each of the previous two days. Once we’d been kicked out of the breakfast room, we agreed to continue our chat over another coffee at Café Dommayer which is just down the road from our hotel at Hietzing. This was a fine relaxing morning, spoiled only when the rain came and our friends had to set off back to Germany. I didn’t envy them their long journey in the rain.

The rain came and stayed.

Luckily, our Austrian host Andrea had very kindly given us two Sisi Tickets to use during our extended stay. This would allow us to visit the Sisi Apartments in the Hofburg as well as the Royal furniture exhibition in Vienna and the Imperial rooms at Schönbrunn. Although Sunday was the only day we could visit the furniture exhibition, we decided Schönbrunn would be best because it was closer and would not require too much walking in the rain. So we endured the Sunday crowds and toured the palace instead of going into the city. The palace is large and its heyday opulence was easy to imagine. The heating for example, was delivered by means of huge ceramic stoves, which were originally heated with wood via a heating duct running behind the rooms. This prevented the imperial family from being disturbed or becoming aware of the dirt such systems develop.

We stayed local for dinner and ate once more at the Wambacher Heuriger House. I had a Wiener Schnitzel – what else!

Monday, our last full day, was spent freezing in the city. I don’t know how I got so cold, but the brolly turned inside out and had to be dispatched; my coat leaked, and I had to buy a hat (a Dutch Cap). We decided that the best thing to do was buy some bits of food at the Nachtmarkt and some bread at a bakery before returning to the hotel to eat. We could then re-dress with warmer clothes. Just where the biting cold wind came from I don’t know, but it chilled me through to the bone.

We returned to the city later in the afternoon and visited the Sisi apartments and silver collection. Once again, in the wrong frame of mind I could have been depressed at the Imperial Dynasty’s sheer opulence, which must surely have flown in the face of their subject’s extreme poverty. However, I could only marvel at the size of this collection. Displayed over an entire floor area, we saw gold plate, silver plate, solid gold, solid silver and porcelain: plates, cups, knives, forks and every conceivable kitchen to table ware. The imperial family only ever ate off silver – even when porcelain became the norm, it was only used for soups. The golden centerpieces were so lavish; the cost of one could probably have supported a peasant family for a lifetime.

We then made our way to the Hundertwasserhaus, which I’d been advised to visit by Alison Iredale.  Although this is just outside the city centre, it took some finding as all of our maps finished just before the correct street.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting walk and another opportunity to work out the city’s excellent transport system. We’d had 24 hour passes which allowed travel on any of the systems available. All of the U-Bahn stops we used throughout our stay were conveniently close to tram stops, so if we knew where we wanted to be – we could get there. Hundertwasserhaus is a strange looking community building with (apparently; because you cannot go in) uneven floors inside too. I’m sure it would have looked even better in the sunshine.

So that’s it. I’m finishing this in the lounge at Heathrow, waiting for our flight to Manchester. The thing I miss the most – here in England (so far)?

The coffee! (types of coffee)


The Naschtmarkt in Vienna is just a market. You can find markets that are similar to this in big cities all over the world, but this one has something quite unique. I’m not sure what that is, but I’ve not had so much fun walking around a market for a long time. First of all there is produce from all over the world, which is normal, but the combinations and sheer blousiness of produce was impressive. The stallholders were happy to let us taste all sorts of things – sometimes time and time again. We saw truffles: real, live, black, white, whole truffles – expensive, but truffles nevertheless – something I’ve never seen on a market before.

Following dinner, which I can relate below, we chose to return to the market for dessert. This ended up being glasses of Italian sparkling rose wine (kindly supplied by Christophe) and a plate of Parma ham, meaty olives and Austrian cheeses. Sharing these made for a great atmosphere, but one that (looking at the weather today – Monday) might be hard to repeat.

Right at the end of Naschtmarkt, just down the road from the Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) Secession [] building, there are two other preserved Art Nouveau buildings; Majolikahaus and Otto Wagner-Haus. The former is a wonderfully painted example and the latter an ornate building with some kind of gargoyles sat on the roof screaming down at passers by. Our dinner was in a restaurant just a street behind these and a little way along. I can’t remember its name or the street but it’s worth giving a miss anyway.

Our ‘final’ dinner was already depleted by the absence of Czechs, but as there was no one else in the restaurant for the rest of the night, atmosphere was something we eight struggled to achieve. We did manage it, but it was personal – unlike the restaurant. The menu wasn’t extensive but it did look nice. I had duck and thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, one of our Austrian hosts (Michaela) suggested to the waiter that her food; a herb ravioli, was cold.  It was probably lukewarm, but not to her taste anyway (or mine actually, I like hot food hot and cold food cold).  Our waiter seemed unable to comprehend and called a more senior colleague to deal with ‘the problem’.

This more senior person took Michaela’s plate, stood behind her (but in full view of six of the eight of us) and prodded the food with the back of his hand before saying no – it’s hot!

I was stunned. This just should not happen. I couldn’t speak for trying to compose a stream of forceful but understandable pidgin German to rebuke him with. And then he prodded it again (chuntering all the time) as he obeyed Michaela’s command to take it away and bring her a hot dish. I’m sure that the returned dish was just microwaved – which was another appalling example of bad taste, poor hygiene and incompetence.

As I said earlier, my own food was fine, but this surly, superior and downright unhygienic attitude to food service should not be allowed. First of all – the customer is always right (even if they are wrong – which, in this case they were not) and secondly, you should not touch the food in any way – at all – ever – in front of the customer. If a dish is returned, you should start again not zap it in the microwave. Grrr.