Looking back on 2012

Tray of brussels sproutsOnce again, it’s time to round up the year’s events: to clear away the past to prepare for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

It’s been a strange year work-wise with little in the way of continuity. Without work from LSIS, JISC TechDis and the JISC RSC-SE, the year would have been very bleak indeed.

I started the blogging year with a rant about Michael Gove’s well-publicised wish to turn all school children into computer programmers.  However, in the speech he used to announce his programming initiative he also said: “As online materials grow and flourish, we all need to think about how we can guide students through the wealth of information and techniques freely available and accessible online.” … a statement that I heartily agree with and something that is still sadly lacking in everyday teaching and learning environments.

Learners need to check the validity and veracity of the information they find on the Internet and to evaluate its worth for their purpose.

Quite a number of teachers spent their own ‘learning’ years, studying worthy tomes without any thought of the way that contradictory, conflicting and simply inaccurate information might ‘one day’ be easily found ‘online’. They were not brought up to undertake research in the manner that today’s information sources demand; the ways that their charges need to employ.

Moodle training has been a great feature of my work this year and will hopefully continue to be something that draws interest from customers. My first Moodle training event was in January at Pontefract Sixth Form College, arranged by the Yorkshire and Humberside RSC. The most recent was for Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) in December. I spent a week at the college, close to Maidenhead, towards the end of November, delivering training to Moodle Champions in VLE use and then again just last week, I delivered a short online course to the same team – about features of Moodle Admin.

Ambassador logo

During the summer months, I was employed by TechDis to be their RSC-Conference Trolly Dolly.  In this role, I promoted the newly launched ‘TechDis Voices’ and ‘TechDis Toolbox’; two of the most significant and exciting initiatives of the year.

I continue to work with TechDis over the winter 2012/13 as part of the Ambassador programme. I’ve already travelled widely in the south east of England as part of this face-to-face TechDis Accredited Trainer role, visiting Lingfield, Weybridge, Margate and Aylesbury.

During December, I decided to deliver a series of #Advent #SugSnips#SugSnips. This revived a very successful delivery of #SugSnips during 2011.

I’m not convinced that this current short series of posts, delivered in a completely different way to before and copied to Facebook, has been quite as successful. Time will tell (I haven’t checked the individual logs yet). However, re-tweets and shares have been non-existent. Maybe it’s time to re-think the #SugSnips idea?

Finally, back in August 2011 I asked why does Flickr not have a belting App? Well, it does now – having released a new (and absolutely ‘belting’ App) during the latter months of 2012.  Well done Flickr. Here it is.

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, may I wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year?

Happy New Year.

Enaging with Moodle

I’ve just had a cracking week.

Just for a change I’ve had two days ‘out’ working with real, live practitioners, which is what I miss the most these days, because that’s what I’m best at.

On Wednesday, I was asked to work with colleagues from the RSC YH at New College, Pontefract, where they had set the entire day aside to begin college-wide development of their new Moodle 2 installation. Luckily Brian Coughlan (at the college) and I are old acquaintances and he was the one designing the event. We chatted prior to the day and I accepted the job of working with what looked like being the largest group – the beginners.

The college had previously had a Blackboard installation, which hardly anyone used. They had predicted some trauma with the move to Moodle, but that hadn’t happened. However, because of the huge difference between the two VLEs, very few people were using Moodle either and certainly not to great effect. That had changed by the end of the day.

Two other groups (intermediate and advanced) were being attended to by RSC personnel and I was helped by Daniel from Barnsley College – which made my life a lot easier once we got started. I first addressed my group saying that ‘if you ONLY put some resources onto your course today – you can be happy. However, if you put up some resources that are engaging and interactive and/or use the VLE to make sense of your resources – you learners will be happy!

I then showed them Moodle and explained the ‘blocks’. Then I explained the ‘course’ and showed them the ‘settings’ block. And then we looked at ‘topics’ and ‘labels’ (and their associated icons). Then I said ‘go‘. 

Given the day’s results, it is obvious that there had been a lot of pent up creativity in the college because they simply ‘got it’. The questions that most colleagues asked were pertinent and aimed at making their resources more engaging and interactive  – which was brilliant.

  • Where the teacher could only contemplate a resource being uploaded, we were able to discuss using ‘labels’ to help the learner make sense of the resource.
  • Where the teacher could see beyond simply uploading we investigated ways of making the resource more engaging before they uploaded (and subsequently used labels as above).
  • Those who were ready to go beyond these stages were shown ‘book’ and asked to investigate the use of forums. (Other features were being discussed in other workshops and I’d agreed with Brian that rather than go everywhere in Moodle, I’d concentrate on getting everyone ‘on’ and active).

It has been a long time since I worked on an event with so many participants where there was not one sour face, at all, all day. Well done Pontefract.

I’ll discuss my second day out later (and post the link here when ready).

Moodle 2 and so on

I’m just coming to the end of a longish period of time, working with a great team of ‘e’ people.

Since June this year we’ve been working on a Super Moodle for a College in Leeds. The team was put together and managed by the wonderful Lilian Soon.

Now that the work is gradually coming to a close and we’ve begun to reflect upon the outcomes, we have realised that all VLEs could be like this – if only colleges and university departments had the vision to set such a thing in motion and if staff (academic and non-academic) could comprehend the benefits.

We’ve used Moodle 2 at the core of this development and integrated lesson capture tools like Adobe Connect and Panopto. Panopto has a plugin called Unison that allows video and audio to be uploaded ready for streaming to the user a’la YouTube. Mahara is integrated to allow easy portfolio building by learners – but which also allows easy sharing and collaboration by all. Xerte too, is incorporated – giving staff the opportunity to easily create interactive, accessible multimedia resources. There have been other more technical developments as well – but far too clever for me to understand.

At the college, they wrap all of this up in a fairly seamless learning environment. Whatever you think of ‘naming’ VLEs (and this college does have a ‘name’ for theirs), it has worked – because all of the various non-Moodle integrations have been skinned to have a similar look and feel – all down to the careful planning by Lilian and her team.

My part in all this has been quite small (on the huge scale of things) – I’ve worked with various staff to prepare them for using the end-result and to help them build both on-line and in-line learning pages.

Furthermore, I’ve been involved in the generic preparation and training of staff for use of ILT/e-Learning and with the preparation of extensive on-line ‘help’ and training materials for all users. I’ve learned a lot about Moodle 2 and those many peripheral tools.

But most of all, I’ve learned a lot more about what a learning environment can be – if we put our minds (and expertise) to it. Well done Lils, Ron and everyone else. (Contact any one of us if you want more details)

How big is the web?

It never fails to surprise me how much bigger the web has got every time I look at it.

I use the web for all sorts of things, but mostly to see how its many features might help learners to learn and teachers to teach. I try to work from a position of ‘what is it about THIS site that can/could/will enhance the learning process?’ I deliver workshops that underpin this basic use, but at some point during each workshop, I tend to realise that there is such a lot more that could be effectively used. This week’s workshop in Fareham, for the RSC-SE was no exception.

Over summer, I’d been commissioned to build a Web 2.0 Moodle ‘course’ that informed practitioners and managers about the benefits that Web 2.0 could bring. This had been a huge undertaking, which resulted in five Moodle sites, each one dealing with a different aspect of basic use. As far as I know, this course, and others built over the summer, are being launched at the JISC Advance RSC-SE ‘e’ Fair.

My Fareham workshop had been arranged to introduce the Moodle sites and to try out the staff development exercises that each course possesses. The five pages had evolved as I began to map out exactly what we could do with Web 2.0. Throughout my development, I tried to underpin the course with three core Web 2.0 uses: communication, collaboration and sharing. With these three as my bedrock, I expanded into five main themes: Web 2.0 overview; Blogs, Wikis and Microblogs; Creation; Storage; Social Networking. Each section of the site contains information, advice, lists of sites and services and case studies. Some features, such as Xtranormal and Screenr, are modelled as a matter of course.

I’m really proud of the work and hope that the sites are successfully employed all over the south-east. My remit was to make the course downloadable by institutions, and as a result there is no built-in requirement to use forums etc., or any form of assessment, as these would need to be set up locally. Nevertheless, even as they stand, the five pages are a powerful collection of Web 2.0 I.A.G.

So, back to Fareham: I had to combine ‘storage’ and ‘creation’ as each of these is a huge subject and needs more time to complete than we had available. This, the third session of the day, was less successful then it could have been due to difficulties with the Internet connection but it wasn’t until the final session, Social Networking, that it occurred to me that rather than modelling the Moodle staff development activities, we could have done more exploration of what’s out there and discussed usage. To fill in time lost earlier, I showed iPadio and Screenr to the group and was immediately blasted with lots of ideas for use (whereas creating media and uploading to YouTube and Flickr had not rung any bells).

And there hangs my question: what else could I have demonstrated? What else would have rung their bells and got them excited about Web 2.0 use, whether it be storage, creation or whatever?

What might I have missed when building the Moodle course?

CPD for me

One of the advantages, if there is such a thing, to having less work on than usual (and less than I’d like) is that I can actually plan and undertake my own continual professional development (CPD). Given the current governmental hiatus [Saturday May 8th], I suspect I will become proficient at lots of things before opportunities for future work reveal themselves.

I made my mind up to concentrate (I really find this hard because it is not my ‘style’) on three things: assembling and where necessary creating evidence for my ITQ in Accessible Practice, to learn a bit more about the coaching process and to finally download and install my own Moodle. On my own server. All completely different but challenging in many, differing, ways.

I am a JISC TechDis Accredited Trainer. I have an affinity for learners who find it difficult to learn – no matter why; and this has led to me being recognised as one who can help teachers and learner support staff to understand how and which technologies can help the majority of their learners. I would say all their learners – but sometimes that’s just difficult to prove. It therefore follows that undertaking the ITQ myself, before it is launched ‘big time’ in September can only be of benefit to me – and by extension those I work with in the future. Lilian is undertaking this too and we have agreed to work together where we can. Yesterday was the second time we’d attempted this. The first time, I went to her house and we discussed ways forward. Yesterday we worked via Skype.

We are both working on some ‘audio’ developments and as I had never used Garage Band before – we agreed it would be useful to explore it together and to compare it with Audacity. Well, I had not used Garage Band on the Mac before because, to me – it is (was) unintelligible. Lilian had mastered bits of it so we agreed we’d create a combined recording whilst at our own desks 40 miles apart. Brilliant. It worked a treat. I learned about the Garage Band interface, Lilian learned about the difference between the version on iWorks 2008 and iWorks 2009 and how Skype can be used as a screen sharing device. I’ve used the Skype screen sharing facility before but never in the way we used it on Friday. Lils recorded the female track and I recorded the male track before she sent me her recording to ‘knit’ together with mine. She was able to watch me do this and to agree with the final product. She also screen-casted the work at her end (my desktop!) and provided me with the raw film to edit as evidence. What a great and encouraging two hours. I just need to do the wrapping up bits now…

Moodle is new to me.
I’m a competent course creator and have worked on many installations owned and hosted by others, but have never downloaded an installation of my own. Well I have now. I went to Siteground and bought three years hosting. At this stage, I was able to be talked through the download process by a sales assistant – via a chat facility. Everything else I’ve had to do myself, which has been hugely rewarding. There is a lot ‘assumed’ by these hosting sites and they are not the most user friendly places. Anyway, it was soon up and running (I had to move the DNS[?] from 1and1 who host my Village e-Learning web site and despite being warned that it might take 48 hours, it took less than 4). http://www.eduvel.org.uk. I’m not ready for giving guest access yet – but will over time.

My next challenge was to search the Moodle.com web site for modules/blocks and to install them on my site. I searched Siteground for advice, but they were no help and was missing something vital from my research on the Moodle page when Ron Mitchell rang about something else. I simply asked what the process was and he told me. Apart from not having a ‘Moodle/Mod’ folder on the Siteground server (which itself took some searching to find a way in) I now have downloaded and installed the Book module and it looks like it’s working.

I feel immensely proud of myself for this achievement; techie is something I’m not. Once I’ve got the Moodle up and running as I want it I can be a little more adventurous in my experimentation. I also spent quite some time on Friday chatting with James about VLE’s: more on this next time I suspect.