Widgets, web 2.0 and learning design @ CETIS08

As I’ve already publically declared my love for widgets, I was delighted to co-chair the “planning and designing learning in a world of widgets and web 2.0” with Wilbert Kraan at this years CETIS conference.

Wilbert started the session with an overview of his experiences of building an assessment widget using google docs and sprout builder and integrating it into moodle. The gory details are available from his blog.

One of the many appealing traits of widgets is that they are relatively simple to create and integrate into websites (particularly using wysiswyg builders such as sproutbuilder). However integrating widgets into closed systems such as VLEs can be problematic and generally would require a level of admin rights which most teachers (and learners) are unlikely to have.

This is one area that the TenCompetence project team at the University of Bolton has been investigating. Scott Wilson demoed the Wookie widget server they have built. By adding the wookie plug-in to moodle it is possible to seemlesly integrate widgets to the learning environment. Scott explained how they have been using the W3C widget guidelines to build widgets and also to convert widgets/gadgets from the Apple apps collection to put into wookie and therefore into moodle. This potentially gives teachers (and students) a whole range of additional tools/activities in addition to the standard features that most VLEs come with. A USP of the Bolton project is that they are the first to build collaborative widgets (chat, forums etc) using the W3C guidelines.

Scott made a very salient point when he reminded us that VLEs are very good at allowing us to group people. Most web2.0 tools don’t provide the same ability to group/distinguish between groups of people – there are few distinctions between “friends” if you like. So by creating and/or converting widgets and integrating them with VLEs we can potentially extend functionality at relatively low cost (no system upgrade needed – just add the plug-in) whilst retaining the key elements that VLEs are actually good at e.g. grouping, tracking etc. This is where the learning design element comes into play.

Dai Griffiths, University of Bolton, outlined how the IMS LD specification can provide a way to orchestrate widgets with a set of rules and roles. He showed examples of UoLs (units of learning) which use the chat widget in the wookie server. This is one of the most exciting developments for IMS LD (imho) as it is starting to show how the authoring process can become much easier for the average teacher. You just choose what widget you want to use, decided which students can use it, and when, add other content – widgets -whatever and you have your runnable learning design. I know it’s not quite that simple, but I do think this goes along way to address some of the “lack of easy to use tools” barriers that the learning design community have been facing.

There was a lot of discussion about students creating widgets. Tony Toole told us of one of his projects where they are trying to get students to build widgets. At the moment they don’t seem that keen as they (probably quite rightly) see it as secondary to their “real” learning tasks. However they do like and make use of more informational type widgets which utilise RSS feeds to push out content such as reading lists, course announcements etc. Ross McLarnon from Youthwire showed us the desktop widget application they have just started to roll out to over 130 Universities. Interestingly the university news widget is the most popular so far.

As ever it is practically impossible to summarize the discussions from the session, but some other key issues that arose were authorization. There was a discussion around the emerging oAuth specification which is based on a ticketing system so users don’t have to give username/password details to 3rd parties. It was also agreed that some kind of national educational widget server based on the wookie system would be useful. As well as storing relevant, safe, widgets it could have information/examples of widgets being used in practice and relevant system plug-ins etc.

As a follow on from this session we would like form a working group to explore all these issues in more detail and provide feedback to JISC for potential funding opportunities. If you would like to be involved please let me know either by leaving a comment or by sending me an email (s.macneill@strath.ac.uk)

More details of the session can be found on the wiki.

Conference stories

There was a huge amount of twitter activity at this years CETIS conference. In fact at one point yesterday one of the session hashtags was second only to “happy thanksgiving”.

Prior to the conference there had been a bit of negativity in the twittersphere about the the number of tags and hashtags we had set up for the conference. Whilst I can see why just having one tag makes life simpler, having tags for each of the session allows us to aggregate and separate out the comments into the relevant session areas (like here where we have a feed displaying tweets related to that session). I think that the CETIS conference is just about the right size and has just about the right level of geek-type audience to appreciate the decision to have individual session tags. For larger conferences multiple tags might not work.

I’ve tried out various lifestreaming tools before (like swurl and dipity) but last week I came across the Storytlr site, which adds a nice twist to the lifestream idea by allowing users to create date specific “stories” from their various digital presence sites (such as blogs, twitter, flickr etc). I think this time specific story idea has potential – particularly for conferences. I’ve created 2 “stories” from my tweets over the past two days just try it out.

*Day One (sorry to Dai for cutting his head off in the first picture)
*Day 2

This morning, I have been trying to add other rss feeds such as the feeds for the individual sessions and some photo feeds, but it didn’t seem to like any of the rss feeds I was giving it. It’s probably something Tony Hirst could sort out in the blink of an eye:-) But if anyone else has some stories from the conference, or anywhere else I’d love to see them.

It's not what you share, but how you share

Scott Leslie has written a reallyinteresting post about some of the issues he has with institutional collaboration projects. I’m sure anyone who has tried to share any kind of “stuff” will find resonance in what he says.

The post is particularly timely for myself and others in CETIS as we are working closely with JISC colleagues who are planning the pilot OER call for next year. This is a major investment by JISC and the HEA with £5million worth of funding being made available.

We have been having extensive discussions around the types of architectures/sharing solutions that should be in place. Hopefully we can avoid the scenarios that Scott describes and allow as flexible an approach as possible, ensuring people can use existing tools and networks and that we don’t re-invent another un-necessary technical layer/network(s). However some decisions need to be made to ensure that any resources funded through the programme can be found and tracked.

We’ll be discussing these issues at the CETIS conference in a couple of weeks at the OER scoping session. If you would like to attend the session and haven’t had an invitation yet, please get in touch. Or just leave any thoughts about what you think here.