Developing Digital Literacies Programme Start Up Meeting

The 12 successfully funded projects in the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme met yesterday (4 October) in Birmingham for the programme start-up meeting.

The aim of the programme is to:

” . . .promote the development of coherent, inclusive and holistic institutional strategies and organisational approaches for developing digital literacies for all staff and students in UK further and higher education.”

with projects:

. . .working across the following stakeholder groupings in their plans for developing digital literacies: students, academic staff, research staff, librarians and learning resources and support staff, administrators and managers and institutional support staff . . .”

The programme has developed from previous user centred work funded by the JISC Elearning programme starting back in 2008 with the Learners’ experiences of e-learning programme, the 2009 Learning Literacies for a Digital Age Study, the 2010 Supporting learners in a Digital Age study and the series of Digital Literacy workshops being run this year.

To help get to know a bit more about each other, the projects gave three minute elevator pitches (which included a very entertaining poem from Pat Parslow of the Digitally Ready project, University of Reading.) Although all have different approaches, as highlighted by Helen Beetham (part of the programme synthesis team) there are a number of commonalities across the projects including:

*common access and opportunity
*impacts of technology on core practice 
*new demands on the sector

Helen also highlighted that at a programme level JISC wants to be able to move forward practice and thinking around digital literacies, build on what we know and not repeat what has gone before. From the short presentations given by the projects, I think there will be a lot rich information coming from all of the projects over the next two years.

As part of CETIS input, I will be providing programme level support around the technologies being used in the programme and collating information into our PROD database. Although the projects are very user-centric, I am particularly interested in surfacing issues around what are the preferred technologies for the different stake holder groups, how are they being provisioned at an institutional level? And, at more holistic level, what does it mean to be a truly digitally literate institution? In parallel with staff/student skills developments what are the technical infrastructure developments that need to be enabled? What are the key messages and workflows that need to truly embedded and understood by everyone in an institution?

I can already see links with the approaches being taken by the DVLE programme in-terms of light weight widgets/apps and mobile integrations with VLEs and other admin processes; and the DIAL project at the University of the Arts as part of its elevator pitch also highlighted links to its OER work. I’ll be writing this up initially as a series of blog posts.

Building on the model developed through the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, the Design Studio will also be used as an open collation and sharing space for project outputs. The programme is also going to work with a number of related professional bodies an related membership organisations to help share and promote common sector wide experience and best practice.

How would you build a widget authoring tool?

Yesterday along with about 20 others I attended a Design Event organised by the Widg@t project, which is being funded through the current round of JISC Learning Teaching Innovation Grants (LTIG).

The aim of the day was to help the team “define the design specification for the WIDGaT toolkit, in particular the Design Decision Maker and Authoring Tool interface.” The team are planning to build a tool specifically aimed at non-techies – ” The WiDGaT toolkit (Design Decision Maker, Authoring Toolkit) aims to enable staff or students without technical expertise to easily design, develop and share widgets that support personalised learning. It enables the creation of widgets that address particularly (but not exclusively) the needs and preferences of disabled students.”

Splitting into small groups, the morning session was designed to get us thinking not about the authoring tool, but rather on designing widgets. Using the paper based design process the team had used during their previous WIDE project (see my previous post on this), each group had to create a design specification for a widget. The picture gives an idea of how the group I was in used the Design templates and flip chart to record our ideas.

widgat design template
widgat design template

The afternoon was then spent thinking about what kind of tool would allow people without any development experience build our, or indeed any other, widget. So we were thinking around a set of questions including:
*What would be the best way to replicate the f2f, paper supported, decision making process we had gone through?
*What kinds of interface, components and services would need to be available?
*Would templates be viable/useful?
*How would you save/share/publish outputs?

The group I was in spent quite a bit of time discussing the need to include some of the information made explicit in the Design template sheets e.g. detailed “personna” and “scenario” (basically the who, why and how of widget use). Although fully appreciating the need for them, we did wonder if they are better done offline, and if too much pre-authoring form filling might be off putting and actually slightly counter productive? We were also concerned with scope creep and very aware that the team are working to a tight timescale for development. So again we spent quite a bit of time discussing how to create an environment that gave enough options to be useful/useable, extensible to allow new functionality to be easily integrated and also, most importantly, was feasible to build.

During the feedback session it was clear that everyone in the room was broadly thinking in a similar way – particularly around the pragmatics of building a working system within the project timescale. The use of templates was also popular, as that provides a way to show users what is possible and also define an initial set of components/services.

I found the day to be very stimulating and very well structured, so thanks to all the team for their efforts in planning. As with any well designed design process, our input doesn’t stop after one day. The team are now pulling together all the ideas, reflecting on the themes emerging from the day and are going to produce a draft specification which we will be asked to feedback on before producing their final specification. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the toolkit develops and enjoying being part of a collaborative, user centred design process.

Design bash 11 pre-event ponderings and questions

In preparation for the this year’s Design Bash, I’ve been thinking about some of the “big” questions around learning design and what we actually want to achieve on the day.

When we first ran a design bash, 4 years ago as part of the JISC Design for Learning Programme we outlined three areas of activity /interoperability that we wanted to explore:
*System interoperability – looking at how the import and export of designs between systems can be facilitated;
*Sharing of designs – ascertaining the most effective way to export and share designs between systems;
*Describing designs – discovering the most useful representations of designs or patterns and whether they can be translated into runnable versions.

And to be fair I think these are still the valid and summarise the main areas we still need more exploration and sharing – particularly the translation into runnable versions aspect.

Over the past three years, there has been lots of progress in terms of the wider context of learning design in course and curriculum design contexts (i.e. through the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes) and also in terms of how best to support practitioners engage, develop and reflect on their practice. The evolution of the pedagogic planning tools from the Design for Learning programme into the current LDSE project being a key exemplar. We’ve also seen progress each year as a directly result of discussions at previous Design bashes e.g. embedding of LAMS sequences into Cloudworks (see my summary post from last year’s event for more details).

The work of the Curriculum Design projects in looking at the bigger picture in terms of the processes involved in formal curriculum design and approval processes, is making progress in bridging the gaps between formal course descriptions and representations/manifestations in such areas as course handbooks and marketing information, and what actually happens in the at the point of delivery to students. There is a growing set of tools emerging to help provide a number of representations of the curriculum. We also have a more thorough understanding of the wider business processes involved in curriculum approval as exemplified by this diagram from the PiP team, University of Strathclyde.

PiP Business Process workflow model
PiP Business Process workflow model

Given the multiple contexts we’re dealing with, how can we make the most of the day? Well I’d like to try and move away from the complexity of the PiP diagram concentrate a bit more on the “runtime” issue ie transforming and import representations/designs into systems which then can be used by students. It still takes a lot to beat the integration of design and runtime in LAMS imho. So, I’d like to see some exploration around potential workflows around the systems represented and how far inputs and outputs from each can actually go.

Based on some of the systems I know will be represented at the event, the diagram below makes a start at trying to illustrates some workflows we could potentially explore. N.B. This is a very simplified diagram and is meant as a starting point for discussion – it is not a complete picture.

Design Bash Workflows
Design Bash Workflows

So, for example, starting from some initial face to face activities such as the workshops being so successfully developed by the Viewpoints project or the Accreditation! game from the SRC project at MMU, or the various OULDI activities, what would be the next step? Could you then transform the mostly paper based information into a set of learning outcomes using the Co-genT tool? Could the file produced there then be imported into a learning design tool such as LAMS or LDSE or Compendium LD? And/ or could the file be imported to the MUSKET tool and transformed into XCRI CAP – which could then be used for marketing purposes? Can the finished design then be imported into a or a course database and/or a runtime environment such as a VLE or LAMS?

Or alternatively, working from the starting point of a course database, e.g. SRC where they have developed has a set template for all courses; would using the learning outcomes generating properties of the Co-genT tool enable staff to populate that database with “better” learning outcomes which are meaningful to the institution, teacher and student? (See this post for more information on the Co-genT toolkit).

Or another option, what is the scope for integrating some of these tools/workflows with other “hybrid” runtime environments such as Pebblepad?

These are just a few suggestions, and hopefully we will be able to start exploring some of them in more detail on the day. In the meantime if you have any thoughts/suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Summer round up from the institutional DVLE projects

Summer generally provides a bit of time for reflection and gathering of thoughts. It also marks the start of the final phase of the current JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) programme. For the five institutionally based projects, this summer has provided a short break before some major implementations and evaluations get underway in the new semester. This post summarizes some of the developments and future plans as outlined by the projects in their recent interim reports.

To give a bit more context the original call for funding for the institutional projects specifically asked for bids that would:

” . . .review their virtual learning environment and related systems to establish to what extent they meet the current and projected needs of the wide range of users in the institution and beyond, and implement technical work to widen the range of functionality the VLE can provide in an interoperable way.”

Which would lead to a set of deliverables including:

“• Enhancing the flexibility of VLEs to meet new and developing user requirements and to permit future expansion and changes.
• Demonstration of a range of architecture models for composing institutionally delivered learning environments.
• Guidance on, and models for, expanding VLE functionality and delivering it in different ways to meet institutional needs.
• An increased number of high-quality sharable widgets and applications made available to common web platforms in UK institutions, and an easier process of deploying them.”

So what progress is being made?

ceLTIc, University of Edinburgh
Progress continues with deployment of LTI connectors across a range of platforms including BB, Pepplepad, Elgg. You can get more of a feel for what the project has achieved so far from their recent presentation at our IMS LTI and LIS in Action Webinar. The project are now entering their evaluation phase which aims to “explore the impact of the implementation of LTI connectors with a VLE and four applications: Elgg, WebPA, PebblePad and Learning Objects in a number of higher education institutions from the perspective of:
tutor; developer; e-learning support; administrator.” More information about the evaluation methodology can be found on the project blog.

DEVELOP, University of Reading
The DEVELOP (Developing and Enhancing Virtual Learning Environments and E-Learning Options) team at Reading have primarily been exploring the extension of their BlackBoard VLE to allow greater pedagogic flexibility and their portfolio provision so that it can be used for teaching and assessment purposes. Scoping documents for their widget development (Tagging and recommender, portfolio, ASSET Video, content) are available from the project blog. At the moment, the widgets are all at various stages of development and user testing. The user evaluation and testing are part of the rapid prototyping approach the team are using (you can read more about the technical evaluation part of this process in this post. These evaluations will form the basis for a set of case studies around the effectiveness of each of the widgets. The case studies will be based on the templates created at Reading as part of another project JISC funded project, OULDI, which is part of the Curriculum Design Programme. The team have also been working closely with their key internal technical stakeholders to ensure sustainability of developments. The University of Bedfordshire is also testing the video widget.

The DOULS (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) team have continued with key user engagement processes to scope, define and specify the set of Google gadgets they are going to develop: Assessment Helper; Forum Recommender; Forums; OU Buddy; Study Planner. Draft gadget functionality specs for each one is available the project blog. The team have also documented their process and have produced a number of useful guidelines relating to usability and accessibility in terms of testing gadgets and overall management of accessibility within a VLE. These are openly available from the blog. The team are continuing to learn the “ins and outs” of working with the Google Apps for Education API for widescale adoption. Again the team are sharing some of their “visions” for potential Google App/Moodle integration and thoughts around potential uses/extensions for the Google start page on the blog. There will be more code releases in September, when they will also start their evaluation. Their interim report is also available for download from the blog.

SLEP, University of Southampton
The SLEP (Southampton Learning Environment Prototype) project is part of a wider institutional wide initiative at Southampton to restructure both its research and teaching and learning environments. As you’d expect from Southampton, open and linked data are central to their approach and the team have used a “co-design” process “made up of a large- scale student survey, smaller focus groups and one-on-one interviews) has revealed a preference for a small number of key services in our initial launch (including email and timetabling).” This process has also surfaced the importance of groups and communities, and the team’s prototype interface design highlights these and makes “ them the lens through which students and staff access all of the data and services of the institution”. The project is now coming out of “stealth” mode with their first round of apps being released in September accompanied by a large scale (c. 1,000 students) user evaluation of their new user interface. More detail on their overall approach and the co-design methodology is outlined in this paper presented at the PLE conference earlier this summer.

The W2C team continue to make good progress with what they often refer as their “megamash up”. The team have made steady progress developing web services including: PC Availability; Fee Status (RSS); WebCT Areas & Announcements (RSS); Library Reading Lists (RSS) & Podcasts (RSS); Integrating Talis Aspire and Equella. Providing this information in a mobile friendly way has had a dramatic impact on the number of hits these services are now getting. The team have been closely monitoring the usage of these services and shared how they collect the data and some of their insights in this post. The team have also been involved in a study of student use of mobile devices with a number of other institutions. Preliminary findings from the on the MMU part of the study are available in this post .

The team have prioritised the development of web services for mobile devices and have been working with oMbiel’s campusM mobile phone product. This has allowed them to rapidly deploy their web-services and create a user feedback loop. The team have also undertaken work in developing open source widgets for their Moodle installation which I’ll refer to later in this post. The W2C project, again is part of a wider institutional change process around provision of teaching and learning and the team have been very pro-active in sharing their “core- plus” model with the rest of the programme and the wider community.

The CETIS Distributed Learning Environments briefing paper was a key starting point for the programme, and particularly for the institutional strand, JISC wanted to find out the key institutional infrastructure issues are surrounding more flexible creation distribution of apps/gadgets/widgets and how data can be shared and re-used effectively.

Again going back to the funding call: “ The following technical approaches are of particular interest:
• Widget platforms external to the VLE displaying content from a range of sources including the VLE.
• Plug-ins to the VLE or other institutional web platform demonstrating the use of open educational standards such as IMS LTI (learning tools interoperability).
• The VLE providing some of its data and functionality as widgets/and or plug-ins to be consumed in other environments.
• Enabling access to particular research equipment in VLEs via widgets.
• Identity and access management approaches, such as OAuth.
• Approaches which illustrate innovative creation, use and consumption of data sets (including linked data ) sets across multiple platforms.”

Security has been and continues to be a key concern for projects (as highlighted in this post from Mark Stubbs after the programme start up meeting last September). Accessibility is also a concern, and it’s probably fair to say that the DOULS and others at the OU have had to spend more time than they probably first envisaged ensuring that their Google apps provision met required accessibility guidelines.

However there have been some quick wins for example W2C have been able to accelerate their mobile app deployment using an external partner which freed up the team’s time to work on developing web-services. We are also beginning to get a far greater understanding of student mobile device ownership and indeed from all the user engagement across the projects a greater understanding of the key data/services which staff and students actually want and use regularly.

In terms of standards/ specifications we have a stalwart supporter of the IMS LTI approach from Stephen Vickers at the ceLTIC project who clearly thinks the IMS way is a win, win, win scenario. There is still some resistance to implementing LTI in other projects – partly due to their unfinished status. Reading are keeping a watching brief on developments and are concentrating on developing widgets they know will work in their VLE. Whereas Southampton prefer to work with more conventional, non education specific web service approaches. However the recent announcement from IMS that they are now merging the development of full and basic LTI into one specification may start to convince more potential adopters. Once again the security question raises its head. Whilst there seems to be more convergence across the IMS, Open Social and Wookie development communities around the use of services such as OAuth, and the development of data handling process which sh/could start to allay common concerns around security of sensitive data such as assessment information etc. However, there is still probably a need for quite a dramatic culture shift within institutional provision and access before OAuth is widely adopted across the sector.

The programme has also afforded the opportunity for projects to explore the W3C Apache Wookie (Incubating) approach to the building and deployment of widgets. Our widget bash provided hand on opportunities for developers to get started building (and repurposing their own apps) wookie widgets. Despite the (relative) ease of building widgets, there has been some articulation surrounding concerns around the institutional deployment of a wookie widget server see this post from the W2C project. There continues to be an appetite for a stable sandbox/test server that projects could experiment with. This has been discussed before through our widget working group (pre-cursor to the DVLE programme) and it is something we at CETIS do recognise. Unfortunately we aren’t in a position to guarantee stability of any such service, and so we have being advocating a community based solution (perhaps augmented with a bit of funding from JISC). This is bound to be something we return to at the end of the programme once the projects have completed their reviews of their approaches and we can get a more informed view from across the programme.

There is also the question of where widgets/apps/gadgets should be accessed from after the projects finish. Should the code be available only via project websites? Do we need think about developing education app store (again this brings up similar issues as the wookie test server). One potential interim measure we are starting to investigate is the use of the JISC Design Studio which is primarily being used to share outputs from the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, but there are plans to use it to share other programme outputs too.

In the final stage of the funding cycle, the projects will be reflecting more on their infrastructure and how they relate to the models outlined in the CETIS DLE briefing paper. Both DEVELOP and W2C are seeing alignment with Model 2 “plug-ins to existing VLEs”.

screen shot of DLE Model 2
screen shot of DLE Model 2

W2C have begun to articulate their model in a some more detail in this post.

Over the coming months as evaluations begin in earnest, it will be interesting to see any convergences of approaches/models start to appear, and to explore what kind of affordances the projects distributed learning environments have to offer over traditional approaches.

More information about the projects and the programme support activities can be found on the CETIS wiki. There is also a public netvibes page with feeds from all the project blogs.

The timeline below also gives another view of programme activity through aggregated tweets using the programme hashtag #jiscdvle and with an RSS feed from the related Learning Platforms topic page on the CETIS website.

IMS LTI and LIS in action webinar, 7 July

As part of our on-going support for the current JISC DVLE programme, we’re running a webinar on Thursday 7 July at 2pm.

The session will feature demonstrations of a number of “real world” system integrations using the IMS LTI and basic LTI and LIS specifications. These will be provided by the Stephen Vickers from the University of Edinburgh and the CeLTIc project; Steve Coppin, from the University of Essex and the EILE project and Phil Nichols from Psydev.

The webinar will run for approximately 1.5 hours, and is free to attend. More information, including a link to registration is available from the CETIS website.

Widg@t widget building tool

I really like widgets or apps or whatever you want to call those little discrete things you can pop into a web-page, VLE, blog, access on your phone etc. Over the last few years at CETIS we’ve been supporting developments in this area through various activities such as the widget working group, the current JISC DVLE programme and our widget bash earlier this year.

As I’m not a programmer I’m also always on the look out for easy (and preferably free) ways to make widgets. A couple of years ago I thought I had found the answer with Sproutbuilder, but hey-ho as is the way of things they changed their terms of service. As I really didn’t do that much with it, it didn’t seem worthwhile to pay for the service. So, over the past couple of years I’ve been really keen to see some kind of WYSIWYG widget builder funded. We didn’t quite get there within the scope of the DVLE programme, however I’m delighted to report that the latest round of JISC LTIG grants includes the Widg@t project from the University of Teesside.

Building on the work of the ARC team’s excellent WIDE project (one of the DVLE programme’s rapid development projects), Widg@t aims to:

“explore, design, develop and evaluate a WIDGaT toolkit that will support the design, development and sharing of widgets by those directly involved in the teaching and support of disabled students

By engaging pedagogical and technical experts with our intended end users the objective is to produce a WIDGaT authoring tool that enables teachers or students to develop and share bespoke widgets.”

I’m a really looking forward to seeing the developments and final output from this project and hopefully having fun building some widgets again. This time with an open source, W3C standards compliant tool:-) As I’ve commented before, it’s also great to see a continuum of development from across JISC funding and to see pedagogic and technical developments truly working hand in hand.

The team are also looking for community involvement, so if you want to get involved please do contact them, details are on the project website.

Widget Bash – what a difference two days make

“I got more more done here in a day than I would have in three or four days in the office”. Just one of the comments during the wrap up session at our widget bash (#cetiswb).

And judging from other comments from the other delegates, having two days to work on developing “stuff” is one of the best ways to get actually move past the “oh, that’s interesting, I might have a play with that one day” stage to actually getting something up and running.

The widget bash was the latest in our series of “bash” events, which began many years ago with code bashes (back in the early days of IMS CP) and have evolved to cover learning design with our design bashes. This event was an opportunity to share, explore and extend practice around the use of widgets/apps/gadgets and to allow delegates to work with the Apache Wookie (Incubating) widget server which deploys widgets built to the W3C widget specification.

We started with a number of short presentations starting with presentations from most of the projects in the current JISC funded DVLE programme. Starting with the rapid innovation projects, Jen Fuller and Alex Walker gave an overview of their Examview plugin, then Stephen Green from the WIDE project, University of Teeside explained the user centred design approach they took to developing widgets. (More information on all of the rapid innovation projects is available here). We then moved to the institutionally focused projects staring with Mark Stubbs from the W2C project who took us through their “mega-mash up” plans. The DOULS project was next with Jason Platts sharing their mainly google based approached. Stephen Vickers from the ceLTIc project then outlined the work they have been doing around tools integration using the IMS LTI specification. We also had a remote presentation around LTI implementation from the EILE project. Rounding up the DVLE presentations, Karsten Lundqvist from the Develop project shared the work they have been doing primarily around building an embed video BB building block. Mark Johnson (University of Bolton) then shared some very exciting developments coming from the iTEC project where smartboard vendors have implemented wookie and have widget functionality embedded in their toolset allow teachers to literally drag and drop collaborative activities onto their smartboards at any point during a lesson. Our final presentation came from Alexander Mikroyannidis on the ROLE project which is exploring the use of widgets and developing a widget store.

After lunch we moved from “presentation” to doing “mode”. Ross Gardler took everyone through a basic widget building tutorial, despite dodgy wifi connections and issues of downloading the correct version on Ant, most people seemed to be able to complete the basic “hello world” tutorial. We then split into two groups, with Ross continuing the tutorials and moving creating geo- location widgets and Scott Wilson working with some of the more experienced widget builders in what almost become a trouble shooting surgery. However his demo of repackaging a pac-mac game as W3C widget did prove very popular.

The sun shone again on day two and with delegates more familiar with wookie and how to build widgets, and potential applications for their own contexts, the serious bashing began.

One of the great things about working with open source projects such as Apache Wookie (Incubating), is the community sharing of code and problem solving We had a couple of really nice examples of this in action, starting with the MMU drop in pc-location widget. The team had managed to work out some IE issues that the wookie team were struggling with (see their blog post), and inspired by the geo-location templates Ross showed on day 1, managed to develop their widget to include geo-location data. Now if users access the service from a geo-location aware device it will return a list of free computers nearest to their real-time location. The team were able to successfully test this on ipad, galaxy tab, iphone and android phone. For non-location aware devices the service returns an alphabetical list. You can try it out here.

Sam Rowley and colleagues from Staffordshire university decided to work on some DOM and jQuery and issues. Whilst downloading the wookie software they noticed a couple of bugs, so they fixed them and submitted a patch to the Wookie community.

Other interesting developments emerged from discussions around ways of getting data out of VLEs. The team from Strathclyde realised that by using the properties settings in wookie they could pass a lot of information fairly easily from Moodle to a widget. On day two they converted a Moodle reading list block to a wookie widget with an enhanced interface allowing users to specify parameters (such as course code etc). The team have promised to tidy up the code and submit to both the wookie and moodle communitys. Inspired by this Stephen Vickers is going to have a look at developing a powerlink for webCT/BB with similar functionality.

On a more pedagogical focus some of the members of the Coeducate project worked on developing a widget version of the the 8LEM inspired Hybrid Learning Model from the University of Ulster. By the end of the second day they were well on the way to developing a drag and drop sequencer and were also exploring multiuser collaboration opportunities through the google wave api functionality which wookie has adopted.

Overall there seemed to be a really sense of accomplishment from delegates who managed to do a huge amount despite having to fight with very temperamental wifi connections. Having two experts on hand proved really useful to delegates as they were able to ask the “stupid” and more often than not, not so stupid questions. Having the event run over two days also seemed to be very popular as it allowed delegates to actually move from the thinking about doing something to actually doing it. It also highlighted the positive side of contributing to an open-source community and hopeful the Apache Wookie community will continue to see the benefit of increased users from the UK education sector. We also hope to run another similar event later in the year, so if you have any ideas or would like to contribute please let me know.

For another view of the event, I’ve also created a storify version of selected tweets from the event.

From Design to implementation – DVLE programme Strand A Showcase

Last week the three Strand A projects from the current JISC funded DVLE programme, took part in an online showcase to share their outcomes now their six month development phase is over.

The three projects are quite diverse both in scale, approach and outputs. As I’ve written about before, the WIDE project from Teesside University took a very user centred approach. The team have created a range of widgets including a ruler to help with reading on-screen which the user can control size, colour and transparency. Teesside took the W3C approach to development using the Wookie widget server. Although Elaine Pearson (Project Director) did highlight that they did decided to make some of their widgets desktop based due to the accessibility features they need to utilise. Code for their widgets is available from the project website and Jorum.

Examview, from Glasgow City College looked at “integrating key student systems with the VLE”. Focusing on linking their VLE (moodle) with their exam records system the team have created an interface which gives students access to accurate and consistent information about their grades. Now when students log into the VLE, they can click on an ExamView link on their home page and they are taken to a personalized page which displays all their current results. So far, feedback from students has been very positive and is encouraging staff to input results regularly into the records system.

The team considered a number of approaches to their technical development, and the most effective way to get results from their record system into the VLE. Initially they developed a direct back-end query to the Unit E (their exam record system) Oracle database. They have also developed a MySQL database query which other institutions could utilise to create a scheduled export of data. All the code (with extensive comments) is available for download from the project website. The team have also released code into the Moodle community it has already been picked up and is being used by the University of Bejaia in Algeria.

Finally the Framework for Rich Interactive Quizzes for Mathematical Sciences project at Glasgow University, developed a very specific application to “extend the functionality of the quiz facility of a VLE by providing a framework for widgets displaying interactive graphics.” Current systems tend only to display static graphics and/or have limited interactive features. The team have developed in javascript to give them the level of functionality and integration they require with their VLE. However they do plan to make a wookie version of the widget available and add IMS simple outcomes functionality for recording scores.

Copies of the presentations (which include more details on technical choices etc) from the session are available from the CETIS website. For an insight into what is happening in the year long Strand B projects, this recent blog post from w2c project at MMU gives an comprehensive overview of the systems and possible integration routes they are exploring.

DVLE phase 1 online showcase – 25 January

We are holding an online meeting next Tuesday, 25 January showcasing the three rapid development projects in the current JISC DVLE (distributed virtual learning environments). If you are interested in widget development and how to extend the functionality of learning environments then do join us at 2pm next Tuesday.

The three projects are:
* Rich Interactive Questions for Quizzes, University of Glasgow
* Exam View, Glasgow Metropolitan College
* WIDE (Widgets for Inclusive Distributed Environments), Teeside University

The meeting will start at 2pm and last approximately two hours. As ever there is no charge for attending. Registration and log-in details are available here.

Widget creation and learning design templates – re-use in action

Sustainability and re-use of project outputs is a perennial issue. However I was really heartened this week to see a great example of a project using and building on previously funded work from the WIDE project.

WIDE is part of the current JISC funded DVLE programme. It is one of three six month rapid development projects. “WIDE is a joint project between the Accessibility Research Centre at Teesside University, JISC TechDis and Portland College that aims to make online learning more accessible and inclusive for disabled students/learners. Our objective is to develop open educational resources that will improve or support the learning experience and can be shared and adapted by the community.”

The project has been developing widgets through a series of user engagement workshops. The workshops have adapted the learning design templates created the the RLO CETL a couple of years ago as part of their Sharing the Load project which was part of the JISC funded Design for Learning Programme. They’ve also created a widget storyboard template building from the original learning design templates.. Having been involved in the support of that programme as well as the DVLE programme, it is heartening to see re-use and progression of project outputs.

The WIDE project website has more information on the workshops as well as links to the widgets that have been built so far (28 and counting!), a tutorial “creating a calendar widget”, APIs, and lots of other great stuff. It’s well worth spending half an hour browsing resources – who knows you maybe inspired for some re-use too.