Wednesday, 12 December 2007


Recently I viewed a blog post by

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Electronic Dustbin

Feeling a bit green today

With all the talk and practices taking place to clean up our beloved planet, a question could be .. Arnt we just transferring that problem elsewhere.

I would hate to think of the amount of energy wasted with non-useful websites or spam e-mail. Somewhere in our world there has to be computer or harddrive which stores this data. Now we should all do our bit and have a clean the spam day. For mostpeople, (im guilty of this as well) we do not see typing rubbish as a waste of energy, but rubbish has to get stored somewhere.

So while we go about cleaning our real world problems, lets not waste it by dirtying up the virtual one.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Easy install of OS software on Linux.. Whatever next

A colleague of mine, introduced me to a piece of software yesterday called Redmine. This little beauty of a product is an open source project management tool and is developed in Ruby using the rails framework.

Since I had to move to Ubuntu to replicate our delivery server for developing applications I have been getting to grips with how to use Linux. Now you would have though implementing this kit of software would not be easy on a linux sysem, thanks to a site called BitNami they make installation a heck of a lot easier. I had this installed in under 15 minutes and only had to enter a few details during the process.

They also publish these easy installs for windows and the Mac.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Open Sourcing GPS

Now I've probably missed the boat on this one ... wouldn't it be amazing if phone companies opened up GPS locations.

To be able to program programs effectively for a given environment would take personalization to the extreme. Look at how the web has developed allowing communities to form to develop software. Now there is alot of ethics in this that would come into play such as authorization from the end user.

Currently there are companies offering limited services, just think if this sort of service was opened up to other institutions. For example a class field trip where we could produce certain materials for a given environment. And let people explore. Or audio files which kick in for tourist attractions, like they do just now with the tape and headfones.

With the ifone we can now program ourselves new integrated services.

By the way if this is already out there, make a comment as I would be interested to see what is being done within this area.


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The wind of change

Recently I have been working on a project to develop a web based question exam system. While there are few in the market at the moment, they are quite costly for institutions to implement. The system I am working on is created using PHP 5 as the base language but incorporates other languages including Javascript, HTML, CSS, XML and MYSQL.

Many commercial companies only develop for Internet explorer and use 3rd party plugins like flash/java. The goal of the project is to create a web based system which will hopefully fingers crossed be made up of pure web technologies. Many people have wondered for such a project why we are not using Ruby on Rails. At this moment in time Ruby on rails is still in development and seemingly is slower than PHP with regards to server processing. I will eventually hopefully learn how to program using MVC though that is a bit down the line.

The other plan we have in mind is using a system like PRISM for running summative web assessment which lock the user out, though more though needs to go into this.

The structure of the assessment engine will read in XML documents containing question/assessment which are located within an assessment directory. The XML is formatted in a way which is easy to ready and easily adaptable. (I am at the moment in time trying to stay away from techie lingo). Within the assessment directory will be a folder called the assessment name. Within that folder will be a configuration file containing the assessments configuration.

If anyone has any info on how they developed a system or any ideas, feel free to drop the department a line at

Adios for now,


Thursday, 8 November 2007

Engineering silent brainiacs......

With the use of using technology as a means of communication and assessment, we seem to be going down a road of using technology because we can. Take the flow of an example program from a lecturer below

student picks question >>> student writes critique>>> student picks up critique of own work>>>student then writes response>> student then picks up someone else's response.

Now above does not all seem to out of the norm, what is out of the norm is that this is all done electronically, the student does not interact with any other person. Rather than learning how to behave face to face using emotions, the system handles this part for them, allowing the students to hide behind their screens....

Although student's will have to electronically critique others throughout their life, they should also learn the skills before they hit the work place on how to debate and take critique.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Versioned ... 0

My eyes have been opened -_- previously versioning software relied upon using text files with dates and date stamping everything. We installed subversion and trac last week and already the department is running more efficient with regards to secure updating and retrieval.

I would definitely recommend using subversion if you are working with web technologies. The ability to easily roll back to previous versions and retrieve lost data is brilliant!!

At the moment in time tortoise is the GUI of choice and is again recommended if working with windows.

The Plunge !!

At the moment in time we rely on a piece of software called Authorware which was developed by Macromedia. Authorware was made redundant earlier this year and since then we have been debating on how re engineer our *redundant* assessments on the web.

We deliver summative and formative assessment's at the moment in time, to service the University's students. Recently due to the lack of support of Authorware we have been having sporadic crashes in our labs.

Since Mozilla announced they were going to be developing an open source method delivering Internet application on the desktop called prism, the office has been buzzing. Not only does this mean we get to learn web development, but it means that we can make our assessment engine a lot more stable and platform independent. The prism will be very useful for delivering summative assessments while in a controlled environment.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Evidencing against predefined criteria

With the JISC eApel project underway within the department, I have an opportunity to look at it from a side perspective.

The process to evidence oneself against predefined criteria using e-Portfolios is in itself, very innovative. The methodology could be used for so many subject and in so many different way's.

Take for example Job Applications, if you have ever applied for a job, you will have noticed that you have to evidence yourself against the criteria, the employer is looking for. It would be a lot easier if an application listed the predefined criteria and forced the prospective employee to write against them. At the moment in time, this process is done in a generic way which judges the skills that are being advertised along with the hidden skill of reflection. The e-Apel project focuses the reflection and allows the weaker writers an opportunity to easily show their experience.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Patchwork Text Assessment

Last week myself and one of my colleagues attended a staff development session provide by academics from the University of Anglia on the topic of patchwork assessment's.

A patchwork assessment is basically a collection of sub task's that are given to groups or individuals which can then be used within a final synthesis. Even though this method is not new, it does focus the academic on preparing each task. The ability to drop one of the task's gives the learner a feel of control of their their learning without compromising learning quality.

One example was shown included group work in which students are split into groups and then have to write a really short essay on a particular subject. The students are then given the opportunity to constructively give feedback to each other. In terms of moderation, the lecturer 'drop's in on group conversations.

Currently this is done manually, but this would be an ideal opportunity to develop an online commentating and critiquing system, that would allow for students to copy each others work and get inspiration without plagiarising, so rather having one teach, have multiple...!!!!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Paperless Office

An e-mail has been doing the rounds this morning regarding, climate change. With the improvement of academics using electronic documents, are we at a stage were we can drop the paper and save the trees (im really a hippy in disguise ;) ).

With regards to the department that I work in, we could possibly turn all our document's into electronic format especially the forms....

Imagine that, a zero paper department !!

We already seemto be heading down that route, so why not give it a little push......

Friday, 28 September 2007

Assessment Engines

While there are numerous programs out there for developing assessment's, there is still no current opensource/easily accessible engines. While there is numerous software out there ie questionmark, there is not one that is developed using core webtechnology's that can be easily accessed/ Inutuitive UI and is pedagogicaly sound.

To achieve this there would have be a joint collaboration between different Universities/College's, and commercial companies.

The ideal system, would encompass tools such as,
  • Full Assessment administration
  • Full Item Banking
  • Results Anlysis
  • The ability to be platform independant
  • The ability to support diagnostic, formattive and summative exams
  • The ability to plugin and develop custom question styles
One day we will have such a system, but by then we will have probably moved away from question based exams........

Monday, 24 September 2007

Centralisation vs Individuals

Wouldn't this be a good topic to have a debate on,

Do you believe in centralisation for support teams within Higher Education, if so what is the reasoning behind your belief ...

Coming from a centralised team within a University here are my thoughts,

An ex colleague of mine took up post as a learning technologist within a department and has solely worked on their material. This not only has raised the departments use of technology, but has played a part in significantly improving the quality of the training materials. This impacts not only the student but the perception of the department and the University as a whole.

The time that an individual can spend with the team is much greater than that of a production department. The intimate relationship that the learning technologist has with the academic is much greater than that of a department and as such can promote and advise to a more receptive audience.

With department production comes a level of generalisation, that can affect the quality of the training materials especially when dealing with large numbers of academics.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Supporting Research

Since Im on a roll today and am getting addicted already, I thought I would write up about a piece of software I am currently trialling at the University of Derby.

A lot of University's around the country already offer support to students wanting to produce survey's for research purposes and it was felt that it would be beneficial to bring this service to Derby.

The software is called Limesurvey and can be found at This brilliant piece of software is an open source project developed by a group of student's in their final year. It is fully customizable and is updated very frequently.

Would recommend this to any1 wanting to produce surveys and handle the results analysis.



Having recently attended the Alt-C conference in Nottingham, I was thoroughly impressed on how the view on supporting education has changed. Most notably was the keynote on the second day by Dylan Wiliam called Assessment, learning and technology: prospects at the periphery of control.
The keynote came as a shock and reminder to me on how not to focus learning towards technology, but on focusing technology to learning.

Many times recently I have been looking at tools and greedily thinking of how can get a hold of and use these tools. When infact I should be looking at does the tools acutally enhance and make value of the content.

Having attended the CAA conference this year, I was noticbly more impressed with the demonstrations and ideas being put forward at the ALT-C. This is probably due to the ALT-C conference being more generalized in regards to Learning.

First Post

Well since this is my first outing into the realm of blogging, I thought I better open it up with some background info.

Name: Christopher Jack
Work : CIAD (Centre for Interactive Assessment Development) University of Derby
Years Exp: 8

My blog posts will be from a personal persepective within the workings of a university department, tho commenting on tools and apps will take place.

Adios for now