Thursday, 18 December 2008

Changes within our Educational Development Unit

Well I thought I better blog on some changes going on within the department and how that is going to influence the University.  The department now sits at a healthy 7 developers two co-ordinators and one manager, for us this is a big step up with regards to the services that we can offer.  

Without going into to much detail the teams where split with 4 in one department and 4 in another.  This caused direction problems which we are no trying to fix.  

We have setup several roles within the team which will focus on certain aspects of the development.

Software / System / Application developer
Courseware / Interaction / Graphics developer
Server / Database administrator
Project / Service / Resource Manager
Business Analyst / Customer Advisor / Solution architect


Split these roles into 

Bespoke Content Development
END User Tools

All developers where allowed to choose where they wanted to place their skills and were most evenly distributed, this resulted in an empowerment of the developer and refreshes the interest and focus of the team.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Automatic Classifying Personality Traits based on Writing styles

In one of my feeds today from I came across a very useful and quirky tool that is available from

These guys seem to have created an api to classify traits on written text, it is quite fun to have a play with and since they created an api, it could also be useful in adding this to our peer review/essay marking programs, as another benefit to the student.

With regards to this post I am

1. happy (99.6 %)
2. upset (0.4 %)


Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Self evaluation

Well its drawing near the end of the week *ahem so I thought I would write up a list of some general software I use and what I use it for.  Boring I know but it is what it is...and it gives me another post for the week :)

So hear goes

  • Gmail
  • Microsft Outlook
  • Microsoft Hotmail
  • Snackrss
  • Google Reader
  • Yahoo Answers
  • Limesurvey
  • Facebook
  • Ning
  • Yahoo Groups
  • Digsby
  • MSN
  • Amarok
  • Songbird

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Prejudice in the learning community

Having worked in the e-learning trade for a long time, I know the sort of things to expect to sell and advise lecturers.  Generally that involves something electronic....  

Now if I only offer electronic services, do lecturers only expect to use electronic methods.  My conundrum is this, if we are advocating and shouting off the roof tops to use e-tools why are we not shouting off the rooftops for methodology/practical etc.

Why are we not investing in real time simulations etc, sure the marking is a lot more, but students do get a lot more out of realtime simulations experience etc.... Sure use e-simulations that cannot be done outside like disease sims and chatbots for language. 

There are no departments for that yet there are e-learning departments.  There are no learning experts yet there are learning technologists.  All other information is hand me down with usually no drive.

There are a lot of lecturers who are new and afraid to try stuff, why only point them in the direction of e.  I think we are still missing an important aspect of learning specialist's.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Next Generation Chat-Bots (search?)

Next Generation chat bot's sould be able to link into places like wikipedia, so that you ask a question and then using the semantic web a bot is able to answer the question, 

It would be cool if you had something like google, where you could ask a question through chatting and it replied in english with a list that saying the most clicked on or the most valuable reasons because....

Sort of like ASK Jeeves but waaaayyy more powerfuller.  Using intelligence to mask its flaws.

They are getting a lot more powerful though with the taking place each year.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Dopamine and Education

While we are all running about trying to getas many e-learning applications out there, a method to think about is are we producing e-learning materials that are enjoyable and educational.

After all whoever says education is dull is obviously not learning as much as some who is enjoying their course.  Dopamine is the neurotransmitter which tells our body to experience pleasure among other things and it is noted and researched that we can trigger these dopamine transmitters by challenging and rewarding students on an action, the question is by how much should we reward someone? and everyones threshold is different.  

How can we bring excitment and change to an e-learning application after all, the real world outside education is all about change.  In order to prepare the mind for the outside, after all not every job you get a month to research.

Here is some research on parkinsons disease and learning 

"As it turns out patients with the higher levels of dopamine learn better from positive stimuli and patients with lower levels of dopamine learn better from negative stimuli. Although I was hoping for something a little more exciting, in the case of this experiment a positive stimulus was "Correct!" printed in blue, negative was "Incorrect!" printed in red."

Question is how do we determine whether a person has high levels or low !

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Using Data visualization within Education

With the high end graphics and data manipulation the internet/ computers today can handle and process a lot of data. What has been progressing over time, is an increase in the knowledge and easiness to create data sets and visualize the data in an easy to understand format. The most common of which and is dying slowly is the tag cloud.

The tag cloud is just one example, others include the advanced communication world map which was released recently. Imagine if you could create that on a small scale see, use it to see which departments communicate with others, which student access materials the most etc the list goes on. I feel that does not happen enough within the University and would help in the change that technology gives us.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Recently I joined a social netowrking group called created by Jane Hart. This group is designed to review e-learning and development tools as they are known. There seems to be quite a varied change of individuals in the group so it should prove quite topical.

Also this is the first group "that I know off" that is built for educational designers/technologists/academics to discuss ideas.

Anyways on doing a little noseing about the group I came across a comment regarding GoAnimate. This website/tool enables people to create their own basic simulations, which you could put to students to create. An example could be how they go about planning something between set people or interaction etc.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Personalized Student Images

With the emergence off virtulization into mainstream Universities etc. It would be useful if IT technicians could create custom student images for a particular module/subject.

This would enable students to have easy access to sites/applications etc with out being bloated with stuff not relevent to them. It would also allow staff to support opebn source application and especially with the new google chrome rollout web apllication that might be beneficial to a students course for example report writing using the firefox plugin for references ..etc. It would also allow students to install their own software though that is a comepletely different matter.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Facebook - Social Ego Learning

Well ive just bought a facebook applications book and Im going to give it a try to build an application that tests students. The app will allow for students to show the facebook app on their profile with a grade. This will allow students to compete while learning about who has the highest 'Socio Grade' for their module for those that want it.

Im not to sure on what the impact that would have by allowing students to show their formattive grade to each other.

Anyways its an experiment, so Ill see how it goes.

Any suggestions ideas and feedback is welcome.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

E-Learning - - A one off ?

Repeat business is difficult in any industry, e-learning is no exeption.

The role of our department is to try and encourage and develop e-learning materials for lecturers to bring the quality of the service the University offers to its students higher. We are generally trying to offer new services to academics all the time generally bringing them on board for multiple tools and facilities.

What I have observed, is a trend to get the academics on board, develop stuff and then let them go off. There are e-assessments which have not been touched for five + years. There is not much communication between old customers and staff, we generally treat an e-learning application as one off, until an academic comes in and requests changes. We should be treating applications as lifelong products and adding yearly product/content reviews. We should treat a customer not just as a customer for one product, but try and review their course with them to explain any technologys that they could use.

It would be interesting to find out what is done in other Universitys etc with regards to customer service and recurring reviews ......

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Chatbots and ESL in Second life

While doing some research I came across chatbots, there seem to be quite a varied range of bots out there for use.

The technology seems to be progressing well with people integrating the chatbot with other forms of simulation for example second life. A downside with the second life bot is that it is not readily accessible to students.

For example you have install second life >>>> create avatar >>>> then find the avatar before you can begin. One use of second life which I find particularly interesting is the ability to hold pretend events and simulations. For example the Second Life English island has a holodeck area, which loads up different scenarios for the user like ordering food from a takeawsay etc.

Chatbots were originally started using text editors from which the bot would reply in text format. Currently the bots can take on many forms like allowing the user to type in a sentance and reply by voice. The use of this in ESL is very useful as it allows the student to practice on someone at anytime. Notice I said someone in the previous sentence, it honestly feels like there is someone on the otherside.

What is currently missing is a bot on which a student can practice speech.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Would you like a cup of (TEA)

Technology Enhanced Assessment

From the past we have had

CAA (Computer Aided Assessment)
CBA (Computer Based Assessment)

I think we should change it to TEA (Technology Enhanced Assessment) that would include any assessment that includes technology to be politcally correct.

Question Based Exams Vs Virtual Reality Testing

First post in a while, but I have some issues that I thought I better get off my chest.

Currently at our University we are going through some major changes with respect to joining two departments together to form an Educational Development Unit. With the joining of the two departments we will increase the skills and experience to enable us to better provide a service.

This will enable us to develop more advanced interactions/simulations.

Here are a few questions, if anyone has any answers then I'd be happy to hear.

The question is what is more beneficial to the lecturer, to assess students in the time old way of question based exam papers or to try and test knowledge by application using simulations etc.?

Should Applied Simulations ie Virtual Reality be used in summative test's on their own/with QBA etc

Should we provide formative tests in VR in order that students are not shocked when they first encounter one.

How do disabilities affect simulations, should they have another form of testing.

Should we tag an assessment on the properties that it assesses? recall, application etc

Will VR increase Academic involvement in the development of their test's?

Due to time contstraints should we only offer VR/Simulations to a select few ?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Google Web Design


Visual appearance

The visual appearance of the Google website is very minimalist. The main purpose of the site is to allow the user to search the web. The design is very effective in conveying this with the Google logo above the search box in the middle of the page. The size and placing of the logo focuses the users attention there, thus the eye to click time ratio is very high.

The Google applications that are available are found in the top left hand side of the screen. They are easily accessible and a downward arrow represents a drop down menu. The only problem I see with this drop down arrow is that it does not stand out from the hyperlinks even though it is a button rather than a link. Another problem with the Google web site is all one it’s benefits, is that all the links are Blue, there is no definition with regards to applications .

Information structure

The information structure of the Google website is well laid out with respect to positioning, though there could be more added detail with rather than saying ‘web’ in the top left of the screen instead say ‘apps’. What could be even more useful is if the user could decide what links could go into the top left box and decide how their Google page looked without having to sign into the iGoogle. I don’t mean with lots of boxes all over the place like but having a clean UI with the apps on the top.


As I mentioned in the Visual appearance section, all the links are blue so it is not clear what options are available to the user, there is not discolouration with respect to which links are more important or diverse. What is even more problematic is that lets say a user clicks on ‘mail’, the list of apps at the top of the page disappears. This is crucial with keeping the site design consistent. As now there is no way to go back to the main Google search without re-entering the URL. This is basically a problem with most of the ‘apps’ that they allow you to browse to. What is stranger is that the bars come back once you sign in??

Ease of finding information

With the design of the website it is possible to easily find the information and links you need on returning to the website and luckily most of the applications look the same so are easy to use.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Google Lookup -- The next step

I came across a blog today which mention the new feature that google has added to their documents called Googlelookup. This really is an innovative step that takes the wiki onto the next level.

It would be really amazing if google developed a method like wikipedia, of users being able to upload their own stats and information, though the steps that wikipedia have taken would have to be implemented to ensure the integrity of the data. Even better if the information could be implemented in our own software via an api.

Pretty impressed.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Word Play

Does the way we phrase questions affect student results, read the question below.
Usually I see questions written like the one below ....

Read the paragraph on the left hand side, then answer the question below.
Place the labels shown in the correct order for brain surgery.

Now what I am wondering is if I was to ask the question like

Study the information displayed on the left of the screen, then answer the question below.
Having thought and decided upon the information given, place the labels shown in the correct order that you would use to carry out brain surgey.

Does more direction for the user acheive better or worse results, or do they get in the way and is less more ? Do we encourage more thought or let the user decide that for themselves.

Just a thought ,

Monday, 28 January 2008

Defining Personal Learning Styles

Recently I read an article called "An interview with John Lombardi". Within this article John stresses the importance of not mass producing graduates but focus singly upon a students individual learning style.

The problem with that is of course University's have financial targets which have to be met and other targets to achieve, which at the moment in time is hard considering the current financial climate. Now I can speak from my own perspective of the University I currently work at and possibly give some ideas upon improvement.

At this moment in time (as far as I know) at enrolment we do not actively survey (yes another survey) the student on their individual learning data. If we were to catch that at the start we would be able to give that information to the lecturer and see for example how many students prefer distance learning to one to one, and informatively develop materials to match.