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April, 2011

  1. Today has been brought to you by the letter “J”

    April 14, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    For months I’ve been trying to work out why some people whom I know to be completely sane and rational human beings sign off their emails with a J…

    Just in case it was part of some groovy , “down with the kids” street slang I had a search online, and apparently it’s blimmin’ Microsoft.

    The letter J sometimes appears seemingly out of place in emails sent from Microsoft Outlook. In reality, it’s meant to be a smiley. This happens because Outlook uses the Wingdings font to render a smiley, and the Wingdings character for a smiley stands at the code point that usually represents the letter J. (Note that there is a Unicode character for a smiley: U+263A, which renders as.)”

    I should have known!.

  2. #openhardware ready to run #oerhack

    April 8, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    I am a hacker… 

    I’ve never been clever enough to hack software properly, that involves a level of mental agility that completely eludes me, not to mention a degree of dedication verging on obsessive.
    I proved this to myself conclusively over two days at the DEV CSI and JISC CETIS OER workshop.

    The place was full of very clever people working in near silence as 30 brains melded with their on screen code, and they managed to produce some useful stuff, like which provides a course search facility using Google Custom Search.


    NO I am a hardware hacker.  
    This started in simple ways, like wiring in a video invert switch on my Sinclair ZX80, with enthusiastic rather than competent soldering skills. Eventually it evolved into full scale robot combat.

    Anyway, the point is that making things “Open” is something that should be promoted in the world of hardware, as well as the world of OER’s.
    Which is why I’m delighted to see a winner to the (Open Source Hardware) OSHW Logo vote.  Around 9000 people voted, and picked “Golden Orb” by Macklin Chaffee as the OSHW Logo v1.0 .
    It’s got gears, and looks cool. Licences are on the way.
    Go on, open it up, void that warranty, you know you want to.


    April 7, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    This is the champ-curriculum summary for March 2011.

    Taken from the ILT Champions list ( – est. Oct 2000 AD.)

    The list is a vibrant community of very savvy individuals, and is often the first port of call for advice and guidance on a whole range of technology topics.


    If you support the use of technology in FE in the UK and think you might benefit from joining the list drop me an email.

    There were 226 posts from 81 different posters.


    Atom & RSS Builders

    The list was asked to recommend Atom and RSS feed builders, only one suggestion received: , which is a paid for Mac app.


    Bluetooth proximity marketing 

    The list was asked for information about Bluetooth proximity marketing, and the Text Blue service was highlighted as being of use in communicating to discrete groups of students: Adam highlighted a briefing paper he’s written on this area


    DFES Funding Of Sixth Form JANET/JISC

    The list was pleased to note that DFE had agreed to fund the JANET connectivity and services from JISC Advance (including RSCs) and JISC Collections for sixth form colleges, from the 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012. Though there confusion over the level of connectivity, and whether payment was required to upgrade from 10Mb/s to 100.


    Does anyone use Digital pens?

    The list was asked for recommendations for digital pens: 

    the Z pen can be used without special paper and imports into WORD,

    the Apcom which Roger has blogged about,

    the pulse smart scribe,

    and the ACECad memo which is a tablet that records what is written and can be run through an OCR app. Prices varied, but all under about £100, and can fit into peoples workflow 


    Functional Skills software

    The list was asked for recommendations for functional skills software, and received the following suggestions:

    NW Grid for Learning resources for interactive maths

    It was also highlighted that Techdis have been running regular Xerte online toolkits training sessions to help you adapt existing templates to build your own functional skills resources. A recent session covered basic numeracy and is recorded at…


    JISC11 Videos now available 

    Videos of the JISC11 conference are now available at, including The FE panel session with John McLaughlin from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, Geoff Rebbeck from Thanet College and Ann Thunhurst from RSC SE.  The conference Virtual Goody Bag is at: (


    Enhancing & increasing the useful information to staff & students in Moodle

    Stanmore College shared a link to information about their Moodle ‘PLP’ dashboard


    GLO maker vs Xerte 

    A query about the relative merits of GLO and Xerte remained unanswered, but the was clarification about Xerte scores & moodle grade book. The quiz page type in the main Xerte Online Toolkits template should store scores in the moodle gradebook, but the LO must be exported and imported as SCORM and there are optional properties/settings in the XOT quiz page type which must be set for the tracking to work. There are two xerte + moodle screencasts which cover this.

    Those with actionscript skills could also add further SCORM tracking and extend what both Xerte and XOT tracks but it may be simpler to use XOT to link to a moodle quiz and then back to another Xerte LO from the quiz.


    Gola (City and Guilds) online testing 

    One college checked with the community about issues they were experiencing with test results not being available in the GOLA Outbox.. this was not a common issue, though previous issues had occurred elsewhere.


    Health Apps 

    A request for health apps provided the following recommendations:

    Pocket heart: ,

    IMapmyRide (or walk or run etc) -log your fitness activities and routes. 

    BackCare is a charity app with tips and videos of exercises. 

    FirstAid EH tells you what to do in an emergency


    How do I ‘like’ your course? The value of Facebook recommendation


    ILT Strategy and Heads of School/Faculty 

    Advice was sought on questions to ask, and the value of interviewing Heads of School when drafting an ILT strategy. Responses indicated that ILT Strategy should be a sub section to a Teaching and Learning Strategy from Curriculum Director level or must at least compliment it or there is no relation to Curriculum Development. However it should not be restricted to learning and teaching, and should act as a focus for discussions with IT, MIS.

    James shared a strategy for increasing involvement


    JISC on Air: Meeting student needs to improve retention 

    Latest JISC on Air recording available:


    Land based resources 

    Mobeedo provides good Free GEO Fencing and Points of Interest facilities:


    Moodle questions

    The excellent moodle-uk jiscmail list

     was identified as a place to get advice on configuring and using moodle.

    Discussions over the use of Meta-courses identified a range of practice: A Moodlespace/course per year, or per qualification, colour coding can help. Metacourses can help, especially with multiple instances of a course- <a href="</p>

    Moodle 2 does things differently: ,


    Nice use of Xerte online toolkits

    “Students are creating LO for their peers, presenting and then testing understanding and learning.”

    Also recording of regular XOT training sessions:… 


    Online debating tool 

    Request for a tool with greater admin control than, and No suggestions yet. All suggestions gratefully received.


    Pixelated Pictures was suggested as a free online image editor that has a pixilation tool for blurring. is Free Open Source tool which can blur images.

    The free and online will replace any part of an image with a blur (distortion tool).

    Paint.Net will do the pixellation.


    QTLS to be recognised in schools

    The Wolf report recommends that QTLS is recognised for teaching in schools allowing for employment of FE teachers in both colleges and schools gaining parity with QTS.


    The old age plagiarism tool question 

    Discussions identified that Turn-it-in and other tools don’t replace, but support tutor “instinct”, have a licence cost of around 99p per FTE, and are really useful at getting students to think about citing, and referencing.


    Self assessment of Moodle skills 

    Southampton University Mike Wilson at Southampton City College has developed a Moodle benchmarking scheme. It automatically rates, aggregates, reports and awards medals. You can easily customise the algorithm to meet whatever criteria you want to use:  


    ‘Moodle User Levels’ with key skills in each level:…

    Useful “poster” moodle tool guide:… 

    (updated 16-6-11)


    Smartphone apps for Moodle 

    MPage is available through the itunes store for £1.19

    MTouch – doesn’t work with Shibboleth authentication.

    Moodle have a new project named “Moodle for Mobiles”, which is for development of apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and other platforms.,

    MBot works with Android phones.

    Several suggestions to use QR codes on worksheets, resources, signs etc to link to specific moodle course components. 

    Ron Mitchell shared a link to code that provides a link in the footer to dynamically generate a QR code and short url to that specific resource. To see an example look at the Techdis ITQ moodle scroll to the bottom of the page and click the QR code link.The code is here:


    Solutions for managing video  is a “free” application from Microsoft  though the encoder  is £50. A free version of the encoder will output video suitable for smooth streaming, but not the Live Smooth Streaming.

    IIS Transform Manager is a IIS 7.5 add-on that runs on an encoding box- it ‘watches’ folders and starts an encode job when it finds something. Expression Encoder 4 SP1 just got CUDA support.


    Speech to Text 

    ipadio was discussed as a solution to transcribing solution for recording ESOL students learning journeys. It was noted that ipadio uses the spinvox service which only transcribes the first 60seconds, and is “human” powered, which may present data issues, as well as ethical issues?

    Dragon voice recognition software is another low cost alternative, at around £37, though it requires training for accuracy.


    Streaming Solutions 

    Suggestions for alternatives to MoleTV were discussed, including: Clickview which allows access from home,  and 24/7 recording. give a very impressive demo,  views on the service are polarised with  good feedback from pilot users and Technical support in one institution, whilst another had experienced issues, and raised the lack of facility to actually create categories (only individual play lists) which made it difficult to search for resources. Clarification on this identified presence of catergories but not sub-categories (in development). Content can be searched via metatagging, but the descriptions act as searchable text, too, which Freeview supply.


    Student Perception Survey

    Using the moodle Feedback module for student surveys was discussed, and seemed preferable to a) students selecting their course from a drop-down menu and 

    b) having teachers install a copy of the questionnaire to their own course, via a template, and then exporting results by spreadsheet for manual collation.


    Student portal 

    Examples of good practice in building portals included CONEL who have  integrated E-ilp, BKSB plus a staff and student portal of all services and information systems. City & Islington College, Esher College, Lewisham College and Kingston College all have ‘mature’ portals.They have used a variety of approaches, e.g. in house, working with a company etc. 


    Web Conference Software 

    A useful list of functionality in various video conferencing software was provided as was a post from slideshare:… which may be a useful solution for those situations with  locked down systems which prevent users from accessing services that  require a client file to be run each time, like Elluminate with its  jnlp file, and the citrix offerings with their ica? files.


    What goes Where? 

    A discussion over how to encourage the use of Sharepoint LMS identified a number of solutions including:    Staff and student support (user training, materials development, etc) Time to focus on the pedagogical rather than the ‘features, bells and whistles’ of the software,  it’s quite easy to get caught up in functionality benefits rather than learning benefits.  Flexibility, Sharepoint as a VLE (like any other) should be an organic development. Maximise success stories by marketing them internally. Market courses, services, facilities within colleges, but such targeted,


    Wireless mouse and keyboard 

    A request for advice on the best wireless mouse and keyboard combination identified the Gyration suite as the most popular.


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