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November, 2014

  1. Functional requirements of social media

    November 12, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    When I met with Fiona Handley to discuss plans for the “Social Media in Learning” session that ran today, the focus was very much on pedagogy behind using social media in teaching, the strengths and weaknesses of various social media for engaging students in learning.
    Equally as important is some form of sustainable infrastructure to support these uses. With many social media platforms it is not clear where their revenue comes from… and thus their longevity and sustainability are called into question. These issues may not be a concern in personal use, as you can switch from using say Google Buzz to using Google Wave etc..

    XKCD on social media

    XKCD on social media

    I thought it worth looking at the functional requirements for a social learning platform, which aren’t that different from any other learning technology, including those I worked on back in the Becta days: Functional Requirements for ICT Infrastructure.

    From this source, I cobbled together a set of objective considerations for the comparison of social media platforms. It should be noted that non-functional requirements such as platform popularity may ultimately be the key influencer in choice.

    There are two general approaches to the use of social media:
    One is to use existing services which will benefit from large user base, with a dynamic developer ecosystem (eg twitter clients for phones, tablets, desktop web)

    The other is to provide a social media toolset in-house, which may be more secure.

    Using social media services to support learners, educators, managers and administrators requires a level of inbuilt flexibility so that users have a range of ways and locations in which they can interact.

    Social media services need to be efficient resources which take care of managing data on behalf of the user, and which are supportive yet unobtrusive.

    The user needs to have confidence in the social media platform to deliver a fast and reliable service.

    Reliability: the social media platform and services must be reliable. An unreliable infrastructure is likely to detract from the learning experience and obstruct the educator. It will become a frustration to learners, educators, managers and administrators alike if devices, applications and services cannot be relied upon.

    Coherence: With the variety of competing platfoms, it is important that an institution ensures coherence by implementing platforms that work together and fit with the overall ICT strategy. eg Yammer integrates with students O365 offering.

    Accessibility: on-screen text cannot be seen by those with serious visual impairment; it may be hard to interpret for those with dyslexia, learning or language difficulties; and users with physical or neurological problems may be unable to use a keyboard or mouse or touch screen.
    This lack of equality can be mitigated by the use of ‘assistive technology’ eg
    Users who are unable to use a keyboard can be supported by voice-activated software, so they control it by speech,
    and a screen-reader can read text aloud for users who cannot see it IF the social media client provides access to assistive technology.
    The Equality Act outlines duties on educational institutions with respect to the provision they offer to learners with special educational needs and/or disabilities. This requires ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that these learners are not put at a substantial disadvantage in using any facilities or resources.

    Affordability and sustainability: All services need to support energy conservation and wider environmental sustainability. They should be energy efficient in themselves by offering a range of devices, applications and services that incorporate energy-saving technology, management and other measures. Learners, educators and administrators should have a clear understanding of the impact the technology has on the environment, in particular carbon emissions.

    While institutions can often identify the immediate costs of a new ICT resource, the total cost of ownership (TCO) must be considered in order for the institution to be able to sustain a resource. Consideration should therefore be given not just to purchase price and running costs but also decommission and transition costs to future services.
    The cheapest solution may not always be the most cost effective when taking these into consideration.

    Ideally a social media user should be able to communicate with other staff and learners and be confident that they will be protected from access to or distribution of inappropriate content and from unsolicited contacts.
    The platform would allow sharing and exchange information in different formats and with different people – other staff, learners and colleagues.

  2. 65 tweets per hour

    November 12, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    I’ve just been helping out in a session on social media in learning…

    I was tweeting the session, which seemed appropriate, and you can read the story here:


    You can look at the Twitter hashtag archive visualisation here:
    You can view the searchable twitter hashtag archive here:
    and a try out the sentiment analysis using the NCSU tool … just search on the hashtag: #uobbl1

  3. Pragmatic Learning Analytics

    November 11, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    I was due to join a discussion on Learning Analytics with some Jisc folk last week but the internet conspired against us, so I recorded my bit and stuck it on our Relay server.

    I’ve got a lovely chesty cold, so apologise for the sound quality… I think I managed not to sniff in the video.










    The links I mention are here:

    link to Guardian article…
    SOAP dodging
    Actionable Insights

  4. Introduction to Robotics – an exercise in thinking

    November 6, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I used to get paid for designing robots. I had a hand in designing Mr Psyches, Growler and Cassisus Chrome for Robotwars, worked on the look and feel of the Destructoids for the tv series “Mechanoids”, and made a comic to pitch the idea for an ITV series called Rescue Robots.

    Cassius Chrome

    With my then youthful children I was also a competitor in RW S5,6 and 7 with our Robot Killer Carrot.

    Today I got the chance to revisit the area of Robot Design when I taught a class of 17 University of Brighton D&T and Computing teacher trainees about elementary robotics.
    We aimed to cover some of the key areas in the National Curriculum for D&T and computing, and managed to hit most … with more or less success.


    KS3 Technical Knowledge -understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions -understand how more advanced mechanical systems used in their products enable changes in movement and force

    -understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products [for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs] -apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs [for example, sensors], and control outputs [for example, actuators], using programmable components [for example, microcontrollers].


    We started by discussing inputs, logic and outputs – looked at discrete components – reed switches, thermsistors, LDRs, LEDs, Is LEDs, and thought about how various systems might work by creating top trumps cards detailing:
    logic, inputs, outputs, cost, reliability, speed
    for – a garage door opener, a plant waterer,a burglar alarm, a cat feeder, a lunar lander and a mars orbiter… and discovered that whilst there may be differences in costs and reliability, the inputs and outputs and logic are pretty similar for each of these setups.
    As a group we then looked at a simple PICAXE BOT120  running a line follower program, and drew a flowchart for the processes and worked how they mapped to the actual code.

    '## Adapted from the Bot120 manual by: Willem van Heerden ##
    '## bugfixes and alterations by Rob Englebright##
    '## initial sensor calibration setup white = 10 black tape = 67
    Init: 'Initiation Label
     Symbol Left_Bumper = pinC.1 'Left Bumper Input Pin
     Symbol Right_Bumper = pinC.3 'Right Bumper Input Pin
     Symbol Line_Tracker = 8 'Line Tracker Input Pin
     Symbol Mid_Level = 30 'Custom Calibrated
     Symbol Track_Value = b0 'Line Tracker reading
     If Left_Bumper=1 or Right_Bumper=1 then 'If it bumps then...
     halt A 'Stop Motor A
     halt B 'Stop Motor B
     readadc Line_Tracker, Track_Value 'Read Value
     If Track_Value > Mid_Level Then 'Evaluate Reading 
     Forward A 'Run Motor A forward
     Halt B 'Stop Motor B
     Halt A 'Stop Motor A
     Forward B 'Run Motor B forward
     End If
     End If
     Goto Main

    We then tried to run the flowchart application, and the fancy logicator and everything went horribly wrong.

    So we switched to the ever reliable LEGO NXT,  and started looking at how we could decompose a problem – in this case the rules for SUMO ROBOTS – and build functional SUMO bots.

     “Lego Sumo unlimited height, 15.0 cm width, 15.0 cm length,  1,000 g weight.

    Any method of control may be used, as long as it is fully contained within the robot and recieves no external signals or directions (human, machine, or otherwise). Autonomous robot operation must begin automatically no less than five seconds after being started by the user. Robots starting before the five second mark forfeit that Yuhkoh point.

    We had four working NXT units (mine died gracefully after demonstrating the variation on the line follower code) so the students worked in groups of about 4 to analyse the challenge, design a strategy – draw a flowchart and then write the code… or drag and drop the icons in the Mindstorms application.

    I gave the teams a starter code based on the line follower code, but switching the “dark detector” for a “light detector” to match the black Sumo ring arena and it’s white boundary line.


    Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 19.34.55

    ….and the teams went at it, looping through the code, testing and re-testing adding “hair” and labels and extending their weapons with taped on pens.

    The debugging of code was frantic, and the pressure grew as we approached the contest.
    We ran 2 heats, a final and 3 rd place heat which resulted in real excitement and shouting and cheering… a fitting end to the day.


     Learning technology isn’t just VLE’s and commercial software, sometimes it’s a cute little robot.

    If you are interested in using microelectronics in your teaching there are plenty of places that can help… At UoB contact me… elsewhere:

    STEM ambassadors – Based at UoB –
    First Lego League- International –
    (FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).)
    CodeClub (9-11-
    CoderDojo (7-17
    NodeBots- Javascipt for robots

    and don’t forget you local Hackspace… I can of course reccomend BuildBrighton … but there are others all across the UK… and indeed the world:

  5. iOS8 on the move

    November 4, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    What’s new in iOS8?

    There are a few things about new iOS that may be useful for the University employee on the move.

    Widgets are now available in the Notification Centre. Notification centre is the thing that slides down over the screen if you drag your finger from the area off the top of the screen toward the bottom.

    Notifications centre widgetsYou can find out if you have any apps installed that can show useful data by clicking on “Edit”.
    I’ve got the standard “Today Summary” widget (which is very much like the “Google Now” feature on my Nexus phone. It shows what the weather is upto and how long it’d take to get home if I left right now.)
    The Calendar widget shows today’s events, the dropbox widget shows recently amended files…
    As a quick glance overview tool it’s ok, but probably the best feature is that I can delete the useless (for me) Stocks widget.

    So what does adding these little helper services do your battery life? Well you can check to see which apps are draining your precious battery under Settings > General > Usage then Battery Usage.
    Obviously I use the iPlayer waaay too much.

    way too much player

    So your phone may not last the day on one charge, which is a bit of a pickle, but even more so if you lose it, as the “find my phone” feature can’t find a dead phone… Luckily there is now a send last location before your battery dies setting… – This can be set through Settings>iCloud>Find my Phone then Send Last Location.






    All of this is fine and dandy but probably the most useful new feature is the ability to use 3rd party keyboards.
    On my Nexus 4 I use swiftkey, which offers good predictive text, and importantly for someone who uses the bumpy train network, a feature called flow.

    flowFlow lets you draw a line between letters rather than pecking out individual letters in a word. Whe you are stuck on a packed commuter train this is a boon.
    Finally the new keyboards feature also includes a set of Emoji characters – like a grown up version of the old 🙂 smiley face.





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