Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Moodle-on-Sea Part 1

Am in Torquay for the NAACE annual conference... there's no delegate list in the pack so I've no idea how many people are here. It's four seasons in one day sort of weather - snow, hail, rain, bright sunshine... sometimes all at once.

Anyway, today's opening presentations were:

  • a video presentation from Lord (Andrew) Adonis - apparently there's some piece of education legislation that he has to attend to, so it wasn't live.
  • the 'usual' update from Doug Brown (DfES), John Anderson (NI) and Laurie O'Donnell (LTS Scotland, via videoconference). We were told that aggregation is A Good Thing, that CPD is important... so I thought I'd ask their advice about what a fictional L(E)A (like Buckinghamshire, for example) should do given the choice between spending money on software licenses or, using the same funding to train and support teachers to use new technology to teach. Unfortunately it was the last question of the session... so I didn't get an answer.
  • I did manage to collar Niel McLean and ask whether the newly announced Learning Platforms framework would specifically exclude something like Moodle (though I just said "open source") from being used by schools. "Hang on" he said, and dashed off to see someone else from Becta who deals with frameworks. "That shouldn't be the case" was his answer, but I have to email him about it (Note To Self: email Niel McLean) and apparently Becta are doing a seminar on Open Source in late April / early May...
  • The keynote in the evening was John Clare - education correspondent from The Daily Telegraph. His aim was (depending on your point of view) either to goad a sleepy Naace membership or tell the truth about the waste of mone yon ICT in schools. He was right about some things - the lack of training to use the software that's flooded schools, the fact that the market is driven by the software vendors, some aspects of the mis-use of IWBs and the dangers of a prepared digital curriculum. He was wrong on the malevolent impact of ICT on kids and seemed to concentrate on examples of poor implementation of ICT rather than real-world examples, and was irrelevant and reactionary on the use of games in education, Stephen Heppel and seemed to assume that teachers would never more than 'scratch the surface' of the appropriate use technology in education.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Game in Hounslow...

...is to work out how to work within the LGfL framework and deliver Moodle to those who'd love to use it. In LGfL everyone gets DigitalBrain if they want it - and that (from personal comments from a lot of people I've met) seems to be a big 'if'.
Today I was visited by Renaldo Lawrence (teacher, ICT consultant and fellow Macromedia Adobe Education Leader) and Jo Artmitage (the only other E-Learning Co-ordinator I've met so far...) from Hounslow. Renaldo's doing some consultancy for Hounslow and Jo is going to be offering Moodle through a local CLC in Feltham as an asynchrounous platform connecting groups of pupils out of school for joint projects, in conjunction with Click2Meet (videoconferencing and collaboration) as the synchronised part of that equation. Hence it was time for a whistle-stop tour of Moodle, how it's hosted through Atomwide and what some of our schools are doing with it. Before they left we put EasyPHP and Moodle on Renaldo's laptop, so he has his own playground now. Renaldo's a big user of Breeze (in every way) so it'll be really interesting to see if and how he combines the two.
The advantage of running Moodle locally using something like EasyPHP is it means that:

  1. you don't need to buy server space to practice with Moodle
  2. anything you create on your own machine can easily be transferred to a live Moodle instance using the Backup/Restore function
  3. most importantly, you can make mistakes and no-one notices...

Again, things seem to pass me by... on the Moodle downloads page there's now a series of complete install packages. I've not tried them, and Jo reports that she is having trouble with them, but they are definitely the way forward.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What does Dennis Daniels do all day?

...he makes a lot of Moodle users' lives easier for a start. While stumbling through the Moodle forums (fora?) I came across some posts Dennis had made and a link to a video "howto" on Google Videos... turns out if you search using


the vast majority of your results are from Dennis. If you want to do any of the following:

then his videos are good places to start. Here in Buckinghamshire we're planning on creating some similar ones using Captivate (by Macromedia) in conjunction with West Sussex, who are starting to do something similar. It certainly beats listening to me explain it over and over again - and also, with the share-and-share alike nature of resources in the Moodle world, shouldn't everyone be doing this, possibly as an integrated part of the MoodleDocs wiki?

If you'd like to start recording your own demonstrations (annotated, with commentary and even a talking head from your webcam...) for Moodle then why not try CamStudio version 2.0 (not 2.1) - v2.0 is Open Source, creates AVI files and has an AVI to Flash SWF converter so you can include the output on your own web pages, or even your own Moodle. Ker-ching!

UPDATE: 25th Feb 2006:
Oh, and here's an addition. Since these are on Google Videos, you can use the code on the video's page to add it to a web page embedded in a mini version of Google's Video player... so here's a ten minute video on Creating a Workshop in Moodle:

So, any guesses how long it is before most LEAs and RBCs block access to Google videos?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Zen, the Art of Good Practice and an Afronaut

Came across some nice replacement icons for the default Moodle set today from the MoodleZenGarden. It might be a bit confusing to try and foist them on schools already using Moodle, but ones just starting out might appreciate it, although once you've been working with a set of icons, however clunky, they start to resonate with what they lead to... so I guess our mileage may vary. I've tried rolling my own for the main BucksGfL site, but it's always a pain to have cobble them together by hand.
Elsewhere, as picked up by Josie Fraser, the Good Practice Case Studies section of the DfES's 14-19 Gateway has a report entitled Helping Young People to Learn at Their Own Pace in a Rural Area with Moodle - which does (or describes) exactly what it says on the tin©.
It involved collaboration with a Work-Based Learning provider to provide the training materials for a group of students - with the main aim to support independent learners. Adrienne Carmichael is the person to follow this up with.
Finally, Mark Shuttleworth (aka the first African in space) talks about Free Software Out Of Africa in an interview - I've looked at the Shuttleworth Foundation in the past, after their involvement in SchoolTool, an open source school administration system and there have been a few references to SchoolTool among the SIF discussions at Moodle.org.

skype me!

Until something better or easier to use comes along, it looks like eBay Skype has most of the market in the accessible VoIP-from-your-computer. It's always been easy to see if someone else is online from your copy of Skype, but advertising that to another place (like somewhere on the web) has been difficult. There have been various plugins or helper applications which need to be downloaded, but finally Skype released their Web Presence API... this means that with a single line:

img src="http://mystatus.skype.com/iusher"
it's possible to see if I (or anyone else) is online... so am I?
there are different styles available, so it was a fairly simple thing to add to Moodle - if you have a Moodle.org account (if not, then why not sign up?) then you can have a look at whether Martin Dougiamas , Josie Fraser or I am online on Skype from our profiles... if we're running Skype (Windows only at time of posting) or newer. If we're running an version of Skype which doesn't broadcast our status to t'internet, or are choosing not to show our online status to people not on our contact list, then you'll get a grey Skype question mark icon.
This could be really useful for us, since a number of our headteachers and networked learning communities use Skype as a really useful way - it would be a very easy thing to create a Moodle HTML block which showed which of the groups were on - so this could be visible to anyone from anywhere, without needing Skype.
If none of this makes sense then there's a Flash video (with audio) available from Skype which explains it...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Under the radar

...and on a day when I realise that I've clearly been asleep for years, here's another thing I've missed...

The Open Source Academy aims to encourage the use of Open Source software by local authorities throughout the UK, by demonstrating its benefits and by creating an environment where Open Source software is not only inviting, but also safe to use and adopt by all local authorities. It is also looking at best practice advice and guidance from those local authorities who are now experiencing the benefits of using Open Source in the development of their IT systems.
The Open Source Academy is a partnership of local authorities and organisations with experience in the Open Source world, backed by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister through the e-Innovations programme. This site sets out the projects being undertaken by the Open Source Academy and aims to encourage all local authorities to consider this ground breaking IT solution.
Quick! Someone tell Becta - though surely they know? Or you could just sign up...

Karma Chameleon

Sometimes I just miss the really obvious, the really nice, the really useful things... and then I browse around the new Moodle documentation wiki and get back to something approaching everyone else's speed.
From a LEA point of view, the new Chameleon Theme looks to be, as my grandparents used to say, the mutt's nuts...
CulturedPre- Moodle 1.5.n, editing themes was a bit of a mish-mash - there was so much non-CSS formatting strewn about the place that you had no real idea if any changes you made to CSS would stick or be swept away by a rogue <font>tag. Then came 1.5, with it's simpler-yet-somehow-more-complex four css files and some other stuff that most people didn't quite get. A vast improvement, but from where I sit it's going to be difficult to allow each school to edit things how they want, unless

  1. they are comfortable with CSS and have the time to edit it or
  2. they fancy a correspondence course in formatting a web site - with me making some changes and them nodding or shaking their head to each one.
Also, we don't really want to allow schools FTP access to their Moodle folders - so much potential for disaster there (it's bad enough when I have that sort of access) - so short of some fancy server configuration we need something better.
The Chameleon theme uses Ajax - the magic dust that powers, among others, Google Maps and Google Mail - to take anyone wanting to customise their Moodle theme to something approaching...
Ker-ching!...essentially, once logged in to the Chameleon test web site (username and password are both chameleon), shift-click on the page and you can interactively edit the theme, change it, rip it down, redo it, whatever... It does currently require a brief understanding of CSS selectors, but the front page of the Chameleon site indicates that it will be simplified a lot.
So why is this good news? Well, with potentially dozens (if not hundreds) of individual Moodles in any moderately-sized LEA or RBC, the overhead for customising them or making them individual to each school or institution could be huge. Up until now our preferred options would have been
  1. use the dozen default themes Moodle offers you or
  2. create a portfolio of basic ones suitable for primary and / or secondary schools and allow schools to pick from any of those.

Chameleon (which is "just another" Moodle theme and will appear in the roster of available themes under a standard Moodle install) would appear to allow us to delegate any theme-tweaking to schools that want it themselves - and hopefully, if the system is made even smoother and easy to use, they wouldn't need to know much depth of HTML / CSS / etc. in order to make it work. 1.6 is due out in beta at the end of the month...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Tooled Up

Today I've been visited by John Davitt - who is either:

  1. a guide to the blindingly obvious
  2. a practical visionary or
  3. the bloke married to someone who I did a BSc in Environmental Studies with

Your choice...
Anyway, John now writes all sorts of articles for theGuardian including a regular column in the Educ@guardian section. I met him at BETT after being-late-for-and-catching-the-end-of his and Tim Brighouse's presentation on Teachers Changing Their World - he had an interesting angle on the whole Learning Platforms thing, Moodle was mentioned, as was the fact that people came from Germany at their own expense to staff the Help Us Get To BETT stand. For a long while now I've wanted him to come and see what we're attempting to do in Buckinghamshire with Moodle & Breeze - and with his seminar referring to Moodle, now seemed as good a time as any.
I spent a while showing him the main BucksGfL Moodle and those of Winslow and Chalfonts Community College, then in the afternoon we went to see Greg H at Chalfonts. Some of Greg's work with the Digital Art students is getting very interesting, I think he should talk at the MoodleMoot this year...