Archive for the ‘eportfolio’ Category

Last week I was fortunate to attend the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP) at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria.  We (Techdis) ran a special thematic session with the focus on putting the disabled student in charge.  After some welcoming speeches to both the conference and the region (Upper Austria) we kicked off with two excellent keynotes from both Gerhard Widmer and Kevin Carey.  The first was on using computers to understand access and interact with music.  He showed the ‘performance worm’ which gave a visual representation of a piece of music and you could compare the same piece played by different performers.  Kevin Carey is the Chair of the RNIB and he gave an impassioned speech on the need for author engineered public domain documents. All the keynote sessions and our track sessions had simultaneous sign and text translations for the audience.

Unfortunately the session overran which had a knock on effect for the rest of the day.  I chaired the next two sessions and we had some brilliant papers from all over the world.  Highlights for me included practical solutions for teaching and research with deaf or hard of hearing students,  a project for teaching blind children music from Brazil and two examples of localised installations of Robobraille, one for Danish schools and one at Stanford University.

There were two papers from Poorna Kushalnagar who discussed community based participatory approach in research with practical examples from within the deaf and hard of hearing community, and on research using eye gaze technology to inform those who are delivering to users who need either signed or text interpretation.  Both papers had concrete and practical solutions to making a difference for users and teaching/lecture staff.

Dolores Tomé  gave a great introduction to the use of braille for teaching blind children music in Brazil.  She spoke in Portuguese while José Borges did a simultaneous translation into English – this was also translated to signs and text – a first for  me at least!   José Borges then explained how they use the musibraille software to teach music to blind children.  They concluded their session with an invitation to the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

Sean Keegan from Stanford University in the USA explained how they had built a Robobraille installation for the staff and students at Stanford.  This freed up the specialist staff so they could concentrate on creating alternative formats for the less straight forward documentation.  The Danish government have also implemented a Robobraille installation for their schools across the country as explained by Lars Christienson which has supported the integration of visually impaired students into mainstream education.

We had two papers to deliver on the first day.  One was from my colleague Alistair McNaught suggesting an alternative approach to alternative formats.  In this he emphasises the myth of responsibility with librarians being ideally placed to offer alternative formats from publishers – with a good plug for our publisher look up site.  The other paper was highlighting the work done at National Star College in the development of InStep a video assessment tool based on InFolio.

On Thursday morning I discussed the work we have done on the TechDis Toolbox and demonstrated both TechDis Jess and TechDis Jack.  I was slightly astonished to discover that despite this being a Universal Learning Design track no delegate there was aware of how to use reflow and autoscroll in Adobe reader.

The conference dinner on Thursday evening was well attended and accompanied by one of the keynotes – Bruno Bechburger who is not only a Professor of Mathematics but also an excellent clarinetist.

As with many conferences the discussion and networking during the coffee breaks was as useful as the more formal proceedings and I made many very useful contacts from both home and abroad.  The next ICCHP will be in Paris in 2014 but I am looking towards the next ULD conference at the University of Masaryk in Brno – in February next year.

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Here at TechDis we commissioned Cereproc in Edinburgh to develop two high quality synthetic voices.  Most free to use synthetic voices are very robotic and sound very unnatural.  Here’s a good explanation of what a synthetic voice is and how you could use it.

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Two posts in one day!  I couldn’t get a YouTube video to upload to our team blog so I’ve moved back over here.  We’ve eventually got a selection of excellent ‘how to’ videos from Matt Harrison at Portland College and some not so good ones from me. The basic introduction is here.

There are 5 in all with more to come in the new term.  However, they are all linked together in a Xerte package so progression is easier to see.   You can access the package here.   For those not familiar with Xerte you navigate using the left and right arrows at the top right hand side of the pages.

In-Folio was developed as a collaboration between JISC Techdis, the Rix Centre and Independent Specialist Colleges.  We are intending to publish the code for this development in the next month so are hopeful that we will then build a community of developers.

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The Open Badges and Assessment forum is looking at “investigating new ways to credentialize learning

With the upcoming release of Mozilla’s Open Badges framework this group is an opportunity for educators and interested parties to discuss the various ways such badges could be used in educational contexts.”  The whole concept of open badges is explained more fully on the Mozzilla wiki page.
There is a short one page document explaining the concept –
We’re just approaching the end of week 2 and I thought I’d add a few of my own thoughts.    You can join or just read and lurk at http://p2pu.org/en/groups/open-badges-and-assessment/ 

“I’ve been following the discussions on here with interest and it’s good to have such committed and knowledgeable contributors.  Doug’s comments that “So some badges will be static, well-known things, whereas others could be much more ad-hoc, fluid, or even humorous badges. :-)”  gives us a pretty broad remit for this project.  I’d like to offer a couple of comments.

I really like the idea of the awarding of badges by peers.  In an FE college in the North west of England they set up a staff development system to encourage their staff to use technology to enhance their teaching.  This was set up as an 8 step process from ‘uploading the course documents’ to ‘ facilitating collaborative and interactive learning’.  The nice thing about this was that once a tutor had gained their 8th level they automatically became an assessor and were able to verify work done by another colleague.  This took away the need for the staff development team to spend a large amount of their time in verification and encouraged peer development and support.  This might be a possible model for the awarding of badges within an organisation for staff or learner development.

My main experience in teaching has been with learners with complex needs (short hand for students with more than one difficulty, learning, sensory, physical or behavioural.)  I note the comments about rewards not being the end in themselves but there are very valid reasons for embracing and using them.  Many more complex learners achieve in very small and sometimes almost imperceptible steps.  Tracking learning and achievement for them is detailed and sometimes overly complex.  Involving the learner in their learning has always been something I tried to do.  I like the concept of learners assessing their own and other’s contributions to a lesson and we encouraged them to also reflect on their PLTS (personal learning and thinking skills).  We used to make the evaluation of the lesson part of the lesson and each learner reflected on their own and their peers achievements.  (we had very very small classes!)  However, this was recorded against pre-set targets etc within the information management system of the college.  How great would it have been for the students to be able to award each other and themselves badges to be added to their achievement records, portfolios or blogs.  The badges could also be used as a reminder of their achievements when the next lesson comes along (for students with short term memory loss getting to the place that you finished the last lesson is a major issue!)

An additional problem I did and still struggle to resolve is the ‘spiky profile’.  I was in a specialist provider a month or so ago as a young man showed me how he edited the college’s podcast for the week.  He was a wheel chair user and had the use of only one arm.  He also had no functional literacy (in the general sense of the word).  However, he knew what he wanted to do, and was able to use audacity well to edit the audio track, add some incidental music and record the introduction.  I could see a badges system working well to recognise and celebrate this sort of achievement.  Many learners have a level of digital literacy which is far higher than their perceived traditional literacy.  They can do what they want/need to do – upload photos to facebook, download music etc.  But couldn’t write a college newsletter. ”


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I’ve spent the last two days up in Glasgow in order to take part in and present at the Scotland’s Colleges conference on ‘Accessible ICT on a budget and e-safety for learners with profound and complex needs’.  Scotland’s Colleges is an agency who exist to ‘support, represent and promote the college sector in Scotland.


  • seek to prepare and assist the sector deliver its vital contribution to the economic and social needs of Scotland
  • serve the ambitions of Scotland’s learners and the demands of Scotland’s employers
  • enhance the sector’s national and international reputation.

The event was organised by, Scotland’s Colleges, BRITE, RSC Scotland N & E and S&W and it was great to see Mags McKay, Joan Walker and Craig Mill from the Scottish RSCs.  I was with Rohan Slaughter from Beaumont College delivering a short workshop on e-safety for complex learners.  Rohan outlined the work on e-safety at Beaumont and I followed up with a short update on the current projects with JISC Techdis .   We had a stand with some of our resources and publications and I did a short demonstration of In-Folio during the lunch break.

The event documentation was available in print as both text and in symbols.  (Not the best image but it was from my phone)

image of a document of e-safety tips in symbol form.

The morning session included a demonstration of some free tools by Fil McIntyre from the Brite Centre in Edinburgh.    He included the use of Prezi as a filtering system for youtube videos and Maavis (nobody could agree on how this should be pronounced) which provides a simple version of a website for ease of navigation.  It did however seem a little complicated to administer which I fear will put many people off.

Craig from RSC NE Scotland did another of his wonderful presentations on the work he’s doing with free software.  I took a usb stick of the latest content but unfortunately something on the stick alerted the anti virus on my laptop so couldn’t access it properly.

In the afternoon, we had a presentation from Marilyn Slavin from Common Knowledge.  Common Knowledge or CKUK is a website and much more which “provides online learning, accessible information and social networking for people with learning difficulties.”  They are a small independent charity which provides  opportunities to make friends, tell their stories, learn about life, their rights and share with others their skills, talents and interests for people with learning difficulties.

Home page for common knowledge website

The site has a number of mini sites within – these cover a range of subjects including – CK respect ( bullying), CK pose (developing positive images of adults with LDD), CK sex talk (clear unambiguous information about relationships, sex and sexual health)  and CK grows (gardening).  CK click is an online user generated news magazine with stories, videos and quizzes.

All content is accessible, appropriate, interactive and engaging.  

The main thrust of the site is as a social networking tool – CK Friends.  CK Friends has been going longer than Facebook and has a very strict vetting procedure.  All prospective members are telephoned by a member of the team.  There is a very clear message also that – “If you send a bad message on CK Friends you will be banned” .    The site is getting up to 20 new members each month and in April 2011 they had over 46,000 hits.  This is a small charity and they are very short of funding.  There is an opportunity to donate to the charity on the site.

A great event and in keeping with my usual comment – the chocolate covered strawberries were truly delicious.

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Since I started here at JISC Techdis I’ve taken over the responsibility for the InFolio project.  Infolio is an accessible eportfolio which was developed for Techdis by the Rix Centre at the University of East London.

It was financed by 4 Independent Specialist Colleges (ISC) pooling some grant funding and was launched in the summer of 2009.

The In-Folio Rollout Tour – Summer 2009 from Rix Centre on Vimeo.

Since then a large number of specialist colleges have received their own server to run Infolio in their own organisation.  We have had a few teething troubles with these servers but these are slowly being ironed out.

In-Folio is a great application which allows learners or users to upload their own content in a simple and effective way.  It allows users to create their own digital identity.  It has automatic text to speech and can host images, audio and videos.

It also has a unique and innovative picture log in with ‘secret clicks’ which can be customised for each individual user.

There will be more – much more about Infolio over on the Infolio page – at the top of the blog.

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I visited the Manchester College yesterday and was very impressed with some of the work being done by the Intro to Work course.  This is one of the MoLeNet supported courses using mobile technology for learners who are achieving at around entry level on the Adult Qualifications Framework.  They are using the social networking tool, Ning to support each other and work together as part of their college course. It was great to see each of the learners using the site independently and showing me how to upload videos from YouTube and create mash ups of photos. The site is effectively being used as an eportfolio for the group.

Each of the group had a work placement on a weekly basis and a couple of them were doing a great piece of work for mobility training.  They had taken a numer of bus rides and photographed landmarks along the way.  They then used a piece of software I hadn’t come across before called ‘Comic Life‘.  This uses uploaded photos with added captions to and create a comis strip type story.

While I was there one of them said to me  “You should use more technology for education – it’s easier for people like me to use”  I did suggest he might like my job!

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This week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Handheld Learning 2009 at the Old Brewery in the Barbican in London.  This was the ‘world’s leading event about learning using mobile and inexpensive access technologies’.  There was an impressive  list of speakers and for most of the conference more than one strand happening at a time.

The first day is known as the Festival and is free.  In the afternoon there were very well attended sessions on ‘Learners Y Factor’ hosted by Jason Bradbury from the Gadget Show.   This involves selected school children showcasing the work they have been doing to a live audience and a panel of judges.  Having learners talk about their work is an excellent idea and probably something we should think about for our annual event.  Alongside this was the ever popular Pecha Kucha, an idea which we did use  this year.  Both these events were very over subscribed and it was difficult to even get into the room never mind find a seat.

Tuesday was the first day of the conference proper and was opened by an interesting speech by Zenna Atkins who is the non-executive chair of ofsted.  She certainly surprised me with her discussion on a possible future vision of education.  She envisaged an education system which allows learners to ‘benchmark’ their abilities against others as and when they felt able.  She repeatedly referred to pupils and their parents as consumers and their role in pushing educational reform.   One memorable comment of hers was that ‘Schools are not about education and learning they are insitutions’.  She did however, frequently state that these were her opinions and not those of ofsted.

Malcolm McLaren followed her with an entertaining wander through his early educational experiences and how he was inspired by early art professors to strive for ‘magnificent failure’.  His tirade against what he termed ‘karaoke culture’ was thought provoking.  Yvonne Roberts managed to alienate me in her first sentence by making a facile remark about dyslexia and then went on to offend the whole room.  I think she probably had something valuable to say but as an example of how to turn an audience off it was priceless.

I’ll just mention a few of the highlights for me.  John Davitt opened the afternoon session on Creativity and Innovation.  He started with a slimmed down ‘Blooms Taxonomy’ – Know – Show – Grow- Flow.  He showcased his random activity generator for the iPhone to – “put lesson planning back where it should be – in the corridor on they way to the classroom”.  The audience produced a new font using fontcapture.com and also a ‘twit-school’ using google apps.

The final morning had the sub-title Inclusion.  This was inclusion in its broadest sense with speakers talking about home access computers, One laptop per child and game based learning.  Professor Elizabeth Hayes is doing some fascinating work on gender and social exclusion using a version of the Sims game.  It is a mod based on the best selling book by Barbara Ehrenreich on (not) getting by in modern America.   Finally Sal Cooke from Techdis highlighted the good work that is already going on in all sectors and thanked the delegates themselves.

As well as the conference there was an exhibition and I was particularly taken with the product from Sanako.  This was developed as a language teaching facility but it is an excellent classroom mangement system which could be used for many subjects.

The conferece had a hash tag – #hhl09 which managed to get into the top 10 globally on the Tuesday morning.  If you search twitter for this be prepared – there are thousands of posts and shows how twitter can be so effective.  A couple of memorable tweets included ‘great – if I miss anything , someone else will tweet it’ and ‘are power sources the new water coolers’ a reference to the sight of lots of people sitting in huddles round the plug sockets!

Finally I’d like to say congratulations to Sandra Taylor from Ashton Sixth Form College who won the secondary teacher award at the award ceremony on Monday night.  It was a great conference, one of the best, well done Graham and the team from Learning without Frontiers.

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I’ve been to a couple of events showcasing the rollout of the new in-folio eportfolio system developed for specialist colleges by JISC TechDis and the Rix centre. The system is simple and can be built up to produce a good body of evidence of achievement and progress. I’ll be building up my own in the next few months with a view to using it for presentations. There are still a few bugs, but they are small and they should be ironed out by September for a full start up with a number of colleges.

As part of the day Nick Weldin from the Rix Centre (named after the actor Brian Rix – head of Mencap) also did some demonstrations of some of the things they are looking at currently. These include the Asus smart log-in (and he is the only person I’ve met who can pronounce it properly! – Asus that is) and the Wii tap.  I’ve just got to get one of these – how cool is this for specialist college learners.

I’ll report back on other stuff when I’ve had a go – if I can make it work then there’s a chance it should be easy.

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