Archive for the ‘mLearning’ Category

The TechDis voices are young English voices which are free to use for all post 16 students and staff. You can find more information on how to register here.

Once you have registered there are some things you need to be aware of so you can either install the voices yourself or ask your IT department. All the information is in this short video.

Installing The Voice – What You Need to Know from JISC TechDis on Vimeo.

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We have a full section on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) planned for the toolbox.  Here’s a quick taster with a short video introducing Audacity.

Audacity: Introduction from JISC TechDis on Vimeo.

We have similar videos currenlty waiting to be launched on Balabalka, DSpeech and Xmind.



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The TechDis Toolbox includes resources highlighting things that may make it easier to access information on the internet.  Chrome is a browser which has been developed by Google and it has a number of options or extensions which enables a user to convert the information on a web page into a different format.

These include –

  • ChromeVox is a screen reader which can use any installed voices – such as TechDis Jess or Jack
  • Chrome Speak which reads out loud any selected text – text to speech
  • Readability – reduces the clutter on a web page and enables the user to change the font size etc
  • Flash Video Downloader – enables you to download video so that you can view it later on a PC or hand held device such as a phone or tablet.


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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 was at the iPod 2010 conference at Oldham City Learning Centre yesterday.  This was a celebratory and collaborative event looking at the use of ipod touches in education.  The event started with a look at the educational context to using mobile technologies for teaching and learning, by Richard Millwood, Reader in distributed learning at the University of Bolton.   I would like to say more but the content of the presentation doesn’t seem to be available yet.  There were then a few short presentations on the use of ipods in schools.  I was particularly impressed with the presentation from the ESSA Academy in Bolton.  They had introduced iPod Touches for all pupils as part of a home/school contract.

The day was punctuated with workshops for discussion.  Unfortunately these were dominated with technical questions and while technical matters are vital to successful implementation of mobile technolgy for learning, they were not of particular interest to a non techie like me.  Perhaps future events could split the delegates according to their interest.   I was also disappointed that all the good work that has been done by the MoLeNet projects over the last 3 years was neither acknowledged nor even referred to.  It did seem to me that the delegates (and possibly the organisers) were unaware of their existence – a sad state of affairs considering the amount of work done on learning using handheld devices (not necessarily iPod touches).  As usual with these events the networking opportunties were excellent and they have set up a Ning to enable ongoing discussion and collaboration.

The afternoon session saw three year 3 and 4 pupils talking about how they used their iPods.  They were obviously keen and it was impressive to see them talk to a room of nearly 100 adults.  Finally there was a presentation from Sharon Tonner from the University of Dundee on how to enable teachers to take ownership of the tecnhologies and embed their use in their own practice.

A good event and it was useful for me to see what the school sector are doing  to embrace handheld devices.

You can catch up on tweets from the day with the hashtag #ipod2010 (I didn’t read the wifi instruction to the end so omited the proxy settings – situation normal – RTM!)  This will hopefully be the first of a number of events organised by the City Learning Centres network – I hope I’m invited to the next one.

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Rewiring Inclusion: Strategies, tools and techniques to promote barrier-free learning

A national one day conference in Nottingham at the National College on Tuesday 9 February 2010, with an optional evening session on 8 February. Organised jointly by the Association for Learning Technology and JISC TechDis.

This is the official blurb but Kevin Hickey and I will be doing a workshop on the effect that small amounts of funding for Learning Support Departments have had on the college wide ethos of technology and inclusion.

Othe workshop sessions, and plenary contributions from:

· Google’s Julian Harty – “Wave, Chrome OS, Online Docs, and Android.
What impact will they have on the environment for learning?”;

· Jane Seale from the University of Southampton;

· Yahoo! Europe’s Artur Ortega – “The Yahoo! approach to accessibility”;

· Dónal Fitzpatrick from the School of Computing at Dublin City University – “The contribution that computer science is making on inclusion”;
· Peter Hartley from Bradford University;

· Alison Mills from The Manchester College – “How a large urban college has taken inclusion to the heart of its operations”;

· James Clay from Gloucestershire College.

Full programme for the event [1 MB PDF]

A large print version is available.

The conference will focus in particular on browser technologies, Web2.0, e-learning, and mobile learning, and on the benefits these can offer to
all users, including those with disabilities or learning difficulties.

All sectors were represented in the workshop proposals and we are delighted that Independent Specialist Colleges were successful in being
selected to present alongside Universities, FE colleges, Project Consultants, and JISC Regional Support Centres.

Costs to attend:
£120 members of ALT
£160 non members of ALT
£100 dinner, bed and breakfast at the National College

Booking deadline:
Tuesday, 2 February 2010 – http://www.alt.ac.uk/conferences.php

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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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There is an interesting paper in the recently published International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET) on the use of mobile devices for learning for the Elderly.  Unlike most existing research it seeks to throw light on the use of mobile technologies for elderly learners rather than school or college students.  The study indicates that elderly people are interested in using mobile devices and services, but these services need to deliver real value for them.

They look at the barriers to older people using mobile technology such as lack of confidence, age related impairments like limited vision, motor skills or cognition.  They comment that ” Although there have been numerous efforts at making desktop computers accessible, there have been almost no efforts to improve mobile  device accessibility.”  A literature review was the first part of the research and they use some interesting quotations taken from various previous published papers.

The second stage was original empirical  research using qualitative expert interviews with older people on their experiences and expectations of using handheld devices.   The interviews were semi structured, face to face and greatly facilitated by the interviewer’s knowledge and extensive experience.   During the interview, the researcher was able to comprehend suggestions and concerns by participants, and to immediately speculate and table possible design solutions for discussion.

The results showed that nearly 100% of the resondents found the size of the small buttons on the devices hard to use and the text on the screens and interfaces difficult to read.  Key combinations need to be simple and to give immediate feedback to the user. Interfaces need to be simple, with a consistent appearence.  Generally, an overriding multi-functional interface is needed for all possible combinations of tasks and user populations.

they suggest the following point for addressing impairments in vision, speech and hearing, psychomotor skills, attention span, and memory:

  • Use layout simplicity, clarity, and consistency
  • Use lower frequency tones for sounds
  • Design speech recognition software to cope with slower speech
  • Allow double-click speeds to be slower
  • Avoid delays and distractions to minimize short term memory loss
  • Use only simple, relevant graphics
  • Prefer short text or lists to paragraphs of text
  • Don’t rely on colour alone
  • Provide larger graphics and click targets

“One of the main objectives  is social inclusion: especially the integration of older people and people with disabilities into the information society.  The means to achieve this is to design mainstream products and services to be accessible by as broad a range of users as possible operating within the widest possible range of situations. ”  Well I can’t argue with that.

I’ve highlighted only a few of the results of the research and would recommend anyone interested in either accessibility or mobile learning to read the full paper which is available here. Please note you will have to register with the iJET but it is a free to access journal.

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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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Nokia Labs have produced a application that reads sms messages in braille.  No it doesn’t produce raised bumps on the screen but vibrates for each letter according to which of the 6 dots in the braille cell are raised.  The buzz will be loud or soft according to the status of the dot. This in effect means that there are 6 different ‘buzzes’ for each letter.

Braille users are very enthusiastic about using braille but I wonder how difficult it will be to wait for 840 buzzes for a full 140 character text message.  the application is free to download here. As I’m not a brailler, I’ll wait for feedback from those who are.

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