IWMW reflections/ Hug a Developer

This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop 2009 was, as last year, a very friendly, useful, forward-looking conference. I suspect that some organisations didn’t send people this year because of the economic climate, which is a pity because the mindset of the conference was very focused on coping with future changes. There was, as last year, a lot of discussion of what the commercial sector can provide, and whether Google will conquer all. A phrase that got some use was “80/20 solutions”, i.e. 80% of the functionality at 20% of the effort.

For me the most interesting contribution was Prof. Derek Law’s opening keynote. He warned that the HE library sector may be too focused on responding to changing economic conditions, when the cultural changes happening now are arguably more significant. Read the rest of this entry »



One of my favourite jobs each year is evaluating innovative practice in engineering education for the Engineering Subject Centre’s Teaching Award. This year one of the innovations I am evaluating is “Examopedia” where students can work collaboratively on a wiki to solve past exam questions. Examopedia is the work of Manish Malik and his students at the University of Portsmouth. It uses a University of Portsmouth installation of twiki as a platform, where Manish puts the questions from a past exam; students then put their answers to these questions onto the wiki, suggesting alternatives or amendments if an answer has already been posted. Manish can intervene to point out if the answer is being developed has any problems, or to confirm that it is OK.
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YouTube for fun and education

I just wanted to flag up an interesting talk I went to recently. My friend and colleague Paul Ayres (a digital librarian at Intute Social Sciences) gave a talk about engaging with YouTube here at the ILRT. His presentation is now up on SlideShare (below).

While I’ve previously looked at the basic technical implications, Paul looked at how community and debate are essential to what YouTube is about, with the consequence that it cannot be “managed” in the way that organisations try to manage other media. Organisations (Ten Downing Street, for example) have very much less success than charismatic individuals with something to say. Engaging openly, even with deeply critical responses, seems to be the key to being taken seriously by the YouTube community, as Queen Rania’s experience shows. Although I’m a heavy user of YT, I learnt a lot from the talk.

Slides are up on SlideShare, though if you have time click through and watch the example videos on YouTube, which are also stored as a YouTube playlist.

Eduserv Symposium 2008

This event took place in London on 8th May and its theme was “What do current Web trends tell us about the future of ICT provision for learners and researchers?”

My colleague Ale Fernandez has already blogged at length about the symposium. I disagree with his downbeat assessment of the Guardian and BBC speakers, and also with his (poetically expressed) negative assessment of the live use of electronic discussion. I was also interested to read some reflections by Mary Burslem at Intute. Here are the points that stuck out in my mind from the event.
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Using embeddable video services

Notes for a presentation at Nottingham, 11 April 2008.

Following up on previous presentations about using commercial embeddable services, this focuses on the Economics Network‘s use of embeddable video.

A video is worth more than one thousand words: Folding a Collapsible Reflector (We wasted an embarrassing amount of time in the office before looking it up on YouTube). A more relevant example: Wikis explained in Plain English (embedded on EconomicsNetwork site).

All the more important for getting a message to digital natives where you have to beware the TL;DR issue.

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Where are all the YouTube educators?

In my experience, what’s cool is one step ahead of what’s useful, and since learning technologists like to inhabit the “what’s cool” field, they are two steps ahead of the academics they support, rather than one step ahead. Naturally that’s a coarse generalisation. There has to be a little “leading edge” research, but it seems to attract more funding and effort than is useful for front-line academics, hence this deliberately provocative post. Read the rest of this entry »

Web 2.0 in student activism

Those of us who work as educational technologists dream of combining online services and participatory sites in order to enthuse students to research a topic, work together and present results to each other. To my amazement, I’m seeing this happen right now and it’s nothing to do with the curriculum.

In response to Scientology’s attacks on the Internet, especially the recent deletion of YouTube clips of an internal video, thousands of people are gathering under the name “Anonymous” to attack the organisation in a variety of ways.

They are using a full range of online tools. Here for example is a mashup using Google Maps to show the location of Scientology properties and protest events. Wikis and Facebook groups are being used to organise a forthcoming London street protest (and similar protests around the world). Bittorrent and file-sharing services are being used to distribute leaked Scientology documents (the “secretdox”). YouTube is being used for sharing opinions, parodies and spreading film of real-life activism. Digg is being used to promote anti-Scientology links (at one point 9 of the top 10 Digg links were Scientology-related). Some of these activists are students (see the article in the Imperial College newspaper). The planning is very decentralised, but there are clearly people involved who are technically savvy and informed about the issues.

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Students’ expectations about technology

Following on from the earlier post about what students use the internet for, I’m grateful to Lisa Whistlecroft for drawing my attention to a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI for the JISC on school-leavers’ expectations of ICT at university. The report confirms the ubiquity of social networking:

Only 5% of the online sample claimed never to use this and 65% said that they used it regularly – with females more likely to use it regularly than males (71% against 59% respectively). Three-fifths (62%) use wikis, blogs or online networks, which can also be used as a tool of social networking.

Many of the sample saw themselves as having “graduated” from MySpace to Facebook:

“Facebook is more about identity, and communication, whereas MySpace is where you get stuff… about poems and crying” Read the rest of this entry »

Animation effects with Canvas and the YUI

Take a look at this demo I’ve knocked up.

Wiggle the slider and see what happens. It’s a terrible learning object, but it’s just an exploration of how easy it is to set up using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. No, really! Look at the source code and there’s no flash or other plugins involved. It’ll work more slowly in IE than Firefox, but works in both, at least on Windows.

I’m using the Canvas tag, which is natively supported by Firefox and Safari. Thanks to the excanvas library provided by Google, adding canvas functionality to IE is really easy.

I know that SVG (scalable vector graphics) has many advantages over canvas, and may be the way things go in the future but canvas has the key advantage that you can use it right now in modern browsers without needing plugins.
Also, the way of working with canvas is reminiscent of the graphics commands of computers back in the early 1980s, which is a good thing to anyone who grew up with those computers.

The slider is part of the Yahoo User Interface (YUI) library and the animated text is a YUI animation motion.

Plugging the things together, and to other things on the page (e.g. the web form) just requires a bit of JavaScript. I’ve long wanted to be able to make interactive web pages this easily.