The Reflective Educator

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Tag: ETEC 565 (page 2 of 2)

Reflection on creating some modules for an LMS

For our ETEC course we are supposed to start working on a course built in our choice of LMS, between Moodle or WebCT. I haven’t discussed the reasons why I chose Moodle, but it was pretty simple: it’s what my school uses and it’s free. I figured I would be able to transfer over some of the work I did in Moodle, and bring it with me to my new school. For this reason I decided to work on a course I might actually use, IB Mathematical Studies, one of the courses I will be teaching next year.

We weren’t supposed to create a complete course as part of this exercise, presumably because of how time-consuming this is. Estimates of time spent per hour of course content ranged up as high as 40 hours of development time. Since the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) requires at least 150 hours of instructional time for a course, this would mean a full course would take me up to 150 x 40 = 6000 hours of development time. I couldn’t really justify putting that much effort in for a single course (nor could I find that many hours in the day!). I chose therefore to do the beginning introductory unit, and a sample unit on trigonometry.

I decided to evaluation my progress using Moodle with the SECTIONS framework.

Students:

As I was the student for this exercise, I found Moodle to be relatively easy to use, and it was an appropriate tool for what I was trying to do. I wouldn’t recommend a high school student (or an unmotived undergrad) try using Moodle, but the students in our class it worked.

Ease of use and reliability:

Moodle was easy to use, and I think that my course will reflect that. It was easy to set up a straight forward plan of action, separating each topic by units. Moodle makes it easy to organize your content. There were a few issues where I felt the interface could be cleaned up a little bit, especially on the JavaScript side of things. Rearranging resources within a unit is less than satisfactory, there are certainly much better widgets for doing this.

Costs:

It cost me nothing but my time, and not too much of that. I spent about 20 to 25 hours or so total working on my course. Part of the advantage I had here was that many of my diagrams and icons I had already created, so I didn’t need to “recreate the wheel” so to speak. I could imagine that this could have been quite a bit different if I was just starting out teaching, or if I wanted to have more interactivity in my course. I had a thought for a Flash widget that allows students to try and determine which method would be most efficient for solving a triangle for example, but decided this would take too much of my time.

Teaching and learning:

I think that having this exercise as a largely self-directed exercise is a really good approach. I find myself learning new technologies best by diving into them, and occasionally searching for help online. There are numerous resources for using Moodle, and with the help of my classmates (I read a lot of discussions about Moodle, and they definitely helped!) I was able to accomplish all of the necessary tasks.

Interactivity:

Moodle is reasonably interactive, in the sense that I take actions and it responds. In terms of providing interactivity for my students, my hope is that my course will allow them to respond to each other (using the forum posts), self-direct themselves through some of my content, and use the interactive applet I included. At some stage I could have a whole collection of applets, and since Moodle does not appear to filter the HTML I enter into its form, I can embed all sorts of fun Flash/Java tools within it’s environment.

Organizational issues:

Well in order to use my course, and therefore Moodle, clearly I will need a server to host it. A relatively basic server would be acceptable, given Moodle’s relatively low memory requirements.

Novelty:

Moodle is not a very new technology. I remember playing around with it in 2005 and enjoying the experience somewhat, but not being hooked. Had I realized the power it had to save my lessons, etc… I might have saved myself a lot of work now. At my new school I happen to know that the students are pretty used to Moodle, since many of the teachers appear to use it extensively. The novelty factor is probably going to be lost on the students, but perhaps I regain some of that with the additional tools I want to use.

Speed:

The UBC Moodle server was extremely fast and responsive, which was excellent. I hope the server I move this course to will be as responsive.

References:

Cavanaugh, J. (2005), Teaching Online – A Time Comparison, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VIII, Number I, retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring2005/cavanaugh81.htm on July 26th

Lazarus, B.D., (2003), Teaching Courses Online: How Much Time Does It Take?, JALN Volume 7, Issue 3, retrieved from http://sloan-c.org/publications/jaln/v7n3/pdf/v7n3_lazarus.pdf on July 26th

Rumble, G., (2001), The Costs and Costing of Networked Learning, JALN Volume 5, Issue 2, retrieved from http://www.auburn.edu/outreach/dl/pdfs/Costs_and_Costing_of_Networked_Learning.pdf on July 26th

Bates, A.W., Poole, G., (2003). Effective teaching with technology in higher education, cited from course-work for ETEC 565

Accessibility

So today I checked my LMS for accessibility and found the following observations.

First, running the mark-up through the W3C web markup filter I found a few errors. It seems Moodle is using an XHTML 1.0 strict doctype (which is an identifier for what type of HTML a browser should expect to be parsing) and a WYSIWYG editor which is not compatible with this doctype. This type of error is common, almost none of the popular web editors are compatible. Fortunately the types of errors which are produced should still be accessible to users, as the basic structure of the web page is solid, it just includes a few elements and attributes which shouldn’t be there with that doctype. Most web browsers can manage with this type of error present.

Unfortunately there appears to be a closing tag error for one of the divs at the end of the document. Moodle uses a theme, and we insert our information into boxes in the theme and one of these boxes is apparently not closed. This poses a much more serious problem for accessibility as almost all browsers struggle to try and decipher what the web designer wants when a tag is not closed. I cannot do anything about this error without a lot more control over my Moodle site, except possibly point it out to the Moodle developers.

All of the images I have uploaded to the site have the alt attributed filled in. For the equations I was careful to use the equation written in simplified TeX format as the alt tag so that a user with a visual impairment could still read the equations. Some of the diagrams alt attributes are less useful, but in general the diagram is explained in text before the image appears.

There are other ways in which my site could use improving in terms of web accessibility. For example, I use a video my students created for a project in class. The video uses captions which are formatted as part of the video itself, rather than as a separate text overlay. This means that people who have both a visual and an audio impairment will not be able to use this video. Wherever possible audio and video files should have captions which are accessible to screen-readers (Paciello, M.G., 2000).

My LMS site also includes an interactive Java applet. While this is not crucial to the understanding of the material, it is helpful. Unfortunately this applet does not use any hot-keys, and so requires a visual only interface. A user with a visual impairment could not use this applet.

Another issue which is becoming more prevalent is the mobile web market. While users who are using a mobile phone may not have a disability, more and more websites today need to be accessible for mobile browsers. Fortunately you can use a separate style-sheet for a mobile phone, but it is unlikely that this has been implemented for my LMS. A mobile browser could be used by a person who is in a remote location, so in some sense providing this separate mobile CSS stylesheet could be justified under making the LMS more accessible to users in remote locations. Similarly for these users it is important to keep file sizes as small as possible, given the costs associated with mobile browsing, as my friends with smart phones can attest.

One advantage that the Moodle LMS offers to users using a screen reader is the lack of a lot of complicated JavaScript. Although many newer screen reader technologies allow for the use of JavaScript, it can still be quite distracting and difficult for a person with a visual impairment to focus on the content. Moodle uses links for every action, which a screen-reader can tab through, the only JavaScript is on the WYSIWYG editor interface which is not necessary. The only action a person using a screen-reader might have difficulty doing would be uploading an image, as this appears to be tied into the WYSIWYG interface.

In general this LMS site is accessible, and I was pleased with the results of the survey of the site for accessibility.

References:

Paciello, M.G., (2000). Web Accessibility for People With Disabilities. Accessed from http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=5_udKik9RPMC&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=web+accessibility&ots=IAPxj4UE49&sig=LPufnlJa4SBEMedh4nbYvUifTWs on July 29t

Resizing and cropping photos using Picasa

One of our activities was to practice resizing and cropping photos using the free and open source photo editor, Picasa. Although I have done many photo edits before, Picasa was by far the easiest to learn how to use, and the fastest to achieve results. Within 5 minutes of having installed Picasa, I had both my crop and my resize done.

Practicing resizing

Practicing cropping

Both of these photos are from the same original, which is too large to show here.

What surprised me about this activity was how easy Picasa was to use. I had downloaded it in the past as a way for my wife to easily share photos with her brother, and I liked how it automatically organized my photos into folders, arranged chronologically by when the photo was created. This was very handy. I expected to have to watch both the training videos, but the cropping was exactly as I expected it to be, and easy to find the function.

The resizing was a bit trickier, Picasa wants you to resize and export an image, not sure why this is. It seems to me that resizing an image permanently is a straight forward function, and should be included as part of their mini-toolkit. Definitely something I think that needs to be reworked.

I’ve used GIMP photo editing in the past, and it seems much more powerful but lacks two important features for the typical user. It does not in any way attempt to organize your photos, which is a powerful feature Windows really does poorly. Picasa is also very easy to use in a way GIMP just isn’t.

Creating audio with Audacity

I’ve used Audacity many times before, so this was a relatively straight forward activity. Actually, I have even given a presentation where I showed a group of teachers how to use Audacity as part of a workshop on "Using Open Source Software in Education". Very nifty program, definitely a prime example of the power of open source.

So I decided I needed to do more than the basic "create a sample" and decided to edit the audio slightly. What prompted me to do this was the fact that after I recorded my voice, although my voice sounded crystal clear, there was a tiny bit of noise in the background. Unfortunately I couldn’t move the microphone I’m using any closer to my mouth (it’s attached a headset) so I was stuck with the noise in the recording.

Here’s what it sounded like before the noise removal.

Here’s what it sounded like after noise removal.

The second recording has no noticeable background noise, but the process has added a bit of a metallic feel to my voice in a couple of places. Either the way I did the noise removal was not correct, or the filter itself needs a bit of work.

In any case, Audacity really makes professional level audio editing and recording available to unprofessional audio editors like myself, and I found this activity to be a refresher in its use.

Video authoring reflection

I just finished our assignment to do some video editing. Results below.

What was difficult about this assignment for me was not the creating of the video, but the choosing of a topic "relevant for my LMS". The particular modules I am doing in my LMS are for a mathematics course, and creating a useful video exercise to do for a mathematics course can be quite difficult. In fact, I think that these videos don’t quite make it, without some explanation, my weaker math students won’t be able to solve the problems.

Creating the video did not take very long (it shows!). It took me about 30 minutes to get the clips (2 minutes taping, 5 minutes walking, 23 minutes helping my parents with a technical problem when I went over to their place) and about an hour or so to edit them and add the audio narration and maybe another 10 minutes to get it uploaded to Youtube and embedded in a page in my LMS. I can imagine doing this once in a while, but not a regular basis.

Instead what I will do is have my students create the videos. I think these work a lot better, and the process is much less time intensive for me! See an example of this below (posted to Youtube with my students permission). |Click here to see the student video

DVD authoring

 

I actually didn’t burn a DVD for this activity, instead I will discuss the process as I have done it before.  This is because my laptop doesn’t do a very good job of burning DVDs (and I’m stuck on it for the summer until our stuff arrives from Bangkok) and I don’t have any DVDs to burn (one of the drawbacks of living on a small island for the summer).

I’ve burned many DVDs in the past, and the process really only has a few drawbacks I can see.

The first hitch that happens is finding software which will reliably and cheaply burn DVDs.  I’ve tried a variety of different software packages and one that I have used quite a bit is called Nero.  Unfortunately Nero costs money, and isn’t open source, so I’d really rather find a replacement, however the feature set of Nero is exceptional, it can handle pretty much any task related to your CD/DVD drive.  I have tried a few open source packages here, and none of them appealed to me terribly.  Maybe someone can give me a suggestion for something I should be using?

The second problem which happens when burning a DVD is ensuring that whatever you are using to burn the DVD with can handle the type of video media you are burning.  There are tonnes of different video formats, including a whole swack of proprietary video formats (like the one my Video camera uses, yay!).  This leads to endless searches for ways of reliably converting the video you have into a format that your DVD burner likes.  Yech.

A third problem is time.  Nero takes longer than the actual play time of the movie itself to burn the movie.  This is because it first converts the video file you have into the proper format, then burns it.  The actual burning itself takes maybe 5 minutes, the rest of the time is spent on the conversion.  I’ve been told that if I have more memory for my computer (I’m at 2GB on my desktop machine and 1Gb for my laptop) that this conversion takes a lot less time, but that will have to wait for a new computer (I’m too cheap to buy more memory for either).

A fourth problem is the fun stuff like title screens, DVD chapters, etc… which Nero does not do a good job with.  The basic template Nero uses for the resulting DVD video is not too hot, it could definitely use a lot of work.

My wife and I have also noticed that we have a problem with the final DVDs we burn.  They work fine for about 5 or 6 showings, and then begin to degrade in quality over time.  We never did manage to determine if this was caused by Nero, the DVD burning hardware in our computer, or by the DVD player itself.  It has been a frustrating thing to our two year old son that “No you can’t watch that movie anymore, because the DVD is broken” or to our relatives abroad who liked seeing our home videos of our son over and over again.

DVD burning is a pretty tried and tested technology, but it is a complicated thing to do for most people, and not for the faint hearted.

 

Web page authoring

I’m working on a website right now for my mother.  I’ve done many professional websites in the past three years, and so I am finding this process pretty easy. For some examples of websites I have created (or co-created), check out:

http://skywyatt.com/testing (website for my cousin, a local country/western singer)

http://pegagogle.com (theme not finished)

http://openplanner.com (co-created)

http://shedio.com (simple theme)

http://www.britbornbajan.com (first professional website)

I don’t use a WYSIWYG editor for creating website, although I tried Dreamweaver in the past.  What I do now is start with a tried and true tested theme, and modify it.  My experiments with creating my own web themes have been somewhat successful, but my wife’s artistic eye has definitely been helpful here.

The process of creating a website for me has moved away from the design and layout of the website, which I keep separate from the functionality of the website (which to be honest I find a lot more interesting).  What has surprised me about building websites is not the difficulty of the process (there are some extremely difficult problems to solve, given the complexity and variety of web browsers on the market) but the length of time it has taken me to start being good at building websites.  I’ve been working at it in my spare time for over 4 years now and I still run into problems I need to do research to solve.