Forcing windows open

October 28, 2008

Here’s a question?

When you design a website with external links, add links to your VLE, do you force the link to open in a new window or in the same browser window?

For me forcing new browser windows open on the user is both poor practice and annoying for the end user.

Rather than do that use the following text next to any link.

To open link in a new window right or ctrl click and click Open in a New Window

Forcing new windows breaks all web usability guidelines and creates problems for users and importantly affects accessibility issues. International user accessibility guidelines recommend against the “new
window” approach.

When a new window opens in front of the old one a novice user is likely to think that the “back” button associated with the new window will take them back where they were before, and doesn’t know what to do when it won’t, this can be just as annoying as closing the whole window.

Confident users can cope with the forced new window, new users can not.

Similarly a disabled learner, using a head pointer or other assistance device, won’t be able to simply click on the back button to return if the code has forced a new window to open.

This could be a significant problem for many learners suffering from quadraplegia, other disabilities or visually impaired learners.

Also Firefox has an option which actually stops new windows from happening.

Forcing windows open

Other sources on why you should never force new windows on users.

Check point #2 on Jakob Nielsen’s usability website.

Opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray on the customer’s carpet. Don’t pollute my screen with any more windows, thanks  particularly since current operating systems have miserable window management). If I want a new window, I will open it myself!

Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the user’s machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the Back button which is the normal way users return to previous sites. Users often don’t notice that a new window has opened, especially if they are using a small monitor where the windows are maximized to fill up the screen. So a user who tries to return to the
origin will be confused by a grayed out Back button.

Another view from Sitepoint.

Here are the top 5 reasons why you should beware of opening links in a new window:

Unless you warn them, Web users are likely to expect the new page to load in the current window. Unexpected surprises can be fun, but not when you’re browsing the Web.

The act of opening a new browser window resets the back button in that window. The back button is the second most used navigation function (after hyperlinks, source:, so resetting it is a big no-no.

To open a new browser window can disorient very novice Web users and the visually impaired. They might not realise that a new window has opened and might struggle to switch between windows.

Opening a new browser window disrespects the desires of your users. If they want a new window, they’ll ask for one. Don’t force a new window upon users unless there’s a very good reason to do so.

New browser windows can make an already cluttered taskbar even more difficult to use. We’ve all spent ages hunting through the taskbar in search of the window we want. Don’t make this process even harder by increasing the number of windows the user has open.

Do you have a view?

Windows in the clouds

October 27, 2008

Windows in the clouds

Microsoft have launched a preview of their new cloud computing service, Azure.

Windows® Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft® data centers.

On demand computing means that you don’t need to download applications to your computer, you can just use them from any computer.

Some of the key features of Azure include:

  • Build, modify, and distribute applications to the Web with minimal on-premises resources.
  • Perform services (large-volume storage, batch processing, intense or large-volume computations, etc.) off premises.
  • Create, test, debug, and distribute Web services quickly and inexpensively.
  • Reduce costs of building and extending on-premises resources.

Well does this mean that now Microsoft has gone into the clouds, that cloud computing is mainstream?

Levelling with Levelator

October 27, 2008

If you are combining recordings or have multiple inputs into a recording it can be a real nightmare to get the levels right. Now you could spend a lot of time and money mixing in the different recordings, however a quick and easy method is to use Levelator.

Levelling with Levelator

It’s software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It’s not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.

Find out more.

I used Levelator with my recent podcasts as it was proving difficult to adjust the levels within Skype for each participant. As a result some were very loud, others quieter.

What Levelator was able to do was adjust for those differing audio levels and bring the loud ones down and boost the quiet ones up.

Quite clever really.

As well as for podcasting, it could be useful after recording a classroom discussion for example that you want to podcast or distribute later.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #005 – it’s because he’s from Sheffield…

October 26, 2008

This is the fifth e-Learning Stuff Podcast, it’s because he’s from Sheffield…

Download the podcast in mp3 format: it’s because he’s from Sheffield…

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

In this show, James is joined by Nick Jeans, Dave Foord, David Sugden and Lisa Valentine and they start to discuss podcasting, Skype, quality of Skype before moving onto LLW. Apologies for the poor audio quality of Nick which is because he’s from Sheffield (or so Dave says).


e-Learning Stuff Podcast #005 - it's because he's from Sheffield...

Photo source, thanks Lilian.

So are we seeing the death throes of blogging?

October 24, 2008

So is blogging dead, is it no more?

Will Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku mean that people will no longer blog.

A Wired article says

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.

Following on from the article in Wired on the death of blogging, there has been much discussion on Twitter about the article and the subsequent piece on the Today programme on Radio 4 and Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog entry.

So here I am blogging about the death of blogging?

What do you think?

Personally I think that Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku and other services have in many ways supplanted and replaced the personal blog, you know the kind that talk about family gatherings, taking the dog for a walk, going to the pub, what I did on my holiday kind of thing.

Where I think there is still room for blogging is the more in-depth articles, technical, reflective, opinion pieces.

In the same way that radio did not kill newspapers, and television did not kill radio, and the internet did not kill television. Blogging will not be killed by Twitter, Twitter won’t kill blogging in the same way it won’t kill e-mail or instant messaging.

It’s just another tool that allows you to communicate and learn in ways in which it isn’t possible via blogging and e-mail.

I see e-mail as one to one communication, blogging as one to many, whilst Twitter and Jaiku is much more a many to many form of communication.

I still read newspapers, I still listen to the Today programme on Radio 4, I watch BBC News on the TV, I look at the websites of traditional broadcast media for news, I read and subscribe to blogs, and I also find out about news via Twitter.

Twitter is just an additional tool or medium in which to communicate, share, collaborate and learn. Twitter hasn’t killed blogging it’s just another way of doing things.

What do you think?

Geocaching with the iPhone

October 23, 2008

This is the first guest post I have had on this blog. Mick Mullane from Yorkshire Coast College is a mobile learning innovator whom I only actually met for the first time at the original MoLeNET Launch Conference at the Oval back in September 2007. Since then in our roles as MoLeNET Mentors we have worked together on supporting MoLeNET projects and have delivered a fair few workshops for MoLeNET as well. At the mLearn 2008 conference I found out that Mick does Geocaching, here is his post.

Geocaching is a worldwide fun activity that combines navigation with clue solving and treasrue hunting skills (google it!)

Since the introduction of the iPhone 3g and it’s GPS capabilities geocachers have been crying out for some practical applications on the iPhone, rather than just being able to find a skinny latte around canary wharf…

Given that the web browser is so good it makes it a breeze to log on to a geocaching website like and find some caches.  Ok the website doesn’t know where you are so you have to enter your postcode, or if you are a full time geocacher, your coordinates.  Once you have done that you can search for caches nearby, or ones that take your fancy.

That’s one of the joys of geocaching – takes you to places you would never think of going and gives you lots of local knowledge and history – it’s like a real world wikipedia…

Anyhow once you have selcted the cache you want to hunt then click on the google maps link at the bottom of the page.  The integration on the iPhone is such that it will drop a pin at the location of the cache on google maps, you then either work out your own way to the cache or ask google maps for directions – which could be interesting in the middle of a field somewhere…

It works very well…

Download the movie from here.

Drawbacks are that you need a signal – there’s no permanent maps stored on the phone, they have to be downloaded.  Indeed it’s a shame that we can’t get OS maps on the device yet like you can on a windows mobile device…  but hey it’s an iPhone, apprantly they can do other fun things too like games and music…

Mick Mullane


October 22, 2008

Today I was in Taunton for the RSC VLE Forum. This forum has been running for five years now and is an opportunity for VLE managers, VLE administrators, practitioners and other interested parties to get together to talk, discuss and watch a few presentations.

Over the years the forum has seen presentations from many people including myself. The VLE Forum was the first place I ran my copyright workshop and more recently I ran a workshop on Web 2.0 which people seemed to enjoy.

One feature which has been common across the forums over the years has been a set agenda with either presentations or occasionally workshops. Though delegates can provide feedback which may be used in future forums if there was something you found out which you wanted to find more about or discuss in greater detail you either had to wait a few months for the next forum or try and discuss it over lunch or tea.

Today saw a new idea. Based on feedback from previous forums the majority of the afternoon was spent with the group broken into smaller groups. These groups then discussed and debated ideas, concepts or technologies drawn from the group as a whole. One group discussed teacher engagement, another discussed Sharepoint. I worked with a small group looking at audio and video. I demonstrated podcasting, capturing video and audio using various tools and technologies.

I thought the concept worked really well. Lyn from the RSC was concerned that the idea may not work. After the event we talked about it. She was pleased about how it went and what the delegates got out of the discussions.

I find it interesting that event and conference organisers are like teachers and feel that delegates (like students) need to have a formal structure and be assigned content and can not organise themselves. Today’s event showed that if you give delegates an open structure and guidance that they will organise themselves and choose topics that interest them or what they want to find out more about. They will also learn and gain from the event.

Practitioners can do something similar with their students, give them guidance and what you expect from them in terms of a learning outcome they may well just surprise you.

Subscribe to the e-Learning Stuff podcast in iTunes

October 21, 2008

Having now published episode number four and a fair few videos as well, decided it was high time that you could find and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Subscribe to the e-Learning Stuff podcast in iTunes

Not as simple as it sounds as though the WordPress RSS feed does work for podcasting in iTunes using from the menu Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast… and just pasting in the blog RSS feed.

Subscribe to the e-Learning Stuff podcast in iTunes

It was not suitable for submitting to the iTunes store itself as the WordPress RSS feed is missing a lot of the information which should be in a podcast feed.

So what I did was use Feedburner to create a new feed which will work with iTunes as a podcast feed. Once I had the feed I could then go ahead and submit the podcast to iTunes. A day later and it was authorised and available on the store. It should start to show up in searches in a day or two.

Can I show a pre-recorded DVD in the classroom?

October 20, 2008

Disclaimer: ALL information containing in my post is for informational purposes only and should never be construed as legal advice. For proper legal advice you should consult a lawyer.

So here is a question which staff often ask. Can I show a pre-recorded DVD in the classroom? In other words a DVD which has been rented from a video store, or a DVD purchased from a retail store? In the olden days we would have called this a video cassette.

Can I show a pre-recorded DVD in the classroom?

Under the Copyright Act, you can show a DVD in a classroom for the purposes of instruction without needing an additional licence.

If it is for entertainment purposes then you do need a public performance licence.

From the Government Intellectual Property Office.

“Performing, playing or showing copyright works in a school, university or other educational establishment for educational purposes.  However, only teachers, pupils and others directly connected with the activities (does not generally include parents) of the establishment are in the audience.  Examples of this are showing a video for English or drama lessons and the teaching of music.  It is unlikely to include the playing of a video during a wet playtime purely to amuse the children.”

From Filmbank.

“A copyright licence is required to screen films in educational institutions under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (UK), if the film is being screened for entertainment purposes rather than for the purposes of instruction or as part of the lesson.”

Not a lot of people know this.

Part of the misunderstanding arises as generally when you play a DVD you get this huge legal message indicating that your DVD is for personal use only and can not be played on oil rigs, in prisons, schools and colleges.

That is partly true for the purposes of entertainment and you would need to purchase a licence to show a DVD for that purpose.

However for informational and instruction (ie for educational reasons) it is possible to show that DVD in a classroom. Teachers and lecturers have a statuory right (it is enshrined in law, the Copyright Act to be precise).

So could you rip that DVD and put it on a laptop or on the VLE?

Ah no.

Ripping a DVD would be in breach of the EU Copyright Directive which “prohibits circumvention of copy protection measures“. So ripping the DVD is a criminal offence.

Photo source.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #004 – natives, immigrants, residents and visitors

October 19, 2008

This is the fourth e-Learning Stuff Podcast, natives, immigrants, residents and visitors.

Download the podcast in mp3 format: natives, immigrants, residents and visitors

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

In this show, James is joined by Nick Jeans, Dave Foord, David Sugden and Lisa Valentine and they discuss the concept of the digital native, the digital immigrant, resident and visitor. Apologies for the poor audio quality of Nick which we’re blaming on his Skype connection.


e-Learning Stuff Podcast #004 - natives, immigrants, residents and visitors