100 ways to use a VLE – #98 Embedding RSS feeds into the VLE

August 13, 2010

Keeping the content on the VLE current, topical and updated can be a real challenge for many practitioners. It can be both time consuming and if you are new to adding regular additional content to the VLE it can be easily forgotten that you said to yourself that you would regularly add content.

Of course for virtually all subjects there are loads of other people out there creating new, current and topical content. On blogs and news sites, lots of relevant and interesting content is being created.

The key is to ensure that the learners are made aware of that content quickly and easily.

You can of course copy and paste links and content into the VLE, but this has to be done manually and sometimes you are busy or just plain forget…

So that’s where RSS comes in.

What’s RSS?

Really Simple Syndication!

What’s Really Simple Syndication?

I knew you might ask me that!

The simple explanation is that RSS allows for content to be easily used and shared (syndicated) onto other web sites automatically. As that content is updated, the RSS ensures that the updated content is made available on the other web sites.

When content sites (like the BBC) update their content, they update their RSS feed. This feed can then be “added” to the VLE ensuring that when the content (and the RSS feed) is updated, the content on the VLE is automatically updated.

So by adding RSS feeds into the VLE, you can easily add new and exciting content into the VLE that update automatically without either the practitioners or learners needing to do anything.

I should point out that a few learners may want to subscribe to the RSS feed direct using a browser or feed reader. They may for example have a feed reader on their iPad or other mobile device.

So how do you add an RSS Feed into the VLE?

Well different VLEs do it in different ways. On Moodle the easiest way is via the Remote RSS Feeds Block.

This then allows you to add an RSS feed (like the feed from this blog) into the VLE.

The next question is I know, how do you know where the RSS feed is?

Well the address for the feeds will look something like this.

http://feeds.bbci.co.uk/news/technology/rss.xml
https://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/feed/
http://screenr.com/user/jamesclay/rss
http://audioboo.fm/users/2631/boos.atom

As you can see it’s not just news and blogs that have RSS feeds, you can also find RSS feeds for services like Screenr, Flickr and Audioboo.

So when you visit a page with an RSS feed on most modern browsers they will have an RSS icon.

Click the RSS icon to see the feed. Another way of describing an RSS feed is as content without the formatting.

In this example the feed is in the address bar.

Copy that into the Add a news feed URL field on the VLE.

This will allow you to embed the RSS feed into the VLE.

What’s nice about the Moodle Embed RSS block is that you can add multiple feeds into a single block.

Adding an RSS feed to the VLE can be for many practitioners quite a complex and challenging task, mainly as it can be difficult for many of them to understand what RSS is and means. However once you get past that hurdle it is then a quick and easy way to add current and topical content to your course on the VLE automatically.

Photo source.

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Using Moodle

April 29, 2010

A nice little presentation on using Moodle (the VLE).

Do you still think Moodle is boring?
Do you run out of ideas of how to use Moodle with your learners?
Do you want to improve retention and achievement?

This slideshow will give you fresh and new ideas to boost up your Moodle course.

Find out why you should use Moodle to promote learning, collaboration and communication, discover how to support and engage your learners and how to offer an interactive and rich learning experience.

After watching the slideshow, you will have an idea of what Moodle is capable of. Your next step is to learn how to create the activities suggested, such as Forums, Chats, Quizzes, internet embedded content, etc…

In the videos’ section you can find already a podcast that shows you the potential of a forum, how to use it with your learners and how to create it on Moodle.
There are more podcasts being created that will cover other activities.

Moodle is here because it saves us time and makes things much better for your learners.

If you want some more ideas, have a look at the 100 ways to use a VLE.


Saving Office Files to Moodle

April 6, 2010

I have to admit I am not sure if this is a logical next step or a backward one….

The following link was tweeted on Twitter about an Office Add-in for Moodle.

Uploading files to Moodle has never been easier.  The Office Add-in for Moodle (OAM) is an add-in for Microsoft Office (versions 2003 and 2007) that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications.  With the OAM, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications.  You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

So what do you need in order to start using the add-in?  OAM does not require anything to be installed on the Moodle server (but note we only tested against Moodle versions 1.X-1.X).  Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the add-in and access their documents.  Once installed, the add-in adds two menu items to your File menu (Office 2003) or the Office Button menu: Open from Moodle and Save to Moodle.  In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in.  Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in.  Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

This makes it very simple for practitioners to add content to a Moodle course using tools they are familar with. They can  use Office in the usual way, open files…

…and then save those files direct to Moodle.

Now this is great for those staff who upload Office documents to their Moodle courses, now they don’t even need to use a Web Browser…

However I do wonder if this is a forward step in making it easier to use  VLE or a backward step with a focus on content and Office documents rather than open standards and engaging content.

What’s your verdict?


100 ways to use a VLE – #47 A gallery of images

April 2, 2010

You can very easily add images to a course on the VLE, but what about a whole series of images? Also why would you do this?

Imagine that you are a catering lecturer and you have taken a series of images of a cooking technique, it could have been boning a chicken, filleting a fish, cutting carrots… It would be nice to be able to add the images to the VLE and importantly allow learners to access those images easily and simply. It’s not just catering, plumbing, electrical, construction, motor vehicle engineering, biology…

Another reason is that the learners have been on a field trip and a series of photographs was taken and you want to share those images not just with those learners who went, but those that didn’t or couldn’t.

Think about an assignment based on a particular city or town, a gallery  of images can be used to show off attractions or places in that place.

On Moodle I have been using Lightbox Gallery.

As well as creating a very attractive gallery of images you can configure the Moodle module to allow learners to comment on the images.

One of the features I do like about this, is that though it is useful to resize the images (from a disk space perspective) if the practitioner does not have the skills (or probably more likely doesn’t have the software) to resize the images. If the images are uploaded as is to Lightbox Gallery then Lightbox Gallery will resize them for the end user depending on their screen resolution.

Another attraction of Lightbox Gallery is that it can also be used to show off a PowerPoint presentation without the learner needing to download and open the presentation – also useful if that learner does not have PowerPoint or is accessing the VLE from a mobile device.

Showing a gallery of images is a nice visual way of enhancing a learning activity.

Picture source.


Top Ten Web Tools of 2009

January 6, 2010

Here are my top ten web tools of 2009. This is a list of web tools which I have used extensively over the last twelve months. Last year I posted my top ten web tools of 2008, here is my new list from 2009.

There were quite a few tools that I have been using and could have been in my top ten.

I really like Screenr, simply put, it is a free web based screencasting application. It captures what you do on your screen and then converts it a web video format and posts a notification to Twitter. You can then download the video as an MP4 movie file. I like it but haven’t made a huge use of it, so that’s why it’s not in my top ten.

A similar concept is Jing, though this requires you to download an application.

iPadio is a phone based podcasting service which has now been supplemented by an iPhone app. Some of the MoLeNET Mentors have made good use of iPadio, I have really used Audioboo.

I use to have strong reservations about Wikipedia, until I realised I used it on almost daily basis. No it’s not my only source, nor is it really an authoritative source, however it is a useful, quick and easy source of information.

I do like Prezi and have seen some excellent presentations using Prezi, however despite liking it, I have never used it in anger! Therefore it does not make my top ten.

I initially couldn’t see the point of Cloudworks, however ALT-C 2o09 and Ascilite 2009 demonstrated the value of Cloudworks as a repository of information, links and comments on conferences and keynotes. I will see how I use it in 2010 to see if it makes the top ten then.

Probably in at number eleven was Slideshare. I used it much more in 2009 than in 2008. However for me the main issue was that my presentations don’t really work on Slideshare as they are mainly pictures and single words, and that’s probably why it’s not in my top ten.

This is an e-learning blog and I should really mention Moodle, I use Moodle everyday as part of my day job, however I see this more as an institutional service rather than a web tool.

There were others which are very popular and didn’t even come close, the one you probably have heard of is Facebook. I have hardly used Facebook this year and am considering as others are in closing my account down.

In last year’s list, but not in this year’s are Qik, Remember the Milk and Crowdvine. I did use Qik, but nowhere as near as much as I did in 2008. The main reason was that thw quality was good enough for people to go “wow” but that was about it. The “live” bit was okay, but not good enough to use on a regular basis. It was just as easy to record video on the iPhone and then upload to TwitVid or YouTube. I have though just downloaded the version for the iPhone 3GS and that may make a difference to how much I use it now. I still use Remember the Milk, but not as effectively as I would like, so more work needed there from me and them. I also did use Crowdvine at ALT-C 2009 and the scheduling was useful as was the communicating, but there was nothing new there compared to 2008 and therefore it dropped out of the top ten. If the social networking intergration was better I am pretty sure it would have probably creeped in. However it was too slow in picking up Twitter posts, Flickr photos and blog posts; this is very important for a conference networking tool.

Anyway onto the top ten for 2009.

10. Evernote

Now why would you use Evernote when you can use Google Docs? Well What I find Evernote is good for is note taking whereas I use Google Docs for writing documents. With Evernote though, you can use it through apps offline, through a web interface in a browser (useful on shared computers), in an iPhone app (iTunes Store Link). I like how you can add screenclips, screenshots, photographs and audio to your notes too. This blog entry was started on Evernote for example. It has great uses for learning too, learners can use it to store notes and with the ability to have different notebooks and tagging, will make it very easy to find notes when it comes to writing assignments or revision.

9. Etherpad

This is also one of those services which you may think, why not just use Google Docs? Well Google thought it was different enough they bought the company! Etherpad is a simple concept which works really well. Create a pad, share the URL and then everyone can help create a shared document; where it is special is that you can do this simultaneously. So as you type, I can type, you will be able to see what you’re typing and what I am typing too. This is brilliant in meetings and at conferences where you can share links, ideas, notes, comments together. In the past a group in a meeting may have had separate notebooks (real or virtual) now with Etherpad you can share a single electronic notepad. The MoLeNET Mentors have used it with great effect as a shared notebook. Imagine a study group of learners using Etherpad to share lecture notes, links, resources, comments, drafts.

8. Shozu

Shozu was my number five web tool last year, it has dropped a few places, but I still use it on a regular basis. What Shozu does for me is when I ever take a photograph using my Nokia N95 I can immediately upload the image to Flickr. With a little preparation I can add relevant tags (or edit tags on the fly) and it will also add the geo-data using the GPS on the N95. What this means is that when I am at an event I can take lots of photographs and people who want to see what is going on can easily see from my photographs. It also allows me to capture my day in a kind of lifestream giving me a record of what I have done, who I have met and where I have been. I also use Shozu to upload photographs and video to Twitter services such as TwitPic and TwitVid. I have also used it to upload content to my blog.

7. Audioboo

This has been one fun app to use on the iPhone. So what is Audioboo? Well it’s a service I first saw demonstrated at the All Together Now event at Channel 4. To put it simply it is an App (iTunes Store Link) on your iPhone that allows you to record an audio recording, add your location, a picture and upload the lot to a website. This has some real  potential for learning activities. As you have an account on the website (not essential but recommended) your recordings are kept together and also have an RSS feed as well, which people can subscribe to via iTunes or other podcasting applications. I have mainly used Audioboo to show people what Audioboo can do. I hope to in 2010 use Audioboo to do a regular short podcast.

6. Ustream

So you want to create video, live video? You want to share that live video with lots of people? Well yes you can stream from your computer, however if you have limited bandwidth then this can be a problem. Services such as Ustream allow you to easily stream live video across the web to many different users, even if you have limited bandwidth such as over a 3G connection. I used Ustream a few times over 2009 to stream keynotes from the Plymouth e-Learning Conference, the VLE is Dead session live from ALT-C 2009 and also various MoLeNET Live “online conferences”. There is now an iPhone app so you can stream live from your iPhone 3GS. Simple to use, easy for people to interact with, live video streaming from UStream is a great technology with lots of learning potential. Learners in the workplace could stream from their work or access live streams from lecturers in college or in the field (or literally in a field).

5. Google Docs

Last year Google Docs scraped into my top ten at number ten. This year I have put it in at number five. The main way I use Google Docs is to write a document that I know I will be working from on multiple computers. Now I know I could use a USB stick, but it assumes I have the same application on all machines, which is not always the case. For example my work machines have Office 2003, fine, but my Mac has Office 2008 (the newer version), my home Mac only has Pages, my Samsung Q1 only has Open Office as does the Asus EeePC. Sometimes the PC is runing Office 2007. Using Google Docs allows me to have a single copy of a document, share that document and export or print in variety of formats. For example I can download my document as a PDF. I have used Google Docs many times throughout 2009 to work on documents with other people from across the world and that has proved how useful this service is to me. Learners will find that using Google Docs as the service to use in writing their assignments (especially group assignments) will avoid the headaches of different versions of Word, losing USB sticks, inability to access network drives from outside college, etc, etc…

4. Ning

So you want to create your own social networking service? Why not use Ning? Create your own creepy treehouse!!! I used Ning a fair few times in 2009 in the main in supporting events I was running or attending. I used it initially for the ILT Champions Informal Conference and the Fringe for the Plymouth e-Learning Conference. It allowed delegates at both events to communicate, share pictures, video, write blog posts and have discussions. I was surprised by how well they worked. I am currently using Ning to work with various communities, and in 2010 it will be the service used by the Becta Technology Exemplar Network to share and collaborate. I don’t actually see Ning as a “social networking” service as such, more as a web site that I don’t need to build! For learning, it has many uses especially when you want students from multiple institutions to collaborate and work together.

3. Flickr

Last year Flickr was number six, this year it has climbed three places to number three. have nearly 2700 photographs on Flickr up from nearly 1500 last year, that means I have uploaded nearly a hundred photographs a month, or three a day! They cover a range of topics and events. From an events perspective I think Flickr adds so much more to an event. It can capture the event in ways that can’t be caught in any other way. Flickr is not only a great way of storing photographs, also a great place to find photographs, and many images on this blog are from photos from Flickr which are creative commons licensed to allow me to use them on the blog. Flickr is a great way to store photographs and to find images.

2. WordPress

Though it’s all about quality I did publish 232 e-Learning Stuff Blog posts last year… I use WordPress.com and have been very pleased with it. One of the key reasons that I like WordPress is that it has made it very easy to post video to the web. Now YouTube is great and all that and I do use it, however with the ten minute limit, this can be quite constraining. WordPress with the (paid for) Videopress upgrade does a very good job of converting my films into Flash Video. The quality is certainly much better than YouTube, and I can embed the video on other sites as well. It handles the bandwith too, with the VLE is Dead video the blog was delivering 40Gb of video that first week! I use a WordPress.com blog for many reasons, the main is convenience. As it is web based all I need is a browser to write a blog entry, though there are other tools such as Shozu and the WordPress app on the iPod touch which also allow me to write. The stats are useful in finding out how people are finding the blog, likewise comments allow feedback. Blogs can be public like mine, or private, restricted to say a group, or a tutor and a learner.

1. Twitter

Last year Twitter was my number two web tool, beaten there by Jaiku, which took first place. As you can see Jaiku doesn’t even make the list this year. For me 2009 was the year that Twitter became even more useful as a tool to converse, collaborate, share and communicate. The reason that Twitter is my web tool of the year is down to a variety of reasons.

Conversations: This is what Twitter is all about, the conversation, the community, the Water Cooler moment, the coffee break.

Backchannel: At conferences, the Twitter backchannel can be fantastic, but can also be a nightmare! I really find that the Twitter backchannel can enhance and enrich the social and networking side of a conference, improve communication and add to sessions taking place. It allows for the converation to continue after a presentation or keynote and can also widen that conversation to outside the conference.

Links: In many ways for me and others Twitter has almost replaced RSS, I find out much more information and useful links from Twitter now then I do any other source.

Mobile: The mobile element has made Twitter a much more effective and efficient tool. The fact that I can now easily access and contribute to Twitter from my iPhone has increased how much I use, engage and interact with Twitter. It’s so easy, I access it on the train, waiting in line for stuff, at events, when I am away. When I was in New Zealand, the lack of connectivity (and the 13 hour time zone difference) made me aware of how useful and important Twitter was to the way I worked.

Twitter also matured this year with the addition of really useful tools such as TwitPic, TwitVid and TweetMic. TwitPic is a simple tool that allows you to post pictures to Twitter. TwitPic really made the news when an airliner was set down on the Hudson River in New York. TwitVid took TwitPic one stage further and allowed you to post video to Twitter. And if you are camera shy then TweetMic allows you to post audio instead.

Though I know that one day Twitter will die, for me 2009 was the year of Twitter and was my number one web tool of the year.


Becta, they say yes to open source…

September 23, 2008

Though getting a large amount of criticism from various sources (including this list), the Becta Software for Educational Institutions Framework (SEIF) was never about banning software, but about getting a framework in place to allow schools to “purchase” software avoiding many of the problems and pitfalls that may arise from a school going it alone.

The problem that many found with the SEIF was that it favoured proprietary software vendors and discriminated against open source.

The Sirius Corporation revealed yesterday that it was among 12 software suppliers to have been awarded places on the £80m Software for Educational Institutions Framework (SEIF) agreement.

This means that schools that wish to use linux, Open Office, Moodle, etc… now have a framework which allows them to use the software more easily.

The Register on the story.

Sirius press release.

Are any colleges out there looking at open source alternatives beyond Moodle?Becta, they say yes to open source...


Google Chrome and Moodle

September 4, 2008

In my last posting on Chrome I mentioned Moodle issues with Chrome which I had picked up from Kev Hickey’s note on Jaiku.

I have now installed Chrome (on Vista running in VMware Fusion on my iMac) and is running smoothly and very fast as well.

Tried out the Gloucestershire College VLE (we run Moodle 1.5.4) to see how it worked.

Google Chrome and Moodle

Logged in fine, but as you can see in this screenshot when you try to post a disucssion topic (or a wiki page or a lable, etc…) you don’t get the WYSIWYG HTML editor.

Google Chrome and Moodle

Now if you know your HTML you could format that way, but with a wiki page, are all learners going to know HTML, I think not (as does Kev).

The problem is twofold.

Firstly Chrome uses the same backend browser, WebKit, that other browsers such as Safari uses. You have exactly the same issue when accessing Moodle in Safari – which is why I always use Firefox on my Mac when editing the VLE and adding discussion topics on the VLE.

So why doesn’t the HTML editor in Moodle work in WebKit?

This is the second problem, the HTML editor is an old editor which has been discontinued. Newer HTML editors exist which do work in WebKit browsers such as Safari and Chrome.

The answer from browser developers appears to be, update your web sites and applications!

Eventually things will work fine, as Moodle 2.0 uses the newer TinyMCE HTML editor which does work in WebKit browsers.

So if you are using Moodle you may want to avoid Chrome until your Moodle installation is upgraded to Moodle 2.0