Webducate Dragster (and the value in open sharing)

The most successful thing I think I’ve ever published on this blog was the simple “matrix of blog uses in education” that I posted in 2003. It has been translated numerous times and I see it referred to lots of place on the web. It’s always been really gratifying to see the novel ways people re-used it. About 2 years ago I wrote about one of the re-uses that really tickled my fancy, a Flash-based version that allowed users to drag and drop different “uses” onto a matrix. It seemed like a really useful tool for facilitating discussion.

I also mused at the time to its creator, Tony Lowe, how my ultimate goal had been some sort of wiki-like implementation of the “matrix” – I think the various dimensions of use have held up pretty well, but 5 years later I can think of a whole host of new uses to add, and there are likely more that others could add which I have never imagined.

So you can imagine my real delight when an email showed up from Tony that he had built a new version that allowed just this! Now, instead of just dragging the pre-existing set of uses onto the matrix, multiple users can define new ones and position these too. Very cool.
But what is ultimately far more important is that Tony has done this within a new service that he has developed call Dragster.  Dragster is a web-based authoring tool for creating different Flash-based drag-and-drop exercises. While it does not remove all the effort in creating these (check out some of the anatmoy examples to see how complex they can get), compared to the alternative, doing this from scratch in Flash, Drgaster offers a fairly simple to use (and relatively inexpensive, at about $100/year) way to quickly author these types of Flash animations which can often run into the $1000s of dollars when done on their own. The resulting animations can be downloaded and used in any environment you choose.

Am I shill for writing up this app because someone re-used some of my content? Or is this instead an example of a really smart and authentic “marketing 2.0” effort, that tries to add value to the ongoing blog conversation and entice bloggers to try products by actually re-using and re-mixing their open content? I’ll let you be the judge. All I can say is, anyone else wants to take something I’ve created and build on it, I will certainly give you some of my precious attention. – SWL

XERTE – Free Visual Editor for SCORM compliant Flash Learning Objects


Wow, I feel really torn about posting about this at all. When I stumbled across this today I was quite excited; while the promise of content interoperability has been there for quite a while now, the availability of easy to use tools for producing such content outside of the CMS delivery environments has been scarce. So any time I see a tool like this I am anxious to check it out. more…
Continue reading “XERTE – Free Visual Editor for SCORM compliant Flash Learning Objects”

UBC Arts Flash-Based Learning Tools available for download



Like I said, “affable tools for rich media manipulation” – a few years back I wrote about the availability of some Flash-based authoring tools from the UBC Arts Computing group. Since then, they have created many more; in addition to the original timeline tool, they’ve developed a multimedia learning object authoring tool, a vocabulary memorization platform,’ a language pronunciation tool and a very cool character stroke recorder for Asian characters.

In the past these had all been freely available, but only in a version hosted on the UBC server. Now all of these tools are available for free download so you can install them on your own server and offer them to faculty for use in your own environment. I am also looking forward to working with these guys to integrate these tools with SOL*R and to see them work with other environments. – SWL

Connexions ‘Rhaptos’ Software Released


The folks at Connexions have released the software that powers that site as open source code, so presumably you can now run your own instance if you wanted. Connexions is neat in that it shows a working example of learning content as XML being re-aggregated and re-skinned. For me the challenge with its particular implementation is in how the content is created – the Word-to-CXML convertor has got to be a great improvement over asking faculty to hand-code XML (where but at a Science and Engineering school could you even begin to get away with this), but it still strikes me as a barrier to the approach. That said, 115 courses/2000+ modules is nothing to sneer at, so clearly some users are willing to use the current set of tools on offer through Connexions. It should be noted too that the paradigm for reusable content has always been more reusers than original authors, and in this regard, reusing content in other contexts once created in Connexions seems reasonably straightforward.

Tools like eXe offer some glimmer of what an easier to use tool to author learning content that was also XML might look like, but I’m not sure I’m convinced yet. Some will no doubt rejoin about the virtues of RSS in this regard; again, I remain interested but unconvinced. Not of the virtues of XML or of the traction of RSS for syndication of content, but unconvinced that it represents the solution of how to easily author learning content in a format that is then easily findable, re-aggregatable or re-presentable (which I take to be the problem at hand, but maybe I’ve misunderstood). Structured blogging? Again, maybe.

I know that in my own project, our first attempt to get an approach working that made use of an XML database as a backend failed. Our second attempt, which went into pilot last week, uses The Learning Edge. It doesn’t deal with XML-native content at all, mostly because no one has any for us to deal with. It focuses on dealing with what people do have – all sorts of HTML, Word docs, powerpoints, PDFs, Flash movies. It tries to assist with re-use (the ‘re-aggregating and re-presenting’ above) by integrating a WYSIWYG authoring environment directly with the repository that allows people to drag and drop existing content into new collections. We will see how it works. I am definitely not holding it up as the way to do this either; in general I remain unconvinced (and exhausted) by the entire enterprise, and mostly just want to go off and play my bass. – SWL

Report Comparing eXe with other elearning authoring packages


This report by Sandy Britain was commissioned by the University of Auckland and released back in April, but I only just stumbled upon it. I’ve been arguing for at least a year now that one of the next places we need to focus our attention on is better tools for authoring, especially for authoring XML-based, standards compliant elearning content. XML is not a fringe technology, and it’s far past the time when we should be requiring content in higher ed to be well structured and easily re-published in other formats, something I take it that these editors can help with and that continuing with outmoded HTML editors doesn’t. Britain acknowledges that there are potentially far more tools to examine than the 4 he compares eXe with (Burrokeet, Lectora, SoftChalk Lesson Builder, and Lersus); I would have liked to see at least ThinkingCap Studio and the ICE System in there as well, and to this end am hoping we at Edutools can get a comparative analysis project going to look at these and more. [If you have a pot of money lying around 😉 and would like to see such a comparison happen, please feel free to contact me.] Still, a good overview and introduction to the issue. – SWL



From a reference in the Tools Interoperability demonstrator I mentioned yesterday came a link to this tool, ConceptTutor, built by the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Released under what looks to be an open source license (the source code is available here) it seems to be a glossary tool on steriods, with a structured approach to illustrating concepts and minimally assess the learner’s understanding of those that can be used to annotate and supplement core course content. The application apparently produces Accessible content and can draw content from repositories like Fedora (this I could not confirm), which makes it an interesting tool for re-using ‘learning objects’ in a way that perhaps retains some of the original connotation of the term and focuses it on the right level of granularity. It’s not clear the extent to which this tool can now be shown to practically interoperate and annotate content within existing CMS like WebCT, or Sakai, but presumably if that is not already present as part of the demonstrator it will be something being targeted soon. – SWL

Blender – Open Source 3d Rendering Software


I’ve noticed a number of folks picking up on Inkspace, a new open source SVG editor, and rightly so – the development of open source apps that are not infrastructural or aimed back at the development community itself is exciting and growing at an incredibly rapid pace. But frankly I was still blown away to come across Blender, an open source 3-D rendering program, as I hadn’t expected to find this level of sophistication in this type of application available as open source quite yet.

A quick read of the software’s history offers an explanation and is a fascinating case study – the software has been around for some time, and the rights and code were bought by a group of ex-employees and enthusiasts after a public fund-raising campaign explicitly so it could be released as open source. And their e-shop offers another vision of how, given the low overheads now to create online stores and create products on demand, open source projects can create small revenue streams to fund at very least expenses like website hosting and bandwidth costs. – SWL

Will design courses for food!


I couldn’t resist passing this on – one of the local universities is offering to create an online course using their own course development software if the recipient makes a largish donation to one of the Christmas chariities. Great way for Roger to promote the costs savings of using his tool, and hopefully they will get someone to take them up on it. – SWL

D-Lib Article – A Web Service Interface for Creating Concept Browsing Interfaces


Some of you may have run across the VUE concept mapping application before. One of its promises is that it will allow you to create concept map interfaces to Fedora-based repositories.

This recent D-Lib article describes a similar innovation, but in this case it is the introduction of a web service-based interface called “Concept Space Interchange Protocol” to support the deployment of concept browsing interfaces to digital libraries. As the paper concludes “The merit of [the] approach lies in its innovative use of web services technology to provide an educationally relevant visualization service across distributed library sites, as opposed to creating a visualization interface for a single library.”

What’s that sound you hear? Listen carefully, it’s the sound of the train leaving the station, and while the library community all quietly climbed aboard, the ed tech community was still debating the need for a train. – SWL

CMU LSAL Paper on “LO-Tec” Tools (and Toys) for Creating Learning Objects


This paper, from Dan Rehak and others at the renowned Learning Systems Architecture Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University (which now has a new RSS feed), asks how authors actually create learning objects, and whether the current tools are supporting these actual processes or instead getting in the way. To investigate this they take the sensible step back from the technology and look at a number of low or no tech paper-based techniques for developing learning objects, with the “objective [is] to help create learning, and hide technology and standards” and thus “understand how learning technology standards can be applied in the creation of learning objects and content.”

You can draw your own conclusions – I think the process they outline is a useful one for tool builders to go through if they want to build tools that support the way people actually work. But my cursory reading didn’t reveal any huge lessons learnt from the paper-based modelling and many of the criticisms levelled at the one example tool (ReLoad) they cite could seemingly be levelled at the paper-based model as well (e.g. use of jargon for one). – SWL