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…
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Google TechTalk Videos


Bruce pointed me to a video of a talk by Barry Schwartz to staff at Google on “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less.” (Worth a view – examines the idea that facing a plethora of choices, people act less, not more, that more choices has the paradoxical effect of inducing paralysis).

This led me to realize that Google is filming all of the talks of invited guest experts to their staff and posting them on Google Video for all to share. The topics range from the technically daunting (for me at least – “Multiview Geometry for Texture Mapping 2D Images onto 3D Range Data” oh my!) to the enlightening (“Impact of Technology on Reducing Poverty and Alleviating Social Issues in India”). Though I truly still hate this as a way to learn things, hard not to say “Good on ya” Google! – SWL

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

Project Pad – web-based media annotation and collaboration


Staying with the Sakai-theme for a bit (but in fact the more interesting theme emerging for me is “affable web-based tools for rich media manipulation,” more to come), in the Sakai wiki I came across Project Pad from Northwestern University. It is a suite of audio and video annotation tools, including tools to annotate quicktime a/v files, flash movies and mp3 audio streams, still images, and do audio transcription. The suite includes two tools for searching and managing content stored in external digital media repositories such as Fedora systems, Z39.50 library catalogs, and Google and uses the Common Query Language. And it looks to be becoming integrated with Sakai. Not sure this is a flickr-killer (but who says it needed killing anyways) but maybe one alternative worth investigating for those attracted by some of that functionality (it is actually much broader) but uneasy with sending their faculty off to 3rd party commercially hosted services. – SWL

LORNet Conference – Pre-Conference Workshops

Note to self: The start of November is a bad time to launch a new system if you also want to attend conferences 😉

So while I have no time to be away right now, I am lucky to be spending this week in downtown Vancouver with a good portion of the academic world’s best minds in the field of learning object networks research.

I am not going to even try blogging the conference. My boat anchor of a laptop’s wireless doesn’t work (2 weeks and counting until brand-spanking new laptop arrives!) and I’m a lousy typist to begin with. Instead, here’s a brain dump of questions the first few sessions triggered for me or quotes that roused me enough to write them down:

– if the metadata field isn’t mandatory, don’t even ask for it
– what is the equivalent of a ‘playlist’ for learning objects? Is it the re-aggregated form (lesson, course) or something else? (and how do we get the information? how do we build the last.fm of learning objects)
– handles/unique IDs *are* in fact an important issue (and URLs aren’t the solution for them, but neither is any system that requires manual work to create the handle).
– need to find out how people (mainly instructors at this point) make evaluative judgements on the potential usefulness of a learning resource? what do they base it on? how long do they actually take in making these judgements?
– identity management is *the* major nut to crack for the next tsunami of innovation to break (web 3.doh?!)

Sorry if these don’t make any sense to anyone but me (do they make sense to me?) Wish you were here 😉 – 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

Any B.C. or Alberta-based users of LAMS? Atutor?

If you are currently using or planning to use LAMS or Atutor and are located in B.C. or Alberta, please let me know. I am currently scouting out integration opportunities for our repository software, and these two are potential ones that have come up, but I need to know if its of any value to my current stakeholders (no, I’m not planning a takeover of Alberta; we have colleagues there who are also implementing the same repository software). – SWL

Correction – NO New Round of B.C. Online Program Development Funding Announced


This is mostly of interest to any B.C. readers (and even they will probably hear about through the normal channels) but one of my employers, BCcampus, has just announced another round of funding through the Online Program Development Fund.

Well, just goes to show you you should never trust news releases. I’ve just been informed that this news release dated September 19 is actually referring to the last round of funding that was first announced in late 2004, that it took a year for the press release to come out, and that no new round has been announced. Boy, do I feel stupid!! I think they call this ‘premature blogulation’ – 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

BCcampus selects The Learning Edge to power repository


Early this year we went (back) out to RFP for software to power a ‘learning object repository’ for BCcampus. OpenSchool BC and the Alberta Online Consortium, both from the K-12 world, were also partners in the RFP.

In May we reached a decision to go with The Learning Edge, an LCMS product from Australia. There were many good proposals, but overall we were very impressed with the maturity of the solution (which given the history became increasingly important), its support of standards, and its interoperation with existing repositories and CMS (all of WebCT, Blackboard and Moodle are supported out of the box). It also comes with a Java-based WYSIWYG editor, which has the potential to greatly assist with re-contextualizing and re-using content from the repository, though in the multi-institutional settings all three organizations inhabit we are cautious about how much uptake of that tool we will see.

Really, though, the fun has just begun; we are now proceeding to get our instance up and running and configured. The challenge isn’t the software – that’s also one of its real strengths, a very powerful administrative interface – the challenge is the process pieces, workflows, schemas, etc. We aren’t starting from scratch, much of the work we did last year will still apply, but I’m also not expecting to get it perfect on the first try. Part of the trick will be devising a reasonable change management process that allows us to innovate some of the interface and logic while still fostering user adoption and familiarity. Wish me luck! We are aiming to open the doors in October, though my expectation is for a ‘soft launch’ that slowly grows. – SWL