Exploratory Learning Objects with Pearltrees

Every year, around this time, I make a presentation to Level 3 Engineers and Sports Scientists as part of a series of briefings on their dissertation project. And every year, this presentation Research Techniques and Tools serves to highlight a new web-based presentation technology.

Back in 2008, I used a flash-based tool called Flowgram (sadly no longer with us) to stitch together some PowerPoint slides with some live web pages. Last year, it was the turn of Prezi. This year, I used a combination of Google docs Presentations and live websites put together with Pearltrees to create an open learning object that is concerned with library-based research techniques and online research tools.  In this case a picture really is worth a thousand words so I’ll let you explore the result for yourself.

EG-353 Research Techniques and Tools

The beauty of this technique is that Pearltree (the web-app) alows you to show the collection of web pages in slide-show mode while allowing later visitors to explore the whole collection in their own way. They can also take the entire pearl-tree and make a copy of it or link to the original. Pearl-trees can also be shared and commented on. The browser extension (only for Firefox I’m afraid) is very easy to use and makes the construction of pearl-trees as you browse a snap. And of course, as demonstrated here, the finished pearl-tree can be embedded in blogs or Blackboard, linked to, tweeted, emailed, and shared on Facebook.

Other related tools worth mentioning are Trailmeme from Xerox PARC a tool that allows you to create a map of web sites, Trailfire which is a more linear presentation, WebSlides (from Diigo) [see earlier post], and the commercial tool Curatr. Your choice depends on your starting point and what you want you or your students to achieve.

New Tool: WebSlides

Just a quick note to draw your attention to an interesting new service that I discovered today. WebSlides (slides.diigo.com) is a service of Diigo.com that can turn an RSS feed or a set of tagged bookmarks into a slide show. This is a great way to create a learning object based on the web that I’ve used successfully in the past with trailfire.com and the unfortunately short-lived Flowgram. The USP for WebSlides is that, in a sense, you have already curated the websites necessary to create your slide-show or guided tour by blogging about interesting sites or tagging them in your social bookmark tool. The resulting web slide shows can be standalone, with their own URL, or can be embedded. You can apparently add a soundtrack or a voice narration. The only question I would have is can you control the order of the presentation?

My pointer to this service was Orli Yakuel’s post 29 Back to School Tools for Teachers & Students (all free) from Go2Web2.0 blog which has a WebSlides slide show embedded in it. I wanted to know how it was done and followed the link to the WebSlides service from the embedded widget.

Delicious has a similar “Browse Your Bookmarks” service, but it’s not quite as complete or slick.

Diigo – A social bookmarking site for the tenties?

Today, I participated in the weekly early #lrnchat on Twitter. And very useful it was too. Today’s topic was Knowledge Management Tools and during the discussion a couple of new ones that I was not aware of were mentioned. Of these, I think it’s worth talking a bit more about is the new (to me) social bookmarking service called Diigo.

Diggo is a service that starts with all the features provided by the venerable delicious.com, and builds on them by adding web site highlighting, screen captures with annotations, and sticky notes. The mobile version (for Android) adds photo notes and other features. Audio, video and bibliography tools are promised for a later version. Importing your delicious.com book marks is simple and Diigo can be set to post bookmarks you add in Diigo to your delicious.com account (but not the other way round). You can also share them with your social networks.
Unfortunately you cannot import your delicious networks.
A couple of further novel features are that your followers on Diigo can comment on your publicly shared resources; and there are Diigo educational accounts that let qualified persons create private workspaces for their classes and students.
Diigo’s stated mission statement is an evolution towards “your dream information management tool.” It is ad supported at the moment and, without a big backer (delicious.com is a Yahoo! service), there’s always the danger that it might become a paid-for service sometime in the future. It does however have some interesting features, and I’ll be giving it a trial run for a few weeks. If you want to join me, you’ll find me at www.diigo.com/user/cpjobling.

Back to the #lrnchat session on Knowledge Management tools, If you want to contribute to the discussion, the questions asked were:
  • Q1) What tools do you use to manage the digital information you collect?
  • Q2) Do you use the same tools for your job as you do your personal information?
  • Q3) Which sorts of tools do you wish you had?
  • Q4) Which personal tools do you wish you could use at work?

You can answer in the comments or on Twitter using hastag #lnrchat. And remember, the next #lrnchat will be next Thursday at 16.30 BST (17.30 GMT).
The full transcript for today’s early #lrnchat is here.

Social Media Aggregators

On the lookout for a social media aggregation tool, I came across 7 Social Media Aggregation Tools To Simplify Your Streams, published earlier this year on the socialmedia today blog. Amongst the usual suspects, Hootsuite (which I have yet to try), Netvibes (popular with some learning lab folks), and Tweetdeck, there were three I hadn’t heard of before: Yoono, the unfortunately named Profilactic and Socialite. Apart from Tweetdeck, which is an Adobe Air application, and Socialite, which is a Mac app(!), the other four are web applications and work in your browser.

Also mentioned was the Flock Social Browser (illustrated) which I’ve tried before but thought I’d try again. Flock is interesting in that it connects to your social networks and provides community monitoring, tools for media sharing, RSS feed reading, and blogging all within a web browser. It’s pretty slick and I think I’ll use it as my main interface to my social networks for a couple of weeks to see if it sticks. Flock is also based on the Mozilla browser engine that powers Firefox, so it also gives you aceess to your favourite Firefox extensions. It of course suffers from the problem that it has to be set up on each of your computers.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

OpenScholar – A Tool for Building Staff and project websites

Blackboard is a great tool for building course web sites. The Content Management System (CMS) used by the web office and various departments on campus is a reasonable content management system that Colleges, Schools and Departments can use (with training) to build decent Departmental teaching and Research Group showcase sites. But what if you’re a member of staff, or a postgraduate student and you want to make a shop window for yourself or your latest project? Blackboard’s not designed for that, the CMS is too unwieldy and the WordPress multi-user blogging platform isn’t specific enough.

OpenScholar – a new tool that has been developed at Harvard University – may be the missing link. Built on Drupal, OpenScholar is an open-source content management system, aimed at academics, which attempts to make it easy to create a personal or a project web site with the minimum of fuss. It provides particularly strong support for bibliography creation and leverages Drupal’s first-class content creation, content aggregation and community building tools.
The home page of the Scholars at Harvard site (itself powered by OpenScholar) provides a compelling demonstration of OpenScholar’s features as well as a shop window of the kinds of sites that can be created. The software itself can be downloaded and installed in a few minutes by anyone with access to an Apache web server and MySQL database (that’s all Mac users and any Windows machine with WampServer or similar installed). Perhaps we can ask one of the Learning Support team to give us access to a trial version!
I am grateful to Eric Durbrow at the The Efficient Academic Google Group who drew my attention to one of several articles introducing OpenScholar that have been published recently. I would also like to acknowledge the fact that David M. Berry posted a note about OpenScholar on Yammer four days ago.

Comparison of Online Screen Recording Tools

Amit Agarwal of the Digital Inspiration blog has just published a Comparison of Online Screen Recording Tools: in which he compares the newly launched ScreenR (short for Screen + Recorder) screencasting tool from Articulate which is a free web based screencasting tool that lets you create up to 5-minute long digital recordings of your computer screen from any web browser without requiring software.

The results, compared here against other similar tools, certainly look impressive. I’ll be giving ScreenR a test drive soon!

Absolutely outstanding….

Many of you signed up members of the Learning Lab will be familiar with the Alan Levine’s CogDogBlog (and if you aren’t grab the RSS feed today!). Well today, Alan published an article on how he used cooliris to put together an amazing presentation on e-learning. You just have to see it to believe it! (Cooliris is a browser plugin, you will need Firefox or Internet Explorer to play with the presentation.)

I’d urge you all to take some time to explore the presentation as you listen to the accompanying audio recording (available as an MP3). You may never go back to PowerPoint again!

I’m pretty sure that Matthew Allan mentioned coolris at a recent lunch-and-learn. But here you can really see why it might be a big deal.
Follow Up
Having investigated a little further, it looks like cooliris requires a bit more technical input than PowerPoint does. You have to upload the presentation information to a web site and then provide a suitable XML file for cooliris to process. There is a WordPress plugin and a developer tool PicLens Publisher that can be used to create cooliris presentations, but (so far as I can tell) there is no hosting service as yet. I wonder if it would work with packaged files on Blackboard?

Google Reader for Beginners

Any blogger worth his or her salt will eventually need to make use of an RSS Feed Aggregator to keep up to date with all the information that’s out there. My personal favourite is Google Reader, which I use over breakfast instead of a newspaper to catch up on interesting stuff. Now Google have just released a new video Google Reader for Beginners which along with a collection of other getting-started videos, will get you off and running.

Disclaimer: Other Feed-readers and aggregators are available.

BETT 2009:

Once again it’s time for the BETT Show. The self-styled “largest educational technology show in the world.” For the first hour or so I wondered what on earth I was doing there as I heard one salesman after another explain how their product is loved by students, will improve their grades as well as save you time and money. Hmmm…. I think I’ve heard that before somewhere. However, once I got away from the main area populated by the big multinationals, I found some much more interesting stuff. WebSwami were launching their “web-based language lab” at the show. It looks to be a pretty good language lab but I can also see possibilities for all sorts of feedback. They are sending me a demo account so we can explore this further.

I like using interactive whiteboards but they tend to be expensive and have not had great take up across the campus. We’ve looked at the Wii mote as a low cost alternative but I was quite intrigued by eno. (I should insert a ‘cheese warning’ here as their promo video is very bad!) The board is magnetic, works as an ordinary dry wipe board, is much larger than the current boards we have and several can be added together to make a giant board, which could be very useful in larger rooms. An alternative to using a full interactive whiteboard could be to use a tablet from Vistablet. They are small and cheap and allow you to do much of what you might do with a board but on a desk, especially if you combine it with some of the whiteboard software, which you can generally download for free. Worth a look.

We’re currently piloting the use of Sim Venture – a business simulation game. A bit like Championship Manager for business. It’s award winning software so inevitably there is now some competition. Fantasy Couriers was at BETT. It’s similar to SimVenture but has the advantage of being web based so can be accessed from anywhere.

Another simulation, in the area of Serious Games, was from Danish company Serious Games Interactive. The have two games on global conflicts one on Gaza and one on Latin America. The game is a “3D role-playing simulation, which gives the player a chance to explore different issues in Latin America…. based on true stories and sources in close collaboration with teachers, students and experts. “

Last year every one at BETT, including me, was so taken with the EEE PC that you had to queue to even look at one! This year they are so mainstream that ASUS were at the back of the hall and you could spend all day at the stand if you wanted to. How technology moves on.