Category Archives: open source software

Designing a questionnaire for school staff (UK Governors/ School leaders)

This post may interest:

  • School governors/ leaders planning a staff questionnaire
  • Any seeking a (very) brief introduction to the options of designing any pencil and paper questionnaire.
  • Anyone looking for a LaTeX template for questionnaire design (this questionnaire is based on my slight adaptation of the paperandpencil.sty by Miriam Dieter & Anja Zwingenberger)

First thing: the actual questionnaire I designed

In my capacity as a school governor I designed a staff questionnaire last summer. I've made this available for anyone to use or adapt as they see fit. (Some of these questions are based on ones OFSTED ask teachers).

A basic consideration of options

There are many ways to do a staff questionnaire. Naturally online is fairly straightforward using third party software such as surveymonkey (free basic service, then £), or if you are more technically minded using various polling software and plugins in your own website (e.g. for wordpress). However in terms of online security paper and pencil questionnaires remain useful, and in a small(ish) school where everyone is in one place the benefits of setting up, administering and analysing an online questionnaire are probably not as great as for a larger organisation.

You may or may not be particularly worried about the presentation of your questionnaire. However, using your regular word-processing package (e.g. MSWord (£), LibreOffice writer (free and open source) etc.) will usually turn out to be more hassle than it's worth. Every time you try to move a box to a different place it ends up moving a whole load of other text (you've probably have experienced this behaviour when trying to put a photograph into a Word document).

If you wish to stick with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) a publishing tool such as MSPublisher (£) or Scribus (free and open source) are likely to yield better results than word processing software. These will enable you to have more control over the page layout.

A bit more technical: using LaTeX

The questionnaire I designed is built in LaTeX and I've made the source code available in github. The key advantage of LaTeX (more about LaTeX here) is that you can have complete control over the layout with a combination of standard commands and some stylesheets. The .tex code can then be exported to .pdf leading to a document which can be printed off.

Link summary

.pdf version of the questionnaire we used at our school.  There are online services which can covert .pdf to Word (.doc/ .docx) though your mileage may vary.

Github access to the source code.

Further help

I'm happy to provide a small amount of free help (subject to my availability) to UK schools wishing to use the questionnaire (e.g. add school name/ logo, remove questions or make relatively minor amendments).

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First experiences of a Linux (Ubuntu) virgin

Introduction

I'd be meaning to give Linux a try for the past couple of years. I recently bought a new PC installed with Windows 8.1, so decided to give Linux a try on the old PC.

This post documents my experience for the Linux-curious than giving actual instructions on how to get started. It is also based on my current understanding and two weeks experience. It is not an expert view!

What is Linux?

Linux is an Operating System (OS), like Windows used by most PCs and OS X used by Apple computers. In lay speak it is the thing that holds everything else together.

How much is Linux and where do I buy it?

This is probably the wrong question for a variety of reasons. You don't go into PC World or computer store and pick a copy of Linux up off the shelf. Linux can be downloaded for free (and legally). It is open source so people can develop their own versions of Linux and give it away or sell it as they see fit.

This is leads to a second point about Linux. You don't just go to the Linux website and download a copy of 'Linux'. Lots of different versions of Linux are available – these are known as 'distributions' or 'distros.' These can be downloaded and installed for various internet sites. I chose to use Ubuntu  as that seemed to be the distribution of choice for the Linux virgin. Other distros include Debian and Mint. Magazines such as Linux Format often come with a disk with a particular distribution on.

How do I install it?

I'll tell you how it did it as I'm sure that there are other, possibly better or more expert ways. I had my two PCs next to each other. I got on my new PC (pretty high spec) running Windows 8.1 and I went to the ubuntu website and burned a copy of Ubuntu 14.04 onto a blank DVD (it has to be a DVD, it won't fit on a CD). I made sure everything that was on my old PC has been transferred to the new PC (a process beyond the scope of this blog post). I put the Ubuntu DVD into the DVD drive of the old PC and followed the instructions. I opted to allow the installation to delete my Windows 7 installation though it appears you can run Ubuntu alongside Windows 7 without major problems (but alongside Windows 8 is another matter apparently).

I won't go through the installation process in detail, but it was pretty straightforward.

Is it basically free Windows?

Screenshot from Ubuntu 14.02.2 running Gnome desktop
It's an operating system and it looks a bit like Windows at first glance, but that's where most of the similarity ends. The biggest initial difference is that Linux makes extensive use of the command-line (CTRL+ALT+T) to install software and perform other functions. Some of these commands are similar to MS-DOS, familiar to those who remember pre-Windows PCs from the 80s and 90s. In reality though knowledge of MS-DOS probably isn’t that useful. It is useful to buy a book about Linux commands. I purchased the Kier Thomas' Working the Ubuntu Command-line prompt, just £1.15 for the Kindle version.

The Linux command window
The Linux command window
 

What about software?

The Ubuntu distro comes with some software pre-installed. This includes the Office suite LibreOffice (which can also run on Windows as a free alternative to MS Office) and the familiar browser Mozilla Firefox. It also comes with software to play CDs and DVDs.

Not all software is available for Linux, at least not officially. My eldest son is something of a Minecraft enthusiast, and although apparently possible to run Minecraft on Linux I have yet to get it working. Most familiar Windows software has its Linux 'equivalents' though they may not look exactly the same. Programs like Skype have Linux versions.

Installing software (including updates) is the thing that is most different and I'll save the details for another post (though there's plenty of information online).

 

Where their any teething problems?

Apart from the learning curve I wish I could say there were not problems. However, I did experience problems with the system crashing. This was solved by installing the GNOME desktop. Basically, from what I understand, some old graphics cards cannot cope with the latest versions of the Ubuntu desktop. I don't know the spec of my old PC graphics card, but it was second hand and only cost me £10. It coped with running Windows 7, but Ubuntu 14.04 was too much for it.

Will I be giving up Windows 8.1?

I don't like Windows 8 at all. It's not as bad as Vista and had it not been for Windows 7 I might have tried Linux a few years back. However, Windows is too familiar to give up and I'm yet to feel confident enough to rely on Linux for everything. I use software such as Minitab and Nvivio which I don't believe work in Linux. There is however WINE (which stands for WINE is not an emulator) which can be used for running Windows software though I've yet to try it.

Downsides to Linux Ubuntu

* Steep learning curve, especially the command line

* Some software difficult (or impossible) to run.

* Above mentioned problem with my graphics card.

Upsides

* Fast. It runs as quickly on my old 4GB of RAM PC as Windows 8.1 on my new 16GB PC.

* Free. Nothing to lose if it I can't get on with it.

* Ubuntu comes with Libre Office, Firefox and some other software pre-installed so you can get going straight away.

* So far I have solved most of my problems by looking online e.g.on the Ubuntu website.

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Hybrid Pedagogy: a different sort of journal

hybrisped

Developer, Financier, Designer: Building Hybrid Projects outside the University documents and reflects on my experiences of building the open access website YazikOpen. The article focuses more on the processes and issues about conducting a project outside the ‘official’ university than the technicalities of building the website, on modern languages or on the open access debate.

I wish to encourage others (in and out of academia) to take a look at the Hybrid Pedagogy online journal. I wanted to write this piece for some time, but was unsure where I could find an outlet to publish it. In my experience traditional journals don’t tend to be good outlet for reflective pieces, so I took to google and found out about Hybrid Pedagogy. Knowing nothing about the journal beyond what I saw on the website I took the plunge and submitted a short piece for consideration.

Hybrid Pedagogy is not only different in the sorts of article it publishes. Its peer review process is different from other journals I’ve published in. Rather than getting comments from anonymous reviewers, two editors from the journal, Sean Morris and Chris Friend, worked with me to bring the piece up to a publishable standard. They made suggestions, asked questions, asked me to expand certain sections and said what they thought was interesting about the piece and what they thought its shortcomings to be.

Hybrid Pedagogy is not only an open access online journal, but a different method of publication altogether. I would urge those with an interest in pedagogy or pedagogic research to take a serious look at the articles and consider contributing. There is even a section called 'Page Two' for non-peer reviewed contributions.

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List of stuff I give the world for free

I attended an interesting discussion about open learning led by Jon Dron from Athabasca University in Canada. We discussed open access, open learning in various forms, open educational resources and open source software.  We also discussed why we do, or do not give away our knowledge, time and resources for free. (I’ll leave the ‘why’ for another post).

I am a big user of free software and, of the most part, a recipient of rather than a contributor to the various websites, blogs and forums providing knowledge about its use. However I provide a lot of my stuff for free. This is not to make any comments about its quality.

  1. This blog: Not that one would expect blogs to be anything but free to access, but I like to think some for my posts cause others to reflect on their practice or solve a particular problem. 
  2.  A database on open access articles about the teaching and learning of languages (YazikOpen). This directory is kind of “out there”. Most people see to be led to it through Google as far as I can see. I’ve had thoughts at various times about whether it is worth the effort to maintain it, but a handful of people have said nice things about it.
  3. An online introduction to statistics book aimed at students in humanities. A project with which I’m still fiddling. Wondered whether or not to have a forum.
  4. Teaching and Learning resources out together over the years mostly linked to my account in the humbox.
  5. Various open access publications, plus short articles on other websites.  
  6. The outcomes of projects I have contributed to, never intended to be anything other than openly available, notably Getting More Out of the Feedback and Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality.
  7. I post anonymously on a couple of forums.
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nanDECK: Free software for making playing cards

The nanDECK website describes the software as “a software for Windows (any version) written as an aid for game inventors, with the aim of speeding up the process of designing and printing deck of cards (useful during prototyping and playtesting).”

nandeck
Example of nanDECK code.

Playing cards can of courses be created using a simple programme like word, but nanDECK offers a lot more. Although I’m not over-endowed in terms of artistic skills someone very skilled could make some nice cards.

Example of output

I found nanDECK when looking for a way to create cards as a resource for the Getting the Most Out of Feedback project. Originally I wondered if I could use LaTeX, but nanDECK is a specialist piece of software.

Like LaTeX, nanDECK works programmatically. nanDECK involves writing your own code in a text file. I found the online instruction manual very helpful for getting started.

I used it to create a feedback card activity for GMOOF. The code can be found on that website and can be adapted under a Creative Commons license.

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SEDA Fellowship report 2012-2013

Introduction

For the second year running I have opted to put my SEDA Fellowship report on my website (last year's here). Although I am currently working at the LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies at the University of Southampton, I will be joining the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton in September. I was offered the Brighton job back in May so I am very much in a transition frame of mind at present.

Career development

After ten years at the LLAS Centre (counting the centre in its LTSN/ HEA subject centre forms) I felt it was now time to move on and undertook a UK-wide job search. The end result was an offer from the Centre of Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. Last week I visited Brighton for the university’s internal teaching and learning conference and heard about a lot of the interesting things about some of the interesting things which are going on there. It was also nice to spend time getting to know some of my new colleagues as well.

Statistics for Humanities

twitter
Tweet referring to the Statistics for Humanities book.

This past year has been mostly project based. My Statistics for Humanities student ‘text-book’ is available in draft form and I am awaiting comments from the British Academy nominated reviewers.  The British Academy agreed that I could put a draft online for a crowd sourced review. This has led to receiving many helpful comments, and one academic in particular has provided some very extensive feedback. I have long been dissatisfied with introductory statistics textbooks. I hope that mine will reach out to students (and academics) who struggled in the past. The examples in the book come from the humanities and I have attempted to write a book which uses a verbal reasoning-based approach which should resonate better with humanities students than some other texts.

EU Quality Assurance project

University of Aveiro, Portugal. Venue for our third project meeting in December 2012.

We are coming to the end of the second year of this 2-year EU-funded project,  Sharing Practice in Assuring and Enhancing Quality (SPEAQ) which follows on from LANQUA (the Language Network for Quality Assurance). I didn’t work on LANQUA and hadn’t worked on an EU-project before. I was quite apprehensive about being involved in the project as I had seen colleagues undergoing the stresses of running a project which involves administrative complications (e.g. currency conversions and daily rates) as well as working alongside colleagues in other countries who work in very difference pedagogic, policy and quality environments.   Fortunately our assistant director (and my line manager) Alison Dickens is an experienced director of EU–projects and our senior administrator Sue Nash has worked on them before, so, fortunately for me, I have been able to concentrate mostly on content issues.

Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, Tallinn
Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, at European Quality Assurance Forum, Tallinn

In the first year of the project we developed a workshop in which staff, students and quality managers can participate together. I played a big role in this aspect of the project producing a dialogue sheet and writing facilitator instructions. Along with our Danish colleague Ole Helmersen from Copenhagen Business School I attended the EQAF Forum in Tallinn, Estonia where we tried out the workshop on a large group of quality professionals from a range of European countries.

As well as running the workshop the EQAF conference was a great staff development opportunity for me. As a QE person rather than QA person it was interesting the meet people who operate in very different QA systems. The UK seems to be fairly in the middle between those countries in which QA is very highly centralised and regulated through to countries where QA is virtually non-existent—at least in the way that I understand it. If there is one thing that all countries seem to have in common it is that QA appears very different from teaching. As one person I met pointed out, a poor teacher is not a quality issue as far as most university structures are concerned. Even at the Senior Manager level there is often a separation of roles between the person in which of QA and the person who in charge of teaching and the curriculum.

For the second part of the project each partner does their own small-scale project which meets a particular institutional need. At Southampton we decided to do a project on feedback, called "Getting the Most Out of Feedback" (GMOOF). The core principle of GMOOF is that everybody, whether a member of teaching staff, a student or a quality manager, is both a provided and recipient of feedback. The principles of good feedback: Relevant, Timely, Meaningful and with Suggestions for improvement (See Race online), apply to all feedback, not just feedback from teacher to student but also student to teacher, student to student, teacher to teacher etc., teacher to quality manager, teacher to professional body etc. etc. GMOOF is a website which focuses on giving good feedback and making the most of feedback from others rather than focusing on different job roles. (The website is under development at present). A workshop based on the project is being developed and will be piloted in Southampton in September – I’ll be in Brighton by then so will not be leading it(!) Additional material for the website includes a card sort (built using the free software nanDECK), a series of feedback videos with reflective questions (built in xtranormal and put up on youtube), videos of interviews about feedback with the project team and other colleagues at Southampton, and online quizzes for staff and students. There is also a section specific on how we at Southampton work to enhance the quality of teaching across the university.

Teaching

My teaching this year has focused in two major areas. I have been contributing to the interdisciplinary Curriculum Innovation module “Sustainability in the Local and Global Environment"). 2012-13 was the first time this module has run and I benefited greatly from working with National Teaching Fellow Simon Kemp. It has been some years since I taught undergraduates and the modules made extensive use of technology (including Twitter, Panopto, Blackboard) and had a variety of assessments including a presentation, conference paper and group film project.

My other teaching responsibility has involved teaching research skills to (mostly Humanities) doctoral students. I have run numerous sessions on everything from putting the thesis together, preparing for the viva, ethnographic methods, critical thinking and applying for funding. Most of my materials are available in the HumBox under a Creative Commons license. Students produce critical reflections on the sessions, which also provide me with feedback.

Other work.

I continue to undertake evaluation for Routes into Languages programme which is funded to increase the uptake of languages in schools. I was recently a keynote speaker at the conference Innovative Language Teaching and Learning at University: Enhancing the Learning Experience through Student Engagement at the University, which was held at the University of Manchester.

I also presented at the LLAS e-learning symposium about my online open access language teaching research website YazikOpen. I have also been preparing materials for the LLAS annual Heads of Department workshop, which is entitled “Thriving for the Public Good”

Future

At Brighton I am expecting to be involved in a variety of academic development activities including working with teaching staff to apply for the HEA Fellowships, blended learning and undertaking research. I will also being going to Plymouth in November to undertake PASS (Peer Assisted Study Session) Supervisor Training.

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AQUAD 7: Free Qualitative research software (brief notes)

A while back I wrote a short post about WEFT QDA, a free research package for qualitative data analysis. I was postive about it because, alough quite basic, was very user friendly. As I am undertaking a short evaluation project at present I thought I would revisit it. I spotted from the website that it has not been updated since 2006 and was optimised for Windows XP. When I wrote that ‘review’ I was running Windows XP on my work computer. I haven’t done much qualitative stuff recently so until today I had not tried it since I upgraded to Windows 7 at work. I could not get it to work. The author is no longer working on it, and I (for one) do not have the expertise to do anything with the source code. This is one of the hazards of free software of course!

My research led me to try out AQUAD 7 Screenshot(Analysis of Qualitative Data).  On the up side this is a very powerful piece of software, which can be used in the analysis of pictures and sound files as well as text and enables linkages, keyword hierarchies and some basic statistical functions (e.g. Chi-square). If that wasn’t enough there even seems to be some compatibility with the free statistics software “R”. On the downside this is definitely not a piece of software you can install and get working right away. The 200 page manual is compulsory reading to get started though the authors have provided some demonstration files which are useful. I’m still trying to get to grasp with the different file types which can be used to create lists of codes and metacodes. I haven’t found it particularly intuitive, but it has so much functionality I’m going to stick with it.

In conclusion this is definitely a piece of software worth exploring if you are looking for free qualitative data analysis software. The most striking thing about the manual is the way it explains the software by reference to theoretical frameworks from the qualitative research literature, something I can’t say I’ve seen in a software manual before. The software was originally developed in German, and there are odd places where translation has not taken place. For the most part the German only appears when you do something wrong!

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Come to 2013 LLAS e-learning symposium (+hear about YazikOpen)

Don't forget to register for the 2013 LLAS e-learning symposium at the University of Southampton.

Keynote speakers

Prof Mike Neary, Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of Lincoln
Prof Allison Littlejohn, Chair of Learning Technology, Glasgow Caledonian University, Director of the Caledonian Academy
Prof Gráinne Conole, Professor of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester
Nik Peachey, Associate Trainer, Bell Educational Services

Also

Hear more about open access and yazikopen.

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