Category Archives: websites

Workaround where a website requires the old youtube embed code

Just a note for myself, but may help others.

Today I made a short video demonstrating how to submit application for Fellowship of Higher Education Academy (no use outside the University of Brighton).

To embed a youtube on a website is simply a matter of clicking 'share' then 'embed' then copying the code into the html part of the website.

Until last year Youtube contained an option to 'embed old code'. Until today I didn't really know why this was necessary, but some websites and software still require the old code. The Brighton CLT website is built in Concrete 5 (or at least the version we have), which does not support the new youtube embed code.

Fortunately, help is at hand from http://www.gorissen.info/Pierre/files/YouTube_code.htm Just paste the youtube link, click 'generate' and  the site generates the old code.

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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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Update on the "Statistics for humanities" website and the failings of the Internet

Firstly…

For the past few months I have been working on a British Academy funded online book to introduce humanities students to statistics. The website is under development and is not public at present. If any readers are interested in providing feedback, please get in touch (j.canning[at]soton.ac.uk) and I can give you an access password in the next few weeks.

Why is this website/ book/ resource is needed?

There are thousands of introductory statistics texts on the market, and I’ve only looked at a small number of them.  In my view a majority of them go too far too fast. For some disciplines this may be appropriate, but introducing the normal distribution in Chapter 1 is frightening to students who have not studied mathematics since the age of 16, and many humanities students are in this situation.  Just to give an example I have the Second edition of Statistics in Geography by David Ebdon on my desk.*  I bought it when I was a geography undergraduate in the mid-1990s, by which time the text was almost 20 years old. I actually think it’s a good book on many levels and I frequently refer to it, but the first chapter introduces data types, probability theory, the normal distribution, hypothesis and significance. As a geographer without an A-level in Maths I found all this a bit much. In the sense of getting good marks I did well in statistics at as an undergraduate, but I can’t claim I really understood what I was doing. For non-mathematicians, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, statistics is very much a ‘hurdle’ to be overcome. Surface learning is the order of the day. With this book I take slower approach whilst hoping to make statistics seem interesting and relevant, but using humanities type examples.

The Internet

We have become so used to the idea that “everything” is available on the World Wide Web that we take it for granted that anything we want to know is out there online somewhere.  Searching for anything to do with statistics leads to seemingly random pages put up to support undergraduate-level statistics courses. Some of these are very useful of course, but on the whole these relate back to a face-to-face course of which we have no knowledge. Some of these websites are among the oldest pages on the World Wide Web. In many cases this is not a problem, but there is no shortage of webpages with references to pre-‘Windows’ versions of Minitab . Wikipedia is useful for many things but statistics really isn’t one of them, as discussion of the statistical tests is highly theory bound.  On the plus side there are any good videos elsewhere. As I’ve mentioned before Daniel Judge’s youtube videos are particularly excellent.

Two annoyances (or surprises)

  1. Surprisingly, although the World Wide Web has been with us for nearly 20 years, displaying mathematical notation online is still a problematic area. I have managed to resolve it to my satisfaction and made this the subject of my last post.
  2. A second surprise (annoyance) lies in in my attempt to find critical values tables in a useful online format. Every statistics book contains them  and they are available online in various formats—I’ve seen some in tables on webpages, scans of tables from books, pdf etc. etc. I have yet to find the tables I need in one place.  It strikes me as surprising that Neave’s Statistics Tables: For Mathematicians, Engineers, Economists and the Behavioural and Management Sciences is not available as a website. Copyright warnings are printed on the amazon preview, but I’m not sure the tables themselves are under copyright. Copyright and critical values tables are not something I expected to have to think about. If anyone could point me in the right direction about this I would be very grateful.

*This 1985 second edition is still in print. Not sure what today's undergraduates would make of the 17 computer programs written in BASIC.

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Displaying equations online without using images

This is an "additional information" page I have written for the forthcoming humanities statistics resource. I was going to use images, but was unsatisfied with the results. This solution took me a while to work out, but I thought I would share it here as well.

1. The easiest way to display an equation online is to use an image. If you create your equation in MS Word or Open Office you can use the snipping tool (In Windows 7) to make it into an image for website display.

2. The better (though much harder) way is to use LaTeX Math and it  requires some web development knowledge. This is not a comprehensive guide, but hopefully provides a good starting point.

LaTeX is used for preparing academic articles, mainly in the sciences. LaTeX is actually a language which can be understood with practice. If you plan to use a lot of equations online is probably worth investing some time in becoming familiar with LaTeX.

For example The LaTeX code for the correlation co-efficient is:

r=frac{{1}/{n}{(x_1-bar{x})(y_1-bar{y})+(x_2-bar{x})(y_2-bar{y}) ... + .... (x_n-bar{x})(y_n-bar{y})}}{SD_x SD_y}

Which rendered in LaTeX produces:

[ r=frac{{1}/{n}{(x_1-bar{x})(y_1-bar{y})+(x_2-bar{x})(y_2-bar{y}) ... + .... (x_n-bar{x})(y_n-bar{y})}}{SD_x SD_y}].

LaTeX looks complicated, but is actually surprising logical once you start to get the hang of it. A number of free open source LaTeX editors are available and the results can be exported into .pdf format. However, the editors are not needed when displaying equations online.

Unfortunately understanding LaTeX is not the only necessary step to publishing equations online. LaTeX is not html and will not work on a website without additional plugins.* The statistics website I am developing is built in Drupal and uses the add-on module MathJax to render the LaTeX online. It can be also used in WordPress (which I am using for this blog) and a variety of other applications.  See the MathJax, Drupal or WordPress websites to find details of the installation process. *[Added 23/10/2012] I've since learnt that wordpress.com supports LaTeX natively, but I have not checked this.

Short Math Guide for LaTex by Michael Downes (American Mathematical society website).

Mathjax

Mathjax drupal module

Mathjax WordPress.org plugin

Added 6th October 2012

As life would have it MathJax seems to have stopped working on my Drupal site. (It worked fine a couple of days back)  However, this code at the top of any page where you wish to use LaTex does seem to be working now.

I am grateful to the author of this website  for the code to place on the page.

<script src="http://cdn.mathjax.org/mathjax/latest/MathJax.js" type="text/javascript">
    MathJax.Hub.Config({
        extensions: ["tex2jax.js","TeX/AmsMath.js","TeX/AMSsymbols.js"],
        jax: ["input/TeX","output/HTML-CSS"],
        tex2jax: {
            inlineMath: [ ['$','$'], [""] ],
            displayMath: [ ['',''], ["

"] ], processEscapes: true, }, "HTML-CSS": { availableFonts: ["TeX"] } }); </script>
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The expanding ‘middle space’ between technological innovation and innovation in using technology

The expanding ‘middle space’ between technological innovation and innovation in using technology.
Part of my learning journey over the past year has been learning Drupal and WordPress.org. A couple of years ago one of my web developer colleagues showed me a cartoon of the Drupal learning curve. The Drupal learning 'curve' is actually a cliff-face which is shown to claim many victims. Images of crosses and a runaway train have the potential to destroy even skilled and experienced developers. I understand that Drupal 7 is somewhat more user-friendly than its predecessor versions, but nevertheless there have been some false starts and issues continue to arise from time to time.

That said I consider myself something of a 'Route 1' learner. I learn what I want to know in order to achieve a specific outcome. I am actually proud of the fact I managed to build YazikOpen in my own time using Drupal. It wasn't that I set out to use Drupal from the beginning but attempts to use Joomla and WordPress (which I use for this blog) were unsuccessful. Most importantly an add-on biblio module is available in Drupal. It is this module which forms the backbone of my site.
I am not a web developer, at least not a professional one. Developing a website is not without its problems, but there is enormous potential for non-specialists to innovate in web development.

This innovation does not relate to the software itself, but the way it is used. Innovation is much about the content itself of course, but Drupal offers a half-way house between developing new software and applications on one hand and making innovative use of new technologies on the other.

Put simply Drupal is made up of two types of modules: core modules, the majority of which need to be activated to build any sort of website and optional modules which are being developed all the time. If there is anything you would like a website to do, the chances are that a module is available. This gives the opportunity for people like me who know little about programming build websites in ways that would have been very difficult for even the most talented web developers a few years ago. You might say that you can use the same pile of bricks in different ways to build a garden wall, a house or a cathedral. Behind the scenes it is unlikely that any two Drupal-built websites are the same.

Of course we will always need web developers, web designers and software developers of course and innovations in these areas will not stop. Just because we amateurs can do something does not always mean we should. Just because I can get something work does not mean I have found the best way to make it work.  It is ideal to have a website which looks good and is easy to navigate, though on some occasions this is more important than others. There is also the small matter of online security.

However I see a number of opportunities for see for those interested in this expanding ‘middle space’.

  • When I started to build YazikOpen I knew more or less what I wanted to achieve. Through learning online and buying a book or two I have more or less got where I what to go.
  • As an individual I have a high level of control over the technology as well as the content. If things are not working or I find a way to make it work better I can change things at the first point of convenience. I don’t need to wait until another person’s time becomes available and I don’t have to explain to other what I want to do.
  • I am currently putting together a website introducing humanities students to statistics. One of the technical challenges I have overcome is rendering LaTaX online* for the equations. I am able to make sure both the maths and appearance are working out.
  • Drupal, and many other packages are open source and free to the use. Premium services are available, but I don’t have to spend any money just to try something out.
  • Following on from above, if I want to buy a premium professional theme I can.
  • There is a strong online community of support for those new to Drupal, as well as more experienced developers.
  • New modules are being developed all the time. Although I don’t have the skills to build my own modules (at least not yet), finding another person asking the same question is only a google search away. And usually there is a module which can achieve it.

* I have written a section on this for the statistics website which I will make available on here as well.

 

 

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Unistats and the information cult.

Having been going on to anybody who would listen (and those who wouldn’t) about the Key Information Sets for the past year or so, I actually managed to forget today was the launch of the new unistats website. Once there was talk of the ‘information age’, but now we have an ‘information cult’. In the information cult, if there is enough information about things we can made good and right choices. Back in the 1980s there was an advert for a bank, which parodied their rivals—each time a customer asked a question the bank employee would reply, “Here is a leaflet about it”. The point about their bank was that they actually answered your questions in person.Image of Key Information Set

With the internet we have a gigantic worldwide “leaflet about it”, whatever “it” is. With the right information we can apparently make choices about which school to send our children to, what hospital to have our operation at, what car insurance to buy and which company is the cheapest for electricity this week. The launch of the new unistats has been receiving a lot of coverage, mostly negative on the Times Higher Website. The KIS contains information on salary, % of assessment which is coursework and scores from the National Student Survey, among other things.

As Roger Brown pointed out some months back, this is actually a moral issue. The idea that this information empowers potential students to make reasoned choices is very troubling. And like anything which is measured, universities (and any other organisations), as Adam Child is quoted as saying in the article, will focus on the what is measured rather than making improvements  which really matter. And where there are numbers there are league tables.

Some have suggested that choosing a university is becoming like buying car insurance a la Compare the Market. This is nonsense. You can change your car insurance company, you can move house, you can change your spouse and you can even your bank (allegedly we are more statistically more likely to change our spouse than our bank).  The time and money expense of university means a wrong choice can be disastrous.  Like a pawn move in chess it is made forever.  In one of his books, Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comics talks about the confusopoly, an economic system sustained on the collective ability of service providers to confuse consumers with complex pricing structures, tariffs and performance measures. Perhaps that is what we are coming to here with universities.

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Update on things

No blog post for a while now. I have been busy with work then the Christian conference Spring Harvest. I’ll be back in work on Wednesday in London at the Islamic Studies Network workshops on partnerships then Thursday at our annual new staff workshop at Aston University, so it’s a while before I get back to my Southampton office.

I have been working yazikopen.org.uk, my database of open access language teaching research. I’ve now produced a flyer which people can print out to give to their colleagues/ students. It’s not the highest quality flyer, but it gives the necessary information and life has been very busy recently. It is also available on humbox.

We bought our eldest son his first train-set for his sixth birthday a couple of weeks back. We are already thinking in terms of extending his layout and I am beginning to reacquaint myself with my Science GCSE as I think about building signals and lampposts with LEDs and resistors and things. We have also had some problems with the free sat which I seem to have sorted out now. I’m spending more time developing my practical side right now out in the garden and around the house.

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Free open access research into teaching and learning languages

I am delighted to announce that my new website Yazikopen is now online. Yazikopen links to over 1000 articles into teaching and learning languages. All these articles are open access—in other words they are free to view wherever you are in the world.

Yazik open screenshot

Most academic articles online require a subscription to view or require the reader to purchase the articles individually (£25 for a 16 page pdf document is not unusual). I am fortunate to work at a large university which subscribes to a wide range of paid-for journals, but I hope that Yazikopen will be especially valuable to researchers who do not have access to subscription journals. The expense of most journals makes them out of reach of most school teachers as well as researchers and students working in smaller or poorer institutions, independent (or job-seeking) researchers and individuals in countries where library resources are very limited.

 

Open access logoSomeone has to pay for research somewhere along the line. In some cases the authors pay a publication fee so that their article can be made open access. In the case of other journals there is no fee—the people who run the journal donate their time freely, or their time is paid for by their employers. Yazikopen contains links to both sorts of open access materials. Most importantly Yazikopen helps the people who will benefit most to access research. It is a sorry state of affairs when teachers cannot access research which would help them to become better teachers and academics, researchers and students are unable to access research available to their peers.

Please take a look at the Yazikopen website. It is still a work ‘in progress’—not all the items are keyworded yet, though the free text research works quite well. Please email me admin@yazikopen.org your comments or send to @Yazikopen on Twitter.

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My top five Teaching and Learning websites (in no particular order).

I've never written a top 5 list before, but here is a "top 5": list from me.

Phil Race

Emeritus Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University and Educational Development Consultant Phil Race has shared lots of his materials on his website. The compendium of his writings on assessment is ideal for experienced teachers as well as lecturers starting out. He also shares his thoughts on the National Student Survey and his page “If I were in charge…” motivates reflection on the way universities operate.

http://phil-race.co.uk

Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development

Lots of great resources here on almost everything you can think of from assessment to plagiarism, internationalism to course design. I’ve found its page on writing learning objectives with its extensive list of appropriate verbs valuable on numerous occasions.

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/index.html

E-learning blog “Don’t waste your time”

I found the website of David Hopkins, Learning Technologist at Bournemouth University when trying to find out what a QR code was (I’ve yet to feel that the purchase of smart phone is justified, but all the students seem to have them). The poster downloads on topics like using blackboard are helpful as so are the tips on making effective use of blogs and Twitter (lots for me to learn here.)

www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk

HumBox

Ok, I might be a bit biased here as some of my colleagues at the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies led the project to build this teaching resource repository. The HumBox describes itself as “…a new way of storing, managing and publishing your Humanities teaching resources on the web.” The beauty of Humbox is its remarkable simplicity of use. Once you have set up an account you can upload and download resources in virtually any format, as easily as is technologically possible. I really started appreciating HumBox when trying (often unsuccessfully) to use some other repositories (no names will be mentioned here).

www.humbox.ac.uk

YoutubeEDU

A mixed bag as you might expect, but some great material and good production standards. As I write I am listening to a round table discussion on “Why French Matters”. A highlight for me is Dan Judge’s statistics lectures which succeed in making a difficult subject (for me) so engaging.

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