Monthly Archive for June, 2008

AccessApps - Portable assistive software

AccessApps: Portable assistive technology on a USB flash drive

Portable software is class of software which can be entirely run from a portable storage device (e.g. USB pen/thumb drive, memory card, mp3 player) without the need for installation or configuration on the computer being used. There is a long list of software which can be used in this portable way encompassing the entire spectrum from Internet browser to office applications such as word processing, spreadsheets and email.

The RSCs in Scotland have packaged a collection of over 40 free portable assistive software applications, ‘AccessApps’, and will be piloting there use over the next 2 months. A range of materials for this project have already been developed, including an introductory guide and a number of video tutorials. More information about this project can be found on the RSC Scotland North & East - AccessApps page.

If you are interested in creating your own, or your institutions, customised set of applications there are a number of ‘launchers’ you can use to package portable software applications. Wikipedia have a comparison of application launcher (the launcher used by AccessApps is Asuite).

Scottish Higher Education: Probably the best higher education in the world?

Yesterday saw the the publication of the first interim report from the Joint Future Thinking Taskforce on Universities on ‘New Horizons: responding to the challenges of the 21st century’. Various papers comment on the potential implications of this report for Scotland’s universities funding (see ‘Related Google News Feed’ for examples). As well as outlining a roadmap for a framework for the future of funding the report highlights what the Taskforce sees as the current strengths of Scotland’s universities. These include:

  • three Scottish universities in the world’s top 100 research universities
  • three universities in ranked in the top 10 new universities in the UK
  • 4.3% of Scottish students fail to leave university with a successful outcome (degree, other award or transfer to another educational programme)

So are we probably the best higher education in the world?

Generating charts from accessible data tables using the Google Charts API

I was recently looking for an accessible way to generate chart data when I came across Chris Heilmann example for Generating charts from accessible data tables and vice versa using the Google Charts API. One of the limitations of Chris’s solution was it only generated pie charts. Having some time to kill over the weekend I’ve made some additions to Chris’s original script. The biggest change has been the inclusion of line charts.

The changes are probably best illustrated by this demo page. On this page I’ve copied Chris’s original pie charts and included the new charts generated by the script. Most of the changes reflect suggestions from the comments on Chris’s blog (i.e. alt tag [Ben  Millard], fixed 3 digit limit [Robin Winslow]).

The big addition has been the inclusion of support for line charts. This uses the same principle of reading data from a table but unlike the original script which only read the first two columns the new script now reads in the entire table. Table headings are read as the data legends and the y-axis automatically scales to fit the entire data range (so far I’ve only got it working for absolute numbers).

One feature I’ve removed from Chris’s original script is the function to create a table from a chart.

You can download the script with the demo page and have a play around yourself. If anyone else is interested in developing this further leave a comment.

[I should also point out that I'm a 'hack' programmer so if anyone would like to tidy up my revised code please feel free].

A morning’s learning: Google Alert -> EdTechie -> [HE2.0 -> SocialLearn] & [Ads fund HE -> Visual Gadgets]

Jan 18 / IMG_6351
Originally uploaded by tavopp

As I start to write this it is now 9.05am and I’ve been in work since 8.10am. After 10 minutes tidying paper away and trying to get my laptop to dock properly a couple of notifications came in from my Gmail account. Since starting at the RSC I’ve created a number of Google Alerts (email updates of user defined Google search results). My ‘”Higher Education”’ alerts picked up the news that in Crewe they will be showing school pupils what university life is like, that Eastwood has been named as the new head of the University of Birmingham and ‘Blackburn College open day will be a class act‘. The alert also returned 5 blog entries from Policy Futures in Education (2), The Ed Techie (2) and Job Vacancies at Liverpool John Moores University (1).

The two posts that intrigued me the most were from Ed Techie, Technology as metaphor (or I’m on e-Literate) and Ads won’t fund learning (as we know it) (I’d never come across this blog by Martin Weller before but it immediately went into my RSS reader and recommend it to anyone else interested in educational technology, VLEs, web 2.0 etc.). The ‘technology as metaphor’ post was highlighting Martin’s guest contribution on e-Literate on SocialLearn: Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education. In this article Martin lays the foundation for exploring the relationship between technology and traditional educational frameworks. He argues that technology is facilitating ‘social change’, students adopting new tools for learning and socialising and that “the monolithic LMSs will be deserted, digital tumbleweed blowing down their forums. Students will abandon these in favour of their tools.”

The full article is well worth a read even only if you want an example of how the OUUK’s SocialLearn project is changing the way education is approached (if I get a chance I might post a summary of SocialLearn, so watch this space).

The Ads won’t fund learning post by Martin was in response to a post by Tony Hirst on The Cost of Learning (it appears the OU boys have been discussing business models for HE over a number of posts). While the discussion of education service models will be of interest to some, something else caught my eye. On the The Cost of Learning post Tony mentioned that he was “taking a break yesterday from blitzing a whole set of posts to the Visual Gadgets course un-unit (sic) blog experiment, …”. Tony has been experimenting with using blog for collecting material for an online course about visualising data in a graphical way. In an era of information overload this blog highlights a huge range of examples of how data can be visualised in different and succinct ways, well worth a browse.

So what have we learned from all this. Well apart from Eastwood (presumably not Clint) being named the new head of UoB hopefully this post demonstrates the power of ‘push’ technology. How a simple email alert, which took less than a minute to setup, started a chain of information which has highlighted some potentially useful sites and ongoing projects.

[Update -- This post was picked up by my own Google Alert:

A morning’s learning: Google Alert -> EdTechie -> [HE2.0 ...
By Martin Hawksey
My ‘"Higher Education"’ alerts picked up the news that in Crewe they will be showing school pupils what university life is like, that Eastwood has been named as the new head of the University of Birmingham and ‘Blackburn ...

Which guarantees I'll be in the inbox of anyone else using the search term '"Higher Education"' ;-)]

University lectures on iTunes

“Studying for class”
Originally uploaded by jakebouma

Last week the BBC reported that the University College London, the Open University and Trinity College Dublin are putting lectures onto ‘iTunes U’. Course material on iTunes isn’t new and in March Brain Kelly (UK Web Focus) highlighted that one of the UKs ‘Top of the Pods, Podpickers’ was the University of Bath whose podcasts were “popular enough to get us featured in the top 50 podcast originator on i-Tunes in the “Science and Medicine” section, ahead of any other university in the world.”

There is a very good article in the Times Higher Education which touches on the pros and cons of podcasts asking the question are ‘Podcasts set to know lectures off the podium’.

21st centrury lecturer - more admin than teaching

“Dealing with 100-250 emails a week, spending over half your time on administration, coping with rising seminar and lecture sizes, but spending less time with students.” UCU 2008

These are the findings of a recent UCU survey of 321 higher education lecturers. The headline figures are:

  • more than half of lecturers (53.9%) say they spend most of their working week dealing with administration
  • over half of lecturers (53.6%) spend at least 15 hours a week on administration with a quarter (27.4%) devoting more than 25 hours of their working week to the task
  • more than a quarter (28.7%) said they deal with over 250 emails a week and those with 250 or more emails a week said they did just 0-5 hours of research a week, 5-15 hours of teaching, but 25 hours or more of administration
  • over two thirds (71%) reported increases in class sizes at their institution in the last 10 years, but only a quarter (23.4%) said they now spend more time with students than they did a decade ago
  • of the 71% who reported growing class sizes, nearly half (44%) said they were spending less time with students.

More information on these figures is available in this UCU news briefing.

Award Winning Peer Assessment: WebPA

True or False Blog LogoOver on ‘True or False’ there is a post highlighting that the JISC funded project WebPA Wins International Learning Impact Award. Having been involved with the SFC funded REAP project, which was looking at how all forms of assessment can be used enhance teaching and learning in higher education, I am very aware that peer processes are becoming more popular for a variety of reasons (these reasons are elaborated on in the latest edition of the the ESCalate Newsletter, see article by David Nicol). It’s not surprising then that WebPA have won this award, what is even better is the software is open source!

HE in FE

In the last week I’ve hit a rich vein of reports and resources on ‘HE in FE’. Here’s a summary of what I’ve come across so far:

The first one has catchy title ‘Further education and the delivery of higher-level qualifications: understanding the contribution of further education to the delivery of Level 4 (higher) and professional qualifications - final report‘. This report was commissioned by the Learning Skills Council (LSC) to provide an overview of the contribution Further Education Colleges (FECs) in England make to the provision at Level 4 and above. The report concludes that "FECs make a significant contribution to higher level provision, especially for learners who might otherwise find HE difficult to access because of lack of prior academic attainment, inadequate funding, geographical location, or lack of confidence." Looking at the data in the report it was interesting to note that while the total number of students taking Level 4 and above has increased by 10% between 2002/03 and 2005/06 the proportion choosing to study degrees at FECs has decreased slightly from 12% to 11%.

We are also just over half way through the JISC funded HE in FE projects. A number of projects have been funded which are implementing, piloting and evaluating a range of technologies with learners in the HE in FE context. These projects have been piloting existing technologies capturing the learner experience. The full list of projects is available from the JISC HE in FE site.

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is also currently running a HE in FE enhancement programme. Of note is the monthly e-briefing which you can subscribe to or download from the main HEA - HE in FE page. They also have a comprehensive list of the Subject Centres which have pages devoted to HE in FE on the Subject Centre Work page.

One final report which is in my ‘to read’ pile is the QAA ‘Learning from Academic review of higher education in further education colleges in England 2005-07‘. This report was recently highlighted by a Times Higher Education article.

UPDATE: If you are interested in the reports above you may also like:


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

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