Monthly Archive for June, 2010

What I’ve starred this week: June 29, 2010

Here’s some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Embeddable web services for student support

I was recently asked to identify some free embeddable web services which could be used in a website to support students considering articulation/progression routes from further to higher education. In particular they were interested in producing a visually appealing timeline which allowed students to see key dates, linking to additional resources. Below is a quick screencast I put together of 6 web services which might be of interest and where possible examples of their use in existing educational sites:


Timeglider is a free service for making embeddable timelines. Here’s an example of a Timeglider timeline  (clicking on timeline items allows you to link to other resources). This tool uses specific date ranges but you could get around reprogramming it each year by setting it around 0AD or 1900.


Google Calendar is embeddable calendar.  This could be used in a similar way as the timeline tool but is less visually attractive. Unlike Timeglider key dates could be set as reoccurring so once created there could be minimal updates required. The advantage of Google Calendar is it automatically generates links which when clicked offer to be included in the students calendar software, if it is compatible.  Example of embedded calendar at the Wittenburg University


Wallwisher is a online interactive notice board. There are potentially two ways you could use this: as a constructed noticeboard made by staff linking to resources, highlighting important information (a variation on the timeline idea). Alternatively as the University of Central Lancashire TAG site use it, as a method for getting feedback from students.

Online chat widget

Meebo is a chat widget used by a number of libraries in the region (and further afield). This allows a visitor to chat with a staff member via a little instant messaging window. An example of this can be seen on the QMU library site ‘Ask us’. (Along similar lines there is another embeddable video chat service call Tokbox)


getSatisfaction is a web service designed to allow companies to integrate a customer engagement/support service within their website. The service allows a user to ask a question, share an idea, report a problem or give praise. The process of creating a question or comment also automatically generates a FAQ. An example of how this can be integrated is on the University of Hawaii Library site.

Other examples gratefully received …

What I’ve starred this week: June 22, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Using Google Spreadsheet to automatically monitor Twitter event hashtags and more

I recently read Tony Hirst’s onFormSubmit – Raising Web Scale Events in Google Spreadsheets post which highlights opportunities with the new event triggers (the ability to trigger scripts on events like form submit or time-driven like every x minutes) and was blown away by the possibilities. My first thought was to re-examine my event booking spreadsheet but when I saw the twitter conversation below between Brian Kelly and Tony (psychemedia) I saw something better to do - a Google Spreadsheet which could capture and report the daily/weekly twitter activity from an event hashtag .

Brian Kelly (briankelly) @psychemedia @mweller Ive just captured stats & image of word cloud if#iwmw10 tweets to observe changes over time.
7:34 PM Jun 14th via Seesmic

Tony Hirst (psychemedia) @briankelly have you scheduled that capture using a service, or is it a manual chore?
7:43 PM Jun 14th via TweetDeck in reply to briankelly

Brian Kelly (briankelly)@psychemedia A manual capture now, week b4, during & after. Will help understand if worth development effort.
7:48 PM Jun 14th via Seesmic in reply to psychemedia

So here it is my Twitteralytics Google Spreadsheet. The video below gives a quick overview of how to set it up and what it does:

In summary the script is designed as a way to automatically pull daily or weekly results from twitter, summarise them and push an update via email. The spreadsheet also keeps a copy of the sampled tweets which could be used for further analysis down the line but I would recommend you only use this as a backup for a separate twitter archive on Twapper Keeper. There are also a number of other services which are probably better for more in-depth post analysis of event hashtag communities like Andy Powell Summarizr or Tony Hirst’s Yahoo Pipes for Personal Twitter Networks in Hashtag Communities.

While the spreadsheet was created to monitor event hashtags it could easily be modified for other applications. For example, I’m sure it could be easily modified to collect continuous student with twitter (as highlighted by AJCann). Also, it doesn’t have to be limited to Twitter results, the same framework could be used for other XML and HTML data.

How it was done

As always I like to document how it was done. The rough process of the script is:

  1. Open spreadsheet by ID (required when using event triggers)
  2. Copy the TMP sheet giving it the script execution date/time as a name
  3. getTweets from Twitter – more about this later
  4. Write results to new sheet
  5. Copy total and top tweeters to ‘Summary’ page
  6. Prepare and send email of summary results

The getTweets script I picked up from Mikael Thuneberg from, making a small modification to include date limits. The script uses built-in functions for fetching external data and parsing the results.

The TMP sheet also has some useful formula’s worth highlighting.

  • H2 - ‘=UNIQUE(E2:E)’ creates a list of the authors removing duplicate entries.
  • I2 - ‘=EXPAND(ArrayFormula(IF(ISBLANK(H2:H), “”, COUNTIF(E2:E,H2:H))))’  for every unique author in column H the formula count the number of times there name appears in column E
  • A2 - ‘=SORT(H2:I, I2:I, FALSE)’ sorts the values in column H (author names) by column I (the number of occurrences)

All of these formula automatically fill the column with results. More information on Google Spreadsheet formulas is here.

Convergence @youtube meets @twitter: In timeline commenting of YouTube videos using Twitter [uTitle]

Previously when looking at twitter subtitling of videos the focus has been on replaying the backchannel discussion with the archive video from live events. The resulting ‘Twitter Subtitle Generator’ has now been used to generate and replay the twitter stream for programmes on the BBC iPlayer (some iPlayer examples), the JISC 2010 Conference (See Searching the backchannel with Twitter subtitles) and more recently as a way to enhance lecture capture. The founding premise behind all these examples and the question originally posed by Tony Hirst was how to allow a user to experience and replay the synchronous channels of what was said from the stage, and what was said about what was said from the audience (physical and virtual). Having looked at synchronous communication I was interested to extend the question and look at asynchronous communication (i.e. what was said about what was said after it was said).

My first step has been to experiment with the use of Twitter for timeline commenting on YouTube videos. The idea of timeline commenting of media isn’t entirely new and has been a feature of audio services like SoundCloud for a while. Likewise I’m sure the idea of integrating with the Twitter service as a method of capturing comments has also been used (but for the life of me I can’t find an example- another project perhaps).

The result is a prototype tool I’m calling uTitle. How it works is best explained in the video below:

As can be seen in the video uTitle allows a user to make comments at any point in the video timeline. These comments are also captured and can be replayed and added to at a later point. The link below lets you try out uTile for yourself (the paint is still wet so if you come across any problems or have any feedback this is greatly appreciated – use comments below).

Click here to try uTitle (or here for an existing example)

Some notable points

A couple of features of uTitle worth highlighting. Firstly, as demonstrated by the example link above it is possible to directly link to a timeline commented video making sharing resources easier. Another important point is that because twitter comments for YouTube videos are aggregated by using the video id this makes it possible to use this data with other services (at one point I was considering short-coding the ids to make less an impact on the Twitter 140 character limit, but I wanted to make generated tweets has human readable as possible.

How it was done

For those of you interested here are a couple of the key development milestones:

Step 1 Indentify way to integrate with Twitter
I already knew Twitter had an API to allow developers to integrate with the Twitter service so it was a case of finding a head start on which I could build upon. As I do most of my coding in PHP I went straight to this section of the Twitter Libraries. Having tried a couple out I went for TwitterOAuth by Abraham Williams (mainly because it used OAuth and when I looked at the code I could understand what it was doing).

Step 2 Submit a form without page refresh
Something I’ve known is possible for a while but never needed. I knew I wanted to allow users to make comments via uTitle without refreshing the page and loosing their place in the video. This post on Ask About PHP was perfect for my needs.

Step 3 Jot down the pseudo code
This is what I wanted uTitle to do:

  • Get YouTube video id
  • If video id doesn’t exist as a notebook on Twapper Keeper make one
  • Else get results from Twapper Keeper for video id
  • Get results from Twitter Search
  • Merge data and remove duplicates
  • Generate XML subtitle file from results
  • Display interface page
    • On comment submit to twitter

Step 4 Put it all together
Some late nights pushing bytes across the screen …

These examples demonstrate how it is relatively straight forward to extract part of the Twitter timeline

Future development areas

Some quick notes on areas for further research/development:

Comment curation/admin – currently anything on the public timeline with a YouTube video is pulled in. A similar problem exists for the Twitter Subtitle Generator and it is something Tony and I have identified as a feature … but just haven’t had a chance to implement a solution. Part of the reason for developing the prototype is to start finding use cases (ie find out where the ship is leaking)

Merging synchronous with asynchronous – basically how can Twitter Subtitle Generator and uTitle be merged so comments can be collect post event (the issue here is there are two ways the subtitle timestamps would have to be generated and distinguishing what was said from what was said about what was said).

Other video sources – I’m primarily interested in how uTitle might work with BBC iPlayer (particularly as the latest developments are exploring social networks – as highlight by Tony).

Spamming your followers with comments – Interested to see if users are willing to use there main twitter account for generating comments.

Hmm I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew …

What I’ve starred this week: June 15, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Free Events: Developing Mobile Applications and QA/QE in e-Learning

A couple of events have hit my inbox which I think are worth sharing:

Developing Mobile Applications for Education [DevCSI]

logo-devcsi Date: 21 July 2010
Start time: 09:30
Location/venue: Hopkins Building, University of Reading

This is a free one day DevCSI workshop organised in conjunction with IT Services: Academic Services Directorate at the University of Reading is aimed at developers, web developers, systems administrators, who are interested in developing applications relevant for education on mobile devices and / or how to develop mobile friendly web content.

The day will include introductions / advice on developing:

  • for Iphone/IPad Platforms
  • for Symbian enabled devices
  • for Android devices
  • mobile device friendly web content

More information about Developing Mobile Applications event

Quality Assurance and Quality Enhancement in e-Learning Conference [HEA]

Date: 2 Jul 2010
Start Time: 10:00 am
Location/venue: Fielder Centre, University of Hertfordshire, England

This one-day conference will explore challenges facing the sector in relation to assuring quality whilst also enabling quality enhancement and innovation through technology enhanced learning (TEL).

Technologies impact on all aspects of the learning process, including teaching, assessment and communication. In light of changes in technologies and the changing role of e-learning within higher education, guidance and policies associated with quality assurance and quality enhancement of technology enhanced learning (TEL) need to be considered and reviewed.

Presentations will include a keynote from Professor Colin Raban, Director of Quality Enhancement at the University of Derby and dissemination of consultation findings from the HEA funded QAQE project.

The day will also include networking opportunities and participatory sessions to explore practitioner needs.

More information about QA/QE in e-Learning conference

What I’ve starred this week: June 8, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

9 (+1) alternatives to Ning (suggested by ALT Members and Champ’s List) [Social networking]

The ALT (Association for Learning Technology) ALT-MEMBERS and CHAMP-CURRICULUM JISCMail lists have had a flurry of emails recently discussing alternatives for the social networking platform Ning. If you are a Ning user working out where they go or you are considering using social networks in education for your next academic year here are some solutions mentioned by ALT and Champ members (to make this post a quick turnaround where indicated by [G&B] I’ve used descriptions produced by Robin Good and Daniele Bazzano’s ‘Ning Alternatives: Guide To The Best Social Networking Platforms And Online Group Services’ (made available under Creative Commons)):


tools_Groupsite GroupSite is an online social collaboration tool that you can use to create your own social network. Free to use (but ad-supported) or starting from $29 per month, GroupSite tries to take the best out of social network applications and collaboration services while merging the best of the two worlds: customizable member profiles, group blog, discussion forum, photo galleries, videos and shared calendar are all standard features. Other core characteristics that make GroupSite stand out are: file sharing, members endorsement, analytics, permission controls, readily-available templates, email digest and more. [G&B]


tools_Spruz Spruz allows you to create free websites enhanced with social networking features. Blogs, video sharing, photo galleries, forum discussion, shared calendars and member profiles are all standard features of Spruz. Advanced features include: file sharing, permission controls, readily-available templates, chat, analytics, and much more. Your website will also be completely customizable with a drag-and-drop interface and greater control over the appearance of your social site. To ease the transition for former Ning users, Spruz offers a migration script that allows you to transfer your Ning community to a brand new Spruz website. [G&B]

There is a long list of Spruz features here (it is worth checking the free features at the end of this page to make sure it has everything you need). For examples Spruz in education/classroom they have a directory of school/college sites

WordPress (with BuddyPress)

tools_BuddyPress BuddyPress is a plugin for the WordPress blogging platform that allows you to create an online social network. Free to use, BuddyPress enhances your standard WordPress blog to support common standard features of an online community service like Ning: customizable member profiles, blogs, a discussion forum, photo galleries and videos. By using one of the many WordPress plugins available you can also add a shared calendar to BuddyPress and track group activities and events. Other core features of BuddyPress include: activity streams, file sharing and private messaging. To style your BuddyPress-powered social network you can choose among several readily-available templates and assign your social network a unique domain name for a small fee. [G&B]

BuddyPress is a self-hosted solution i.e. it runs off your institutional servers although it wouldn’t be surprised if someone has a hosted solution (at a price). Examples of BuddyPress can be found in their showcase, you also might want to see the Digital Learning Network.


tools_Elgg Elgg is an open-source social platform whereby you can create your own online social network. Elgg comes in two flavours: a hosted solution priced between $29.95 and $49.95 per month and a free alternative that you can download and install on your own web server. Whatever option you go for, here some of the basic characteristics of Elgg: member profiles, blogs, discussion forum, photo gallery and video gallery. A shared calendar can also be added by using one of the many user-contributed plugins available. Other standard features of Elgg include: private messaging, file sharing, the ability to create and run a wiki, permission controls social bookmarking, activity streams and more. [G&B]

There are a number of examples of institutional rollouts of Elgg. In 2007 [email protected] won the JISC Outstanding ICT Initiative. (In our region I also know about UHI Communities – there are probably more)


MoodleMoodle is better known as a virtual learning environment used for managing and delivering courses rather than a social networking platform, but its ‘focus on interaction and collaborative construction of content’ makes it possible to use it in this way. If your institution already uses Moodle then the immediate advantage is it should be an environment users are familiar with (and potentially one less login). There are some limitations in what students can do, for example there may be restrictions on file uploads, but the basic set of social networking features (profile, forums, wiki) exist. There is also the possibility of integrating with other platforms like the Mahara e-portfolio system (Mahoodle) or even Second Life (SLoodle).

LearnCentral from Elluminate

LearnCentral is perhaps not as main of the social networking features as other hosted platforms but being ‘sponsored’ by Elluminate it is not surprising that there is integration with Elluminate’s other collaboration services (online meeting etc). LearnCentral describe itself as “more than a social network or a learning community, this free, open environment represents the next logical step of combining asynchronous social networking and the ability to store, organize, and find educational resources with the live, online meeting and collaboration provided by Elluminate technology”. From what I can see LearnCentral is being used more to support educators rather than student networks but there maybe activity going on in the paid for ‘private communities’.


Edmodo is regularly described as a micro-blogging service for educational use, but there is a lot more to it than that. Edmodo say their “free network offers a safe and easy way to post classroom materials, share helpful links and videos, and access homework, grades and school-wide notices”. The interface is a cross between Facebook and Twitter and is ad-free. Features which might be of interest to educators include managing closed groups, assignments, files and links and running polls. Designed perhaps more for schools and college students it might also be of interest to HE. If you claim your community, Edmodo allows you to monitor student usage and measure classroom participation as well as customising your community web address.


tools_SocialGO SocialGO is a web-based service that allows you to create your own social network. If you are familiar with Facebook, you will find a similar interface and many Facebook-like features. SocialGO comes in two versions: a free, ad-supported solution with standard features and an ad-free alternative priced at $29 per month. The premium solution of SocialGO allows you to run your own ads and other advanced features like adding widgets to your website and using live audio / video chat. Personal and group blogs, each member has a wall where people can comment and post media, photo and video sharing capabilities, customizable member profiles, discussion forums and shared calendars to keep track of group events. Other features include: activity streams, file sharing, permission controls, readily-available templates, API, Facebook and Twitter integration, email notifications, and more. [G&B]

SocialGo appears to be focused more on the business market than education, particularly with the option to monetize your network with member billing, advertising and reselling (SocialGo is also a UK start-up).


CrowdVine comes in two flavours one for conferences (used at ALT-C) and the other for groups. The main difference is with the conference version there are specific features for programme management, feedback and a ‘want-to-meet’ feature. CrowdVine for Groups can be created for free and are ad supported, or ad-free by paying $24/month per thousand users. A nice feature of CrowdVine are the customised profile questions, which could be used to nurture early network cohesion. An example of this can be seen in the Stanford Stats 252 CrowdVine.

The final suggestion wasn’t mentioned on the ALT Member list, but I would like to throw it into the mix is Facebook.

Facebook have come under fire recently over their over complicated privacy settings but I still think it is an option worth considering. A number of institutions already use Facebook to market/support  their institutions, services and courses. A common concern I hear when considering Facebook is the social/work divide. That is the perceptions that students prefer to keep their social life and studies separate. Facebook is one of the few platforms where I see research on its use in education (most recently AJCann highlighted recent work from Leicester on student retention and Facebook). Importantly it should also be remembered Facebook was originally created by students for students!

Not surprisingly there is a Facebook in Education page on … Facebook

What I’ve starred this week: June 1, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.


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

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