Monthly Archive for December, 2010

What I’ve starred this month: December 28, 2010

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

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Festive treat: How-to temporarily stop receiving JISCMail list messages

I’ve a very complicated email setup which involves mail forwarding, group email addresses and  loads of rules and alerts. I also have to keep a passing eye on work email over the holidays to keep projects like EduApps and MyStudyBar ticking over. Consequently, I’ll be dipping into email using the brilliant (and open source) K9 email app for Android.

So that I don’t miss something important in the gentle hum of all my mail subscriptions for the holidays I’ll be temporarily suspending the email I receive from most of the 34 JISCMail lists I subscribe to. Below is a quick screencast showing how to suspend JISCMail messages (to restart receiving is a similar process). Happy holidays!

gEVS – An idea for a Google Form/Visualization mashup for electronic voting

First I should say I don’t think this is the best solution, in fact an earlier post from 2008 DIY: A wi-fi student response system is probably a solution, if perhaps needing more tidying up, but I’m posting anyway just on the of chance that this might inspire or help solve someone else’s problem.

This post has come about as a result of a couple of things:

  1. I’m in a bit of a Google Apps run.
  2. I read and enjoyed Donald Clarks Clickers: mobile technology that will work in classes
  3. I saw and contributed to Tom Barrett’s crowdsourced X Interesting Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom (I added #39 Collaboratively building a timeline which I discovered through Derek Bruff’s class example.

Concept: Using Google Forms as an interface for a mobile/desktop based voting system.

Issue: If you are asking multiple questions the form needs prepopulating with options making it a long list for the student to navigate and potentially creating a predefined route of questions.

Solution: Use a generic form with one set of response options, the class using a unique question identifier for response graphs to be generated from.

The finished result

Below (if you aren’t reading this via RSS) is this Google Form. [You can make a copy of the related Spreadsheet and customise the text and options. For example, you might want to turn qID into a list option rather than free text.]


And here is a page with a summary of responses, which allows the user to choose which response set to display (screenshot shown below):

Screenshoot of summary of responses

How it was done

Some of you might already be familiar with Google Chart. This service allows you to create chart images by encoding the data in the URL. I’ve used this service in a number of my mashups, in fact all of my previous voting mashups use it in some way, and not surprisingly in Generating charts from accessible data tables using the Google Charts API.

Google Chart works well if it easy for you to get the data and format it for the image URL. For more complex tasks there is Google Visualization. The advantage of Visualization is it gives you a way of querying a data source before displaying as a table or chart. To see what you can do (and the place where I aped most of the code for this mashup) you should visit the interactive gallery of Visualization examples.

Using the Using The Query Language example as a stating point I could see you could lookup data from a Google Spreadsheet and filter the response using Google Visualization API Query Language, which is very similar to SQL. What I wanted to do was SELECT the data from the spreadsheet WHERE it matched a question identifier and COUNT the number of occurrences for each GROUP of response options. An extract from the table of data is:

Timestamp qIDAnswer

My attempts to convert the SQL version of this query which is something like:

SELECT C, Count(C) AS CountOfC WHERE B = ‘questionID’ GROUP BY C

initially I was left with keyboard shaped indentations on my forehead trying to get this to work but Tony Hirst (@psychmedia) was able to end my frustration with this tweet. This meant I was able to use the following query VQL friendly:

SELECT C, Count(B) WHERE B = ‘questionID’ GROUP BY C

The next part of the problem was how to let the user decide which question ID they wanted to graph. Looking at the Simple Visualization example I could see it would be easy to iterate across the returned data and push out some html using JavaScript. What I wanted to do was GROUP the questionID’s and COUNT the number of responses, which is possible using:


This returns a table of unique question IDs and a separate column with a count of the number of responses. A form list element is populated with the results using:

for (i=0; i<data.getNumberOfRows(); i++){
  var ansText = data.getValue(i, 0)+' (No of votes '+data.getValue(i, 1)+')';
  var valText = data.getValue(i, 0);
  ansSet.options[ansSet.options.length]=new Option(ansText,valText);

And that’s it. If you want to play around with this the code is here. Enjoy and if you find this idea useful or if you spot any issues as always I value your comments.

Cooking: A Custom Search Engine for … with Edublog 2010 Nominees

In my spare time I like to do a bit of cooking. I’m mainly a recipes kind of a guy, using the experience of recreating something tried and tested to build a foundation of knowledge to explore some of my own personal creations.

The same is true for my interest in educational mash-ups. Trying out other peoples ideas to improve my basic comprehension as well as looking for opportunities for new twists.       

Tonight I’ve been faithfully recreating Tony Hirst’s A Custom Search Engine for the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2010 Nominees using the list of shortlisted nominations for the 2010 Edublog Awards.

Like Tony’s experience with the Computer Weekly awards Edublogs have gone down the route of just having a linked list of nominations in each of the categories. It would have been nice to have an OPML file for the available feeds but with almost 600 shortlisted nominations I guess their focus is on other priorities.

Here’s how I got on. One of Tony’s required ingredients is a lists of nominated blog urls. Fortunately there is a list of these on the Edublogs homepage but the urls are behind text links so copying and pasting into Excel hides the url:

Excel Spreadsheet of 2010 Edublog award nominations

Not wanting to individually copy the url from 600 links I looked to see if there was a way of using a formula to get the links. I didn’t find a formula but has a handy macro for Extracting URLs from Hyperlinks. I’m not going to go into macros but if it is something you would like to find out about I’m sure ExcelTips is an ideal place to start. The macro they suggest is:

Sub ExtractHL()
    Dim HL As Hyperlink
    For Each HL In ActiveSheet.Hyperlinks
        HL.Range.Offset(0, 1).Value = HL.Address
End Sub


This cycles through the sheet and for each hyperlink it find it puts the link address in the cell next to it.

Excel spreadsheet with hyperlink addresses extracted

With this I was able to get back to Tony’s recipe. When it came to Step 2 Refinements I hit a bit of a snag as there appears to be a limit of 16 possible refinements in Google CSE and 23 Edublog award categories. My solution to merge the less bloggy type categories into ‘Other’.

In Step 4 Preparing the URLs I also went my own way, modifying Tony’s:


formula to:


[basically if end of the url has ‘/’ add ‘*’ else add ‘/*’. This catches .com and but doesn’t work if the url ends with a querystring or .file_extension – manual sweep used to pick up any problems]

Here’s the resulting TSV file I uploaded for more example. With Google Spreadsheet you can output in different formats including TSV by changing the output=txt e.g. here’s the same sheets as TSV which got me wondering if you could just point CSE to a Google Spreadsheet. There are options in CSE to host your own annotations XML or point to a feed but I can’t see a way for hosting it as Spreadsheet (I did come across the csesheet project which lets you configure your custom search engine through a Google Spreadsheet, but will let someone else look into that one.

So here is the fruits of my labour a Google Custom Search Engine of the 2010 Edublogs Award nominations and of course using my How to Google Instant(ise) a Custom Search Engine (CSE) the

Instantised Google Custom Search Engine of the 2010 Edublogs Award nominations

Stocking Filler: The EduApps Top 3

Stuck at home waiting for my car’s snow socks to arrive I thought it useful to remind you of one of RSC Scotland North & East’s stocking fillers, EduApps.

Our RSC has been plugging open source and freeware for ages. Why? Because it has enormous (and still largely untapped) potential in education. Who else says so? You do! Thousands of people have downloaded zillions of poundsworths of applications from our servers. What do YOU say are the most popular in education? Here we present YOUR top three, ranked by popularity through our server requests:

  • At number 3, Audacity hardly needs any introduction: it is one of the most popular open source programs in the whole world, with 72 million downloads registered across the planet (Wikipedia, today). Audacity handles your digital audio recording and editing requirements.
  • Taking the number 2 slot is Balabolka. In Russian, this word means ‘chatterer’. In software, it describes a great free text to speech utility with several neat and customisable features.
  • And at the very top of the tree is XMind, a mind-mapping tool which helps people capture ideas and share them for collaboration.  Perfect for education.

EduApps: just use it, give it, share it – all for free.

Making ripples in a big pond: Optimising videos with an iTitle Twitter track

This post was originally published on the FOTE blog on the 1st November 2010

With 24 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, your videos can quickly be lost within a sea of content. Not only this, but because videos have historically been difficult for search engines to catalogue, your drop in the ocean of content can become indistinguishable from everything else.

It’s not surprising therefore that the current kings of search and owners of YouTube, Google, announced that in March 2010 that video’s on YouTube would be auto-captioned. Whilst this announcement is pitched at improving accessibility for the hearing impaired, it also means there is wider accessibility in terms of how the videos are indexed and ultimately searched. Need proof? The following Google Search returns this video (which convenient also highlights the value of captioning videos for search engine optimisation).

But what if you have conference videos or other educational resources, like lecture capture, which isn’t on YouTube? There are a number of options to captions including: using standalone voice recognition software, various caption/annotation tools, professional captioning, or just sitting down and manually writing captions in a text editor. All of these potentially have a cost associated with them. If only there was a way you could crowdsource captions … hold that thought.

A well as the rise in popularity of video, conference delegates are increasingly using the micro-blogging service Twitter to share ‘What’s happening’ with other participants as well those further afield. For many this is becoming a valuable medium allowing the individual to find voice in a format which is usually dominated by whoever is standing at the front of the room. At the same time conference organisers are benefitting, from what is usually thousands of tweets, amplifying and raising the profile of the event.

The record of conference tweets is arguably a resource which is equally as valuable as any conference proceedings, papers, posters, videos, but the nature of a tweet means if not consumed in the moment then they can potentially loose context. And it is here that two worlds collide. Using what was said by the audience to caption a video of the presentation, contextualising ‘what’s happening’ with what happened.

The idea of Twitter Powered Subtitles for Conference Audio/Videos on Youtube was first proposed in March 2009 by Tony Hirst which presented a method for extracting conference tweets and creating a subtitle file for YouYube. Almost a year later in February 2010 the idea was revived in Twitter powered subtitles for BBC iPlayer which saw the publication of the online Twitter subtitling tool iTitle.

iTitle integrates with the JISC supported Twitter archive service Twapper Keeper to generate subtitle files in different formats as well as playing back video clips from different sources with subtitle overlays. Since March the evolution of this tool has been improved following feedback from users to incorporate features like backchannel filtering, embedding subtitled videos in other sites, and a RESTful interface.

A number of conferences have now enhanced their video archive with timed tweets  including the JISC Conference, ALT-C and the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW). FOTE10 is the latest event to get the ‘iTitle’ treatment and links to the videos are contained below:

The hypothesis was that providing providing a twitter subtitle track would improve the discoverability of FOTE10 videos. Does it work? Well if anyone is ever searching for an “ed tech jackanory” there should be a happy ending.


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

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