Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Microsoft's free Learning Content Development System

When Microsoft start giving stuff away for free, it always makes me curious, and when I spotted this free LCDS (Learning Content Development System) a while back I decided to download it and give it a try.

If like me you've never had the patience (or the time and money) to really master a tool like Flash, but like the idea of creating interactive materials that can run online (SCORM compliant to run in an LMS), then this could be a handy tool for you. I spent the best part of a day working out how to use it and creating some materials with it for a teacher training session and by the end of the day I had two 'modules' each of 4 -5 different activity types combining images, audio, video and swf animation. Considering that I hadn't used this before and I had to actually write all the materials to put into it, I think that's pretty good for just one day, and having put the time into learning the program, I'm pretty sure that my next efforts will be much quicker.

What I liked about it

  • It wasn't difficult to learn how to use. The interface is quite intuitive and I didn't need to consult the help or any support documentation.
  • It's all point and click, no programming languages to learn.
  • The results look quite professional
  • It's SCORM compliant
  • It has some nice task types. These are a few of my favourites:

This one is grouping type activity played against a timer. Users have to click the correct bucket to drop each item into.

This is one of my favourites, it's called 'Adventure' but I know it as a reading maze. User are shown a situation and given some options, They then see the outcome of the option they choose and have to make another choice and so on until they find the 'correct' way to resolve th problem. These can be really complex to write and arrange, but this one was quite easy to do and to review and make changes. I was also able to add different images to each page.

Another task type I liked was this tile flip activity. It's a novel variation on pelmanism, but it combines the matching pairs with a kind of true false activity. Basically each tile has a true statement on one side and a false one on the other, and the user has to line up rows of true statements. They also have a limited amount of cards they can turn to get it right and if they exceed the number of turns they have to start all over again.

Lastly, I liked that you can also set up tasks using either video or swf files. This is one I created using a Flash tutorial and the built in Note taking part of the interface.

What I wasn't so sure about
  • It only seems to support swf and wmv files for video, which is a bit annoying, especially for MAC users.
  • When I came to 'publish' / upload the materials to run online, it turned out that they wouldn't work without being uploaded to an LMS (with its own viewer)
  • You need IE 7 with Silverlight installed to view the files (though there does seem to be a way to configure the files to run in Flash instead, which I'm assuming would allow you to view them in Firefox too).
Despite all of this, Microsoft's LCDS does seem to have huge potential for people like me who struggle with coding, but want to produce something that looks good and works well.

If you work in an institution that has its own LMS and you want to digitise some course materials to run online, then it could well be worth looking at as a cheap (free) solution.

If you'd like to try out the materials I created for training teachers in the use of IT and evaluating different task types, you can download the zip file of the whole session (9.4Mb) from here.

As I said above though, you'll need to have MS's Silverlight installed, then go to the file named 'wrapper.htm' and open it to begin working through the materials.

If you want to download the free LCDS and have a play yourself, then go here:

I'd be really interested to hear from anyone else who's tried this, especially if they've managed to get some working examples up online, so do drop me a line and share your experiences.


Nik Peachy

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Teaching Speaking in Second Life

For me, one of the main blocks to really developing online language learning courses has been the inability to supply real communicative speaking practice. VOIP software like Skype has certainly pushed the bounds of what is possible, as has the development of more effective web based video conferencing platforms, but in my opinion the biggest step towards making this possible has been the developments made in virtual worlds like and Second Life which not only enable the use of voice, but can also help students to develop an understanding gesture and spatial relationships while speaking.

For anyone interested in giving it a try, here are four basic tutorial videos to help you get started with how voice works in Second Life and how you can use it for pair and group work.

Setting up voice
This video shows you how to activate the voice client and make sure that the quality of your sound is good. It also shows you how to select the correct input and output devices for sound in case you are having any problems.

Using the active speaker window
This video shows you how to find and use the active speaker window. This enables you to find out who is within 'voice range' of you, as well as enabling you to balance out the volume of the voices around you and even to mute other speakers if you just want to listen in to one person.

Using 'IM Call' for pair and group work
If you have large groups of students all in close proximity to each other, running activities like pair or group work can be chaotic as everyone hears what everyone else is saying. This video shows you how to use the 'IM Call' feature to put the students into pairs or groups, so that they only hear the people they are working with. Then you as the teacher can move between the groups monitoring, without having to hear the whole class all at once.

Balancing out relative volumes
Second Life has a lot of different sound sources, such as the ambient sound of trees and water around you, the sounds of gestures, background music, media players and th voices of people speaking. This video shows you how to balance out the sounds and turn off the ones you don't want to hear.

I would be really interested to hear comments from anyone who has used Video conferencing and or Second Life. Which do you prefer?

If you are new to or haven't tried Second Life yet, then I hope you find these videos useful and they encourage you to try it out. The videos were originally commissioned by The Consultants-E and are part of an introductory course for teachers they deliver on Edunation Island II and are used with their kind consent.

Nik Peachey

My other postings on Second Life and virtual worlds
Visit my YouTube Channel to watch more of my videos

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Create your own social network 7 steps

Social networking is one of the key concepts that is driving Web 2.0 these days. With the opportunities social networks offer for collaboration and communication, this is certainly something we as educators should be thinking about being involved in.

In this tutorial I'd like to show you how to create your own social network on Ning, just by following 7 steps. I've published these as a downloadable PDF with screen shots, so that you can print them up and follow them / share them.
Perhaps though, more importantly it's worth thinking about some of the issues, and pros and cons surrounding the use of social networks.

Some advantages of creating your own network.
  • Control over the content
    You can make sure nobody posts anything inappropriate or irrelevant.
  • Control of who joins and the ability to block or ban people
    You can protect your members, ban anyone who doesn't behave or just limit membership to people you want to invite.
  • Increased reach
    You can increase the reach of your F2F activities and get more people involved in the collaborative / collective development of your project.
  • Good for your personal / career development
    You can learn a lot through being an administrator and develop some useful skills and knowledge.
Things to consider before you launch your network
  • Closed (just people you invite) or Open (anyone who wants to join)
    I would advise starting off with just people you invite first to see how things take off. Deciding to make the network open could take a lot of consideration and demand much more 'policing' moderation from you.
  • Do you have the time to manage the network?
    This is always a key question for teachers. Keeping the network active and up to date is going to take time. If you don't have the time / resources to put into it, best not to start.
  • Do you have or can you find content to input to the network?
    Content is still the main motivation for teachers / students to get involved, even if it's just as stimulation for communication / collaborative work, you need to have something to offer and your members are going to need to 'get something' from visiting your network, or they won't be coming back.
  • How / Will you be able to nurture collaboration between the members?
    Bit like the point above. Just providing a network isn't going to create collaboration. Ning is just a platform, you have to provide reasons, tasks, activities for members to collaborate on, or it just won't happen.
  • What functionality (groups, forums, video and photo sharing) do you want to make available?
    Providing all of these on Ning is easy, but don't provide anything you can't use. If you provide the ability to share photos / videos, make sure you have something to share and reasons for sharing those things. You'll also need to think about who can share add and create. Are you going to keep complete control or share it with your members?
  • Will you want to include advertising or ask it to be removed?
    If you are using Ning for educational purposes you can contact them and ask for advertising to be removed. You can also pay for a Ning platform and generate some money from the advertising yourself. I wouldn't recommend this as the amount may well not justify what you have to put up with from the advertisers. It's also better to get the advertising removed before you invite people to join, as some of the links can be inappropriate.
  • What information will you want members to add when joining?
    You can decide what information members need to submit when they join and decide who sees the information. You find out a lot about them this way, but people can be put off by having to give away their information, so it could be best just to let them decide.
  • How long will you want to keep the network live? (limited period or indefinitely)
    If you only intend to use the network for a specific time limited project it might be good to make this clear to your members, so they keep records of anything they develop within the network. Then when the project ends you can delete it with a clear conscience and keep the web tidy.
Looking at other networks
Before you start your own social network it's a good idea to have a look round at what others are doing. You might get some good ideas, see some potential pitfalls you want to avoid, or even decide someone already has your area covered and just decide to join them instead of recreating the wheel. Here a four networks for teachers that are well worth checking out.
Evaluation criteria
Deciding whether you want to join or recommend a network can be a tricky process, but as I've been looking around for ones I want to be part of I've built up a list of criteria that I find quite useful to have in the back of my mind.

  • What features / functionality does the network offer? (Groups forums etc.)
    If there's no interaction, is it worth being a part of this network?
  • Are the groups / forums active with a number of members exchanging information?
    Just because it has them doesn't mean they are being used. Have a look and make sure there is something there to learn and somebody there to learn with.
  • Are these features being used? (If the network offers the use of photo or video sharing is this being used?)
    This is a good place to look to see what members are really sharing. Is there original content or is it all grabbed from YouTube / Flickr?
  • Can you find out when the network was last active?
    Some networks are still online, but have died. Either the members or creator has lost interest. No point joining an inactive network.
  • How many members does it have?
    Open networks that only have a small number of members, may be less worthwhile. Most networks need a critical mass to keep them moving, unless the members are very committed.
  • Are any of the members’ photographs inappropriate?
    Many people join networks to pull traffic to their / unsuitable sites. A quick look at their avatar image could well give you a clue to which these are.
  • Check out some of the member profiles. Does the profile disclose the member’s email address or other personal info that you wouldn't want to share?
    Make sure that the network isn't forcing you to disclose more information than you would feel happy with.
  • Are there any ‘Google Ads’ on the site? Are these suitable or potentially offensive?
    Especially when recommending networks to others, it's good to check this first.
  • Is there any interesting content on the site?
    Again, I still believe that content is king. Content + collaboration = learning! No content, don't join.
  • Who is behind the network?
    Always wise to know who you are dealing with and sharing your information / knowledge with. Is it a group of like minded individuals, or a faceless company with dubious motivations?
Why create your own network for teachers?
Some suggestions:
  • To support particular dispersed groups doing specific projects / training courses
  • To record and share examples of practice and expertise specific to their context
  • To help train and develop teachers in the use of ICT / Learning Technology
Why create your own network for students?
Some suggestions:
  • Class research projects – create a network for your students based around a particular theme that they need to research.
  • Inter-class project – create a network for sharing information with students in another school / country.
  • Create a fan site with your students dedicated to a particular celebrity they like.
  • Create a site to inform visitors about Morocco / your town or city, your culture etc.
  • Create an online classroom and add links to materials, activities and tasks the students should do.
  • Create a network to showcase students work and keep in contact with and involve parents.
  • You should not use Ning with students below the age of 13.
  • Always protect your members’ privacy and make sure their email isn’t displayed and they don’t share addresses or telephone numbers with people.
Well if after all this you are still interested in creating your own network, here are the 7 steps again:
I've created one myself for a training course for teachers that I'm involved with. Personally I've found it really valuable so far.
For more opinions and to find out about alternative platforms, visit Larry Ferlazzo's blog post on Social Networks for the Classroom

Good luck with your networking and please do use the comments below to share your experience of using social networks.


Nik Peachey

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Skype Part 2 Online Workspace

Anyone who uses their whiteboard for ELT / EFL classes will know what a really useful teaching aid it can be, so how about using one with your distance learners?

In Part 1 of this series on Skype plugins, I looked at how and where to find and install plugins for Skype and I also looked at how to use Pamela to record audio materials and interviews with Skype.

In this posting I'd like to have a look at an online collaboration tool called Yugma which allows you to share files, share your desktop, make live presentations and have a shared online whiteboard all running along side your Skype application.

This quick tutorial takes you through some of the basic features.

You can download a version for your computer in Quick Time here.
Open the tutorial in a new window here.

How to use this with ELT / EFL students
Well I think this is definitely a distance learning support tool rather than some thing to use in the classroom / multi media lab with students. It could be ideal for teacher who wants to teach online 1 to 1 especially if you are doing this independently and don't have the support of a company to provide you with specialist software. I think it's also a pretty useful tool for teacher training and development if you have groups of teachers spread around the country or the world even.
  • You can show students how to use specific software for their course and talk them through the various processes.
  • You can show students around websites and use them as the basis for online discussion
  • You can share documents with your students and get them to work on them collaboratively
  • Students can share projects they have been working on with other group members
  • You can play games online such as Pictionary (a game where one player draws a picture and the others have to guess the word it represents)
  • You can share notes as you deliver presentations
  • You can record presentations and reuse them
  • You can set up a whole programme of different online business simulations such as
    • Presenting information about a company
    • Presenting a sales report of the results of survey findings
    • Students try to sell a fictional product to investors (your other students would be the investors)
    • Carrying out online interviews, with students presenting and talking about their CVs
  • The ability to record these presentations would make it much easier for your students to review them and for you to offer feedback on their work.
What I like about Yugma
  • As tools like this become a more widely used and accepted part of international business, developing the ability to use such tools is going to become a valuable 'real life' skill.
  • It's free (at least some parts are) and quite easy and quick to install and use.
  • I really like that you can record your meetings to watch later etc.
  • Great that this integrates with Skype
  • It seems to offer a pretty comprehensive package of functions

What I wasn't so sure about
  • Some of the functionality is limited after the first 15 days, unless you choose to pay for an account.
  • You have to be sure that your firewall / anti-virus doesn't block it, so if you have any problems getting it started, then that's the first thing to check.
  • You'll also need to get your students to download and install it.
Well I hope you find this tool useful. As I said, this is really one for the distance / online tutor and I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried it out with their students.


Nik Peachey

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Dictation goes Web 2.0

Yes and why not? Seems hard to see how this would be accomplished but it certainly does seem to be the case at the Listen and Write - Dictation website. What's more it seems to have been done in a pretty impressive way too.

This site features quite a number of audio files all of which can be accessed through quite a cleverly designed dictation activity. The users get to listen to parts of a sentence and they then have to type in the words of the sentence to a text field which only allows the words if they are correct. They are able to listen over and also get some help by setting the activity to auto complete the words as they type them in (cuts down on the frustration for EFL students of not being able to spell what you can hear).

The other nice aspect of it is that you get a score as you go and so you can work against yourself to try to improve the score.

But where's the Web 2.0 bit?
Well anyone who registers can link to an audio file for use in the activities. As a registered user you can also take on the task of adding the transcript etc. This can be a great way of sharing what must be quite a lot of work. Anyway, watch this video to see it in action.

How to use this with students
  • Just your EFL students registered and sit them with some headphones to work through a few dictations
  • Get your students to add some audio files that they would like turned into dictation activities
  • Add some of your own audio and transcripts that you want students to work on

What I like about it
  • This is really good free listening practice for students
  • Great for use in a media centre or to set listening homework for students to do on their own (they can tell you their scores in class)
  • Nicely designed activity with well thought out prompts
  • Great that it plans to include other languages
  • Great that the work load is being shared out and that users can add links to audios they want someone to transcribe
  • The texts have been leveled according to difficulty
What I'm not so sure about
  • I didn't manage to find a privacy policy on the site, so I wonder what they do with my info once they have it!
  • Most of the texts are quite high level and grabbed from Voice of America news, so are also on some quite heavy news topics.
  • Some more exercise types would be great, though they may be coming
  • I wonder who is going to be willing to put the time into transcribing the audio files (bit cynical I know but teachers are seldom sitting around with a lot of time on their hands)

On the whole I think this is a really simple, but really great idea. This site has huge potential for language development and I hope the the people at Listen and Write can keep this going and that your students find it really useful.


Nik Peachey