Friday, 20 June 2008

Accessible and portable software

Whilst online today at a live presentation I was told about a new publication TECHDIS have launched. That is This new publication is a guide to obtaining books in alternative formats. Well worth a look.

This visit to the site triggered a memeory of a recent TECHDIS publication I rediscoverd recently, namely inclusive practices. TECHDIS have a webpage dedicated to free software that improves the accessibility of IT for all abilities. There are some excellent resources cotained therein, from screen readers to moviemakers : .

a similar service called ability net also publishes a list of free or lowcost software at URL: . during the online presentation I was told about the new Scottish RSCs website that has been set up to cover accessibility issues : . Of particualr interest to me on this site is the "accessapps" page, which explains how to add portable (mostly Open Source) applications to a USB pen drive. They have even put toether a tutorial and video to explan how this operates. Excellent stuff. Reminded me of a blog post I made earlier this year when I told you all about Moodle on a stick. Go and re-read it here :

Then theres the portable apps web page which also has downloads and instructions on how to add Open Source applications (Moodle, Audacity, Freemind, Firefox, etc) onto a memeory stick and run them:

Finally ~I learned that the Scottish RSCs have developed a plugin for Word called WinWord which appears has a toolbar to show you how to make your Word docs more accessible. Clever stuff, and free to you and me. Get the winword.exe and Xerte the free authoring tool from URL :

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

free software

During our recent online conference we managed to enlist the expertise of Derrin Kent who is a teacher/trainer/evangetist/geek for Free and Open Source software. Derrin is based in the West Midlands and is a lead consultant for The Development Manager Ltd. . With a marked favouritism towards Open Source Software and Open Data Standards/Formats, Derrin supports organisations to improve their performance in their blended learning delivery ...and also other management processes: (employer engagement, project management, website management, internal/external communications, IT infrastructure, etc.) . Basically Derrin promotes the same active learning ethos as we do, coupled with the wider choice of free tools FE and HE requires. Derrin created a series of short videocasts for practitioners and managers.

The video below is the first of 4 entitled Software for Trainers

The video below is the first of 4 entitled Software for Managers

Both parts (trainers and managers ) can be viewed online here :

Theresa Welch our WBL advisor is busy collating all of the links and presentations Derrin gave us to pass on. She has begun to add them to our new wiki at URL:

Don't forget our own JISC Service OSS Watch has a wealth of experience and resources to help those implementing and using OS software.

Download this new Whitepaper : An Analysis of the Key Market Segments of Application Security for Open Source Software Find out how to establish an application security approach for open source software that combines policy, process and technology in this whitepaper.


Your strategy should include:

· Establishing which open source components are being used

· Learning where these components are being used

· Finding out if your open source software has known vulnerabilities

· Determining if you are using the most secure release available

· Ensuring you have an ongoing process to manage and secure open source software

Discover how your organization can more safely and securely take full advantage of open source software during your application development process. Download this whitepaper today to learn more.

Don't forget that Skype is trialling ful screen video conferencing:

My weblinks also point towards other free webbased software : or

Using Moodle

I recently reviewed the new Using Moodle (2nd Edition) book. It's a good (but not great) book. Here's my review.

I felt that the book presented a nicely rounded picture of the VLE Moodle to some academic practitioners, but would baffle most.

The book is not aimed at the novice user, but would assist those who have some prior IT background or have previously dabbled with the popular Open Source VLE Moodle. It is the perfect book to help staff developers and trainers deliver some well structured courses.

The introduction is brief (which is a shame) and only outlines the underlying pedagogy behind Moodle, namely social constructivism. And, indeed it’s this underpinning pedagogy coupled with the intuitive interface that has ensured that Moodle continues to be adopted by millions of users worldwide. This strength is merely hinted at. There are some references to 56KB modems and RTF files, which make the publication feel outdated! An earlier chapter also explains files type and sizes, which are vital to understanding how a VLE works. As the book continues to unfold all we get is the mechanics of the most popular of Moodle tools and its Modus Operandi. This is somewhat of a disappointment as this chapter format forces us to adopt the view that this “Moodle thing” is just another VLE, which in fact it is clearly not. That said, the chapters explaining the most popular Moodle tools such as blogs, wiki, glossaries, database, lessons, etc, are very good, if a little verbose. Accompanying screenshots help break up the text and illustrate instructions (but not enough). For example, when explaining how branched lesson activity block works in Moodle, this could have been done much more concisely using some simple diagrams, and removing ½ the chapters text. This book also presumes too much prior knowledge, i.e. that all busy academics/trainers are aware of such ICT tools are and their potential, which is not the case.

I would say it’s a useful reference book for those who know what a VLE all about is and are curious to try out Moodle, together with ICT trainers and VLE staff. For most busy academics tho,’ we require a much more basic publication that explains such tools as a VLE, wiki, and blog, etc. But more importantly such a publication should ensure that the pedagogy is promoted as the driver to allow academics to effectively utilise Moodle to engage learning, rather than a “list of tools “ operator manual approach.
  • Being "Open Source" this book is now available as a free download from Moodle :
  • On a related note, there is another good Moodle book out at present called E-Learning Course Development. You can read most of it online here :

  • Find out more about Moodle using these free tutorials:

Archival Sound Recordings

In our recent online conference we enlisted the help of Ginevra House from the Archival Sound Recordings. They provide free online access to music, spoken word and environmental sounds from the British Library Sound Archive.

Visit the Archival Sound Recordings blog read more about the project.

It is available for free to licensed UK further and higher education institutions. Ginevra and her team put togehter a learning object and answered questions in a forum we set up for delegates. I was impressed with this JISC service and was the first time I had heard of it. I have copied some of the information from that conference session in this blog post to let you know more of the excellent resources in this service.

to subscribe to this service:

ASR licenses are free to UK Higher and Further education institutions. If your institution is not signed up, but you would like it to be, please ask your library to contact us on and request a license. Once the signed license has been returned to us, we pass that institution's details on to Athens who add it to the list of users.

Anyone from that institution can then log in using their Athens username and password, from anywhere in the UK.

The resource will also be available through the Federated Access Management's Shibboleth service. Institutions that switch over from Athens to Shibboleth should not experience any disruption to their access.


We put together a list of associated resources for this session, which may help inpsire some lesson plans.

· The Archival Sound Recordings service:

· Experience the British Library online at:

· The British Library’s new interactive Annual Report and Accounts 2006/07 :

· Help the British Library conserve the world's knowledge. Adopt a Book.

You can find a great selection of British Library resources for further education here

19th Century Newspapers:

Newsfilm Online:

Online Historical Population Reports:

18th Century Parlimentary Papers:

JISC Digitisation programme : Spanning centuries, disciplines and sources, the JISC series of pioneering digitisation projects is unlocking a wealth of unique, hard-to-access material from the 16th century to the present day, creating a critical mass of rich, permanent digital resources for the benefit of the widest user base possible within UK further and higher education.

Reusable learning objects:

Other sources of audio clips

· PALATINE music links :

· MY audio bookmarks :

The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds. or

Ohrer related audio web info'

· Mp3, WMA, OGG, WAV, what are these :

broadcast yourself:


Download superb audio tools (including audacity & EAC):

Free learning object authoring tools (with which to) to utilise those audio clips

pedagogy planning
This pedagogic planner helps you decide how to apply the technology to your teachning and learning.

I have created a list of using video clips in education which may help provide inspiration for using audio clips:

Turnitin and text matching

  • Dr Niaill Hayes described (at the ASKe CETL one-day conference on institutional management of plagiarism) a three year study, just finished in May 2008, funded by FDTL5 and based at the University of Lancaster and the LSE. The study attempted to 'get inside' plagiarism detection software systems to try and understand the underpinning assumptions and procedures that the system creators were using. They tested 15,000 fragments of text to try and gauge the likelihood that any student's copied text would be identified by Turnitin. They found the likelihood to be about 50% - that is, students who copied had about a 50/50 chance of being identified though of course, this is a crude number and would be impacted by other factors such as where the student copied from etc.

    It certainly confirms the widely held view that the software NOT finding a match does not mean the text is not copied. [apologies for all those negatives]

    The above statement was a precis provided by Jude Carroll to me, three weeks ago. Her 10 minute plagiarism video housed at the Nottingham Uni best practice web portal is well worth a look.

    The research also looked into the use of illegal characters (see Guardian link below) used by some to dupe the system, and also the interpretation of the originality report. Full report is out soon. We are waiting from an official reply from JISCiPAS the JISC plagiarism advisory service that supports manages the TII database UK franchise.

    To conclude

    Don’t over hype the capabilities of TII – as has patently already occurred across academia. The implementation and subsequent use of this type of software MUST be part of a holistic range of measures that educates both staff and students to the requirement for scholarly practice at higher levels. JISCiPAS as an organisation do this extremely well. Please take time to visit the excellent resources on their website. . The move towards more creative ways of assessing student capabilities is beginning to gather momentum. The use of group work, vivas, computer aided assessments, and more personal reflections are all being promoted as alternatives to the traditional essay, which, coupled with the (misuse of) internet are blamed for the ease/rise of plagiarism.

    Further reading:

    Other relevant Plagiarism news is rife at present and reinforces beliefs on students “buying” more ready-made essays and the shortfalls of TII’s algorithms.

  • Essay auctions 'harder to catch':
  • A new AMBeR report just published by the Academy