Archive for the ‘Web’ Category

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DokuWiki Sync

August 15, 2009

This post has now been migrated to ThoughtAsylum.com.

Follow this link to go directly to the article.

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Evidence Net Workshop 2

July 31, 2009

Last week I attended a second workshop on Evidence Net.  It was launched a few weeks ago at The Higher Education Academy Annual Conference 2009 and has been growing in use across the HE sector ever since.

The previous Evidence Net workshop was aimed at identifying the sorts of features that the second phase of the Evidence Net site might have.  This workshop was very much aimed at prioritising the suggested features.

The workshop began with an activity to get some idea of people’s initial thoughts around some of the ideas that were to be discussed later in the day.  People were asked to stand in a line with their position representing how strongly they felt about a topic.  This sparked off a bit of discussion and the day then started in earnest.

The next activity was a short listing of the feature sets by each person.  A summation of the votes was carried out and this was used to specify the prioritisation of the features.  The top feature identified was functionality around adding resources to Evidence Net.

The workshop was split into groups to discuss how the addition of resources should take place.  This included not only articles, case studies, papers, etc. but also things like events and collaborative networks.  The groups came up with details about how things should work and some basic workflows and ideas for things the interface should offer to an Evidence Net user and an Evidence Net administrator.  The workshop spent a good while discussing the options raised and how this would affect the usage of the site.

With time fast disappearing the afternoon kept the group set-up but with each group tackling just one of the next four or five priority sets.  Each group presented their ideas and the whole group discussed each for a few minutes.

One factor that kept cropping up was that of having users login.  As well as helping to identify and log who would be contributing what it just as importantly formed the basis of allowing the site to deliver customised content such as recommendations and news about updates.

Overall it was again a very lively workshop which I hope everyone got a positive experience from attending.  I’m sure that the Evidence Net team came away with lots of useful views and ideas that will keep them busy analysing for weeks to come.   The workshop is just one of several second stage activities that the Evidence Net team are carrying out and I would guess that the  other activities are likely in the main to identify the same sorts of features.

These wide user base information gathering activities should help to ensure that the best possible range of input is obtained to develop the next phase of this resource and I’m looking forward to seeing what impact we’ve had on defining the feature set of Evidence Net phase 2 and from my personal perspective the technologies and solutions identified to deliver what is potentially quite a complex but rich set of requirements.  It will almost certainly be a phased delivery but the final version will surely be an exceptional educational resource.

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The Higher Education Academy Conference 2009

July 16, 2009

It’s been quite a few weeks since I’ve been able to devote any time to blogging. It has just been a really busy time for me. However I’m currently sat on a train between Edinburgh and York so it’s an excellent opportunity to have a bit of a catch up. Specifically I wanted to post something about one of the biggest things I’ve worked on recently – The Higher Education Academy Conference 2009.

The conference took place between Tuesday 30th June and Thursday the 2nd of July in Manchester at University Place on some of the hottest days of the summer so far. I was on hand for the second two of the four days (Monday 29th June was the set-up day) as part of the events team or more accurately as one half of the IT support contingent for the conference. Previously I’d only attended an Academy conference as a day delegate and it was a valuable experience seeing the other side of the story.

The support mainly consisted of ensuring that the presenters and speakers running workshops were having no problems with the laptops and projectors that were set-up in the seminar rooms. For the most part people were just fine, and there was the odd more interesting issue where a video would not display correctly (as it required an unusual codec) or where a presenter was having trouble displaying notes on the laptop and something else on the projector screen (setting up Microsoft PowerPoint in presentation mode or reconfiguring screens for desktop extension rather than cloned display). There were however a number of last minute requests for audio speakers and software installations that I had not expected, but with something of this scale involving this many external presenters it is difficult to account for every eventuality. I was impressed that the majority of presenters who had issues raised them prior to the start of the workshops having taken the breaks between sessions to get to the seminar rooms and test their presentations. This certainly made my job a little less stressful as trying to fix the more obscure issues in front of a room of people and knowing that there are a couple of other rooms needing your attention a.s.a.p. can be a little taxing on a warm day.

Overall though the preparation carried out by my colleagues both in ICT and in the events team allowed me to hit the ground running and pick things up with the minimum of fuss. I’m sure that’s no suprise to most people, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of the ideas and best practices that were used or might well be used in the future in case they can be of use to you in your endeavours.

  • Set the wallpaper of the PCs being used to display the contact details for IT support.
  • Ensure that all portable equipment is secured within rooms – use cable locks not just door locks.
  • Be generous with power saving modes. By all means use them and look after the planet, but make sure the presenter doesn’t have to press a button every few minutes to keep the screen saver from kicking in.
  • Label equipment with unique identifiers and any basic instructions – e.g. logon details.
  • Have presenters send their electronic content to you at least a few days before they present and check that they work on the presentation machines – particularly if they have video content.
  • Copy all content to all presentation machines during the event set-up so that if there are any technology or room swaps everything is still available and ready.
  • Send presenters a check list of things they can request for their presentation and details of what is supplied by default.
  • Ask presenters to provide a packaged copy (e.g. Package for CD in Microsoft Powerpoint 2007) as this reduces font missing resource related headaches.
  • Examine carefully what your laptops and projectors can do. Many projectors for example include a basic audio speaker (suitable for smaller rooms) and a USB connection and remote controls to control not only the projector but also the computer too.
  • For every projector and laptop add in a set of audio speakers as full multimedia presentations are practically the norm.
  • Carry a USB flash drive.
  • Think about what equipment people might need – laptop, projector, presentation controller, DVD player, speakers, microphone, projector screens.
  • Think about room layouts –
    • Where will the presenter be?
    • Where does the projector need to be to project a large enough image?
    • What will the projector and PC sit on?
    • Where will the audience sit and will they be in groups or rows?
  • Power sockets will inevitably be in the wrong place – take extension reels and multiple socket extensions.
  • Take adapters for computers that may not have a VGA output (e.g. DVI and mini-DVI on Apple Mac devices).
  • Consider Internet access ahead of time. If you’re relying on WiFi then make sure it is available reliably everywhere you need it.
  • If you’re using something new (especially technology) then make sure you give it a test run on location to ensure it works.
  • Take hazard warning tape and trip guards to venues to allow health and safety compliance.
  • Take spares of everything.

Another thing I found interesting was the use of Twitter at the conference. A couple of hash tags (#HEA09 and #ACADEMYCONF09) came into play for the conference. I’ve seen it used (from the Twitter end) successfully for conferences and events before, but these have always been technology focussed events. This conference however was focussed on HE and so the take up of tweeting on the conference was limited to those who were already familiar with Twitter and hash tags. There were certainly some who were more prolific than others, but given that this was not a technology focussed conference I was impressed at the general buzz on Twitter for the event and I do wonder if even more people posted tweets without hash tags as not everyone who uses Twitter knows what they are/are for? As Web 2.0 (and all that comes after) becomes more integrated with our culture I’m sure this form of communication will improve. It will be interesting to see how the Academy uses Twitter post-conference. I personally hope that it doesn’t end here.

Unfortunately I didn’t have chance to sit in on any of the debates, sessions or workshops. I managed to get some first hand overviews whilst making conversation and addressing some of the IT related issues and I managed to speak to a few of the exhibitors. So if you want to know more about the conference I’ll have to direct you to some other resources. In addition to the Twitter conversations…

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EvidenceNet Workshop

April 24, 2009

For the second time this week I’ve been out of the office and working in one of York’s many hotels.  This time rather than a team away day I was at The Grange Hotel attending the first of a series of workshops on Evidence Net.

Evidence Net is a service that The Higher Education Academy is developing to support the process of using evidence based research to inform practice in the HE Sector.

The workshop was attended by a number of Academy staff with an aim to generate lots of ideas and to pull together a common understanding of the sorts of things the second phase of the Evidence Net web site should be looking to deliver.  The morning was spent setting out some of the background and establishing a base of common understanding.  From this a set of objectives for the work was outlined through some combining people’s individual thoughts of what the objectives should be and to a limited extent a start on what sort of measures could be used to measure the success of this.

After lunch, the approach turned to team discussions and sets of functional requirements were drawn together though  “solution-mode” was purposefully avoided by an approach of focussing on what was needed rather than any technologies that could deliver it.

The day seemed to work well and I look forward to the opportunity for the ICT team to feed into the rest of this project.

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Death of the iPod?

April 17, 2009

A little while ago I received a request for the installtion of Spotify on a work computer. I’d not heard of it at this point so I did some research and discovered that it was a piece of software that linked you to a massive library of music on the Internet. After a bit of discussion in trying to ascertain what the business case was for installing this to a work computer it faded away.

With greater news in the media recently I decided that I’d give it a go myself and see what all the fuss was about. A free version is available that allows you to listen to any track in the library, and you just get a few adverts every now and then – though a regular payment can eliminate these for uninterrupted listening. The application itself is very simple and is suspsciously similar to iTunes in styling which I guess makes it more familiar to a lot of people.

The quality of the audio was quite reasonable on my computer and in all for a free system it really does seem too good to be true. So is this the beginning of the end for the iPod and the death of the personal storage based media player?

Many journalists seem to think so but I would suggest that it is not.

I don’t think it will be long before the centralised storage access will become more available. The connectivity of devices such as the iPod touch (Wifi) and the iPhone (3G) mean that always on connectivity will allow access to these sorts of systems. This will be another leap forward in personal mobility of media, but there are a number of points that I believe will continue to see personal storage in effect (though probably combined with an online central storage option).

Power

The power requirements for streaming audio to your pocket device is such that battery technology will still have a long way to go. Imagine trying to get several hours play out of an iPod shuffle that is connecting to 3G. How efficient is that battery going to be?

Signal

It is realtively difficult to maintain signal quality in small devices with internal aerials and whilst it is obviously more commonplace these days with mobile phones to have internal aerials than it was say four or five years ago what is the transmission quality actually like? how often have you had a signal that wasn’t quite clear enough? That’s just on audio too which has been around for quite some time. Imagine the difference in data streaming. I assume some sort of buffering will be employed to resolve this, but if it isn’t buffering an entire track you may find that it just pauses at times detroying the listener’s experience.

Taking this further what happens in areas of no signal such as if you’re out hiking or possibly even on a plane or passing through a long tunnel on a train? A total lack of signal availability would effectively destroy your chance of listening to anything.

Range

The range of available tracks is growing all of the time. One of the first things I did when I tried Spotify was to try and find some tracks that I really liked to see if it had them listed. I would say that it managed to list about 50% of them … I didn’t count the karaoke only versions or covers recorded by another artist. Whilst I admit that this is going to grow extensively with a greater take up of such a service I do think that there’s always going to be something that isn’t available on it that I will want and in all likelihood will be likely to have or be able to get hold of in another format.

Podcasts

I actually rarely listen to music on my iPod unless I’m in the car. I more regularly listen to the radio (through an add-on to my iPod… I miss the inbuilt one on my old iRiver) or podcasts. It is not uncommon for me to re-listen to old podcasts (particularly technology related ones like Gartner and ones by the BBC). Some podcasts are always available for download, but others are subject to licensing restrictions which means that they are available for a limited period of time (e.g. BBC). Being able to store these allows me to listen to them in the way that I want.

So whilst I’m sure I could create a system that would allow me to securely stream media from a personal store (on-line or from my home) across the Internet I think that the limitations on power and connectivity will ensure that on device storage will continue to exist. I do think however that we will see more connected devices that allow access to on-line services like Spotify.

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Sharing Ideas and Good ICT

April 5, 2009

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation I’d been trying to put together for the best part of six months and this evening I’ve sent it on to the users who attended and who were unable to attend but showed an interest.  I realised at this point I hadn’t actually blogged about it so I thought I might put together a little post about it.

The aim was simply to share some ideas and some bits of ICT that could help people do their jobs quicker/better/cheaper/economically/more easily.  Many of these were based upon queries from users and solutions  found or in some cases pre-emptively finding options for issues that have yet to be raised.

A note was put into the staff briefing and some posters put up around the office to try and get people along to the presentation.  The attendance was surprisingly low and it’s unfortunate in terms of what people missed out on but I thought I’d highlight the areas that were discussed and some high level points on what was demonstrated and discussed.

The presentation was split into four main sections – software, hardware, web sites and engaging with the ICT team.

Software

  • Skype
  • Working with PDFs
    • Microsoft Office plug ins
    • PDF printers
    • PDF Bulder Toolkit
    • Drawloop.com
  • Public Folders in Outlook

Hardware

  • Photocopiers
    • Printing
    • Scanning
    • Secure printing & scanning
  • Data Capture
    • Dictaphones
    • Digital cameras
    • DigiMemo
    • MIMIO
  • Communication
    • Teleconferencing units
    • Audio/telephony cabling

Web Sites

Engaging with ICT

  • Service Desk
    • Queries
    • Training
  • Invitation
    • Project meetings
    • Team meetings
  • Communications
    • Presentations
    • Briefings
    • Mailings
    • Bulletins
    • Newsletters

I don’t plan on publishing the presentation widely as much of it is only directly relevant to Academy ICT users in the way it is presented, but the outline above gives an indication of the content and areas in which the user community is developing.

Hopefully some imminent developments might help create a greater sharing of such ideas and information within a community and build a better culture of knowledge sharing and management.

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Dim Dim D’oh

March 26, 2009

I’ve been looking at a number of broadcast technologies recently like Adobe Connect and Instant Presenter.  Several months ago I came across Dim Dim and in essence I have been fond of this Open Source option as it offers free meetings for up to 20 users and it is constantly being developed.

Tomorrow I’m going to be demonstrating Dim Dim and Vyew to one of the Academy users as options for a meeting next week.  Not a strategic decision or anything just fulfilling a practical need.  The idea is the user will have both demonstrated and they can choose which one they will find easier.  Now my preference is for Dim Dim over Vyew for this as Vyew is more about collaboration for me whereas Dim Dim is more about presentation.

The user is going to be using our in place video conferencing equipment but someone at our end will be giving a PowerPoint presentation and someone at the other end will also be giving one.  Both systems allow PowerPoint slides to be uploaded and allow the control of the screen to be passed to different users.  If necessary both systems also have screen sharing should all the bells and whistles be in a PowerPoint presentation be necessary to view … but I will be warning of lag in viewing at the other end (there’s bound to be some latency).

I decided that I’d have a quick practice this evening to ensure that everything was up to the job and it is except I’ve discovered a bit of a glaring omission in Dim Dim.  In the current version you can pre-schedule a meeting and set everything up ahead of time … with the exception of being able to upload any documents (i.e. presentations) ahead of time.

I did a quick test by starting the meeting, uploading a  file, ending the meeting, and then starting the meeting again.  The uploaded presentation had been lost.  A quick search on the Dim Dim issue log yielded an unfortunate entry:

Log Entry EN-214

how can I load a PPT presentation prior to the start of the meeting? If I try to do this now for a 3:30 meeting, the participants receive an e-mail that the meeting has started.

Not only can you not preload presentations but when you first go into the meeting it e-mails attendees that it has started.  I guess that’s where the lobby feature comes in, but I can’t believe that such a generally progressive system missed this (basic?) feature – a bit of a Dim Dim D’oh!