Released this week!
The new ‘My Library Account’ box embeds live library account information onto your NILE homepage. This information is updated in real time and will let you know what books you have borrowed, if you have any reservations waiting for collection and if you currently owe any fines. It will also let you link directly to your full Library account so that you can complete any further online transactions. We hope that this integration will help users keep up-to-date with their library borrowing and avoid any unnecessary fines or account problems.
Check it out next time you log into NILE.
A number of queries have been raised with the Learning Technologists about Grade Centre (GC) columns reverting to display a numeric value rather than UG/PG letter. This typically happens when a tutor changes the settings for the Turnitin (Tii) assignment after adjusting the Primary Display setting in the GC to display a letter instead of the numerical score. Turnitin have indicated that this is because of the way that Tii integrates with Blackboard (NILE) and as such the system is working properly. Tii have suggested that we submit a product enhancement request asking that if the GC primary display is changed to a letter then any subsequent changes to the Tii settings would not be overridden, which we have done. In the meantime …
- When setting up your Tii submission points, please think very carefully about what date you select for a post date. The University permits 4 working weeks from the submission date to the date when the feedback and grades should be released to students and we therefore recommend you choose your postdate accordingly.
- If you do have to change the post date for any reason, please remember that you will need to check your GC column settings and ensure that the column displays the appropriate letter rather than the numerical score.
- Don’t forget to ensure that the GC column is hidden from students until the post date (open the column menu in the GC, click Show/Hide to Users. Ensure the symbol indicating the column is hidden from students appears in the column header).
If you have any questions about this then please get in touch with the team.
Louise Bird, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Communication, reviews the Wacom Inkling, a product that claims to transfer sketches from paper into digital formats. Follow the link below (PDF) to find out what she thought of this product.
Wacom Inkling review (PDF, 450 KB)
If you would like to help us by reviewing some technology for learning and teaching, please contact the team.
During the next few weeks, there will be a number of changes to the systems which the Learntech team supports. Many of these changes have been made as a direct response to feedback which has been provided over the year and will represent a considerable investment in improvements to the current environment.
Following the decision by the University Executive Team to remain with Blackboard for a further three years, we will be upgrading this to the latest release which will provide a number of security updates and new features. Some of the key changes include an improved look and feel and enhanced features for assessment and monitoring. A separate page provides full details on these changes.
As previously announced, there will be a move from the Campus Pack blogs and wikis within NILE to using the Blackboard tools. Staff should continue to migrate content out of these areas if required and ensure they are familiar with the new tools.
As part of closer integration with the student record system, student demand for greater clarity and the future need to transfer grades from NILE, there will be a change to the way in which modules and courses are setup. All courses and modules will be created on NILE as they are validated, using an agreed template. Students will be automatically added, and when the site has been developed and made available by the tutor, students will see this in their list of modules when they login to NILE. For full details on the QNIG project, please view the blog posting.
SaGE (Submission and Grading Electronically)
The above changes to NILE will support the University drive to move to e-submission and grading of work, as the site template will help tutors to provide clearer instructions to students on where they need to submit work and how they will obtain results. The SaGE blog continues to be updated with the latest information and guidance.
Following the announcement on May 2nd the product which currently underpins MyPAD will be replaced with a new system based on WordPress (supplied by Edublogs). This will provide significantly improved flexibility for students in their choice of layout and ability to share with a wide range of individuals. Some tutors within The School of Health are continuing to use PebblePad where there is a need for highly structured portfolios.
During 2012, a new product for video streaming similar to that used by YouTube will be introduced to Northampton. Provided by Kaltura, there will be a significant improvement in the integration with NILE and in the functionality over our current video streaming system. Further details will be made available as this work progresses.
As of May 2012, there have been nearly 10,000 downloads of the iNorthampton app. A further update to iNorthampton is planned shortly based on feedback to the first phase – keep an eye on the website for the latest project news.
All of the above changes represents a considerable investment and improvement in the Learning Technology environment. Do not panic as the Learntech team are here to help you and many of the changes are additional features to the current systems.
Being able to add your own notes to PDF files can be really useful, whether they are lecture notes you want to add your own thoughts to, documents or journal articles you have downloaded for your own research, or student or collaborative papers that you need to feed back on. There are many different options available for this. Here are a few we found.
iOS (Apple) apps
neu.Annotate is a free app that will allow you to open a PDF file (e.g. from email, the web or a cloud storage service like Dropbox), and annotate it using typed text or freehand annotation in a range of colours, as well as adding shapes, stamps and images. You can even add whole new pages, and annotate those too. The annotations are saved as part of the PDF, which can then be sent out by email or saved back to Dropbox.
iAnnotate PDF is an advanced tool with lots of options, including the usual highlighting and annotation. It can be set up to sync with Dropbox, but also has it’s own sync tool, called Aji PDF service, that allows you to set up a live link to a folder directly on your PC or Mac. This allows you to batch download original files, and then batch upload your annotated versions.
There is also an iAnnotate Lite version of this app for Android.
GoodReader is an app that can handle many different types of files. It’s really a file management tool, that allows you to access PDFs, Office and iWork files, images, video and even archived web pages on your iOS device. It can collect together files from a range of sources, including Google docs, Dropbox and iCloud, and let you read, organise, annotate (PDF and txt only) and re-upload them. It’s pretty complicated, as apps go, but if your files are a bit all over the place, this might be a good one for you. The PDF annotation here is kind of a bonus.
Again, there are a number of options available. Features vary, but all of the following will allow you to mark up, type on and highlight PDFs, as well as fill in PDF forms. In order of price at time of writing:
- ezPDF Reader includes text-to-speech and the ability to view audio and video files if they are embedded in the PDF. It also has a plugin to integrate with Google docs.
- Repligo Reader allows you to annotate and send PDF files via email, Bluetooth, Dropbox and Evernote.
- qPDF also allows you to send files via Bluetooth and sync files in Dropbox.
A note on workflows
If you’re planning to annotate a number of files, it’s worth thinking through how you will transfer these to and from the device. Many of the apps listed above will allow you to download files from (and sometimes upload or sync them to) cloud storage services, like Dropbox or Google docs. This saves having to attach individual files to email, but these services also have their own limitations.
We recommend, particularly when working with documents relating to student assessment, that you transfer the files directly between your device and a University computer wherever possible, rather than using a third party cloud storage solution. You may be able to do this wirelessly, using WebDAV or FTP, otherwise you may need to connect your device to the computer. With an iOS device, you can transfer annotated files via the iTunes software for all of the apps mentioned above. If you have an Android device, you may be able to connect it via USB as you would a memory stick, and batch transfer your files.
If you’d like any help on the above, don’t forget you can always contact the LT team.
With thanks to Dr. James Xue, Lecturer in Computing, for the iAnnotate recommendation.
Disclaimer: these posts aim to recommend functionality, not particular products or services. The app world changes fast, and any third party app may not be available forever. Always make sure you have a back-up option.
Using mobile devices can give you a lot more freedom in how and where you work. There is a huge range of apps available to help you deliver a presentation (or lecture), as this is a common task in the business world as well as in education. The apps cover everything from preparation to delivery, the downside being that as these are often aimed at the business market, they can be expensive. Here are some of the ones we’ve come across that you might find useful.
Creating/editing your presentation
The slickest choice for this must surely be Keynote, for iOS (Apple) devices. You can import existing presentations into the app, via email or cloud storage services like Dropbox – it will accept presentations created in Keynote (on the Mac) or Powerpoint (on a PC). You can also create a presentation from scratch, including images, tables, charts and animations. It even has an area for presenter notes. If you have an iPad 2, when connected to a video output the presenter display will allow you to see both slide and notes, and your audience will only see the slides.
For Android, Google docs seems sadly lacking in the absence of a presenter view for Google presentations. However, there are other options – QuickOffice or Documents To Go will both allow you to display Powerpoint files on your device for free. Both these apps have Pro (paid) options that will also let you create and edit presentations on the device.
Delivering your presentation
If you want to use your device to deliver the presentation, there are a few different options to consider. You can connect the device directly, using a VGA or HDMI adaptor. This is the easiest option, but it does restrict your movement (which can defeat the point of using the device in the first place). Alternatively, you can connect your device to the presenting computer using wireless or bluetooth:
- You may want to use your device as a simple presenting tool, to control navigation through the slides. In this case, apps like i-Clickr for iOS and Presenter for Android should do the trick.
- If you have the presentation on your device, there are also apps that will allow you to transmit it to the presenting computer. AirSketch for the iPad will allow you to project a whiteboard, images or PDFs (so convert your presentation first), and Scatterslides for Android works in a similar way for Powerpoint slides (note this requires a free client to be installed on the presenting computer).
- If you want to get really clever, you can even use a remote desktop application to run the presentation from your own computer via your mobile device, thus avoiding any embarrassing software version problems or incompatibilities. Apps like Splashtop and TeamViewer can do this for you, as long as you have a reliable connection.
The downside to the wireless connection method is that these apps generally need to be on the same wireless connection as the presenting computer – and to be able to find each other on it. This works fine on wireless that uses keys to authenticate, but often won’t work on secure wireless networks that use a browser login. If you’re planning on trying any of these, we strongly recommend a test run before the day of the presentation.
If you have any comments on the information above, or you’d like to recommend other apps that help you with learning or teaching, please feel free to add a comment or to email the team at LTSupport@northampton.ac.uk.
Disclaimer: these posts aim to recommend functionality, not particular products or services. The app world changes fast, and any third party app may not be available forever. Always make sure you have a back-up option.
On 6th September, JISC launched a new guide: Emerging Practice in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced institutional innovation available at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/digiemerge. To augment this guide, JISC infoNet also developed a Mobile Learning infoKit with version 0.1 of this resource now available at http://bit.ly/mobilelearninginfokit.
We were very pleased that our own Learning Technologist, Julie Usher, was able to contibute to the Mobile Learning Infokit as this reflects the recognition that Northampton is doing useful research within this area
The Mobile Learning infoKit is a practical guide for educational institutions planning to implement mobile learning initiatives. Currently, it comprises of a wiki-based resource collating information and guidance from JISC and others sources. It will develop to include a section on future trends, incorporate additional examples, and be made available in a variety of formats.
Tablets seem to be the new ‘must have’ device, and a few staff have been asking us for our thoughts on these. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend a particular device, we do have a couple you can try out, and the thoughts below might be of some help.
What are they good at?
Tablets are great for carrying around. They’re small, and lightweight, and as a general rule, start-up time and battery life are both much better than a laptop. They are great for on-the-go tasks, like checking email and browsing the web. The point to remember though, is that they usually use a mobile (cut-down) version of the operating system, similar to that used in smartphones, which means that they can’t run the same type of software as a laptop or desktop computer. The software usually comes in the form of ‘apps’, which have different functionality to their desktop counterparts.
What are they bad at?
This varies between models. They usually have a mobile (cut-down) web browser installed by default, which can struggle with web pages that are not designed for mobile use. Famously, the iPad won’t play any Flash content in the default web browser (Safari), so watching video content on the web can be tricky unless there is “an app for that” (for example, there are native apps for Youtube and BBC iPlayer). It can also be tricky to transfer files between your desktop computer and your tablet, unless (for the iPad) you are an expert iTunes user, or (for Android) you use other ‘cloud’ applications to store your work online (such as Google docs).
A quick note about browsers: if you have a tablet, you don’t have to use the default browser that is already installed. Other browsers are available to download, although they may not be free.
Common tasks for University staff
We put some of our tablets through their paces to see if they could support some of the common tasks staff carry out using technology. The findings are below. If there are some more key tasks that you would like us to try out for you, please add your suggestions as comments on this post.
|Task||iPad (Apple)||Motorola Xoom (Android)|
|Syncing work email (Exchange)||Works fine, including calendars and contacts. New appointments can be added but can’t be set to private.||Email, calendars and contacts all work fine.|
|Editing documents||Has a basic Notes app already installed, that allows you to type text and email it to yourself.
The iWork suite of apps allows you to work with Word, Powerpoint/Keynote and Excel, and document transfer is done via iTunes or cloud storage services.
Google docs can be accessed via the app or the browser, although editing is fiddly.
|Doesn’t come with a basic note-taking app, although Freenote is a good one you can download, that also saves handwritten notes.
Documents, spreadsheets etc. can be imported/exported via Google docs, although disappointingly the editing functionality in the browser/app is not much better than in the Apple app.
|Using NILE* (Blackboard 9.1)||NILE can be accessed through the browser, but editing and adding new items is fiddly as it can only be done with the Visual Editor switched off.||Box pages display slightly strangely in the browser. You can add and edit items, and type using the Visual Editor, but it struggles applying settings from pop-up menus (e.g. text colours).|
|Using Turnitin and GradeMark||Originality reports can be viewed, but navigation doesn’t always work properly. Commenting in GradeMark does not work.||As with the iPad.|
|Presenting||The iPad 2 supports video output, so as long as you have the right connector, you can plug it in to the VGA lead on a lectern (as you would with a laptop), or the HDMI lead for your HD TV, and demo whatever you like.
The iPad 1 only supports video output from certain apps, like Keynote.
|Motorola haven’t as yet produced a VGA connector for the Xoom, although it does have HDMI output via the mini-HDMI socket. Apparently it is possible to adapt this to VGA output – see this forum on the Motorola site for more.|
|Adding blog posts (WordPress)||Works in the browser, but better in the (free) app, even though it does display the HTML version rather than WYSIWYG.||Slow and clumsy in the browser – again better in the app.|
|Reading e-books & journals**||Online journals: the Metalib search pages work fine, although the fact that it opens everything in a new window can mean you run out of browser windows quickly (you can only have 9 open at a time). Other useful apps include EBSCOhost, iBase (searches open access repositories, arXiv (e-prints for science subjects) and iScholarReader (Google Scholar app).
Library eBooks: Dawsonera – read online works fine, but it doesn’t seem to want to download for reading later. Safari Tech books online works fine, although watch it for it locking you out as the browser has trouble with session IDs. Netlibrary books also work for online reading, although these will soon be moving to EBSCOhost.
Other eBooks/files: The iBooks app (already installed) allows you to download from the iTunes bookstore, and EPUB/PDF files can be transferred via iTunes. There is also a free Kindle app available.
|Online journals: Metalib works fine, and opens new tabs, which is more manageable than the iPad browser. There are also Android apps for arXiv and gScholarReader (Google Scholar).
Library eBooks: Dawsonera books do not display in the browser (blank pages), and the download option doesn’t seem to work either. Safari Tech books load ok, but scrolling is tricky. The Netlibrary reader also displays as a blank page.
Other eBooks/files: The Xoom can read EPUB & PDF files, using an eBook reader app such as Aldiko (files can be transferred via USB). There is also a Kindle app available.
|Watching video||Major video streaming sites Youtube and Vimeo will play in the browser, however Flash-based video (on sites like the BBC and the University’s Video Library Server) will not.
A number of apps are available for streaming, including BBC iPlayer.
Video files can be transferred and played using the VLC app.
|Plays Flash-based video, so BBC video and the University VLS work fine, as do Youtube and Vimeo.
Video files can be transferred directly via USB. As yet there isn’t an official VLC app, but QQPlayer seems to handle most file types ok.
|Taking Photos/Video***||The iPad 2 comes with a camera that takes VGA quality stills (0.69MP). There are two options for video, with VGA quality on the front camera, or HD (720p) on the back.
There is an iMovie app but it’s only for the iPad 2, and costs £2.99.
|The Xoom has a 5MP still camera, which will take better photos than the iPad, although they don’t always look as clear on the screen.
Also shoots 720p video, and comes with an editing app (Film Studio).
*more information on accessing NILE on mobile devices will be coming soon, watch this space for more details…
**we also have a Kindle available for loan – if all you want to do is read, then this might be more suitable for you (and cheaper). You may also be interested in the Web Tools for Researchers guide.
The trip involved a morning of meetings with Blackboard staff and representatives from Bath Spa, and Birmingham University at the the Blackboard offices which are based near Dam Square the in the heart of Amsterdam. Jan-Willem Van der Zalm (Director EMEA, Managed Hosting at Blackboard) lead the discussion where we talked about the service they provide and where their roadmap will be taking the service in the future.
The meeting confirmed many of the reasons why we pay Blackboard to provide this service. It includes everything from systems monitoring, security and backups to front line support, project planning, and handling of upgrades. With all of this handled by Blackboards team of experts, and service level agreements in place guaranteeing 99.9% uptime, we can concentrate on supporting staff and students in using technology to enhance their teaching and learning practice.
The Blackboard servers are housed in an Equinix Data Centre where the security just to get in was like something out of ’24′, requiring passports, pre-booking and a registered user whose finger prints are recorded. We had a tour of the facility including a room containing 5 generators which can keep power going into the centre for 51 hours without needing a fuel top up. The Data Centre is a sophisticated building with millions being invested in the continued maintenance, security provision and safety of the equipment and data held within its walls.
We finished the tour by going into the Blackboard ‘cage’. Some of the Blackboard servers are run from this relatively new area where there is a lot of space available for expansion. There are other Data Centres containing Blackboard servers in Virginia, USA and Sydney, Australia. The Blackboard Data Centre/Infrastructure engineer gave us an enthusiastic overview of the set up within the cage demonstrating the physical structure of an otherwise virtual system.
The whole visit gave us a clearer understanding and appreciation of the work that goes on behind the scenes to support and maintain NILE. Pretty good value as far as we’re concerned.
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