Articles

Ann Arbor Museum xAPI Project

I met with Megan Torrence at DevLearn 2014 in Las Vegas to discuss her new award winning project utilizing xAPI as part of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Project. Megan describes how xAPI was used to benefit the teachers and students visiting the museum and how it was implemented.

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Agile Project Management

I met with Megan Torrence at DevLearn 2014 in Las Vegas to discuss Agile project management and her LLAMA system. Megan is the head of Torrance Learning and has been a leading light in promoting new models for learning development. This interview covers the basics of agile development for elearning as well as some of the realities of how it is used in practice.

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Building Better Virtual Teams

Video services have made a big impact on our everyday lives, and the ability to see each other has helped to draw people together even if they are separated by geography. Skype calls are now a common practice for a lot of people, allowing people to communicate with friends and family that it is not possible to see in person. 

Video conferences in business however are still very much in their infancy. The majority of conference calls I get invited to use voice conference bridges where you call into a central number for your country and then punch in the meeting room PIN number to chat with your colleagues who have dialled in to the same bridge. 

Some of these systems can be reliable with reasonable voice quality, sadly, many are not. Typical issues I have with these systems are a mixture of how they are used and how low the quality of the service is: With the ubiquity of voice conferencing systems out there it has been a drive to the bottom with pricing, and as so many free services exist out there, quality in corporate audio bridges can be very poor. Telephone quality of 300-3400hz is noticeably lo-fi compared to most internet audio calls.

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Learning to play the Game!

Gamification is something that has had a lot of publicity over the last 2-3 years. The principles behind gamification have been around since the days of Green Shield stamps and airmiles, but before we look at real world situations let’s first define the term.

Gamification is the use of gameplay mechanics within non-game situations to increase engagement and activity.

The mechanics of gamification we see drawn from actual online games such as Farmville in this case a game where gameplay and it’s rewards are applied to the context of farming an area of land. That isn’t gamification by our definition, because it is an actual game but it demonstrates the same mechanics. In fact the tools used in these games were set up for one purpose - engagement! You can probably relate to this as the candycrush obsession!

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Southern Shaolin Interview

In August I made a trip to South London to meet with my Martial Arts teacher Grandmaster John Hine to brush up on my Chinese martial arts in both Northern and Southern Shaolin. I had the opportunity to get interview while I was here. Here is Grandmaster Hine discussing the Southern Shaolin system as well as it’s health and practical benefits.

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Learning to Change!

How we work in corporations has changed and evolved considerably since my first day at work back in 1983, when I arrived fresh and green at the age of 16 to start a 4-year apprenticeship in telecommunications with the Signals and Telecommunications department of British Rail.

Back then British Rail was a great example of the traditional, hierarchical management structure that was common at the time. Training courses were typically measured in weeks rather than hours, and for a while I had several 4 week training courses each year somewhere scenic like Derby! Characteristics which are now commonly sought after when hiring personnel, like initiative, adaptability, agility, innovation and self direction, were unheard of at the time and we were still living in the world of the time and motion study.

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Circus in Brazil

In December I had the privilege to spend some time in Brazil living and training with Circocan, a circus school based in Curitiba and Florianopolis. While I was there I trained, taught, rigged and performed as part of the school while living in a beach-front chalet 20 metres from the sea.

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Lean Course Development

Almost everyone has heard of the term “Lean” in relation to software development, management or entrepreneurship. I want to look at the principles of lean development and see if we can apply them to other businesses such as education and more specifically elearning course development. If Lean is solely focused on producing customer value then can this not be a great antedote to so many elearning courses that are developed with little reference to the learner and the learning experience?

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Hand Luggage Only!

I can’t entirely describe myself as a digital nomad, but I have been spending more than half my year away from home. Even though I make it home somewhere between every 1-3 weeks I do need to apply all the same nomadic techniques to work from hotels, B&Bs, apartments and offices in different parts of the world. In particular I’ve tried limiting myself to hand luggage only where possible.

Up until recently the decision between having checked luggage or just hand luggage was simple. Less than 5 days I can travel with a laptop bag containing a few changes of clothes, any trip of a week or more I would need additional luggage.

Few of my trips are direct flights, one of the side effects of living in Scotland, and if the first leg of a journey is delayed there is a very short time between getting off one flight and on to another. After waiting too many times at baggage carousels for luggage that hasn’t made a connection I decided that all my trips would be hand luggage only, unless I needed to take additional equipment like circus or video equipment.

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How can I be really productive?

I was told long ago that I need to choose how I spend the time I have available to me…

My martial arts teacher and mentor Sifu John Hine, drilled into me that “You can achieve anything you want with discipline and order!” He is very successful, and I credit him with taking someone with little drive or initiative, pointing me in the right direction, and giving me many of the tools to progress.

While this mantra is both simple and true, it’s not always easy to do and we often need to build systems to be disciplined and ordered with. This article covers my search for a system that would work for me.

Time is our most important asset, how will we spend it? I constantly find myself falling back on social convention and being driven by requests from others. Accepting all meeting requests, taking all actions passed to me and generally being very helpful and a good corporate citizen.

This does mean though, that my time is then 100% managed by the demands of others and I cease to actually become productive.

Over the last few years I have had to constantly remind myself that if I want to be creative, innovative and productive I need to choose how I spend the time I have available to me.

I need to have a good plan and stick to it!

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Host Your Site on the Cloud

I’ve recently been rethinking my web hosting strategy and looking at the alternative options open to me for hosting the sites I look after. Up until this year the sites I built were either based on Joomla or WordPress, I have 2 reseller accounts with half of my sites on each. As part of my aim to slim down my monthly expenses I wanted to find alternatives and reduce my costs.

I’ve also gone back to learning HTML after many years. Joomla and WordPress are sufficiently advanced for most users that coding is unnecessary unless you really want to get involved. I originally started hand coding web sites after picking up the first issue of .Net magazine in the mid 1990’s. At that time I was using Notepad on Windows was my only tool and tested my fledgling code with Netscape Navigator. Nowadays I had access to a lot more interesting technologies that I wanted to work with and needed to update my skills.

Due to my interest in building my own sites I had a lot of new possibilities to add to my list of options. I could continue using dynamic sites, which were usually blogs or Content Management Systems that need MySQL databases to back them up or simpler static sites built with HTML5 with CSS3 and JavaScript.

In this article I’ll have a look at some of the different ways to host a website starting with traditional web hosting, then look at different types of cloud services such as Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine, I also found some low cost hacks involving Dropbox and Google Drive. I’ve also found some other alternatives such as using Github to host a site as well as software as a service providers.

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Building a LMS on the Cloud

There are many ways to host education content within a company, from large corporate level learning management systems to freeware like Moodle or Blackboard, we decided to build our own Learning Management System, this is how we did it and why and how that’s worked out for us.

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CSS and Amazon S3

When you start to build websites hosted on Amazon S3 and you have configured and set up your hosting correctly, you may run across the same issue I did with my CSS style sheets not working. I knew I had coded them properly because they worked perfectly on my laptop, but on S3 they gave me raw, un-styled HTML when I uploaded my site. There is a simple fix for this fortunately, once you realise it is a peculiarity of S3 rather than an issue with your code.

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Hosting a blog on S3

After many years of using Joomla and Wordpress to create websites, I am now looking to move all of my sites from a traditional web hosting company to Amazon Web Services. As an advocate of cloud services, I really should practice what I preach, and also gain the advantages of virtualisation, scalability and access to a global content delivery network. If possible I would like to reduce my hosting costs too.

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Becoming a Digital Nomad

My last post on this topic spoke about my interest in the idea of putting all my “stuff” on the cloud and then leaving these chilly shores for warmer climes.

To become a homeless world wanderer apparently has precedent. I don’t mean the sort of homeless wanderer typified by a gap year student or an actual hobo, I mean to have no fixed abode or regular income and to be able to live at any time in any country that I wish. Here’s an explanation by Cherie Ve Ard of her definitions Digital Nomad does capture it quite well I like Technomad too but it may be hard to separate “Tech-nomad” from “Techno-mad” so perhaps I’ll stick with Digital Nomad.

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Thank you for killing Google Reader

The news that Google would be killing their Reader service as of July 2013 was a surprise to many people, myself included! RSS is an internet technology that many people rely on to access news, blog articles, podcasts etc, and has been put to many other uses relating to the notification of available information and media. Over the years Google Reader has become the only RSS platform available. When launched in 2005 their Reader service was available for free, and eventually become the sole RSS aggregation service after other paid for services became untenable. Google Readers dominance continued until March 2013 when we were informed the service was being shut down, citing the reason of “declining use”. This naturally led to an outcry from blog owners everywhere who relied on the service to get their writing out to their audience.

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Does SCORM prevent good education?

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Learning and Skills Group Conference in London and attended Megan Bowe’s lecture on the new Tin Can API 1.

The Tin Can API is a new protocol designed to record a student’s learning experiences and is set to replace the current standard, SCORM, which is used to report learner scores to a Learning Mangement System. Tin Can 1.0 was released on 26th April 2013 and was designed to change the way we record education. Megan Bowe is a strategist with Rustici software, the company who was awarded a grant by ADL 2 to develop the Tin Can API specification. Before getting into “Tin Can - the Experience API”, Megan started her lecture by outlining the limitations of SCORM, a topic I am more than familiar with!

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Writing Courses in the Cloud

I have recently delivered a series of lectures in the US and Canada to technology sales people, and part of the course covered how cloud technology has impacted our lives. I realise that I may be something of an early adopter of almost any technology that could improve my productivity, but during the course I relate how cloud technology has made the difference for me between working all hours tied to my desk, and being able to work where and when I want to, from any device, anywhere in the world!

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Cloudsploitation

Here’s an idea! I have a regular paid job where I mainly work from home. I collaborate with many other home-based and office workers internationally, I work in no particular timezone, and in theory could work from anywhere in the world…..so why the heck don’t I?!

Why do I limit myself to only the one view from my window, when I could, in theory, be free to travel, live and work in any of the glorious locations that the globe has to offer?

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How much do you weigh?

How much do you weigh? As an aerialist you could weigh around 1000 lb!

This was a statement offered by Brett Copes in a workshop I attended held at the Circus Warehouse in New York last month (OK, I may be paraphrasing a little!). Brett specialises in stunt and performance rigging. He works with dozens of aerialists and aerial shows a year and has been rigging for Cirque du Soleil since 2009 with “O” and IRIS.

Brett is an engaging and entertaining speaker who provides a very practical stance on advising aerialists about rigging safety. One of the aims of his lecture was to provide some simple guidance to make performers who rig for themselves safer. To do this part of his workshop covered some figures that can be used to calculate how much force your equipment and rigging points would need to handle to safely support you.

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Perfecting the Pull-Up

When I’m teaching trapeze or any form of aerial acrobatics to beginners I always recommend 2 basic exercises which will fast track a students training and give them the strength and control they need to progress more quickly

These exercises are:

  1. The Pull-Up
  2. Inverting to Pike.

Inverting to pike helps with all movements where you need to turn upside down on aerial apparatus and will be the focus of another article. In this post I want to look at the pull-up and the variations I use in class.

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Education Evolution

After watching Sugata Mitra’s wonderful TED talk on building a school in the cloud it made me look at the direction we are moving towards in education and what technology can do to help.

Sugata Mitra, the 2013 TED prize winner, starts his story by looking at where the current model of standardised education evolved from. Mitra identifies the British Empire as its source and looks at how a global empire was run without computers or telephones, and only with hand written letters transmitted by sea going vessels as a means of communication. To make all this work they created a their own victorian era global super-computer - The bureaucratic administrative machine.

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Serious Games vs Gamification

In many organisations e-learning from a learners perspective can be a painful experience. Typically you’ll set aside 30 minutes, take a deep breath and sit through what is essentially a voiced-over PowerPoint in Flash format. If you are lucky it may include some small clips of lacklustre video or some stock animations.

Many organisations are poor at the use and design of PowerPoint presentations for business communications or classroom training, and even if they are pedagogically valid they often fail to efficiently engage learners.

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Grasping the Cloud

With everyone jumping on a cloud-based bandwagon, many SaaS offerings seem only to relate to a true cloud offering in the mind of the marketing department. Just because an application has a web interface or is hosted remotely doesn’t make it a cloud application. While the provision of remote hosting of application software and data storage is a feature of cloud computing it is not its only features. So what is cloud…?

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