Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dev8ed (Day 1)

Dev8ed, a two day meeting for software developers working in H&FE, took place at Aston University on the 29th and 30th May 2012. Like the HEA conference there was so much of interest that it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend, but the organizers did alleviate this by having presenters doing pitches where most conferences would have had a plenary, and many of the presenters also did 'lightening talks' - 10 minute mini presentations on their work.
The first session I attended had presentations Fridolin Wild from the Open University and Martin Hawksey from JISC CETIS. Fridolin presented on Widget based personal learning environments which I suspect will be something of increasing importance over the next few years, and may lead to the merging of VLE, e-Portfolio and student portal applications into a single personalised site. Martin has been using Google Spreadsheet as a powerful data acquisition and presentation tool - his blog is well worth a visit to see some of the things he's done. Because Google Spreadsheets can acquire data from twitter this could be a powerful tool for looking at social networking behaviour.
During lunch I had a chat with Chuck Severence who moved from IMS to Blackboard about the same time that Blackboard bought moodlerooms. His views on Blackboard's attitude to Moodle and Sakai are reassuring - their interest in open-source relates to expanding service provision, not getting more customers for their VLE, and their new subsidiary companies will continue to contribute actively to OSS.
In the afternoon I attended a session on IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) by Simon Booth and Stephen Vickers from the JISC ceLTIc project - they have added an LTI link to WebPA (a group work peer-review tool) and will be offering it as a hosted service that other Universities can link to using LTI links from their VLE. To me the great thing about LTI is that it provides a safe way of extending the functionality of the VLE without any risk to the core service - this give great potential for experimental learning technology projects. Stephen has written PHP classes to support LTI and during the course of the meeting Steve Lay almost completed a Python implementation. There were some questions about the possibility of a Perl implementation... Over the next few weeks I'll be liaising with Stephen and Simon to make sure my Java and C# implementations have as similar an API as is practically possible to Stephen's classes which will hopefully allow a single documentation set. Once we have solid and easy to reuse, liberally licenced PHP, Java, C# and Python implementations available I think we should satisfy the needs of most normal developers. I expect someone will create a Perl implementation for the abnormal ones.
I'd have liked to see the session Chuck presented (in his University of Michigan role) on Coursera a massive open online course (MOOC) system. This is interactive distance learning on a grand scale - Chuck's Internet History, Technology, and Security class has approaching 2000 students. Unfortunately the LTI discussions went to too long, so I joined the end of a lightening talks session instead. Malte Ressin's talk on internationalisation reminded us that there's more to internationalisation of software than language - cultural differences mean that colour choice can have quite different impacts, and images that are perfectly acceptable for us can be taboo in other cultures.
Steve Lay talked about OData, a web service data protocol that sits somewhere between the complexity of SOAP and the relative chaos of REST. The OData approach seems to be that they take the best ideas and practice from existing specifications that actually work in practice and standardise them.
The next talk was mine - I briefly described my Java and C# implementations of LTI and demonstrated setting up a quiz running on the Amazon EC2 cloud from the Services Moodle.
I was followed by Guy Pursley from Reading who has been doing interesting things with the Blackboard e-portfolio tool. They wanted a more guided approach to creating a view than Blackboard provides, so Guy has written JavaScript code that guides the student through the process and provides additional hints. Because the code is all client side it should be possible to adapt it to work with Mahara as well. Guy is also keen to get Leap2a support into the Blackboard tool, so hopefully my Leap2a validator will be of use to him.
Alex Iacconi discussed cloud platforms - particularly the ones like Google App Engine and Windows Azure - there's something very appealing about a hosting system that scales as required.
Diana Laurillard gave a brief talk on Learning Designer - more on that later when I blog about day 2 of the meeting.

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