Development eLearning Perspectives Portfolio Uncategorized

Pirongia Heritage newsletter

Newsletter Front Page

I have been fascinated with the Newsletter concept since, as a teenager, I used to cut stencils for our local Youth Hostel group and later University publications in Earth Science.

So I found it an interesting challenge and having recently joined a local Heritage group (for whom I put a database of PDF Newsletters online) immediately thought of one of theirs.

It’s quite a challenge since traditional Newsletters by their nature are text heavy and there is really no way around that.  I suppose that makes PDF an ideal way to distribute them but surely, I thought, there must be some feature of Storyline that makes the concept useful.

The first thing of course is the navigation, it’s nice to browse a Newsletter or sit reading it in the afternoon sunshine but sometimes you want just that one article to re-read.  So we add links from a contents page.  In this case I highlighted the feature articles and left the humdrum of committee and society notices to a single link.

I did try regular buttons but I felt they detracted from the general look and feel of the original so I made them text links.  Alternative stylings (eg colour could be used here as well).

I normally prefer to have my own navigation on Storylines rather than use the side menu as, often, that’s just a lot of screen real estate and sometimes I don’t want the user to have that much autonomy (especially with assessments).  However, in this case, I decided to leave the menu in there as the navigation text links may not be that obvious (even though I added the little animated arrow).  My (usually) elderly readership would likely appreciate that.

The next thing is the density of text and the text size.  Of course we have screen readers and on modern tablets and browsers we can adjust the font size if necessary.  However I felt that maybe text-to-speech was the way to go and so I added a button to each of the text blocks and created a pause/play effect.  I might have done more with the icon states but it works well using a toggle variable.

Finally using this format gave me the opportunity to add some further information about the Heritage Centre location and purpose and to explain some aspects of the Te Reo Māori name of our organisation.

I haven’t converted the entire newsletter but just wanted to show a proof of the concept.

You can view the original PDF version here:

Development eLearning Perspectives Portfolio

An Ethics Training Storyline

The challenge was a makeover of a piece of US government web-based training:

NOTE: This is not a complete course, just enough to give an idea.

This will give you a flavor of the original site:

With this kind of thing you do need to take into account the conservative nature of government departments, generally speaking, so we can’t go full crazy on such a topic (also it is a rather serious and even relevant topic in the current situation).

To start with I thought that a menu-based navigation system would be better and rather than the standard titles, perhaps some prompting questions for the user:

The orange bars change when the slide sequences have been visited.

I also thought some little videos might give it a more modern feel:

Video is part of the who is it for sequence.

Next I thought to ask the question about filing before the sequence on information about filing financial disclosure information. I feel this is a better approach pedagogically.

A simple drag and drop.

Of course I’m assuming we are preparing for a browser-based tablet or desktop use, if we wanted to go to a mobile phone we might do something else.

eLearning Perspectives LMS

When SCORM can be problematic.

I recently worked on a project requiring some SCORM-based assessment activities to be updated within a Moodle course (to reflect changes in the law).  The original developer was gone, as were the original files that produced the SCORM export.

In this case the SCORM assessment was not doing anything that could not have been handled in a Moodle quiz. The site owner and administrator had neither the time, inclination or expertise to learn to use an interactive tool but could certainly edit Moodle quiz questions given a simple guide.

This experience got me thinking as to the need (if any) for SCORM objects in Moodle courses.  As a person that works extensively with both Moodle course design and Articulate Storyline development it has made me think carefully about what a client might really need – as opposed to what they might think they need.

Articulate Storyline
Although there are other packages around Storyline seems to be, by consensus, the easiest tool to learn to produce HTML 5 compliant SCORM packages that can easily be inserted into a Moodle course for both Mobile and desktop access.  If you are not designing for mobile by the way (no Flash!) where have you been hiding away recently?

If you have used PowerPoint, Keynote or similar presentation software then you will find Storyline layers on top of that quite nicely.  There are significant things to learn but at least you start with familiar concepts and, in the case of PowerPoint, a similar look and feel. Here’s an example in case you are wondering what a good presentation looks like (and also in case you’re planning to cook a turkey in the near future).

In this open course (log on as a guest) I have considered a range of free and non-free SCORM tools and given examples of what can be produced.

Some pros of SCORM
The graphic nature of the tool and the interactive experience are certainly attractive and advantageous to learners.  Most designers also believe that it is more engaging for learners and that therefore they will retain more of the content.

A carefully designed course can also encourage learner autonomy which we know is important in increasing engagement. In the case of Moodle, which supports the SCORM 1.2 standard, grades from SCORM packages can be transferred to the Moodle gradebook very easily. Finally, SCORM objects follow a standard so that if you do need to change your training or learning platform you should be able to transfer the packages seamlessly.

Some cons of SCORM
First and foremost the cost might well be a consideration.  An authoring package is typically 1400 – 1700 NZD per user.  This is significant for a small business. Secondly, as my client discovered, you may be locked into an authoring tool or even one developer who has the original files. Thirdly, it might just be used to provide superficial glitter or “polish a turd” to use a common phrase. Finally, it will take to time to learn or train designers to get the most out of the tool.

Moodle supports SCORM but, as of the time of writing only SCORM 1.2.  That said the newer SCORM 2004 has not been very widely adopted, and with the advent of the Tin Can API may well never be. Moodle itself has a wide range of core learning activities as well as third-party additions that are available.  Therefore, these other activities should not be ignored when designing courses.

In particular, the quiz activity is very powerful, with drag and drop now supported.  One of the common issues with quiz activities is slavish adherence to multiple choice with very basic feedback.  The use of varied question types, the addition of meaningful and well-designed feedback and features such as Certainty Based Marking can make Moodle quizzes very engaging.

The recently re-vamped Moodle Lesson (for version 3) is also a very flexible tool for scenario-based assessment and learning activities.  It is sadly neglected at present and I have seen it used merely as a linear presentation of text only pages which does it no favours at all.

If you do want just a linear progression of pages, with the ability to insert questions from the question bank see my third-party plugin Simple Lesson.

Caveat: Of course it is difficult to be definitive on (almost any) design issue and there are multiple possibilities depending on what you are trying to achieve. However, I would say, when you are trying to decide whether you need SCORM objects in a Moodle course, look through the other end of the telescope first.

That is, can I achieve my learning objectives with Moodle activities only?  If not, why not and what is it about SCORM that makes it the compelling choice? If you are a client, learn from my opening cautionary tale and make sure you have contractual rights to the original files used to produce SCORM activities.

Additional reading
To SCORM or not to SCORM:

Authoring tools compared:

Moodle: and

eLearning Perspectives LMS

Course Design and Usability

Some thoughts as presented at the Sydney Schools Moodle Moot. These are based on the course that Nina Pollock and I designed in one day at the New Zealand Moodle Moot. A related course is viewable at Open Learning NZ: (logon as a guest).  This automatically enrols participants in two versions of the course: a vanilla example and our completed course.

We chose the topic of City Vegetable gardens as that seemed to be something we could get information on and complete in a few hours. Nina developed a nice, clean graphical interface with plenty of whitespace and added the simple but effective graphics.

We used the forum, quiz, page, book and glossary modules. We included hidden elements such as a small achievement badge and cyber eggs – each one is designed to be harder to find than the previous ones.

The achievement “badge” – we didn’t have time to design a nice graphic – only appears when a couple of things are accessed and both 1 post and 2 replies have been made in the forum.

This was a “Thanks for being an active member of our community” button.

One of the eggs was hidden conditionally until one particular resource was accessed and another was in the glossary so would only appear when one of the random glossary entries was shown.

Due to shortage of time we linked these cyber eggs to existing material in the Book module. With more time we would probably use pop-up “rewards” – links to other garden examples.

The forum was seeded with a number of topics to encourage audience participation. The glossary and garden examples book are deliberately orphaned to reduce clutter. The quiz was used a checklist for participants to determine their readiness.

With more time, the feedback responses to “wrong” or “not ready” responses would have included a link to the relevant resource or resources.

The “false” response to question 1 shows an example – the more information link throws up an existing resource in a pop-up. The pop-up method was chosen as it would allow participants to continue the quiz after closing it.

The quiz has no penalties, multiple tries, a fixed question order and immediate feedback.

eLearning Perspectives LMS Schools

Moodle Course Design

In her book Learner-Centred Teaching [1], Maryellen Weimer discusses five key changes to teacher practice that can lead to improved outcomes for learners. We consider each of these in turn and their possible relationship to the implementation of an LMS such as Moodle or indeed a number of related tools, such as Google Apps.

The Balance of Power

Teacher-centred classrooms are power-based classrooms. This conflicts with the notion of empowering the students, giving then some autonomy, as a means of motivation. Providing resources on Moodle and then requiring students to take the responsibility of studying, commenting, re-working and discussing them with peers will help shift the power base.

Of course, these activities can be carried out in the classroom in the presence of the teacher – as is often pointed out – but this kind of activity has a very different flavour when done autonomously under student control. A specific example might be using a Glossary. In a teacher-centred classroom we might see the teacher give out a list of terms or words for students to study. Another way to handle this is to have the students find definitions for the terms and create their own glossary entries. These can be commented on by other students and the teacher.

Careful intervention and facilitation by the teacher will achieve the original objective but the students will feel more “ownership” of the result. As with many activities this not does absolutely need to be carried out online – it could be done with paper and pencil. However, the ubiquity of web access means that students are free to take a look at a time convenient to them.

The on-demand vs the broadcast tv model at work.

The Function of Content

This is problematic because, in schools, the content to be covered is generally out of our control. It is set by external bodies such as examination boards and national curricula. In today’s narrow view typically this is also controlled by national and international standardized assessments.

The need to cover content and to recall it under examination conditions can work directly against the development of creativity and higher order thinking. Importantly, in his book Teaching for Tomorrow [2], Ted McCain describes methods for delivering content together with problem-solving skills, improved engagement and active learning strategies. All aimed at giving students “real-world” skills.

Adapting this process from an active classroom to a Moodle course is a real challenge – especially if Moodle is used merely as a content repository and later chapters will discuss some strategies that can be used. One simple example of McCain’s method might make use of a Moodle forum.

The teacher takes on the role of an international consultant and sets up a scenario in which the students pose as members of a globally-distributed problem-solving team. Using the forum they discuss strategies for dealing with pollution in a lake, say. Such an activity would ideally require students to research the background issues (using the required curriculum content) as they work together to solve the given problem.

The Role of the Teacher

As well as maintaining the power balance, the teacher also makes many other decisions in the classroom to the point where most students may well accept that the teacher knows everything that the student needs to know (to pass an examination for example) and the learning process is one of simple transmission.

Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown [3] write that the education system “has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning” and they argue that an “environmental view” is need rather than a mechanistic one. In this view, our Course Management System is a garden where learning is nurtured rather than a factory where learners are processed or battery reared. Students tend not to question the strategies that a teacher may use, even when the teacher’s style doesn’t correspond well to their own preferred learning style.

A course management system can provide for different resource types (readings, videos, interactive games) and different activities (group-based, individual, self-paced, guided), so that the students have more ways of accessing and working with the content. Students who have never been given this freedom may well find the change difficult to grasp even threatening or unnerving and teachers need to be prepared for this. As an example, merely adding a resource such as a forum to a course will not, of itself, produce peer interaction between students. Once again active teacher intervention will be required.

The questions set up by the teacher in the forum are vital – particularly at the start – they must be easily accessible to students, not set initially at a high cognitive level for example. Once students enter and contribute, the teacher’s role is to thread and connect the ideas as they develop – where errors of fact or grammatical errors do occur, these will quite likely be corrected by other contributors avoiding having the teacher take on that traditional role but allowing them to support those who take care to be correct.

The Responsibility for Learning

The responsibility for learning has traditionally been that of the teacher – indeed teachers are often harshly criticised by parents, politicians and news media as being “bad teachers” – one rarely hears of the student’s responsibility to learn.

The use of Moodle to provide resources and activities that may be carried out independently of the teacher can shift the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. For teachers, a very important, but perhaps often overlooked, point is that the teachers do indeed retain important responsibilities and providing motivation and engagement is high among them.

A course in which there is reading after reading, a couple of images, a YouTube video and then a quiz is not very exciting either online or in the classroom. A quick Poll (or Moodle Choice) can be used, not only to gauge retention of “facts” taught in the classroom but also as a tool to promote reflection, perhaps by asking questions to which there is no single correct response. Having asked a question such as: Which is the most effective way to secure a house?

  • Locking the door
  • Closing all the windows
  • Leaving a pair of boots on the doorstep
  • Emptying the post box every day

When a new topic is introduced will give students time to think through concepts and ideas associated with a subject before any content is presented.

This also encourages students to make active contributions to an online course and begin to get them involved. In other words it provides the opportunity to develop a “community of practice” where students begin to take ownership through individual and collective contributions.

The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation

Weimer mentions three assumptions that are commonly made about grades: They “measure learning precisely”, “objectively” and they “promote learning”. In the current system, grades are generally awarded by the teachers of a course, there is little in the way of peer assessment or self-assessment – at least in terms of grades that “count”. That is, grades which get students into tertiary education or meaningful employment. Peer and self-assessment promote learning and higher order thinking skills.

Focus on grades which come from external assessment leads to a focus on content, recall of facts, recall of procedures, rote memorization of solutions to problems and other low-order activities. These types of knowledge tend not to be retained long after the examination.

Weimer is far from the only observer to have noted the disparity between the organisation of many schools and the requirements of education for the Information Age. Writing about the “creative workforce”, Erica McWilliam [4] characterises schools as “a top-down hierarchy of command and control” where teachers work as “content authorities” and “students may well be living in a parallel universe”.

One of the dangers pointed out by McWilliam is that the dominant commercial learning management systems (Blackboard and Web CT at that time) were being “repurposed for old ‘transmission’ teaching”. Moodle can be misused in the same way and one of the central ideas of this post is that it should not be. Moodle supplies tools such as the workshop, rubrics, marking schemes which allow for more complex and more meaningful means of evaluation and assessment and which promote the higher order thinking skills that our students will need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.


1: Learner-Centred Teaching, Maryellen Weimer, Jossey-Bass, 2002. ISBN 0-7879-5646-5.

2: Teaching for Tomorrow, Ted McCain, Corwin press, 2005. ISBN 978-1412913843

3: A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, 2011, Self-published, ISBN: 976-1456458881

4: Erica McWilliam, The Creative Workforce, UNSW Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1921410222

eLearning Perspectives LMS Schools

Essential Principles of Blended Learning

This article encapsulated out philosophy at The Southport School very nicely: How does it relate to corporate training, if at all?

1. EVERY SCHOOL NEEDS A VISION. Yes, every organisation needs a vision and what was said about schools here, strong leadership, give room to try and fail and empowering learners in the workforce should apply within a corporate environment also. However, it seems to me that in many organisations this vision may be token at best. Even those with a relatively flat structure do seem to see top-down instruction as the way forward. That is leadership, but not the only kind there is. Something to ponder.

2. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. With a wide variety of job functions and a wide variety of learning styles this is also true – however there is more to this than technology and software choices. It is vital to find out what the learning goals are for the task at hand. Isn’t this a bit obvious? Yes it is, but is it always done? There’s a lot of dump and pump out there.

3. DON’T LET SOFTWARE DICTATE LEARNING GOALS. We buy an LMS and put it to work. We have standard Office Tools and adapt them to disparate needs. Of course, it does make more sense to try to figure out what the goals are and then locate the appropriate technology – but there is a strong dependence on what we already have, inevitably. So do we end up making training that’s easy to do?

4. SUPPORT TEACHERS AND INCLUDE THEM IN DECISION-MAKING PROCESS. The situation in an organisation is a little different but still the education/training Team do need to have influence as they are the experts in this area. It makes sense to give your education team a strong say in the strategic vision for training within the company.

eLearning Perspectives Portfolio Schools

Using Mahara for Social learning

Mahara is an ePortfolio in which the default for all stored information is private.  It makes a great “walled garden” for introducing students to the concepts of social and mobile networking as well as being a great learning tool for individuals and groups. The tool is seen by teachers and students alike as intuitive and easy to use.

1     Introduce via “social presence”

One of the first things to do is to show students the profile fields (on the Content tab of the home page).  Here teachers can stress such things as persistence of social data, appropriate choices when making descriptions and selecting screen names. Clicking your name at the top right of the screen will bring up the profile screen where students can request friendship with other students and write comments on their wall.

2     Make use of the Journal

A point to remember is that Journal entries don’t have to be like private diaries and they don’t have to be long entries.  You could even use the Journal as a Twitter styler blog – 140 characters reflections on the day’s work.  Journal entries can be tagged and they can be placed on a personal page or a group page. Taking 5 or 10 minutes every day to write these entries will instil good habits and consolidate learning.  Looking back over a period of work will enable students to see their progress.

3     Use Mobile uploads

There are photo upload apps for both iOS and Android devices.  These allow students to record their work, store photos in their files area which they can then use on pages.  Students can also record videos with their mobile devices and this can provide another way to promote reflection. A video, made by students following completion of a topic, can help them reflect on progress and reinforce collaboration and teamwork.

4     Create web pages

Once a page has been created, other students can be allowed to comment, at the discretion of the page owner.  The student may moderate comments before they are posted which leaves them in control.  Pages can be tagged and can include external sources, such as RSS feeds, Google Docs and Open Badges.  These are in addition to student created artefacts like text files, image galleries and profile fields.

5     Encourage teamwork

The teacher can set up a class group easily in Mahara.  The software also includes Collections – or groups of pages that are linked.  One use of Mahara with small groups is to create Group Collections which have a main page and individual pages linked together.  Each student has their own working space (which may be used for assessment if required) but collaborate on the Group Page.  The teacher can also see what individuals have produced as well as the group.  Students can plan their pages offline using large sheets of paper, for example. Mahara has proved itself to be a user-friendly and versatile tool to encourage engagement in the classroom and to teach 21st century skills.


Richard would like to thank colleagues at The Southport School ion particular Dr Jill Margerison for providing screenshots and information on the use of Mahara in English teaching. Richard Jones is a consultant living and working in New Zealand.

eLearning Perspectives Personal

School Trek

PowerPoint 2013 Presentation

SchoolTrek (pdf)

A keynote at the Sydney 2013 Moodle Schools Moot hosted by Pukunui.

Thought I might share this with a wider audience.  It might be a bit self-indulgent in parts but I think it gives some perspective for those new to the eLearning world.

In the keynote I try to show why it is that the time for technology to finally change the nature of education has arrived.  For me, this is a journey that started in 1990, for others (notably Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – ACOT) it started as far back as 1985.

We have come a long way slowly but now things will change fast.