Category Archives: SCORMs

Trying Out MOOVLY

moovlyI am always on the lookout for easy ways students (and teachers) can create quick, graphically rich presentations, which aren’t just PowerPoints.

I have nothing against PowerPoint – far from it: but there are limitations. One of the things I try to do as a teacher of digital skills is to provide students with choices. When I give them a project to do, I want them to think about what the most appropriate tool for the job is, and to be able to harness the strengths and weaknesses of different applications to the given task. I don’t want to tell them, create a PowerPoint of … They need to decide whether to use PowerPoint, Flash, a Prezi, or VoiceThread.

Moovly looks like a powerful platform for creating animated presentations, which can be rendered as MP4s, downloaded to your computer or shared to Youtube or Facebook. You can add image files, videos, sound files, or clip art from the Moovly library. You can adjust the background, text and animation effects on a timeline which works fairly intuitively. there is an excellent walk through which shows you what to do.

Teachers can add Moovly to their elearning armament, for creating presentation fragments to pop into a PowerPoint, or to author content for their Moodle page, blog, etc. The picture above shows a screenshot of one I created earlier. It took about ten minutes to create a short 10 second clip. The man on the stage speaks, but i didn’t record a sound track with the presentation. It would have been very easy to do though! That’s serious engagement done effortlessly!

What I like about it is that it is web-based, so requires no download to work. Students can create accounts within minutes, and then use an interface which works in a pretty similar way to video-editing packages like VideoPad and animation packages such as Flash! It uses timelines with layers for each object. These layers are added automatically. You can also drag and drop objects onto the stage, and move them within the time-line with a minimum of fuss. Effects such as fade-in are applied using drop-down menus, so the learning curve is the equivalent of the bunny slope! It’s the kind of application you don’t have to actively teach in class – you can just let students loose on it and then hold their hands when they need it.

I have only just begun to dip into Moovly, but i am sure it will become part of my armoury!


Creating An Online Course For The Classroom

crit thinkOne thing which has been worrying me about the growth of University level MOOCs, from the perspective of a high school teacher has been to what extent online content can be created and deployed in the secondary school without it becoming another tool for de-professionalising teachers. That online content will penetrate high schools I am certain of, but who will author that content?

I have invested quite a lot of time and energy into exploring and learning about software that can be used to author online content, and some of them have very steep learning curves indeed, and are unlikely ever to gain much traction in the classroom. Flash, for example, can be used to create professional content, but not many teachers are likely to take it up. PowerPoint, on the other hand has gained wide adoption by teachers. Last week I got the opportunity to design an entire online course module for my school, and it made me wonder if I could create a unit of work that would be easily replicable by other teachers, teachers perhaps less confident in their ability to author online materials. Put another way, how easy would it be for teachers to author their own online courses on a limited budget, limited skills base, and with little time to do it in?

This year, all our grade 10 students will be writing an assessment in Critical Thinking Skills as part of a pilot programme in the Independent Examination Board. While an important step forward in promoting Cognitive Education, this has caught us a little on the hop. How do we prepare our students for this in a meaningful way, without simply teaching to the test?

The school set aside a day’s workshop for the grade 10s, but this was clearly quite inadequate. I have had some success putting together short modules online for my computer classes on topics such as Internet research, copyright and plagiarism, so I volunteered to.put together a unit on Thinking Skills. The problem was that I only had a week to do it in, and students only a week to use the course! On top of this, the unit had to teach how to identify premise and conclusion, truth, validity and soundness in logical arguments, drawing conclusions, identifying assumptions, assessing evidence and problem solving!

This was clearly an impossible task, so I decided to scale the project down and deal with just two aspects of the syllabus, namely the formal vocabulary of logical arguments: premise, conclusion, truth, validity and soundness, and problem solving. The idea was that the students would be asked to work through these two units on their own, online, as preparation for the test. This seemed more manageable given they only had a week to do so. Together with the input from the workshop they should then have sufficient input into how to identify the structure of an argument to be able to be able to identify assumptions and assess evidence, and sufficient practice solving a variety of different problem types.

We would have to use the school Moodle platform for the course. I have experimented with using a blog as a VLE platform, with a test course I set up called TwitterMooc. But Moodle would allow me to set up online quizzes easily, and because the course had to work purely online, it seemed to me that using quizzes as assessment would help students understand when they got an answer wrong, and could be used in lieu of guided instruction.

It was the first time I had had to design online content quite so publicly, and with such a tight deadline. With a topic quite as dry as formal logic, I also had to try to inject as much fun as possible into it. I thought about adding gamified elements, but looming deadlines discouraged me from getting too ambitious, This was a bit of a cram course, and I was sure the students would approach it this way. I needed the instructional elements to be as direct as possible. Instead I opened with the Monty Python “that was never 5 minutes” sketch as this sets out a very clear definition of what an argument is.

premise2I then created two flash slide shows using PowerPoint and the iSpring Presenter plugin which allows you to publish a flash file from a PowerPoint. I use the free version. The aim of these slide shows was to present the main ideas as economically as possible, and take students through a few examples.

Then I created two sort quizzes, using the quiz module in Moodle. The quizzes could be taken multiple times, allowing students to attempt the quiz repeatedly to achieve full marks. The quizzes were intended to give students an opportunity to practise identifying the components of a logical argument, premise and conclusion, truth, validity and soundness. I am not a fan of the quiz. They are often silly and superficial. But in this instance there was not really enough time to create a peer-assessed, or teacher assessed environment. It also seemed to me that identifying premise and conclusion was something that could be assessed in a quiz in a fairly non-threatening way, since the student could use the check answer function to test out whether they were on the right track or not..

validThese are very crude tools, but they are accessible to many teachers, and can be implemented very quickly. This suggests to me that online course content, designed by teachers themselves is not only possible, but will become de rigueur in the not too distant future.


Converting PDF To PowerPoint

I came across a great website called which allows you to convert PDF files to PowerPoint Presentations. This is very useful because it allows you to create SCORMs (from PowerPoints) from a PDF file.

SCORMs are content suitable for eLearning delivery, and I make some of mine from videos, but many simply from PowerPoints which are then converted into Flash files which can be placed on any website or class Moodle page..

I have many tutorials, worksheets and notes saved as Word documents, and I have not previously been able to convert these into PowerPoints so that I can create a SCORM. Converting the Word Document to a PDF, and then using this web service to convert to a PowerPoint file allows me to do this. There is a maximum 2MB file size limitation, which is problematic. But since the service is free, one can hardly complain! There is a paid version which will contain more features, but I haven’t explored them because, quite frankly, I have Scottish ancestry!

The site also allows conversion to multiple formats, such as Excel or Word – all very useful.

But it’s the PowerPoint conversion that is so jolly, jolly useful. Paragraphs get converted as text boxes in PowerPoint, which allows you to edit the slides easily. Images are also converted across quite nicely. It’s a little bit of PT to get the slides presentable, but way, way better than re-doing the whole thing.

Why is Word – PDF – PowerPoint – SCORM so useful? It seems tortuous, but actually represents only a few mouse clicks and a mug of coffee to drink while you watch it all happen. As a teacher who was preparing Word documents as notes and worksheets ten years ago, I have a tremendous amount of stuff that I could usefully deploy on my class Moodle, but I need it in a SCORM compliant format, and that largely means setting it up on PowerPoint. Till now, the chief obstacle has been this little step.


If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a Blogger!

I began my teaching career as an English teacher, and although in the last ten years I have been teaching mainly ICTs, I remain an English teacher at heart. At the beginning of this year I returned to the English classroom, and took up the cudgels on behalf of William Shakespeare & co once more.

This has given me an opportunity to see things from the perspective of the subject teacher seeking to integrate ICTs into the curriculum, rather than the ICT teacher trying to integrate the curriculum into ICTs! It is a very different perspective, and one which is both daunting and exciting.

To start off with, none of the classrooms I am scheduled to teach English in has a computer or interactive whiteboard. This has forced me to re-think my whole approach to integration of ICTs. It is not that the school where I teach is badly resourced – far from it, but simply that not every classroom is wired. I am used to using the interactive Whiteboard to show video clips to stimulate discussion or to display student work captured on the web camera in my other classes, and I would have turned to this in my English classes as well.

Not having a wired classroom forced me to re-evaluate my understanding of what hybrid learning models entail. It also forced me to think more clearly about the flipped classroom model and how it might be applied to my situation. While I did not have access to a wired classroom, my students did have access during the school day either on their hand-held devices, or from computers in the computer rooms, to my Moodle page.

If I could not realistically bring digital resources into the classroom, I could still use the digital sea we swim in as a backdrop to my classes. I could require students to use and access digital media as part of their homework preparation. For example, as part of my grade 8 Shakespeare studies, I got the class to watch a video of a discussion surrounding anti-semitism in the Merchant Of Venice. We then used this as background for an exercise in class.

What I found greatly encouraging about this, is that if I had had the interactive whiteboard in my classroom I would not have thought too much about it – I would have shown the clip in class and then gone on to do the activity, part of which would then have had to be finished off for homework. But because I did not have that facility, it forced me to flip the classroom and I got the students to watch the video for homework, and that enabled me to finish the activity in class, which was much more satisfactory. My time was better utilized in the classroom guiding the activity itself. I have been experimenting with other approaches as well. For example, traditionally one might start a unit on figures of speech by teaching the figures of speech and then giving the class an exercise requiring them to practise and demonstrate their understanding. I have created a few SCORMs (e-learning modules) which do the job of teaching the figure of speech, and posted these on my Moodle. I then require students to watch these, leaving the time in class free for practising the application of this knowledge. This allows me to work with individuals or groups and gives more time for more personalised interventions. The SCORMs are time-consuming to create, but once made are available as a re-usable resource. Students can watch them whenever they need to, and, because they can re-wind as often as they need, seem to master the content more readily.

In the traditional classroom, teachers are often so caught up in teaching the concepts that they do not have sufficient time to devote to teaching students how to apply the concepts. This often leaves children knowing what a metaphor is, for example, but unable to understand or discuss how a particular metaphor is used in a particular poem. This flipping of the classroom is a liberating experience, and makes one feel really useful as a teacher.

This experience has also lead me to an understanding about blended learning – that maybe we shouldn’t rush to get computers into every classroom, or to get the whole school wired. Maybe what we should be doing is just making sure that students have access when they need it.

If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d have a blog. Undoubtedly we need to use ICTs and the affordances they offer, but we need to be selective. Students need access to a wealth of digital resources, and a wealth of digital authoring opportunities, but there is a great need for the classroom as a space where the rush to digitization of our meaning-making activities can be reflected upon.

I’d always kind of assumed that the role of the teacher in the 21st century is to help students mediate the vast pool of knowing that we are increasingly wired to 24/7. Whereas the teacher in the industrial age tended to mediate the content itself, make it digestible for students, the 21st century teacher needed to mentor the student in assimilating the content for herself.

But it is a bit more complex than that, I think. If you are young and inexperienced, you can’t mediate the content for yourself until it has been partly digested for you. More particularly you can’t evaluate the content until you have assimilated and synthesised it to a degree, and some part of that still requires 19th Century teaching.

Anyone who has been in a classroom understands this the moment a class hands in  an assignment they have researched on the Internet. It is true that the Internet is changing  the forces and relations of knowledge production irrevocably. It is true that content is becoming less and less important. Why learn the lengths of the major rivers of the world when you can Google the answer in two seconds flat? But as teachers we can’t just teach how to access and evaluate knowledge, assuming that the content is understood by students. It isn’t.

It’s the Scholar’s Dilemma – how can you discover something if you don’t know it’s there? As teachers we still need to teach. we need to teach the concepts that our students need to be able to meaningfully evaluate and assess the knowledge pool that is now accessible to them anywhere anytime.

In short, we can’t just let students loose on Shakespeare’s blog to discover literature for themselves because they don’t yet have the tools to navigate that experience yet. We still have a role in mediating the content.

But Shakespeare’s blog does make for great homework!


The Flip-Flopped Classroom

There’s a great deal of buzz around the Flipped Classroom idea at the moment. The argument goes something like this. In an industrial age the educational model was one in which teachers mediated content for children so that it could be assimilated in preparation for a chosen career, which everyone expected would last a life-time. Knowledge was seen as the content which could be acquired and stored in the brain or in libraries. This model suited an age defined by factories and warehouses. Best practice was teaching which prepared children by giving them not only the basic knowledge they would need, but also teaching them how to access information effectively.

In an information age, however, where knowledge can be accessed from the Internet anywhere, anytime, this model is no longer sufficient. Teachers are not needed to mediate the process of transferring knowledge to students anymore, they are needed to help children learn how to access, assess and evaluate knowledge plucked from the virtual ether. Teachers should not be teaching content in quite the same way as they did before. Rather they should be focusing on teaching critical thinking skills, teaching children how to be creative and resilient: on helping children cope with the demands of the information age economy.

The Flipped Classroom advocates argue that classroom routines needs to be reversed: doing at home what used to be done in school, and at school what used to be done at home. Technology offers ways of allowing students to access the instructional content they need via vodcasts, podcasts or SCORMs, which can be done largely at home. Students can then pause, rewind or replay until they understand the content. Much better than letting the teacher do it, wasting valuable contact time in school. This frees the teacher up to help individual students through processing this instructional content, allowing for a more personalized approach, and maximizing the skills of the teacher where they are needed most.

The flipped classroom argument is also an argument for hybrid or blended learning environments since delivery of instructional content must occur in an online setting, and classroom time must of necessity occur face-to-face. The way I look at it, it is inevitable that a great deal of education in the next decade or so will move to a flipped environment, but I would want to temper that enthusiasm with a caution that the flipped classroom will not suit all children, and we need to look seriously at creating partially flipped environments rather than going the whole hog.

In my experience there is always a law of thirds which operates in the classroom. Roughly a third of students work very well in an e-learning type of environment. They cope well with accessing instructional material online, and benefit from using class time to concentrate on honing their skills. This group works well with very little teacher intervention in fact. A second third, however, appears to need face-to-face, whole-class instruction. They need to be able to ask questions, or to piggy-back off others’ questions. They benefit from having a human being explain something. A final third needs personalised interventions, perhaps because they need lacunae in their baggage filled in, or because they cannot really focus in a whole class situation.

As much as I believe that the flipped classroom represents a model much more in tune with the times, I don’t believe it adequately addresses the needs of a significant number of students, and I fear that a thoughtless implementation will merely result in more kids being left behind. I believe we need a partially flipped classroom, a flip-flopped classroom, in which many channels operate simultaneously. Students should be able to access instructional materials from home or in class, whether as their primary channel of reception or as a secondary channel for remediation or review. They also need to be able to access teacher interventions in class and from home via forums or bulletin boards. To my mind the hybrid classroom is not just about sticking a load of vodcasts up on the class Moodle and expecting students to have taken them on-board by the time of the lesson. Some of that must happen, but a great deal more needs to be going on. Teachers will need to be online after hours helping children cope with the tasks they have been set. They will need to be fairly traditional teachers much of the time in class as well, explaining and teaching as teachers have always done.

The flipped classroom idea has often been linked to the idea of a movement away from the sage-on-the-stage teaching style towards the guide-on-the-side approach. Often it has been linked to the idea of de-skilling the teaching profession, with teacher aids being able to handle the day-to-day classes, overseen by a master teacher who has designed the lesson materials and is responsible for a far larger number of students. Attractive as this idea might be for administrators operating under constraints of ever-tightening budgets, it is an idea which fundamentally misunderstands teaching. Teachers will need to be the sage some of the time, the guide some of the time. Mostly they will need to be the meddler-in-the-middle, making sure that every learning style is catered for. If anything teachers will need to be more skilled than they have ever been.


I’m Ready For My Close-up, Mr De Mille!

With apologies to Gloria Swanson, I’d like to look at some of the nitty-gritty involved in making an educational vodcast, and suggest some ways of integrating them into the classroom. My first suggestion is that, wherever possible you should get students to create the videos themselves. There are things which only the teacher can present, but, honestly, it seems to me of far more value to give students an opportunity to create a video explaining some aspect of the syllabus. These videos should then be stored and made accessible to the class.

This is especially true of topics which benefit from research. For example, this year I got my grade 8s to create vodcasts around different aspects of eSafety. These videos now form an excellent resource for future years. Because they are made by other students, I think they are more engaging and of greater worth than if I had simply made a vodcast on the topic.

Students researched the topic and then prepared short (one minute scripts) on a single aspect. They then filmed their video using a video camera or cell-phone. The footage was then edited using Windows Movie Maker. Some students used iMovie. I did not let myself off the hook. I produced a SCORM (using PowerPoint with an iSpring plug-in which converts the slide show to flash format), which helped the students through some of the technical issues involved. A big problem with Movie Maker software is that it does not work over a network, and so students have to work off a flash drive or the local drive. This is not what they are used to, and bedevilled many a project. Another huge issue was the need to convert footage to a format (usually wmv or avi) which Movie Maker could read. I used FLV to AVI for this purpose, but in some instances we were forced to recommend that students use the Apple machines instead (we have fewer of these). All in all, though, students were able to cope very well. I think some members of the IT Department nearly had a nervous breakdown, but by and large all groups were able to put their projects together within the three hours we had available.

Many teachers are using vodcasting to “flip the classroom”, but I believe that we can “flip the curriculum” by setting students the challenge of creating the vodcasts which can then be used for teaching purposes in whatever way seems fit. I would suggest that these videos be stored on a server, and that students can access them via hyperlinks on the school Moodle platform. This can be problematic, though, if you wish students to be able to access the vodcasts from home and the server does not have net access. Setting up a school Youtube Channel might be a good idea, but you need to think about eSafety issues.

I also suggest that students be set a very strict time-limit. If you can’t say it in under a minute or two, you really should be breaking it into two separate vodacsts. Given time, students will produce films of Spielbergian proportions, and while this is very diverting, you really want short, punchy videos which get straight to the point!

I would also suggest that students use video cameras rather than cell-phones. Cell-phones tend to produce more issues around sound quality and problems with missing drivers. They also tend to create problems over the need to convert the footage to a different format. Cell-phones were easier to use, though, in terms of allowing greater flexibility for the students. We have ten video cameras, and sometimes students  could not book them when they needed them because of other projects going on. Cell-phones work very well in providing a back-up plan!


Screen Capture by Jing!

I have been using screen capture tools for quite a while to create tutorials as SCORMs to place on Moodle. I have just come across a very easy and simple to use tool called Jing, which creates excellent flash files which can be emailed, posted on Moodle, or added to a larger SCORM. The screen quality is so much better than what I was using before.

To my mind, the ability to create SCORMs quickly and spontaneously is a huge advantage of this platform. With a single click, you define the area of the screen you want captured, whether you want to capture an image or video, and the microphone is activated. You are given a short count-down and then the recording begins. When you click finish, a flash file (swf format) is created. This can be embedded in an HTML page. If you convert this to an avi file, it can be embedded in a larger PowerPoint Presentation and saved as a SCORM.

All in all, this is a very useful free tool, which I was able to use immediately. The ability to integrate screen-cast and voice-over effortlessly was its prime attraction. There is a pro version, which costs, which has added features.

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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Moodle, SCORMs, Web 2.0 Tools


The Goddess of Wisdom

Social Media is big, and Social Learning could be the next big thing. I have been exploring Sophia, which is a social learning platform which allows users to create and take courses. The courses are mainly presented using slideshare or Youtube style vodcasts, pdf documents and so on. Users can then discuss the content and join groups of like-minded people to explore ideas, topics or themes.

While new, the platform clearly has great potential, and I would recommend setting up an account and exploring how it works. Using Sophia, groups can allow a teacher to set up a class online, which will encourage peer review and reflection on what is being learned.

The platform uses learning packets, which are small chunks of material. As these are added to, the range of what can be learned will increase. All in all it looks promising, an alternative to the Khan Academy approach. I am not sure to what extent, as a teacher within a school environment I would use this rather than my school Moodle to house my vodcasts and SCORMs, but it is probably well worth mirroring one’s courses on Sophia. As a learner it did seem as if there were “learning packets” of interest to explore.

What is perhaps exciting about Sophia as a platform promoting learning is that it is an open canvas waiting to be written to, and should grow and change according to the needs that users identify and the uses that they find for the platform.


SCORM in a tea-cup!

An essential part of the trend towards standing the classroom on its head – in other words doing in class what used to be done for homework, and doing for homework what used to be done in class – is the need to create coherent, engaging and useful content that students can access anywhere, anytime. A SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model and it is a standard used for creating eLearning content.

I use it, for example to convert content created in a PowerPoint Presentation into a Flash file which can be posted on my Moodle platform. These SCORMs can then be viewed and reviewed by students whenever they need to do so in order to master the content. The presentation is made up of a series of slides which can include animated sequences, and a voice-over. If you embed video filmed using your web-camera, you can have a talking head as well.

The main value of the SCORM is that it is controlled by the student. It is available online and therefore can be accessed at convenience, and it can be stopped, re-played and forwarded as often as is required. It can also be downloaded or emailed to students directly. The SCORM takes teacher talk, what used to dominate the classroom, and places it under student control, in the homework environment. By using pictures, video footage and keywords, the teacher can create SCORMs which are motivating, engaging, and effective.

The software that I use currently is iSpringPresenter and authorPOINT Lite, which are free to download and use.  iSpring Presenter works as a plug-in in your PowerPoint, which makes it very easy to publish a flash SCORM straight from the PowerPoint.

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