Yesterday, I attended the 2016 Xerte conference at Nottingham University. I had been invited to present with the Making Digital History project team and two students. It was a really interesting day and I’ve reflected on a few of the presentations.
Students as Producers of Digital History: Using Xerte at the University of Lincoln.
I was asked to join Dr Jamie Wood, Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo, Diane Ranyard (PHD student and student ambassador) and Alastair Codling (level two student) to present on the Making Digital History (MDH) project. I’m really pleased we were one of the few presentations to involve actual, real live students! We are keen on the student voice.
The MDH project has now become a formal part of the programme from level one to MA students and a summative assessment. Examples are included in our presentation and on the MDH website. Students are asked to present information on a topic via Xerte. They are given some brief training sessions and a help guide. Working in groups they collaborate to create their objects.
What I think is most valuable about this kind of project is that they encourage the students to think about how they present information to a multitude of audiences. They get to experience other types of assessment otherwise they would just do essays all year every year. We also strive to create digitally capable students, by learning something new it increases their confidence to utilise new technologies. Students often get hung up on how something looks and Xerte, with its limited themes, helps to stop students getting distracted. Some student feedback on the assessment can be found in our presentation.
What is the Apereo Foundation?
The conference was opened by the Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation, Ian Dolphin. He talked about the foundation and it’s role in the development of open source, community supported software for educational institutions worldwide.
Why open source? Collaborate to innovate. The opposite of open is not commercial #xerte16
— Kerry Pinny (@KerryPinny) April 14, 2016
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsHe clarified what open-source means and talked about the way in which the software is maintained by the community. There is a reticence to adopt open source software. A fear of removal of support, security and maintenance. These fears are often unfounded and the movement towards a more open model is ever more prevalent.
Developing Custom Themes for the AgriFood ATP
My former colleagues, James Roscoe and Joel Reed, presented in their work as part of the AgriFood ATP project. A partnership of Universities who deliver blended learning courses to professionals. They detailed their approach to design, the use of colour, textures, palettes and custom logos and buttons.
They demonstrated a new app xhibitapp.com which creates custom Xerte theme designs through a simple wysiwyg interface. It creates a CSS file for you, without the need for any web design knowledge. What is most impressive about this app is that James and Joel identified a problem and created a solution. Staff were unable to easily adapt their Xerte object themes as they did not have the CSS skills. Now anyone can adapt their Xerte theme quickly and easily. Creating a Community Learning Hub with Xerte Online Toolkits I really enjoyed this presentation. About creativity and the use of Xerte to aggregate content from multiple sources. He demonstrated DS106 an open course where students were free to use whatever software or tools they wanted. There is no tutor, no start and end date and no moderators. Check out DS106.
The question of abuse arose. Surely, being open leaves you open to abuse. Particularly in relation to female participants and authorities. The Guardian wrote an article recently about the issue Online abuse: how women are fighting back. Does abuse happen online? Of course. Though members in the room who run open courses said the amount of incidents are nominal.
So is the risk of abuse a reason not to be open? No it isn’t. We have to create communities online who police themselves. Ground rules help. Being able to report inappropriate or abusive behaviour will help. But surely we should create communities, online and in real life, where such behaviour is not accepted by the community. There is power in unity.
We looked at Xerte but we prefer Storyline, Captivate, iSpring et al!
This talk centred around Xerte and it’s competitors. In particular Articulate Storyline. It exemplified the power of Xerte. One criticism is that it’s a bit ugly. Well, with the right tools and skills it’s anything but ugly! It did stray a little in to a Xerte promo.
The tool, be it Xerte, storyline etc. Is not important. It’s about using a tool effectively FOR learning. #xerte16
— Kerry Pinny (@KerryPinny) April 14, 2016
The one thing I have always thought is most important about technology is that the technology is not important. We get hung up on what we use, and what it can do or looks like, rather than what we are using it for. The tool simply facilitates the learning. What is most important is ensuring students learn what you want them to learn. It doesn’t really matter what tool they use, what it can do, or what it looks like.