Archive for the ‘DTLT’ Category

Start Moodling!

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I am all for shameless plugging of whatever I happen to be working on at a given point in time, and for this week DTLT sent me packing through the web to figure out what all the moodle non-sense is about. What I found was an LMS (Learning Management System) that is open source and does not give me the willies or cause me to gag. I spent this week looking through screencasts, playing with an instance of moodle, and reading a download manual. With all of that in mind here is a brief review of what I liked about moodle and how I would use it if I were one of those funky teaching types.

To begin allow me to point you to a video put out by the creators of moodle themselves which covers how awesome their LMS is over everybody else:

Now if the sweet and touching guitar music did not make you want to download this LMS right away, you have no heart! Okay, no in all actuality LMS are a company and want to package their product as the best thing on the block. With overlords of CMS LMS whatever you want to call it floating around, I can understand wanting to put out a strong impression as your first and foremost goal. However, I found that the level of documentation on the website to be quite helpful and beyond that a number of users independently putting out screencasts to help with the initiate or technophobe. A website that offered some pretty decent and straightforward tutorials was target”blank”>moodletutorials.org.

I hear that there is supposed to be a big upgrade to Moodle 2.0, but I have not had the opportunity to play with a beta so I can only speak for my experience with 1.9. I had no troubles getting my teaching website off of the ground and if you look at the site, it is pretty but at least it is up and doing what it should be. Now I would like to give you all a look at the little site I had been playing with, but unfortunately I have yet to figure out how to get guests into the site despite having selected “allow guests without a key” any number of times! I must admit to you all that I am not exactly the most technically inclined member of DTLT. I usually have to fumble my way around, but be ready for an updated post so I can give you access to all the juicy details of my imaginary class. Frankly it’s like playing house for me : P

So to give you a good breakdown on this whole moodle thing. I dig it. I like the options and features it comes with, but most of all it is about usability. I suck with setting things up, but I really managed to work my way around the interface and get a feel for it very early. I may have a few snags in creating the perfect site, but for just getting it off the ground and ready to use it is a snap. With loads of drop down menus and small question marks around any option that might seem the slightest bit confusing, the website is very easy to navigate. I have been working from a system administrator perspective, but upon seeing a whole host of helpful websites and videos it seems that most teachers and students can quickly get a feel for this LMS. As a big fan of simplistic layouts, I am very happy with how moodle lays out activities and assignments on an easy timeline on the main page of the course.

So what did I like about moodle?

I really enjoyed moodle’s glossary module, which once you turn on, gives you the option to set up course dictionaries, a main one designed by the teacher and also a secondary (or you could say weekly) glossary that can be student built. What’s even sweeter is having the autolink function, which will link to your definition of a word anytime a student comes across it on the course site. So, if I define “historigraphy” and then have it appear in a document or anywhere on the state, it gives the students a link to the dictionary page also on the site. Is it a simple tool that other LMSs might have? Yes, but I think that it is a powerful tool, especially when student made.

Example

This glossary module is particularly handy for a language class. I started looking into using the glossary to have students (imaginary ones) suggest mnemonics for a new word or phrase as well as give example sentences. Also the addition of a keywords function allows for students to select synonyms of the word which when clicked allows students to jump right to the other word’s definition. Students building their own dictionary will cause them to remember the words more distinctly as they debate or see how other students are remembering symbols and sounds. A student built dictionary is far more meaningful than a one-to-one correspondence dictionary within the text books themselves.

In terms of my foreign language example, I have found that moodle does not seem to read the Chinese characters as anything other than “special” characters. If it weren’t for playing with my iPod touch lately I would not be complaining, however when I switch my iPod’s language to Chinese, my iTunes re-categorizes all of my Chinese songs into alphabetical order despite them being written in characters. If it weren’t for that I would have a nasty unordered list of Chinese music artists.

How are other foreign language instructors in the States dealing with that?

Conclusion!

I am by no means finished with this whole moodle thing, but a post has to end somewhere. Moodle has a host of useful functions that easily will integrate with any class setting from wikis to inbuilt quizzes, and a fairly easy grading interface moodle offers a wide variety of options. It seems as if one can actually submit essays into moodle where teachers are able to grade and leave comments all in the same space. That’s sweet! But like all things in life there are obviously problems with this sort of program, but with my use only being a test run I am less than certain what those problems would be. However, they are most certainly there, because no program is perfect and each has their own specialties. For instance, Moodle’s blogging platform just doesn’t touch wordpress in style. And now since I’ve made a scene about this whole “having issues” matter; I think that something like an LMS that is an all in one package has one major flaw, it does everything, but really specializes in nothing other than managing the content. Yes, it rings of jack of all trades and master of none, but don’t get me wrong, moodle’s set up gets a big thumbs up from me.

While I’ve Been Gone!

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Since I left for China back in February I cut myself off from the internet and, save for a few skype calls with my mom and girlfriend, kept my computer use to an absolute minimum. While that really benefited my language learning, I have missed big developments in the tech world and have also found I am not satisfied with a WYSIWYG approach to writing posts and working the web around me. As it has been forever since I have blogged, I will be taking some time to get back into the writer’s seat.

Since my graduation from My CET 哈尔滨 Program I have been pondering over different projects to start publishing. I unfortunately am still in the planning and brainstorming stages, but hopefully I can start putting up some concepts for others to pick apart and critique.

Now while all of that is nice, I found that Word Press came out with a major upgrade while I was gone, namely Word Press 3. The big features for this upgrade is the addition of custom posts and custom taxonomies. To me, and perhaps I am mistaken, wordpress is moving away from pure blogging to developing a solid CMS. No longer are we restricted to the division of posts and pages or the markups of tags and categories, an awesome move. However WordPress 3 does not come out of the box ready for this type of work. First you have to dig into the default template (the snazzy twenty ten) to start adding functions. Cogdog does an amazing job at providing step-by-step instructions to bringing out the full potential of a much more powerful wordpress blog. Unfortunately, being a layman in the blog world, I felt a little bit overwhelmed looking at the coding to add all sorts of customization. I am sure that in no time there will just be a quick plug-in to take care of all the extra work.

But this got me thinking…

Why aren’t I really diving into the messy world of ripping open templates and playing with WordPress? I’m just not satisfied with using a template or settling with the out of the box product. As a student aide of DTLT, my own work philosophy should reflect the sort of edgy and groundbreaking work of my colleagues.

So I’ve started at the very basics like I should have years ago and am working with HTML. I say all of this rather reluctantly since I feel like I should be embarrassed for starting HTML so late in the game. Well, everyone starts somewhere, and I can’t really complain. So my main resources are O’Reilly’s HTML Definitive Guide and the A W3 School’s Chinese HTML guide. So after a little bit of readings I am finally more comfortable with doing basic work like adding my own links and hand writing a few things here and there. What’s even better about this process is I am learning it in Chinese. It’s nice knowing that 浏览器 is browser and that 链接 is the word of link. If nothing else it is fun knowing that my language has reached a level that I can learn slightly more difficult information.

Aside from my HTML work, I’ve been looking at lynda.com to start doing some audio and visual work with Andy Rush. What I am really gearing up for is a project involving Chinese recordings to work on those terribly monsters we language learners know as tones!

Lastly! Since this is my first week back at the illustrious DTLT office I can’t help but drop a line about our recent set of talks about the iPhone debacle. In our office, I sit right next to New Media guru Andy Rush and have been consistently pestering him about Apple’s recent upsets with their iPhone 4. While I don’t have the cash to get a hold of a defunct product, our talks about the company’s response to the problem have been very stimulating. You can check out some of our topics over at the Rush Headquarters.

Let’s see if I can’t get myself back on the blogger boat and come up to the forefront on this whole educational technology thing.

Speak it through a Mic.

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Recently, I have been exploring the world of audio equipment thanks to the New Media guru Andy Rush here at DTLT. After spending some time working through mediacollege.com’s material on audio, which is totally deserving of its own post, I started looking into a number of microphones that we have available here in the office. Before digging into all that rich audio goodness, I want to jot down what my basic set up was. Another student aid, Shannon Hauser, and I read a short excerpt from Paradise Lost, only about a minute or so long.  Andy Rush smartly suggested having both male and female voices for the recordings.  In order to test the microphones I needed to get a solid recording, so I used the small (but extremely powerful) Edirol R-09 connected to a small mixer to record 16 bit wav files. While you can easily do a recording in a high bit mp3, it makes more sense to use a file with all of the information left intact. Mp3s will truncate your information through compression. So while this works well for podcasts, when testing a mic you want the best recording possible.

So with that set up in mind, I went about testing three brands of mics (not all of them were the same model mind you!)  I used the shure, studio project, and the audio-technica microphones.  Each microphone has its own uses that makes it perfect for some tasks and not others.  On the whole, each of these mics are solid and come from a range of prices.  We will be starting with the core microphone for almost any job.  That of course is the Shure Microphone Dynamic.  It’s an absolutely solid mic which can survive just about anything.  For purposes of doing a good recording, it will pick up the sound, but leaves a lot to be desired.  However, floating around different shops and talking to performers, the Shure dynamic really stands out when you need to do live work.  The Shure’s strength lies not only in the live aspect but also how well it works for vocalists.  Shure dynamic, in its own light, is a great and very versatile microphone, but when you start to compare it some of the audio-technica equipment it just can’t compare.  I tested audio-technica’s condenser mic with a cardioid polar direction.  Condenser mics have to be powered by a sound board but are extremely sensitive.  The best way to describe what these types of mics sound like is warm and nuanced.  For the purposes of conversations and studio recordings, condenser mics perform beautifully.  The polarity of the mic (where it is sensitive and strongest for picking up sound) lends focus to the recording as it gives a sense of direction.  Another intensive mic I looked at was from Studio Projects.  This specific mic has three settings which will change what parts of the mic are sensitive.  The first option, cardioid, produces a recording not unlike the audio-technica condenser.  However, the multi direction mic also has bi-directional and omni directional settings.  These two settings, although they don’t produce nearly as nice of a recording, work awesomely for when you have to record multi sources of sound and don’t have extra mics.

Finally I checked out a wireless microphone system with two styles of mics.  Frankly, you probably should not be recording with wireless mics, but the wireless system is always great for performances when you don’t want to bother with having cables all over the place.  I used a basic lavaliere and also an audio-technica head set.  I didn’t really enjoy the recording with the lavaliere, if it is set to be a little too sensitive, the mic can pick up movement and undesirable sounds.  Placement of the microphone becomes the key issue when using wireless systems.  They are often place so close that the plosives will get picked up by the mic.  So this is where the head set shines.  Not only is it close to your mouth, but is just far enough away that all you will hear is the clear audio without all of the puffs of air.

At the end of the day, having access to a full range of mics is the ideal situation, but in a pinch what should you do?  Well, if all you are looking for is live, hang out with Shure Dynamic, even pros use these babies.  If you have a lot of different types of jobs and scenarios (recording two people at once, or just the ambient sound of an entire room) shell out a little extra cash and go for the multi-directional.  You can’t go wrong.  And most of all get a good pair of headphones and start exploring the world of microphones!