Thursday, February 23, 2006

Creating Passionate Users

I'm a big fan of the Creating Passionate Users blog. Focussing on the difference between things that are OK and things that are great it contains lots of thought provoking articles about the things we can do to make that jump. As the author has produced many books that are near the top of the Amazon best seller charts she must be doing something right.

I've found myself further indebted to her as she has drawn my attention to the web site of former PARC chief John Seely Brown. His thoughts on things like learning in the digital age make fascinating reading. Just be sure to put aside plenty of time to read all the stuff there.

Speed; Including External Links

I've had a comment about the external links I've embedded into the course and it's made me think about the use and abuse of this feature.

The comment addressed the speed of linking to an external page and whether or not that would be a barrier to those accessing the external data.

While this could be a problem, particularly for those students accessing the materials from home using a steam driven 56K modem, I still think that the benefits outweigh that possible problem. Indeed I think that those students will soon make their own decisons about whether the information gained is worth the click. That does, though, put the onus squarely on the author to choose worthwhile links.

There are also some possible technical solutions to this problem.

In an educational setting I would hope that the appropriate
network settings would be in place (cache and proxies) that would ensure that content was only fetched once for a complete class group.

Other technical solutions might include some pre-fetch software such as Google Web Accelerator. This fetches pages linked from the current page before the links are clicked thus simulating a faster connection.

Neither of these technical solutions should be the responsibility of the course author or host.

In the end there is always going to be a dichotomy between the urge to include "extras" like external links, animations and multimedia components and the realisation that not everyone will be able to access this data. Who wins? It depends on the course. It is clearly not reasonable to attempt an on-line course on, for example, sound editing without including sounds. While that may exclude some possible users a course that excluded them would not be worth having.

On the other hand where course can be produced without using these bandwidth heavy components that should be one of the stated aims.

In the end then the solution is clear. We should always include the multimedia elements. Except when we shouldn't. Everybody clear now?

Course Genie 2.0 Question Generator

I wa excited with the prospect of formatting the answers on Course Genie 2.0. As I've blogged before version 1 didn't allow subscripts.

The latest version has a nicer question editor; specifically it puts questions into table form in the document. Once in there they can be formatted like anything else. Unfortunately that formatting is lost when the course is generated. In the following example the first 2 should be a subscript.
You answered: 1

The correct answer is: 101010012

This is 128 + 32 + 8 + 1 or 169.

Monday, February 20, 2006


I had been concerned with the length of the navigation pane on the left hand side. Playing with the settings I see that it is possible for the navigation pane to "Show Sections and only Sub-pages of displayed Section".

This works well, keeping the navigation manageable while still being able to see the relevant navigation links.

Trial Version Footer Fixed

Thanks to Ted who made the eminently sensible suggestion of removing the "Generated by Trial Version" message from the Settings.

That works fine but I still contend that it is poor programming not to have that automatically removed when the product is registered.

Friday, February 17, 2006

2.0 Registration

Despite having entered the registration code and Course Genie no longer telling me that it's in trial mode it is still placing the "Generated with Trial Version" message at the bottom of every page as you can see.

I'll e-mail the company and see what they say.

2.0 Creating Questions

First impressions are that the question builder is nicer to use. The representation in the Word document is certainly much clearer and easier to read.

CG Update

Who was I kidding. Of course I've updated it.

Sadly it doesn't address any of the problems I've reported up to now. The problems with layout are still there.

Additionally I've noticed that table layout is not converted. For example if a table does not have a border it acquires one once it is published.

Course Genie 2.0

Version 2.0 of Course Genie has now been released. There seem to be lots of useful improvements. The only question is; am I brave enough to try it?

Horizon Wimba :: Products : Try Course Genie

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I've found some useful public domain/creative commons licensed images at Wikimedia. Great if you don't feel like creating a logic gate from scratch.

More Firefox Fun

Just discovered another Firefox plugin called Performancing that lets me post to my blog without leaving Firefox. I'd experimented with Flock to do something similar but this seems useful too.

Table Spacing

There appears to be an issue with the spacing of tables in Course Genie. The default spacing is both large in the table and leaves a large gap after the table.

FTP and Firefox

I've long used SmartFTP for my projects. It's clear and easy to use as well as being free for individual and educational users.

However, I'm also a big Firefox fan and I'm finding that more and more of my day to day work is done in the browser. I've therefore started using the FireFTP addon. This opens a graphical FTP in a new browser tab ready for transfers.

Quick and simple. My favourite kind of tool.

Early and Often

Following the lead of the Open Source community I thought I'd publish my draft course.

This allows my students to use it for their revision. Anyone who says that it is just a cheap way of having it proof-read is just being mean.

Learning outcome 1 can be found at my site.

Course Genie Questions

Which means the questions that you can create in Course Genie rather than... Well, you get the idea.

As my project contains explanations of number bases I am using lots of superscript (for powers) and subscript (for bases).

While this isn't a problem in the main text Course Genie has no facility for this within the question editor meaning a lot of re-writing to make the meaning clear.

-- EDIT --

There seems to be no formatting facility at all. This means that even line breaks cannot be added to feedback text.

Initial Course Genie Impressions

The software is easy to use - particularly for those whose only exposure to computers may be word-processing. Without messing around with the CSS templates the supplied layouts seem adequate but uninspiring.

As a fan of Jakob Nielsen I'm approaching the project with a keen awareness of usability issues and the first problem I see is the incompatibility of data "chunking" creating small but manageable chunks of data and the navigation issues this creates. Specifically the menu created on the left side may become long and hard to follow.

Creating e-Learning

This blog will detail my experience in creating an e-learning site. Some project details:

  • The project is sponsored by the SQA
  • E-learning courses will be created for all of the mandatory units in HNC Computing
  • I will be creating a course in Computer Architecture 1
  • The software is Course Genie which converts Microsoft Word documents