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## Creating equations in online environments

I am currently working on a project, where I am creating web based resources (using Moodle) to teach maths. As part of this process, I need to create properly laid out formulas (or formulae if you prefer the alternate acceptable plural of formula). We are using what is becoming a widely accepted standard of MathJax which in turn supports the use of something called LaTex to create the desired formulas. So for example if I wanted to create something that looked like:

$y = 3x^{2}+5x+\frac{2}{3}$

I would enter this into the editor using the code:

$$y = 3x^{2}+5x+\frac{2}{3}$$

or

$y = 3x^{2}+5x+\frac{2}{3}$

At first I started to learn the exact syntax and would translate what I wanted into either of the codes above. This proved to be both time consuming and prone to mistakes. Then I discovered an excellent website that helps me do this:

https://www.codecogs.com/latex/eqneditor.php

This website gives me a box into which I construct the equation that I want – above the box is a huge suite of grey buttons which each represent a different mathematical function or options. These take a bit of time to learn, but quite quickly one gets the hang of this, and using the buttons and adding the numbers / letters that you require you can quite quickly create the desired formula that you want. Underneath the white box, your formula is displayed as it will appear, so it is possible to see what you are doing, and check that this is correct.

Once you are happy with what you have created, at the bottom of the screen (in a cream coloured box) is the option to choose the export style that you want – so if you need LaTex, you choose that, if embedding into WordPress, you choose WordPress etc. You then copy the code beneath this, and paste into the editor of whatever you are using.

One of the facilities within the editor, is to create correctly aligned equations:

Which in LaTex is created with the code:

\begin{align*} x+3 &= 7\\ x &= 7-3\\ x &= 4 \end{align*}

This is very hard to manually write out, but quite easy using the codecogs website. The button for this, is the bottom right button on toolbar (letters n and r in brackets) – then under that is a button that has “y=…” as the text, and when you hover over it, it tells you that it is the align tool.

For anyone who is using mathematical formulas regularly this is a really neat tool.

## Creating a YouTube based discussion activity in Moodle

I run a lot of training on effective uses of a VLE (usually Moodle) and one of the easiest activities that I show, is finding a video on YouTube, and then embedding this into a forum activity within the VLE.

The reasons for doing this are:

1. By embedding the video (rather than simply linking to it) – we remove all the distractions, adverts, etc. that appear on YouTube around the edges.
2. By adding this as a discussion activity, we ask the students a question – this will focus their attention whilst watching the video, rather than just passively  ‘absorbing’ it.

It doesn’t matter if students don’t actually post their answers to the forum (although useful if they do), as they will still benefit from watching the video with the question in their mind.

The following video goes through the steps of how to embed the video, and the basic settings within a Moodle forum activity.

And if you want to only show a portion of the video you can always identify the exact start and end points that you want to play, by following these instructions:

## Trimming and Embedding a YouTube Video into PowerPoint

I have blogged many times in the past about things to do with PowerPoint, including how to embed a YouTube video, or how to use TubeChop to embed a YouTube video.

In more recent versions of PowerPoint (2013 and 2016), the ability to embed a YouTube video has been made easier, and the following video will take you through the steps:

Although easier to do than in the past, this technique has been unreliable for some people in some organisations, so I always recommend to people to paste the video’s URL onto the slide somewhere as a live link, so if this doesn’t work, you have the fall back of simply accessing the video via the YouTube website.

This technique is showing how to embed the video – this means you still need access to the Internet when viewing the presentation, and it won’t work if the organisation blocks YouTube.

This technique replaces the older method of using the shockwave flash object, or using TubeChop to trim the video.

This is the 4th and last post in a series looking at the issue of should we buy off the shelf resources or produce resources in house. The previous posts have been:

My intention in this series is to provide the decision makers in organisations with ideas and considerations to help them make an informed decision in this area of work – a decision that is not easy or straight forward, yet the consequences of making the wrong decision are huge.

Every organisation is different, so there certainly isn’t a one size fits all answer. What is right for one, will be totally inappropriate for another, and when a decision is made it doesn’t have to be a blanket whole organisation decision, It may be that for certain teams it is better to produce resources in house; because they have the skill to do so, and the quality of the commercial options in that area isn’t great. Then other teams, may choose to buy all or some of their resources in.

It also isn’t necessary to buy all resources from the same provider – yes they may give you a huge discount for buying a full suite of resources across all subjects, and yes it would be easily technically and managerially to deal with one set rather than lots of sets – but if the resources for certain subjects within the suite aren’t good enough, then they either won’t be used, or will be used badly.

It may also be necessary to change tactic part way through, e.g. you may choose to produce resources in house for one particular course, but part way through you realise it is just too difficult and isn’t working, and you decide to buy in. Or you may choose to buy resources in – but once you have done so, you realise that you could do a better job in house, so you start to develop your own – which you then phase in as the bought ones become obsolete (e.g. at the end of the year on an annual subscription).

It is also imperative to shop around – don’t just jump straight into the ones that are endorsed by the awarding body – especially as some of the awarding bodies are also publishing companies – their endorsement is not always a sign of their real value and quality.

Whatever decisions are made – many factors have to be balanced as follows:

• Financial – buying in and producing in house both cost money.
• Quality – buying off the shelf, on the surface should be higher quality as far as resources go – but doesn’t mean the overall quality of the teaching and learning will be higher (just like buying really expensive glossy books, does not substitute quality teaching).
• Time – Buying in is certainly the quicker option, but if the resources aren’t appropriate or don’t fit the organisations systems, learning how to use them effectively may take additional time.
• CPD – producing resources in house, becomes part of the CPD process, so brings an additional benefit that you don’t get from buying in.
• There is a lot out there for free – there is a huge amount of freely available materials and assets that can be used. So in some areas, buying off the shelf resources is relatively expensive, as you could easily produce something similar in house very cheaply. In other areas where there is less freely available content, buying resources is better value pound for pound.

Whatever choice is made – it mustn’t be rushed, it has to be balanced, and all relevant parties need to be involved in the decision making process. If the right decisions are made, it is possible to provide a really high quality and cost effective learning experience.

Balance

Whereas I welcome comments on my blog posts, please don’t use this blog post as a way to either promote or criticise any particular companies or products. Any such comments I will delete.

## #FELTAG – Considerations if not buying off the shelf resources

This is the 3rd post in a series on “FELTAG – To buy or not to buy resources“. In my last post, I looked at the advantages and disadvantages of buying off the shelf resources. In this post we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of not buying.

From a simplistic perspective, not buying resources is an easy option, as management can just ask teachers to do the extra work in their own time, at no extra cost to the organisation. Although this may seem a simple and convenient solution in this financially difficult time – the result will be low quality teaching and learning, teachers being off work ill, and many good teachers leaving the profession – none of which are good for the organisation long term.

Teachers creating resources

If teachers are being expected to create new content, then some time or financial reward for them will need to be found for this to be truly successful – so we shouldn’t look at the ‘Not buying resources’ option as a cheaper solution (as it probably won’t be) – we should make the decision based on the quality aspects and strategic benefits.

Strategically – working with teachers to develop resources, is a very important element of upskilling them to being competent digitally capable practitioners. So any cost invested in the development of resources with or by teachers – isn’t just creating resources but is forming part of the CPD requirement for those staff – if we think about this issue from this perspective alone, financially this becomes much more attractive.

## Other benefits are:

1. Resources will be developed in line with your existing systems, infrastructure, house styles etc. so will ultimately become more embedded than buying off the shelf resources.
2. Resources will be easier to adapt in line with changes to curricula, subject knowledge, or changes to the devices being used to consume the content.
3. Resources won’t be as locked down, so will be easier to make more accessible, and adapt easier if required.
4. Resources can be tailored to the specific location of the organisation – e.g. an organisation teaching catering, can make reference to their own training kitchen. Organisations teaching travel and tourism that are based near the sea, can use resources based on local resorts – this can make a huge difference to learners as they make the transition from fully face to face learning, to blended learning.
5. With the right amount of support from learning technologists, and high quality staff development – it is possible for a good teacher with average levels of IT ability and a bit of time to generate adequate quality resources that would be comparable or even better than the commercial options (Many of the resources that I have developed with or for organisations are significantly better than the purchasable options).
6. There are loads of free learning resources or assets out there in terms of OER (Open Education Resources), Creative Commons images, YouTube videos, iTunes courses etc. so creating resources, is not about building everything from scratch – it is about locating, and evaluating existing content – then bringing this together in a sensible way that supports the learner through the journey. If a teacher is creating their own content, I would argue that they should only be creating a maximum of 25% – the other 75% should be free external resources, or adaptations of existing resources used in classroom sessions.
7. FELTAG is about a whole organisation approach to this area of work. By going down this route, the organisation as a whole will learn and develop and adapt as part of the journey.

## Some of the disadvantages are:

1. For this to be successful this needs to be effectively managed and resourced, which may mean organisations taking a long and hard look at themselves and deciding if they have the management ability to do this – and if they don’t, how do they change the personnel so they can.
2. Developing resources takes time. When organisations were looking down the barrel of the gun trying to get things done by September 2015, time wasn’t a luxury at their disposal – the dropping of the 10% online being mandatory has given organisations more time (which I think is good) – but they still need to plan carefully, how and when and what order to develop courses. One option is for teachers to be given up front time to develop online resources/activities etc. before the course starts – another option is for the teacher to be given time as the course is running, and as long as they stay ahead of the students will be OK. Either way, you don’t often get things completely right the first time – you need to create something, use it with the learners, evaluate how it went, adapt accordingly etc. I believe that it takes about 3 iterations of this cycle before online elements of courses get to a really good standard.
3. Some teachers don’t have the skills required, and never will – this then creates a problem for management – do they allow those staff to go to pastures new? or do they carry on putting a greater workload on the teachers that can?
4. Creating resources in house requires an effective support team. Many organisations at the moment don’t have this (or enough staff in these teams) – and especially for smaller organisations, bringing in staff with the right range of skills can be challenging.

If organisations choose to create resources in house, they can help themselves by thinking of the procedure up front. e.g. who will do the work? If support teams are required, how are they managed and their time charged to the individual teams? What quality assurance procedures or processes will be in place, and most importantly who will manage the process for each different team or course?

Whereas I welcome comments on my blog posts, please don’t use this blog post as a way to either promote or criticise any particular companies or products. Any such comments I will delete.

The next and final blog post in this series, will be summarising the considerations covered in the previous 3 posts.

Image Source: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/875771

## #FELTAG – Considerations when buying off the shelf resources

In my previous post, I introduced the idea of ‘to buy or not to buy resources’. In this post I will be looking at considerations if you choose to buy resources. The next post will look at the considerations for not buying.

There are certainly potential advantages to buying resources, but I have experienced a lot of places wasting a lot of money on the wrong resources, or buying them for the wrong reasons – I hope that this series of posts will help organisations to make a more informed decision before deciding one way or another.

There are two very strong arguments in favour of buying in resources:

1. The quality of resources should be of a much higher quality than what an average teacher could produce as part of their average working week.
2. It doesn’t make financial sense for every teacher in the UK (and beyond) to produce what are in essence the same resources to cover the same criteria, for the same qualifications. Pooling resources and letting a content creation company produce these for all providers, and people then pay for what they need, on the surface seems to make financial sense. If we look at the non-technology analogy, each teacher doesn’t go and write their own text book, we buy a selection of core texts from publishers, and fill our libraries with them, the teacher then uses their skills to signpost to students the key pages and activities at the appropriate time during the course.

From a practical point, some organisations simply don’t have the skills and support mechanisms in house to support teachers to create the standards expected. Or if you have a teaching team that is very small, there may not be the capacity or skill within that team to develop the online elements, and in these cases buying in may become more attractive.

So, if an organisation chooses to purchase off the shelf resources, there are generally two options:

1. Buy the resources outright with a single payment, and then own them forever.
2. Pay an annual fee for the right to use the resources.

Resources

Method 1, is akin to buying books upfront, and is the easiest to account for and plan ahead (there are no unexpected increases in price in the future), however at some point in the future the resources will become out of date, either due to qualification changes, changes to the topic, or the technology used becoming defunct (e.g. Resources produced in Flash). This then requires further purchases down the line.

Method 2, will benefit from resources being constantly updated, but financially once you have used the resources for a few years, the provider will be able to increase the annual fee, so difficult to plan ahead, and overall the cost long term will become significant. Usually with the annual fee model, the resources will sit on their server, which means users either need different login details to their usual logins, or the resources need to come with an integration mechanism into the organisation VLE, (which some provide) however these are sometimes not as straight forward as you would expect, and the ways that the resources can be used may be restricted by this mechanism. Another problem is that quite often they will only work when online, which again isn’t ideal for teaching rooms that aren’t connected, or students wanting to work in an offline environment.

If an organisation is thinking of buying off the shelf packages, there are some considerations or questions to ask:

1. Ask to see a sample of the resources before buying. Each provider of resources will have demo units or similar available, but these will be the best quality ones they have to offer. Ask to see a unit of your choosing, and make your judgement from that – you will be very surprised how much difference there is between the two at times. If they refuse to give you access to a unit of your choice, walk away – they are obviously embarrassed by the quality of that unit.
2. If you are going for the annual licence option, check where the resources are actually stored, and what would happen if the publishing company went bust next week. The ideal scenario is for the resources to be hosted by a specialist hosting company, and one which has been paid for at least 12 months in advance. This way if the publishing company goes bust, you still have access to the resources for the duration of the contract.
3. Check the accessibility of the resources – many of the resources being produced are sadly very poor accessibility wise, and because the resources will be ‘locked’ by the seller it will be almost impossible to adapt them – resulting in the teacher having to recreate all the resources again, which defeats the purpose of buying the resources in the first place.
4. Check what format the resources are in. Any resources that are produced in flash or with flash elements are not going to work on iPhones, iPads, many Android devices and in the future possibly other devices, so flash based resources should be avoided altogether. If resources include other file types such as Word or PowerPoint these should also be provided in alternate formats (e.g. PDF, Open Office etc.) and if videos are included, these need to be tested on multiple device types and shouldn’t be excessively large.
5. Check the subject accuracy of the resources. I recently reviewed some anatomy resources for the teaching of sport, and was horrified by the number of errors the resources contained even though the resources had been proof-read by teachers and endorsed by one of the major awarding bodies. I wasn’t specifically looking for errors, but these jumped out at me, so I expect there must have been many less obvious mistakes as well.

One disadvantage (which many don’t consider) of using the entire courses or units that can be purchased off the shelf, is you actually make it very hard to ever become ‘outstanding’ – as the term outstanding means ‘standing out’ from the rest. If you have bought such a course or unit, you are unlikely to stand out from all the other people who have bought the same course or unit. Obviously there are things that the teachers could do to enhance or enrich the use of these courses, to get up to outstanding level, but reality is that the attraction of these purchases, is managers can then reduce the amount of money spent on teachers time, and even if teachers have the desired amounts of time, many will find it very hard to enhance or enrich an already ‘complete’ unit or course.

And finally – make sure the right people in the organisations are making the decisions – e.g. the teachers need to be involved to make sure they are appropriate academicaly, technical people need to be involved to ensure they will fit into organisations systems/VLEs etc. and strategically the budget holder has to make the decision as to not just the initial purchase, but on going maintenance, updates, CPD requirements etc.

The next post in this series, will look at the considerations of not buying in external resources.

Whereas I welcome comments on my blog posts, please don’t use this blog post as a way to either promote or criticise any particular companies or products. Any such comments I will delete.

Image source: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/925347

In the last 12 months, one of the key discussion points in Further Education has been FELTAG – which when first released by the Government in June 2014 included the notion that all funded FE courses had to have a mandatory 10% online element in order to get any funding, and initially this was going to take effect as early as September 2015 – sending most FE providers into a blind panic as they frantically tried to meet this magical 10% element in a very short space of time, whilst also managing huge reductions in their core funding. One of the options that was available to FE providers, was to simply buy ‘off the shelf’ online courses or resources to meet this 10% element. When the FELTAG recommendations were first announced, one of the first noticeable consequences was the number of communications that came from various content creations companies to providers, trying to get them to purchase their wares.

As it turns out the Government confirmed in February 2015 that it has no plans to actually enforce this 10% mandatory element (making it an optional mandatory element?) – but there is still a need and expectation for providers to increase the amount of online learning in order to get the best ‘blend’ in order to meet the expectations of their learners – so there is still a case for looking into whether to buy ‘off the shelf’ content, or to develop content in house.

money

I have worked with a few providers over the last few years, who have asked me to review the quality and suitability of various ‘off the shelf’ resources – and the range of quality between different offers is huge – with some sadly being very poor quality indeed, and others being much better quality but not necessarily in a format that fits into the existing infrastructure and systems in place. Some are ridiculously over priced for what they are, whereas others are more reasonable.

The decision of whether to buy or not to buy, is hugely significant for providers – getting the decision wrong could cost huge amounts of money, or looking at short term gains, may impact on long term options.

In my next two blog posts in the coming days I will be presenting the advantages and disadvantages of buying or not buying, and if buying what considerations and questions to be asking before making a financial decision.

My hope is to help providers to make informed decisions on this particular area of work.

Whereas I welcome comments on my blog posts, please don’t use this blog post as a way to either promote or criticise any particular companies or products. Any such comments I will delete.

Image Source: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/847454