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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.

How to trim a YouTube video and embed it into WordPress

Regular followers of my blog, will know that I have previously blogged about different ways of trimming or cropping YouTube videos to use in different situations, e.g:

Trimming videos can be really valuable, as often (in education) there may be a key message or element in a video, that we want to draw attention to, without having to show the entire video, so carefully selecting sections of the video can drastically improve the impact of using that video as a resource.

Up until recently, something that I couldn’t do was to get this to work in WordPress, I could only embed the whole video – however today I found out that I can do trim a video, if you follow these instructions exactly:

1. Locate the video you want on YouTube.
2. Under the video choose ‘Share’ and then ‘Embed’.
3. Underneath the preview, there will be some tick boxes – make sure the one called ‘Show suggested videos when the video finishes‘ is unticked (this is really important).
4. Copy the embed code that is above the preview.
5. Go into your WordPress post, and into the HTML editor.
6. Paste the copied embed code in the correct position.
8. Go back to edit your post, and again into the HTML editor.
9. The code that you pasted in, will have been changed, towards the end of it, locate the text rel=0.
10. Immediately after rel=0 add &start=xxx&end=yyy (where xxx is the number of seconds you want the video to start at and yyy is the number of seconds you want the video to end at).
11. Preview your post – if it works then publish.

So – if I have a video that I want to start at 2:35 and end at 3:15 – I convert these into seconds (2:35 = 155, 3:15 = 195) – and the end of the code will change from:

….?rel=0]

to

….?rel=0&start=155&end=195]

Below is an example of one of my YouTube videos, trimmed to start at 155 seconds and end at 195 seconds.

My most viewed posts in 2012

As we move into a new year, I take the chance to reflect on my previous year, and find it interesting to receive the annual report from wordpress regarding the activity on my blog. What is most interesting is which posts attract the most attention – with my top 5 posts last year being:

What is really interesting is how only 1 of the top five posts were actually written in 2012, and my top read post (again) is one dating back to 2009.

All of the above posts are ‘instruction’ based posts showing or explaining how to do something, rather than many of my posts which are about my opinions or observations on certain topics such as the flipped classroom, or terminology that is used. I don’t blog very often, as my current work (and family life) makes this difficult – but hope that my posts are high quality and useful to make up for the relatively low frequency of posting. I hope this year coming to be able to blog more often, but want to maintain the quality element of my posts.

Why I use WordPress rather than IfL’s reflect tool

This morning I read a blog post by David Hopkins on the idea of the bPortfolio replacing the ePortfolio which made me look back at my blog to see what I had written about ePortfolios in the past and came across my post about the ePortfolio conundrum from January 2010. I don’t think we are any closer to solving the problem that I presented back then, but David’s post does back this up, and is for me my reflective portfolio of choice.

Like many other educators in the FE sector I am a member of the IfL. Personally I get no benefit from being a member, and when I asked them to justify the value for money before renewing my subscription, the top item on the list was my access to the IfL Reflect tool. This didn’t help convince me as I chose not to use it, for a variety of reasons:-

Reflect is based on the tool PebblePad which some people really like, and has some very good qualities but the way it works is very personal (which is it’s intention) but by being personal it means that some people will like the way that it works, and others won’t. I for some reason fit into the category of it not working for me.

However more importantly the reason why I choose to use WordPress for my reflective practice, is I am in complete control of the area, and I can personalise it to the way that I want it to work. Also it can never be taken away from me. With Reflect, if I ceased to be a member of the IfL I would lose that area, which to me goes against the notion of Continuous Professional Development. Defenders of Reflect will tell me that I could export my portfolio if I did leave IfL, but that isn’t the same as being able to continue using it as it is, which is what I want.

There are different ways to use WordPress. I use the wordpress.com site, which hosts my blog for free me. If I wanted to (and had the technical ability to) I could download the wordpress software onto my own server and run it from there. If I wanted to switch from one to another, I could easily back up the blog, and then re-import it into the other environment. With WordPress I have so many options

• I can write and edit entries easily from my iphone.
• I can send an email which updates my blog.
• I can integrate images, video, sound easily.
• I can attach files easily.
• I can keep the blog private, or public.
• And the list goes on.

So it will be interesting to see if the idea of the bPortfolio (blog portfolio) that David Hopkin’s mentions does replace the ePortfolio. If it does then I am already converted.

Using DropBox as a portfolio of evidence

I am currently working on my ITQ in accessible practice (so that I will be able to teach it). Although the qualification is not an NVQ, it does require the collection of evidence in a portfolio. Originally I was planning to use this blog, but I was concerned that some of my regular followers may not be interested in my evidence. My next thought was to set up another wordpress.com blog, which would be very easy to do, but one problem with this, is that I cannot attach an Excel spreadsheet directly to a wordpress.com blog, which would be a limiting factor as I am doing the Spreadsheets unit in the qualification.

So instead I have used DropBox, which is working very well indeed. The way that DropBox works, is you create an account on it, and you can download a little application onto your computer. This then allows me to save files to this area (which works as a folder structure, just like any other folder system on a computer). What DropBox does, is it keeps a version of the file on my computer, but also synchronises to a version on the web (in the cloud), so that I can retrieve these files from any other computer that has web access, and if someone else is another dropbox user, then I can give them access to specific items or folders, which is great, as I have given the assessor access to my evidence folder on my dropbox account. We have a single spreadsheet which as I produce evidence, I add an item to it, telling the assessor where the evidence is stored, and which criteria I think it covers. My assessor can then edit this document herself providing feedback.

So although a crude mechanism, that isn’t sophisticated, that doesn’t lend itself to natural reflective practice, in this situation it has worked very well.

Screenshot of web view of Dropbox

And another nice feature is there is a free iPhone app for dropbox allowing me to view my files from my iPhone.

Updating a blog from Flickr or email

Following on from yesterdays blog post where I talked about using a wordpress.com blog for reflective practice I have 2 more screencasts for some of the things that we can do.

The first is looking at setting up a connecting between Flickr and the blog. This is a technique that I use loads – as Flickr is a wonderful source of high quality images, which can enhance my blog posts, and once the connection is set up, is easy to use.

The second technique that I think is really useful, is the ability to post to a blog by simply sending an email. This makes blog posting really easy, can be achieved from any email connected device (including many mobile phones), and can be used by a tutor to create a class blog, that multiple people (e.g. students) can post to.

Using a WordPress.com blog for reflective practice

On Wednesday I will be working with staff at Bedford College, as they will be supporting learners to use iphones to help them keep reflective logs whilst they are on their summer work placements.

We have chosen to use wordpress.com blogs for this, as will do most that we need to do, is free, easy to set up and will work without the iphone, so is more futureproof.

I will be showing staff as many different ways that a learner can capture and send information to their blog through text, audio, images and videos, and how they can then use the wordpress app on the iphone to manage their posts, reflect on their work etc.

My job on Wednesday is to train the staff, who in turn will have to train the learners, so I am deliberately not creating any ‘how to sheets’ as these can make people too reliant on them, and as the various services that we will use change (and they do change regularly) they can become more of a hinderance than a help, so instead I have created a few screencasts using screenr to get them going, I will then as part of the days training, get them to create their own support material (using different mediums), and email this into a blog that I have set up specifically for this purpose, that will hopefully help them practice the skills, as well as giving them a reference tool for the coming months.

The first step is to set up a wordpress.com account which this video hopefully explains

Having created an account, and set up a blog step 2, is to start writing posts. There are various ways to do this, but this is one of them.

In tomorrows post, I will show how to connect a Flickr account to a blog and how to set up the ability to email to a blog.