An overview of our experiences and approach to providing elearning services, training and certification:
This afternoon Jaime and I finished delivering our updated Certificate in Online Education to over 25 elearning team staff from 7 universities across Ethiopia, who had all gathered at the new ICT and Technology innovation hub (ICE Addis) at the Ethiopian Institute for Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC).
We’d been invited by the on.e elearning team (part of ECBP), who have been setting up eCompetence Centres at many Ethiopian Universities. So was a really good chance for us to work with staff from other elearning teams.
We were really pleased how well the training went, all the participants seemed to enjoy the course. We arrived in Addis last weekend, but have been quite flat out with the training and meetings, so haven’t had much chance to blog. Heading up to Mekelle tomorrow afternoon, so for now will just post up a photo of all the participants – will post some more details in the coming days.
As I mentioned in my previous posting, we’ve been spending some time recently developing a Creative Commons Certificate in Online Education specifically tailored to those teachers new to using online and blended learning. We’ve just released the first version of the course and made it available for download.
You can view the course on our Moodle installation at: http://moodle.alexlittle.net/course/view.php?id=13 (use the ‘login as guest’ option).
You can also download the course in Moodle (1.9) backup format from: http://alexlittle.net/blog/download.php?file=coe.zip so you can install it on your own server to edit/remix/reuse or deliver as-is within your organisation.
The course is still under development, there are many aspects that we’d like to improve, a priority will be to try and reduce the download size, currently it’s around 36Mb, which is likely to be too big for anyone to download on a dial-up speed connection. Any feedback on the course is very welcome and if you use the course materials in your organisation I’d be really interested in hearing about it.
Although this is the first release, we have delivered the content to several groups of teachers over the past 18 months in Mekelle, so it is a product of our experiences running these training courses.
So far, we’ve been delivering the course in blended mode: face to face workshops at the start and end with an online period inbetween. We’re also like to run the course purely online, so we hope to start a facilitated/tutored presentation of the course in the coming months. If you’re interested in participating in this then please contact me.
Our original plan for delivering the elearning training in Mekelle was to develop our own Moodle training content, maybe not all from scratch, but at least the general structure and depth, reusing existing videos and open content wherever possible. Given the time constraints we had before starting the first training sessions, we were unable to complete writing our own content. Instead we licensed the MoodleBites for Teachers and Course Designers courses so we were able to upload this onto the servers in Mekelle. We did reorganise the content slightly to fit in with what we were trying to achieve, but this was far less effort that writing our own.
Using the MoodleBites content gave us good quality and well structured content and activities and has worked very well for us over the training we’ve been giving for the last 18 months. They’ve also been very helpful in providing a facilitator (Anna) for us to help give some alternative approaches and other perspectives on delivering course online for our course participants. They’ve also generously allowed us to use the content for limited groups outside our original license, without any extra payment.
However in the longer term, as we’re looking to provide elearning training and support to other universities in Ethiopia and further afield, it’s unsustainable for us (or the organisations we’d like to work with) to license the content at each new organisation. So we’ve returned to the idea of developing our own content, specifically, writing a Certificate in Online Education (COE) distributed under a creative commons license.
As with most other open content, the real value comes from the facilitation, tutoring and mentoring along with the actual certificate, rather than the content itself. We’re hoping to use our new content for the training we’ll give in the coming few weeks and takes into account the environmental factors (such as limited bandwidth, initial tutor skills/training) which are different when delivering elearning training in European or US organisations.
Our aim with the Certification in Online Education is not to produce a technical training course in Moodle alone, nor to provide solely elearning/pedagogy theory, but a balance between the two. The MoodleBites training, as it’s name suggests, is focused mainly on Moodle, leading to develop the Moodle skills necessary to complete the Moodle Certification. Our COE isn’t designed as preparation for Moodle Certification, but to provide teachers who have probably never written or used online courses a way in which they can begin to see what’s possible to provide effective (blended) elearning courses by using free software tools and Open Educational Resources.
I’ll post again once we have the course published and available for download.
Through the elearning training we are trying to encourage teachers to make more use of video and other multimedia content in their courses. This presents us with several issues, mainly because most video streaming sites are blocked by the University (to save bandwidth). This means we either don’t include the videos or we download to run them locally. So far we’ve just been uploading them into the Moodle course, which is fine for relatively low numbers of videos (or for very short videos), but is soon going to become unsustainable. Also, we’d like to suggest video content teacher may wish to use – so it wouldn’t be appropriate to have these filling up the Moodle server.
One solution is to use a multimedia management streaming server, so over the last few days I’ve been testing out Kaltura. It’s an open source video content platform and has plugins for Moodle, WordPress amongst others.
Installation was straightforward enough on my laptop, once I’d got the necessary prerequisite packages installed and settings. Couple of issues I did come across:
1) On my first attempt at installation, it installed on the root of my webserver, so I was unable to access my other web applications. This was because I specified ‘localhost’ as the domain. I tried to figure out how to move to a subdirectory (see: http://www.kaltura.org/moving-installation-new-directory) but haven’t got that one figured out yet. So I just set up a new host (http://kaltura.localhost) and used this instead. So now I can access Kaltura and my original webapps, with out switching configurations and restarting apache.
2) When the prerequisites say that you need a mail server, it really does mean that you need one! After installation, when creating publisher accounts, the login details are emailed only – so there’s no way to set the password except by following the link in the email. I assumed I’d be able to reset the passwords manually and so the mail server integration wouldn’t matter to much. Given that this is just running on my laptop, I haven’t got a mail server running, so then had to set about trying to get one configured. Fortunately I found these instructions on how to configure postfix to relay through a gmail account on Ubuntu (I’m running 10.10). I set up a clean/default postfix installation and used the settings/instructions posted in the comments by Michael M. I used a ‘disposable’ gmail account, so that if something goes wrong, I won’t get blocked from my normal gmail account, but seems to be working well so far. It’s also good now that I can have emails sent for all the webapps on my machine.
So after I had these 2 issues resolved, I was ready to start having a play. All seems to be working well, although I was hoping that people would be able to browse the uploaded content without having first logged in. I guess we’d just need to create a generic account. If anyone knows how to set this up then please let me know – or if there is a generic Kaltura content browser application that I could use?
I tried uploading a few flv and mp4 videos to embed onto a webpage, and seem to work well. A little slow on my machine, but then my netbook probably isn’t designed to be a media processing and streaming server!
My final experiment was to look at the Moodle plugin, unfortunately I had a few more issues with getting this working. When trying to register the module in Moodle, I kept getting the error that ‘Your Kaltura registration failed. Missing KS. Session not established’ when trying to enter the url, username and password for my Kaltura server. After a bit of investigation I found it was a bug with how the partnerId was(n’t) being passed. I found a hack around this, see: http://www.kaltura.org/config-moodle-mod-moodleadmin-page, but it’s not pretty!
Now I have the option to add a video resource in Moodle directly from my Kaltura server, or so I thought I had, currently whatever I seem to search for (tags, video titles, categories which I know exist in the account I have) returns no results. Next step is to try and figure out why I can’t seem to find any of the videos I have uploaded…
I recently became the owner of an unlocked HTC Dream smartphone (running Android 1.6). Smart phones are still quite a rarity in Mekelle (and I’d guess in much of the rest of Ethiopia), so despite this not being the most recent model, everyone who sees me using it asks me to have a look & play around. I have seen a few people with Nokia E71 phones, but when you look closer they’re actually Nokla E71′s (yes, that’s Nokia with an L instead of an i).
In a couple of days I will be heading out to some rural areas with a colleague doing his doctorate in public health. He’s testing different smartphones and applications for data collection whilst he’s interviewing Health Extension Workers (HEWs). I’m joining him to see what some of the issues are with using these types of phones and applications in this context, with a view to spending some time over the coming months seeing how these devices may be used to deliver training.
I’ve only really been using the phone for the past week or so and there are a couple of areas where I can already see we may run into problems.
Firstly, the battery life. With my usage, not particularly heavy, the battery usually only lasts just over a day. Given that we’ll be using these devices for data collection, then they’re likely to be having heavy use in areas with little or no mains power. We are testing out some small solar power chargers.
Secondly, the GPRS coverage. GPRS is not used widely here and coverage in extremely patchy (even in large city like Mekelle) and it’s not yet been rolled out to other more rural areas (or even large towns). Sim cards need to be specifically enabled to use GPRS – it’s not turned on by default. The applications we’re testing out (EpiSurveyor and Sana) will both allow data to stored until an area with coverage is reached, but unless the user visits Mekelle on a regular basis then the data will never get uploaded.
I’m sure that improvements in the phones and the phone network infrastructure will eventually make both of my concerns invalid – it’s just a question of when they will be addressed.
The other questions and areas I’d like to look at include:
1) How easy is inputting the data on such a small screen? Might a tablet or netbook PC be more appropriate? Perhaps they’ll work well for short, relatively simple surveys, but not for others?
2) Do any of the HEW’s already have java enabled phones? If so, this would enable them to use the EpiSurveyor application without any new phones.
3) Do any of the phones support input using ge’ez (the alphabet used for Amharic and Tigrinian)? I can’t see how to input these characters on my phone (if anyone knows how I’d be pleased to hear from you), but I can display the characters.
4) How long do the phones take to get a GPS signal? For each record input we can automatically attach the location coordinates – but I’ve noticed that sometimes the phones can take a long time getting a GPS fix. With the power issues it’s unlikely they’d want to leave the GPS on all the time.
5) Would they really be used? Getting reliable data in these areas (even just for the number of births/deaths) is extremely difficult – reporting processes are often unreliable or just not used. Using these phones could help with gathering this info – but obviously only if they are used.
5) What are the other uses for the phones? E.g. providing remote diagnostic support, clinical support, training content/activities or reference, or perhaps for fun/social activities.
Plus I’m sure many other questions and possibilities will arise over the coming days.