Accessibility, interactive learning, learning objects, online learning, xerte

Xerte Conference 2016 by Jin (Post2/3)

by Jin Tan

image of a xerte object

Xerte (Xerte Online Toolkit) has been supported at Cardiff University since it was introduced by Simon Wood in 2008. I’ve been supporting it here since 2012. From 50 users (3 schools) to 600+ users all over the University, from individuals to a group of learning technologists, from the flash-based v1.6 to the HTML5-based v3.0, we have seen a rapid improvement in Xerte and increased interest in Xerte within the University.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend the Xerte Conference 2016. Karl, Dewi and myself tried to cover all the sessions and balance the expertise and interest between us. Besides the keynotes, I attended five sessions on the day. The introduction to each session is available on the conference website. Here I explain the important parts I have learned.

We’ve written a bit about what we learned from the conference, as a series of blog posts. Take a look at the conference resources, and also a recent post by Catherine Emmett, who shares her new tutorial resource to help you get started:

 

Developing Custom themes for the AgriFood ATP by Joel Reed and James Roscoe

xhibit logo

This was my favorite session. Not only because it presented a new web app “Xhibit Xerte Theme Generator” which is accessible for everyone to use, but also because it shows how Xerte as a learning technology has consistently focused on “the content and engaging learning”. They aim to allow anyone with a web browser to create interactive learning materials quickly and easily. The presentation shows how Xerte (developers and learning technologists) worked with AgriFood ATP to create training courses, from facing challenges like using Adobe Flash and attaching SWFs to designing and developing a new WYSIWYG theme generator.

Basically, the generator is a web-based CSS file generator. It allows you to define the header, footer and body colours for your theme, and export it as a CSS file. You can then input this css file into your Xerte object to change your object theme. The process is very simple and straightforward. The generator is still under development and only runs on iOS devices at present. Features such as font size, converting back to the default theme, and header logo position are not supported as yet.  

The presenters addressed the important issue of testing custom themes in the main web browsers across a variety of platforms. They mentioned tools such as Adobe Color CC, Paletton, and Chrome DevTools which are handy for us to design themes.

Having discussed with Dewi and other learning technologists, our action will be trying this app and developing Cardiff generic themes. At the same time we will give feedback and contribute to the Xerte community, whilst sharing our themes with the community.

 

Creating a learning community hub with Xerte Online Toolkits by Julian Tenney and Pat Lockley

This was another interesting session. What is DS106? Interestingly, it’s originally an open course on the topic of “Digital Storytelling” created by Jim Groom and Martha Burtis from the University of Mary Washington. It used technologies such as blogs and Google form to support students to create assignment ideas, vote the ideas, and submit assignments under the idea. Obviously this is an innovative course that the instructors bravely made it open to the whole world and let students to develop their online identities. It gradually becomes a community that students lead and grows as a repository of the topic that the instructors didn’t know/plan at the beginning. For me the ideas behind of this course are not about what technologies you use, rather it’s about what’s your attitude to “open”, what you’d like your students to learn, and are you prepared to be in an unpredictable situation when using technologies in teaching.

Can Xerte support a course or community (e.g., P2PU)? The answer is yes, its features such as Bootstrap, RSS feed Aggregator and Twitter widget enable such social networking quickly. However, what my immediate thought was if we can work with some interdisciplinary fields and help them to use Xerte to develop an open community? I wonder if some schools in the University have started similar communities? 

 

We looked at Xerte but we prefer Storyline, Captivate, iSpring etc. by Ron Mitchell

Do you know that Xerte objects can be designed and made as attractive as the objects created by other tools? Why do you think Xerte templates are boring and difficult to customise to the look you like? Ron provided many examples that Xerte can do. He questioned us to ponder what are the key factors that affect our decision, the look, the content, the support or more? He suggested 25 key topics (they are in the presentation link above) for people to consider when comparing Xerte and other tools. He also introduced Xerte Academy which aims to share high quality up-to-date resources and support. Although it’s still under development, we will definitely give it a go.  

We have got a lot of support from Ron both technically and pedagogically since August 2015. Ron has run training sessions for learning technologists within the University and helped us to develop a “train the trainer” supporting approach. He will share his experience of working with Cardiff University in another post.

 

My Favorite Xerte Learning Objects and Why by four groups of staff from the University of Nottingham and the Harlow College.

The first presentation reminded me of a Xerte pioneer in Cardiff, David Harries. He is the University English Language Programmes tutor and started using Xerte in 2008. He has created many English learning open materials using Xerte.

The second and the third presentations show examples which can be used/reused widely due to the topics. I was thinking we definitely have similar materials created by the Cardiff University library services or schools. However I am not sure if they are in Xerte and if the current technology they are using works as well as Xerte. However the presenter’s experience of moving from simple PDF format resources to interactive multimedia format resources is convincing.    

I like the Xerte object example of University services the most. It shows how interactive materials can help people to learn something quickly. I would think it is a useful example for our Physical Learning Spaces project.

 

Xerte in Kent Fire and Rescue Service by Jason Bardell

This presentation shows an organisational learning example: Fire Investigation elearning package created using Xerte. The presentation itself tells why they chose Xerte: free access and rich features, which matched their requirements. They have used features including Videos, Audios, Interactive Hotspots, Interactive tabs, Drag & Drop Text, and Quiz. The auto-playing audio was embedded into different scenario pages, which helps fire workers to remember and regain knowledge easily. They are using the Basic Xerte Statistics tool developed by Ron Mitchell too to have an idea how many people have viewed the resource. (We are unable to share the link at this stage). The presenter stated that a challenge they face is how to transfer their knowledge into Xerte objects. Again, it’s about design and delivery of content using good technology, not about the technology itself.

Comments

  • Simon Wood

    Thanks, Jin, this is a really useful post. Great to have a summary of the sessions you saw. By the way, I think we’ve had Xerte here at Cardiff for even less time than that – my recollection is I got it launched in 2011, though it may have been 2010.

    I agree about Xhibit being a really exciting development. It puts the power of CSS to do things that lots of people have been asking for (often simple things, like a bit of branding) into their hands without a steep learning curve.

    Really interesting question on using Xerte to support open interdisciplinary communities. “I wonder if some schools in the University have started similar communities?” Not that I know of, but it would be fascinating if they have – I hope so!

    I’ve seen Ron’s Captivate vs Xerte examples and they’re really impressive. I didn’t know about his Xerte Academy but that looks really good and I’ve signed up to the newsletter. Do you know if subscriptions for premium courses and resources will be on an institutional or individual basis? And if the former, will Cardiff be subscribing?

  • Jin Tan

    Thank you Simon for your comments.

    I thought XOT piloted here in 2008 though it’s not recognised. It was mentioned in my 2013 project report too. However, you are right. the earlist document I have about XOT in the University was the one you wrote in 2012.

    Ron’s Xerte Academy is a good resource. I don’t think it limits premium account to individul level or organisation level by reading the terms and conditions (http://xerteacademy.com/terms-and-conditions/). To be sure, we’d better ask Ron directly, and also the details of the development stage of this platform. I won’t be able to answer your question about if Cardiff will be subscribing. At the University level, it needs to be discussed/agreed by the Xerte project management group.

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