Monday, December 8, 2008

About Online Learning Systems - Part V

The Future – OLS to VLE

In the last post, I described how to create a home brew version of a VLE using free web-based apps and a Firefox browser. In this session, I’ll tell how to create VLE’s based on Pageflakes and Flock.


Strictly speaking, Pageflakes is not a browser; more accurately, it’s a user interface built on the Firefox platform. The concept is sufficiently different from other available browsers to make useful as the basis on which to build your VLE.

When you first open the Pageflakes homepage, it looks a bit like Firefox after you have added gadgets into your iGoogle page. The mini-windows are called “flakes” of which there are over 250,000 available. The Menu button at the top right opens a list of flakes and a link to all flakes. For example, if you have a Twitter account, there is a flake which allows you see a list of your most recent updates (tweets) and those made by other Twitter members you are following.

The Pageflakes page I am building for my sample VLE - K24x7 - uses a three-column format, which can be changed by using the Menu Button, then choosing “Change Layout” from the left column. The format you choose should match the purpose of your page nd teh amount of screen real estate available to you for opening additional windows. If you have lots of room you can use bigger flakes and fewer columns.

I’ve used the Top Links flake to create menu for quick access my blog, wiki, virtual office, my Twitter account, and a meta-search engine. Clicking a menu item opens a new window for the selected site. Since I am using a two monitor setup, I can view two or more sites simultaneously nearly full size. When using the VLE in synchronous mode, I’d open my Elluminate Live! vRoom virtual office in a separate window, and then use the Pageflakes for quick access to utilities and useful sites for reference.

The Mail flake allows me to see new messages as they arrive in my AOL email account; I can change the account I am using the flake’s Edit function. I can also compose and send mail and manage the incoming mail from this flake. In a VLE context, I can use to send email to students from Pageflakes without opening my email account. There is also a flake for Microsoft Windows Live, whoch you allow you to monitor multiple email accounts, but I was unsuccessful in getting it connected to my Live acccount.

I also included a Blog flake through which I can write and edit posts which appear in a mini-blog on my Pageflakes page and also are distributed through Google Reader to subscribers and to my main blog, Knowledge24x7. Authorized users cab also comment on the mini-blog by clicking the (more) link at the end of each post.

The Message Board flake is useful for asynchronous messaging. Clicking a message title opens the message and allows the reader to reply. Unfortunately, the post cannot include hyperlinked text, so you have to include a URL if you want to refer the reader to your email or another web site.

My site also includes the aforementioned Twitter flake. Like Mail, this flake allows me to monitor and update my Twitter account in real time without leaving Pageflakes. Updates are limited to 140 characters. You can see recent updates to your account, archived tweets, and view recent public updates.

In addition, to these communication tools, I’ve added a few flakes for utilities – Google Research, Universal Blog Search, Universal News Search, and a Calendar – and several flakes for online publications I want to follow. Because of my interest in eLearning and the purpose of this Pageflakes site as a VLE, I have flakes for Technorati, CNET Technology News, Slashdot, ReadWriteWeb, and TechCrunch.

The Anything Flake is interesting, although I haven’t decided how to use it yet. It allows you to build your own flake. Click the Start Editor button to design a flake with text, images, and HTML code. If you have a personal web site, you could open it here as a flake. If you plan on doing this, it would work best if you have a narrow version of your site, so it would open completely widthwise within the flake size limits you’ve chosen.

Finally, some housekeeping issues. If you have more flakes than you can easily view, you can collapse less useful flakes by clicking the (very) small triangle icon in the center of the flake’s lower border. The title bar will remain visible and the flake can be expanded by clicking the same small icon.

Don’t get discouraged. Some of the flakes are clunky, working well for a time then inexplicably giving you error messages. The Mail flake seems to be particularly quirky at the moment.

Access to a Pageflake page can be made private – the default- or public. A page is made public by making it a Pagecast. Do this from the Menu. As a public Pagecast, anyone can view your Pageflake, but not alter it unless you allow it. As a VLE adjunct, you can limit a Pagecast to a specific group for which you enter access privileges, such as students, and do separate page tailored for each class you are teaching.

I know I promised to show you how to build and VlE on the Flock browser and I will, just not in this post, as I realize it is getting too long for easy reading. Also, when I finish this series on VLE’s, I will publish a PDF version of the series; hopefully, before Christmas.

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