Thursday, December 11, 2008

About Online Learning Systems - Part VI

The Future - OLS to VLE

Sorry for the delay. Here comes the next-to-last installment in which I'll talk about building a freeware VLE on the Flock Browser and some concluding remarks about other tools you might find useful when creating your own VLE.


Flock is built on the new Firefox 3 browser. If you do not already have it, download the Flock browser. Several tutorials for the novice user are available on the opening page. In the upper left corner, the small globe icon, opens your home page, My World. The initial three-column format can be customized. Below the My World caption and date, you will see a gear icon for Widgets. Open it and select the column types you wish to see on you’re My World page. For more detailed information, check out this YouTube video from

Clicking the Person icon in the toolbar tab at the upper left opens Friends, giving you immediate access to Flock-enabled social networking sites. Unlike other browser based widgets, only Flock-enabled sites can be placed within Flock with a single click. These links open in large window on the Flock page. When you sign into a site a list of your site friends will appear in the left sidebar. For VLE purposes I would set up a private site at MySpace or Facebook to which access would be granted only to my "student" friends, making it extremely easy to distribute digital graphic materials. When you are done choosing widgets, you can reduce the list length by clicking on the black triangle to the left of the list title to hide the list.

For the purposes of creating a VLE, use the Accounts and Services icon (looks like a Key) to see the list of Flock-enabled widgets available. Clicking it opens the list in a sidebar. Choose and install the ones you plan to use. They will appear at the top of the sidebar linked to your login on the social network chosen. This becomes your quick hit list. I have Twitter, Blogger, and Aol Mail installed. I might add MySpace or Facebook if I were teaching a course with used digital imagery intensively, such a Art History. If you have your login in set for “Remember Me” at these sites, one click in Flock opens your home page in the app.

When you open one of your links, Flock automatically scans the page for RSS feeds. If one or more is found, you are notified in an orange header bar at the top of the widget screen, with instructions on how to subscribe. A single click on a “Subscribe” button directs the feed into your Feeds sidebar, which is opened by clicking the Feed icon at the top left (it’s the orange radio wave graphic of concentric 90 degree arcs). New feeds cause the icon to glow a brighter orange. If you expect to have a large number of feeds and have a Google account, by all means link your site feeds to Google Reader, rather than opening them in the sidebar. Opening a People widget site or a feed places it in a new tab.

The Image icon between the People and Feeds icons opens a Media bar at the top of the main screen. Thumbnails for videos and pictures will appear on the media bar. The first time you open the Media Bar, you will see thumbnails for videos about how to use Flock. Click-and-drag them onto the main screen to view them without downloding or opening YouTube. You can load videos and images from several popular media sites, such as YouTube and Flickr, onto your media bar, then send them to friends by dragging them to your list of friends at one of the social networking sites in the People sidebar.

Unfortunately, it seems that you can only drag videos into the Flock browser itself,not into flock-enabled apps, such s Blogger or, of course, others. Flock does give you a simple way to embed the video from a Media Bar thumbnail. To put a video on my blog, just right click the thumbnail in the Media Bar, then select copy "HTML for Media." Open the blog from the Flock sidebar, create a New Post and paste the code into your onscreen app – works like a charm for a Flock-enabled app like Blogger, as you can see from a prior post. Unfortunately, for non-Flock enable apps, it appears that there is no easy way to use the Media Bar to embed a video. You will still need to do it the old fashioned way – go to the source and download it or capture the video URL or embed code that appears with the video at the source page.

On the Flock top-left tool bar, the Stars icon is Favorites, automatically imported from Firefox, and the Clipboard is . . . . the clipboard. Stars opens your bookmarks in the left sidebar. For the purposes of a VLE, it would be nice if the Accounts and Services (Key), Favorites (Stars),and Feeds (Radio Waves) could all be opened in the sidebar at the same time . . . but they can’t, so flipping is in your future.

So that’s it for Flock. It’s main benefits are in its ability to move easily and seamlessly between Flock and Flock-enabled apps. It’s a terrific information manager, too, since it’s easy to capture feeds and, using Google Reader, to manage them can be a really powerful information tool. The main disadvantage for my purpose of building VLE is that it doesn’t play well with apps that are not Flock-enabled, such as WiziQ, Moodle, and Elluminate Live! vRoom, about which I’ll be blogging shortly.


Up to this point, I’ve discussed Firefox, Pageflakes, and Flock as possibilities for a hub around which to build a freeware VLE. Any one of them can be used to link and manage eLearning applications, with a high degree of overlap in the services than can be supported. The strength of all of them is the close integration possible from the Firefox 3.0 platform with Google apps, especially Google Reader for managing feeds.

My geekly choice would be Flock, with a prayer that they would Flock-enable Sloodle, which would allow use of Moodle, in a 3-D environment built in Second Life.

Firefox would be my choice for simplicity and ease of use, with iGoogle and it’s gazillion gadgets as my search engine and VLE home page, with the caveat that you cannot expect all third-party gadgets to work well all of the time, so choose carefully and test thoroughly.

Pageflakes is my favorite for creating a workable page layout and managing multiple windows; same caveat with respect to the quality of widgets.

I like the possibility of having each student use either Firefox with iGoogle gadgets or Pageflakes to create their own custom page with assignment-related gadgets/widgets and links of their choice as part of an assignment to be shared with the class online. I used to do this with community college students, with each student incorporating a link to a wiki page in which the project page could be discussed and commented upon by classmates. I used desktop sharing software to coach and help students develop their pages outside class hours. Students either volunteered or were selected at random to share their pages in class.

In my next set of posts, I will be looking more closely at some of the free apps that I’ve mentioned, beginning with the “virtual classroom” packages from Elluminate Live!, WiZiQ, and Moodle.

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