Thursday, December 11, 2008
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 www.thirtydaychallenge.com.
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.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Sounds to me like the conceptual basis for a VLE, if MySpace were altruistically inclined --- maybe a new product without ads - not.
Item 2. Yammer "...is a discussion board for your company: post a status update; ask a question; shares news;, links, opinions and information ..." and "...a private social network ...each user gets a profile ... search (the archive) for any topic ... stay connected ... through our free web, desktop, Blackberry, iPhone, IM, email, or SMS clients... accessible only via SSL"
Membership is limited to members of legitimate companies. It doesn't say for profit companies only, so I don't see why it could not be used by a school or district that has a unique set of email addresses for each staff member and and willing to give them for students to set up a nifty, very low cost VLE . Add a WiZiQ or Moodle virtual classroom for shut-ins and home schooled students and you'ld have it all.
Monday, December 8, 2008
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.