Monday, February 26, 2007

Illustrated HTML tags

Through a very interesting post Creative video presentations at the Presentation Zen blog I found the Visual HTML Jokes pool of photos that illustrate different HTML tags in a creative and fun way. My favorite photo of the pool is definitely this one:
(Created by by Jesper Rønn-Jensen)
I think these photos can be really useful when teaching the concept of HTML tags. Also, I think challenging students to create their own illustrated HTML tags would be a really great and fun learning activity, in which both sides of the brain are engaged.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Playing with Flickr

I know Flickr has been around for quite some time, but until now I haven't really felt the need to use their service. I didn't have many photos to share, and I wasn't particularly interested in searching for other people's photos either. However, Flickr has been on my to-join list for some time because of its potential educational uses, and today I finally took the time to create an account. Primarily I wanted to do this so I could share the graphics I've created so far for my blog, because until now you only got access to my graphics in separate posts and that really isn't very Web 2.0 ;) So, here it is, my iAlja blog graphics set.

I also wanted to try out the Groups feature of Flickr, so I created The faces of Moodle, a group where I'd like to see the looks of different Moodle sites around the world. So, feel free to join me on Flickr, and if you have a Moodle site please post a screenshot of it to my group (and don't forget to put it on the map ;) ).

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

When words are not enough...

Today I wanted to share with you an interesting experience about using comics to help students with their first login to our e-classroom. Let me do by explaining a bit of background to the story. Many of the courses at out faculty are in some way or another supported by our e-classroom (based on Moodle) and so most of our students need the access to our e-classroom to get study materials or participate in other study activities. For their first login students are asked to enter their unique student number as their username and password (which they can of course change later). This works for most of the students, though some students (like those that enrolled after the official beginning of the study year) don't yet have an account created, because they weren't included in the transmission of student data from the faculty's information system. Yes sure, we could figure out a better way to automatically create student accounts, but the current system works well for most students.

Now, all I've just described above was clearly explained to our students on the first page of our e-classroom. We provided students with short and concise instructions on what they should do on their first login and what they should do (email our Center for e-learning) if that didn't work. We thought the instructions were clear enough, but a great number of students disagreed. We were getting a dozen mails per day by confused or frustrated students that couldn't get in the e-classroom and were asking for help. Many mails did not include the information we asked students to include when asking for help. And we saw that as a big problem. Clearly, too many students were not able to properly understand (decode) the given instructions. Also, they were experiencing confusion and frustration, which is definitely not something you'd want students to experience when first meeting a new technology. First impressions matter, right?

This problem has troubled me for some time. I was trying to think of better ways to explain the login procedure to students and the solution that helped to solve at least a bit of the problem was found almost by chance. I almost accidentally stumbled upon the post Design Comics Templates 1.0, Part I on Martin Hardee's blog, which provided wonderfully illustrated characters and scenes that can be used for comic storyboards. I immediately fell in love with the pictures and started thinking about ways in which I could use them. At first it was almost a joke, but I decided to make a short comic explaining the login process of our e-classroom. The pictures were perfect for this. I used Comic Life (the basic version comes free with Mac OS X) to create the comic and we decided to put them on the first page of our e-classroom, above the written instructions. The login page of our e-classroom now looks like this:

And I was actually surprised by the fact that the comic almost immediately helped to lower the number of mails we receive and that students requesting login now included all the required information (just the way the girl in the comic does). Wow! I didn't believe it would make such a noticeable difference, but it does. It seems that our students pay more attention to the content of the comic than they did to the content of the written instructions. No serious research has been done about this (at least yet :) ), but a few students already responded to the short survey about the comic that we posted in the e-classroom and they all said the instructions in the comic are easier to understand than the written ones before.

So, the reason for which I've decided to share this experience with you was that it has reminded me that we sometimes have to look outside the box to find a better solution to our problems and that too often we forget how valuable pictures and illustrations really are. For students that are faced with a new environment I guess it's easier to understand a comic that shows a similar situation to what they're experiencing in the same moment. It is after all in human nature to learn from observation and also to feel closer to content that has "a human face". Spoken or written language is a great and powerful way to communicate, but we must not forget other forms of communication, especially the visual. I should know that - after all, I do have a bit of background in graphical design.

I was also reminded about this by Stephen Downes, who wrote that he really liked my "Click. Learn. Share." icons (and I even got a mail about them this morning :) ). Sometimes words just are not enough and we should never forget that we have many powerful ways that can help our words to be heard - especially in the noise of everyday life. I think that can be a challenge for all of us, but especially for educators. Verbalized textbooks have ruled the past, but we need to learn new forms of communication. I think this will be increasingly important if we'll want to get the attention of the digital natives that are slowly taking over the world and that are discovering the power of visual communication through YouTube, MySpace, Flickr and other visual channels.

I think the proper way to end this post is to ask all of you to share your stories of how words were not enough. Why should this be done? To inspire new experiences and to serve as a reminder that creative solutions are key to the challenges of the 21st century.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Monday, February 19, 2007

First Moodle Moot in Slovenia!

At last! I am happy and proud to announce that the first Moodle Moot in Slovenia will be held on May 18th 2007 in Koper, Slovenia. Moodle Moots are conferences for Moodle users that Moodle lovers organize all around the world (more info can be found here). Since we opened (an online community for Moodle users in Slovenia) it's also been our wish to organize a live event where Moodle users can meet in person and exchange tips and tricks ;-) Now, after a few months of planning, meetings and ideas of all sorts we are finally a step closer to making our wish come true.
More info about our conference can be found here, although the site is in Slovenian language only. If you don't understand Slovenian and would like to know more about the conference or even participate in some way, please feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me :-)

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Living the Web 2.0

The video Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch that I posted last week made me think quite a lot about my personal relationship with Web 2.0 (or the Read/Write Web as some prefer to call it). I think that the concept of Web 2.0 can really be understood only if you use and explore its technologies and apply it on your own life. And I also think that reflecting on how Web 2.0 technologies affect our lives can provide additional valuable information. In this post I'd like to share with you my personal account and thoughts on what Web 2.0 means to me and what impacts it's having on my daily life.

My typical day starts with a cup of coffee and a click on my browser icon. It's strange now that I think about it, but the first thing I do in the morning (no matter what I have to do during a particular day) is to start my browser - Safari. I don't stop to think - oh, I need my browser now! - I just do it. Just a few years ago I'd then type in the address of a news site, but now the first thing I check in my browser are the web feeds. I regularly try to organize and reduce the number of feeds I'm subscribed to, but usually I'm stuck between 50 or 100 feeds (and here I'm counting just the feeds I regularly read). I have my feeds organized in folders in Safari's bookmark bar that is always visible. That allows me to see how many unread feeds I have at any given movement. It is a bit intrusive, but that's the way I like it (most of the times). I've tried using applications and web sites to keep track of my feeds, but I always come back to Safari's bookmark bar because it's always there, always telling me hey! click on me, I've got news! And sometimes I do feel the pressure of all those unread feeds; I feel like I'm missing something if I don't click them right away. Reading web feeds and following links they provide in a ways makes me feel connected. It gives me the feeling that I know what's going on right now and what the most interesting topics on the net are.

The number of feeds makes me read a minimum of 10 posts a day (on a calm day that is), but it doesn't just stop at reading and clicking links. Fact is that whenever I find an interesting post or link I immediately feel the need to share it. A few years ago I'd perhaps email or IM the link to family or friends, but now it's just much more. I feel the need to share it with the world - I don't want just friends and colleagues to read this link, I want to give everyone in the world that might be interested in a certain topic a chance to read it! And so I always make sure to share the really interesting posts/links at least on or/and Isn't that interesting?

Checking web feeds and sharing interesting links is just the beginning of my Web 2.0 connected day. Both activities continue throughout the day, no matter what I do. My browser is always with me, showing me new feeds, offering opportunities to share, to connect. During the day I of course do other things - research, write, create, innovate - and I think that now more than ever I also actively think about what I do, try to find meaning, try to extract valuable lessons etc. and what for? To share them on this blog.

Keeping a blog makes me an active seeker of content that will be interesting and relevant for you: the readers of my blog. I am now the editor of my personal channel and for this reason I feel a big responsibility for the "life" of my blog - it is up to me to keep it interesting, current and worth reading. And all this also makes my primary work as a researcher more engaging, and even more valuable and meaningful to me. I feel that I can do much more than just the task in front of me. I am constantly learning, collecting experiences and thinking about how they could be shared for others to read. I try to write at least one post per week about what I currently do, what I am thinking about, what questions I am trying to answer... and I love the way my blog "obligation" is keeping me busy and active. If I can't find any new valuable ideas in my work I am motivated to go elsewhere. On other blogs, where I can even interact with the authors and readers of those blogs. I have in fact became an active seeker or ideas that I try to transform into new content that can be shared with the purpose of inspiring new ideas. Wow!

And though a lot of my usage of Web 2.0 technologies is work related, it certainly doesn't stop when I stop working or thinking about work. In the evening when I try to relax and get away from the computer, usually my activities involve watching a movie, reading a book, playing games or just having a great conversation with my dear ones. One would think I forget Web 2.0 at this point - well, think again. The Web 2.0 is always at the reach of our hands. When deciding upon which movie to watch we go and check IMDB, see what other users say, or check out the list of the highest rated movies. The same happens when choosing books or games. It seems so normal that you look anything up on the net and see what others say - and in most cases what matters most is not the opinion of professional critics, but of ordinary people (though all persons of the year 2006 according to Times magazine).

I'm really amazed at what big part Web 2.0 plays in my life (and I in its life). In just a few years it has entered our lives from different doors and it's growing stronger and more powerful days by day. And for this reason I agree with what Michael Wesch pointed out in his video - we really need to rethink a lot of things. Among these things I think that rethinking ourselves is one of the key points. We are being linked in previously unthinkable ways and our lives are being changed. What kind of changes is that bringing us? Are the changes improving our lives or crippling the social aspect of our analogue real lives as some fear?

The answers to these questions are many - and there should be. For me the most important changes are the feeling of connectedness, the feeling of responsibility, the need to share and the trust systems that the users of Web 2.0 are building among each other (just take for example Wikipedia). These are the changes I find most valuable and that I hope I (and others) will be able to keep and use not just for a better and more useful Web 2.0, but also to build a better future - together, by connecting are ideas and constructing new worlds.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

iAlja Writer reports from Second Life

I don't know if it's just me, or is the Internet-based virtual world called Second Life getting a lot of attention lately? All the news and reports from this virtual world have finally caught my attention, and after reading the post My Second Life and the post Presenting in RL/SL, I have decided to see for myself what all the fuss is about.

The first thing to do was of course to download the application and create a Second Life (SL) account. And so it was that on January 31st 2007 iAlja Writer was born. Yes, that is my SL name (by the way - if you're wondering about the last name: when signing up you have to pick a last name from a list of names, so you can't just make up any name you want). After that was done, I was finally able to sign in and take a first look around. At first I didn't get very lucky as an update was scheduled just around my first day in Second Life, so I was soon unable to log in. Argh!

But it takes more than a maintenance outage to stop a curious educator from exploring new worlds. When Second Life was back online, iAlja Writer finally took her first steps in her Second Life. Walking around is pretty easy (just use the arrow keys) and if you want a better view of the world, you can also fly and view it from air.

That's me flying over EduNation island:
Then I completed the challenge of setting up the appearance of my avatar. This can be done with the help of a quite simple and powerful editor (a more complex version of the Mii editor on the Wii).

Editing a playful and a daily appearance in SL:
You also have many other tools that can be used to teleport between places, chat, edit you profile, join groups, search etc. - and yes, figuring all that out takes some time, but after an hour or two I was able to master basic tools, menus, and other UI elements. The UI is quite basic, but can be learned quite fast, and you also get an essential SL tutorial right as you step into the world. But although the basic functions are quite simple to learn, I must say that the key word for my first days in SL was confusing. I don't really know why, but I really felt confused and disoriented. I felt there was still so much of basic tools to find and learn, when in fact I already knew how to use the basic tools of SL.

iAlja wondering Where am I? What am I doing here?:
Anyhow, the thing I was of course most interested in was meeting people (fellow educators trying to figure out SL if possible :) ). And to meet the right kind of people you of course have to go to the right kind of places, like the EduNation island, Campus: Second Life, Sloodleville (a place where people are trying to bring Moodle to Second Life) and many more. For this reason I did a little search on the web and among SL places, events and groups, and was soon able to find places where educators meet and where links to other edu spaces can be found. The only thing that bothered me was that I didn't really got to meet a lot of people in the first days, as the edu places were mostly empty - I guess I'm in the wrong time zone :( But then I finally came across some interesting people and had some interesting conversations. I was really pleased to see that many people were willing to talk, answer my stupid questions (like: Who controls the weather in this place?) and share their experience and knowledge of SL (or other areas of 1st life :) ). Talking to people in SL is basically like using IRC, but much much more fun because you can in a way see other people and to some extent communicate non-verbally. I was quite impressed by the way SL avatars (characters) behave - they really seem alive. When you stand still they start looking at their watch (even if you don't have one) or look around the place or just stare at their feet (that's just what I'd do if I had to stand still in one spot!). You can also make your avatar do different gestures. Also, I find the pose that avatars assume when they are typing really great. It's a great way to show that a person is writing something! Voice chat can also be used in SL, but as I don't have a microphone for my Mac Mini I was yet unable to test it, but I think it would add a lot fun and realism to conversations. So, SL Voice Chat is definitely on my to-do list!

Another thing that impressed me was the variety of locations, places in Second Life. You have everything from clubs, shops and even museums. You can even race with Go-Karts, take a swim in WaterWarks or go to a party and dance a bit (check out this list of 5 free fun things in SL). From the places I visited I especially enjoyed the International Spaceflight Museum, which can also be a great place for learning.

At the International Spaceflight Museum:
So, is all this any good for education? I think SL is a great learning tool for programming or computer science students as you can build object and add various scripts to them, so it's a fun tool to practice or learn about 3D modeling and programming. I am a bit afraid that our (business and management) students would find the world a bit too confusing, though it could be a great way to practice business skills as you can trade various objects or land in Second Life (using Linden dollars). For this reason I think that you could have different modes in SL; for example: one very basic for people just interesting in going to places, meeting people and maybe buying stuff; then a business mode that would highly focus on the business aspects of SL; and finally an advanced mode for programmers and 3D designers. Basically, I think that SL and other virtual worlds have educational potential, but they should become even more intuitive and user friendly. A lot of people I met on help an information islands were feeling very confused by this new world and that can be a serious barrier for a wider adoption of virtual worlds.

//slightly off-topic
Although, walking around SL did give me an interesting idea - what if future operating systems would adopt the characteristics of virtual worlds? Try to imagine - we already use the metaphor of desktops as the place where application are run, so why couldn't we have a 3D office instead? A 3D office in which you can have pictures on your walls, of course choose wall colors or wallpapers, and have different office applications around the office - either on the desk or sorted on shelves. And when not working you could go to your leisure room with an audio and video system, and shelves of music/videos. Basically, each user could customize his/her own house and different rooms by dragging objects around the place, also between rooms (if it sounds familiar - something similar will be done with Spaces in the next version of Mac OS X Leopard (and probably 5 years later as Places in the new Windows version that Microsoft will claim as a new and innovative feature)). You could of course also have rooms for kids in which parents could control some of the content and you could invite your friends to your house and show him/her how you just redecorated your office or you work with that document or go to a public space to see a movie, hear some new music, talk with friends or strangers. Everything would of course be connected to the internet and you could for example watch YouTube videos in your video room. I think that might be possible in the future when better graphics, higher Internet speeds and computer power will be available - that or the alternative in which our houses will have screens in every room. But as the trend is moving to mobile technologies I think it'd be much easier to make the OS a 3D environment that you can carry around with you and work in your office in the fresh air while sitting in a park. We'll see.
//back to the topic

My point (my opinion) is, that we're still not at the point where SL can be as widely adopted as for example instant messaging. SL is more demanding, takes more time to start using, but in the end is quite more fun - but for the average user the road to fun is still too bumpy to be enjoyable (imho). I really can't make up my mind on the future of SL or other virtual worlds. As I said - it has potential, but so far it only appeals to a quite limited number of users. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, I still think it's a valuable experience for every educator to go and check it out and experience it first hand - you don't really know what it is all about until you are actually in there. And if you happen to meet iAlja Writer somewhere along the journey don't forget to stop and say hello ;) Also, suggestions of interesting activities and places iAlja Writer should in your opinion visit are more then welcome, so feel free to leave a comment or write me an e-mail :)

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Web 2.0 in less than 5 minutes

Yesterday I came across an amazing video presentation of the concept of Web 2.0 created by Michael Wesch. It's a short and concise presentation of some important concepts and ideas about Web 2.0 (or the Read/Write Web). I think this video can be a great starting point for a discussion or reflection on how modern technologies are affecting many important areas of our lives and why is Internet such a big thing nowadays. Enjoy watching it!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My Wii experience

Wiiii, a Wii has finally made it to our living room! And after a few days of Wii Sports I can share my first impressions and reflections on how the Wii can be used in education. I know a lot has already been written, so for those of you who might not yet know what is a Wii I suggest reading Nintendo Wii: first impressions - a great post that in my opinion nicely describes what a Wii is and how you can play with it. Also, you might want to read A Wii post on educational gaming, just to warm up ;-)

Ok, let me now describe my personal Wii experience. The first word that came to my mind after using Wii was: intuitive! The new motion-sensitive controllers are in my opinion amazing and playing the games feels so natural. You just use the controller as if it was a tennis racket or a baseball bat and that's it. Before I got the Wii, I was a bit afraid that playing Wii Sports would soon get boring, but it just doesn't. It feels like a real game and it is a totally engaging and addictive game (also, the muscle ache the day after was 100% real - I was never really ware of all the upper-body muscles you can train with playing those sports before I tried Wii Sports :-/).

Apart from providing great physical exercise (by the way - you can quite easily loose some wight with the Wii - don't take my word for it, read the Wii Sports Experiment, Results!), the Wii can also connect to the Internet and can be used to socialize with your Wii friends. You can in fact use a Wii version of the Opera browser, check out the Wii news and weather channel, or use the Message Board to send and receive messages and keep track of your progress. The really fun thing is that each Wii player can build his/her own Mii - a virtual character that can be used in games or that you can let travel to your friends' Wiis (look at the picture below - it's my Mii!). Isn't that cute? ;-) But also, it's a fun way to interact with your friends - you can in fact even save your Mii to your own Wii Mote (the Wii controller) and when you visit a friend, you can transfer your Mii to his/her Wii :-)

The Miis are sure a cute feature, but as an Internet addict I must say that I enjoy the web browser much more. The Wii browser is still a Trial version and I think there is still a lot of room for improvement (like encoding settings - right now the browser can't display certain specific characters of my language), but at a first glance it looks ok. You can zoom in or out on web pages, which is really useful because of the low resolution of TV screens. The browser has Flash support, and there are already web sites with flash games that can be easily played on the Wii (Google Wii flash games). You can also watch YouTube or Google Videos with no problems. Browsing with the Wii Mote is over all very intuitive and easy to learn. When you need to type a web address or fill out a form you use an on-screen keyboard - you can't type as fast as on a real keyboard, but you get some help in the form of word suggestions and I really like the fact that it provides a subtle tactile feedback (the remote vibrates slightly when you move over a letter).

Now a few weak points I noticed so far. Firstly, a quite annoying problem with the keyboard interface: it isn't good for editing fields with existing text - let's say a wiki page or blog post - because it doesn't show the content of the field, but just lets you type in new words. I hope that gets solved in future versions. And on the subject of the Wii Opera browser: I came across the post Using the Wii Opera browser for educational purposes today and I was really surprised to see that kids find playing flash games with the Wii Mote so engaging. Surely, flash games are only mini educational games (for more on the subject read Marc Prensky's article In Educational Games, Complexity Matters), but I really think that the physical involvement that the Wii provides is an engaging form of not just playing games but also learning. Here I must point out that the Wii is a new player in the gaming industry and still has room for improvement and even more room for new games. I think that in a few years we could be seeing really interesting games that will know how to fully use the potential of Wii's specific controllers and that will also provide great, engaging, and meaningful learning experiences.

Moving on - why is there now RSS reader on the Wii? It has a great news channel, a browser, so why didn't they include an RSS reader? I sure hope they'll be adding it soon - either as part of the browser or as a separate channel.

And at last - the interface design is quite simple, but I think it could be made even more simple (bear in mind that I am a Mac user and have quite high standards as far as the UI simplicity is concerned ;-) ). A more annoying thing is that switching between Wii applications is a bit slow. I know it's a console, but from my perspective you have to wait a bit too much just to switch from the weather channel to the news channel for example. Waiting for a dozen of seconds is not such a problem when you're waiting for a game that you'll be playing for hours, but when you have to wait just to see the weather or check the mail... it is annoying. So I hope they'll improve that somehow in the future as well.

So - what's my final verdict? I am totally impressed by the Wii - it's fun and engaging, and I see a lot of potential in it, but for serious educational use I think we'll have to wait for a year or two to get better games and to improve some of the features and of course add new ones. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to my new gym - my living room and Wii Sports' fitness (I've got to get my fitness age down! I don't even want to tell you the results I got yesterday! It's really time for us geeks to get a move ;-) )

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.