Mobile VLE: covering the required featureset

Posted on August 9th, 2010 at 2:48 pm by Rhodri Thomas

Since I started this latest series of blog articles with reference to the student survey that gave us the indicators for priority areas for development, I’ll wrap up by going back to this (originally referred to in the student rating blog post).

So, in order of priority for development, now complete:

  • Assessment – scores available more rapidly on StudentHome mobile portal as a result of parallel development
  • Messages – course messages and quick view of forums with unread posts on ‘launchpad’ view, ForumNG also optimised
  • Tasks – ‘tick-boxes’ can be used to keep track of progress, preserved on both mobile and desktop views
  • Planner – the course planner ‘launchpad’ view is optimised to display the current week, but also a quick view of 3, 5 or 9 weeks of activity, depending on course settings. There is also an entire-course view available, and courses without calendar weeks display in full
  • Resources – resource pages and the resource block are optimised and where mobile devices can handle downloadable resource files these will work in addition to Structured Content

To complete the collaborative tools provision, we also included OUWikis and OUBlogs which cross over between tasks, activities and resources.

Remaining areas for development:

  • Calendar – on hold subject to work with Google Apps
  • Search – will follow from a separate integrated search project
  • Glossary – should be able to be done in next development round
  • Objectives – learning objectives are usually implemented as resources, but could be drawn out subject to further verification

A follow up student survey will be available on StudentHome mobile, as before, once the successful release of these new features have been made available in September 2010, where we will also query further the demand for quizzes, eBooks and mobile apps.
In conclusion, many sincere thanks go to Anthony Forth in being able to bring some of this mobile development work ahead of schedule, and for his thoroughness in checking through the latest additions to our mobile-optimised featureset.

Mobile VLE: updating via the OUblog

Posted on August 9th, 2010 at 11:40 am by Rhodri Thomas

The last module that has been updated this time is the OUblog, which is used in three ways on the OU VLE [Moodle] – as a tool for personal reflection or learning journal, as a shared activity* with others, or as part of a course with multiple student contributors.

Whichever access and updating method is used, the mobile version of the blog is the same – simply rendered (again no image upload nor avatar), with plain text editing and commenting features.

Blog details are also available (which would be a separate column on the desktop view), containing an overview, tags, blogroll/links and feed options. In addition as with all the collaborative tools, the contributing user’s name is hyperlinked to their profile (if visible) and can also be viewed in a mobile-optimised format.

* Note that the ‘Shared Activities’ area currently isn’t optimised – but all the tools themselves will pick up the mobile layout (for ForumNG, OUwiki, OUblog) once you’re past the overview page listing the activities you’ve created alongside those that are shared with you.

Mobile VLE: collaborating via the OUwiki

Posted on August 6th, 2010 at 4:38 pm by Rhodri Thomas

Looking through the wiki, I realise how much more friendly it seems than MediaWiki – anyhow, despite the dates of the sample content in the screengrabs below being a bit old, rest assured that the version of the OUwiki module is as up to date as possible.

We haven’t included all the tabs nor some of the more complex tools (such as ‘Save to MyStuff’ and the reporting views available to staff). We’re also using ‘Wiki changes’ rather than the history function as a summary.

In addition to creating new sections and pages, the wiki content can also be edited in plain text mode (though this can throw up some odd layout and markup issues).

We’ve also optimised the ‘Wiki index’ and ‘Wiki changes’ views to give an overview of any updates and group interaction, but unfortunately the comparison view of any changes, while present, is in desktop-only mode [side-by-side].

Again, the aim of this feature is more as a quick overview on changes and progress as well as reading resources. Contributing content is possible at a small scale, but additions of imagery etc. are out of scope for now.

Mobile VLE: mobilising the OU forum [ForumNG]

Posted on August 5th, 2010 at 4:04 pm by Rhodri Thomas

The next in this series of features is to extend the ‘launchpad’ view indicating any forums with unread messages with a much better optimised view of all discussions and threaded messages. In addition, some management and notification features have also been maintained where possible.

In the examples above, the user can see there is one (of four) forums with unread messages, and click on the ‘View all forums’ link to see the Forums block view. Alternatively, the user can click on the specific forum link that will go to the relevant forum (with unread messages) as below.

The second example has many more discussions with unread messages (which are indicated in the middle column of the table). {I’m also demonstrating one simple but powerful benefit to Android over iOS – customising the browser options and sizes!} On clicking through to a specific discussion the default threaded view is displayed, along with the default collapsed view for read messages.


Unread messages are displayed in full and use a darker blue shade to differentiate them – it is also possible to jump back and forth between these unread messages. Replying calls up a basic text entry field for short messages.

Despite WebKit support for the standard rich-text entry fields, we didn’t find the experience consistently usable enough, so device detection has been required to only display the basic entry forms (although HTML markup would be supported). We have not at this stage enabled the facility to add images, since this is also part of the WYSIWYG toolbar.

For more information on ForumNG try here, or here.

Mobile VLE: rendering Structured Content

Posted on August 5th, 2010 at 10:39 am by Rhodri Thomas

In addition to the previously optimised Resource Pages, Structured Content is the primary means of managing and creating content to be rendered onto course/module websites, as well as ‘alternative formats’ that are increasingly available [PDFs, DAISY, ePub, MP3, Word, Print].

The main work required here was to establish a means for the navigation to be separated but easily accessible from the content, which was achieved as illustrated below:

While most of the Structured Content web views render faithfully (apart from Glossary, not covered this time), more work will need to be undertaken in resolving drag-and-drop activities and alternates to Flash in some cases. Embedded audiovisual content will not display in the player, on screen, but the assets are also hyperlinked so that a more appropriate app can handle these.

In addition to this and the alternative format work going on in parallel (particularly that in improving ‘rich media’ ePub eBooks), there has also been some prototyping work on Android to establish packages of HTML content for syncing offline into an app – which required further work on handling audiovisual content. More on this later, as an update to a prior post on the ‘shell application’, also covered in Anthony Forth’s UK MoodleMoot presentation [see MoodleNews for more].

Upcoming release of the Mobile VLE

Posted on August 4th, 2010 at 4:54 pm by Rhodri Thomas

In a previous post I indicated that we’d got to the point of releasing a beta aimed at existing mobile learners at the OU – primarily to provide a quick launchpad to keep on top of their studies. As an update, we’re still running at over 10,000 individuals accessing via mobile per month overall (many repeated visitors and some new users aggregating to over 22,000 in the last quarter).

Subsequently, a minor update added more mobile-friendly [Moodle] Resource Pages for easier access to files and assets (where these could be understood by mobiles).

In the next few days, I will be outlining the new features we are currently ‘integration testing’ on the staging servers using real course content copied over recently.
For OU folks only, this will be unlike previous testing periods where any member of internal staff could go and check their course – this time access is more restricted and needs to be granted, so if you’d like to check – please get in touch.

The main features we’re adding this time are:

  • Structured Content (the OU standard content-managed web pages)
  • ForumNG (the new improved OU forum)
  • OUWiki
  • OUBlog

Where appropriate, we have included as many of the features users would expect to see on the desktop view, but some are unsuitable and some have been realigned slightly to better work at a smaller scale.

And, of course, since we’re all about mobile web optimisation on this particular project, we’re testing where possible on iOS, Android, Opera Mini and BlackBerry. Once this next release is done, we’ll also be asking students for their feedback just over a year after the initial student survey that identified the priority areas for development.

Finally, a note on mobile optimisation itself – only the ‘launchpad’ has received specific design attention, with the first release of the other tools following some design rules, including appropriate spacing for key hyperlinks (for touch users), emphasising these key hyperlinks while de-emphasising system or other information. We’re expecting all new modules to receive further design input, but will see how this balances against future work.

Stay tuned :-)

Mobile coordination through ‘Open Mobile’

Posted on June 16th, 2010 at 3:08 pm by Rhodri Thomas

As mentioned in previous blog posts, one of our aims is to provide better coordination of mobile learner support and mobile learning activities across the OU. A coordination and community site is now being built in Drupal aimed at two main audiences – those who are already involved with mobile (requiring updates/guidance and connections) and novices to the area who may be responding to some topical themes. Most of the site will also be publicly viewable.

While design work is being finalised, a site overview is available from this structural site diagram, with themed ‘microsites’.

UPDATE: The site will now be called ‘mobisite‘ and we hope to have this available after Summer 2010.

Iterative update to Mobile VLE beta

Posted on June 3rd, 2010 at 11:31 am by Rhodri Thomas

As of the June VLE release newly available this week, the Mobile VLE set of mobile-optimised course pages has received one feature update and a few bugfixes.

The update is that Resource pages are now optimised – which sometimes contain PDFs or MP3 Audio files among other potential downloads to devices in addition to guidance or narrative text. The few bugfixes have included better handling of courses in the ‘topics view’ as well as the ‘calendar view’.

launchpad For those users without devices or emulators, you could use e.g. a Safari/WebKit web browser and a set of Delicious links we’ve assembled in staff-development and dissemination activities, available via: – as demonstrated in this accompanying screenshot. [You can reduce the height and width of your browser window to simulate the mobile screen size]

Remember you may need to force the mobile view by adding &mobile=1 on the end of the URL.

This intermediate update is in advance of an accelerated development plan where the Mobile VLE is ahead of schedule for September VLE release – and where we now hope to bring Structured Content pages, ForumNG, OUWiki, OUBlog and other minor amends into the (mobile) fold.

LTQ Mobile Strategy drafted

Posted on May 28th, 2010 at 11:03 am by Rhodri Thomas

As part of our work in the Learning Innovation Office we are also tasked to coordinate Learning and Teaching activities and where applicable, generate roadmaps for development – both existing and new areas, to enhance our offerings to students.

For OU staff only, here are the current drafts of the LTQ Mobile Strategy Statements and corresponding Action Plan that our PVC Denise Kirkpatrick is currently reviewing. More information to follow from the other LTQ units… comments and amendments welcome.



Latest OU Mobile Learner Support overview

Posted on April 27th, 2010 at 2:21 pm by Rhodri Thomas

In preparation for a visit today by our Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean, to the Learning Innovation Office, I amended an overview briefing note that may be of interest to colleagues. This update summarises LIO and related sponsored work and also includes the latest quarterly trend of student mobile usage. Some indication is also given as to the medium-term timeline for our developments.

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