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.

Mobile roundup – audio, eBooks, apps and coordination

Posted on April 13th, 2010 at 2:54 pm by Rhodri Thomas

We’re due for a bit of an update on some of the related project strands I think, so here’s an attempt to give quick overviews on what’s happening.

L120 research study into use of Learnosity Voice Response service: The findings and discussion around this innovative use of audio eAssessment have been well received at a number of internal and external sessions. Key elements of student feedback include the “authentic” aspect of working with audio stimuli/prompts and oral responses in this way, the ability to effectively construct a dialogue between pre-recorded audio interweaved between student responses in playback, and the potential to compare with model answers.

Work is now underway by colleagues in FELS to move the development onwards from research study to pilot; from formative to summative assessment (tutor feedback online); to work on OU integration with eAssessment colleagues and Exams; providing many modes of access – mobile phone, landline, Skype, mobile app (iPhone/iPod Touch), online, and to evaluate possibilities in other discipline areas. LIO are now supporting the service licence costs of the pilots (only) as mainstreaming evaluation work is undertaken by other areas in the OU.

ePub eBook technical evaluation and format development: Work has proceeded more sporadically in this area around other priorities and a shifting external market, but is now at a stage to better complement other work being undertaken by LTS in developing a multiple ‘alternative format’ pipeline system that will deliver many different format options. The main challenge remains to ably check that the ePub ‘standard’ is actually delivered consistently across devices/apps and in how to provide instructions or canned text prompts where Structured Content includes online activities.

Mobile ‘shell’ application develelopment: Initial prototyping work to define a method for packaging web content and synchronise with (initially Android) devices is nearing completion. Further consultation will follow in providing packages of learning content for students to use as part of a trial late in 2010. LIO will continue to resource development and exploration in this area.

Mobile coordination website: Commissioned design work is now progressing in bringing together content relating to all aspects of working with mobile technologies at the Open University. The intention is to cover projects researching the pedagogy and impact of mobile learning, pilot projects offering skills development or other aspects of learner support in mobile friendly formats. In addition, provision will be made for advice on using mobile technologies at work (e.g. connecting to the OU’s network or email systems) and updates about the relevant university mobile strategies.

The site will encompass both formal and informal approaches to exploring and working with mobile technologies, primarily providing a space to aggregate content currently available in multiple locations across the university. This will be achieved in part by collating, cross-linking and embedding content from other social/media sites and project pages, including Delicious and Cloudworks.

Some parts of the web site, where appropriate, will be visible to the public, enabling us to raise awareness of the OU’s efforts in this area, but much of the information will only be visible to staff (internal and Associate Lecturers) who are logged in via their OUCU. All pages will be optimised for mobiles and searchable via the intranet. To be discussed as part of the next Mobile SIGUPDATE: Now called mobisite

And finally…last month StudentHome mobile hit a bit of a milestone with over 10,000 unique student visits via mobile devices. So more revisions and development to follow I think!

A summary of some of the work undertaken during 2009 is also now available as a set of case studies in an article in RCETJ, following last year’s Handheld Learning conference.

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