Warwick on iTunesU

My institution has just gone live on iTunesU. It’s a good site, and I know a lot of effort has gone into creating the site and its content. For example take a look at Ian Stewart’s Math Challenges. Although I am no doubt biased, Warwick’s is one of the better iTunesU sites out there.

I’m curious to know who looks at iTunesU sites and whether they find the content there useful (as opposed to simply ‘peering over the garden fence’ to have a look at what the neighbours are doing). I’ve looked at lots of iTunesU sites and viewed lots of content but I wouldn’t say I was a consumer of iTunesU content, merely curious to see what’s there. But then again I’m probably not part of the target audience.

So what is the target audience? Is it prospective students, wanting to find out what they can expect if they choose a particular educational establishment? Or current students perhaps, trawling for useful learning resources? Then again maybe iTunesU is just a digital market place, where institutions set out samples of their wares, and where turning up and being seen is as important as what you have to show (there is some shockingly awful content on some sites). Perhaps it’s all of these things, and more.

One less good aspect of iTunesU is that it seems to enforce content silos. Although it’s early days (for us) it doesn’t seem to encourage or provide a mechanism for collaboration between content providers. The platform, and I use that term loosely at least in the edtech sense of the word, is simply a smart looking aggregator of channels of content, and limited content types it has to be said, where channels are institutions rather than topics, themes or cross-institutional content areas. I will however acknowledge that the search engine in iTunes is quite good, although you apparently can’t subscribe to an RSS feed of search results but I might have missed that.

It’s hard to deny that iTunesU has an appeal to many content providers (marketing and comms departments?) as there’s a growing list of institutional members. But as for who’s using the content, I guess after a little while we’ll find out, or at least find out who’s been looking at our stuff.

Simple Wii hacks, powerful applications

This is a terrific short video of Johnny Lee’s Nintendo Wii remote controller hacks. The head tracking VR display screen application is particularly amazing and could have some powerful uses in educational games. I know of groups that are using complex technologies to achieve the same effect as this elegantly simple approach. Be sure to check out Johnny’s projects web site.

Word clouds with Wordle

I’ve just discovered Wordle, a web application that creates word clouds from any body of text. Word clouds, like tag clouds, are a collection of individual words whose text size reflects the frequency of occurrence in a given body of text. Wordle has some nice layout tools to help you create beautiful word clouds. It’s easy to make your own. Here’s a word map from my weblog’s RSS feed. It’s easy to see the emphasis of words in my recent blog posts (click on the picture to see the whole word cloud).

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In the past I’ve used a more formal version of this kind of approach in the battle against plagiarism. For my module’s assessment I get students to write a dissertation and occasionally one student tries to pass someone else’s work off as their own. There are a number of applications that compare text from one source against another to look for blatant copying, but another approach is to use textural analysis that compares the linguistic style and word count of one section of a piece of work with that of another section. If you suspect a student of incorporating someone else’s work you can use this approach to spot a change a style from one chapter to another. This is a useful approach when the plagiarised source cannot be identified.

Anyway, for fun I thought I’d use Wordle to compare the word maps from the recent blog posts of three leading learning technologists. It’s interesting to see the different word emphasis. Can you guess which map belongs to Josie Fraser, Scott Wilson and Stephen Downes?

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Fireflies swarming around your web site

This is interesting.

Firefly allows visitors to a web site to point and chat. Basically a Flash overlay movie with transparent background allows contemporaneous web site visitors to point at content on the site and instant chat with each other. Chat messages are currently anonymous but I expect that will change. Messages are also transient so unless you’re there to see them posted you won’t see them although a chat history is recorded.

Dave was one of the first users to demo in public but they’re now taking beta signups so you could add the app to your site too. What will you use it for?

Critics will ask ‘what’s the point?’. Sure, being able to comment on a web site so that subsequent visitors can share comments is not new, but there’s something kinda cool about being able to do this in real time. Of course if you have a high traffic site like Dave’s you’ll get several people online at once, but for my site and I suspect many others you may be chatting alone for a while 🙂