Periodic Fable

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creative digital writing

Learning Communities
Consultancy and professional services in online content, community and e-learning

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creative uses of ICT for teaching writing and literacy in school

Kids on the Net
Website for children to publish their writing, plus digital writing projects for schools


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All posts have been moved to my new blog Learning Communities

I continue to blog about elearning, online communities, and writing online, plus


online tutoring, blogs and  online communities of practice and networks for working and learning.

Learning Communities Blog



Thursday, 16 April 2009

Moodle theming

Just a few notes from Moodleman Julian Ridden's workshop on theming at the recent Moodlemoot.

Why might one need to create a Moodle theme?
  • to meet brand requirements
  • to match an existing site
  • to present a more engaging design for your particular audience � engaging content eg in schools, or a more corporate look
  • establish a unique look and feel for your site � to stand out
  • don't want the standard �VLE� look, eg for a Moodle used as a collaborative workspace
It is best not to use Dreamweaver to design pages - creating a proper theme is the way to go. By installing Moodle on your laptop/desktop and editing the theme files there, when you are satisfied with the local build and it's been tested locally, you can upload it to the server.

Useful tools:
Start small - edit an existing theme
Create a new theme using standard style sheets
Or start with a theme that is similar to your need and hack it

The files that are edited when producing a theme are:

php files

html files

css files

Other files

After this I got a bit lost so I need to revisit the presentation and Julian's helpful files - everything is explained by Moodleman himself here


posted by Helen Whitehead 1:16 PM

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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Women Weavers and Web Weavers

Textiles, narrative & technology...

A post for Ada Lovelace Day

Throughout history women have used craft work as an outlet for their creativity. Often deprived by domestic circumstances of education and work, they turned to craft, and particularly needlecraft, to express their creative energies. Simple household objects such as quilts and tablecloths were made into beautiful objects women could be proud of. And women's lives and women's narratives were often stitched into these textiles.

Simple crafts have often been the poor relation of the more mainstream art forms, and now Web weaving is seen in a similar way: a Web artist isn't a "real" artist, a Web writer isn't a "real" writer. Now, women working on the Web have more than a passing sisterhood with those craftswomen of the past.


In Greek mythology, Philomela was kidnapped and raped by her brother-in-law Tereus, King of Thrace. He cut out her tongue so that she could not accuse him, and imprisoned her. She had no way to tell her story until, during the year of her incarceration, she began to weave her story into the fabric she wove on her loom, perhaps a tapestry, perhaps a garment. She had the fabric sent to her sister, Procne, who came to her rescue, and the sisters plotted a terrible revenge.

The women of Normandy

Tapestries have always told a story, from simple hunting and family narratives to great battles told in threadwork, the classic example being the Bayeux tapestry (actually an embroidered linen strip), which tells the story of William the Conqueror and his invasion of England in 1066.

Ada, Countess Lovelace

Ada was Lord Byron's daughter, and, perhaps to counter any leanings toward the arty/literary which so enlivened her father's world, was encouraged to study mathematics and science. She collaborated with Charles Babbage, who invented the 'Analytical Engine' in 1843. The machine was probably never built, but contained the operating principles from which the computer was later developed. Ada translated a text by Manabrea about this calculating engine, and her notes, which took up more space than the original text, are generally agreed to contain the first instances of written software. Some parts of the Analytical Engine were derived from the punched cards used by the Jacquard loom to store and process information. The Jacquard loom itself was developed as a response to the demand for weavings with representational imagery, influenced by fabrics from Asia which became popular in Europe in the 18th century.

"Who can foresee the consequences of such an invention? The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves. The engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent."

Sadie Plant

Sadie Plant has written in her essay The Future Loom: Weaving Women and Cybernetics and her book Zeros and Ones about the parallels between digital practices and the making of textiles.

"The weaving of complex designs demands far more than one pair of hands, and textiles production tends to be communal, sociable work allowing plenty of occasion for gossip and chat. Weaving was already multimedia: singing, chanting, telling stories, dancing, and playing games as they work, spinsters, weavers, and needle-workers were literally networkers as well. It seems that "the women of prehistoric Europe gathered at one another's houses to spin, sew, weave, and have fellowship."

Alicia Felberbaum

Alicia's project Holes Linings Threads took Sadie Plant's work as its starting point.

"As a former weaver I was interested in and familiar with the manufacture of cloth, its cultural and political weight in the history of ancient and contemporary societies.

"I have often been asked if I don't miss weaving and making. I realised that as in weaving, this change in medium also required a set of new skills. Making does not necessary have to be confined to the physical world. The emergence of computation as a medium, rather than just a set of tools, suggests a growing
correspondence between digital work and traditional craft.

"The need to become skilled in handling the language of the computer was necessary if I was to become confident working in that medium as an artist manipulating this new material. The process was (for me) like learning a new language, to be able later to use it in visual conversations and to weave various texts and images where the pixel becomes the texture.

"In the project Holes Linings Threads, I tried to create an open piece, a network of traces through short essays. In these essays I tried to explore the relationship between textile production, with its punch card operation, and the computers around the world that are powered by switches-the almost addictive and obsessive acts of work, the cyclic repetition of the loom, the assembly of the cloth, the shouting above the noise of the machines, and today, the tack, tack, of the keyboard with the continuous staring into and beyond the screen."


Particularly in America, the history of quilting is the history of women's voices, from the friendship and signature quilts of the 19th century to today's narrative quilts. There have also been digital quilts such as trAce's Noon Quilt,whichWired described as:

"a patchwork-in-PERL of submissions from writers all over the world � to create a composite picture of the planet through human eyes as the sun's apex moves through the world's time zones. Writers are invited to look out their windows wherever they happen to be at noon local time, and describe what they see in 100 words. The impressions are woven together on the site."

Sign my pledge at PledgeBank

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posted by Helen Whitehead 6:30 AM

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Friday, 13 March 2009

Introduction to SCORM elearning standard for non-techies

SCORM is a standard for online elearning materials for a single user � typically self-paced modules. It stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. It�s a very technical specification that governs how the learning materials are created and delivered to learners. The basic idea is that if you create a piece of elearning that is SCORM compliant (the latest version is SCORM 2004) then it can be used in any learning management system (LMS) � so it could be used in or transferred to Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai, Blackboard WebCT, Desire2Learn, SumTotal, or any other VLE.

The first job it defines is how content should be packaged. Data is included in a document called the "imsmanifest", based on XML, which gives the LMS all the information it needs to import and launch the content automatically (without someone having to start editing bits of code). The XML describes the structure of a course both from the learner perspective and as a file structure on the server. Type and name of content is included here, for example.

The second part of the SCORM specification is about data exchange. It specifies how the content �talks� to the LMS while it is being used. This part of the specification is about delivery and tracking of content. It means that the LMS can find and deliver the content to specific learners and exchange data such as marks and other learner-specific information.

SCORM is a standardized �plug and play� format for elearning modules that was invented by the US Department of Defense but is now acknowledged as the standard across the world. It does not define the look and feel, design or content or even the learning design of the materials in any way. It just makes them easier to use.

Full information on SCORM

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posted by Helen Whitehead 12:27 PM

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Monday, 9 March 2009

Have a nap? Or not?

So in America it's National Napping Day.

Apparently a NASA study shows that a few winks after lunch can boost a worker's output by as much as 34 percent.

An afternoon nap 'is good for your heart' reported the BBC two years ago.

Various studies have shown that a "power nap" preserves brain power throughout the day:

Hayahsi, M.; Motoyoshi, N.; Hori, T. (2005). Recuperative power of a short daytime nap with or without stage 2 sleep .Sleep, 1;28(7):829-36.

Mednick, S.l Nakayam, K.; Stockgold, R. (2003). Sleep-dependent learning: A nap is as good as a night. Neuroscience, 6(7): 697-698.

Mednick, S. & Stickgold,R. (2002). The restorative effect of naps on perceptual deterioration. Nature Neuroscience. 5 (7): 677-681.

However this week the UK media have recently been reporting that "Taking regular lunchtime siestas could increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research."

So what to believe?

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posted by Helen Whitehead 5:26 PM

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

How different was the Web in 2006?

In his article "Jurassic Web" Farhad Manjoo in the online magazine Slade talks about how unrecognizable the Web in 1996 was compared with the Web today. He concludes that despite early trends which predate blogging and user-generated content, it was all fluff and nonsense.

I beg to disagree. In 1996 I was one of the Web generation, ordinary people who were creating websites, discussing digital creativity and applying it to real world challenges. We were creating early blogs - only we called them metajournals in those days. My first was on a site called LitWeb, which has sadly now gone, but anyone who usesLiveJournal or other blog/social networks would have recognised it.

Community and collaboration were the words that drove us in the early days of the Web - and it feels like it has turned full circle having taken a more commercial turn around the turn of the century.

For Manjoo to say that Geocities was the forerunner of user-generated content is to miss the whole ethos of the Web back then. We were collaborating, sharing information, in a way that would be recognised by the open source community today and we created websites which users were invited to contribute to and collaborate in developing the content for. Look at a project like the Noon Quilt (OK it was two years' later in 1998 but a development of what we were doing at the trAce Online Writing Community from 1996-2006)...

Our children's writing website Kids on the Net was invented in 1996 with a website launched in 1997. From the start it was a place for children to publish their own writing, safely with full moderation. It is still online today and still publishing children's own writing. There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of content generated by the children themselves.

Yes there was no Google, yes for a company to have a website was still unusual. But the Web wasn't all that strange compared with today, because those of us who experimented with the potential of the technology knew what it was going to become and created the forerunners for the modes and behaviours that characterise the Web today.

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posted by Helen Whitehead 2:44 PM

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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

'New and extraordinary insights' at ELESIG

Rhonas Sharpe has made a couple of posts about ELESIG (one of the academic networks I manage the online space for) on her blog. She asked members what benefit they found from the experience of being a member of the community, and got some great answers:

From Esyin Chew's "I have experienced something new and extraordinary insights that have challenged my preconceptions about digital literacy and learners' experience through ELESIG.�

to Jana Dlouha's "ELESIG is the working group with great potential for changes in higher (and other) education system as it works with learners' perspective - this is not as usual as it should be! Access to this research (and meta-research, researching the ways of research itself) is available through ELESIG work - often providing free methodological and other resources."

I'm pleased too that Amanda Jefferies was able to say that "The online NING network for ELESIG has been an excellent way to keep in touch 'virtually' with other researchers into the Student Experience and to be inspired by examples of innovative practice. "

More on Rhona's blog

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posted by Helen Whitehead 12:45 PM

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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Widening access to Higher Education

How do we get more students from lower income families to go to University? Aimhigher and similar projects have not had the impact that was hoped. In fact, widening participation may be purely about financial aspects of studying.

This was brought home to me the other day when someone pointed out the student loans are not interest free and it's true, of course - student loans are designed with low not no interest.

Last year it was clear that that with low-interest student loans a student was better off getting a loan even if the family had savings, because the saving rates were higher than the interest on the student loans. But now, savings rates are ridiculously low and student loan rates are still pegged to inflation (not savings rates) - and I think it's no longer worth having one. And if it's time for second thoughts for a family that wholeheartedly supports education and has a reasonable income to support its student members, how much more difficult is it for someone from a low-income family to take on such a loan - to study for a degree at a time when graduate employment prospects are the worst for 20 years? You can see why they'd think it's much better to get a "job in the hand" now.

The correlation between students attending University and their parents having attended University in the UK is the highest in WEstern Europe.

Even casting aside the financial issues, are the institutions themselves and their culture actually creating barriers. How much does the HE sector need to change its offerings to attract wider participation? Skills and knowledge are much needed to support the ailing economy - but should Universities become something quite different to suit the situation? Would it be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to lose the many benefits offered by a traditional University education?

Yes, it is vital that young and old get equal access to education and development, but perhaps Unviersities are just aprt of the answer, and not the most appropriate route to education and training for everyone. The FE and lifeloong learning sector and skills training of various kinds may be the areas to develop to encourage a variety of courses and educational opportunities that really meet learners' needs.

Is it necessary to change University courses to 2 years full time to suit workers? For some this may be appropriate - but there are doubts that courses can be delivered effectively in such a timescale. Work-based education and training may be very much more useful to many learners.

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posted by Helen Whitehead 2:24 PM

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Wednesday, 28 January 2009


eLearning Papers is looking for essays on topics related to the new learning culture and generation impelled by ICT. The papers may address themes such as new social media in learning, changing learning cultures and habits and learning through mobiles and games. Article submission deadline: 30 March 2009. More information

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posted by Helen Whitehead 8:43 AM

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Saturday, 17 January 2009

Features of eportfolios

I was musing on some eportfolio features:

An eportfolio should sit between one�s personal space/personal learning space and the institutional learning space (eg VLE)

Possible uses of eportfolios
  • assessment
  • application for certification
  • job application
  • personnel record
  • continuing professional development
  • career management
Some desirable features:
  • A good app for creating an Action Plan and scaffolding its creation
  • Pulls together achievements in learning and life � coursework and voluntary/leisure activities � as well as
  • Needs to be attractive, interesting, easy to use and link with other personal tools
  • Different permissions can be set for sharing different items with different people at different times, e.g., tutors, fellow students, employers
  • Interoperability with other systems � so it can be exported once the learner moves on and/or exported to a blog system
  • Allow creation of a webfolio that can link with other repositories eg Flickr, and authorized with Flickr ID
  • Accessibility � text to speech?
  • Management systems to avoid misuse eg as a personal filestore � administrator can keep upload speeds low if necessary
  • Have a proforma to guide people through an action plan, business plan or promotion plan, etc.
  • Planning tool � with space for uploads
  • A profile to rate your own competencies
I'd be interested to hear ideas for further essential features.

One such that has most if not all of these features is Pebblepad

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posted by Helen Whitehead 2:36 PM

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Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Saving time and managing information flow

Saving time - vital... Here are some of the ways I'm saving time and managing information flow at the moment:
  • Creating shortcuts on my desktop to my most-used folders - a no-brainer I think. To keep track of multiple projects effectively I like to keep my files in neatly organised folder hierarchies. But then I find myself taking time browsing through layers of folders to find what I want. So I have created shortcuts to the folders I'm using the most at this moment - key project folders, the Camtasia video I'm working on, the course materials I'm developing, etc.

  • First thing in the morning I log into the VPN if not in the office, then I don't have to interrupt the flow when I need something from the server, and it's easy to store things on the server rather than leaving them on my hard drives.

  • First thing I also open a Firefox window with several tabs for my most-used web apps - at the moment typically:

    • My Google calendar
    • Wrike task and project management
    • Sugar CRM
    • Twitter (or Twitterfox or Betwittered in my iGoogle page when they're working!)
    • The community I am working on today
    • Any course I am teaching at the moment
    • Any course I am taking at the moment (currently
    • My blog admin pages
    • The forum I use most - a small supportive community of fellow elearning specialists

  • I use two computers at the same time when possible, a desktop and a laptop, then if one is doing something slowly, eg, while a backup is running or a Camtasia video is rendering, I can turn to the other.

  • I keep up with Twitter and RSS feeds on my smartphone in any odd moments - even in the kitchen stirring dinner...

  • Now I just need to crack my terrible typing - correcting my typos takes up FAR to much time!

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posted by Helen Whitehead 9:58 AM

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Helen Whitehead's blog of e-learning, digital literacy, online writing, and digital creativity.

E-learning has been much hyped - which methods and techniques using new technologies are of real use?

Writing in the digital age is so much more than delivering information, or traditional stories and poems electronically. Digital forms of literature can include text, hyperlinks, multi-linear plots, superlinear narrative, graphics, interactivity, animation... and so much more.



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