I’ve had the timeline of my life….

Some time ago (like about 2 years or so) I had this great idea for an ePortfolio manager that would use timelines and playlists to organise ones life experience and be all superduperly web enabled and so forth. I even gave it a catch name and registered a domain for it: Mofolio

I posted up my mockups and then did absolutely nothing with it! Shame.

Anyway, this idea has been re-surfacing in my mind of late and if it’s not too late to pick it up again I’m going to see if I can make some kind of push into actually building it in the autumn.

The timeline component was something I always though really important to give people a visualisation of their work and experiences and today, while reading Alex Little’s blog I saw his post entitled Time for Timelines where he tries out two tools for doing just this; Simile which is a timeline-generating javascript widget from MIT and the intriguing Dipity which looks like it has beaten me to it in many respects. Dipity takes a bunch of feeds (rss, flickr, blogger, twitter etc etc etc) and turns them into a timeline. You can then add more stuff or remove things or make other timelines about the history of Spacerock in the 1970s or whatever floats your boat. Here’s mine – it took five minutes and for some reason wouldn’t accept my workblog feed. Ho hum:

My dipity timeline
And it wouldn’t embed a live version in WPMU… Click to see the real thing

Anyway this all gives me pause for thought – Mofolio also needs to do much of this, but as I had conceived it, needs to do a whole load more too. Reflection, playlisting, organising of earlier educational experiences, organising of local resources (rather than just webstuff). Oh and it’s got to be prettier and have swimlanes rather than just everything muddled together.

Dipity and other such general timelining tools doubtless also have their classroom use potential. Great for teachers who want to have students build reflective timelines of their learning experiences or timelines representing the rise of the roman empire or whatever it may be. Then again there are always big bits of flip-chart paper and sticky notes.

JISC Conference 2007

I’ve been at the JISC Conference in Birmingham. I skipped the opening keynote opting to sit around the CETIS stand talking to colleagues (wilbert/oleg/paul/osswatch etc) including discussing the potential for an improved project tracking system based on DOAP and what to do with the old e-Learning Framework – all of which is completely part of my work-plan for the next six months.

I mooched around the stands – picking up several good things like a small rubber armchair and a neat little 4-port USB hub. Thanks to the exhibitors whoever you are… but I then went and left the bag of goodies on a train! How silly is that. Fortunately it didn’t have anything of real importance inside.

The first session I went to was on The learners experience of elearning. Based on two ‘big’ studies it examined learners and their use of and attitudes toward learning technologies. The session felt like somewhat of a bedding down into the web2 mould – acknowledging that learners are mostly streets ahead of institutions in terms of their demand for online services as illustrated through blogs, myspace, msn, faceparty and that subverting these to educational ends is simply happening naturally.

One institution which has taken the bull by the horns and provided collaborative eportfolio-blogging services for the student body is Wolverhampton – through their use of Pebblepad. Emma Purnell, one of their recently qualified PGCE students came along to tell us all how she had caught the eportfolio bug and how it changed her learning – watch the video if you dare!

Next up, I went to a session about OpenAthens. In case anyone doesn’t know Eduserv is a firm charity which provides the Athens authentication service to many educational institutions and organisations, mainly in the UK. The commercial and open-source worlds are starting to get on their own personal identity bandwagons with offerings such as OpenID and Windows CardSpace. To deal with all this Eduserv have cooked up a framework of their own which (for fairly obvious reasons) they have called OpenAthens. It’s a re-working of their existing software and services only designed to work in a more heterogeneous environment. It includes libraries and plugins for client applications, administrative tools and plugable back-end services capable of interfacing with all sorts of different federations and federation methods including Shib, OpenID and all the rest of them. By all accounts it sounds pretty neat. The session was supposed to be a workshop and I thought they might just do a real demo to show how it works… but no this is another death-by-powerpoint moment. They did however point to their developer site http://labs.eduserv.org.uk/aim/ for us to glean the full gorey details.

Finally the inspirational talk of the day was given by Tom Loosemore from the BBC. He runs their whole online operation by the sound of it and mercifully sounds like he really has his head screwed on. He outlined the scale of the BBCs electronic empire (thousands of sites) and took us through the 15 most important things you need to know about the web. It’s always heartening when someone just talks common sense and you can almost hear everyone in the room go “oh my, of course, how sensible”. You can of course read the commentary and see his 15 important things for yourself. Or read his blog which is currently violating rule #8 – hopefully to be rectified soon.

ePortfolio 2006: Plugfest

Walking along the River Thames this morning to the ePortfolio 2006 Plugfest in the middle of a serious thunderstorm was perhaps not the smartest of plans – but it didn’t take too long to dry out. I attended the plugfest last year and it was excellent, the day was packed with demos and slinging around of data between a variety of eportfolio solutions and this year it was just as interesting.

ePortfolio Systems Integration

This session follows on from the previous year where there was a lot of focus on using xml (mainly IMS-ePortfolio and IMS-LIP) to move portfolio data from one system to another. Only this time the collection of standards has expanded to cover HR-XML and Europass initiatives.

We started off with ePet and EPICS projects – the projects are based in the north-east of England and in use at Newcastle University as well as several other HE and FE institutions in the region. They have been using IMS-LIP for data transfer – which was demonstrated last year, but have now added Europass XML to the list of capabilities – for both import and export of data.

KiteCV is a plugin to add eportfolio creation and export capabilities to several other systems; wordpress, elgg and dotclear. I had a good go with this particular tool (compiling it on my Mac with the developers looking over my shoulder) and indeed it successfully created a europass conformant CV from within WordPress. Using it as a plugin though feels slightly odd – yes it lets youembedd a CV within a blog entry but I’m just not sure why you might wish to do that!

Selwyn from Phosphorix showed iomorph, a generic transformation engine for they have added europass – hr-xml to their list of available formats (the officially supported list is IMS-Lip, UKLEAP, and XCRI – but the toolkit is also capable of supporting custom xslt transforms and CSV data). For the demo they took the newcastle data in hr-xml format into their icebox system – merrily generating nicely formatted CVs.

Giunti Labs stepped up with exact Portfolio – trying to import and export IMS eportfolio. This wasn’t so successful however they assured us that it did work and that they are working on creating plugins and transforms to get the data in and out of other formats too.

Pebblepad (and their lovely flash-based interfaces) showed their export cv functionality. A user chooses one of their many cvs (they can of course generate them for different purposes) and dumps it out in some exchangable format. Their focus is on making all the technicalities as invisible to users as possible – so importing a webfolio from an external site is just a matter of pasting in the url and the software does the rest.

This got me thinking – how do you expose and discover an eportfolio on a public website – could it not be done in the same way as RSS feeds are exposed on via link-rel tags? Perhaps one to develop for next year.

Sarah Davies from JISC asked a sensible question as to what happens if the concepts don’t map? If one system does actionplans and someone else does goalplanners – the fields encoded in the xml _should_ map sensibly even if the semantic meaning is slightly different – but the general consensus was that your milage may vary.

Sample xml files from this part of the plugfest are all available on the eifel website.