SCoPE Seminar: Informal Learning: May 15 - June 4, 2006

Reflecting on the technical stuff and turning it into a wish list

Reflecting on the technical stuff and turning it into a wish list

by Sylvia Currie -
Number of replies: 16
I can't tell you how much I appreciate hearing about members' experiences in SCoPE and how the tools don't always support what you want to do. What amazes me is that this is the first time since we launched SCoPE that we've heard a few gripes about features and interface! But really, our whole purpose here is to pick up on suggestions and clues that emerge through our participation to keep improving what we do, so keep 'em coming! (Included in that are the hints that we shouldn't have these blunt end dates to our seminar discussions -- more about that back in the debrief!)

I may need some clarification from you all to understand some of your wish list items. I have some too so I'll describe some of mine as well. This may turn into a bit of a ramble...

Nancy Riffer
From Re: Debriefing our Informal Learning discussion here in SCoPE by nanri on Wed May 31 16:09:00 2006:
Looking back, I would like to have pulled those ideas into a new thread so that that conversation would have stood alone as a focus.

Currently only facilitators who are bumped up with editing privileges can "split" a thread. But, as Derek pointed out (Debriefing Potpouri) we have the feature turned on which allows anyone to start a new discussion topic. As you've all witnessed and Jay pointed out in the informal learning seminar, when many many people take advantage of this feature it can cause navigation to be a frustrating. To steal Nancy W's phrase, this can be a bit "like heaven and hell all rolled into one" (I totally cracked up when I read that!).

Jay also mentioned not being able to easily zone in on the new messages. There is a setting in your profile that will help (click on your name or image anywhere on the site, click edit profile) -- under "forum tracking". I'm glad this was raised because I think the default setting may be to turn this feature off. Something to look into!

I personally like new subject headings and fresh topics being pulled out of other threads, but I miss some features I've seen in other tools where you can view ALL posts in a forum by date, subject heading, author, etc, and view full messages or just subject headings. I also would like to more easily link to other posts. RSS helps, but when you get over 50 posts in a discussion the older ones stop dropping off the radar. I'm no expert here so throw me a rope if I've missed something!

Jay doesn't want linear text and hierarchical discussion. Elhanan suggests tagging or concept mapping to improve navigation between topics. But I think what we're craving is a way to view the discussion in different ways, rather than create new views using maps or other summary tools. I've seen several mock-ups and design specs on variations of this, but does such a beast exist? One piece of software we're experimenting with is dataface, developed by Steve Hannah at SFU. I wonder if there is some potential there to address this need. I need to tinker with it some more. It's described as "a flexible and shapeable skin that sits on top of MySQL". It's open source so if anyone has the interest and know-how to try it out don't forget to report back! .

Christie prefers plain text emails to web-based forums, and maybe others do as well. I think we can have both, although the plain text may have some unwanted bits. Go to your profile (click on your name or image then select the "edit profile" tab), then change the settings for email format to "plain text". Also, Christie mentioned attachments. Just so you don't think these are all filling up your hard drive, attachments to forum posts are really just links to files stored on the server; they aren't downloaded to your personal computer when posts are received by email. This doesn't address the issue of having to go to the SCoPE website to post. So far we don't have an option to respond through email.

During this seminar one SCoPE member wrote to say that he is loving the discussion, but can't handle the email volume just now. I advised him to change the settings in his profile under email digest type so he receives a single message per day rather than one for every post. That solved the problem, but it's a good example of how we're all working these days. It takes time to explore and figure out how to change settings organize our participation.

Derek hinted that it's difficult to find messages through the search tool. (From Debriefing Potpouri . . . by derekc on Sat Jun 3 01:24:00 2006: I cannot find it now (!@#$%^#$$% Moodle) I'm curious, have others found this? I confess that I rely more on the gmail search tool to find what I'm looking for in SCoPE forums!

I've squished a lot of things into one post!  One item for the wish list is to have better resources to help SCoPE members make the most of their time in the community environment -- FAQ, a few quick tutorials/demos. That's doable. As for the software, developing that wish list is more challenging but hey, small steps. We can do it!



In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Reflecting on the technical stuff and turning it into a wish list

by Nancy White -
A couple of more things to add to the technical pot:

Elhanan wrote:

This is my first time here too. Despite the representation of the "unread threads", I've found it hard to navigate between the different topics discussions. Adding the?Tagging" function might be useful as well as using visual collaborative conceptual mapping tools such as the FreeMind OPS.

 

Derek wrote:

From Debriefing Potpouri . . . by derekc on Saturday, June 03, 2006 1:24:00 AM:
I take Christie's point about structure. But how is it constraining? I cannot actually see any different structure within the constraints of Moodle. This is not more than just a typical threaded discussion - with Marginalia (which I have come to love. We have freedom to start new threads. This leads to wild west at times. But it is MUCH better than being locked down as in another Moodle interaction area I am a member of.

Does anyone know of a tagging plug in for Moodle? Or can we play with the Marginalia plug in Derek mentions below?

Christie wrote:
Oh gak, I just wiped out another reply by clicking away from this page. Add that to the list of things that I really dislike that this site based structure along with the session time out problem. I tend to "think through my fingers" when I'm creating a posting and time slicing those thoughts while doing my "real" job and that can take a long time.

The challenge of the site timing out if you spend a long time composing - this is true with many web based tools. I have the problem of "thinking with my fingers" too so now I sometimes crudely compose in word or in a blank email.

Greg wrote:

Are nested threads possible so that I could look at a subtopic or topic to review the context of various postings?
In moodle, near the top left, you have three ways to view the discussion: nested, chronological and threads (with just the headlines showing)

Ann wrote:

I would like to add my suggestion of searching threads by key words (or maybe we can & I just didn't know?) I've been going back to the home page and clicking from there. David's notes have helped (really appreciated that, David!!!).

You can search forums for key words now - the box is in the upper right. What there isn't, as far as I can find, a facility for tagging posts. That is in my dream list.

Jay wrote:

I want graphics as well as text. I want multiple channels, not linear text. (Has anyone else here read The Alphabet vs. the Goddess?) I want to break free of hierachical discussion. Our campfire died out.

Can you point to some examples so we can see the vision in your head? I have been struggling to find ways to seamlessly float across channels with groups that are not early adopters and I have been challenged. i'd love to see pointers or sketches of dreams.


In reply to Nancy White

Re: Reflecting on the technical stuff and turning it into a wish list

by Ann Busby -
Jay wrote:

I want graphics as well as text. I want multiple channels, not linear text. (Has anyone else here read The Alphabet vs. the Goddess?) I want to break free of hierachical discussion. Our campfire died out.

Nancy: Can you point to some examples so we can see the vision in your head? I have been struggling to find ways to seamlessly float across channels with groups that are not early adopters and I have been challenged. i'd love to see pointers or sketches of dreams.

I would love to see visions, graphics, etc, too, since I'm one of those visual learners. Can anyone give examples? Ann

In reply to Sylvia Currie

How do I use the Annotation Feature

by Nancy White -
I just discovered the button that hides/shows something called "Annotation" but I can't figure out how to work it. Anyone have a clue and wish to share?
In reply to Nancy White

Re: How do I use the Annotation Feature

by Sylvia Currie -
The marginalia web annotation interface is a little tooooo subtle. When you click the "show annotation" a right side column appears. Then select some text in a message and slide your cursor toward the column. A bright yellow vertical bar will appear. Click that bar and you should see a field to type some notes about the text you selected.

That's an abbreviated explanation so let me know if you need more info.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: How do I use the Annotation Feature

by Nancy White -

Does it work in Firefox? (I'm not getting the slide/yellow bar)
In reply to Nancy White

Re: How do I use the Annotation Feature

by Geoffrey Glass -
Hmmm.  I don't see the yellow bar either.  That's odd.  The Show/Hide Annotations button at the top is from an older release, so that might have something to do with it (the newer versions use a drop-down list).

However, you can also select text and then use the Enter key to create annotations.  I tested that here and it works fine.
In reply to Geoffrey Glass

Errors and so on . . .

by Derek Chirnside -
One of the problems with Ajax (etc) is browser versions and incompatibility. Java has been unstable in the fringes due to these things, and people have devised a range of standard workarounds. IE 7 is in beta. I bet they will fix some things and break others. That's life. I have tinkered with marginalia for about 5 annotations and three posts in between times. Now it is broke.

(See the error message below)

My browser nearly (but not quite) hung, an unusual experience for Firefox.

If this happens, but reload a page, or move away from it, and don't panic. :-) I tried to do a printscreen and that broke also. That's life.

The last finding I have is that clicking on the link 'annotation summary' creates a nice summary. I didn't bother to actually figure out what it summarised. Once you guys get asome random thoughts up there we can see if these summaries are cross thread, cross people and so on.

I like this tool, and it has huge promise.  I think we will install it here.  But it is only part of the way there . . .
Cheers - Derek.



Error:

Attachment Error.jpg
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Errors and so on . . .

by Geoffrey Glass -
Shoot.  That error (node not found class=null) is one of those things that's never supposed to happen, which is why the error is so cryptic.  Unfortunately it's also pretty generic (many things could cause that to happen), so it doesn't help me track the problem down.  If you can give me any additional information (e.g. exactly what led to this behavior and how the browser responded), it might give me an idea of how I might try to reproduce the behavior.

You say you were using Firefox?  I just want to confirm, because I'm aware of an IE-only bug that can cause this to happen (I'm working on getting the fix into the Moodle release of Marginalia).  Could you point me to the post you were trying to annotate?
In reply to Geoffrey Glass

Re: Errors and so on . . .

by Derek Chirnside -
Geoff: I was in the top post of the thread (Sylvia's) I had used printkey twice (which is where all the mess came from in the image).
Then the error appeared, and did so no matter where I went in the thread and even a refresh did not fix it.
It is fine now.

Yes, Firefox, sorry.  :-)
In reply to Geoffrey Glass

Re: How do I use the Annotation Feature

by Nancy White -
The method with "hit enter" worked for me too. Thanks. I am enjoying seeing how we are all figuring this all out together. Informal learning in action, no?
In reply to Nancy White

Experiments with Marginalia:

by Derek Chirnside -
Here is what I discovered:
Highlighting some text and hitting enter (as per Sylvia's instructions) opens up a small fixed height text box in the annotations pane on the right.

I can then type quite a bit, but it quickly ends up being in a scrollable box.

If I hit enter, shift enter or anything with enter I tried it saves it and then
  • click on the text to edit (How cool is that?)
  • click on the o to change to a diamond.
    o = public
    diamond=private
  • click on the x to delete
The annotation is on Sylvia's post at the top of this thread.
I have set it to public, so you shoyuld all see it.

My opinion: this is cool!!
In Interact, our community support platform we are implementing 'postlets' - little social comments (Me to, I agree) that are treated differently to other posts of 'substance'
Annotations are better than that.  :-)

Technical note:
This whole thing is due to a set of new tools being used: the buzz words are Ajax, Ruby, Rails (Ruby on Rails) and behind the scenes Dojo.  Think of it this way: don't you hate having to click a check box, THEN submit?  This new stuff cuts down the page reload by talking client < > server with a tiny bit of XML (or similar) - not whole pages - ie it's client side stuff mainly.  In this case, type in our annotation and it's there - no 'submit' stuff.
Click the button to change the o to the diamond and back: NO page reloads!!

This is the start of the new tools Nancy is looking for. We are just on the cusp of a new revolution here.

Suggested exercise:
Firstly make an annotation so I can see one by someone else.
Next: someone take a thread and make a few annotations.
Then other people respond.  Lets find out what it's like to use.
Attachment Marginalia.jpg
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Experiments with Marginalia:

by Nancy Riffer -
I have made three or four annotations in a thread: Overview of second round, David Millar. I used highlighting and then enter. Then I typed a note. I used firefox. Several times threads opened in IE and this approach did not work. Nothing happened.  I reopened the post in firefox and it worked fine.


In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Experiments with Marginalia:

by Nancy White -
Your sample annotations, which I can see in your screen shot, are not visible to me in the thread. Drat!
In reply to Nancy White

Re: Experiments with Marginalia:

by Derek Chirnside -
Nancy (W) I agree: drat!!  Just when I tholught we had a new toy that worked!!

I cannot see Nancy Ritters annotations either.

For those who will fix this: Firefox 1.5.0.4
I thought it was probably just me and had posted enough today anyway.
(Geoffrey?? Any suggestions now??) - Derek
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Experiments with Marginalia:

by Geoffrey Glass -
I see the version of Marginalia installed on this site is quite old - I think it dates to last December.  I have implemented some significant bug fixes and a number of improvements (particularly supporting sharing annotations between users) since then.

At the moment, I am working on a new release to patch some bugs from recent reports (nearly all involve IE).  It's close to ready;  I'm currently doing IE sanity tests[1].  Once I'm done, I will recommend updating this site.

[1] IE always tests my sanity;  sometimes I wonder why I decided to support it.