May 06

Multimedia in eLearning? Bring Popcorn and Butter!

Popcorn WebMaker is a Mozilla project. The video you see in the frame below is actually 3 YouTube videos, linked and enhanced using Popcorn (popcorn.js) and Butter (butter.js). Popcorn uses JavaScript to synchronize events you plan and implement with the audio or video that’s playing. Butter is an HTML5 timeline interface that lets you set it all up, it works much as Adobe Captivate, although not nearly as advanced—yet. Open source technologies tend to be less refined until they find a niche market, and eventually interest and a community attach a commitment to their further development. A classic example is the transistor radio. While audiophiles built ever more expensive high-fidelity vacuum tube amplifiers and receivers, with special speakers and advanced crossovers, a cheap, portable unit, sometimes with a 1.5 inch paper speaker sounding like a telephone, caught on with teenagers, with the eventual result that transistors and miniature speakers created a new market, marginalizing the status quo in the process; vacuum tubes now inhabit niche markets (rock guitarists in particular have helped keep the industry from disappearing altogether). JavaScript supplies interaction that was impossible within the video file itself.

Very Basic Web App 101

I’ve already noted an irony… I was unable to watch these videos on my iPhone, and yet I uploaded HTML5-friendly .webm files. That seems to be about YouTube, though, not Popcorn.

Will Popcorn and Butter disrupt Adobe? You won’t see it on corporate training sites any time soon, but you can rest assured the number of people who know what it is and try to use it will surpass Captivate’s in a short time — and they’ll have lots of fun at exploring ideas and re-mixing the ideas of others. I’ve only just begun exploring this exciting new resource. I hope you will join me.

Try Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker for yourself.

I’ve already encountered some PopcornMaker gotchas, including an inability to reliably hold HTML code in Text or Popup events, making it difficult to do some of the lessons I had in mind. I expect to write a few more blog entries on Popcorn, and though I got a late start I’m taking part in Teach the Web: a Mozilla Open Online Collaboration for Webmaker mentors. I’ll have much more to say, and I’ll tackle the gotchas, when I see and hear how others have approached this fledgling resource in the 21st-Century-Educator’s repertoire.


Apr 07

Learner Privacy

Heidi Siwak has what strikes me as a very important post on student privacy, that really extends to participants of any kind in all kinds of online learning situations. She’s shared the slides from a presentation she did for the Association for Media Literacy that raises some important issues, and makes some important arguments. I highly recommend her post and presentation, linked above with a direct link to Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario’s Operationalizing Privacy by Design: A Guide to Implementing Strong Privacy Practices.

A lot of research is still required here, but it will become easier when those in the know have compiled some practical lists of things we may want to do, and best practices for addressing learning participants’ privacy. I have this contribution to the list.

Quite recently I was responsible for posting a set of learning videos that are streaming from YouTube onto my own organization’s Web site as “embedded iframes.” I instinctively chose the high-privacy URL pattern from the choices. Heidi’s post vindicates my gut feeling, which falls under Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario’s Foundational Principle #2, Privacy as the Default Setting. This should be considered a “best practice” for educators.

The pattern is (irrelevant pieces faded)…
Two parts of that are for the end-user’s protection: https sends information in an encrypted format, and is a domain YouTube—to their credit—has set up for privacy by not using cookies to read and write to your hard drive, exposing information about your surfing habits.

A third part worth noting is the ?rel=0 at the end. That protects my organization and the end-user from random “Related Videos” after the video, that may or may not be appropriate. If your YouTube link for any reason already has a ?anything=anything you should leave that intact and add &rel=0 to the end, e.g., ?x=y&rel=0.

The other part of the URL is the video ID. If you follow that link it takes you to the first video in a series of 5, on YouTube. We “embedded” them on our own site because there’s much more to it than that, so if you’re interested in that content, the entire series (Working Together: The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) is here.

Please feel free to comment, and leave any tips you may have for preserving Privacy By Default.



Further Reading

Association for Media Literacy
HTTP Secure (Wikipedia)
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario



Apr 06

Situating the “WebApp Maker”

My project within a project within a project was accepted. I’ve got some final edits to make and constructive criticisms to apply, and I’ll receive my M.Ed. in June. But the best news is, I’ve got a friend with a class who are up to the challenge, we’re working out details to actually build mobile-friendly web apps. But wait! There’s more! I’ve just been tweeting with PLN interested in this and/or similar ideas. I’m quickly going to summarize some of the constructive criticisms I’m talking about, and in so doing reveal what I think comes next, at least for me.

The nature of this thing is you can pick and choose what parts might be useful to your own endeavors, or join in and help set the course of this one, branch off on your own at any time, or lurk and watch what happens to the rest of us.

It does not require Internet, only computers. The experience will be better if computers can share a network; Internet makes it all much easier, especially such rewards as viewing your work on smart phones and sharing with family/friends.

Framing the activity

The project needs a goal—context and boundaries. A simple instant gratification version of this activity can be done if each participant has an image of themselves and 2 or 3 documents of some kind, for example assignments… poetry, written work. It might take the shape of About Me, or My Work in Grade x. In my imaginings, participants have something with their picture and things they’ve created inside it, and they have just grasped a sense of how to control those things using buttons and links. I believe if I do that correctly, they want to go further and do more, and they tell me so. I prepare for that.

Each student needs a USB stick, even a 1GB will do. If you have limited computers you need to set up timesharing; the USB travels with the participant. The only premise I have so far for a group version is whatever the students do individually, the teacher compiles as a class page. Teacher should do the individual activity up front, but you’ll be learning with the class, too. You should hunt down things you need and people who can help—the class’s PLN. A “thicker” (rife with teachable moments, methods, strategies) scope might be My Community, and an extension Project-Based learning situation could have reporters, videographers, copy editors… the class decides the organization’s structure and “business model,” create jobs and hires each other to fill them.

I used mind-mapping software to chart this out, my first maps are very clear to me, but to few others. I’ve been given a newer version of the easier one and I’ve already made cleaner better maps. I’ll be replacing and rearranging things here for a week or two. designVUE is good at collecting resources and showing how dots connect—try it you might like it

I’ll respond to comments on this blog, on this or any other post, but I’ll also welcome and incorporate ideas of others. I may add to this post, and I’ll write Updated at the top if/when I do.



  1. Entrepreneurship is a 21st century competency in both C21 (Canada) and P21 (US).


Mar 31

When the Diddlies overstay their welcome

or… staving off Pull-off Syndrome

I created this article using My VexFlow, and it appears here in an embedded iFrame. “My VexFlow lets you publish content with beautiful music notation, guitar tablature, and chord diagrams, without the need for special tools. Just type away! ”


Further discovery

My VexFlow lets you publish content with beautiful music notation, guitar tablature, and chord diagrams, without the need for special tools. Just type away!

Mar 31

The right technology for the job

I chose pencil and paper Choosing the right technology for the job depends on many factors. One important factor is fun, and I do have fun making a beautiful print-like chart in Tux guitar. LilyPond offers even more versatility, and now there’s My VexFlow. But some very close friends have asked me to record a Tom Cochrane song on solo acoustic, so I thought I’d share the technology I chose and the criteria by which I chose it.

I just need a guide I can see from where I’ll be sitting or standing, something to look at, to keep me focused in case an engineer or a videographer makes funny faces at me while I’m trying to play. I should only have to listen to the song once to prepare it, and pause playback only long enough to enter what I just heard. I needed the option of misusing Coda and Segno, writing myself notes in the margin, and so on.
—For this job I chose Paper and Pencil 1.0

I’ve heard the full band version a million times but they’ve specified this arrangement. There’re 8 bars where I have to keep time on the guitar while they go a cappella, so I just need a guide I can see from where I’ll be sitting or standing, something to look at, to keep me focused in case an engineer or a videographer makes funny faces at me while I’m trying to play. I should only have to listen to the song once to prepare it, and pause playback only long enough to enter what I just heard. I needed the option of misusing Coda and Segno, writing myself notes in the margin, and so on.

I chose the technology pictured — it took 9 minutes (much less than getting the image off my phone and uploading it, blogging about it, etc!). I made the manuscript paper template in Word 97 if I recall correctly, more recently used Open Office to convert to PDF. I printed it out on a bubble-jet printer, standard paper. It’s a No. 2 pencil.

I chose pencil and paperTux guitar is my choice for lead sheets, if that’s what I need to do, but to place things perfectly, or even to get a full choice of things to place, in the open source world you’ve got the learning curves of scripting tools like Lilypond and VexTab …or pens, pencil and paper!


Mar 29

Instant gratification as intrinsic motivation.

“I learned HTML CSS and JavaScript exactly the same way I learned guitar—by stealing other people licks.” chord diagram, E major, first position.
I’ve said this a few times, but I’m coming to believe my point is largely being missed. I think if the point’s worth anything at all it’s incumbent on me—the communicator—to give it another try.

Continue reading

Mar 20

Which way is in?

Do you like maps? I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. But especially the kind of map you might draw for someone to get to your party, where they get to choose their own way in—depending where they’re coming from. Just over a year ago I began seriously researching learning design tools and techniques that might work well for Internet-based collaborations creating project-based learning experiences. I didn’t expect to still be at it a year later—and I definitely didn’t expect to become so thoroughly intrigued by a single class of software—I had no idea sophisticated, free, open source idea-mapping software outdoor stone labyrinth

Continue reading

Mar 13

On Webmasters and PluginMonkeys (reprise)

I’m very fond of saying I first learned web design—HTML, JavaScript and CSS—the same way I learned guitar: by “stealing” other people’s best licks. When I took music in Pennsylvania public schools in the 60s we had an itinerant music teacher once or twice each week, and classroom teacher-led music once or twice more. We learned every good boy deserves fudge and we sang songs “by note,” and songs “by rote.” We were taught musicianship. But there was never any suggestion the goal was for any of us to become professional musicians. I’ve been thinking about that ever since I learned “entrepreneurship” is receiving top billing local curriculum as a universal 21st Century competency (e.g., C21, P21). Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Informal learning is valid and important

Graphic, reads I learned html same way as guitar, by stealing other people's licks

Part 1 of this series was written over a year ago when I first heard the man I considered my Jimmy Page of the JavaScript world, Douglas Crocker, refer to my kind dismissively as “Webmasters…Generally they weren’t very smart.” Dion Almaer suggested the term “jQuery Plugin Monkeys,” to much laughter. To summarize, I’ve embraced the term in much the way U.S. Democrats embraced “Obamacare.” To continue, then as now I’ve always approached the WWW as an educator asking, “How can this help me share what I know?” I learned, informally, what I needed to know, when I needed to know it. Dedicated CompSci folks always did much more, and way cooler stuff in much less time (and their stuff scales!). Yet I think knowing their language gives my ideas a better chance of being realized. Continue reading

Feb 19

Design Learning, Learning Design

In 1981 “cognitive apprenticeship” was a nascent framework proposed by early researchers with an eye on computer-assisted design of computer-enhanced learning environments that are “situated.” This means “authentic”

The research on the tailors did not result immediately or even very soon in an alternative to the theory for which it offered a critique. It did impel me to go looking for ways to conceptualize learning differently, encouraged by those three interconnected transformations that resulted from the project: (1) a reversal of the polar values assumed to reflect differing educational power for schooling and “other” forms of education; (2) a reversal in perspective so that the vital focus of research on learning shifted from transmitters, teachers or care givers, to learners; and (3) a view of learning as socially situated activity. This work couldn’t replace existing theories, but it provided incentives to ask new questions about learning.
—Jean Lave (1996:155)

activities taking place in the context of, and with the full support of, a “community of practice.” In general the other participants are—for the time being—more proficient than the learner at the given craft or activity. Learners and practitioners interact in a wide variety of ways, often over considerable time, that can be characterized as strategies or phases—observing and practising, receiving scaffolded (progressively adapted by the practitioners) coaching until working independently. The overly-theoretical sounding name has mostly gone by the wayside, but the concepts and application have matured. Still employing ethnography to gather thick qualitative descriptions, there’s now stronger input from the fields of design and architecture. The new name is “Design Learning.” I see parallels in research into tool redesign conducted at Open University NE and Open University UK.

“computers … can make the invisible visible … they can make tacit knowledge explicit … to the degree that we can develop good process models of expert performance, we can embed these in technology, where they can be observed over and over for different details” (p. 125).
Allan Collins, 1991:125

In 1992 Allan Collins and Ann Brown built on their earlier research (e.g., Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989; Collins, Brown, Holum, Duguid, 1989; Collins, Brown, Holum, 1991) and conducted what they dubbed design experiments.; “Design experiments were developed as a way to carry out formative research to test and refine educational designs based on principles derived from prior research,” i.e., cognitive apprenticeship. There is a direct line from the Cognitive Apprenticeship Framework to Design Learning, (Collins et al., 2004) and recent experiments in the redesign of learning design tools (Conole et al., 2007) (LAMS, 2008) (OULDI-JISC, 2012).

They built on the work of Herbert Simon (1969) who regarded the “design sciences,” such as architecture, engineering, computer science, medicine, and education, as the “sciences of the artificial,” that have been neglected because of the lack of rigorous theories. John Seely Brown and and David Kearns co-founded the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL) in 1986 and adopted ethnography—the description of peoples’ customs and cultures—as its main research method. The Institute forged new understandings of how individuals enter and join learning communities, achieve acceptance, then themselves grow and evolve as vessels of community knowledge. As they do so they often increase interaction and engagement—i.e., collaboration—with secondary networks outside their primary one (Lave & Wenger, 1991) (Lave, 1996). Does it sound just a bit like joining Twitter?

Ethnography attempts “thick descriptions” in the style of Geertz. One of the more fundamental truths of pedagogy spotlighted by this approach is its “messy” and iterative nature. The motto of instructors and learners alike may be “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” but it’s always with an eye toward improving on previous attempts.

Case studies are touted by a wide assortment of education stakeholders. They are used up front in planning, as course content, or as summary program assessment. A good case study can be a thick, descriptive ethnography of a situation.

By studying a design in practice with an eye toward progressive refinement, it is possible to develop more robust designs over time. […] Ethnography provides qualitative methods for looking carefully at how a design plays out in practice, and how social and contextual variables interact with cognitive variables. […] Design experiments are contextualized in educational settings, but with a focus on generalizing from those settings to guide the design process”
(Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc, 2004).

The Open University Learning Design Initiative have been working across several OU faculties and with 4 other universities to pilot curriculum design activities, identify and develop tools, and otherwise contribute to academic and practitioner research. If you’ve followed my Tweets or blog the past several weeks you’ve already heard of CompendiumLD. Follow the link to see more tools and other output from this prolific group.

All told these and associated authors (see also Conole, 2007, Conole et al., 2008) consulted close to 50 case studies, but they did not fall into a common pitfall of well-read academics: the automatic presumption of expertise. On the contrary, they embrace the messiness as evidence of authenticity and opportunity for iterative improvement. “The concept of a ‘learning design methodology’ has been integral …however, different readings of the term could, and were, made. …resisting a single definition has enabled us to connect more readily with diverse literatures and to orientate resources and tools towards user needs.” (OULDI-JISC, 2012)

I think that’s academic for, “There are no mistakes, only opportunities.” (—Tina Fey?)

Case studies and design experiments allowed these and other researchers to, among other things, map tools and strategies to the six instructional methods of cognitive apprenticeship and to develop a Scaffolding Design Framework to focus its use.




Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18 (1), 32-41.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, Learning and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser (pp.453- 494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Collins, Allan; Brown, John Seely; and Holum, Ann (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator: The Professional Journal of the American Federation of Teachers, 15(3), 6-11, 38-46, [reprint available on line at (PDF) accessed 2012-09-17] or from The 21st Century Learning Initiative (HTML), accessed 2013-02-19.

Collins, Allan; Joseph, Diana and Bielaczyc, Katerine (2004). Design Research: Theoretical and Methodological Issues, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 15-42.

Conole, G. (2007), ‘Describing learning activities: tools and resources to guide practice’ in Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age, H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (Eds), Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.

Conole, G. (2008), ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’, in L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and B. Harper (Eds), Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies.

Ghefaili, Aziz (2003). Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments, Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online learning Volume 4, Fall, pp 1-27.

Geertz, Clifford (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture, pp. 3-30, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, NY: Basic Books, 470 pages.

OULDI-JISC (2012) Cross, Simon; Galley, Rebecca; Brasher, Andrew & Weller, Martin, Final Project Report of the OULDI-JISC Project: Challenge and Change in Curriculum Design Process, Communities, Visualisation and Practice, Institute of Educational Technology The Open University, July 2012,

Simon, H. A. (1969) The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jan 19

Mind mapping for learning design

UPDATED: when you’ve read this, see my latest update on Gráinne Conole’s latest contributions to these ideas, linked at the end.

Mind map of CompendiumLD showing Getting StartedThe past 30 years in education research has seen the influx of big ideas from computer science, social anthropology, design and even architecture. We now say learning is situated in authentic social contexts many call communities of practice.

This has had some pretty significant effects on research itself (e.g., ethnographic case studies, action research), and learning design tools, themselves designed to reflect this current situation, but for reasons I won’t waste any more time pondering, the uptake still seems relatively slow. Gráinne Conole, with others at the Institute of Educational Technology, Open University UK, looked into an idea/concept/mind mapping tool, Compendium, that was already under development there, and in yet another demonstration of the efficacy of open source, created CompendiumLD, Compendium “Learning Design,” allowing designers to visualize the many connections that exist within learning situations. I believe such tools will play an increasingly important role in the design, planning and implementation of learning experiences.

Continue reading