Archive for September, 2010

Survey on the future of the Virtual Training Suite

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

An online survey about the future of the Virtual Training Suite is available from:

As you may be aware, central funding for both Informs and the Virtual Training Suite will be coming to an end in 2011.

This survey is part of a consultation programme aimed at finding out whether those who currently use and recommend these products (as well as potential users) value them and whether there might be an opportunity to develop both products within subscription or membership models, possibly with new or enhanced features.

Mindset Research, an independent market research organisation, has been asked to undertake this consultation and we would very much appreciate a few minutes of your time to respond to this brief survey.

The survey covers both Informs and the Virtual Training Suite. You can choose to answer questions about one or both of these products.

The survey will be open until midnight on Friday 8th October 2010.

Good or bad language

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Can the Internet help with language learning? Although language is primarily about humans communicating, the Internet can help a lot too.  More and more great resources are coming online, to join old favourites like the BBC Languages pages with their courses, teachers’ homepages and foreign language TV links to channels. Nowadays you find dictionaries, online language cafes, chat forums and video clips to help you practice or talk to other speakers.

And it’s not just better known languages – there are websites devoted to pidgins such as Tok Pisin, the pidgin which is one of three official languages of Papua New Guinea.  Endangered languages, which have few speakers and may die out, also feature online:  National Geographic has a hotspots map  called Disappearing Languages.

For those who want to brush up their German, French, Spanish, Mandarin or similar, there are some inspiring resources out there.  It’s not just a question  of language, either.  Language learning introduces speakers to other cultures, as the Think German campaign says.  Celebrities such as Stephen Fry,  Nick Clegg and John Cleese extoll the virtues of many things German on the Think German Facebook page.  A good way to find more language resources is from the Tour pages of the Virtual Training Suite’s tutorial Internet for Modern Languages. It guides users to sites like LiveMocha, a worldwide language learning community where you can practice with other speakers.  Or to YouTube, where there are countless video clips on speaking languages – although the standard varies!  Internet for Modern Languages also lists all types of academic and quality resources, with essentials such as Le Monde newspaper, Modern Language Association Bibliography and British Library Catalogues on the Web.  Most importantly, the tutorial shows users how to judge the quality of what they find online.

Finally, the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies mustn’t be forgotten – this is the key support centre  for teachers and lecturers., with activities, resources, and events all round the UK.  A final resource for fans of Germanic studies – the Dach blog is written by  experts at the British Library and is a wonderful mix of academic, entertaining and unusual materials.

Some German conversation from YouTube

Outstanding ICT initiative contenders

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The shortlisted candidates for the Times Higher Education Awards 2010 have been unveiled for various categories including the Outstanding ICT Initiative that will be judged by JISC.

If you have not heard about all the six contenders, they are listed below with a few words on some of the innovative work that they have been doing.

Chemlabs logo

The University of Bristol ChemLabS is a CETL that also provides e-learning tools for chemistry and science subjects. They produce resources for individuals, schools and universities, via their LabSkills software and Dynamic Laboratory Manual.

iSpot logo

The Open University iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature. You can add an observation to the website and suggest an identification yourself or see if anyone else can identify it for you, as explained by Chris Packham.

Open Fields logo

The Harper Adams University College  Open Fields site is an internet library designed “to meet practitioner and student demand for knowledge that supports and stimulates the development of land-based industries”.

The University of the West of England  SHE (Simulations in Higher Education) initiative enables students to experience simulations of events and situations that are difficult or impossible to organise, before they put their skills into practice in the real world, by using Second Life.


The University of Ulster SLOODLE initiative is an Open Source project which integrates the multi-user virtual environment of Second Life with the Moodle learning-management system. It connects the two environments via chatrooms, quizzes, voting mechanisms, note writing tools and presentations.

Media Zoo screenshot

The University of Leicester Media Zoo is a research dissemination forum and a supportive, experimental environment for staff to understand the design of learning activities using learning technologies. It has physical, online and 3D manifestations, as well as someone with a very cool job title.

Good luck to all the nominated initiatives for awards night!

Links of the week

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Here is a round-up of news items about information literacy, e-learning and the Virtual Training Suite as picked out by @VTStutorials on Twitter.

  1. RT: @timeshighered: World University Rankings #THEWUR results out now!
  2. Tweaching with Twitter
  3. RT @uhlr How Scholarly Is Google Scholar? A Comparison to Library Databases –
  4. Matterhorn – open-source platform to support the management of educational audio & video
  5. New website methods@manchester: research methods in the social sciences
  6. Education at a Glance 2010: OECD Indicators “Govt should expand tertiary study to boost jobs & tax revenue”
  7. If you need to do lots of link checking of websites, try this Firefox addon
  8. Search results in an Instant
  9. RT@aliss_info Recommended free library induction/ information literacy resources from ALISS
  10. Google Instant with Bob Dylan subterranean search results as you type
  11. hopes all delegates at #econnet will recommend the Internet for Economics to their students
  12. the @VTStutorials team was at the Economics Network e-learning symposium #econnet

Tweaching with Twitter

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Last week the Virtual Training Suite team attended the Economics Network e-learning symposium.

Among a series of presentations on how economics lecturers were using technology, Paul Latreille of Swansea University spoke about “Tweaching for Economists“.

Paul emphasised the thought process that he had gone through before using Twitter in his teaching. Economics Network surveys have highlighted the absence of a shared responsibility in learning and a desire amongst students to have a more active role in their learning.

Paul was looking for a way of encouraging greater student engagement to produce learning via interaction, but it was important not to use a tool just for the sake of it – technology last, not first.

He recounted a number of ways in which Twitter can be used to enhance teaching:

  • By using course codes or a course based accounts you can Tweet interesting websites / readings to students.
  • You can contribute items of more than 140 characters in length by using TwitLonger.
  • Add pictures, images and graphs by using TwitPic.
  • Manage personal, professional or course based accounts in one place via HootSuite with the added bonus of being able to schedule Tweets e.g. reminders about assignment deadlines or lecture times.
  • As an alternative to PRS (Personal Response Systems) or clickers by using TwtPoll.
  • And he heard about all these possibilities, just by following people on Twitter.

Or to put it more formally, you could see some suggestions for Tweaching via this Framework for Teaching with Twitter (Rick Reo, adapted by Mark Sample).

Twitter is a difficult service to recommend within a Virtual Training Suite tutorial as students are often reluctant to engage with Social Media for educational purposes, but it is refreshing to see such innovation in teaching that encourages more active learning.

More top tips and links to websites are available by following @VTStutorials on Twitter.