Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Area9 and LearnSmart

I have been doing a bit of consultancy work over the past few days and during this work I have been looking at e-learning and competency management tools. Much of these tools are not really what my client is looking for but I just wanted to share two of the tools I came across that might be useful to somebody.

Area9 are a Danish company specialising in simulation based e-learning. There are two domains it primarily works in - sales/customer services and device skills. These areas allow Area9 to demonstrate two completely different types of simulation learning. The sales/customer service where you must use soft-skills such as inter-personal and decision-making skills to sell or satisfy a customer need and the device analytical and operational skills where you must solve a simulated problem using device embedded software. The tools also claim to have some advance learner diagnostic tools that report on the competency level of learners. Learner diagnostics is then use to identify where and when remediation is needed for learners.

McGrawHill - LearnSmart
LearnSmart is McGrawHill's adaptive learning platform. The system is built on three principle functions; assessment of learners knowledge, adaptation of assessments based on the learner's perceived strengths and weaknesses and personalisation of curriculum based on student knowledge and learning styles.

LearnSmart was built in co-operation with Area9. One thing I like about LearnSmart is that it allows the learner to give a confidence value (no idea, unsure, think I got it, easy!) for his or her answers which can then be used to calculate the learners competency in a given knowledge area.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What to do with all my time

So I seem to have all this extra time on my hands while I am "between jobs" (I hope). So I need a project to do. I have been trying to think what to do with myself while I wait for a job. So far I have come up with the following:

1)Learn iPhone development and I have been doing this, but I need to think up a good iPhone app to develop to keep my interest and so far I have come up with very little. Anyone out there got any ideas?

2)Learn Spanish - okay this seems like a good idea but I need money for classes, but I could get a start on learning Spanish using one of those tape set things - some of them are meant to be pretty good. So I headed over to my local library and I find 3 beginner Spanish kits - but they all are missing CD1 so no good - might try other libraries in my area, but seriously if you borrow that kind of stuff don't lose the first CD - the its useless for everyone else! Although I did find the site, which might be good as it connects you with native Spanish speakers and helps you learn that way.

3)Refresh my statistics knowledge - I have been working through Hank Ibser lecture videos on iTunes. I now realise the amount of stats I have forgotten - its a good opportunity to refresh these principles in my mind - stats is one of those subjects that its always good to have fresh in your mind, I think.

4)Drupal - It might be good to learn drupal due to its growing popularity - if I have time.

5) Java - my Java skills have gone downhill due to my lack of practice - maybe I should do a refresher course, or maybe I should take on another language, perhaps python?

There are loads of other things that I could do - but it would be good to think up a project that incorporates all of the above hmmmm. I have a habit of trying to do too many things at once. Perhaps I should concentrate on one? What would you do?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unemployment takes another jump

Bad bad news today - unemployment in Ireland took another jump. Another 8,500 signed on to the live register (including yours truly) last month. Whats even more shocking is that the biggest group to sign on is the "professional class".

This government really needs to get there act together. Unemployment is more than a mere symptom of economic woes. Unemployment causes stress, depression and breaks up families. It has huge social effects - especially when it goes above the 10% mark (we are now at 13.7%).

I also noted yesterday that the Irish Times carried an article to highlight a campaign by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) about educated Irish people emigrating to Canada, Oz and New Zealand. An estimated 200,000 educated Irish people are expected to leave in the next five years. Without these people there is not much hope of attaining and keeping "high-value" jobs.

Come on Mr. Cowen get your act together or get out!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting Things Done - David Allen

During my holidays I managed to read David Allens book, "Getting Things Done - The Art of Stress-Free Productivity". An interesting workshop type book that gives a practical framework to managing life's constantly overflowing inbox.

The book introduces a simple framework whereby all the "stuff" you have to deal with go into your inbox, you figure out what the next action for each item in the inbox is and based this simple, yet (according to the book) powerful decision the item is done, delegated or deferred. Sounds pretty simple and to be honest it is! I am trying to implement the system in my own work/life and so fair I have noticed a clearer head when trying to concentrate on a particular task. I don't have regular reminders in my head saying "don't forget this" or "remember to ..." and that is a great start - a clearer head allows me to be content in the actions I have choosen to do and not worry about all the things I have choosen not to do. I suppose thats the main benefit of the system, as Allen puts it you "feel fine about what you're not doing".

The book contains loads of examples of how to get the system working for you.

I am going to try and subscribe to Allen's framework religiously to see if it actually works. I even bought an inbox!

To get an idea of Allen's "Getting Things Done" framework check out -

The book can be found on amazon at -

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back from Travels

Haven't been around for a while been doing a bit of travelling. Got to bits of SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I will try and do a few blog posts about my travels and put up a few pics over the next week or so.

So today I am just committing myself back to posting AT LEAST one blog post a week. So hopefully post something this week on the book I read over my holidays - "Getting things done" by David Allen -

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

e-Learning - How do we get paid?

One of the biggest challenges for e-learning companies today is establishing perceived value for the products they supply. When the customer buys e-learning from an e-learning provider license agreements can be so restrictive and content so dry that the client is left wondering did I get bang for my buck. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is plenty of free e-learning resources on the web, some of extremely high standard, so why pay for it? The web has forwarded the freemium model to such an extent that there is really no turning back and industry really needs to acknowledge this and look at other avenues for revenue. This leaves companies supplying e-learning with a dilemma. How do we establish a revenue stream when clients don't expect to pay for it?

So how do we get paid?

The main way of getting paid in this market I believe is two-fold - look for non-direct revenue channels and differentiation. Non-direct revenue channels would include just charging for support. Differentiating would be to find a niche (personalisation, educational data mining, learner modelling) in the e-learning market and charge for it as a service, perhaps to some of the main stream e-learning providers.

In terms of the freemium model I think that this could be a great fit for e-learning. The freemium model could be used to give a sampler to learners and use the data build up through the sampler to provide for a learning experience that the learner is willing to pay for. The price point is key here and I suppose would depend on the number of users and the anticipated number that would choose to pay for the premium version.

I would be very interested in hearing other points of view on this.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

National Business and Technology Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the National Business and Technology Conference on Friday. This conference is run by Nspire which is a student organisation in the University of Toronto. It may of been a conference run by students but it was one of the most professional conferences I have ever been to. The conference brings together students who are entrepreneurial in nature with leading Canadian entrepreneurs to help nurture the students entrepreneurial nature and learn from those that have made it. A brilliant idea - its little wonder that a lot of the students there have all ready set up businesses.

The opening keynote was by Anthony Lacavera, CEO and chairman of Globalive - a company who are just rolling out a company called Wind - Canada's newest cell phone provider. Lacavera spoke openly about how his business came into being and then took a lot of questions from the audience.

There was also a Entrepreneurship Competition with a top prize of $25,000. Students pitched their budding businesses to a panel of very distinguished judges. The prize money gives you a sense of the sort of sponsorship the conference brings in.

A great way to spend a Friday afternoon. Perhaps this is something Irish students should be doing?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Getting started with RESTful Service

This week was web services week. I got down and dirty with RESTful web services. To do this I had a look at some of the tutorials on the web. I found a lot of them really over complicated the matter. Then I came across Apache Wink - Wink seemed to have a very simple approach to the development of REST services. Any servlet container can provide for a REST service with Wink all that is required is a few java annotations specifying the URI of the service and the methods to call with each, GET, POST, DELETE and UPDATE event over HTTP. I also found this very simple tutorial from IBM that gets you up and running with Wink and REST services in no time -

Monday, March 1, 2010

Apache for Static, Tomcat for Dynamic

Following on from my previous post what I wanted to do next was allow for the apache web server to handle all the static content on my web app and Tomcat to only handle the dynamic content. Again I found Linux Journal to be a fantastic resource. The article - "Separate the Static from the Dynamic with Tomcat and Apache" gave me basically what I needed to do this plus much more. This article can be found here.

Essentially all that was required was to tell apache where to find the static content in the virtual host definition in the httpd.conf file. To do this all that was required was set up an alias for static content as follows:
Alias /staticContent/ /var/www/staticContent/

In my JSP now when I put the apache server serves up the static content rather than Tomcat. This means that image1.jpg or any static content such as javascript can be changed and redeployed without restarting any server.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Connecting Apache's Web Server to Multiple Instances of Tomcat

I was tasked today with connecting an apache web server to multiple instances of Tomcat. In my search for resources to do this I found this, an excellent article in the Linux Journal by Daniel McCarthy on how to do just what I was looking to do. The only problem was that it was slightly outdated. McCarthy assumes the following setup:
* J2sdk1.4.2_09
* Tomcat 5.0.28
* Apache 2.0.54
* mod_jk 1.2.14

Whereas I had the following setup
- java1.6.0_0
- Tomcat5.5.27
- Apache 2.2.12
- mod_jk1.2.14
- Ubuntu9.10

I did note that there were some differences in the set up and also try to cover some issues I was unsure about when following the tutorial. This is not meant to be a tutorial - it is merely a few pointers if you have the same setup as me (and also to ensure I remember how to do this in future). If you are trying to connect apache to multiple tomcats firstly consult the tutorial in Linux Journal and if you are having trouble then consult this post - maybe you are having one or two of the same problems...

The first part of the article outlines how to install mod_jk1. This involved downloading and compiling it from source and then loading the module. I found that this was not necessary as I was able to use apt-get to install mod_jk1 using the following command:
sudo apt-get install libapache2-mod-jk

I am aware in some cases you may not want to use apt-get to install this module into apache and install it manually. If so I would like to point out that the command is incorrect in the original Linux Journal article - should be:

#Load the mod_jk connector
LoadModule jk_module /usr/lib/httpd/modules/

In the original article a tomcat startup script is defined. I could not get this to work. Firstly at the start of the script it tries to import /etc/init.d/functions - but in my version of ubuntu functions did not exist in this directory. The script also tried to start the tomcat server with the following call:
/bin/su tomcat $CATALINA_HOME/bin/

When I used this I got an error that the id tomcat was not recognised. - unknown id: tomcat. To fix this I edited the script and removed the import of the functions directory and also simplified the startup script as follows:

# tomcat
# chkconfig:
# description: Start up the Tomcat servlet engine.
# Source function library.
#. /etc/init.d/functions

export CATALINA_BASE="/opt/tomcat_instance1"
export CATALINA_HOME="/opt/tomcat_instance1"
export JAVA_HOME="/usr/lib/jvm/java-6-openjdk"

case "$1" in
if [ -f $CATALINA_HOME/bin/ ];
echo $"Starting Tomcat"
if [ -f $CATALINA_HOME/bin/ ];
echo $"Stopping Tomcat"
echo $"Usage: $0 {start|stop}"
exit 1
exit $RETVAL

Now on to the single item that took me a VERY long time to figure out. The original article outlines how you should set up workers so that apache can redirect some requests to other servers. This is all defined in a file. The article also tells you that you need to tell apache about the file and this is done by adding the following to apache's httpd.conf file:

JkWorkersFile "/etc/httpd/conf/"
JkLogFile "/var/logs/www/mod_jk.log"
JkLogLevel info
JkLogStampFormat "[%a %b %d %H:%M:%S %Y] "
JkOptions +ForwardKeySize +ForwardURICompat -ForwardDirectories
JkRequestLogFormat "%w %V %T"

I did this and then restarted the apache server. It failed. It wouldnt start and whats more I got absolutely no error. At this point the obvious thing to think is that Jk_mod isn't installed properly on Apache - so I checked and rechecked and reinstalled - no joy. Eventually, as those of you that are more observant than me have figured out, I saw that the log file was pointing to /var/logs - which doesnt exist on the version of ubuntu I am running. I changed this to /var/log/www/mod_jk.log and all was good in the world again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Leaning Stats on iTunesU

Over the past week I have been following an intro statistics course from UC Berkley, taught by Prof. Hank Ibsner. I find his teaching style very refreshing. He is committed to ensuring that his students understand why you do what you do in stats before showing how you do it. This teaching style really resonates with me.

When Prof. Ibsner is covering a new concept, for example standard deviation (SD) he does not give the formula first and then explain the concept. Rather he explains the concept to such a point that the formula becomes obvious. This is a good approach for me anyway and I have found that many people feel that they a stats concept once they know the formula, but do they know why something is calculated a particular way or what each variable means?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Relearning through iTunesU - Class starts today

At the start of most years I always like to try to learn new things. This year I decided to do something a bit different, I am going to relearn things that I learned a long time ago - I am going to do refresher courses. I have decided to do all this using iTunesU. This is really a great resource, my only problem about it is that it is in Apple propriety software - you need iTunes to access.

So what am I going to relearn. After much debate with myself I decided to refresh my technical skills a bit and get to grips data structures and algorithms, computing paradigms (python programming) and statistics again. I also decided to throw in iPhone development from Stanford, just for kicks. I will let you know how I get on..

Friday, January 15, 2010

Seneca Aviation Project

Busy day today! I spent the first half of the day up at Buttonville Airport just North of Toronto. This is where Seneca College has its School of Aviation. I was there to kick off the start of our work on a NSERC funded research project that will look to improve pilot training in Canada. Our part of the project looks at how on-line learning can be a part of that. More information can on the project can be found here.

At the moment we are focusing on Inter-Rater Reliability (IRR) of instructors and how this can be improved. This involved a lot of filming today of various different flying scenarios in very cool flight simulators - really interesting stuff!

The second half of the day continued on the IRR theme but this time I went up to Air Canada to have a chat with there training co-ordinator on how they calibrate their examiners. This was a really useful insight into how this industry maintains a high level of excellence in pilots through constant learning and development.

The whole day left me buzzing with ideas on how to improve IRR. I now need to solidify those ideas, as I get to test them out at the first IRR session on Wednesday. Time is tight!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Automatically identifying learning styles

Graf et al.(2009) Supporting Teachers in Identifying Students' Learning Styles in Learning Management Systems: An Automatic Student Modelling Approach, Journal of Educational Technology and Society 12(4)

Interesting paper that looks at automatically identifying a learner's learning style by their behaviour in a LMS. A behaviour is associated with each part of a LMS such as visiting a forum, or posing to the forum this is then mapped to a particular learning style. The authors use the Felder-Silverman learning style index. Each behaviour enforces or contradicts a Felder-Silverman learning preference.

The work is evaluated by comparing the results with using the traditional approach to identifying a Felder-Silverman learning style in learners - the ILS questionnaire. Results ranged from a precision of 73.33% to 79.33% - indicating a pretty decent accuracy.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mapping Learning Styles to Teaching Strategies and Electronic Media

Franzoni and Assar, (2009) Student Learning Styles Adaptation Method Based on Teaching Strategies and Electronic Media, Journal of Educational Technology and Society 12(4)

In this paper Franzoni & Assar looked to map teaching styles to learning styles and differnty types of electronic media to learning styles. The learning style theory used in the paper was Felder and Silverman's'. The work does not focus on e-learning and describes classroom-oriented strategies to satisfy each learner's learning style in a given class. As far as I can see the mappings described are based on intuition. There is no proof that applying a particular teaching style/electronic media to teaching for a particular learning style increases student performance.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Emerging Web Tech in HE - Saeed, Yang & Sinnappan

Saeed et. al - Emerging Web Technologies in Higher Education: A Case of Incorporating Blogs, Podcasts and Social Bookmarks in a Web Programming Course based on Students’ Learning Styles and Technology Preferences, Educational Technology and Society 12(4), 2010

Very interesting light read, nice one to have in the coffee shop. Looks at two main things; 1) Is there a co-relation between learner's learning styles and their preferred web technology and 2) Is academic performance positively influenced by the use of appropriate instructional technology as determined in 1.

Tentative co-relations were found between Felder & Solomon learning style scales, between different technologies and between learning styles and technology preferences. Although the researchers did manage to establish a relationship between learning styles and technology preference they did not go far enough to say if this whole exercise was worth it. Does a learner who used their preferred technology perform better? You would be inclined to believe it to be so but as the researchers did not create a control group or analysis these results with previous classes we don't really know.

Paper can be found at:

New Year - New Post

Ok ok, this is the year, this is the start of my REAL blogging year. I am going to make a real concerted effort to blog at least once a week. Lets see how I do...