At the end of February 2016 those of us directly involved in the Xerte Project announced our Xerte Conference 2016 to be held at Nottingham University on 14th April. Many of you will remember the very successful Conference and AGM we held in 2012 where Xerte version 2.0 and the HTML 5 developments were officially previewed for the first time. A lot has happened since! The last twelve months have been the most exciting in the history of the project, with our transition to the Apereo Foundation, the release of v3.0 and then v3.1 of Xerte Online Toolkits and the continued growth of our fantastic global community of users and developers.
This event was to provide an opportunity to hear about the very latest developments and future plans from the project team and to learn more about the Apereo Foundation and the exciting opportunities it brings.
We’d also wanted to showcase the fantastic work that we had seen and heard about going on in our user community and invited proposals for inclusion in a really exciting programme for the day.
The programme, presentations, examples and in many cases session recording were subsequently made available via our conference resource created in Xerte of course!
You may have seen via various channels that Xerte 3 is now out of beta and officially available for production use. You may also have read about some of the new features and/or seen the release notes and/or seen the video embedded below. But simply put:
This is a must-have Xerte upgrade and obviously it’s free and open source so isn’t subject to the licence costs often attached to upgrading commercial software.
First a quick animated video snapshot of some of the benefits before further comment:
Those of us who have been developing this release and testing and using it at the same time over a period of months have all echoed the same reflection:
Once you’ve used this Xerte version you’ll find the old version, if you still have to use it for some reason, very frustrating!
Now obviously Xerte has been very popular, effective, flexible and powerful even before this release but the new WYSIWYG editor in particular, but also some of the other new affordances potentially at least bring this to a whole new level!
The official release notes outline some of the new features and benefits but until you use it for yourself it might seem like some of these new features are minimal improvements. Indeed some are very simple, although very useful, tweaks and as always we have listened to community feedback, responded to common requests and along the way added some brand new features too. The point to remember here is that our core values remain the same:
1. To maintain the ease of use – for anyone and everyone yet also providing a powerful tool for developers
2. To maintain the high level of built-in accessibility – for everyone not just for screen reader users
3. To continue to foster and support a positive community – which as you may know is mature and well established and growing all the time
Despite all this I often find that those with a learning technologist role, or specialist developer role, or similar variation, can sometimes be a barrier to wider Xerte adoption. The point is if you have the time and expertise there are a myriad of other free and commercial authoring tools you can use as part of your workflow and toolkit, (I use them too) but it doesn’t have to be either/or – you can use Xerte together with those other tools. More importantly what about everyone else in your organisation?
Where Xerte really plays it’s part is as an authoring tool for everyone – for all staff and all students! That’s simply not viable with most, if not all, of the commercial tools currently popular in some organisations.
Here’s a Pecha Kucha presentation that I used at an East Midlands Learning Technologists Group meeting recently that expands on this key message further. Play the audio on the first page and the presentation should self-run and self-navigate:
The info and resources linked above should make the benefits of this new bigger and better Xerte very clear, but to summarise:
This really is a must-have upgrade!
If you already use Xerte you should be banging on the door of whoever looks after your installation and prompting them to upgrade.
If you don’t currently use Xerte or have explored and dismissed it previously – now is the time to look again and to really look on behalf of the staff and learners you work with too!
Time flies and the 2014 festive season has been and gone and because it was late in December when these training resources were completed and released by Jisc Legal I don’t think the resources have been as widely publicised as they might have been. So I thought it would be a good idea to help publicise the free training resources and also add some additional info and context not covered elsewhere.
Firstly it was a pleasure to support the Jisc Legal team in the development of these resources and I think great testament to their dedication in working so hard on this amidst all the JISC restructuring etc. The free training for both FE and HE staff is available for previewing via the links below but also available for download from Jorum too (whilst Jorum is still available) in both standard zip and SCORM formats.
With all the talk about flipped classroom and flipped learning in recent months and years I thought it would be useful to add some comments about how I think these resources might be used for self-access and/or perhaps ‘flipped CPD’. Forgetting the hype involved in all the flipped learning talk (and apologies for referring to flipped CPD too) importantly I’d like to comment on how I think these resources might be used together with f2f training, or perhaps other online guidance, to not only facilitate understanding but ideally inform and achieve change in behaviour too.
If you access the materials you’ll read and hear that data protecton training is regarded as a requirement now and as such you might conclude that by working through the materials yourself, or making them available to colleagues if that’s your role, ticks the boxes regarding that requirement. I guess that type of access/use falls into the category of what is often referred to as ‘compliance training’ and by adding the SCORM versions to your vle you can track completion and evidence who has accessed the training. A lot of time and effort by the Jisc legal team was put into making this training practical, clear and concise and directly relevant to staff working in Colleges and Universities. Hopefully the resulting material is engaging and makes it easy to understand the key messages about data protection considerations and requirements through a series of directly relevant scenarios. So in this respect I think it’s reasonable to expect anyone working through the material to gain a reasonable understanding of the key topics covered. Boxes ticked!
However will that increased awareness and understanding result in change in behaviour or indeed change in organisational policy and strategy too. A change in policy/strategy isn’t really a specific objective of the training but clearly increased understanding should ideally result in fewer occurrences of breaches of data protection or at least improved decision making and practice and to change or support that arguably might require assessment of, if not change in, policy, strategy or appropriate resource provision. As a simple example one of the scenarios talks about a member of staff with good intentions taking personal data home on both an encrypted laptop and a usb stick and the guidance talks about minimising risk and only using the encrypted laptop. All makes sense and easy to follow and understand. However what if there aren’t any encrypted laptops available? Or what if some members of staff are unaware of how to use such an encryption system and need support at that particular point in time to be able to do so? Is the local guidance and access to policies, procedures and relevant resources available to match the theory to reality and to compliment the messages provided by the training? This is just one simple example and obviously not any kind of criticism of the training material but in my experience I do think additional online support and guidance and possibly even f2f training might also be required if the self-access training is to result in a real and sustained change in behaviour and to make that change possible.
The training provides opportunity throughout to make reflective notes and to print or email those notes at the end. If your role is to provide and support this training and to promote and support good practice in terms of data protection I would encourage you to make notes about wherever additional local guidance, resources or other changes in provision and support might be required to help facilitate what ideally should be change in behaviour as well as just increased understanding.
Common Craft & Common Craft Style
If you’re familiar with the work of Common Craft and Common Craft Style animations and explainer videos you might notice some clear similarities with the scenarios and style used in this data protection material. I subscribe to use the Common Craft cut-out library but also over the years have built up my own original cut-outs in similar style where the library doesn’t include exactly what I need e.g. like the UK police image shown here.
I can heartily recommend their Art of Explanation book and as an organisation you might also find it useful to subscribe to some or all of their excellent video library. More importantly establishing Common Craft style projects with your students can be a very engaging and productive T&L strategy. A search for “Common Craft style” should result in lots of examples of others dong this as well as various tutorials.
I hope you find the data protection materials and these additional comments useful!