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!
Why this image? Well firstly it was sourced via Xpert – another Xerte related tool. Also this post is partly about the news regarding Xerte entering Apereo Incubation but also my inherent message is about use of different authoring tools , some saying they prefer other tools and missing the point, you don’t need to and rarely can put all your eggs in one basket! 😉
Julian Tenney from University of Nottingham posted the news at the foot of this post about Xerte beginning the Apereo Incubation process to the Xerte mailing lists yesterday (22nd Sept) and it seemed appropriate to post and add to that news here too for a few reasons…
For those using Xerte please regard this as very good news! Myself and other members of the small but dedicated Xerte developer community have been and will be directly part of these developments and will ensure that the tools remain free and open source and more importantly continue to focus on core values like enabling teachers and learners to create and share interactive and accessible materials easily, efficiently and collaboratively. Even at this very beginning of incubation there are signs that this will result in an increase in those contributing to development of the tools.
There have also been some very exciting on-going improvements and additions which we have been working on over the summer – some of which were demonstrated at the Xerte AGM in Belgium in June this year and will form part of a new release by the end of the year if not sooner. For an example I showed the new wysiwyg editor to a few people at the Jisc RSC-Eastern efair in the summer and recorded some reactions. More background and one of the video clips in this LO http://mitchellmedia.co.uk/xot/play_134
I notice the news from Jisc re the Invitation for project submissions for Interactive Learning Resources. I know there are sometimes political or policy barriers for sector organisations to be seen to be directly promoting particular tools but as I’m self-employed these days I have no such barrier – it seems to me planning to use Xerte as part of these projects would be a perfect match! The ability to easily share for both consumption and repurposing, the collaborative features built-in and the unparalleled accessibility make Xerte an obvious choice even if you then use other tools with it too. Indeed you undoubtedly will use multiple tools whatever core tool you choose.
Also amongst all the positive examples and comments about Xerte there are sometimes quite negative comments about limitations etc particularly aesthetics and comparisons to other tools. So here’s the reason I mention all this: I use a wide range of other tools regularly too but that misses the point. More specialised tools (often costly) can be used together with Xerte so the specialists or those who have the budget and time to learn and use the more complex tools can use those tools and other staff (and students – indeed ALL staff and students) can use Xerte and benefit from being able to quickly create interactive content themselves, add the additional material or assets created by the specialists and benefit from the multi-platform highly accessible content Xerte facilitates. Here’s a link shared by Terry McAndrew from the HEAcademy to where the £40k of Digital Literacy in the Disciplines projects (using Xerte) were uploaded. This is a resource wiki so comments and ideas can be posted in the ‘discussion tab’ if you wish to do so. See http://dlind.referata.com/wiki/Digital_Literacy_in_the_Disciplines for the outputs and outcomes. Also for those who haven’t seen these resources a link to examples of use of Articulate Storyline and Xerte together at http://learningmathsonline.ac.uk
For those who comment negatively on the look of Xerte output I’d make the following comments:
Firstly we’ve long had HTML 5 functionality now so anyone with the time and skills can make Xerte content look very different both in terms of the interface and the actual content. I’ve done many customisations and have working examples of different themes that can be applies to a Xerte install or individual LO’s. This is similar to applying themes to something like Moodle where it can be made to look very different according to requirements. Secondly and more importantly…
If you see examples created with any authoring tool that you regard as not engaging either aesthetically or pedagogically a simple fact applies – those involved in developing those materials have not put in the effort required to make that material engaging – it’s rarely the fault of the tool!
Indeed the ease of use with Xerte often exposes that very lack of imagination, creatively and good learning design because there’s no longer a time or technical excuse for those involved! Actually that sounds harsh – what it really reflects is that it takes time and effort to learn how to develop effective learning content and that’s far more to do with appropriate pedagogy than the technicalities and an easy to use tool leads to greater focus on the intricacies of good learning design. I’ve delivered many Xerte training sessions over the years and it’s true to say that in the early days of the tool and what you might call e-learning maturity the main focus had to be on the technical skills. In more recent years and months that takes up far less of the time and there is much more focus and benefit from a focus on effective learning design.
Suffice to say if you are looking to improve your use of Xerte or planning to submit a bid for the Jisc funding I’d be happy to help!
I hope this is useful additional comment to the news below.
Mailing list post by Julian Tenney:
I am really excited to be able to announce that The Xerte Project has been accepted as an incubating project at The Apereo Foundation (https://www.apereo.org/). This is a fantastic opportunity for the project – as you know, The University of Nottingham has led the developments over the years. Over the last few years, with increasing contributions from a growing community of developers it is fair to say that Nottingham’s contribution is now a much smaller percentage of the total than it once was. This reflects the growing volume of work, rather than a dwindling commitment on our part, and we remain dedicated to the project as an important platform for innovation, and for the creation and delivery of high quality content to learners here at the University.
As the project has grown, we have turned to questions around its sustainability. We have spent a lot of time over the last eighteen months or so exploring various options: we know that sustainability is a key issue for those looking to adopt the technology in other organisations and we understand that the current situation raises some questions for potential adopters: there is a sense that the project has a single point of failure. As priorities have changed here at the University, and the shape of my team has changed over the years, we do have fewer resources to put into the project than we used to have. We also appreciate that the current situation makes it hard for the project to achieve its full potential. As the only open source tool in its class it really deserves to increase its reach into new sectors and to find ways to generate and use revenue. Also, as the developer community has grown, it is increasingly important to ensure that the project continues to develop within a rigorous framework.
Over the last 18 months we have carefully explored all the options available to us, and we have chosen Apereo for its solid presence in educational technology and its excellent cultural fit with The Xerte Project. I’m really excited about this opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to working with Apereo through the incubation process.
My thanks go to all our users, contributors and developers, without whom the project could not have reached this significant milestone.
There is some further information from Apereo here: