OpenEd 2010 presentation

Just left Barecelona following an intense and enjoyable few days at OpenEd 2010 where I presented the Drawtivity project.  Thanks to those who attended my presentation.  Here are my slides:

It was great to meet up with some old friends, learn more about the current thinking in the open education movement and finally meet Scott Leslie having been in touch and influenced by Scott several years ago now.

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ALT-C poster

I’m looking forward to presenting a poster on the Drawtivity project at this years ALT-C conference at Nottingham. I intend to be providing demos of the system and will be open to feedback from any one interested. Hope to see you there!

Below is a sneak preview of the poster…

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I am very pleased to announce that the Drawtivity authoring system is now available for beta testing.  This means you can now create yourself an account and start creating and using your own Drawtivity activities.  I am looking for feedback on any and all aspects of the authoring process so please do have a go and let me know how it goes and how it could be improved!

To start go to the Drawtivity system home page and create a free authoring account.

Below is a short (5 minute) overview of the authoring process to help you get started.

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Progress update

Its proving to be a very busy summer here at Webducate but I am making progress on the Drawtivity authoring system. Above is a screenshot of one of the authoring pages being worked on at the moment.

As soon as this system is ready for testing I will post here with details on how to get involved.

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Accessibility and keyboard controls

One issue I am very aware of is the accessibility of interactive resources. Drawtivity activities will obviously always present problems for visually impaired users. However users with difficulties using a mouse should not be prevented from using these activities and so I am working on providing keyboard controls for all aspects of activity functionality. Below is a list of the keys involved and functions controlled by each key (this is in additon to the ability to tab to and select each of the activity buttons). Feel free to try this out with this version of the biceps activity.

NB you need to select the activity before these keyboard controls will work. Using IE you can easily use the tab key to select the activity. Firefox and Chrome seem to require you to click on the activity with the mouse to select the activity (bit of a problem that but I can’t find an easy answer at this stage – answers on a postcard please…)

Key Function
O Displays and hides the OER information panel
I Displays and hides the activity introduction panel
P Draws a point in the middle of the activity image which can be located with the arrow keys – when feedback is being displayed the P key toggles through the display of the pop up notes.
Arrows Up, down, left and right arrow keys position the live point (the latest point added to the activity or the point selected with N and B keys)
D Deletes the last point
R Resets the drawn line or area
N Changes the live point (the point that can be positioned with the arrow keys), moves this to the next drawn point.
B Also changes the live point but moves this to the previous drawn point.
F Toggles the display of feedback
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Feedback on the first activities

Many thanks to those of you who have taken time to send me feedback on the initial two Drawtivity activities. Some samples from this feedback are given below.  Please do feel free to add to this by commenting on this blog or emailing me at

This is brilliant.  My only criticism is in the actual question of the maths one.  ”Draw” implies that you can hold the mouse down and draw.  Plot would be better.  And would someone really be expected to plot all those crosses or would it be more appropriate to mark the turning points?
Pedagogically I think this activity is looking to see that the student understands the shape as well as the turning points… but I take your point that when the answer is displayed the display of all those points might make the student feel they were expected to use and position that many themselves… some food for thought….  May be have a setting to turn off the points in the displayed answer? What do you think?

Really like it – I can see loads of applications for the medical field. Only thing I would change is the drawing on of the answer (the correct area) – this could just appear shaded.

This looks really good; nice interface and easy to use. My only suggestion for improvement would be to speed up the drawing on of the correct answer – or remove just highlight the correct area rather than animate the drawing of it. Other than that, looks great!

The look and feel is fine and the interface is intuitive. Both learning objects loaded quickly and I didn’t come across any performance problems. With regards to the delivery of the feedback I preferred the sine wave example -which faded the line in as a whole- to the anatomy example that drew the line incrementally. The animated drawing in the first example might work better if it was speeded up either by increasing the frame rate or dropping some keyframes.

I also have been spreading the word and getting feedback in a presentation I gave to the Learning Technologies Group (LTG) at the University of Oxford. I would like to thank all who attended for their time and also for their ideas regarding the development of the scoring functionality for Drawtivity.  Lots of food for thought!

Based on the feedback detailed above I have had a few thoughts and ideas on Drawtivity activity functionality.  Firstly, despite my excitment at the animated revealing of the answer shape (points displayed incrementally in what I considered a manner which suggested the answer been drawn by the tutor, see the biceps activity), most feedback prefered a fade in of the answer or at least a speeding up of the incremental display.  This led to me developing activity settings to switch between incremental and fade reveal animations and a setting to control the speed of the incremental display. The feedback fade setting is demonstrated in the Sine curve activity.

The feedback “would someone really be expected to plot all those crosses” was a perspective on the display of the answer shape I hadn’t considered.  This issue is particularly apparent in the sine curve example, where as my respondent points out, the display of the answer made up from a very large number of accurately positioned points (an impression enforced by the display of a cross on each point) could lead the student to feel that their attempt was inadequate because it didn’t have similar level of accuracy.  This is different from what the activity is supposed to be testing which is a basic understanding of the shape of the sine curve.  As a result I have added another activity setting which switches the display of answer point icons on and off.

Please do get in touch with any other thoughts and ideas!

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The first draft for the Drawtivity activity flash movie is now ready for feedback.  Click the screenshot below to access an example anatomy related Drawtivity activity. Please do have a go and see what you think.  I am open to feedback on all aspects of the activity look and feel and functionality.

The example activity below investigates mathematical understanding. As before click on the screenshot to try the activity.

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Talis podcast available

Fame and fortune beckon!  May be not quite yet but I have a taste of celebrity with a podcast interview now available on the Talis Education website.  In this interview I talk about the ideas behind the Drawtivity project and how I hope it will one day be used.

Access the Talis Education podcast interview

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Getting started on the Flash development

I have now made significant progress with developing the flash movie which will be responsible for delivering drawtivity activities.  In this project I am attempting to take what is for me a new approach to flash development. This involves the sole use of actionscript to create all aspects of the activity interface.  This approach is being taken to maxmise the degree to which the activity interface can be defined dynamically from settings within the activity XML file and so maximise the ability of users to customise the activity to their own requirements.

One aspect of this customisation are the activity settings that are skin related. These determine the overall look and feel of the activity interface specifing the colours used, whether these colours include a fade and the transparency of the skin. As the activity elements are created dynamically all these settings are read from the activity XML file and used to build the activity appropriately when it loads in the users browser. Below are a series of screen shots that show different combinations of these skin settings to provide some ideas about how I expect these to be used:

Drawtivity activity - grey skin with fade

Drawtivity activity - blue skin

Drawtivity activity - transparent skin

The settings with the XML file that define the activity skin are:

<skinBgColour value="0x999999" />
<skinBarColour value="0x999999" />
<skinFade value="140" />
<skinAlpha value="100" />
<buttonColour value="0x000000" />
<buttonOverColour value="0x333333" />
<buttonTextColour value="0xFFFFFF" />
<introDisplay value="yes" />
<introColour value="0x999999" />
<introTextColour value="0xFFFFFF" />
<introCloseColour value="0xFFFFFF" />
<introAlpha value="60" />

Transparency alpha settings range from 0 to 100, colours are defined with hexadecimal codes and skin fade setting ranges from 0-200 with 100 being no fade. You can try out these skin settings yourself by downloading the current version of the activity files (unzip the downloaded files and open index.html) and amending the drawtivity.xml file before refreshing the activity index.html file. I would be very grateful for feedback anyone could offer on this aspect of Drawtivity’s design and functionality.

Please note that other aspects of the Drawtivity activity are currently incomplete in this downloaded version.

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Activity data structure

Keen to get started I have been thinking about the data structure to be used in the activity XML file to be read by the activity flash movie (SWF file).  This XML file is to contain all the activity settings, text and feedback data and this is loaded by the activity SWF file as it is displayed to the user.  These settings, text etc are then used to determine how the activity will appear and behave. Taking this approach will hopefully provide the activity author with significant scope in defining how the activity looks and responds to user input to suit their particular needs.

The proposed activity XML structure is as follows:

      <activityType value="line"/>
      <skinBgColour value="0x999999"/>
      <skinBarColour value="0x999999"/>
      <activityTitle>Glioma tumor</activityTitle>
      <introduction>Outline the Glioma tumor on this MRI scan.</introduction>
      <point x="100" y="100"/>
      <point x="200" y="200"/>
      <note xcoord="146" ycoord="245" url="">This is some text</note>
      <note xcoord="67" ycoord="90" url="">This is some text</note>

Download a copy of the proposed activity XML file.

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