Schome techy bliki

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Main Page - Aspire Pilot homepage - Overview - Technical infrastructure - Schome techy bliki

This page documents the development of the technical infrastructure (software/applications) used to support the schome community (including the development of the technical infrastructure to support the Aspire Pilot and ASPIRE). This runs in parallel with the schome community history.

The page is in effect a blogg - so entries are dated and presented in reverse chronological order. Please feel free to add entries about your experiences of using WikiWorks and any of the other aspects of the technical infrastructure that support the schome community.


A free concept mapping tool (spicynodes)


A free (GNU GPL) video screen capture program - it lets you record the screen and audio activity on your computer and saves them as an AVI video file. Looks really useful for explaining how to use other applications or for HCI research (recording how people interact with a program).


Scratch is a free programming tool - developed at MIT's Media Lab - that allows anyone to create their own animated stories, video games and interactive artworks. Primarily aimed at children, Scratch does not require prior knowledge of complex computer languages. Instead, it uses a simple graphical interface that allows programs and media files to be assembled like building blocks. If you've tried it then let us know what you think of it ...

26th May 2007

Just came across which looks cool - a video editing and annotation tool.

And Eyebeams says that ToonDo is worth a look if you want to create cartoons using a web 2.0 tool.

25th May 2007

Sooo out of date now. Did someone mention Second Life?

17th Nov 2006 - Createascape

This looks like a cool tool for linking images/sounds/web pages to GPS locations on a map - so that when you visit the location (with your GPS enabled PDA needless to say) the images/sounds/web pages pop up. So I think its a bit like the software that we (meaning Gill) used for the OU Nature Trail. If you've used it then let us know what you think of it (either in here or in the schome community forum)

29th Sept 2006 - SketchUp

SketchUp is a 3D modelling tool that allows you to create 3D models of houses (or even schomebases?) which you can then place in Google Earth. If you've used it let us know what you think of it ...

28th Sept 2006 - various

I've been remis - haven't updated this 'blog' to mention the new SMF based schome community forum that we have now set up. Wanted to also add a few 'useful' tools that I've come across that we should explore more. These include:

  • Gliffy - a Web 2.0 collaborative diagram creation tool
  • Flickr - a Web 2.0 photo sharing tool
  • thinkfree - Web 2.0 office (which describes itself as 'the best online office on earth'

If you have used any of the above - or know of other collaboration tools we might want to try out - then please add an entry - or post a message in the schome community forum

24th July 2006 - SMF adopted

We have been running a trial SMF setup for the last few days - and at today's schome group meeting we decided that we would adopt this as a key part of the technical infrastructure to support the schome community. Our aim is that we will have a single sign on for the schome website, which will include SMF and WikiWorks as the two core aspects. SMF providing discussion and a feeling of presence whilst WikiWorks acts as a repository of information. We will need to rework the current structure of WikiWorks to reflect this change in its use - but anticipate that the introduction of SMF will enhance communication and collaboration within the community.

21st July 2006 - IBM Learning Village

We visited IBM to find out more about IBM's Learning Village software and whether it might form an appropriate tool to support the schome community. Sadly, we felt that it wasn't the right tool for us - whilst it does offer much of the functionality that our community needs the key element of hightening the feeling of 'presence' was not a feature of it and is something that we feel is very important. So the search goes on.

18th July 2006 - community needs

"I'm wondering whether 2 and 3 couldn't be the same thing - ie a modified version of WikiWorks (with a better menu/navigation system). "

We could use a wiki for both. It is great for searching but not so good for browsing. We would somehow have to create/impose a clear structure on the formal content and make the structure visible to the user.

13th July 2006 - community needs

In discussion with Mark I think we are coming to the conclusion that we need the following things in order to support work on schome (and Aspire):

  1. A community – with a strong sense of identity – the usual bulletin board/forum stuff, member profiles, easy to contact members, instant messaging including conferencing, perhaps even Skype like facilities – but this also implies good security if you have kids contributing and don’t want to be subject to rubbish.
  2. A reference source so core information can be browsed or searched and read easily
  3. A wiki so that members can jointly create and modify ideas
  4. A very informal format and the ability to put in a wide range of media

Thinking about using SMF for 1.
I'm wondering whether 2 and 3 couldn't be the same thing - ie a modified version of WikiWorks (with a better menu/navigation system).

What do you recon?

4th July 2006 - Second Life

Kieron suggested that we try out Second Life(a 3D virtual reality world) as a context for developing and trying out visions of schome. We have been exploring this option, which seems to offer some interesting possibilities:

  • a 3D virtual reality world highlights the importance of identity - you can change the appearance of your avitar - and identity seems to me to be a key aspect of learning
  • we could actually implement some of the schome visions - both in terms of the physical spaces and (more importantly) the processes and systemic structures - so that we can get a 'lived experience' of what they would be like. This seems important cos it might help to overcome the problem that currently seems to exisit of folk being tied very tightly to visions of schome that are closely related to school (which is not surprising cos that is all most of us have any experience of).
  • it would provide an alternative vehicle for community building - let's face it WikiWorks isn't the best tool for doing this (it lacks much in the way of a feel of presence which seems important to community building - or maybe editing Wiki pages is just to scary?)

Second Life looks like a good option because it already has a community of educators using it for running courses and thinking about education in real life. However, there are some issues we would need to overcome:

  • Second Life has clear (and understandable) rules about the age of participants - you have to be over 18 to use Second Life and between 14 and 18 to use Teen Second Life. You can buy an island which allows teens and adults to mix - the adults all have to be vetted by the folk who run Second Life.
  • We would need funding to do this - an island costs about $1,000 to buy and has a monthly maintenence charge of $150 (though there are educational discounts - which I am trying to find out more about)
  • We would need a substantial number of folk to play (cos there is nothing worse than being the only person around in a 3D virtual reality world - a bit like real life then ....)

Some questions (please either insert answers under each question or me (email

  1. Does this sound like a good idea to you?
  2. Would you be interested in playing?
  3. Do you know of other (better) 3D virtual reality worlds that we might try out?

28th June 2006 - mental models

Peter - I am sorry it is taken so long to attend to this.

I think there is something fundamental we need to solve about the technology. What mental model is right for the application? Some software strongly suggests a mental model e.g. Word, Powerpoint. In other cases the software allows the user to build their own. Wikis being relatively unstructured allow a variety of mental models. Wikipedia works because it encourages the model of an encyclopedia. MOODL was wrong because it works with the model of courses. People may find schome hard to use at the moment because the model is not developed. Determining the right model is more important than selecting the right software.

I don't think we can do this by just trying different software. It is more relevant to talk to different users and understand their perception.

What do you think?

MarkF 10:58, 28 June 2006 (BST)

@ 11:28 PeterT response

I agree about the need for a model - and I guess my search for software has been endowing applications with too much weight (assuming that the software implies a model) - I have been experimenting in WikiWorks with different kinds of models, because, as you say, it is very open (the model is not explicit within the software) - so for example within WikiWorks we have pages that are 'papers' (static information provision? e.g. the educational approaches pages), 'standard' web pages (which try to provide coherent structure - as on the Aspire Pilot overview page), this page which tries to act like a blogg, etc..

I also agree about the need to talk with users about their experiences of using WikiWorks - to inform the sorts of models we might adopt. (Indeed I was doing just that when I stumbelled across your message in here!). We need to do more of this - and would like to hear more feedback via this page ....

So what works for you - and what doesn't?

21st June 2006 - Discus Professional

The NRICH website - which is interesting for all sorts of reasons - uses the Discus Professional web discussion board to host its forums. Personally I don't like the interface as much as the one for SMF (see entry for 20th June 2006) but it must have something going for it if NRICH (which takes millions of hits per year) has selected it - even though I believe that they are thinking about whether they should broaden out to include bloggs and other 'Web 2.0' type features in the future. Anyone got any inside info on this?

20th June 2006 - SMF

SMF is a forum or bulletin board (not sure what the difference is between those two to be honest) that the Association for IT in Teacher Education (ITTE) uses - you can see their implementation of it at Despite the fact that it is flat (no threading of discussions) it has several features that I like - and which are missing from WikiWorks, including:

  • Community info
    • it gives you a feel for who people are (photos, number of posts they've made (newbies, etc)
    • it tells you who is 'around' in the system (currently active, last active member, etc)
  • It provides an easy to use interface
    • you can subscribe to discussions and be emailed if someone contributes to them
    • easy to use (almost) WYSIWYG interface - with lots of icons etc

But ...

  1. Do we need this sort of functionality?
  2. Are there other systems about that do it better?
  3. How could we integrate this system with WikiWorks - so you only need to register once and they feel like they are part of the same system?

If you have answers (or even reactions) to any of these questions please add them here ....

19th June 2006 - Mobile Wiki Entries

Been experimenting with updating the wiki from a smartphone connected via GPRS. I used an o2 XDA mini which has a little slide out keyboard so typing the text wasn't a problem.


The thing that was the most frustrating was the time it took for each new page to display. I suspect this would vary according the connection rate, but with the one I was using, I figured that I would probably be happy to use it for reading/replying to emails on a train or looking up relevant information, less content to upload text or images to a website.

6th June 2006 - FlashMeeting

Kerry and I tried out FlashMeeting for the first time today - and it works, though the fact that only one person can talk at a time does take some getting used to. FlashMeeting describes itself as 'The simple one-click video conference' (all you need is: a web browser running Flash 7 plugin, an internet connection, speakers and a mic or headphones/mic).

It has lots of interesting features, including:

  • emoticons (so you can show how you feel about what is being said even if it's not your turn to talk),
  • voting,
  • text chat
  • a shared whiteboard (though I didn't manage to get this to work very well)
  • automatic recording of the meeting (including the audio, voting, etc)

I think we are going to find this a very useful tool - though perhaps it will be most useful when there are more than two of us trying to meet! In the context of schome it does feel a little odd having to put up your (virtual) hand when you want to talk - but if it works ....?! (You also need to be aware that because FlashMeeting is part of a research project in KMi and the researchers may use the recordings of your meetings as data in their own project).

27th May 2006 - maillist for Woodlands

We set up a maillist for everyone involved in the Aspire Pilot and Woodlands school. It will be interesting to see how this develops - given the students' apparent dislike of anything involving the written word!

19th May 2006 - website makeover underway

Scott Walker was commissioned to develop 'concepts' for the Aspire Pilot homepage - drawing on ideas from Daria Loi's website. He came up with a number of ideas including:

Option 1a Option 1d
Aspire-1-a.jpg Aspire-1-d.jpg
Option 2b Option 2c
Aspire-2-b.jpg Aspire-2-c.jpg
Option 3 Option 4
Oops - I can't show this

one cos the mockup is based
on an image we don't own the
copyright on.  :O(


18th May - approach to tech spec

As part of the work on the technical infrastructure strand of the Aspire Pilot we considered two different approaches to sorting out the technical infrastructure which might be categorised as a 'software engineering' and 'evolutionary'. On balance we decided that the evolutionary approach made most sense - given the need for continuity between schome, the Aspire Pilot and ASPIRE.

5th May 2006 - maillist for StB's

Paul set up a maillist for folk involved with the Aspire Pilot and St Boniface's - interestingly he decided to only provide the adults on the project with the email address, which means that we can email the students but not visa versa .....

28th April 2006 - lost in WikiWorks

Anna was anxious about how difficult it was to navigate around the Aspire Pilot pages within WikiWorks. Let's face it a wiki is different to a 'normal' website in that because anyone can add pages wherever they like you cannot provide a map of the site, or even consistent menu navigation structure.

After much debate, and bearing in mind the concerns about too much text we agreed that we would:

  • have a homepage for the Aspire Pilot that was based on an image rather than text
  • add breadcrums to the Aspire Pilot pages within WikiWorks - to help with navigation
  • create a help page to explain to folk the best ways to navigate around in WikiWorks (cos wikis are different to 'standard' websites)
  • add more images to the Aspire Pilot pages in WikiWorks

17th April 2006 - functionality needed

A first draft of the specification of the functionality that we thought each of the different groups of users would need was produced - for discussion within the team.

1st April 2006 - too much text?

The students at StB's told us about their favourite websites and gave us informal feedback on WikiWorks. It was clear that they liked sites that had lots of graphics, not too much text, and ideally included games or other interactive elements. Food for thought given the very text heavy nature of WikiWorks!

30th March 2006 - Moodle

PeterT set up a 'course' in the OU's demo Moodle system to see if it might provide all the functionality we needed in one package. Moodle's spec would suggest it should do - it has a wiki, discussion forums, different levels of access, and so on - and it is open source - and the OU is adopting it as the main vehicle for supporting student learning. However, we just couldn't get away from the fact that it wants to treat everything like a course - the whole metaphor is kind of sequential steps/activities and about differential power relationships - which didn't feel right for our community. Now I may be wrong about this - it may just be that the way in which the OU's demo Moodle site was set up constrained what I could do - and I would love to see how Moodle could be set up to do what we want - cos it would be so much better to have one integrated system that provided all of the functionality the community needs .... so please tell me if you know of one.

17th March 2006 - Categories of 'users'

The Aspire Pilot team identified three different groups of potential members of the community (as part of the definition of the success criteria for the project). These were defined as:

  1. Interested: people who are interested, but not actively engaged with the ASPIRE (i.e. to whom we disseminate information)
  2. Engaged: people who are interested and actively engage with the ASPIRE (i.e. with whom we have two way communication, which may include them engaging with the provocations and/or using the technical infrastructure)
  3. Collaborating: people who are interested in collaboration on ASIPRE (i.e. who work with us on the bid for the ASPIRE project with a view to becoming collaborators on ASPIRE).

15th March 2006 - Knowledge Network

We started to use the Knowledge Network (KN) to support the project team - and so we could explore its potential as a tool to support collaboration within the community. We started initially with a private workspace - cos we had WikiWorks if we needed a public one.

The KN has several strong features that we thought might be useful:

  • It provides a WYSIWYG editor for web pages (you can edit them through your web browser as you can with a wiki)
  • It has multiple levels of access - so you can set up individual pages, sets of pages, documents, discussions, etc with different levels of access
  • You can upload documents (almost any format you like)
  • It has a powerful search engine, which searches through all the pages within the KN and all the documents that have been uploaded to it
  • There is a subscribe facility, which means that whenever a page is altered anyone who has subscribed to that page is automatically sent an email to tell them that it has changed
  • It has a very good threaded discussion tool - which is very similar to UD3E (see September 2005).

However, as I have found with using the KN on other projects, we quickly gave up using it because:

  • it was just another place to remember to go
  • whilst editing pages in the KN is easier than in WikiWorks there is no history - so you can't see who has changed what, yet alone undo any damage that is done (whether accidental or malicious)
  • if we wanted to discuss something electronically we all tended to use email rather than the threaded discussion (I know this wouldn't work if there were hundreds of us trying to talk ... but there were only three!).

12th March 2006 - Skype

We - that is some of the members of the schome group - started to use Skype - and guess what - it was easy to set up and it works!

1st March 2006 - Aspire Pilot started

The Aspire Pilot started and information about it was added to WikiWorks.

November 2005 - Aspire Pilot contract signed

The contract for the Aspire Pilot was signed. Given that the Aspire Pilot came under the schome umbrella it was envisaged that WikiWorks would be the key web-based component of the pilot project. The budget for the Aspire Pilot included funding to pay for a Project Officer who would provide support for folk using WikiWorks and for putting in place the technical infrastructure to support the community of people interested in schome that the project aimed to develop.

The beginnings of WikiWorks

September 2005 - Ubiquitous D3E

A threaded discussion board, based on Ubiquitous D3E (UD3E) was set up for discussions about schome - and links were added to it from various points within WikiWorks. To be honest this is a bit messy - we are not using UD3E as intended (which involves having the webpage and the discussion window side by side on your screen) - and UD3E the linking back to WikiWorks is a bit of a mess - in other words the two systems are not integrated (other than by hotlinks/cross references people insert within them). UD3E was chosen because:
a) It is open source (though in fact we are still running off the demo server at the OU)
b) It provides one of the best threaded views of a discussion of any discussion board I have ever seen - if you know of a better one please tell me (!
c) It is easy to use

July 2005 - Content growing!

Around 50 pages were added to WikiWorks about different aspects of education. However, we made the mistake of asking people to submit their drafts for editing as word documents - rather than having them enter their material straight into WikiWorks. This meant in practice that most of the authors did not engage with WikiWorks in any substantial way - they posted up their articles but there was little evidence of them co-authoring, editing or commenting on other people's articles.

May 2005 - WikiWorks created

WikiWorks was set up - and we started to add some content. We commissioned about 50 people - most of whom were students at the end of their BEd - to write short 'articles' on different aspects of education: Educational approaches, Education systems in different countries, and Educational thinkers. We hoped that this would:

  • build up content within WikiWorks that would make the site of some practical value
  • provide information about different approaches to education which would inform our thinking about schome
  • start to build up a community of people who were interested in schome (and using WikiWorks)

Early 2005 - our own url

The schome research group decided that it would be good to focus on the research aspects of schome - not surprisingly as they were all academics! - and acquired the URL

PeterT started playing with wikis and the group agreed that the philosophy underpinning a wiki matched well with the groups own views on how the schome community should develop and operate. We wanted something that was collaborative, participative and open.

2004 - thinking about a web presence

PeterT decided to set up a website to support work on schome - and acquired a couple of relevant URLs ( and
Main Page Aspire Pilot homepage Overview Technical infrastructure