Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Learning Revolution

In 2009 the UK Government released a paper titled "The Learning Revolution" that stressed the value of semi-structured informal learning to complement institution based, curriculum driven formal education.

The paper accepted research showing that: unless learning includes informal rehearsal of formally acquired skills and knowledge, as much as 75% of the potential attainment could be lost.

The Icodeon Platform uses packages of premium, expert authored content to support both formal and informal learning.

Facial Expression Research (1862)
The following scenario describes a teacher's use of expert authored content deployed to the Icodeon Platform.
First, our teacher prepares for a short course on the Psychology of Facial Expressions.

The course is a blended learning course with some online learning and some class time.

Along with all other resources that the teacher assembles, a cartridge called "The Psychology of Faces" is uploaded to the Icodeon Platform.

Second, our teacher re-mixes the authoritative cartridge content with the class blog, along with other quality resources from the web, such as this article from Psychology Today. The resulting class blog might look like this.

Expert content re-mixed into blog
Third, the teacher re-mixes discussion material from the cartridge directly into student social networks (like this) so that the course content can continue to be discussed within each student's own social graph.

The class blog and the friends discussion represent opportunities for informal learning.
Finally, at the conclusion of the course, formal summative assessment can be achieved using the Icodeon Platform to deliver assessments to a school learning system.

Grades are securely returned from the Icodeon Platform to the learning system grade book.

The screen shots below show a rich media assessment hosted on the Icodeon Platform running in the popular Moodle learning system, along with resulting Moodle grade book:.

Secure assessment integration with IMS Basic LTI and Moodle

Secure results and outcomes integration using OAuth and Moodle

With a single cartridge deployed to the Icodeon Platform - expert, authoritative content has been blended with informal, social, personal and formal learning environments - and student grades have been securely returned to a school's own systems.

For more on educational scenarios that use cloud hosted apps and content, see the European Union iTEC Project.

For more on learning platform integration using Basic LTI and Simple Outcomes, see IMS Global Learning Consortium at Educause 2010 and the press release here.

 The final two screen shots show the same cartridge assessment, still hosted on the Icodeon Platform, but this time launched in the SAKAI learning management system. Assessment outcomes are securely sent from the Icodeon Platform to the SAKAI grade book:

Secure assessment integration with IMS Basic LTI and SAKAI

Secure results and outcomes integration using OAuth and SAKAI

Download the PDF for Educause 2010.

Monday, 27 September 2010


ASPECT is a large-scale, EC-funded project that aims to develop best practice related to the implementation of learning content standards.  

ASPECT  is now at a stage where it is providing a new set of support services that facilitate the interoperability of learning content, including the following workshops:
  • ASPECT workshop at Frankfurt Book Fair 7 October 2010
The ASPECT project is running at Frankfurt Book Fair on 7 October .  

The workshop at Frankfurt will explain how publishers and content developers, including Young Digital Planet and Cambridge University Press have benefitted from applying learning content standards.
The workshop will also show teachers are reacting to standards like SCORM and IMS Common Cartridge. 
Even if you cannot attend this particular event, there are regular opportunities to take part in other ASPECT workshops, plugfests, free webinars etc. 
Register on the ASPECT web site as a project Associate Partner abd keep informed of future ways to participate in ASPECT.
  •  ASPECT workshop at SE@M2010 27-28 September 2010
ASPECT project is also running a workshop at SE@M 2010 on 27-28 September 2010 in Barcelona.  
SE@M 2010 includes a keynote by Daniel Rehak from Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) in the USA.
The workshop will bring together publishers and content developers,  managers of learning infrastructures and learning resource repositories, learning professionals and practitioners. 


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cell Biology

~ Demonstration Page using content deployed to Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform ~

An Introduction to Cell Biology

Magnified Skin Cells
In biology, the cell is the basic structure of organisms. All cells are made by other cells.

The environment outside of the cell and the inside of the cell are separated by the cell membrane. Inside some cells, some parts of the cell stay separate from other parts by membranes. These separate parts are called organelles (like small organs). They each do different things in the cell. Two examples are the nucleus (where DNA is), and mitochondria (where usable energy is created).

Ignore the pink shirt, and find out more with this short video:

Our teacher discusssed eukaryotic cells. What are they?

There are two basic kinds of cells: prokaryotic cells and eukaryotic cells.
  • Prokaryotes, bacteria and archaea, are simple cells with no internal organelles.
  • Eukaryotes are complex cells with many compartments within the cell. Eukaryotes store their genetic information (DNA) in a compartment called the nucleus.
In a prokaryotic cell the DNA is not separated from the rest of the cell. In general, all living things (organisms) that are made up of multiple cells are made up of eukaryotic cells.

Advanced students may like to read further about how proteins are used by both animals and plants in cells with this course from the UK Open University.

You can prepare for your school biology assessment using the test resources from Cambridge University Press.

There are two kinds or eukaryotic organisms:
  • Unicellular organisms are made up of one cell. An examples of a unicellular organisms is the Amoeba. Unicellular organisms live without other cells to help them.
  • Multicellular organisms are made from many cells. They are complex organisms. This can be a small number of cells, or millions of cells. All plants and animals are multicellular organisms.
This page was produced for the European Union ASPECT Project Consortium Meeting in Slovenia, September  13th 2010.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Web, Version 3

What will be the defining features of the World Wide Web in the next 10 years?

That was the essence of a question posed to Google boss Eric Schmidt recently.

We have had a web version 1 (1990s), and a web version 2 (2000s). But what will a web for the 2010s be like? A web version 3? This is what the Google CEO had to say:

Web 3.0 will be "applications that are pieced together" - with the characteristics that the apps are relatively small, the data is in the cloud, the apps can run on any device, the apps are very fast and very customizable, and are distributed virally (social networks, email, etc).

The Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform is poised to align very well with this vision for "Web 3.0" - adoption of open data standards such as OAuth and Open Social are already in place in the Icodeon software, along with the use of cloud based deployment and content delivery networks.

Look at this screen shot of a course on Portraiture running in the cloud based Icodeon Cartridge Explorer App (click for full sized image).

The course is made available from UK Open University servers using the IMS Common Cartridge specification and ingested by the Icodeon Platform. Once on the Icodeon Platform a URL Language is used so that small pieces of the course can be distributed virally (social networks, blogs, learning systems etc.), such as the embedded content below:

~ Embed widget from Icodeon CC Platform ~

Small, viral, embedded apps like the preview widget above are built using a few different requests of the Icodeon Platform URL Language.

First, a request is made for a representation of the chosen item in the course:


Second we can request a plain text representation of the item resource:


By adding a few URL query parameters we can generate a short 200 character summary text from the resource:


Third, we can add a thumbnail from the images within the resource:


The Icodeon Platform wraps all of these calls into a single class file, so that all the functionality becomes available within a single request:


Finally, if  we need to constrain the use of the embedded content to use on a particular domain, an API key can be added as a URL query parameter.


So with course objects available in the cloud, adoption of open data formats, and the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform - educational content is ready to used by teachers and students in their own personal learning apps and spaces during the 2010s.

The screen shot below shows the Open Learn course made available through the Icodeon Platform APIs and a Facebook mobile application:

 Web 3.0 for education?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Web, Version 2

The original vision for the World Wide Web was a “Read/Write” Web.

Web pages would not only be hosted and “read” – but browsers would easily edit and “write” to these same pages.

This original vision took time to develop – with what some commentators call the “Read-Only” Version 1 of the Web persisting through the 1990s.

With the advent of collaborative tools, such as the wiki, then simple authoring for web logs (blogs) and finally social networking sites – the original vision of a “Read/Write” Web – a Web Version 2 – is now well established.

Will Richardson is one commentator who sees immense opportunities for using such a “Read/Write” Web in education. (Listen).

The process of creating content - not just consuming it - helps students exercise and develop their own understanding. The student is actively engaged in constructing a meaning for themselves. This is a constructivist view of learning, and when combined with the networked aspect of the Web, becomes a social, constructivist view.

Andrew Keen is a media critic who takes an opposite position to Will Richardson (Listen).

For Andrew Keen the “Read/Write” Web is a danger – for if everyone can be a writer and an author, if the barriers to publishing are so, so low – how do we identify the expert, authoritative authors that we should really learn from?

These two commentators lie at opposite ends of a spectrum of how we might think about using digital resources in our education systems.

But where in this spectrum does a technology such as IMS Common Cartridge belong?

We might suggest that content - authored by experts and published by an institution with an excellent academic reputation– such as the Common Cartridges available from the UK Open Learn website – most naturally belong at the Andrew Keen end of the spectrum.

But how helpful is the polarisation of opinion, for and against the Web, Version 2?

For most teachers the distinction between social, collaborative, constructivist learning and expert, didactic, authoritative exposition is not either/or - but both.

Teachers employ a variety of teaching styles – using their professional judgement to determine which teaching and learning style is best suited to a particular learning outcome, or even a particular student.

The Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform supports teachers who use such a variety of teaching styles.

Expert, authoritative, published content deployed to the Platform can be re-mixed and integrated with social environments.

See the screen shots below.

Expert, authoritative content published by the UK Open University and deployed to the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform, is easily added to the activity stream of a Facebook user and their social graph.

Open Learn Content in a mobile application
 Authoritative content is now blended into the personal learning and group dynamics of a student.

This blog entry is derived from a presentation given by Warwick Bailey, Icodeon to the European Union National Summer School at the Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia (see video).

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Open Learn

OpenLearn is an activity of the UK Open University to provide free access to Open University course materials. The Open Learn website - called LearningSpace - has hundreds of free study units - each of which can be exported in Common Cartridge format.

This page shows some examples of using the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform URL Language with one of the Open Learn study units: Evolution through Natural Selection.

This first screen shot shows the Open Learn study unit displayed in the Icodeon Common Cartridge Explorer - an application built using only the Platform URL Language and an AJAX toolkit:

This kind of application is built by making requests to the Platform to return representations in the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format. The JSON format is specified in the Platform URL language as an extension path variable.
  • .json extension:

We can also use other extension path variables to request different representations. For example, it is easy to write an image tag to quickly place a thumbnail image on a different website.
  • .gif extension:

    <img src="{host}/cartridges/{cartridge_id}/
In addition to supporting standard file extension path variables (like .gif and .jpg), the Platform APIs include some extensions that have specific meaning only within the Icodeon Platform.
  • .go extension: used to redirect to a file that is referenced by an item resource in the cartridge manifest. Secure links can be built using the .go extension and the redirect is a URL with a time-stamped expiry.

    <a href="{host}/cartridges/{cartridge_id}/
    items/{item_id}.go">Go to the page</a>
  • .do extension: used to redirect to a landing page. The landing page can be configured using a plug-in component on the Platform - and the algorithm that determines the landing page URL is passed a collection of properties and meta data about the item resource in the cartridge manifest. The default plug-in uses the properties and meta-data to set up a Google search.

    <a href="{host}/cartridges/{cartridge_id}/
    items/{item_id}.do">Go to the landing page</a>
These extension path variables can be used in the URL Language in exactly the same way as standard file extension path variables (like .gif and .jpg).

So the use of the Platform URL language, and different extension path variables, is a simple way to securely re-use and re-mix content  from study units on different consumer websites.

Below are the results when Platform URL language is used in this blog page:

1 Charles Darwin

Go to the page

Go to the landing page

The techniques of using the Platform URL language can be combined with other Web APIs.

An example of  combining the Icodeon Platform APIs with other web APIs is shown below - content on the Icodeon CC Platform can be easily and securely shared into a Facebook activity stream using both Platform and Facebook Web APIs:

(Click for full size image)

The content then becomes available to other apps, such as mobile applications that can read the users activity stream. See the screen shot below from a Blackberry mobile device:

(Click for full size image)

Page fragment embedded into to Google Blogger blog entry.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Platform Tools

The Icodeon Platform is a software toolkit for building online education tools, apps and websites.

Technically, the Icodeon Platform is a RESTful Web API for packaged educational content such as IMS Common Cartridge and ADL SCORM. The Platform provides a set of secure "Web Services" that enable developers to build online education tools that can be integrated with social networks, blogs, wikis, learning management systems and so on.

All the web services are secured using a popular web authorization protocol called OAuth - so that only intended users can make requests and receive responses. OAuth is an open protocol to allow secure API authorization in a simple and standard method from desktop and web applications.

In addition to this core level of security and control - the Platform is supported by two tools to help developers and administrators manage the e-learning content: - the Administrator tool  and the Icodeon Platform Runtime tool.
  • The  Administrator tool is a web application that enables content collections to be imported onto the Platform and user permissions to be set. Only registered administrator users within a Platform account can log in and perform these functions. The screen shot below shows the Administrator tool listing the content packages in a particular account and some of the administrative functions available (click for full size image).
  • The Icodeon Platform Runtime tool is a web application that that enables content to be browsed. Registered administrator users within a Platform account can browse cartridge content and decide which parts of the cartridge are to be used. The Runtime tool can also be made available more generally using an authorization protocol called IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability. The screen shot below shows the Runtime tool launched by a learning object repository - so that users can browse content before downloading the cartridge for import into a learning management system (click for full size image).

Examples of Platform API usage:

BlackBoard Learning Management System

Its Learning Learning Management System

Facebook Social Network

MySpace Social Network

Sunday, 21 March 2010

App Store

If you own a smart phone it is likely that it comes pre-loaded with a suite of programs that cover what most phone users want to do most of the time.

An address book program is a must, and a calendar program is common.

But what if you have more specialized needs than what most phone users want to do most of the time? A currency conveter program, for example? A foreign language dictionary, a simulation game?

Many smart phones now come with the ability to "plug-in" a new program - personalizing the phone and extending it's functionality - and allowing the new program to securely share some of the core data and  functions of the phone. The Apple iPhone App Store is a good example of this approach - with a selection of more that 150,000 additional programs available (March 2010).

The IMS Common Cartridge specification aims to support what what most educational publishers want to do most of the time - by defining a set of educational resources common to educational publishing: content pages, external web links, discussion forums, assessment questions and so on.

But what if you have more specialized needs than what most publishers want to do most of the time? A molecular modelling environment for a chemsitry course perhaps? A foreign language dictionary, a simulation game?

The IMS Common Cartridge specification comes with the ability to "plug-in" new programs also - allowing the new program to securely share some of the core data about the learner's profile. This extensibility is afforded by the addition of the IMS (Basic) Learning Tools Interoperability specification to Common Cartridge.

Here's how it works - in three steps:

First, an educational publisher creates an XML file that describes an external program - and adds this file as a resource within a cartridge. For example, here is an XML descriptor file that references an eBook app:

<?xml version="1.0"encoding="UTF-8"?>
  <title>Organic Chemistry Chapter 1</title>
    <parameter key="ISBN">9780321598745,1</parameter>
      A link to the CourseSmart eBook Chapter 2 
of Organic Chemistry, 
7th edition, by Leroy G. Wade, published 
by Pearson Prentice Hall, copyright 2010.

It's easy to follow along with the description in the XML. There is an eBook app hosted by a vendor called CourseSmart. Note that the vendor can include some custom parameters that have meaning to the eBook app. In our case, the vendor has included a single custom parameter - which appears to be a unqiue identifier for the book (it's ISBN) followed by a chapter index. That's a guess (probably correct) - but the point is that the parameters only have meaning to the publisher and the eBook app - a learning system that implements IMS Common Cartridge does not have to understand these parameters, just honour them.

Second, the cartridge, and its XML descriptor file, are added to an e-learning system that support IMS CC - such as the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform. The XML file is parsed and the e-learning system sets up a HTML form to be posted to the launch URL defined in the XML, along with the custom parameters. A number of other parameters are added also - such as an indentifier for the user, the course the user is studying, which school the user is attending and so on. But hang on - isn't that very insecure? A user on one system is getting free access to a publisher's valuable eBook! And the publisher's eBook app is being sent the private profile of the user! There's a third step to resolve this ambiguity.

Third, the e-learning system and the eBook app exchange a pair of keys - one public key and one private key. Whenever the e-learning system makes a request to the eBook app, the request is signed - a parameter string is added the request that only a party owning both the public and the private key can decode. In this way the eBook app knows unambigously which system sent the request - because the only party that owns the pairs of keys, apart from itself, is the e-learning system.

You can see how this works in the screen shot below of the Icodeon Cartridge Explorer application (click for full size image):

Details from the XML descriptor file have been made available and the HTML form has been set up with the custom parameters and the user profile. The launch button is clicked, the request is signed, the eBook app decodes the signature and  reads the parameters, and the eBook is made available to the user in a new window (click for full size image):

By using IMS (Basic) Learning Tools Interoperability with cartridges, like using the Apple App Store for the iPhone, there is a great potential for adding new programs to extend standard functionality.

You can see how this might be used within education on our Organic Chemistry page - a demonstration page that shows how a college chemistry tutor might mash-up  YouTube video, Common Cartridge assessments and eBook launch into a single blog page.

See the video by Dr Charles Severance (IMS) introducing IMS (Basic) Learning Tools Interoperability.

IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability from Charles Severance on Vimeo.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Distributed Learning Environments

Building on the CETIS 09 composing your learning environment sessions, a meeting on 04 March 2010 focused on the area of distributed learning technologies - to provide a focus for discussion on the future of the learning management systems.

A number of presentations demonstrating various models were shown at the event including the ICODEON CC Platform and Google Wave. See the agenda here.

The background breifing paper is here, previous discussion is here and Twitter stream from the meeting is here.

Slideshare from the Icodeon presentation is below:

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Phone Home

The Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform enables Common Cartridge features to be integrated into different web environments - such as blogs, wikis and social networking sites.

Some Common Cartridge features, such as assessments and discussions, may require a unique user identity, and sometimes this identity can be accessed from the web environment.

For example, look at this integration with the MySpace social networking platform - the user's identity and their social graph are available to be mixed with the content from the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform.

 But what about web environments where the user identity is not available or inaccessible? In these cases, we can use a technique where the user can "phone home" to another website to "ask for permission" to use their identity "away from home".

There are a number of "home" websites that allow their users to "phone home" - Google (Friend Connect) and Facebook (Connect) are two popular examples - but in principle, any web application can set up a service, using the OAuth protocol for example.

You can see a live example in our Psychology of Faces demonstration page. In this page, the learner is guided through some material on psychology and the human expression of emotions - and then invited to post a comment to a discussion topic from the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform.

To post a comment, the learner first needs to "phone home" to their "home" Facebook account - and then use their Facebook screen name and icon/avatar in the discussion topic post. All posts are persisted to the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform. Optionally, posting activity can also be reflected  back to the Facebook wall and activity stream of the contributing users.

Click the screen shot below for full size image.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Why Things Happen

~ Demonstration page using content deployed to the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform ~

A hammer falls to the ground, nobody falls off continents in the southern hemisphere, and the Earth continues to orbit the sun.

In physics during the 17th century, Isaac Newton described a single Law of Gravity that explained why all these things happen.

But why does a candle burn, and not a rock? Why does iron rust and not gold? And why does water stay at 100 degrees even when you continue to keep heating it up? Why do these things happen?

In chemistry, scientists have decribed Laws of Thermodynamics - that explain why these types of things, these chemical processes, happen.

We might think that we know what everyday words such as temperature, heat and energy mean - but scientists in the 18th and 19th century had to work hard to define these concepts precisely.

The links below introduce some of these fundamental ideas in thermodynamics. These links are for Lesson 1, from a course of 3 lessons in physical chemistry.

In everyday life we might use words such as temperature and heat to mean the same thing - but in thermodynamics the two words have different, and very precise, meanings.

Check your understanding of scientific meaning of the word heat with these questions:

The lesson plan for this page ("Thermodynamics") was developed at The Faculty of Computer and Information Science at Ljubljana in Slovenia (

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Great Britain

~ Demonstration page using content deployed to the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform ~

What is that island state just across the "English" channel from France?

Is it England? Or the United Kingdom? Great Britain? Or the British Isles? Part of the Commonwealth? (What is that?).

Many visitors would call the island state by the name "England" - but they would soon change their choice of words if they met a resident from Scotland! Or from Wales. And what about Northern Ireland too? So there is some confusion for visitors...

Look at this article about the Union Jack flag - the history of the flag tells us something about the relationships between the regions that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Visitors often asscociate some cultural aspects as uniquely British, and include:
  • the use of satire in humour and comedy
  • the playing of team sports like cricket and rugby
  • the use of politeness and reserve in relationships
Look at this video about a fictional hotel in England to identify some cultural aspects as uniquely British:

Now check your understanding with the quick quiz below:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nam eros urna, bibendum ut ultricies vel, feugiat sit amet turpis. Etiam quis diam turpis, nec cursus turpis. Nulla gravida augue a urna blandit in ornare ligula cursus.

Explore some of the issues of British identity in our discussion topic below. Login with your Facebook username and password, and add your ideas - what do you think?

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Psychology of Faces

~ Demonstration Page using content deployed to the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform ~

Who hasn't waited for an old friend at an airport and scanned faces impatiently as passengers come hurrying through the gate?

Finally, your friend appears, face lighting up as you come into view. If a mirror suddenly dropped down before you, there'd be that same goofy smile on your face, the same look of uncomplicated pleasure.

As psychologists now are discovering, the power of the face resides in the fleeting split-second expressions that slip across it thousands of times each day.

Check your understanding of the science of psychology:

You can read the full article from Psychology Today and then explore some of the issues in our discussion topic below. Login with your Facebook username and password, and add your ideas - what do you think?

Friday, 26 February 2010


Orkut is a social networking site with more than 37 million total members, the majority of which are Brazilian, followed smaller numbers of users from India and the United States, mainly in the 18-30 demographic.

The site is owned and operated by Google and is named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten.

For OpenSocial development, Orkut is an attractive platform, despite its niche demographic (mainly Brazilians under 30) - because it is very easy to set up a developer "sandbox" account that can be used to explore deployment of OpenSocial applications that integrate with data from the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform.

Once the an application has been developed in the Orkut "sandbox", the same application can be deployed to other platforms- such as MySpace - where perhaps the development environment is less comfortable to use or harder to set up.

You first need to sign up for a standard Orkut account and then for a "sandbox" at the following location:

All that is required is name, company name and email - and you are ready to start deploying OpenSocial apps to  "sandbox" - see screen shot above right and click for full size image.

The screenshot  on the left shows an application deployed to Orkut that intgerates data and functionality from the social network with data from a discussion topic deployed to the Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform.

Click for full size image.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Content Delivery

For internet applications that make heavy use of static content, there are a number of solutions that can be used to improve performance - by reducing load on the web server that is managing the dynamic content and by moving static content to the shortest network distance from the requesting client.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are commercially available as sets of grid computers - to free up resources from the server that manages the dynamic content and produce a fast response time for the client through caching and local geographic proximity.

The Icodeon Common Cartridge Platform has a static content hosting plug-in architecture so that plug-ins for different hosting solutions and  CDNs can be added.

For example, the platform is provided with a default plug-in that uses the Amazon S3 Simple Storage hosting service for all static content from within a cartridge.

When a request is made to the Icodeon platform, the dynamic content (XML, JSON) representation is returned, but all references to static content (images, media files, styles sheets and so on) are re-written by the static content hosting plug-in to point out to the hosting service or CDNs.

In the screen shot below of a MySpace app the dynamic content is created both by the Icodeon Platform and the social network site (using a web application hybrid mashup design) - but the references images and attachments are re-written to be requested from the hosting service or CDN:

 The requests made to the  hosting service or CDN are also time stamped - so that the actual URL used to request the static content will expire - protecting the cartridge resources, the images and attachments, from being used outside their intended apps and domains.