Xerte16 Conference

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The Xerte16 Conference was the first official Xerte conference marking a shift from being managed by Nottingham University to being managed by the Apereo Foundation ( https://www.apereo.org/ ).  Apereo is a network of institutions that support software used in thousands of educational institutions worldwide.

The First Key note was from Ian Dolphin, the Executive Director of Apereo. The presentation was about Apereo, How Xerte fits in the group of software products that are supported by Apereo, the future of Xerte and some of the other projects that come under the umbrella of Apereo.

After the first key note the conference split in to parallel sessions. So I can only account the a third of what happened, However all the sessions were recorded and should be available online soon.

The first session I attended was about the use of Xerte for problem based learning. It reported on two case studies with medical and veterinary students, which used the nonlinear branching option within Xerte to create a branching scenarios for the diagnostic procedures of medical conditions.

The second session was about the accessibility features in Xerte and how Xerte was designed from the off set to be accessible. It showed how now Xerte is totally HTML based it can take full advantage of all the accessibility future of the browser. A very useful free Chrome extension called ClaroRead was demonstrated showing how text can be spoken out for Dyslexic and visual impaired users simply by activating the plugin and selecting the text.

The next session addressed previous complaints that Xerte was very linear and didn’t look very good. This was done by demonstrating Xerte templates which were designed to look like Articulate Storyline (A leading commercial package for creating learning objects). While this session did show how attractive Xerte can look. And demonstrated very well the nonlinear capabilities offered by some of the Xerte page types, It did seem that to accomplish this effect you had to be a developer with some experience in using Xerte and that basic users would not be able to accomplish the same results.

The Second Key Note was by Sal Cook OBE: This was about her involvement with the Xerte project from the beginning and how easy Xerte is to use.

The last two parallel session I attended were both about student use of Xerte.

One was about how they adapted Xerte online tool kits 3.1 and Moodle to be used a portfolio tool to be used with school children as summative assessment for the Welsh Baccalaureate. A pilot has been run, while there have been complaints from students about having to learn how to you a new product, it seems that the finical advantages of using Xerte out way these. They are hoping to roll this method of assessment out to over 54000 students throughout Wales.

The second use of Xerte with students was a case study from Lincoln University. This showed how first year undergraduate history students used Xerte online toolkits 2.0 to create a Xerte learning object instead of text documents for a summative assessment. Here again there were student complaints about having to learn how to use Xerte. There were also a number of complaints about problems in using Xerte online tool kits 2.0, Most of these complaints could be resolved by upgrading to Xerte online tool kits 3.1. This session ended with a discussion about the problems of getting the IT department to implement Xerte.

The conference ended with a Q and A session with the Xerte development team. The main question being “What do you want us to do next”.

My thoughts on Xerte online toolkits 3.1

Xerte has come a long way since we last used Xerte online toolkit 1.2 here at the University of Derby. Xerte can now be fully HTML based. This means that it is not reliant on flash so it can be used in all browsers for both viewing and editing. It is also now compatible with most modern mobile devices, if the content is created with mobile devices in mind. You can now even create and edit Xerte learning objects from your tablet.0

There are however still a number of issues.

One is that the basic templates that come with Xerte are not brilliant. This is an issue that has been there since the early days of Xerte and has still not been looked at. One example of this is the question types are inconsistent. Some of the drag and drop questions don’t allow you to put the answer in the wrong place others do. While developers can fix these issues and create customised templates (as we did with Xerte 2 during our initial trials of xerte) there is no guarantee that these template will work in the next version of Xerte. The same goes for content, when you upgrade Xerte there is no guarantee that existing content can be moved to the new version without having to re-input it, particularly if that content was created from a customised template. This is also an issue with some of the competitors’ products but imagine how would feel if you couldn’t open your PowerPoint 2010 presentations when you upgrade to PowerPoint 2013.

Another issue is ease of use. Allow they have improved the text editor and you no longer see the HTML code in the text editing window, you still have to fill out forms with no real idea where the text will appear until you press the play button to play the presentation and navigate to the slide you are working on.

At the conference Xerte was being compared to other learning object creation tools such as iSpring and Storyline. Xerte came out on top for cost and output quality whilst the  usability is comparable. Although Xerte is comparable to these products I feel that the Xerte online toolkits are now more comparable to WordPress, WordPress being a well-established open source web publishing product with many plugins including plugins for creating learning objects. Compared to WordPress, Xerte is a long way behind but the area where is does shine is where it started in creating small interactive learning objects for embedding in other content.

With the improvement to Xerte I no longer see any reason for not having Xerte online toolkits at the University of Derby if we are willing to use the standard templates and should there be a demand for it.

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