learning objects

Getting flirty with Xerte – Conference experience

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First of all I apologise for the title of this blog, but now that I have your attention, please do read on…

Last week I attended the Xerte Conference at the University of Nottingham. I have been championing Xerte for a number of years now as a tool that both staff and students can use to create rich, interactive multimedia learning objects. Xerte is an open source tool that has grown significantly since the University of Nottingham developed it back in 2008. It is now part of the Apereo community project, which is “a global network of higher education institutions that collaborate to develop and sustain software supporting education.”

All of the sessions were recorded using Echo360 and will be publicly available soon. It is also worth noting that presenters were asked to use Xerte instead of PowerPoint for their presentations. Even if you don’t read all of this rather long blog, I encourage you to look at the Xerte examples from each of the workshops to see how it could be used within your teaching.

Keynote morning:

The Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation, Ian Dolphin, gave the first keynote of the conference by providing delegates with an overview of what is Apereo Foundation. He talked about the value in open source products “keeping the market honest” and that open communities are diverse and innovative. The Apereo software communities are shaping the “next generation of digital learning environments.”

After the morning keynote there were five groups of workshops to choose from with three workshops in each group, here are the notes from the workshops that I attended, most of which were presented using V3 of Xerte:

An innovative method of delivering problem based learning in clinical education (V3)

Presenters: Michael Randall and Liz Mossop

Link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/toolkits/play_14578

The Vet School and Pharmacy department use Xerte to present trigger material to their students, encouraging engagement through the ability to add rich multimedia and interactivity to their learning objects. Students safely work through a clinical case until they come to the correct diagnosis. As Xerte offers branching, it is possible to demonstrate what will happen with an incorrect diagnosis but in a safe learning environment.

Key Points:

  • Additional information can be added to the Xerte learning object to provide students with more patient information e.g test results, as they work through the case.
  • Better to use real actors for role playing videos, looks more professional.
  • Add audio to give the clinical case authenticity.


Creating a Community Learning Hub with Xerte Online Toolkits (V3)

Presenters: Julian Tenney and Pat Lockley

Link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/toolkits/play_14620#page1section1

Julian Tenney, Xerte Project’s Lead Developer, started his session by talking about DS106, a digital storytelling online course that acts as community learning hub for students to explore and create rich multimedia content. Julian proposed that Xerte could be used in a similar way with an example of a bootstrap template containing an RSS feed aggregator and Twitter widget. It was certainly food for thought and illustrated the diversity of Xerte.

Key points:

  • Xerte is a flexible collaborative tool.
  • Aggregating student content using an Rss feed similar to how Moocs aggregate student content.

Flipped Classroom and nano-learning made easy with Xerte Online Toolkits (V3)

Presenter: Inge Donkervoort

Link: https://xot.12change.eu/play.php?template_id=847

Inge showed us some really nice examples of using Xerte to flip the classroom which you can find in the Xerte learning object above. Xerte is an ideal tool for the non-technical amongst us to develop rich multimedia content that can enhance the student learning experience through simple techniques like “spaced repetition.” This isn’t a new technique but a very valid way of tackling the problem that “90% of all information learned in a traditional classroom setting is lost within 1yr.”

Key points:

  • Break the learning down into chunks.
  • Keep it short.
  • Use “space repetition” to keep revisiting essential information


Keynote afternoon:

Sal Cooke OBE has had an illustrious career over quite a number of decades; suffice to say there aren’t many educational organisations who haven’t heard of Sal. I didn’t take any notes during this keynote as it was really about Sal recognising all those that have been involved in Xerte and how she has seen over the years how Xerte has crossed over into non-academic organisations around the world.

Themes, colours and easy customisation (V3)

Presenter: Fay Cross

Link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/toolkits/play_14511

Fay began her session with the disclaimer that she was a developer not a presenter. That said, she did a really good job of explaining what non-technical users, developers and system admins could do with Xerte V3 . We are scheduled to upgrade to V3 by the end of May 2016.

Key Points:

  • WYSIWYG editor is significantly better in Xerte V3.
  • Much easier to brand your Xerte learning objects.
  • Staff and students can create professional looking re-usable learning objects.

Raising the profile of Xerte in your institution (V2)

Presenter: Alison Christie

Link: https://xerte.abertay.ac.uk/play.php?template_id=207

An afternoon slot at a conference can be a challenge especially on a warm sunny day, so I decided I would present some Abertay Xerte examples then get participants to use some low-tech post-it’s to write down what they thought were the challenges or barrier and solutions to raising the profile of Xerte within their institution. There was a good mixture of institutions that were right at the start of deploying Xerte and those who had been using it for a few years, so there was a lot of discussion.

Final Keynote

Unfortunately I missed the final keynote as I had to catch a train home but the presentation can be found here http://xot.xerte.org.uk/play.php?template_id=2 .

Final Thoughts on Xerte Conference

It was very beneficial to meet other Xerte users and see how they have developed interactive learning objects for teaching and learning. Open source products have come a long way over the past few years and are no longer seen as a high risk option but one that can be collaborative, innovate, diverse and community supported. Of course it is essential to have the necessary resources to support open source tools and that the product meets institutional requirements but they can be as sustainable as commercial tools.

The flexibility of Xerte makes it a very valid tool for all schools at Abertay, whether you want to use it for problem-solving scenarios, drawing conclusions, using it as a revision aid or getting students to create content for their module, it offers something for everyone.

All Abertay staff and students have access to the Xerte server using their username and password at this address http://xerte.abertay.ac.uk/ . Getting started information can be found on our TELS intranet pages.


Learning Technologist

Note: The other Xerte learning objects from the sessions I didn’t attend can be found under workshop details and resources at the following URL http://xot.xerte.org.uk/play.php?template_id=1