Monday, 25 April 2011

Key actions in implementing online portfolios as e-portfolios in OLPC schools


Written for educators and key decision makers interested in the curricular adoption of online portfolios for e-portfolio creation in Visual Arts and/or Design at one laptop per child (OLPC) schools.

The Department of Education's Western Cape Education Department's Visual Arts and Design (WCEDVAD) curricular advisers, Leon Buchner and John Cowan, are currently developing their department's new website; I am assisting them by writing content for its new "online tools" section. 

Those interested in the curricular adoption of online portfolios as e-portfolios in an OLPC environment can view this Google Docs webpage which lists the key actions an educator should take to prepare and implement related curricula: this is the first draft of the document, whose actions were proposed to address challenges experienced during a 2010 adoption of Carbonmade in a private school.These actions will be updated on a needs basis by curricular advisers and select Cape Town educators. Ultimately, these actions will be listed under the WCEDVAD's new site; in its "online tools" section under an "e-portfolio" sub-category...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A sound conversion: change files from .caf to .mp3 format

Written for Apple iPhone, QuickVoice recorder and NVivo 9-using researchers.

If you already own an iPhone, the free version of QuickVoice recorder works really nicely as a dictaphone alternative. 

By default, it saves the  voice recordings one makes to Apple’s Core Audio Format (.caf). However, this format is not supported by NVivo 9 software, which can import mp3, wma and wav files as internal or external data sources. 

Fortunately, it is easy to convert .caf files to .mp3 using the free version of Switch software.
  1. After downloading Switch, install and launch it. 
  2. Make sure your internet connection is active.
  3. Once you've selected one or more .caf files, specified the .mp3 conversion and pressed "convert", Switch will automatically update itself with the code it needs to do this type of conversion.
  4. The converted .mp3 will be exported to the folder you specified.
Aside from being NVivo 9 compatible, another advantage of converting .caf files to the mp3 format is the reduction in files' sizes by a half (i.e. 69.8 MB to 34.9 MB). If you are importing several interviews as internal sources, this benefits you by reducing your project file's size.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Workshops with benefits: NVivo 9 and Apple Automator

My research project is steadily changing its emphasis from focussing on collecting data at research sites to analysis. To help in this transition, I recently attended a qualitative research software workshop for NVivo 9 in Johannesburg, led by Fiona Wiltshier (a qsrinternational.com training manager and independent researcher). 

On the first day, Fiona gave Southern African researchers an introduction to:
  • setting up one's research project; 
  • working with information;
  • sorting, organising and analyzing information;
  • and working with one's themes and ideas and shaping one's findings. 

On the second day, we were taught how-to;
  • build and work with models, create and show relationships;
  • group data using collections and links;  
  • explore data with text analysis, coding and query tools;
  • visualize data in charts and query results in tree maps and word trees;
  • create reports and extracts. 
Both days saw the researchers working with data from a common example in the morning, then working on our personal research projects in the late-afternoon. With her research background and in-depth experience of using NVivo, Fiona also focussed on the high-level thinking required to set-up a project to answer one's research questions, understanding how best to use the software and, importantly, what it cannot do {i.e. automatically transcribe and code one's interviews !} plus common errors to avoid. 

Fiona's advice was very beneficial; she instructed me in the importance of protecting my research subjects' privacy even before entering their data into NVivo, setting up an appropriate folder structure for my source data and thinking very carefully about the categories, nodes and classifications to be used.

After the course, I was not only able to use NVivo 9, but also had a clearer understanding of what data to use in my research (or not). This benefitted me in helping narrow the focus of my thesis' "Methodology" chapter, which will shortly be reviewed at Professor Johannes Cronje's Technology in Education Research Postgraduate Students' meeting.

Before the NVivo 9 workshop, I knew that I could not import .png images (the default format on my laptop for screengrabs) into its software. Thinking that there must be a better way than converting these files to .jpg one-by-one, I attended a free workshop at DigiCape Claremont (formerly Project 3) on Apple OSX's Automator software. Alan Goldberg presented on how you can create a workflow by setting up a series of steps that link a series of programs. In my case, I used the "Preview" and "Reveal Finder Item" software to launch a jpg. conversion workflow, whenever files were placed in the  "Convert screengrabs to JPG" folder. 

From a practical viewpoint, the Automator workshop was very beneficial in saving me many man-hours... From a knowledge perspective, learning that one can use it to prepare rote batch jobs between applications should hold future benefit: I look forward to using it in the future. Particularly since there are plenty of resources available online (at sites like www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/automator and http://automator.us) so I could benefit from building a workflow on the shoulders of an Automator guru!

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