[insert interesting title here] my PhD studentship proposal

So today I handed this in along with my application form and two embarrassingly glowing references (which I honestly wish I could frame over my workstation to buck me up on THOSE days when I’m struggling to do a task I’ve set myself and am staring at the screen thinking “I’m so shit at EVERYTHING!”)

…But I digress.

Most of you will have no interest in the topic which has had me scouring google scholar for papers I could access (and to the delightful love who loaned me his athens details for the last few days I shall be eternally grateful as without that this proposal would likely never have been finished on time!)

But.. for those of you who ARE interested in VLE’s and PLE’s and actually know what they are – here’s my research proposal: (I know, the title could use a little help but if I actually do get the studentship I’ll have 3 years to work on it)

Developing PLE 3.0: a look at web 2.0 and the HCI considerations for use in an integrated composite based system

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the field of electronic learning (E-learning), prompted in no small part by the changes in our global economy and the different methods and technologies now freely available for educational resourcing. A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or in the case of large institutions a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) is arguably the most important component in the commercial E-learning delivery system.

Despite its long success, the commercial VLE has a number of problems in use as outlined in this observation from Vance Stevens in the electronic journal ‘On the internet’ (2012) who states:

“Even worse are the pedagogical implications of reliance on one-stop LMS. To varying degrees, both Bb and Moodle put course developers into a straitjacket when they call into play the same features over and over. This is not to say that neither program allows imaginative development, but it’s difficult for lay teachers to break away from templates that look alike and do exactly what they purport to do, manage learning. The problem is that too often, it’s the LMS that manages the learning and not the teacher as course designer…“

Seven years ago Siemens (2004) accurately described how the pre-packaged LMS ‘straitjacket’ approach is at odds with the rapidly changing demands on learners and those words are as true today as they were then:

“It appears that our real-life manner of learning is at odds with the design and implementations of most LMS. Strongly structured tools, with limited extensibility, face short life cycles in rapidly changing environments. Modularized approaches give the instructor or learner (not the administrator or organization) the control to follow the meandering paths of rich learning. Selecting specialized tools to achieve specific tasks – and being able to add them to the learning environment quickly – are critical to rich learning ecologies.”

Debate still continues about the best strategies for the management of online learning resources and the student experience resulting in newer technologies and a slow rise in educators breaking away from their institutional MLE’s to create a more personalised learning environment (PLE).

This occurs even in cases where the institutional MLE allows the use of in-house versions of the desired web 2.0 tools, as we discovered during the CABLE 3.0 ‘To build a virtual learning community across the Hertfordshire HE consortium’ project in 2008 (which first piqued my interest in the field of E-learning and VLE’s in particular).

We also learned while presenting at various conferences (University of Hertfordshire International Blended Learning conference 2009, 2010 and 2011 and University of Greenwich ‘Future Learningscapes’ 2010) that, due to their ease of use, blogging platforms such as WordPress or blogger are increasingly being chosen for use as e-portfolios across different disciplines.

The supposition of this proposal is that the main reason for such a migration is that there are Human Computer Interaction (HCI) issues within the use of the institutional offerings which make migration a more attractive solution to educators than simply learning how to use the in house options. This theory is based primarily upon findings made during my involvement in the CABLE 3.0 project, and observations shared whilst part of the ESCAPE and the HEA Inclusive cultures projects. Conversations with members of my extensive personal learning network on twitter, specifically regarding the use of blogs and wikis, alongside a recent in depth literature review on VLE design characteristics support the theory that it is indeed HCI considerations which are leading to PLE uptake:

“…For example, interface, respectively, screen design is found to show an impact on users’ perceived functionality of a VLE (Cho et al., 2009). That is, the better the visual appeal of the VLE’s graphical user interface is, the more users perceive the VLE to exhibit appropriate system functionalities.”

Mueller, Daniel and Strohmeier, Stefan (2011) p2511

The definition of a PLE as given at a conference in 2011 would suggest adaptation of a large legacy system to allow for such integration may be more time cost effective than attempting to change the institutional offering to attempt to match user expectations and the more specialised web 2.0 tools.

“From a technological point of view PLE can be defined as an integration framework that incorporates 2.0 technologies, supports interaction with other learning contexts, facilitates interoperability with other existing systems (such as learning content and resource repositories and VLE) and provides monitoring systems for learner’s activity.”

Conde et al (2011)

As this conference paper shows, work has already been undertaken to allow such integration to occur in LMS platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard, but from my observations of conference presentations over the last 4 years it seems WordPress is steadily gaining ground as the chosen content management system (CMS) at the heart of these PLE’s; purely because of the gentle learning curve for new users and its flexibility with regards integration with web 2.0 tools.

To add a pertinent example; my Bachelor of Science final year project was to build a website for a peripatetic music teacher that allowed some VLE functionality and her request was specifically for a WordPress installation for the perceived ease of use.

Therefore it seems reasonable to extend and develop this work and look at the ways in which a managed learning environment could integrate with this type of WordPress based PLE; perhaps by using an industry standard such as Basic LTI in a similar manner to the work on Moodle as highlighted at the 2009 CETIS conference. The beauty of such an approach is that there would be no reason for the institution to change the VLE, this would just allow the incorporation of web 2.0 tools to allow more flexibility for its users.

However, before this could occur there needs to be a PLE which reflects the reasons for migration from the institutional MLE and to discover which web 2.0 tools are currently being used in such a manner and for what purposes.

It is not the intention to suggest any company or institution need replace their current VLE in favour of the proposed PLE model, the final aim of the proposed PhD research is to provide a clear indication of the areas where integration with readily available web 2.0 tools is more favourable than further development of standalone ‘plugins’ thereby reducing the time cost of VLE design and maintenance in line with the Agile principle of eliminating waste.

To this end, the main questions this PhD research proposal seeks to answer are:

  1. What are the staff and students reasons for migration to PLE from MLE?
  2. What are the preferred web 2.0 tools?
  3. Why were they chosen?
  4. Of the most popular, which tools are best suited for inclusion in a ‘one-stop’ PLE model with a view to allowing MLE integration?

At a global level, this data would enable a component based system to be modelled that allows for an adaptable web based ‘PLE 3.0’. Having a PLE model would give educators the ability to ‘plug in’ the most suitable web 2.0 components for the course needs without having to do a lengthy search and suitability evaluation process themselves. In effect, this would give them the advantage of a commercial VLE without the lock-in of a template driven course design.

Having such data available would also be of use to the open source community who are responsible for the design and maintenance of many of the web 2.0 tools in use by educators. This would hopefully lead to improvements in such products and possibly even an interest in making such interoperability for VLE integration a priority in future versions.

A web 2.0 PLE model would also likely be of value to the commercial sector as it would mean small businesses could set up training packages using such tools in this manner with minimal cost and effort. At a corporate level, this would likely be an attractive alternative to current commercial VLE offerings as it would mean using tools already utilised in their every day workflow thereby cutting down on training overheads.

Future study would seek to answer the question of how such integration could take place and which would be the best method to use.



Stevens, Vance (2012) “Learner-centered Do-it-yourself Learning Management Systems” The electronic journal for English as a second language: On the Internet 15(4) p 2. Available [online] at http://tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej60/int.pdf accessed 15th June 2012

Siemens, George (2004) “Learning Management Systems; the wrong place to start learning” Available at http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm accessed 15/06/2012 accessed 15th June 2012

Cho, V., Cheng, E. T. C., & Lai, J. W. M. (2009). The role of perceived user-interface design in continued usage intention of self-paced e-learning tools. Computers & Education, 53(2), pp216–227 Cited in: Mueller, Daniel and Strohmeier, Stefan (2011) Design characteristics of virtual learning environments: state of research Computers & Education 57(4) pp2505-2516 available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131511001461  accessed 20th June 2012

Personal Learning Environment conference (2011) Merging Learning Management Systems and Personal Learning Environments. Proceedings of the PLE Conference. Conde, Miguel A. and García, Francisco J. and Alier, Marc and Casany, María J (authors) 10th – 12th July 2011. Southampton, UK. available at http://journal.webscience.org/559/  accessed 17th June 2012

JISC CETIS (2009) Composing your learning environment: new models. Proceedings of the JISC CETIS conference; A Brave New World. Kraan, Wilbert and MacNeill, Sheila 10th -11th November 2009. Aston available at http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/index.php?title=Composing_your_Learning_Environment%3B_new_models&oldid=18201 accessed 14th June 2012


So, if you got this far you either REALLY like this field or you’re in complete procrastination mode at work – if the latter then SHAME ON YOU *cracks whip* get back to work! …If the former – whaddaya think? I obviously think of this as an interesting topic for research and I’m dying to get the lowdown on what web 2.0 tools people use in their course delivery – I’m even more interested in learning WHY those specific tools were chosen, how they’re being used and what the opinion is of them in use.

Somehow 3 years doesn’t seem long enough for this project when you look at it like that.

Reaching for the sky

The last few weeks have been spent perusing journal abstracts and any freely available papers I could get my hands on in an attempt to formulate a decent Phd topic in order to apply for a studentship at the University of Hertfordshire. The main problem I have had is paring down my million and one ideas and areas of interest into one decent question that has enough literature out there to avoid ‘tracks in the snow’ type issues.

The initial ‘boiled down’ idea which seemed promising based on a couple of abstracts I found was to do with a percieved difference in the critical success factor of BME students between online and offline learning – sadly when I managed to obtain an athens login to actually check my assumptions it turned out the actual papers said nothing of the sort – so scratch that!

After arranging to meet with Theo to ask specifically about his current work, I ended up sat in the humanities department office chatting with 5 or 6 lovely folk about their ongoing Phd work and my past experience and interests. Several times I was advised to work from an experience perspective for now as I can always migrate more towards my less understood areas of academic interest when I’ve done enough reading to justify it; apparently for the application process I merely need to show that I’m a good candidate who can structure a proposal that the department can resource and supervise. They actually EXPECT you to change focus at least slightly in the first 8 months as you start immersing yourself in the literature of your chosen field.

This is encouraging. While not extensive, my experience in projects conducting participatory action research is recent and fairly varied, I’ve presented several times at UK conferences about these projects and once at the international Blended Learning conference on my own final year project and experiences as an undergrad. This shows I can take what I’ve learned and present it to others – a Phd requirement from what I’ve heard.

The hope is that I will be accepted onto the studentship, actually put some of my ideas into action and make a difference. it’s like the ultimate dream ‘job’ for me: being paid to study and help other people academically in a place I can walk to with people I already respect and admire.

So yeah, fingers crossed and any advice re the UK Phd application process gratefully received. It’s a long shot as competition for these places will be fierce but I’m hopeful – and what’s life without hope eh?!

I’m sorry twitter but I love pinterest now, can we still be friends..?

Since breaking my phone and having to suffer the reduced data offerings of an intermittent 3g signal on the ‘new’ one, I’ve had less and less inclination to do anything online unless my laptop is fired up. So is it any shock that I’m spending less time on Twitter?

Some of you may say YES! others will merely ‘meh’. But it’s true, part of the reason I found twitter so compelling was its usefulness for discovering new information and finding links to things within my areas of interest – pinterest beats it hands down for everything but the e-learning stuff on my interest list (sadly not many images on those types of articles so can’t pin ’em) and to be honest, my interest in anything ‘work’ related is being slowly eroded the longer it’s taking me to find a job; I need to be challenged to find something of interest and having no work goal has slowly turned my interests in other directions as I try to keep from losing hope on the employment front.

Instead I now prefer to use twitter for chatting and find it more useful as a real time communication tool than as a place for learning: sorry Twitter, it isn’t you; it’s me. I’ve changed and I think we should maybe take a break and not see so much of each other… I admit it, I’ve found someone new – someone younger, prettier and more interesting than you, well, interestingly different anyway…

Pinterest is now my favourite way to spend time online of late; it cheers me up and sort of helps to straighten out any kinks in my thinking and gives me the enthusiasm and inspiration to try new things.

If having an active mind truly slows down the aging process then Pinterest will keep me young forever!

Through pinterest I have whittled down to the things that truly bring joy into my life, the things that I deem important enough to make time for – even if some of that time is just spent pinning ideas for when I also have the space and funds to allow that time to be used more productively. You want to know what they are? there’s no real shock to those of you who know me:

  1. making things (jewellery, crafty bits and web ‘stuff’)
  2. cuddling with Stef and Bella
  3. spending time with Claire
  4. reading
  5. singing

I’ve found that reading the ‘funnies’ and the ‘words of wisdom’ type boards make me feel more affectionate and forgiving and thankful for my family and the things we have, more content in myself and generally more ‘rooted’ in MY idea of me.
I like that feeling, especially if suffering a bad cfs day or when ‘pms’ fuelled dissatisfaction is kicking in; it brings me back around to a more reasonable, positive and receptive frame of mind.

The educational and ‘kids’ boards help me to come up with ideas to keep bella interested, happy and safe. The jewellery and craft boards feed my ideas and love of making pretty/ useful things (and the storage porn on there is just too awesome to behold) I’ve even discovered a small germ of  enthusiasm for cooking through the wild and wonderful collection of recipes that people have pinned – and even *gasp* cleaning and decluttering.

There is no denying that it can be an absolute time sink and could even be compared to the Red Dwarf ‘better than life’ idea, but if you lack focus in your life it is invaluable in staving off despair and offering solutions; I’m currently working on a back-up plan to the employment issue thanks to several ‘kick up the arse’ type pinners and will gladly spend time on that site over tv – if nothing else I get exercise through jumping up every few pins to check on ingredients/ craft items/ space which never happens when i’m link chasing elsewhere and Stef has the dubious pleasure of seeing the effects of my ‘tidying’ (which depending on energy levels involves moving furniture around and utilising strange items unconventionally to make better use of our minimal living space)

It keeps me happy – what does it do for you? have you tried it or are you scared of being sucked in…? It’s been around long enough now not to be classed a fad so are you a pinner convert or not?

Just ’cause..

Had some very kind and interesting offers since writing my last post so one way or another it looks like I get to keep my site *grin* do people on the internet rock or what..?

I need to curb my pinterest addiction though or very little will be done to the place (if you’re interested in seeing the kind of things I’ve collected then check out http://pinterest.com/rosevibe/ some lovely things there – if you want an invite let me know) the problem is I’m lacking focus; I need a job, a set of aims and objectives – something with an externally imposed deadline.

That’s right, a deadline.

I know I whined about ’em all through uni but the truth is that f I don’t have a set deadline I flounder and bimble and just collect ideas for things to do ‘someday’ but someday never comes. There is no urgency to the things I want to do for myself; unless it is for another person I let life get in the way and put things off because they’re not really important.

If we owned our own home then it might be different; I could make that my focus and actually do some of the things I’ve earmarked to make life a little easier and utilise the space we have to it’s best advantage – but when you rent a place it’s not so easy to change things, especially when you know it will cost you money in the long run as you have to put it all back the way it was when you move.

Instead I’m fumbling around in a kind of limbo and I hate it; I hate lacking purpose; always have.

I have too many interests and no NEED to focus on any or to choose a favourite, unless I’m doing something for somebody else and have that fear of letting them down to spur me on I’ll continue to make lists, collect tutorials and read about the things I should be doing.

This week has been nice as I’ve had a small job to do, my former tutor had me editing a 3 minute elevator pitch video for some project funding; it was a tight deadline but to be honest, I prefer that; I need that slight feeling of pressure to get the juices flowing. I just wish I hadn’t had a couple of CFS days to deal with in the middle of it or I would feel like I’d done a better job.

..Then again, it wasn’t a bad job; just not up to my perfectionist aspirations, I can always see where I could have done better; still not quite down with the ‘just good enough’ mentality necessary to get things moving.

That’s probably my greatest weakness; I need somebody else to say “stop, it’ll do as it is” because left to myself I’ll be tweaking forever in order to make whatever it is match the perfect result I envision in my head and nobody else will ever see my creation because it “isn’t ready/ it’s not good enough”

So realistically – even if I do ‘get the chance’ to work on it, this website will likely always be as is; my test site still isn’t shiny enough.. One day I’ll find confidence in my abilities and stop comparing myself to people who for years have been doing the things for a living that I’m just learning; but not today.

Today I have to create some pdf’s for another uni contact and play around with wordpress to do so – they want a basic users guide so, screenshots a-plenty. ..And I might venture out into the sunshine for a dose of vitamin D when I’m sick of doing that 😉

..Staying away from pinterest – it’s a worse time sink than stumbleupon!

I’m going to miss you

It seems life is dragging me away from the web on all fronts of late. First there’s the continuous illnesses our household has had to contend with; since September (or even before) we’ve had maybe 2 consecutive weeks where nobody has had a cold/ flu/ norovirus/ ear infection ..and that’s not even accounting for my personal ongoing ME/CFS and Menieres hell.

Then there’s the little things like dodgy net connection, exceeding our bandwidth allowance (thanks netflix!) general motherhood and oh yes, the latest effort real life is making to claw me back from the virtual; my smartphone broke *sob*

I am now back to discovering how much I enjoyed using my MDA Vario (HTC Wizard) the battery lasts THREE DAYS! it has built in calendar and task lists, my old ring tone ( the ‘oohhwa-ah-ah-ah’ bit from the start of Down with the sickness by Disturbed) which annoys my other half no end *grin* It’s a damned good phone.

Sadly it’s not an Android phone. I had to manually update all my contacts and my calendar, I’ve lost all my CFS crash data for the last 2 months (thankfully had backed up in December otherwise it would be 2 years data lost) I can’t access twitter easily any more as I only have wifi and on the MDA it is dodgy at best plus the browser is an old version of IE which doesn’t help matters much. The camera is useless and I can’t put any apps on it *sniff* that’s the worst thing about this phone; I’ve been spoiled, was so used to having everything at my fingers that now I’ve downgraded I’m really missing my apps – especially the bar code scanner for the calorie counting, and my period tracker (so reliant on it that I don’t know my dates now!) I also didn’t realise how often I accessed the TV guide app until I couldn’t do so anymore.

..And please don’t mention twitter – it’s like I’ve lost a limb.

Maybe it’ll bring me back to ‘real’ blogging though, and maybe something will come up that will allow me to pay for this site to continue – like getting off my backside and selling some jewellery or something. Either way, things are changing in my life, boundaries are shifting and I’m once again re-assessing where I want to go and what I want to do.

Ideally someone will employ me soon – even if it’s just for enough hours a week to pay me the £97.50 I’m allowed to earn on top of my benefits; that’d pay for my website and beads and a little left over for bellas trust fund each month. To be honest it’s all I really need in life to keep me going; everyone needs a hobby or two and having money abouve your outgoings.. well! It’s the dream isn’t it?! (Now if someone would pay me full time wages for a part time job I’d be able to get a nice 3-bed house with garden and that would make me incandescent with joy, room to craft properly; my very own dream come true!)

Decisions made like a responsible adult

I have decided that if neither adult in this household is employed when my current hosting runs out then this blog will be transferred to a local installation with all my other ‘web stuff’.

It’s a decision made because currently this is a self-indulgent hobby site that serves no real purpose. Initially I bought the domain and hosting because I wanted to further my knowledge of web design and this was to be my playground. Well it served its purpose admirably in that regard but now I know enough about the web that I’d be best served playing on the development environment I have set up offline; having a blog on my own domain is nice but unnecessary, I am NOT a ‘brand’ or business and so until that becomes the case I’m better off reverting to an interface that requires no financial outlay. ..and on the plus side it also means I can have a truly private journal again.

Why is a private journal such a plus..? Well, I used to write as a means of blowing off steam, it was cathartic and helped me to cope with stress and worry as well as to sort out in my own mind the things that were truly bothering me – as soon as I put all of those thoughts on the web and allowed people access to it I had to censor what I write, the more I learned about the web the more I censored – I even deleted several posts in an effort to ‘spin’ my ‘image’ (stupid as I think the wayback machine has everything cached but heyho, you can have a looksee if you really want to..)

Yes, I know I could create a private journal and keep the public one but that’s hassle, why not just have one journal and use category tags to separate the content?  That way if I do upload my blatherings in the future I can just remove the private stuff and have all my education, social media, web and jewellery musings available for those of you inclined to read it.

So.. rosevibe.me.uk has served me well but it’s time to let it go, I shall be backing everything up and getting things shipshape as i’m 90% decided to do this even if one or both of us do gain employment before the June deadline: If I do create a website for myself in future it will be under a different domain using my own name and not the username I’ve had for so many years (probably).

There was a slight twinge at the thought of giving up the google juice I’ve garnered through this blog but a search on 3 different search engines shows that “vicky stringer” will likely still have me in the top three if not the coveted top spot in the UK listings (and in one case global listings) with my linkedin and twitter profiles – although that may also change once the links to this blog are removed; but even that’s not a bad thing.

As I said before I’m not a brand or a business, I’m just an individual with nothing to sell; let the coveted top spot go to someone who really wants and needs it and let me fade into some of the less checked results until such time as I choose to do something more productive with my ‘skills’.

Saving money and using resources responsibly is the name of the game for 2012 as far as I’m concerned; this is my first step. I’m getting my virtual house in order and downsizing; what are you doing..?

I’ll show you mine..

jumping girl
While it may come across as a little smug, I’ve written this for the next time I feel crappy because of the ME/CFS or when certain family members try to pull me down and denigrate my achievements; I can look back at this post and feel proud that not only did I finish my foundation degree with a commendation after missing the first 6 weeks of the final year to nurse a newborn child, (and get a student of the year award in the process for also managing to help run a university project) I then went on and NAILED my bachelor degree as a direct entrant.

Sorry? Did I say ‘nailed’?

You’re damn right I did; 1st class honours baby, read it and weep at my brilliance!.

Being a direct entrant to the final year of this course at the University of Hertfordshire meant that unlike most of my fellow students who had enrolled in the first year, my final grade was dependant purely upon the work completed in this year; no prior grades to depend on as a backup for any failed module. (So no pressure eh?!)

I had to defer all my semester B modules because of the ME/CFS issues and this resulted in half my grades being in alphanumeric format (semester a modules) and the new numerical format the university had switched to during  the gap between my initial semester B and the retake semester B

As the table below shows – anything with a numeric grade of 80 or above is deemed ‘outstanding’ BUT, as you’ll see from my DES grade,  an A1 which is the highest possible alphanumeric grade available, is only worth 78 numerically – how someone is supposed to achieve an ‘outstanding’ is beyond me; still, guess I can live with an overall descriptor of ‘Excellent’ *grin*

Numeric Grade  awarded


Grade Descriptor Equivalent Classification Descriptor
1st Class Honours
60-69 Very good Upper 2nd Class Honours
50-59 Good Lower 2nd Class Honours
40-49 Satisfactory 3rd Class Honours
Marginal fail
Clear fail
Little or nothing of merit
Not applicable

The degree in question is Bsc Information Technology (web based systems) and it comprised of several modules:

Professional Issues in Computing – Core module
This 3 hour exam showed that I have learned:

  • To understand the standards expected of a computing professional, and the responsibilities that these place on those occupying these roles;
  • To appreciate the legal, professional and ethical issues that can arise during the course of the work of a computing professional; and have an understanding of the impact of computer-based systems on their stakeholders, and on society in general.
  •  To be able to recognise legal, professional and ethical issues in the context of professional computing practice, and deal with them appropriately;
  •  To be able to articulate a well-informed, up-to-date opinion on legal, professional and ethical issues in the context of interactions with, for example, colleagues in professional computing practice and non-technical colleagues.

Grade achieved: 72 (converted from A3)

Digital Entertainment Systems (Digital Media Production) – Optional module

The required coursework showed that I;

  • Understand issues in the development, design, implementation and evaluation of high quality digital media;
  • Understand the wider context of digital media, for example culture, research and future trends in digital media, for example audio and video formats;
  • Understand usability and Human Computer Interaction as it applies to the development of interactive multimedia systems;
  • Developed the range of skills required in order to produce digital media.
  •  Demonstrated professional competence in areas such as image, animation, video and audio production and editing;
  • Developed scripting and programming skills in order to create interactive digital media systems

Grade achieved: 78 (Converted from A1) <– felt so cheated that I got the highest possible alphanumeric grade and in the conversion it wasn’t even an 80! I was quite gutted to see it drop like that.

Principles and Applications of Web Services (technology) – Core module

The 3 hour exam showed that I have learned to

  • Understand the different components of typical web service architectures including data representations, messaging protocols and service description based on XML
  • Understand the different approaches to implementing web services across a range of application such as mash-ups and enterprise services
  • Generate requests to a web service using appropriately formatted requests, and process or display the returned XML data
  • Create a web service using appropriate standards, protocols and tools to enable third parties to access particular data or functionality

Grade achieved: 72 (converted from A3)

Principles and Applications of Web Services (architecture) – Core module

Another 3 hour exam which demonstrated my knowledge of

  • Different approaches to web service architecture including mash-ups, RESTful services, and Enterprise Web Services;
  • The role of XML standards in developing service oriented architectures such as XML Schemas, BPEL, and WS Policy/Addressing/Security.
  • How to use XML schemas and data in the specification and configuration of web services;
  • How to evaluate the applicability of different web service architectures in a given situation.

Grade achieved: 71

Web Application Development (Design) – Core module
The 2 hour exam and additional coursework portfolio showed that I have learned

  • To understand and explain the importance of separating style from content;
  • To discuss principles and practices of good web site design and the standards that web design should comply with.
  • To participate in the planning, design and development of a web site, selecting suitable tools and technologies for the task;
  • To evaluate and improve existing web designs to make them more accessible or effective.

Grade achieved: 72 (converted from A3)

Web Application Development (enhancement) – Core module
This was another 3 hour exam which showed that I’ve learned

  • To describe the document object model;
  • To discuss the capabilities and pitfalls of using client side scripting in web sites.
  • To create or interpret state charts of the interface;
  • To add client side scripting to web sites using standards compliant instructions;
  • To incorporate visual or time-based media to a web site that does not affect the function or accessibility of the site.

Grade achieved: 69

Web Based Systems Project – Core module
This is the one all the lovely folk in my social networks got sick of hearing about – but I really owe the folk of the web for getting me through it, random questions answered, emotional support and the odd kick up the virtual behind meant that the coursework I submitted and the website I demonstrated proved that I had learned to:

  1. Understand a coherent set of Information Technology principles and techniques appropriate to the solution of a practical problem that involves the development, deployment, or management of a Web-Based System;
  2. Appreciate when and how to apply those principles and techniques to the solution of problems in Web-Based Systems.
  3. Select and resolve a substantial practical task which requires applied knowledge of Information Technology in the context of a Web-Based Systems problem;
  4. Plan and conduct a programme of practical work independently of close supervision;
  5. Select and apply an appropriate set of criteria against which their own project work and the work of others may be evaluated;
  6. Document, report on, and critically evaluate  work in a manner appropriate to the needs of a specified readership.
Grade achieved: 71 <– 90% of that grade was down to my ability to follow through on point 6; all hail the English teachers of my past! Danetre comprehensive school and Daventry tertiary college – I owe you too.

So, that’s how I got my degree, by learning a lot of rather interesting and hopefully useful ‘stuff’, it involved a lot of hair pulling, several late nights and relapse inducing cram sessions, So I also know how far I can push myself mentally before things go south on the health front.

No, there was very little programming and coding involved in this last year aside from the tweaking to templates and scripts conducted as part of my project; but I have the basic knowledge needed to go away and teach myself how to do all the fancy stuff.

The main thing this course has taught me is what I am not. I am not a web designer, nor am I a web developer; I am a knowledgeable client or at best a hobbyist. But you know what? That’s ok. I don’t really want to be either of those things anyway, I discovered my love of e-learning during this academic journey, I know how to create reusable learning objects, what tools and techniques to use to aid students with their studies and how to explain what is needed to the REAL techies and creatives out there with either a crude prototype or the necessary models.

I can liaise between geeks and normals with ease in a work environment and find the solution to a problem even if I can’t fully implement it myself (yet) I can write reports well, keep (mostly) to deadlines and GET THE JOB DONE – despite health and home issues.

Basically, I ROCK!

So I’m going to stop beating myself up over the job search issue and give myself a well earned break until Bella goes full time to nursery in January, then I should be able to manage 20hrs a week (travel dependent) in some FE/HE institute working on anything to aid in the creation of an inclusive blended learning environment.

So.. I’m a graduate – pending results. Now what?

Well, there’s continuing development on the wordpress site I created for my final year project, a site I’m setting up for another friend and of course this place needs a little TLC now I finally have the time.

But the mental challenge of a job would be preferable. Yes, I know I’m stuck looking for part-time but part-time work in an interesting job is better than full time incapacity benefit stuck at home where my only interaction with the outside world is via twitter! (even if it doesn’t pay as much)

I do have a few personal challenges that are admittedly more ‘aim’ than ‘objective’;

1. Create a wordpress e-learning theme that is scorm compliant and at least attempts to be WCAG AAA compliant
2. Write a few nettuts that are payment worthy.
3. Create some fantastic geek jewellery.
4. Create some beautiful ‘normal’ jewellery.
5. Learn more about moodle and blackboard
6. Create my symptom tracker web app
7. Find someone to consider my web taxonomy ideas (a whole other post)
8. Learn to use all available google tools
9. Write an academic research paper fit for publishing
10. Learn to drive (actually this one IS an objective)
11. (just for @lesleyconner and my dad) write a book/ story

And then there’s the ‘none work’ stuff I want to do with my family and friends;

1. Teach bella to read
2. Go on holiday to centerparcs
3. Go and visit friends abroad
4. Take bella to a sandy beach, make a sandcastle and bury stefanio (purely for the photo op)
5. Family photo shoot
6. REGULAR Karaoke with Claire
7. Write some songs with Claire
8. Have a mass gathering of geeks with kids somewhere with a bouncy castle and a wide open space for running games.
9. Visit an aquarium, science and ‘normal’ museums with bella
10. Have a ‘dirty weekend’ spa break with stef.

Hmm.. notice how all the family and friend stuff costs money but most of the work stuff is free? Guess I need that job first after all *grin*

Who wants to pay me good money to do the stuff in the first list? Feel free to contact me; i’m now open to offers ;o)

Acknowledgements and thanks..

Well, I have one more task before my degree is officially over and I can sit back and await the graduation ceremony notification email. Once my project demonstration is completed at 11:30 on the 16th June I’ll be an unemployed graduate, but I couldn’t have done any of it without the help of a few people and some awesome online resources:

The generous folk on Twitter, StackExchange and Quora who will answer a question or offer advice on further sources of information when they are unable to help directly and to Natasha Khilji for the loan of almost every book in the project bibliography and her continued support and advice this last year despite no longer being my tutor.

To the wordpress community for creating such a marvellous product and resource – I would REALLY have struggled without your efforts in building such an amazing repository of code and documentation. To Ricci Adams and the folk at Quizletfor the same as I feel the use of those flashcards and Ricci’s music theory tools really give my final year project a lift.

I have to give a shout out to the mobile app developer who made revision on the go possible; the Gabysoft Quizard lite application made accessing my Quizlet flashcards a breeze – and the lite version is free so major thanks for offering that option!

All of the above people helped in some substantial way to ensure i got to where I am today – whether they realise it or not, but there is one person without whom I would never even have managed getting as far as asking all of those others for the help and information received: I owe extra special thanks and undying gratitude to Stefanio Whittall (@titantulus) for his unstinting support as cook, cleaner, taxi driver and ‘daddy day care’. Without his efforts and background support this degree may never have happened at all.

So yeah, internet folks, friends and family – you guys ‘n’ gals make the world a better and brighter place and I’m so glad you’re on my side.
Thanks for everything
Vics xx

Coping with stress the Rosevibe way

Stress is the bane of everyone’s existence – more so for those of us whose bodies will shut down at the slightest intimation of that nasty wee beastie rearing its ugly little head. I usually know when stress is kicking in even before it starts making its presence felt by stirring up the ME/CFS or Menieres disease.

I feel it like a tight little presence in my head – as though it’s an inflatable air bag around my brain that is always there but instead of air it inflates with stress. When I feel that warning tightness I know I need to take a step back and chill out or I’m in for a really rough ride on the illness front.

But how do you do that? How do you take a step back? How do you stop the stress from taking over?

For me distraction is the key. I’ll sit down and make a to-do list for everything that may be causing the stress to kick in, then I’ll turn on the karaoke and sing for an hour or so – or I’ll read a book or watch a few episodes of some show I like on dvd.

Yes, that may seem counter-intuitive if what is stressing me out is work that needs doing to a set timescale, but believe me it works; it clears the decks so I can then focus on the items on my list.

It’s a 2 part thing really; making the initial list while you are stressed starts the process – it feels like you are addressing the situations that are stressing you out which helps you feel in control which helps you calm down enough to take the 1-2hr breather (or even a full day if you really need it) this helps deflate that nasty tension to the stage where it’s easier to focus on smaller tasks without being overwhelmed by the big picture.

That’s the real trick; making things less overwhelming and more manageable.

You have forms to fill out?

  1. Do the easy stuff like photocopying evidence and filling out name, address D.o.B, and NI/SSN on all of ’em in one go first.
  2. Take a singing/ film/ book break
  3. Write out the other info you need and check it against your evidence.
  4. Take another break then check it all over again before photocopying and do your best not to think about the outcome of your form filling, stay in the moment and do one task at a time.

After the task is complete and you’re inevitably back to stressing about the outcome/ future; take another break – have a bath and try to guestimate how long you stay in there before you start to wrinkle or stare at the reflection on the taps and mentally figure out what is being reflected; try to think about ANYTHING but the things that are worrying you.

If you can’t shut things off; fire off a few tweets, phone a friend or write a blog post to rant and release the tension that way, then make another list.

Take everything a day at a time; you will still worry and stress about things you can’t control – the trick is to only give into it now and again; plan for the worst and hope for the best.

The list is your plan, letting go is what will see you through it.

Time for PAWS..

..Revision that is.

Since I feel I did so well on the WAD exam (web application development for those of you wondering) following my flashcard creation and use I’m doing the same for PAWS (principles and applications of web services).

I’ll be adding my revision slides here just as I did the WAD stuff so enjoy; maybe learn or remember something of use should you choose to read ’em.

  • Paws (semester A recap)
  • MVC, modelling and cookies
  • ISO 25010 (up to 30th April 2010)
  • Javascript, http and the DOM
  • web security

    Endings and fears

    I’ll start by pointing out that I’m not your average student; I’m a woman in a field statistically more favourable to men and it’s been said by more than a few of my tutors that I have drive and focus beyond the norm.

    If this is so then it’s probably because I’m a mature student with a hidden disability and a toddler.

    As a mature student I already have experience of the workplace and know about the unspoken politics at play; I’m aware that I have to work three times as hard as the average student if I want to become employed at the end of my degree – especially in the current economic climate. I’ve experienced homelessness, I’ve experienced poverty to the stage where all I’ve had to eat are porridge oats and cold water (don’t recommend) and I’ve experienced the horror of the benefits process and all the ways they grind you down and try to stop you from trying to claim your due.

    The drive and focus mentioned above are easily explained in one word: Fear.

    I’m afraid that I’ll never get the chance to work again because:

    1. My illnesses dictate that realistically I can only take a part time position
    2. Already having a child also means the possibility of more time off work
    3. As a woman, what if I get pregnant again? (not something I’d do again through choice I assure you *shudders*

    Yes, legally none of this should have any bearing on my fitness do do a job but an employer will have to consider the fact that the nature of my illness could result in a relapse and sick days without warning – which under the disability act they have to cater for; so even a part time employer may stumble a little when considering me.

    These are the strikes I have against me even before an employer looks at my ability, so for me to compete in the working arena against able bodied folk younger than me without responsibilities, I have to perform well above average.

    So, if I seem to be focussed on doing anything that will make me a more attractive candidate for work, imagine just how much harder I’ll work in an effort to retain that position should someone out there take a punt on me? If I can get a position whereby I can work flexi-time and/ or from home, mainly to my own schedule; I could do wondrous things people – just pray that somebody out there will give me the chance!

    Slumlord? You tell me.

    It’s a real pain in the arse when we have a problem with the flat, we have to go through the letting agents who then email/ leave a message for the property owner who will get back to them with an instruction that seems to be along the lines of ‘to fix whatever so long as he isn’t paying for it’ and they then rush around playing the blame game for a while and if we’re lucky it gets fixed.

    I LONG for the day I have my own house and when something goes wrong the only worry I have is how much it will cost me as opposed to will I get permission for the fix to occur!

    The flood we had on Saturday caused by the toddler in the flat upstairs being improperly supervised in the bathroom has caused such an issue – again.

    I informed the letting agents on Saturday (apologies to my twitter and facebook friends for the ensuing ranting as I played Widow Twanky and commenced clean up) I was told somebody would be out on Monday to assess the damage.

    Stupidly I assumed that this meant they were sending an electrician or a surveyor – someone qualified to tell if there was actual damage to the electrics in my bathroom and kitchen since these were the light fittings through which said flood occurred.

    No, instead one of the office staff arrived with her clipboard and tutted about the shame that there are no visible signs of damage and that as long as the lights had dried out we should be fine to use them.

    Um.. say what?!

    Forgive me for being paranoid but I am the one who witnessed the deluge pouring from my ceiling – I’m not using those switches until someone with some training tells me it’s safe to do so!

    She then said they wouldn’t be sending someone out until they had a guarantee that upstairs would be paying for it.

    EXCUSE ME? I have a toddler here, I NEED the use of my windowless bathroom asap – not as and when you might be able to sort something out with the owner upstairs who is ON HOLIDAY IN AFRICA!

    Thankfully, the owner upstairs has a capable sister who has sorted someone out for this evening to check her damage, she is sending him down to me directly afterwards; had I waited on Kings to sort something ..well, if it’s anything like the window fiasco I’d still be waiting seeing as that job has yet to be finished.

    ..and even before this flood occurred I’d asked them to come check out the water pump as once again it is dying on me; I asked about that as she was making notes on her clipboard. It seems they need to check our records to see who fixed it last time so they can come out and ‘do it properly’ meaning “we don’t want to pay so we’ll assume it’s their fault and you can put up with a grudging substandard botch job after we bully them into doing it – eventually” BUT despite asking about this a week ago AND reminding the lass I spoke to on Saturday when reporting the flood – they haven’t even bothered to check the records yet let alone sort out a repairman.

    So.. has anyone got a reasonably priced house in Hatfield that a responsible family can move into asap? If you drop the rent by a couple hundred on the proviso we sort out our own issues as and when need be I’d probably love you forever into the bargain! #impossibledream

    The things you learn..

    Did you know that wordpress utilises xml-rpc for posts like these that are sent via a weblog client? Neither did I until I read the codex.

    I know most of you couldn’t care less – including the few folk reading this that even know what xml-rpc is, but since i’m having to not only learn about web service messaging but also pin down exactly what wordpress is in web service terms; i found it to be quite interesting..

    Now, to get back to actually doing the above. Have a nice day folks.

    Oh.. and if you happen to have an academic resource about wordpress and/ or webservices PLEASE leave a link in the comments! Thanking ye muchly 😉

    WAD Revision time again..

    That’s right, project deadline is close and exams are looming which is partially why this poor blog has seen little love from me of late despite the ton of things I have to share with you lucky, lucky people..

    Instead of sharing exciting and happy thoughts I’m instead adding stuff I can easily access from anywhere with net access for revision purposes; today we have Web application development flashcards.

    Now I’ve added in all my revision flashcards just so I have only one stop to make or url to pass out to my fellow students: