Archive for February, 2009

Staying up-to-date: My home tabs in Internet Explorer 7

By aggregating relevant information, Internet-Explorer-7 Home-page-tabs help me stay up to date in my work areas.

It automatically loads my Windows-live home-page (seems more of a dashboard than merely subscribing to the RSS in my feed reader) as well as the Windows-live groups and resource scheduling calendar which I created for my work departments.

I am still exploring how to best manage my public and private personae, assuming that “filtering is your friend”, and everybody else’s at work.

Network shares: What you need to know


Mapped as for

Staff can

Student can

Language services use








\\\lgu$\londonmet departments







\Humanities arts and languages (HAL)\Language_services: documentation for internal use








\Humanities, Arts and Languages\Language_Services: public documentation ( including services manual)

















\\\lgu$\multimedia student\mmedia\mmedia1

O: if requested

O: if requested

some(if not, request access)




\Language_services: (large) multimedia files (including teaching materials video clips)

\\\lgu$\multimedia student\mmedia\mmedia2












no: todo




















If mapping failed, from desktop, run , then click button   

Managing learning materials: How to use an inventory spreadsheet

  • Have the person that wishes to check out items identify the item appropriately, usually by “”title” (“Main and subt[itle]”or “alternate title”).
  • You can locate items  in various ways:
    • either by full text search (menu “Edit” / “Find” or shortcut CTRL+F)
      • Select the columns ((ctrl-)click on column headers (= ) or ctrl-space while the cursor is in the column) in which want to search (= restrict the search to these columns)
        • Example: you are looking for movies entitled “100 deutsche Jahre” and want to use “100” as search term. If you do not select the column “Main and subt[itle]”, you will have to wade through a lot of unrelated matches in other columns (e.g. field:number).
      • use the wildcard “?” to match any single character – useful for misspelled accented characters
        • Example: you are looking for the movie “Amélie”, and cannot find it; try searching for “Am?lie” instead
          • Then fix the misspelled title (on how to enter accented characters see 5.1)
      • Use the wildcard “*” (star) to match any (0 to many) characters – useful e.g. for ignoring over multiple spaces
      • Use “Find all” to make sure you have all relevant entries – double click on the result to jump to that row
        • Example: Duplicate movies
    • or by filtering, using the dropdowns (arrows in column headers)
      • You can
        • Select an option from the dropdown to only display rows that match this condition
          • Note: In the dropdown, unlike in the spreadsheet itself, options are automatically sorted alphabetically
        • Select “Custom” from the dropdown to create more advanced queries
          • Use “contains” to search for a substring (example: you are looking for the “Terminator”, but do not remember, whether the exact title “The Terminator” or “Terrminator”)
        • Select “All” from the dropdown to stop filtering or press the button “Remove Filtering”
        • Filter on more than 1 column by selecting options in multiple dropdowns
      • The blue color (in row headers and dropdown arrows) indicates that these results are filtered.
    • or by sorting, using the button “Sort on active column” (click on a field in the column you want to sort on, then click the button),
      • To sort by multiple columns, sort in descending order of importance.
        • Example: you want to go alphabetically through the titles of the French Videotapes.
          • click on a field in the column  “main & sub”,  click “sort”,
          • then click on a field in the column “Media type”, click “sort”,
          • then click on a field in the column in “Language” and click “sort”.
          • Then scroll to “French” in “language”, within the “French” items, scroll  to “Tape:Video”, now you can browse the French videotape titles in alphabetical order.
    • Note: if the spreadsheet becomes slow or unresponsive, try one of the following:
      • remove filtering, especially on two or more columns. Sorting is faster than filtering
      • Ctrl-alt-delete, “task manager”, end application and start over; the spreadsheet has been programmed to remove the filter on restart
  • When to do what:
    • When should you use regular find?
      • Whenever possible. That means: If you look for an item which has a findable substring from a single database-field
        • Example: Video with the word “Wunder” in the title
    • When should you use the dropdowns?
      • If you look for an item that does not have a findable substring from a single database-field
        • Example: You are looking for a movie with the title,main&sub=”El”
        • Example: You are looking for a specific issue of a periodical title,main&sub=“Schauinsland”, field:volume = 1, field:issue=18 (means: you need to search on multiple  fields)
      • If you want to browse multiple items
        • Example: You need to get an overview what parts of the language program “Deutsch, na klar” we have (there are the main textbook, several workbooks, instructor handbooks, cds, dvds, … etc.)
    • When should you sort?
      • If you expect a dropdown search to get too slow.
  • Locate items in the Media Cabinet by label number
  • record checkin and checkout of items in the (violet) section “Location & Loanee”, appropriate column for loanee and date:
    • instructor: instructors can check out materials for use within and outside of the lab; record instructor name and date
    • students can check out materials for use within the lab only; record the student id number
    • when an item is returned, reset the name and date column to blank
  • Editing:
    • You have been given the editor password (complain if not). This password does not completely unlock the spreadsheet.
  • Hiding Columns
    • For specific tasks, you can hide certain columns to fit the columns you are working with on the screen. You need to get the advanced password for doing that.

Learning materials management: Offline resources (2005-2006)

2009/02/17 3 comments

AKA books, shiny disks, VHS and – oh my! – cassette tapes. All come with shelves. Yuck! Where is Google Books, when you need it?

The media library I had to work with had, as I found it, a content specific labeling system and a language specific sort order on the shelves. This seems an anti-pattern in many modern languages departments: try to avoid complexity by isolating yourself. 1st degree: each language program on its own; 2nd degree: each instructor on his/her own. Atomization leads to idiosyncrasies and duplication of efforts (which must result in lowering of standards, despite, no doubt, individual toiling).

Trying to find an easy answer for complexity: I am afraid I quickly had to throw overboard the suggestion to implement the Library of Congress labeling scheme. I also abandoned trying to represent in one physical order what has to be viewed under multiple perspectives. I introduced a unique id labeling scheme based on a a simple numerical counter, where each new item would be added to the end of the stacks with a label equaling max(counter) + 1, and as a new row at the bottom of an Excel spreadsheet, which supported all discovery and lending with sort, filter, search.

And here is a partial screenshot of the offline_resources.xls:

Way too much complexity still remained: too many fields, all types of resources had to be coerced into records of the same format (hand-coded an access database for records to avoid this requirement – don’t go there!). Should have relied more on full text search, even with the simple regular expressions that come with Excel.

However, the sheet was open all day on the lab assistant’s computer behind the reference desk and worked pretty well, or was at least a major improvement. Remaining issues: speed of spreadsheet (too many complex ISBN validating formulas), lab staff training, more so instructor training (if they did not want to rely on lab staff entirely or on trying to browse the physical stacks looking for a physical order where there was no such system any more: change management problems).

Learning materials management: Online_resources.xls II: E-repository (2006-7)

I participated in the implementation of a “ learning object” repository – is there such a thing as a learning “object”  in a progression-oriented field like SLA? Anyhow, the software of choice was Equella which, as I read on the listservs, is favored by Blackboard Admins for its Blackboard module and is supposed to provide the primary interface to the equella for instructors in their Blackboard course websites.

Since this did not get implemented during my time, we used what seems primarily the admin-interface and, since equella does not come with one, attempted to implement a metadata schema, based on the prior work of an LLAS-sponsored group. We also soon found that despite complexity, the metadata schema was still lacking (E.g. you won’t get through French 101 without several sections on “Negation”. nor German, nor Spanish etc.).

Excel to the rescue once more: Here is a spreadsheet in action that not only allows adding, tagging, searching and filtering links to, once more – easier than to make your own – web-based exercises, but now also allows the collaborative building of a metadata schema. But alas, the number of fields is growing again.

Learning materials management: Online_resources.xls I: Intranet (2003-2009)

Language labs tend to have many multimedia files (audio and video) on network shares – still more flexible than the web-based interfaces we are given (1 user operation does a batch on many files versus multiple clicks are needed for an operation on 1 file).

As a variation on the spreadsheet for multimedia file collections, I created a cataloging spreadsheet that imports lists of audio and video files, including metadata which gets preserved when windows media center records commercial digital TV, from a language center network share – you can find sample code on MS-Excel lists. You can see the import code in action in this screen cast.

Unfortunately, no recursion into subfolders and once more meant to move the files off the network and store on DVDs, for lack of space. Here at least the  fields are less and the search relies more on regular expressions.

The current quick and dirty incarnation of self-made source material for interpreting exercises is here:

Learning materials management: Textbook exercises (2000-2008)

Textbook exercise management is a rapidly evolving field, with more textbook becoming digital and online resources and more metadata getting added and AI getting implemented to enable personalized (data-driven, feedback-based) learning paths.

German.xls was an attempt to be able to sort, search, filter the exercises of some bigger textbooks in the American college market, each containing thousands of exercises (how many? why does it take a sumif() to find out?):

Subtitles.xls converted text files with movie subtitles which can be extracted from DVDs or found into spreadsheet for post-processing (search, filter, sort – and assign different show times, for DVD editions differ). online,
Auralog Tell me more 7 is a language program that allegedly comes with “more than five times the amount of content than other language programs” – but strangely not with a table of contents of its exercises. Automation extracted the exercises first into the file system for full text search with Windows Desktop Search, then converted the extracted files into links in the Auralog Content XLS.

Learning materials management: Links (1998-2004)

Originally implemented for a series of Canadian universities teaching Wirtschaftsdeutsch, then continually expanded into all of German for Queen’ s  University, and multiple languages, including non-western, for university of Michigan-Dearborn and Drake university.

Was based on an open source software project by Gossamer Threads popular for web 2.0 precursors of collaborative links collections, whose Perl-CGI code needed only minor modification to facilitate the “”commenting”” on instructor-“posted”  ( i.e.  assigned links) by students.

The model was Yahoo’s human-edited web-catalogue. the data structure was the tree (nested folders, unidirectional graph). For managing, I implemented a secondary branch mirroring the primary under the root “old links”  for, using Perl regex, automatically moving links which a batch link-checking management script in the open source had identified and logged as “broken” (404 and a few other similarly bad http return codes) into.

The original layout of the “ontology” first introduced me to the complexity of such a task. The basic content division was between 2 branches.

  1. web-based ready-made teaching materials for commenting (recommending, categorizing) by instructors and self-access by students (no feedback of student data to the instructor mostly, except by email, and outside of the application, in those days).
  2. the other content branch consisted of not teaching-related “”authentic materials””: the early day web applications, sometimes multimedia (maps, audio and video collections, news), often times also self-service database interfaces (online shopping and public services) whose language-wise rather restricted interface and topical focus (think Wirtschaftsdeutsch) lent themselves to capstone exercises at the end of textbook chapters (our “Friday in the lab””, not even a language lab then. Geek bonus points: one of these Fridays, a future queens university educated engineer asking me whether i had written all these pages they browsed through in the searchable catalogue of eventually 1500 links. Well, dynamic web pages were not common at all in education in those days, and the credit goes to Gossamer Threads.).


While there was hope to collect a comprehensive teaching resource through collaboration, “der Weg war das Ziel”, having students interact with and review foreign language web content. The links database  remained definitely, as it grow in bursts revolving around the topics of our chapters. I had a lot of fun finding instructional ways to having students review all those fancy web applications in which endless amounts of money were poured  before the first bubble in this millennium burst. E.g. the first early online city maps for “Wegbeschreibung”  in German 102. as well web 2.0 like developments, like grassroots web cams (Germans allowing the world to spy on their surroundings 24/7, including remote camera panning – you could go all kinds of places, “”Wie heißt der  bürgermeister von Wesel? was macht das wetter in der Schweizzzzzz?” but alas, the time lag, especially during winter term.

A couple of screen casts for instructor training are here and here.