Using XtLearn to create visual bookmarks for VLEs, student projects and staff collaboration

XtLearn is a bookmarking system that can be used to create visually interesting links which can then be embedded into your VLE, website or shared via links on Twitter or Facebook.

I was introduced to the software a few weeks ago and could immediately see the benefits for my institution and their students. Through focus groups for another project that I am working on all of the students had highlighted a preference for visually interesting and colourful content. Traditionally the links on our Moodle pages were presented as lists in folders so weren’t very attractive to look at therefore I have been using this software to update our existing Moodle to make our pages more user friendly by adding pictures, animations and descriptions to the bookmark collections.

Below is an example collection created by XtLearn on the film ‘The Artist’. They have used the page to not only store bookmarks but they have used the learner description box to share a task with the students in which they need to use the web links to answer it.


‘The Artist was hugely successful and won many awards. But what made it such a hit? Examine the resources in this collection to see how the film builds on and pays homage to the silent movie era.

The Barnsley College LTU team have used the software to add a page to their Moodle site which links to all of the other websites that the college runs. As you can see the page looks really professional and visually appealing and an added bonus is that by using XtLearn it doesn’t take long to create content like this.

Barnsley College websites

Barnsley College websites

Below are a few ideas that I have for how XtLearn can be used with your classes:

  • Visually enhance the links already contained on your moodle pages
  • A tutor could post a question in the learner description box, the students need to read the information in your links to answer it
  • Students could create their own account to collect evidence for a project, sharing the collection via their class Moodle or Facebook pages, embed the collection into their blog or simply share a link to their page with you by emailing it’s URL.
  • The collections can be shared between tutors and institutions in order to collaborate and reduce work load

If you’d like to try the software out for yourself the basic package is free and can be used to create all of the examples above. The website is extremely user friendly and contains a range of text and video based help guides.


How I use mobile technology as a learner

As a learning technologist technology plays a large part in my life therefore it’s no surprise that I use mobile technology to support my own learning. Below are are the apps that I am currently using.

learningapps title=

Notability – As the name suggests I use this app for note taking.  This app is one of my favourites as not only can I type notes, handwrite notes, embedding photos/pictures and annotate them but the app also has an audio recording function. I often use this app in conjunction with iBooks as whilst I’m reading I can copy sections of text, paste them into Noteability and then at the end of my study session go over the notes and edit them to suit my needs.
SimpleMinds +
– As i was only introduced to the Simple Minds + last week I haven’t got a lot of use out of it yet but I do plan on using it as a mobile alternative to the mind mapping software that I use on my desktop. I will use it to organise my thoughts and aid revision when I’m on the move.
– As a dyslexic learner I find taking notes and listening at the same time extremely difficult, I also prefer to learn visually so I absolutely love the Skitch app as I use it to make visual notes. This includes taking photo’s of recommended books whilst noting why they were recommended and talking pictures of board work in class and adding planning notes for essays. For a description of this app and to see how I used it during a training day see my post on apps for assessment
, Twitter and LinkedIn – are used to create peer support networks. This includes creating closed groups and using course hashtags to share links and discuss ideas.
– Throughout my studies WordPress has been a versatile tool. I’ve used it to reflect, share my thoughts and ideas, as a way of creating a learning community by using the comments function and an assessment submission tool for a number of modules.
– I have only been using iBooks for a short time but  it has revolutionised the way that I read and take notes (see notability section). I used to really struggle with the stop, start nature of reading from a paper based book and using my laptop to generate notes so I find this system to be much more efficient. Another feature that I’m fond of is the definition tool as you can click on a word and it’s meaning pops up. Again in the past I used to find it quite laborious having to put down my book to look up an unfamiliar word so this is so much quicker and easier.
Pocket – As their website states ‘When you find something you want to view later, put it in Pocket’. When I come across a link to a video, article, web page that I want to read but don’t have the time I  save I use the pocket bookmarking tool to save it for later. One of the features that I really about pocket is the way that it integrates with the Flipboard app.
Flipboard  – I use Flipboard to create a virtual magazine out of the content from my RSS feeder, my pocket app and hash tags that I am interested including MOOC hashtags. The app allows me to access all of this content in one place and again is a lot more visually interesting than reading large chunks of text.
Diigo – Diiggo is a social bookmarking tool that I was using for a long time before I got an iPad or an iPhone. What I like about this software is how you can access your bookmarks from any device that is connected to the internet. I have downloaded the app onto my phone to enable easy access to my bookmarks so that I don’t have to go through a web browser and sign into my own line account every time I want to access my bookmarks.

Thinglink interactive posters

Inspired by the #etmooc projects my students have just started to use with the interactive poster software . As I’m currently teaching a research module my students have been using the presentation tool to create posters that summarise their findings and share links to the sources that they have used – this has included embedding webpages and YouTube clips in to the posters.

The feedback from my students has been great. They all enjoyed using the software and have found it really easy to use so I will definitely be using this tool again. Due to the interactivity of the posters they are more suited to formative assessment rather than summative.
Thinkglink poter

To download the user guide I made for my colleagues click here.

Apps for assessment

As an Apple addict I’m always either on my iphone or my iPad and the use of apps has transformed the way that I learn – however that’s for another post. Today I’m going to introduce you to a few of my favourite apps that can be used for assessment purposes. I’ve been meaning to start writing posts about the use of apps in education for a while but hadn’t managed to get round to it. However today I attend a fantastic training session on the use of assessment in FE which was delivered by Nine Jackson (@musicmind) and as educational apps were covered I’m feeling all inspired.

SimpleMind+ simplemind+

The two main reasons that SimpleMind+ is a fantastic educational app are that it is free and easy to use. Simply download the app, type in your central idea then press the plus (+) icon to create your branches. Mind maps are fantastic assessment tools; you could use them to ‘preview and review’ at the start of a topic to find out what learners already know and then again at the end to measure how much they’ve learnt, or learners can work collaboratively on them.


A fun way to check students progress on a topic is to set quizzes for them. Socrative is a wonderful – and free – app which you can create true or false, multiple choice or short answer quizzes for the students to do at their own pace or under timed conditions. At the end of the quiz the results can be exported as a spreadsheet so you can see how well each of your students have done. This feature also helps to cut down on the amount of time you’d need to spend marking.


Twitter is a social networking tool that enables users to send (tweet) short messages that are 140 characters long. By creating a hashtag for your class e.g #mmel12 you can use the Twitter app as an educational tool. This could include home work tasks which you could set by tweeting out a question such as “Find me one newspaper article that is written in a sensationalist style’. Students could then take a picture of the article, copy the web address or send you the name of the article so you can check whether they understand what a biased  opinion is. Alternatively tutors could engage learners by asking them to role play e.g two solicitors arguing a case. This could be particularly useful for engaging quiet learners.


Skitch is a fantastic tool for annotating images including web pages, maps or photos. Once you have created your Skitch  you can share the document in a number of ways including email, Twitter, Facebook etc.

Below is a ‘Skitch’ that I created during today’s training session. For this activity we were asked to record the things that ‘get our back up’ relating to behaviour management. We were able to record this information in any medium and as I didn’t want to keep looking up at the question (I’m a dyslexic who has a really short poor term memory) I took a picture of the ppt slide and decided to annotate it in Skitch. This made the activity more interesting for me as I was not only able to create a visually interesting image but it also took a lot of pressure off me as when I was typing I was able to use the spell check function so I didn’t have to worry about any of my colleagues seeing my appalling spelling.


This app has a lot of potential for use in the FE classroom. It would make a fantastic tool to take on field trips, for example students could take a picture of an archaeological ruin and make notes about it’s age, it’s purpose and how the environment it is in has effected it’s condition. In Biology related classes students could add information about the names of bones that they have learnt by either taking a picture or a screen shot of a skeleton and annotating it.

ocTEL introductory post and big question

Task: post a short summary about yourself and your experiences with technology enhanced learning.

My name is Gemma Holtam. I work as a Tutorial Learning Mentor (TLM) and Advanced Practitioner in Information Learning Technology (ILT) at Barnsley College.

As a TLM I teach a careers module where I use a number of ILT tools including voting systems, blogging applications and video creating software. As an Advanced Practitioner in ILT I am interested in developing the use of ILT to support and enhance teaching and learning for dyslexic students. This interest has developed from my own experiences as a dyslexic student and how technology has revolutionised the way I learn. This has included using audio recording equipment to record lectures so that I am able to go over them after class making note of any content that I missed or have already forgotten. I also use screen tinting software so that I am able to reduce the visual stress when using my laptop and using iBooks and the notability application to make note taking a lot less stressful.

This is the second time that I have participated in a MOOC so I’m hoping to enjoy the experience a lot more compared to my first experience. I’m expecting not to participate in every module but to dip in and out of the bits that interest me. I also expect that most of my learning will take place after the course has finished during the times when I’m able to sit down and read through the posts that I had previously missed. My main motivations for taking this course are to connect with other educators who are interested in TEL and to gain a few ideas that I can use in my own practice.

Dyslexia text

How a dyslexic might see text

Task – Reflecting on your own work experience and ambitions for developing your teaching,  what is the most important question about TEL for you?

How can technology be embedded in to everyday teaching and learning to support and enhance the needs of dyslexic students as well as the other students in the class?

ocTEL – My plan of attack

Yesterday I decided to participate in the Association for Learning Technology’s (ALT) Open Course in Teaching Enhanced Learning (ocTEL). After taking part in the ETMOOC earlier in the year I feel more prepared for this experience and have a plan of action for my first week. I thought it might be useful to share my plan with other participants, especially the ones new to the whole MOOC experience as it can feel extremely over whelming at first.

My first task is to plan how I can manage my time effectively by deciding which activities I can realistically complete. Due to being on annual leave, I have more free time than usual so I’m planning in participating in 2.5 induction activities, these are activities 0.1, 0.3 and parts of 0.4. One of the strengths of this course is that at the start of each activity page there is a section called ‘If you only do one thing this week..’.This section is for anyone who only has time to complete one activity that week and outlines which tasks to follow. I’m sure I’ll be using this section frequently once I’m back at work as although I am interested in the course as a whole my main objective for taking this MOOC is to develop my connections with other educators who are interested in technology enhanced learning. Although I’m part of a small community at my own institution it would be nice to develop a wider circle to bounce ideas off and discuss our interests.

Week one activity list

Week one activity list

This leads me on to the second point in my plan. As I have a ridiculously poor memory I found it difficult to keep track of the people and posts that interested me as part of the last MOOC, however before I left the course I was involved in a Twitter conversation with two participants who explained that they had been making a note of everyone they communicated with during the course as well as what they discussed with each individual so that they could continue to develop these connections after the course. This also created a kind of go to list for advice and inspiration on the different areas and software covered as part of the MOOC. So right from the start of this course I am going to comment on blog posts and join in with discussions in order to create connections I am then going to creating a list of the people I connect with, their blog addresses and twitter name so that I can start developing my personal learning network with regards to technology enhanced learning.

MOOCs, are they worth it?

Ping, I have constantly been hearing this noise all afternoon as my phone has been lit up with the excitement brought about by the start of a new MOOC. In the space of 4 hours I have received around 40 email notifications as participants have published their first task for the Association for Learning Technologies Open Course on Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL). Although the excitement is contagious and I’m fast becoming drawn into participating, after my first MOOC experience earlier in the year I am a little skeptical. Particularly about the ratio of time spent on the course to the amount of relevant work based knowledge that I will gain.

When I started the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (ETMOOC) in January I was like today’s participants of the ocTEL MOOC- full of excitement and raring to go, however my interest and motivation began to wain during the first module. By the second (which was a creative based module) I was more enthused but by the third module all I managed was half a webinar before admitting that I wasn’t really interested in finishing the course and I probably wouldn’t have tuned into the webinar if I hadn’t been following the speaker, Doug Belshaw’s blog for a while.

Why didn’t I fully engage with the ETMOOC?

The course started in January which was an extremely busy time for me as I had just started an undergraduate computing module with the Open University (OU). As the OU course was accredited and the MOOC wasn’t the MOOC naturally came at the bottom of my to do list. Teaching full time and studying for an undergraduate module in an area which I have no formal qualifications or experience in meant that I didn’t have much time to connect with other participants making the MOOC a very lonely experience. This feeling was made worse by the ‘massive open-ness’ of the course – there were so many new posts and status updates that it was difficult to keep up.

The positives

Although I didn’t finish the course there were a lot of positives to be drawn out of the experience.

I discovered new learning technologies which have gained the seal of approval from my students. This includes Bit Strips which is a comic book generator, Mozzila Popcorn Maker which can be used to edit audio and video clips from the web and Thing Link which is an interactive poster generator that I have been using as  a tool for an end of course assement. I re-connected with Deb Seed, who I’d previously studied with, as she mentored me during the first few weeks when I was feeling lost and over whelmed. The course has encouraged me to further promote the use of ILT at my own institution and as Deb has been using the Mozzila Popcorn Maker with her own students I’ve arranged for her to speak about this at my institutions annual teachers fair. I learnt how to better manage my use of the internet including how to use the Buffer application to schedule my tweets so that they are shared throughout the day instead of being sent out in one flurry and I also learnt how to turn my RSS feed into a personalised magazine via the use of Flipboard. Finally one of the main learning points to come out of this course was the development of realistic expectations of MOOCs in general and how much I’m going to be able to learn from them. It is going to be overwhelming at the start, as I’m not meeting up with people in a physical classroom it is going to feel lonely at times and I’m not going to manage to keep up with all of the tasks. However I am going to develop a deeper understanding of how I make connections (Twitter is my best friend for this) and I am going to learn more about what motivates me (I like creative tasks and am turned off by the traditional academic style). I am going to be inspired to try out new things and whether these work or not they are going to inspire to be more creative in my practice. So although they’re hard work, they do take a lot of energy and the chances of me completing the course are small MOOCs are still worthwhile.

Why I’ve decided to take part in the ocTEL MOOC?

Up until this afternoon I wasn’t going to participate in  the ocTEL MOOC as my last experience had left me feeling rather negative and doubting their worth, plus my situation hasn’t changed since January so my shortage of down time and the fact that, through my work I’m starting the L4 Learning Through Technology qualification at the end of the month,  I didn’t want life to be all work and no play. However the buzz and excitement of  this afternoon had me doubting my original decision and as I’ve been writing this post reflecting on my MOOC experiences so far I’ve decided to give this new MOOC a go. I’m also off work this week due to the Easter holidays so tomorrow I’m going to strap myself in and embark on the ocTEL journey.

Rocket launch