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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Enrich your user's learning experience with Mediabird Study Notes (Part 1)

One of my joys in life as a Moodle site administrator is scouring the Net to unearth gems of Moodle activity modules of earlier years. Such is the case with Mediabird Study Notes, which allows you to add private and community note-taking to your Moodle site! Never heard of it Mediabird Study Notes? This blast-from-the-past (April 2009) is a real gem of an activity module for note-taking.


Private Notes 
With Mediabird Study Notes you can have your own personal note-taking database system. This virtual notebook is available to you wherever you go in your Moodle course.

Sharing Your Notes 
You can also share your notes with others who use your Moodle site. Share them with any specified group of people that you choose. You can even be an admin of the group that you create in Mediabird Study Notes. As admin you get to share your notes with, you control who gets access.




What else can it do?
All notes taken using Mediabird Study Notes can be annotated, tagged and shared. This way, problems in understanding course material can be solved quickly and collaboratively. All this functionality brings the learning experience on your Moodle site to a whole new level - provided teachers and students take advantage of its pedagogical value.

C'mon, cut to the chase and show me what it looks like!
Below is a screen example of what it looks like on my Moodle 1.9.15+ production site. It opens as a pop-up window. You can drag it to anywhere on top of your current window.




Created by Fabian Gebert and Frank Wolf of Mediabird.net in Germany back in April 2009, it is in Fabian's words,
"...an extension to existing LMS. Mediabird is a collaborative online notepad that allows small study groups to collaboratively work on shared notes at any time. 
It is not only possible to extend notes or edit them at the same time but in particular Mediabird allows users to annotate notes and ask questions about them. With that respect, Mediabird combines the ideas of a wiki and of a forum but is not as public as a wiki and relates questions to the notes rather than separating them as done in a forum. 

Let me give you an example: Anne, Catherine and David are working in a study group on Anatomy. The meet on a regular basis, say once a week. Last time, Anne summarized the meeting. Instead of sending it via email, she simply typed it in using Mediabird (copy and paste working as well). David and Catherine now can instantly see what Anne has done. That's not very exciting so far, but: David and Catherine can now highlight parts of the document and insert questions. All three can then answer these questions or leave them for the next group session. In addition to that, they can extend or edit the notes Anne has taken.

Pedagogical values
To learn the different ways you can use Mediabird Study Notes in the classroom, read here!

How to Install Mediabird Study Notes
1. Head on over to the Study Notes moodle.org module page.
2. Download the studynotes_package.zip file from here.
3. Extract the zip file. You should have the below folder structure.


4. FTP the studynotes sub-folder to your MoodleSite/mod folder.
5. You may optionally choose to upload the standardmediabird folder to your MoodleSite/theme folder.
6. Log in to Moodle as administrator, go to the site administration page.
7. Click on the Notifications link and the activity should set itself up now.
8. After the installation, add the Mediabird Study Notes activity to a course.



Choosing the module from the drop-down list will invoke the Settings tab of the module. Type in an appropriate title like "MyStudy-Notes", click "Save and return to course".


You will see this icon on your Moodle coursepage.



9. You can access your Study Notes from anywhere in your Moodle course! Here's how. You can add a sticky Study Notes icon, at the top-right corner of all your Moodle pages.


    There are TWO ways you can do this. You can use the provided theme named "standardmediabird".
    Alternatively, if you are using a custom, theme you can add this line in the file header.html from
    your theme folder

    <?php   include_once($CFG->dirroot.'/mod/studynotes/ext/overlay_snippet.php');  ?>

    after the line
    <div class="navbar clearfix">
    which is located near the middle of the header.html file of your theme.


10. There is a problem with the current installation zip file. When you first fire up MediaBird on your Moodle site, you will see a very obtrusive and irritating title:



Perhaps this warning message at the top of the Virtual Note-book was a put-off for many Moodle administrators and educators. If that is true, then it would have resulted in a decline in Mediabird Study Notes usage on Moodle sites. I mean, do you expect your students and teachers to have confidence in a system that says it is outdated even before it gets used?

I had a gut feeling that this system was too good to ignore, and that there had to be a way to remove the warning message. Fortunately, after about 30 minutes of poking around the code, I found the solution. I'll share with you how I did it - I used Putty to get into command mode of my server, and then used the Linux command grep to search for the string value "outdated" among all PHP source files of the Study Notes mod. Okay, now that you know this, here's the trick:

    Edit MoodleSite/mod/studynotes/view.php


    Go to line 334 and comment out this line of code: $html .= get_string('oss_outdated','studynotes');
    Like so, by adding a pair of front-slashes at the beginning of the code:



   Save your view.php file and FTP it back to MoodleSite/mod/studynotes/
 
   Reload your Moodle course page, and the warning message is now gone! Sit back in your chair and
   savour the clean interface and this victory. Let loose a mighty shout of "FREEDOOOMMMM!
   Try doing it with a Scottish accent.

 


Note: you can choose to download and install this version of StudyNotes that has the editing done for you! It's exactly the same as the zip file from moodle.org, except that line 334 of view.php already has the code commented out by me. So no worries, and no gray hairs. Everything is going to be okay, ...eveything is going to be owe-kur-zay!


Using MediaBird Study Notes


MediaBird Study Notes is a complex and intriguing bird. In this section, I will just illustrate some of its easier features.



Basic Formatting


When the Notebook is launched, you are greeted with this standard blank sheet. The sheet can be renamed.



Below is a sample sheet after text has been typed in. You can either use keyboard shortcuts or icons to bold, italise, strike-through or underline text. You can also use preset formats to change the format of the text and alignment of text. Finally, you indent in or out text. That's the least one would expect from this sheet editor.



Working With Images


You can upload images from your computer to the server! You have the alternative of inserting an image based on the URL of an image. Very useful.



You can customise the image by clicking on it. The Image editor dialogue box automatically appears. You can change the various settings. To centre-align an image, choose Float style to None. Click Close. Select the image and from the Format drop down menu, select Justify Center.



Below is what the sheet looks like after inserting an image.



End of Part I

[That's all for today. I'll hope to touch on the other areas of MediaBird Study Notes in a future post]

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