KOOCs: Tools and platforms beyond KEATS

Following the blog posts written by Elena Hernandez-Martin, who led the team of developers for the KOOCs work (Ready, steady… KOOC (Part 1) and Ready, steady… KOOC (Part 2)), in this blog post, I want  to talk a bit more about the other tools and platforms that were used in the process of developing the KOOCs.

One of the first decisions that was made, was that it made sense that the KOOCs would be hosted on KEATS which is the University’s learning management service (based on Moodle) as both students and academics are familiar with this platform. On the other hand, KEATS is not designed to cater for some specific needs that were essential to the KOOCs’ design (e.g. hosting videos, sharing files, video streaming). Moreover, there were some additional requirements to the project (e.g. access to high quality images, custom webpage design) for which we had to look for some external tools and platforms to use.

KEATS and toolsSo here I will give you a few more details about all the tools and platforms that were used for the KOOC project, along with the reasons why they were selected and the purpose they served.

  1. Vimeo: This platform was chosen to host the videos and other multimedia learning objects created for the KOOCs. As the University doesn’t provide for a college-wide video hosting service, we had to look for other options. We decided to go with Vimeo for a very specific reason which is the offered privacy options that allow for videos to be served within specific domains (for example within keats.kcl.ac.uk). This adds an extra layer of security when hosting videos on outside the college network, which is essential for educational content. Other advantages of the Vimeo platform are:
    1. Subscription plan is affordable.
    2. User interface is very friendly.
    3. Allows for embedding of the videos on external websites.
    4. Videos can be replaced (if need to be re-edited) but keep the same URL.
    5. A subtitling tool is available.

    At this point I would like to note that hosting videos directly on KEATS is not a good practice, as Moodle is not a dedicated video server and can cause different problems, the main one being that videos might not play/display properly on the user’s browser.

  1. Google Hangouts on Air: Since the KOOCs are entirely offered as online courses, we thought that some kind of interaction between the tutors and the students would be very welcomed by the stakeholders. We decided to use the Google Hangouts tool for this. Google Hangouts is a web-conference tool which also allows for live streaming. Students can watch the live streaming through either the Google Hangout webpage or through YouTube. They can also send real-time written questions to the presenter, as long as they have logged in with a google account. Logging in is not a pre-requirement though in order to watch the event, as they can also watch anonymously through the YouTube platform. Most importantly, Google Hangouts events are automatically recorded and can be then streamed through YouTube to students if they have missed the event or they want to re-watch it. Video quality is very good (though this highly depends on internet connectivity and web-camera) and joining the event is hustle free. On the other hand, setting up the event with the appropriate settings can prove to be a little tricky and not very user friendly.
  1. Microsoft OneDrive: From the very beginning of the project, it became clear that there was going to be a huge amount of document sharing / exchanging among the members of the team. So we tried to find an appropriate solution to this need as soon as possible as it was critical to the project. Our main requirements were to have enough space available, version control for the documents and be able to specify different sharing and editing permissions for each member of the team. After some testing, we decided to go with the University’s system which is Microsoft OneDrive as it did serve for all our requirements. The platform proved to be very hard to work with, as very common tasks were difficult and time consuming to perform (for example renaming files online). On the plus side, team-members were able to login with their KCL credentials, so there was no need to create accounts on external platforms. In the end, it did serve for our purpose and made team collaboration possible.
  1. depositphotos: During the development phase of the KOOCs’ content there was a big need for high quality and copyright free images. Finding images on the internet for free that fulfill the aforementioned requirements is a real pain and in most cases can prove to be a mission impossible. As we would need a good amount of images, we decided to go with a commercial service and buy what would be needed. After a bit of research, we decided to use the depositphotos platform. This platform has a very user friendly interface which allows for users to organize their images into folders and a very flexible pay-as-you-go subscription plan. Most importantly though, it has a huge selection of images to choose from and though the KOOC subjects were quite specific and scientific oriented, we did manage to find a lot of related images.
  1. HTML / CSS: As we wanted to provide students with a nice (navigation and design) experience, but at the same time we had to use KEATS as the hosting platform, it was decided that the KOOCs content would be developed by building the content as html webpages and creating a custom CSS template for them. So, all KOOC content pages were first developed in HTML using the Dreamweaver software and were then uploaded onto KEATS using the Book Moodle activity. There were also some customizations made to the main KEATS CSS so that is fits best with the customized KOOC design and also to correct some unfortunate KEATS design issues.

Vanessa Skiadelli
e-Learning Content Developer
Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning

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