Xerte is a suite of tools for the rapid development of web based interactive learning material. The program is free to download and comes with only basic instructions, but it is relatively easy to use. The program was used to produce two learning objects with the aim of replacing a formal lecture session to cover a part of a Construction Technology module. The delivery of the module relies upon graphical images to explain concepts in addition to simple notes, which can be incorporated into Xerte. Learning objects are created from a template containing formats for insertion of text in a range of formats, a range of media, interactive operations and a range of other media such as Google Maps. The content is contained on pages; each one may have any number of objects, such as text and images, inserted.
To produce a learning object required trial and error as the data is inputted into a form based format, not as it will appear when the object is viewed by the learner. The resource used text, images, drag and drop images and a range of interactive assessments. The variety of options available within Xerte enables the creation of resources that will interest and engage the learner. The size of the page is relatively small and thus limits the amount of text to be read at one time, though the user is able to change the appearance and the size of the text.
Feedback from students was mainly positive and they enjoyed the variety of learning methods. The self-assessment questions proved effective in confirming understanding of the topics. The students were split as to whether they would prefer online assessment to be informal or formally recorded when using this type of resource. A comment was also made regarding the lack of a hard copy of the material for reference; this could apply to any IT based resource. It is not possible to print from Xerte, so back-up notes may also be required. This factor also makes it difficult to proofread a resource when creating it, you have to read from the screen and make notes of any errors – this is not as effective as marking up a printed copy.
Xerte was used as a means of reinforcing class sessions to introduce topics and as a means of self-assessment and thus provide formative feedback on the learners’ progress.
Ensure that the Bb seminars are integral to the way that the module operates each week (I did not change the manner of assessment in which students took charge of the later seminars on the module, this meant that they were free not to work to the Xerte materials at all or to make them only incidental to the seminar. Most students did base the seminar on the Bb material and the best of them did so to great effect, having the Xerte pages onscreen during the seminar and basing discussion on them. However, some did not. In the future, I would make it compulsory for students to take responsibility for developing for group discussion a particular section of the Bb seminar)
Make the seminars of roughly an equal length (around 18-20 Xerte pages seems to hold the interest of most students).
Have a strong structure for the seminar, geared to questions and exploration. Students are more engaged when they can see that each section (a page or pages with associated links) corresponds to a clearly signalled aspect of the subject.
Include links to texts/documents/readings regularly but keep them short.
Aim for a combination of text, images and sound: pure text pages can seem dull.
Have some summative question or questions in the final page or two. Students should be able to reflect on what they have learned from the whole sequence of material and enquiry.
Have a paper copy of the documents, questions, etc for students with special needs such as dyslexia or anyone who finds difficulty in reading onscreen.
Don’t duplicate the documents or other written materials in paper form for the whole group. This gives students an alternative to preparing through Bb and might undermine the process. I did use a document handbook in a kind of 'belt and braces' approach but would not do this again. Paper copies should be made available on a need-only basis.
Don’t make the seminar too long. Some degree of optionality in the material provided is good and gives students a sense of the complexity and open-endedness of the issues. If there is just far too much material though, it can lead to a loss of direction and students turn up to the seminar with little common ground.
Don’t build in too many links to long documents. Making students read long texts onscreen leads them to disengage from the logic of the seminar that they are following. There could be health issues involved also.
Xerte was used to create Blackboard seminar materials for a Year II module in American History. In 2007/08, some trial seminars were created, but time did not allow them to be fully integrated. Students could engage with the Bb materials as an addition to the conventional seminar material and those who did do so, found them extremely valuable. A majority however did not make full use of them, seeing the Bb seminar as extra work. In 2008/09 a full set of seminars were created and all students were expected to prepare for seminars by working through the Bb Xerte material. This was much more successful and student module evaluation was highly positive for the tutor. It was noticeable that students came to the seminar having already reflected on the materials and having come up with answers that they wanted to discuss with others rather than having passively read the seminar documents and then relying on the seminar leader to prompt debate.
Each of the main seminars for the term was designed to be delivered through Bb, rather than using the conventional seminar handout. Some of the same material was included: an introduction, some questions on which students should reflect, documentary extracts to provide a basis for close discussion. However the Xerte pages went far beyond that and some of the extra material was what most engaged the students. For instance, cartoons and maps could be enlarged and closely studied rather than seen as merely illustrations. Film and sound clips were particularly effective too. One example was the use of two film clips on the fascist ‘Radio Priest’ of Detroit Father Charles Coughlin. They were rather long and the tutor feared that students might skip them, but in that New Deal seminar they all had views and reactions to offer on Coughlin.
Useful Links to Websites or Resources:
Xerte online toolkits:
Xerte Getting Started Manual:
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