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Oct 20
2009

Curriculum for Excellence planning tool beta goes live

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The planning tool to support planning in Primary schools is now live.

And what is more, is that we have decided to allow free access to it up until Christmas. There is still work outstanding and we will be improving the data sets of activities over the next couple of weeks, but the main functionality is all there so it seems best to let teachers have a go and develop some plans.

You can use the planning tool by visiting www.curriculum-for-excellence.co.uk/. You will need to register to use the tool.

Today the tool was demonstrated to Forehill Primary, and the teachers just loved it.

Jul 16
2009

Glow(Shibboleth) and Joomla

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I am currently wrestling with the problem of how to authenticate users in the Joomla CMS through Glow. Glow acts as a Shibboleth Identity Provider which the Joomla site should trust to authenticate its users. Joomla has a nice open extendible authentication mechanism and Sibboleth has a nice open interface, so this should be easy right? Er well no, and that probably explains why there isnt a nice Joomla plugin ready for me to download from the extension site.

There are two fundamental differences in philosophy between the two systems:

  1. Joomla expects to collect authentication details from a user and pass them to an external authenticator, whereas Shibboleth expects the application to pass control to it whilst it authenticates a user (including collecting username and password) before passing control back to the web application. So, how to avoid showing a username and password input box unnecessarily? Well, you need to override the Joomla User component in the template. This is one level better than hacking the Joomla core, but is still far from ideal.
  2. Joomla requires all users to have unique email addresses (this is new in Joomla 1.5) and whilst this seems a perfectly reasonable thing to require, integration with external authenticators shows this to be naive. It wouldn't be a problem, I guess, if we were only interested in authentication, but if we want to automatically create Joomla user accounts  for the users that are authenticated through Glow, then it is a problem. We want to do this to allow users to personalise their settings, but Glow doesnt release email addresses. So, do I have to hack Joomla to bypass the unique email requirement, or do I force Glow users to input an email address which they may not be happy to do? Neither is good.

So, what compromises should I make and how best can we package up these changes for use by other Joomla - Shibboleth systems?

Jun 03
2009

Sinatra Light

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The first year that I worked at Learning Curve Education I developed a program called Sinatra. This was an amazing forward planning tool for primary school teachers. You could do virtually anything you want with it - and that was part of the problem. The tool needed quite a bit of time to get to learn how to use it, and even though we provided a lot of video tutorials, teachers were not as ICT literate 7 years ago as they are today.

Of course many teachers didn't see the point - why do I have to trawl a database of over 13,000 pupil activities and experiences all linked in to the 5-14 arrangements when I can just photocopy my plan from last year?

Now everything is changing: 5-14 is going and the new Curriculum for Excellence with its new "philosophy" mean that everyone needs to go back to the drawing board with regards to plans.

May 18
2009

Seeing Red

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The first update of Red Snapper is ready for testing. Apart from a couple of minor changes to the French data, (thanks to Judith from Linlithgow), the major enhancement is to the software library we use to allow users to save their games. This may sound like an insignificant detail but the library was actually causing problems on older PCs, where depending on the weather in the room, and the number of other "goings on", and whether you had discovered the ghost...the game could grind to a halt. Luckily the new version of the library has no such issues - if only we had had it in January. BTW you may have to buy the game to understand all of the above ;-)

It shouldn't be long now before we start producing the next version of Red Herring - there is going to be a fight here over who gets to work on that. Maybe there will be a real modern language murder mystery - HELP!

Apr 07
2009

Website update

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Our website has now been upgraded/migrated to use Joomla 1.5. There were several issues to deal with including:

  • should we move to using lower case urls and create a lot of broken links? Answer - yes, better break them now than later.
  • this blogging tool we use (myBlog) is buggy as anything for Joomla 1.5, and their support leaves a lot to be desired! I think we may have to change what we use in the future.
  • how do we restrict access to certain content? The subscription component we used for Joomla 1.0 doesn't exist for Joomla 1.5 and the alternatives were not appealing. In the end we just developed our own.

Anyway, now we can concentrate on improving the current site. For starters, I hope you enjoy the new products page. More changes to come soon.

All I can hope is that migrating to Joomla 1.6 is easier (although I read that it will require php 5.2 and mysql 5+ which causes sufficient headaches before we start)! But that can wait till 2010.

Mar 26
2009

Antique books

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I was writing some javascript yesterday to validate a form for the Science 3-18 website we are migrating for the SSERC.

I haven't developed in javascript for a long long time, so it is not surprising that I needed to look up a couple of things. Needing a break from the screen I reached for my old javascript book JavaScript - The Definitive Guide by David Flanaghan. I knew it was old, but my attention was caught by the bold lettering on the front:

"FOR NETSCAPE 2.0 AND 3.0B6"

Mar 18
2009

Fat clients?

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Just to be clear, I am not referring to any of Learning Curve's clients in the title, who I would never call fat (nor overweight, podgy, obese, round or even "well-built").

Last week we interviewed several candidates to take on as a new software developer - none of them was fat either! We were particularly looking for someone with significant experience in Javascript and the new "Web 2.0" libraries such as Mootools. I hope you will see the dividends of the selected candidate on our websites in the months and years to come.

Anyway, much of the discussion with the candidates was over developing Rich Internet Applications (or RIAs), and it got me back to thinking about my time as a developer at Standard Life many years ago. In the dim and distant past, I remember shouting as loud as I could that we should develop "fat clients". This was in response to IBM consultants preaching that the only good client was a thin one - that every ounce of business logic should be on some middle tier of a multi-tiered architecture. Of course, no-one would listen to me for several reasons:

Feb 27
2009

MyBlog

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So the new blogging component for our joomla website is in place, but as always, it is never as simple as you would like. You can now subscribe to feeds, but the entries don't look so good as they did so we will need to restyle them.

 

 

Feb 24
2009

I Roblog

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I am currently looking at different blogging options. Apparently its not sufficient to pour out your soul, be amusing or simply informative - you need to have a n RSS feed, and Technorati pings and tags!

This is slightly more complicated because we are also planning the big move from Joomla 1.0 to Joomla 1.5, but this might take a while to complete depending on other work. So I have to consider quick and easy options that I can implement now over better solutions that we may need to wait for. 

Of course what I am really looking for is a tool that will write my blog for me so I can get on with my other work. You would think that the AI boffins would have come up with that by now - it must be so much easier than theTuring Test! So here are my requirements:

Feb 05
2009

What do I do?

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It feels like this week should have ended by now. To understand why, you naturally analyse what you have been doing recently to find out what the cause might be. Looking back over this week, I have spent time:

  • looking into different internet forum software that integrates well with Joomla.
  • estimating changes for the next release of Pathways CPD.
  • creating word searches in German, Spanish, and French for the teacher tool for Red Snapper.
  • converting updates to Learning Pod lessons and uploading them to the website.
  • managing the export of new completed and signed-off Journey to Excellence movies and then transcoding them for the purposes of transcription and metadata.
  • discussing various future projects - watch this space!
  • planning the structure and productions of the Keeping Myself e-Safe DVDs.
  • meeting to discuss the likely final version of the new Science Curriculum for Excellence guidelines and how to adapt the SSERC website to accomodate these.
  • overseeing a recording session for the Spanish version of the Red Snapper teaching tool.
  • fitting Schwalbe Marathon tyres to my bicycle, so I can still cycle to work when it is frosty without breaking a hip.
  • checking the internal web searches of our site with a view to working out proper weekly reports (there will be more on this in later posts).
  • plus the usual day to day aspects of my job doing backups, answering support calls, etc.

I spent the whole of my first year working at Learning Curve developing just one project (mostly on my own). Time seem distorted then as well but in a different way - back then I learned to play a mean rendition of the How Long How Long Blues by Leroy Carr. Now my son will only let me play I Got My Mojo Working as that best suits "the 3-year-olds dance routine" - but maybe it is well-suited for this week anyway.

 

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