Flash Moodle

Update to SWF Activity Module for Moodle 1.9

SWF Activity Module logoThis is a quick update announcement for the SWF Activity Module for Moodle 1.9. It fixes some issues that some users were experiencing with sending grades to Moodle’s grade book and some other functions. You can find the latest version released today on the project downloads page at Google Code.

What was the bug?

PHP 5.3 and above are becoming more widely used on servers that are hosting Moodle. Some of the old legacy core Moodle code contains functions that are deprecated in PHP 5.3 (some 400 or so instances of code) and are unlikely to be fixed. These deprecated functions trigger PHP to generate deprecation warnings, which in Moodle sometimes returns unexpected results that were interfering with the SWF Activity Module AMFPHP service classes. The result was that sometimes, grades weren’t being sent to Moodle’s grade book, and snapshot images from the Avatar camera and Concept Map MILAs weren’t being saved. It was an intermittent bug and difficult to track down but now, hopefully, everything should work for everyone all the time.

SWF Activity Module for Moodle 2.5+

On a related topic, I’m nearing completion of a beta testing version of the SWF Activity Module for Moodle 2.5+. Please stay tuned for updates in the near future.

Flash Learning

Free online interactive c-test generator

Free online interactive c-test generatorC-tests are a reliable, accurate method for assessing learners’ language proficiency at any level. I’ve decided to create a simplified version of my C-Test generator MILA (multimedia interactive learning application) and to make it publicly accessible so that learners everywhere can use it to help them with their reading, anywhere at any time.

What is a c-test?

The C-test was developed in the 1980s at the Universität Duisburg-Essen in Germany – based on theories of language redundancy relating to Gestalt theory. The Simtest, a computerised adaptive test of foreign language ability designed and developed at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) in Catalonia, Spain, uses c-tests extensively. Esmat Babaii and Hasan Ansary published a research paper at Shiraz University in Tehran on an objective evaluation of the c-test. Also see Linnemann Wilbert (2010). The C-test. A valid instrument for screening language skills and reading comprehension of children with learning problems? by Markus Linnemann & Jürgen Wilbert, 2010, in R. Grotjahn (Ed.), The C-Test: Contributions from Current Research (pp. 113 – 124). Frankfurt a.M.:Lang.

What does the free online c-test app do?

Learners can find any piece of electronic text that they can copy (Ctrl + c)  and paste (Ctrl + v) into the C-Test generator text window. It then generates an interactive c-test that they can complete online in order to test themselves or the suitability of a text for extensive or intensive reading.

What doesn’t it do?

Unlike the fully functioning licensed version for learning management systems, the simplified version doesn’t send or record any user data, e.g. name, course, time taken, number of attempts, the source text used, or number of words completed.

How to set the language proficiency level

The selected text used to generate the test determines the proficiency level. For example, if a learner is at B1 (CEFR) / Intermediate, they should select a text that is at that level. There are a variety of ways of determining the reading proficiency of texts, all with their specific uses and pros and cons, which are beyond the scope of this article. See this page for more details.

Conversely, it’s also a quick and easy way for learners to check if a text is at a suitable reading proficiency level for them. They can copy a sample paragraph of text, generate a c-test, and see if they can complete enough words on it. For example, if they score 95% or higher the text is suitable for Extensive Reading and anywhere below that will be suitable for intensive reading. A score below 50% will more than likely mean that the text is unsuitable for that learner.

Something that you may notice is that learners often score quite differently on texts that are supposedly at the same level of reading proficiency. This is usually because most learners acquire language “unevenly” and have strengths and weaknesses in particular topic areas. Typically, learners tend to score quite low on topics that are not interesting to them or that they’ve had little prior exposure to. You can experience this phenomenon for yourself by finding a text on a highly specialised topic in your native language that you know very little about.

The C-Test generator app

Please note: Number characters, e.g. 0, 1, 2, 3, 14, 50, 10th, 1984, etc. are impossible to predict in a c-test and must be changed to literal numbers, zero, one, two, three, fourteen, fifty, tenth, nineteen eighty four, etc., and don’t hyphenate numbers, e.g. eighty-four.  The C-Test Generator app also ignores paragraphing and removes “ ” ‘ ’ special punctuation characters, number characters, i.e. 0-9, and the following; ( ) { } [ ] < > & + * _ # / so that the generated c-tests are “reasonably completable.” The copied text is immediately filtred and so you can see the changes and edit them appropriately before you click on “Make C-Test”.

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How well do you know the International Phonetic Alphabet?

I’ve just created some new MILAs Learning Content Cartridges (LCCs) focused on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and I cordially invite you to try them out and see how well you know the British English subset of the IPA. If you’re from north America or have little experience with British English pronunciation, the vowel sounds should be a particular challenge and it may give you some insights into how learners experience using the IPA.

By the way, if you’re a British English speaker and would like to challenge your abilities with north American pronunciation, you could try Dr. Ron Thomson‘s free online phonemic awareness training system, English Accent Coach. I tried it and my knowledge and awareness of Canadian vowels was terrible!

Which MILAs have you used?

For your entertainment and interest, I’ve deployed three examples of different MILAs. Each one loads a different LCC to generate IPA focused learning interactions which have British English audio recordings and phonetic transcriptions of single words. All the vocabulary used is what we would normally expect learners at around level CEFR B1 (Intermediate) and above to have acquired reasonably well. The combinations are as follows:

Listen and select MILA + Short vowels LCC

Listen and select MILA with Short vowels LCC

Listen and repeat MILA + Diphthongs LCC

Listen and repeat MILA with Diphthongs LCC

Look and describe MILA + Non-paired voiced consonants LCC

Look and describe MILA with non-paired voiced consonants LCC

What are Learning Content Cartridges?

Learning Content Cartridges contain learning interaction data, in the form of SMIL XML files (a W3C standard format for education and multimedia presentations) and media, in the form of images and MP3 audio files, and are loaded into MILAs to generate learning interactions. Learning Content Cartridges are open format, so they can easily be edited and adapted, and are interchangeable with different applications that can read them, in this case MILAs.

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