Launch of OurWorld 2.0 Japanese version

ourworldHere it is at last.

It has taken longer than we had planned, but we are delighted to announce the launch of the Japanese version of the Our World 2.0 web magazine.

You may recall that this web magazine deals with the interaction between climate change, peak oil and food security, and that we launched the English version in July 2008.

We have spent the past few months writing new articles and translating the entire web magazine. As we moved forward from now on, we hope to publish every article in English and Japanese at the same time.

We are also looking for people to help us run the web magazine and for sponsors to support its future development.

by Brendan Barrett on October 22, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Wordpress as a publishing tool for OpenCourseWare

It is really exciting to see that David Wiley has been experimenting with Wordpress to re-publish his course on “blogs, wikis and new media.” Here at the UNU we have been building courses in Wordpress for some time now and we have published three so far. In fact most of our websites at the UNU Media Studio are built in Wordpress. So it is good to see others exploring this impressive tool!

Oh yes, we have been customizing existing plug-ins like polyglot (for multi-lingual blogs) and building new ones to handling quizzes and slideshows. We are going to post them soon as a contribution back to the Wordpress community. We have also made it possible for people to download the entire course, upload it to their own Wordpress site or just run it locally. This allows them to totally customize the course.

I like the related comment regarding the use of Wordpress for course development from
Brian Lamb in his posting “Ridiculously easy and inexpensive course hosting will never fly.” He writes “This approach is fatally flawed in a number of respects and it will never catch on. For one thing, it is far too cheap, and can never justify escalating technology infrastructure budgets. Worse, instructors and students could adopt this technology with minimal assistance or oversight from instructional technology specialists. In this profoundly unserious framework, there is nothing to prevent students from previewing courses before they take them, or reviewing courses later on. Indeed, some “learner” might benefit from this content without being an enrolled student at all!.”

All very good reasons to continue with this approach to course development.

by Brendan Barrett on February 17, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Launch of UN University Opencourseware

UN University OpencoursewareLast year, with support from the Joint Activity Fund, three UN University research institutes and the Media Studio worked together to develop the UN University Opencourseware portal, officially launched today, 4 February 2008. The aim of this pilot project was to publish at least ten courses as required in order to remain a member of the Global Opencourseware Consortium.
This initial collaboration brought together specialists from Macau (UNU-IIST), Canada (UNU-INWEH), the Netherlands (UNU-MERIT) and Japan (UNU-MEDIA), to publish courses on e-Governance, Innovation, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation (mangroves and watersheds).
As the platform, we selected eduCommons developed by the Centre of Open and Sustainable Learning at the Utah State University, because it is both free and open source (well, semi open source to be more precise). We managed to customize eduCommons so that it would have the same look and feel as the main UNU website.
We hope that our current suite of opencourseware will prove useful to students and educators all over the world. In the future, we plan to expand the portal with the inclusion of courses from the remaining UNU institutes and programmes.

by Brendan Barrett on February 7, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Launch of Voices of the Chichinautzin Website

voices_of_the_chichinautzin3.jpgFrom today, 11 December 2007, it is possible to view online the trailer for the new documentary from the UNU Media Studio entitled “Voices of the Chichinautzin.”
Chichinautzin is a biological corridor just outside Mexico City and the documentary shows how this beautiful land is the setting for desperate and at times violent struggles between indigenous communities and powerful interests.
Illegal logging has emerged as a major issue affecting the sustainability of this natural protected area. Local scientists, community groups and government agencies are working together, and harnessing traditional knowledge, to find a long term development path that balances the need for conservation with the security of local livelihoods.
The documentary was produced by the UNU Media Studio and directed and co-produced by Patricia Sims, co-directed and produced by Luis Patron. The UNU Media Studio wishes to thank all our collaborators who supported this project and especially the scientific team at REDMESO, led by Topiltzin Contreras from the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos.
You can learn more about this documentary at the following websites:

by Brendan Barrett on December 11, 2007 - Comments (00)  

From Dynamic to Static

MovementWhen we set out to create a static version of our WordPress based online courses we thought that with a little bit of clever programming we could make the conversion in no time. The process turned out to be a lot harder than we had envisaged but we worked out a basic methodology for getting the job done and we would like to share that with you below.
The first step was to download and use Teleport Pro software which crawls through a web site and downloads each page, graphic, etc. and rewrites the links to make the site locally referenced. Paying attention to unnecessary links such as comments and rss feeds while setting up a Teleport project will save you a lot of time later on.
Once the whole site was downloaded we started the tedious process of going through every page and doing a search and replace of multiple lines of html. After trying to do this manually, we realised the best way to proceed was to write a batch script to do the same thing to every html file and this saved a lot of time.
Other issues appeared when we discovered that Teleport Pro does not replace some of the javascript lines included by some of the plug-ins we are using our Wordpress site. This required more manual updating of pages. Also, the “SWF plug-in” we were using caused some minor problems when it created a new version of the player for each instance of a flash video appearing on a page. Our general approach was to keep testing the pages, checking outstanding issues and repeating until each page was working 100%.
The last outstanding issue and one of the largest challenges was to replicate the Wordpress search function by adding a Javascript search function to each page for locally based search. Well, all that sounds simpler than it actually was, but in the end it has been possible to convert three course modules so far from dynamic to static sites. This means that people who want to download the entire course modules can do so and can run them locally or on CD-ROM. This is very important in the parts of the world that are only occasionally connected to the Internet.

by sean on November 20, 2007 - Comments (03)  

Recording session for Chichinautzin documentary

Recording session for Chichinautzin documentaryI just came back from Victoria, Canada where audio postproduction activities for the UNU-produced documentary Voices of the Chichinautzin are being done. These include narration recording, sound design and mix, and music composition.
This was done at Digiheadz Studio, with sound designer and mixer Tony Moskal ( ). Tony has lots of experience recording and mixing audio for documentaries, including productions for Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
We had selected Canadian actress and voice-over talent Nicole Oliver ( ) to be our voice. Nicole’s wide experience came handy to deliver the required performance under the guidance of Director Patricia Sims. The narration includes quite a few Spanish and Nahuatl terms, so part of my role was to coach Nicole in the proper pronunciation, which she nailed after a couple of tries. The whole recording process took about 5 hours.
For the Spanish version of the documentary we wanted a neutral Spanish voice, with a subtle Mexican accent. Options for this in the Victoria area in Canada were limited, so we found our voice in Mexico City. Recording had to be done in Mexico, so we got PianiMusic Studios ( in Mexico City for this purpose. As we wanted to direct the recording session, we connected to PianiMusic using Skype from the Digiheadz Studio, so we could hear and give guidance. Nallely’s experience was not as diverse as that of Nicole, yet she also did a great job and delivered the type of performance we were after.
As the last part of the process, we recorded an English version of brief segments of some of the interviews, which were originally delivered in Spanish. This technique is often used in TV, and the way it works is that when you have an interview sequence, you leave the person speaking for a couple of seconds in his native language, and after that you put on top an audio track where the same things are said in English by a narrator. This requires a bit of acting to match the tone and energy of the person in the interview, so we had four native Spanish speaker actors for this purpose.
It all went well, and the recorded tracks are ready to be mixed, but for that we have to wait until music composition is completed, which will happen very soon.

by luis on November 20, 2007 - Comments (01)  

UNU OpenCourseWare

2007_08_31-0003802.jpgA small group came together on 31 August and 1 September here at the UNU Media Studio to discuss how best to develop the UNU OpenCourseware Portal. We are planning to use eduCommons developed by the Centre for Open and Sustainable Learning. We will give feedback in this blog on the experience we have as an eduCommons adopter.

The meeting was really interesting and we had a very useful exchange of views. We are planning to put ten courses online by the end of 2007. In this picture, you can see Philip Schmidt giving some background on the work that they are doing at UNU-MERIT and also on his experience with the University of Western Cape’s Free Courseware project. There is a project blog on the work at UWC that you may want to take a look at.
Here at the UNU, we have funding for the pilot phase of the OCW project which brings together our institutes in Macau, the Netherlands and Canada. Other institutes will join in phase 2 as we expand to cover the entire UNU network from 2008 onwards.

by Brendan Barrett on February 7, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Bangalore scouting

Children in ChokasandraAs the world becomes more and more urbanized, the Media Studio turns its gaze towards a new theme: healthy urbanization in low resource settings. For this project, Bangalore (also known as the Silicon Valley of India due to the large number of IT companies thriving there) will be our new location.
Bangalore’s wide, tree-lined avenues filled with loud, yellow auto rickshaws welcomed us. But digging deeper, we found a city struggling with rapid urbanization and massive population growth.
To get a clearer picture of the situation, we visited some of the poorest areas of Bangalore and spoke to the people living there. We also attended a seminar on healthy urbanization, organized by WHO – Kobe Center (our partner in this project), which helped understand the challenges of building healthier communities in urban areas.
We thank WKC, WHO – India, HUP, SHINE and Mad Monitor Productions for their guidance during this mission and we look forward to their inputs in the next phase of this project.

by andreina on September 3, 2007 - Comments (00)  

Why not build a course in a blog?

Wordpress.jpgThat was a question that emerged in one of our team meetings about a year ago. The idea is simple. How can we make it really easy for virtually anyone to build courses (do it yourself principle)? We had been reading on the web that millions of people are now blogging. So what if millions of people could build their own courses? That is an intriguing thought.
We began playing around with Wordpress and soon realized that it was relatively straightforward to structure a course using the ‘Page Management’ function. The other real benefit of this approach was that the “subject matter expert” could write the pages from anywhere with an Internet connection. This is really important when you are network-university like the UNU. So we got to work and decided to customize the Wordpress template (something that almost every blogger wants to do). We asked Jonathan Snook to develop our first template. We also selected the “plug-ins” that we needed to handle flash video (WP-FLV), searching (Search Pages) and a WSIWYG editor (Xinha4WP).
For the course on SEA, Riki Therivel very kindly allowed us to use her course content. Once all the course content was in place in the blog, we enabled the comment function to allow visitors to engage in discussion around the content, check for inaccuracies and add new information. Many visitors commented on how they would like to download the course materials. So we asked Oleg Butuzov to figure out how and now it is possible to download both static and dynamic versions of the course modules. After you have downloaded the materials, you are free to customize and localize as you see fit. Using a Creative Commons license facilitates this step.

We think that this is a unique and cost effective approach to developing courses. The exciting part about using Wordpress is that it is free, open source and has a large developer community. The important message from all of this is that building and sharing courses with limited resources is infinitely doable. It is quite easy to imagine a purpose built software package that makes the above steps even easier – just click a few buttons and you are done. You would then be free to focus on making sure that the content is rich and engaging.

Sometime soon we will provide a short tutorial on how to create the static and dynamic versions of the course modules, since that is the element that requires the greatest technical skill.

by Brendan Barrett on May 8, 2008 - Comments (012)  

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