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JSmirk and SmirkBoard

11 Jan, 2006
JSmirk is a tool for making accessible audio-visual presentations.
A summary of the JSmirk project funded by the distributed e-learning strand.

Please describe the tool you are building

JSmirk is an easy to use tool for authoring accessible audio-visual slideshows. It is an open source java version of a tool called Smirk, already developed at the University of Hertfordshire. This latter won a special prize for Accessibility at the European Academic Software Awards held at Le Locle, Switzerland, in September this year.

The project will also produce a server for hosting presentations, such that viewers of the slide shows can post comments on them. The final presentations will be like a cross between a discussion board and an online lecture. Each slide will show comments associated with it. Also, the authoring software is so easy you don’t need technician support to produce online multimedia: the audio is rendered as mp3 and the graphics as jpgs. The whole presentation can then be bundled as an IMS content package capable of being viewed in VLEs.

What problem do you see the development of this tool helping to address? (ie the rationale for your project)

When you are learning a complex new subject, you don’t always have the vocabulary you need to be able to describe what you don’t understand. In a lecture you just put up your hand and ask the lecturer to explain it again. You don’t have to recreate the context of the confusion. On a typical discussion forum, you do. With SmirkBoard however, you just post a comment to the slide you didn’t understand and ask the lecturer to explain it. Thereafter, whenever anyone views that presentation, when the relevant slide appears, so will the comment that was made on it.

Who do you see the being the primary user(s) of this tool?

The primary users of the authoring tool will be lecturers, and the primary viewers of the lectures they produce will be students. But not always, JSmirk could be used as a tool by which students can peer-critique each other’s work. The commenting functionality of the server could then be used by the lecturer for marking.

How do you see your tool being used?

The product Smirk, of which JSmirk is the open-source variant, has already been successfully used at the University of Hertfordshire in two distinct subject areas. By David Kraithman for primary exposition in large classes (First Year Microeconomics) and by Steve Bennett, as a peer critiquing tool in a module called Multimedia Specification Design and Production. For its use on that module, he was awarded runner-up in the Times Higher Educational Supplement’s E-Tutor of the Year. With an open source version available, and a free server environment also, one can imagine its use being expanded in many different fields.

To use your tool, what infrastructure etc (if any) will be needed? (ie - could it be used stand-alone? Would it need a VLE/other system to be in place?)

JSmirk or Smirkboard can be used in a stand-alone fashion for publishing, hosting or annotating web presentations. However, the fact that both will export to IMS Content Packages means that outputs from both will be viewable on most VLE’s. Smirk generated content packages have already been successfully uploaded and viewed on LearnWise.


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