Improved look & new features

After the piloting phase and the surveys that took place in schools and language centres in France, Germany, Latvia and Spain, the Babelium team has now collected useful feedback for the implementation of a new environment in our online platform. As a result of the piloting we have developed a simpler and more user-friendly interface, divided into three sections: “Browse”, “My activity”, and “Create”.

Practice screen detail

In the “Browse” section the user can choose between 400 videos in English, French, German, and Spanish. Those videos are classified by difBrowsing exercisesficulty, exercise type and
communicative situation. Once the chosen video has been selected, the user can record him or herself using Babelium’s new graphic interface. All the descriptive details of the video can be seen on the right-hand side of the screen. Another improvement we have made is related to the audio recording. The platform is now able to automatically adjust the audio level in cases where a potentially bad configuration of the microphone settings has been used.

In “My activity”, the user can access his or her own recordings, as well as the related assessments. Assessments are divided into three sub-sections: “responses” to the user’s recordings; “assessments” made by the user to other users’ recordings; and, other users’ recordings that are “waiting for assessment”.Assessments of the user's workUser's activity page

The third space, “Create”, dedicated to the creation of videos, has also been re-designed and now consists of a three-step process:

  1. Label the exercise and add a description. The new interface allows the user to add rich text (bold, underline, italics, colours and external links) in a very simple way.Classify exercise
  2. Choose media origin from file or by recording from webcam. Our new version of the interface includes the choice of a thumbnail – that is a graphic picture which can be used as a description of the exercise.Add video/webcam media
  3. Add subtitles and publish the exercise.Subtitle the exercise

Furthermore, in the exercise creation section, a new option, called “add a model media”, has been added. In the surveys that were carried out we have discovered that learners found some of the exercises more difficult than others, and that they would have liked to be provided with an example, as a helpful reference, recorded by a native speaker of the correspondent language. We have named these examples as “models”. Now Babelium includes the option to add a model to each of the newly created exercises.

European Project’s second partner meeting

Riga Meeting picLast week part of Babelium’s team was in Riga (Latvia) taking part in the second partner meeting of the European project on which we are involved.

In the meeting we shared the progress that each team made in their respective work packages and defined the next steps in the areas of dissemination, explotation and platform content creation.

Our French partners (UPPA) have been hard at work defining an exercise methodology that is based on recognized standards such as CEFR and the ALTE (association of lenguage testers in Europe) Can Do statements. This exercise methodology also suggests a more concise content classification based on the language aspect and the type of exercise that is created, among other things. Some changes in the practice methodology were also suggested, favoring a three stage approach: free context exposition, instructor’s model recording and repetition of the model by the learner.

In the upcoming weeks we will be working together to shape the proposed methodology and discuss the changes we should do on the platform to accomodate this new features. Similarly, we will talk about the new practice workflow and the contents that we will be including in the ‘Exercise methodology’ deliverable.

We can say that except for some slight differences in the approach of some topics the meeting was a success and we would like to thank our Latvian partners for the great job of management and the kindness and attentiveness they displayed during our stay.

Best regards & Līdz nākamajai reizei! (Until next time)

Babelium involved in LLP European Project

Partners in front of Tecnalia's offices

Last week Babelium’s team was in Zamudio (Basque Country), in Tecnalia‘s headquarters, taking part in an internartional meeting. In this meeting we had the chance to meet the European partners that are going to work with us to help us improve the platform.

The main aim of this project is to create a corpus of exercises or a well categorized set of didactic material for the platform. These exercises are going to be available in four languages (English, German, French and Spanish). The quality and usefulness of the material will be tested in pilots made across Europe. In these pilots people with different motivations and backgrounds will use the platform. The outcome of these activities will help us to measure the efficiency of the platform and to know its good points and the things that should be improved. Thanks to that, we will also know first hand the needs of users with different cultural backgrounds in a real environment and will be able to make changes or improvements accordingly.

Another important point to highlight is that our partners have agreed to publish all the didactic material that is developed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license, which will grant language learning centers across the globe the chance to use them cost-free.

Discussing the material creation

The Spanish partners of the project are UPV/EHU (University Of Basque Country), Tecnalia and Elurnet. As for the rest of the European partners we have: Translex (Ireland), Pro-Kompetenz (Germany), UPPA (France), TendER (Italy) and LatConsul (Latvia). Given their diverse backgrounds and fields of knowledge we expect this to be a great collaboration.

We are very happy to have the chance of being involved in a project of these characteristics and we hope the experience will help us improve Babelium and overall, the second languages’ speaking skills of our users.

HTML5 audio recording

HTML5 Player prototype

We’ve been hard at work and we finally made it! We are now able to record audio from the browser without any plugins.

The image above is the prototype of the player we have been working on. On the right you can see the input level of the microphone. In the timeline there are several yellow gaps that tell us when to speak. When the user reaches a yellow gap, the original audio is muted and he/she must dub what the character was saying in that moment.

The audio is recorded in MP3 and sent in real time to our servers so that the user can later access it from anywhere.

On top of that, since no plugins are used, the prototype also works in handheld devices. But you must have a modern browser 😉

These are the compatible devices:

  • Apple devices (iPad, iPhone): iOS 7, Safari 6.1+
  • Android devices (tablets and smartphones): Chrome for Android 32+ or Firefox 25+
  • PC/Apple: Firefox 25+, Chrome 10+, Opera 15+

In general, the prototype is compatible with any browser that supports WebAudioAPI (click here to check if your browser is supported). Nonetheless, this is still a prototype and as such, there are many things to improve in order to bring the quality and stability we expect and to integrate it seamlessly into our current platform.

Article on HIZPIDE journal

hizpide-81_azalatxWe have just found out that the latest number of the HIZPIDE (the journal for teachers of Basque to adult learners) has published our article about Babelium.

In this article we speak about the challenges and the problems language learners face when it comes to speaking practice. In a minority language such as Basque it is specially difficult to find any online platform that offers ways to practice speaking skills. This lack of alternatives is in contrast with the importance speaking practice has, according to scientific literature. We also speak about the way we try to address these problems with Babelium: the exercise types you can create, the descriptors you can use, the Moodle support…

Babelium plugins now supports Moodle 2.5

Moodle-logoAfter making several fixes in the code, Babelium’s Moodle plugin is now fully compatible with Moodle 2.5. While we were at it we also made some fixes for previous versions (2.4). Here’s the changelog:

  • Far less obtrusive Babelium errors. Now the errors don’t prevent you from using the rest of Assignment Submission plugins.
  • Babelium submissions are disabled when no exercises are available. If no exercises are available for the current user, a message will be displayed and Babelium submissions will not be eligible.
  • Fixed the submission preview area. The learner can now see a thumbnail of the recording and the submission he/she made.
  • Improvements in the video player. We removed the placeholder video and errors are now more concise and user friendly.

Congress & Conferences

Hi all,

just a quick post to let you know that we will be presenting Babelium’s plugin for Moodle next week in Crete, in the 1st Moodle Research Conference 🙂  The plugin became an approved Moodle’s plugin on July 2 so we will celebrate it in Greece.

Flying back to Spain, we will make a stop at Madrid to meet our Moodle friends in the Moodle Moot Spain 2012. You can already check the full program (our paper will be presented on friday 21, september)

Last but not least, tomorrow we’ll be also working our way at Donostia’s San Telmo Museum, in the presentation of a great Citizens’ Initiatives compendium that the Basque Government is promoting inside a project called LanIrekia. A lot of interesting people will gather around this initiative, so it will be fun and interesting to drop by there 😉

Activity report

Long time no see,

  lately, we have been busy spreading the word of Babelium attending two conferences:  “Jakintza Librearen III. Jardunaldiak“, organized by Azkue Fundazioa (a foundation that encourages innovative ways of supporting Basque/Euskera in the new technologies) it was held in Bilbao (May, 30) and we were delighted to take part in the event along with other Basque startups like Hermeneus,  Dirutza or Kulturize (Akting).

Our second invitation to talk came from Montehermoso (Vitoria-Gasteiz), a neat documentation center that promotes and disseminates art and contemporary art. Focussing on the free software philosophy, Montehermoso held a conference where different models for accessing and consuming knowledge were analysed.   We talked about the origin of Babelium, and how is it being used for second language speaking practice.

On the technical side, we have been working on tracing the origin of this audio related bug (3156305) in Adobe’s Flash Player 11.2:  “Audio only FLVs previously published from flash player no longer play back”.  It’s a major bug with regard to Babelium’s functionality, because it prevented to play audio only recordings! Thanks to the hard work of @inkoperurena , we could be able to pinpoint the origin of the bug (a change – with regard to previous versions – in the behaviour of Flash Player when the internal metadata value of a FLV video named videocodecid changed to -1 lead to being unable of playing it) and fix it.

Second, we have revamped the videoplayer’s design, so the size of the video canvas is now bigger than before (allowing a more comfortable reading of texts inside the video, a much needed feature for reading aloud activities, for example)

Third, they keywords of any video are now not only shown alongside each video, but they are also clickable, so a user can search any other video related to the actual one.

We keep working on new and exciting features that will be announced soon in this blog, so stay tuned!

New features

Just a quick post to inform you about our progress within Babelium project’s development.

* Now it’s possible to upload WMV (Windows Media Video) files as the source for new video-exercises

* When a new response is recorded using the Moodle plugin, the user can click directly a View Response button (previously, it was possible to review the response, but users had to click in the “Play” button, a less intuitive action)

And a bug, not due to our fault, but Adobe’s:

* We have been bitten by this bug in latest version of Flash plugin that makes audio-only FLVs published in Red5 no longer play back. Is there any workaround? Yes, a little bit inconvenient, nonetheless. You have to either upgrade your Flash plugin to a newer beta version 11.3 or downgrade it to 11.1 .