Evaluating H5P interactive online learning content creation

I have been very impressed by H5P, and have seen just how effective it can be. Perhaps most importantly, many different people, of all ages and in all roles, really enjoy using it – both as learners and as content authors.

What is H5P?

H5P was originally developed by the Norwegian company Joubel (in Tromsø) for the National Digital Learning Arena, a Norwegian publicly funded learning portal. Its development was motivated by the need to move away from Flash based content. It is an “MIT licensed community development project”.

H5P provides 26 types of self-contained HTML5 interactive content. All very slick, stylish and compatible with the full range of web browsers and devices – with touch interfaces enabled for phones and tablets.

Here is an example created with my son Alex (5 years old). It is a Course Presentation with questions and a Twitter feed at the end (from the SANCCOB penguin rehabilitation centre in Cape Town) – this is embedded into the page so you can have a go and test your knowledge of penguins. As with many of the H5P content types, it looks especially good when displayed at full screen (there is a button at the bottom right of its frame to go full screen):

There are 26 types of content that can be embedded into web pages, and which are useful for learning – but have wider applications as well. For example, a nicely designed multiple choice quiz, an interactive timeline, flashcards. Two of the content types are more complex, allowing some of the other kinds of content to be embedded into “interactive videos” and “course presentations”. Along with “timeline”, these more complex content types can also include videos, images and (in the case of timeline) embedded PDFs and audio. In this way they can act as wrappers for “open educational resources” drawn from other sources (e.g. videos from YouTube). We can therefore create many different activities that draw upon the same set of generic resources. For example, a course presentation that takes a set of generic videos in a way that makes them meaningful for a specific course. Or we could provide the same video to a group of students and get each one of them to turn it into an interactive video, presenting their own interpretation.

In this example I have wrapped a set of generic videos in a Course Presentation for a year abroad project in languages (more info here). It has text, videos, quizzes and a Twitter feed that will show examples of students work  – again this is embedded here into the page, so you can try it out for real:

This article by Bryan Ollendyke demonstrates how the smaller, faster, more granular content types (like multiple choice question) can be used to consistently deploy a smaller set of micro-activities across many different locations. In Bryan’s example, shown in his video, he has a single multiple choice question used repeatedly to gather student feedback from many different locations in the website and VLE – a just-in-time context aware micro-feedback mechanism. As he is using H5P’s xAPI mechanism to write the date into Learning Locker, each individual record (or “statement” in xAPI speak) records the time and web location that it was made. So it is possible to analyse the data as a whole and as originating from different deployment locations.

Each content type is accompanied by a simple wizard and wysiwyg drag-and-drop system for creating content.

Activities may be created, hosted and used in the H5P.org web site. Or we can install a plugin for Drupal and WordPress web sites that adds the same set of creation and hosting tools to those systems. I have had some problems with the WordPress plugin, affecting editing but not playback. I traced them to being caused by a combination of: 1) the very inefficient implementation of asynchronous data loading in WordPress; 2) the low VM memory limit imposed by my hosting company (Fasthosts). My solution is now to create activities on the H5P.org site and then copy them across to my WordPress site. These problems should not occur if you are using WordPress on a better hosting solution.  A Moodle plugin is now available (launched July 15th 2016) and should be in widespread use soon. That will accelerate adoption significantly.

This is what the interface for editing a Course Presentation looks like in WordPress (almost identical to the interface in H5P.org, meaning authors can transfer their skills between platforms):

editing

Once H5P activities have been created in WordPress they appear in a site library. The WordPress plugin also adds an additional option to the post and page editing interface, allowing for H5P items to be selected and added into the post/page:

wordpress edit bar

By default two content sharing options are enabled: download and embed – appearing as small buttons below the content frame. Clicking on embed reveals the html embed code, allowing the content to be embedded in other web pages (through copying the code into the raw HTML). We have tested this with Moodle and Mahara, and it works nicely.

buttons

A content item created on the H5P.org web site, or in another H5P host, may be downloaded as an archived package (.h5p) and uploaded into a different H5P enabled host. This works perfectly, and allows H5P to work as an excellent open educational resource format.

In addition to the embed and download buttons, you might also sometimes notice a third button for digital rights. If an image, video or other asset is added to an activity, and the author specified copyright information for the asset, H5P automatically creates a list of rights information and displays the Rights of Use button.

The activities include detailed user tracking. So for example the results of quizzes may be recorded. The WordPress plugin includes a system for storing and using this data. H5P may also used with Experience API (xAPI) enabled activity tracking systems (for example Learning Locker) into which other such learning activity tools share data. Many people in learning tech argue that xAPI stores are essential for complex, diverse institutions that value creativity and independent learning – just like Warwick University. So it is good to see tools like H5P making use of them. This means that activities that are distributed across multiple systems can write student progress data into a single canonical location (to be used by the students themselves, by teachers, and in learning analytics).

Where does it fit?

So as to get a sense of its fit, I have supported a wide range of people in creating H5P activities. This has included medics learning to teach (doctors, nurses, paramedics), languages teachers, social science researchers (the timeline is especially useful), learning technologists and children. Pleasingly, my help has been required mostly in the process of forming design ideas – choosing which content type and seeing how the content type and the aims of the author may co-adapt to produce a worthwhile output.

H5P does not present major technical challenges to authors – nothing greater than they might experience in using PowerPoint for example. The creative-pedagogic challenge of applying it is more demanding, and does require more sophisticated capabilities. This should alleviate as it gets used more and people are exposed to examples of its use (especially in HE).

The content types themselves divide into two camps, with perhaps different likely areas of fit. The simpler content types probably have less of a clear fit in HE, and perhaps are more suited to schools. Although one can imagine their integration into a well designed web site as a coherent learning experience. The more complex composite types of content have great potential as OER wrappers, or for building immersive learning experiences – more coherent, flowing and hence immersive than we can easily achieve with conventional Moodle activities (for example).

However, for universities that encourage students to be creative, to be researchers, then perhaps the most exciting area of fit will be where students create H5P content. This might, for example, be a project in which they annotate a sequence from a movie from a philosophical perspective (we might have a project doing that soon). Or they create a timeline as an assessed activity. For example, we have an interdisciplinary social science project that is getting students, and then members of the public, to create socio-economic personal histories as timelines.

I’ve discussed the timeline with careers and skills development professionals, and they agree that it has great potential as an alternative means for getting students and staff to record, reflect and present their achievements. I had intended to create a simple demo of this, but enjoyed it so much I got carried away and created my whole CV as an interactive timeline with embedded images, video and PDFs (of my research publications and conference presentations):

As for other aspects of fit, I can see no major barriers. In the HE context, the fact that it is an “MIT licensed community project” is a bonus. Openness is built in to the core. And of course people will always assume that something from Norway has sound ethical values!

Will it stick?

Calculating potential stickiness is a complicated business (see this article for a breakdown of my approach). We want to know if it will “stick for a reasonable length of time, justifying the effort and cost of adopting it and adapting to it” (to paraphrase my PhD). Is it sustainable for individuals and institutions? Will it endure?

For the individual author it looks good. When we come to author a H5P activity for the first time, or we revisit creating a content type some time after having first learned to do it, content creation is sufficiently intuitive and recognisable. There is low extraneous cognitive load in the task. And we can get value out of it quite quickly. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is in knowing which content type to use and how to use it. For example, when creating course presentations I still struggle in deciding which of the types of multiple choice activity I should use for which purpose. Fortunately the authoring interface makes it easy to try one out and then change it.

Long term hosting of content is more of a worry. We shouldn’t be relying on the H5P.org web site to host content that may be needed again in the future. It does often go offline for ten minute periods.  Institutions should develop their own hosting arrangements. What should they be like? The Drupal plugin looks to be the best of the options available (it looks like H5P.org is Drupal). I have found the WordPress plugin to be unreliable, due to the inefficient way in which WordPress does data loading in Javascript (it is rubbish, especially if your host VM has a low limit on memory availability). Moodle will be a better option for institutions, but then limits the openness of content. A better approach would be to host and serve H5P from an OER repository.

How far and fast will it spread?

And that brings us on to the question of spreadability. I’ve seen how fast awareness of H5P spreads, and how quickly people (especially those with intermediate level tech skills) can develop sufficient understanding so as to move to adopt-adapt. New users can sign up for an account on H5P.org within a minute, create content, share it and use it. It is very vert spreadable. The embed and download options will accelerate the network effect further. But ultimately this will depend upon the availability of H5P hosts beyond that provided by H5P.org. The final release of the Moodle plugin (possibly by the Autumn [UK] of 2016) will accelerate spread significantly. If that all goes OK, we should see H5P becoming ubiquitous.

One further feature ensures even wider range – it has built-in translations for its interface text, supporting many different languages.

What kind of growth will it enable?

This is the really exciting question. How will it transform design capability? – the ability of individuals and (better) collectives to reflect on and formulate their needs (their challenges and their ambitions), to imagine solutions, to discover and adapt patterns, to prototype and develop ideas, to move to implementation, continuation, further critical-creative reflection and then more designing.

H5P has many of the key properties – we can prototype and share ideas fast, collaborate with people near and far, deploy, get feedback, modify. The design patterns it supports are visual and instantly recognisable. My own enthusiasm for it is based upon seeing how it opens up the possibility of learning design thinking in a context (my university) where such thinking and acting is under developed. And most importantly, people enjoy using it. I’ve seen that it has the special but hard to pin down holistic feel that makes people click with it instantly.

Finally, something I haven’t had time to investigate – the H5P platform is designed to allow other people to develop new content types, either from scratch or as customisations of existing types. The specification for .h5p packages is online, with definitions in the form of json text files. There’s plenty of support info on the H5P web site, plus a lively forum (our medical educators had great help from the H5P team). I just wish I had time to have a go at developing my own content types – I’ve got some great ideas.

How to start using it

First of all have a look through the examples. They are compelling and effective for getting an idea of what it can do. Then sign up for an account and you can get started making things in a couple of minutes.

You might even end up making some strawberry and blueberry smoothies (we did and they are great):