Moodlemoot Ireland & UK 2012 – Day #2

Day two began with a panel session on moving from Moodle 1.9 to 2.2 (and beyond!), where seasoned Moodle veterans shared their experiences on this major version transition. As Alison Pope noted (@alisonpope) on Twitter, there are “four upgrade approaches

  1. in place and (a) staged (b) in one go
  2. clean install and (a) migrate content (b) rebuild content”.

I was interested (but unsurprised) to hear during this session that plugins are the biggest issue, particularly with non-standard hacks and tweaks.

Whilst there are all manner of Moodle plugins and blocks I’d be keen on us installing at the University of Bath, I’m thankful that we’ve limited our foray into this world to three strategically important ones. These are our in-house developed Moodle/SITS integration as well as Panopto and the Turnitin integration from Dan Marsden [Further details on our Turnitin approach can be found elsewhere on this blog.] Oh, and for the record, we’re going for the 1(b) approach listed above!

Conference Organiser Gavin Henrick also mentioned towards the end of the panel session that he was going to be uploading a Moodle 2 blueprint for upgrade onto this blog before too long. One too keep an eye out for, I think!

Next up was the today’s keynote from Helen Foster, the Community Manager over at Moodle.org, where over a million users are registered.

In this hour long talk, Helen took the audience through several areas of the wider website (.com, .org and .net), in part, giving  walk-through of the three demo Moodle installations that it might be tapping into. These are:

  1. Moodle Demo - A demonstration version of Moodle, where users can log in as any role.
  2. School Demo site - Great for exploring Moodle within a particular role within an environment which has been populated with some data.
  3. QA Testing site - Testing new features in the dev(elopment) version of Moodle. This is due to be used (and bashed!) extensively from May onwards for about a  month in the run up to the  release of Moodle 2.3.
Certainly, following Helen’s presentation, I feel that I really should get (even) more involved with the Moodle Community online spaces. If possible, it’d be great  to contribute some (if not all) of the Moodle Features Demo course that my colleagues and I are currently working on as a way of giving something back.
In a similar vain to yesterday’s blog post, the following are some messages I took away from the range of presentations and breakout sessions that I attended over the course of today. In no particular order…
  • York St. John University (YSJ) have a rather interesting looking web application called Moodle Modules which sits between the student record system SITS and Active Directory (AD). Moodle modules dictates what modules are created within Moodle and assigns tutors roles. Given that we have a similar application over at Bath (but that doesn’t work with AD, I’d be keen to compare notes and identify differences at some point.
  • The YSJ Moodle theme allows for customisation, including some accessibility enhancements, which again would be worth having a conversation about. Their Course filter functionality was also noted as this functionality allowed for course listings to be personalised by users somewhat and prevented the dreaded “scroll of death”. It’s just a shame that York is so far away from Bath as it would have been great to have spent a bit more time with these guys.
  • For pedagogical, procedural and technical reasons, the upgrade to Moodle 2.2 was described as a “game changer” with its enormous benefit to all involved.
  • Gavin Henrick gave a good introduction to using repositories in Moodle 2.x – his slides can be found on his Slideshare space. We’ve enabled the Dropbox, Google Docs, Flickr and Wikimedia ones on our test Moodle 2.2 installation, but perhaps there are some others that we should consider?
  • As Meredith Henson from Catalyst IT Europe Limited discussed that Moodle users might be more attracted to a different activity in Moodle 2.x, than they previously used in 1.9. So, instead of using  a File resource in 1.9, users might be attracted to the Book course format in 2.x instead. Similarly, the Feedback module might be used instead of the Quiz for some activities. Something to consider when planning staff development initiatives at Bath, for sure.
  • A number of institutions are running Google Analytics on their Moodle installations. We’ve been doing this at Bath since 2008, but rarely interrogate the data to inform future decisions. Perhaps this is an area for us to develop in?

So, that’s it – another Moodlemoot is nearly over! Many thanks to all attendees for your contributions, conversations, tweets and so much more besides. It’s was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding conference, and I look forward to hearing from some of those I met to continue developing ideas with the potential to exchange resources and explore some areas to collaborate within.

In the meantime (and as some know), I have some more writing of my own to be getting on with…

Moodlemoot Ireland & UK 2012 – Day #1

The first day proper of Moodlemoot Ireland & UK 2012 began with a keynote from Moodle Founder, Martin Dougiamas.

Well, actually it began with the loudest rock music I’ve ever heard at a concert conference, but it set the tone to what was going to be a cracking day. With this being my sixth Moodlemoot, I’m in Dublin with high expectations, and the sessions and conversations to date certainly haven’t disappointed.

Martin gave an overview of current priorities at Moodle HQ in Perth, Australia and gave insights into plans for Moodle 2.3 and 2.4.

Whilst the Moodle Roadmap is always there to be referred to, it is always useful to engage in more of a dialogue on development issues related to Moodle’s release cycle and related community, and Martin focused his talk around four key areas, which I discuss briefly below.

1. Plugins
It’s difficult to not notice, but there’s been a seismic shift across a number of devices to the concept of ‘apps’ – often with seamless download and installation. Moodle isn’t going to be missing out here, through the introductions of ‘plugins’ for which a new system has been written. It’ll be easier for both developers and users to integrate these, and installation will be rather WordPress like. Should be ready for Moodle 2.4. (James Clay has written his thoughts on this area on his blog e-learning Stuff.)

2. Processes
Continuing to develop professionalism in this area, whereby management of Moodle developments are striving to be efficient, transparent, predictable, stable and open. There’s lots of related work going on in this area too with the Moodle Tracker, Git repository and Moodle Docs all being constantly and consistently reviewed. Testing procedures are more automated ever, leading to less buggy and more a resilient codebase.

3. Usability
There’s a massive focus on this area, with an emphasis on solving user frustrations through gathering experiences, prioritising issues and developments, concentrating and then communicating change. Some usability studies on Moodle will be undertaken when time and money allows. These iPhone app continues to be a success, and a further (open source) app for Android will be released before too long. Moodle.org and Moodle.com are due for a re-brand.

4. Integrations
This section was beyond my technical knowledge and interests, but hopefully the slide on the right gives an idea! That said, I was interested to hear that Moodle HQ will be doing some work to integrate Open Badges from the Mozilla Foundation. (No I didn’t know what they were either…)

A number of questions were put to Martin during the Q&A session, including the following items.

  • The “scroll of death” specification will be online before too long. Within this format, topics within courses can be switched to one per page, which then in turn have a table of contents type navigation. Mockups are floating around on Moodle.org.
  • The Assignment activity is being re-factored for Moodle 2.3, as noted yesterday. In particular, the ability to grade assignments offline and then send grades back to Moodle sounds awesome!
  • The code freeze for Moodle 2.3 will happen in four weeks time, which in turn will be followed by one month of testing. The Book module – not one I’ve used yet, admittedly – is currently in the hands of a Moodle Developer and will be part of Moodel core for 2.3.
  • Drag and drop is going to become more and more important. The prediction is that more content will be stored in the cloud, in services like Dropbox. Related to this, the usability of the Moodle file picker is being re-visited and details can be found on the Moodle Tracker.

For further notes on Martin’s keynote, do head along to Becky Barrington’s blog to catch up on any points that I might have missed. I haven’t talked about Martin’s thoughts on Blackboard’s entry into the Moodle world, for example.

I took reams of notes (well, lots of Evernote Notes were created and written!) in the numerous sessions that followed the keynote, which I’m afraid, would take days to dissect and reflect upon before reporting back on this blog.

However, I can give a numberred list (in note form in part) giving an overview of those things that caught my eye, or made me sit up and take notice. I always haven’t matched the sessions below to presenters, but would be happy to on request.

  1. The log-in integration of Moodle with Google Apps has not been as seamless as one institution had hoped. The lack of the tech-speak to describe an institutions issues to a Moodle Partner was seen to be problematic.  One of the key things was finding that Moodle 2 behaves differently [to 1.9] and that this was seen to challenge to the intuition that staff had developed around 1.9
  2. Presentation of a new acronym: NoSSTFOM – “Not Strictly Speaking The Fault Of Moodle”!
  3. Discussion of work “underpinned by a 3E framework at Edinburgh Napier University as a way of thinking about technology and sharing examples”.
  4. A fantastic presentation by Michelle Moore (@michelledmoore), Chief Evangelist at Remote-Learner.net on the Book Module, the Glossary, Lesson and Workshop activities and Conditional Activities. Her presentation can be found on Slideshare.
  5. ULCC‘s discussion of three Moodle case studies where the environment has been tailored for institutional use. One of the key findings of this work for them was that a “shared service approach is transformational”.
and finally…
  • Becky Barrington (@bbarrington) has developed a rather useful Prezi presentation entitled  What is new with Moodle 2 (and 2.2)? It includes and highlights differences between 1.9, 2.0, 2.1 and 2.2.
  • The fabulous Twitter conversations going through the #mootieuk12 hashtag. This is the first time I’ve ever engaged with Twitter so much for a conference, and its been immensely useful. It wouldn’t neccesarily work in every context, but has without a doubt, been a fabulous value added for conference attendees.

Day #1 (well, 2) over. Time to go and explore Dublin a little more, before the final day of Moodlemoot 2012 tomorrow. Can’t wait!

Moodlemoot Ireland & UK 2012 – Pre-Conference Workshops

Having not blogged for some time, I figured that getting writing again whilst in the lovely city of Dublin would be a perfect opportunity to re-initiate my writing.

Having achieved both Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) and Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) over the last nine months or so, I’ve indulged in a fair amount of reflective writing recently. With both now completed and awarded, I feel strongly that I should return to this blog to continue reflecting as well as sharing practice with others.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m in the city for MoodleMoot Ireland & UK 2012, a conference based around the open source software, Moodle which we use at the University of Bath.

Whilst tomorrow sees the first of two days of the conference, I flew into Dublin yesterday evening in time for the pre-conference workshops that were taking place today. After some consideration of the workshops on offer, I decided to attend the following two.

#1 – Introduction to teaching with Moodle

Led by Mary Cooch (@moodlefairy), I was attracted to this workshop because of its introductory nature, despite having been a Moodle user since 2005.

With the University of Bath upgrading to Moodle 2.2 this summer, I was keen to get some ideas for both our own Moodle 2 Familiarisation seminars, and the longer term (new) Moodle Staff Development programme which will be rolled over over the next year or so.

Additionally, attending a(nother) Moodle 2.2. introductory workshops works too in getting me to polish those new skills – and paths through the environment – that are new to me.

Over the course of the three hour session, I picked up a range of ideas which I know that I’ll be considering when I’ll be leading development of the new Moodle Essentials workshop at Bath.

There were also some other items that I’ll be keen to explore after the Easter break:

  • With the Assignment activity changing for Moodle 2.3, the Online Text functionality, might be changing. This would be worth investigating given that we’re currently pushing this as an alternative to the Journal activity which we’re not installing.
  • The Lesson activity, and how to build an effective example within the Moodle Features Demo course I’m building as part of our staff development work. This holds tremendous potential for building branched learning activities.
  • The Workshop activity is another to explore, given that both activities have been re-developed completely since Moodle 1.9. This activity allows for both peer- and self-assessment based activities.
  • Develop thinking around default blocks that we should recommend users add to their Moodle courses. Talking of which, there are an increasing number available in the Blocks drop down menu when Turn Editing On has been enabled. Are all of these required, or can some be switched off?
  • When it comes to repositories available through the file picker – Is integrating with Picasa Web Albums essential? Or will Flickr be enough?

#2 – Adding Social to learning (SoMe Bootcamp)

Following lunch (no one at the conference was quite sure what the soup served was!), I headed to conference organiser, Gavin Henrick’s (@ghenrick) session on the making Moodle courses more social.

In turn, he took the group through a range of Moodle resources and activities to see how integrating with, or pulling feeds from, social media services could make Moodle courses less static.

One of the most useful parts of the session was Gavin’s insistence on actively encouraging audience participation and asking people to share their experiences. This in turn led to a much richer session.

Tomorrow, I’ll be keeping a look out for sessions in which Moodle/Mahara integration will be discussed, as I feel that there might be some discussion in this area at the University of Bath within the next six months or so.

During Gavin’s session, I was interested in a conversation about blogging functionality in Moodle, where one institution decided to switch off this functionality completely, and directed students to Mahara instead. Food for thought!

That’s it for today. I’m looking forward to more interesting sessions and conversations tomorrow, especially the remote keynote from Moodle  Founder, Martin Dougiamas, where I’m sure he’ll talk about the Blackboard-related news that shook the Moodle-world last week.

Lecture capture – doing it well and at scale

A couple of weeks ago, QMUL hosted a a one day event, Lecture capture – doing it well and at scale, run by the Association of Learning Technology (ALT).  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but through a combination of watching the #altlc tag on Twitter, and the odd live stream via Adobe Connect (thanks to Matt Lingard and Eoin McDonnell), I was able to catch much of the day remotely.

As such, and rather than doing a detailed run though of all the sessions I attended over the course of the day (as I’d do normally), I’ve instead decided to think of the day more and five Take Home Messages (THM) related to:

  1. How I might enhance my own practice going forward, with particular reference to supporting academics in supporting the student learning experience.
  2. How I might work to enhance of the practice of those academics, and users of our Panopto lecture capture platform at the University of Bath.

Any text in italics below are my thoughts on the thoughts put forward by the speakers.

THM #1 – Kris Roger, London School of Economics

There is a feeling that lecture capture is beginning to form an expected part of the student learning experience. To counter this however, there is a worry that students are becoming over reliant on recordings, with a feeling from lecturers that they are spoon feeding content to learners. How might we mitigate against this? Can or should lecturers be persuaded only to release selected portions of their lecture rather than all of it?

Research also shows that some lecturers feel under pressure to record. Is this departmental or institutional pressure? What are the implications if a member of staff refuses to be recorded?

THM #2Neil Berry, University of Liverpool

Lecture capture should not mean lecture replacement. The idea should be provide the recording a supplementary resource to the “traditional lecture” to aid learning. Any students missing the face-to-face session will miss out on the opportunity for interaction and feedback.

Students learn in different ways, and the use of technologies such as these, are likely to lead to maximising the potential of student engagement. Students who have revisited a portion of the lecture are doing so for the following reasons: “found challenging”, “lecturer going to quickly” and “further annotate notes”.

THM #3 – Juliet Hinrichsen and Amanda Hardy, University of Coventry

“People approach lecture capture support based on their own interests”. The JISC funded ELTAC project, based at the University of Coventry, has developed and made available a number of interesting and innovative resources to support lecture capture. These can be found at http://cuba.coventry.ac.uk/lecturecapture/ and could be used to good effect for any related staff development related activities that I lead on.

THM #4 – Clive Young, UCL and John Conway, Imperial College London

Everyone needs to understand the pedagogical side of lecture capture. This helps to justify the existence of the service to relevant stakeholders.

That includes managers and support staff, Teachers, Students as well as Learning Technologist. At the University of Bath, our 5 Reasons to Capture Your Lecture document has, without a doubt, captured the imagination. Further work developing this strand over the course of the next academic year. 

THM #5 – Graham McElearney, University of Sheffield

Copyright and IPR related issues in the lecture capture sphere are confusing. There simply isn’t a one statement covers all recordings-type sentence. There seem to be caveats, caveats and more caveats related to this.

The JISC Legal Recording Lectures: Legal Considerations document goes some way to addressing the common issues, but isn’t aimed at end users. Perhaps, something needs to be worked on here. A short one page document aimed at practitioners?!

Thanks to all those involved with organising and hosting the event!

Writing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I’m currently in the middle of writing a number of staff facing Frequently Asked Quesstions (FAQs) to support some work integrating Moodle with Turnitin.

The process of developing clear and consise instructions for end users took me back to some thoughts I drafted some time ago related to good practice for writing FAQs. This advice follows below.

Background

An FAQ is essentially a Frequently Asked Question.”FAQs are organized “collections” of valuable information that usually comes from questions (and their corresponding answers) for the most common issues raised by users, on various topics.” [1]

Since mid-2008, the e-Learning team at the University of Bath has successfully utilised the open source application phpMyFAQ to power its Moodle FAQ database. With tens of thousands of FAQs views so far, it has proved to be a useful resource, not only for staff and students but for the wider Moodle community.

In light of this success, the e-Learning team are launching a new FAQ database focused on a range of complementing learning technologies during early 2010.

Tips for writing FAQs

  • Write from the point of view of the person reading the FAQ. What do they need to know to complete a given task, and why?
  • Less is more: don’t use twenty words, when five will do. Be concise in your explanations.
  • If your text explanation is lengthy, break it up into paragraphs. Use section headings if they make the content easier to break down.
  • Bulleted or numbered lists always make instructions easier to follow. If appropriate, divide these lists up into small lists as illustrated at: http://go.bath.ac.uk/hvx2. Within lists, you may wish to embolded key terms (e.g. the text of buttons or links)
  • If possible, avoid using screenshots as these often have to be updated when the application software is upgraded. Instead, use directions instructions – for example, “click on the Turn Editing On button near to the top right hand corner of the page”.

More information

Further details on writing a good FAQ can be found at: http://www.avangate.com/articles/writing-faq_89.htm

Making Choices: Moodle-Turnitin integration

Over the last couple of months, my colleagues and I in the e-Learning team at the University of Bath have been considering the merits of integrating Moodle with Turnitin, the plagiarism detection service.

We’re currently supporting a variant of Moodle 1.9, though any decisions made would need to also consider Moodle 2.0 (or 2.1, 2.2…) which we’ll most likely be moving to in summer 2012.

Our Moodle-Turnitin integration was first mooted for investigation within the Moodle Development Plan 2010 that I developed in January of that year, but due to to technical difficulties at the time, we temporarily abandoned the idea.

One year on, online submission of work using the Moodle Assignment activity continues to rise. Additionally, and in light of a review tothe QA Statement for Examination and Assessment Offences, it was timely to review the integration, with a view to having something in place by the beginning of the 2011/12 academic year.

I’m currently in the throws of testing our chosen integration, but whilst waiting for things to happen in the background, I thought that I would take a few moments to reflect on our evaluation process and the decisions taken.

After some initial investigation, it was clear that two competing integrations, both with the respective pros and cons, would need to be considered before a decision was made as to which one to go for.

First up was the Catalyst integration aka “Dan Marsden’s code”. Further information on this particular integration can be found at: http://drgn.in/k5fYrQ

This integration has the key advantage of being integrated with the existing Moodle Assignment activity in Moodle 1.9.  Importantly, this integration works  with Moodle 2.0 core code and takes advantage of the new Plagiarism API.

Whilst this integration does not currently include an interface for GradeMark, Turnitin’s e-feedback software, hooks into this functionality are planned for the Moodle 2.0 version.

If enabled (see options below), any supported file (the two popular file types, .doc and .pdf, are supported) submitted to the Assignment activity is automatically submitted to Turnitin whenever a side-wide cron job is called or is run.

The Turnitin related options within the Assignment activity.

The similarity score is returned when the cron job runs again, but this can be delayed depending on how busy the Turnitin server is. The similarity score and report can then be made available to the student, who can then review their performance but clicking on the relevant Similarity link.

Teachers can access the Turnitin originality report by clicking on the 'Similiarity' link, as illustrated above. The student view is similar.

One of the real advantage of this integration type was that it existing within a Moodle activity that academics at the University of Bath  are already very familiar with. Deployment would not require a massive support overhead, with a few FAQs and possibly a How To Guide being written to guide colleagues through the process of creation of a Turnitin enabled assignment activity. (Of course, the wider issue about how to get staff and students to interpret similarity scores in an appropriate way needs to be addressed elsewhere.)

The other integration that we considered was the iParadigms / Moodle Direct Integration aka “the one by nLearning Ltd.” (official Turnitin integration). According to the Turnitin website, this integration “allows access to Turnitin OriginalityCheck and GradeMark (not PeerMark) without having to leave the Moodle environment or log into Turnitin directly”. Further information can be found at: http://drgn.in/k63qKR.

The main difference between this integration, and the one discussed above, is that this is a new and distinct Moodle Assignment type with a different submission handling process to the usual Moodle Assignment activity one.

It is clear that the workflows employed by the iParadigms integration is markedly different from other Moodle activities – one of the hallmarks of some third party integrations, unfortunately. It was clear that this approach would require far more support than the Catalyst integration discussed above.

Given these two options, it was important that we conducted a side-by-side comparison of the two integration – available on request. The key emergent themes were as follows:

  • The Catalyst integration was considered to be more usable and ‘Moodle like’ in this embryonic stage of Turnitin uptake. It would provide a low level entry point and would in turn encourage uptake.
  • As such, the inability to integrate with GradeMark at this stage would not be a “deal breaker” as internal assessment processes would need to be amended to reflect this alternative method of marking.
  • It was felt that use of the iParadigms integration type and its associated new/complicated workflow processes, might in fact inhibit uptake of Moodle to support online submission of work.

(Reference: Moodle/Turnitin Integration report by Lisa McIver, Moodle Operations Manager)

Whilst the Catalyst integration fast became the preferred option of the e-Learning team, we were keen to get some feedback from our academic colleagues in departments. Whilst some new items came to light during this meeting, their thoughts broadly supported our own internal evaluation.

So, that just about tells the story of where we are now! Should you have any thoughts or questions, do get in touch through the contact details provided elsewhere. Onward with testing…

Times Higher Education: Kids’ Stuff

As a pull out from this weeks Times Higher Education, there is a pull out called IT in HE. In a timely publication, the article look at the place of technologies within the Higher Education sphere, for example, pointing towards the use of VLEs and Web 2.0 applications to increase student engagement levels.

Some time ago, I was interviewed for the article Kids’ Stuff, where the author focuses the conversation around the use of classroom technologies – including Electronic Voting Systems (EVS) and Lecture Capture – as a means of promoting interactivity within learning and teaching.

This item appears on pages 4-6 of the pull out, and the electronic version can be found at: http://europe.nxtbook.com/nxteu/tsl/THE_ITinHE/index.php#/26.

Happy reading!

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