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May, 2011 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

May, 2011

  • Education

    Why Moodle is better on SharePoint

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    Earlier today I wrote about installing Moodle on SharePoint, in order to improve the capabilities of the system, and improving the experience for your staff and students. Although I summarised some of the benefits of doing this, I thought it was worth expanding the list out (with the help of my friend and SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce in the UK) to describe some of the things your users will notice. So, when you install Moodle on top of SharePoint, here's the kind of capabilities you add:

    File editing directly in Moodle

    Normally, once you have uploaded your file into Moodle the file is stored in a folder on the Moodle server. This is great but it doesn’t allow you to edit the file. By storing the file in a SharePoint document library you can easily find the file, change it and not have to worry about re-uploading the file again.

    Versioning documents in Moodle

    SharePoint allows you to keep versions of the document you are editing. Over the academic years you may change the file several times, add and delete content but one day you’ll want to go back and view something you deleted. SharePoint will allow you to revert back or just browse previous version. (And this also great for team working, where you can track team changes)

    Search Moodle at the same time as your SharePoint

    As the files are now being stored in SharePoint, SharePoint will index the files and their content automatically. Using SharePoint as your central place to search you all your academic resources is a great learning tool for the learner to find what they are looking for. And it also means that your central search index on your SharePoint is enhanced - because you can search for documents within and outside of your learning management system with a single search.

    Office Web Apps in Moodle

    With the Office Web Applications available for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in SharePoint 2010 it allows documents to be opened in the browser using the web apps. Teachers or students can open documents in the browser, simply make their quick change and save it back to the site without having to upload and download again.

    Check-In/Check-Out Documents in Moodle

    All these are great but you wouldn’t want your students to see the changes to documents they are using in a course while you making changes. You can check the files out to make changes, make changes over a few minutes, hours, months but until you check the file back in the users will see the original file you want them to see until you are ready to release those changes. (Which means you can start creating next year's course files without changing this year's)

    SharePoint 2010 Workspaces integrated to Moodle

    SharePoint Workspaces allows you to download a document library and make changes from a machine that doesn’t have access to that SharePoint site at the time. In other words you can now make changes to your Moodle course documents offline.

    Workflows in Moodle

    If you have a process for releasing learning resources to students, you can take advantage of the approval process in SharePoint that will allow another colleague to check the files before you release them to all students. This is pretty important where you have sensitive projects that need some oversight or compliance processes.

    Which hopefully convinces you of the value that installing Moodle on SharePoint gives you. And is your next question:

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    I'd recommend Alex Pearce's work again here - he's written a three part guide to Integrating SharePoint and Moodle, which steps through the specific steps.

    Learn MoreQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Moodle hosting on Windows Azure in the Cloud

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    This week I've written a few blog posts about Moodle, the open source Learning Management System. Part of the reason is to demonstrate that the worlds of Microsoft and Open Source are not mutually exclusive, and another reason is to demonstrate that there are plenty of ways to implement a learning management system that complement your existing ICT infrastructure. So far this week, I've talked about Moodle/Live@edu integration, installing Moodle on Windows Server, the Moodle Add-In for Office, and installing Moodle on SharePoint (and why it's better on SharePoint). So what about going a step further, and removing the need for on-site servers for Moodle, by hosting Moodle on Windows Azure?

    Moodle & Windows Azure logoThe normal implementation model for Moodle is to install it on your in-house infrastructure - setting up Windows or Linux servers in your data centre, and managing them as part of your IT system. But that requires an up-front capital investment in the hardware, setup etc. So why not just use Moodle hosting in the Cloud? It means you don't need to run your own servers, and can scale the system out to support students as and when you need them (rather than having to buy big lumps of hardware capacity in advance of your actual usage).

    With Windows Azure there's a cloud-based service which allows you to switch on (and off) capacity as you need it - and you simply buy the capacity you need, when you need it (just like your other utilities, like electricity and water).

    There are two projects currently available for hosting Moodle on Windows Azure, both on CodePlex (Microsoft's open source project hosting site, which hosts over 200,000 projects currently):

    • The MoodleAzure project on CodePlex gives you Moodle version 1.9.9, and has been modified to allow you to run as many instances of the web role as you may need - allowing you to rapidly scale up the implementation to reach tens of thousands of students instantly.
    • And the Moodle 2.0 for Azure project, released in March, gives you an installer for the latest version of Moodle - 2.0, and comes from the Laboratório de Tecnologia da Informação in Brazil.

    And because both of these projects are on CodePlex, there's a community of support on the site for advice as you start to implement and use them (there's also a whole forum on the Moodle community website for Windows users)

    Somebody has already setup a demo Moodle hosting site using the Moodle 2.0 system on Windows Azure, and made it available as a public site, so that you can see it running in exactly the same way that your users would. It's only a demo site, with a very small amount of content, but it gives you a good idea of what it can do for you and your students. You can find the Moodle 2.0 on Azure home page here

    What does this all mean for Moodle and Microsoft users?

    The upshot of this (and everything else I've written this week) is that if you're using Moodle, or somebody within your institution is or wants to, then you can do a bunch of things to integrate it into your existing ICT infrastructure, and which help to improve the experience for your students and teachers (as well as reducing the cost for your ICT budget). This can range from hosting Moodle, to integrating Moodle to your email or portal system. And there's plenty of support across the Microsoft and Moodle community for implementing these projects.

    Learn MoreQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Is Glow the world's largest education SharePoint?

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    imageAlmost at the other end of the world (well, for those of us in Australia), there's a massive SharePoint in education project providing a learning environment for students and teachers in Scotland. 80% of Scotland's 70,000 teachers are using the system, with a total of 425,000 users. The project is called Glow, and is run as a nationwide project funded by the Scottish Government through Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS).

    Less than four years on, Glow has just celebrated the 20 millionth login - a pretty staggering story of long-term growth and development. (Probably also staggering for the unsuspecting primary school pupil who's in line for RM's goodie bag!)

    The project started with the design and build of the Glow system in 2005, when RM won the tender to provide a national learning intranet for all primary and secondary schools in Scotland. Two years later, the system went live, and has since attracted worldwide recognition. The George Lucas Foundation honoured LTS with the Global Six award and presented Glow to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions as an example of exemplary use of IT in education.

    At the time these kind of big systems are launched, there's always a lot of fanfare and triumphal celebration. But even more important is the result a few years down the road, when the attention has moved on to newer projects, and the students are the ones who are seeing it every day. 20,000,000 logins show that good things are still happening five years on.

    It's one of the largest SharePoint projects anywhere in the world - and certainly the largest one involving a SharePoint learning management system, so it is a great case study for mass student engagement.

    Learn MoreThere are some great ideas for classroom projects in the Glow Cookbooks

  • Education

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

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    Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you - Moodle on SharePoint. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many schools is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing school file servers.

    However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because Moodle on SharePoint fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a teacher deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a teacher or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint. Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle). Perhaps most importantly, teachers can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special code – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration.

    You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

    image  Quickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Business Intelligence for Universities

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    imageCalumo, the people behind the Business Intelligence systems used by a range of universities and TAFEs, have just published more case study details for the users of their system, which allows universities to connect their finance data together, simplify presentation and access for their users, and move from lumbering islands of data to a fully connected view of financial planning right across an institution. This is particularly important for strategic decisions such as student load planning - making sure that the right number of students are recruited onto the right courses - and maximising the student profitability across the institution (which is, strangely, an extraordinarily complex challenge in most universities and TAFEs).

    Calumo's case studies include:

    • The University of New South Wales, saving half a million dollars and 85% of their time
    • Macquarie University, saving $350,000 and two months, whilst also reducing their risk profile
    • The University of Canberra, saving $300,000 whilst increasing their revenue by 6% through effective student load planning
    • William Angliss Institute of TAFE, reducing time for reporting by 40% and increasing their revenue by focusing on key KPI's

    The UNSW example has been so effective that the University has now included the BI system into their Business Intelligence and Decision Support course for 2011

    Learn MoreRead more on the Calumo Education Case Studies page

  • Education

    Learning Management Systems - Desire2Learn

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    There's plenty of change happening with Learning Management Systems at the moment in Australia. Some universities are faced with migrating from WebCT, and others are working out their future strategy to support a much more dynamic learning environment than their current existing learning management system can support. A fortnight ago I wrote a series of blog posts about all of the integration points between Moodle and Microsoft technology, so now I'm going to turn my focus to alternatives to Moodle.

    Desire2Learn logo

    One of the alternatives to Moodle is Desire2Learn, a cloud-based learning suite with over 5 million users, across 500 institutions, including a growing band of Australian universities and schools. In Australia*, Deakin University have chosen Desire2Learn's Learning Suite to replace their existing Blackboard system.

    When they made the choice for Desire2Learn, part of the reason was the Deakin team felt they needed something that went well beyond simply replacing an existing Learning Management System (LMS), but created a genuine virtual learning environment, that would support their future growth. As Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Philip Clarke said at the time:

      At Deakin we place great emphasis on our flexible learning programs and with over 30% of our students studying from home, work, regional or remote areas, we needed a solution partner who can deliver a smooth and rapid transition, with little or no 'culture shock' for academic staff and students.  

    The Desire2Learn system comprises a series of 6 key platforms:

    • Desire2Learn Learning Environment - which enables you to develop and deliver content, manage collaboration and manage course workflow.This also provides capabilities for data import and export - one of the key benefits from a content point of view is that course materials can be transferred to and from other learning management systems (If you're using a different LMS, that's an important consideration, and one of the first questions you learn to ask any potential supplier - Can I bring my data with me? And if I want move away in the future, can I export my data?).

        • Desire2Learn Learning Repository - allowing you to store, search and share a library of learning resources, including course materials, assessments, quizzes and lesson plans. The search system can also be linked to other learning resources - for example your library system - to bring together all of the resources that you have available for your students and staff.

            • Desire2Learn ePortfolio - allowing students to create their own online portfolio, integrating features of social networking to create a more social learning experience, as well as track progress.

                • Desire2Learn Analytics - from simple every day reports on usage and experiences, and also allowing staff to create their own reports to uncover hidden information such as how students are performing in their courses, and highlighting learning opportunities.

                    • Desire2Learn Mobile - providing access to courses and learning resources through student's own smartphones, as well as managing news and information feeds.

                        • Desire2Learn Capture - a new solution, which allows you to automate the process of capturing lectures and tutorials on video, and make them available to students on their computer, phone or over the web.

                        Underneath the Desire2Learn system, the whole solution runs on the Microsoft SQL Server 2008, as a hosted service. In the middle of last year they announced integration with the Live@edu service, so that students can access their email inbox directly within the Desire2Learn portal. It will also integrate to SharePoint, so that students and staff can use the process and document management capabilities of SharePoint in your own institution, as well as to their Cloud services.

                        Learn MoreLearn more about Desire2Learn

                        * This list of Desire2Learn University customers shows the large number of international users already using the system - some with over 200,000 users

                      • Education

                        Installing Moodle on a Windows Server

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                        Moodle logoYesterday I wrote about Moodle and Live@edu integration. And somebody pinged me an email to ask why I was writing about it, asking 'isn't Moodle all about Open Source?'. I guess I see it differently, as I see a choice of using Moodle as just one small part of an overall ICT system in education. And Moodle is just one of the options alongside lots of other excellent Learning Management Systems.

                        Just because Moodle is released as an Open Source application doesn't mean that you have to warmly embrace Linux servers to run it on - and running it on Windows Servers is probably more popular than you think. Last year we announced the release of WebMatrix. Basically, it’s an easy and free way to get started building Web sites on Windows. WebMatrix is a tool for building, customising and deploying your Web sites in one common, straightforward way. The idea is that WebMatrix can be used by a wide range of developers, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use it. It brings together a bunch of our resources into a simple install - a Web server (IIS Developer Express), a database (SQL Server Compact), and a programming framework (ASP.NET). It’s a simple free download – just download and install it onto a spare server.

                        But the extra useful bit is that you can then use the Microsoft Web Application Gallery to install and customise popular ASP.NET and PHP open source community applications - including Moodle - whilst also seamlessly integrating with our professional development tools and servers including Visual Studio, SQL Server and Windows Server.

                        The Web App Gallery contains a long list of free downloads to install on top of WebMatrix, including Moodle, Joomla!, WordPress and a long list of other free apps to install (the main categories are: Blogs, CMS, eCommerce, Forums, Galleries, Tools and Wikis)

                        It also includes a new, easier-to-learn syntax for ASP.NET to provide you with a faster way to build standards-based Web sites. The built-in helpers simplify the use of ASP.NET to perform increasingly complex and common tasks like connecting to a database, displaying a Twitter feed, or embedding a video.

                        This means that you can have the flexibility and freedom to use the tools you choose, and have an easier way to deploy web servers that fit into your existing IT infrastructure.

                        You can get WebMatrix by downloading the Web Platform Installer, and then install additional apps from the Web App Gallery

                      • Education

                        Using Open Source Moodle with Microsoft cloud services - case study

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                        Whilst businesses have customer-relationship management systems, and online shops, the education equivalent is a Learning Management System (LMS) - something that will help a school, TAFE or university to deliver learning resources to their students, wherever they are.

                        There's a diverse bunch of learning management systems in use in Australia - Blackboard, Desire2Learn, the RM Learning Platform, Uniservity, SharePointLMS - across all sectors. Whilst these tend to be fully-managed systems (where the software is installed on your own servers by the supplier or in a cloud-delivered hosted service) some people have chosen to build their own LMS by bringing together different components from different suppliers.

                        Education Labs logoAs Computerworld reported recently, Redlands School in Sydney is one of those, where they have integrated an open source Moodle Learning Management System with the Microsoft cloud-based Live@edu email system (using a plug-in from Education Labs). They use Moodle as the main portal for learning resources - whether the student is within school or at home. And by adding integration to the Live@edu email system, it means their students now have single sign-on to their email, and cloud storage, straight from the home page of their Moodle system. As Christian Jean Sellies, the Redlands Director of ICT, is quoted as saying:

                          At Redlands, students and staff use Moodle as an increasingly important resource in their online learning. One of the key reasons we chose Microsoft as our hosted mail provider was the availability of the plug-in for Moodle to bring the students’ Live@edu mailbox into their Moodle homepage. Since rolling out Live@Edu, we find that the majority of students access their mailbox through their Moodle lessons.  

                        Learn MoreFind out more about the Live Services Plug-in for Moodle

                      • Education

                        A social media policy to encourage the use of social media by teachers in NSW

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                        Twitter birdsAccording to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend, the NSW Department for Education is implementing changes which support teachers to use social media both professionally and privacy. From now on teachers in NSW schools can access Twitter, Facebook and other social media from the classroom. And the Department have created a NSW social media policy for teachers - which is critical to helping them to understand what's expected of them. It starts with the statement:

                          The department supports its employees’ participation in social media online applications such as social networking sites, wikis, blogs, microblogs, video and audio sharing sites and message boards that allow people to easily publish, share and discuss content.  

                        When I read it, I liked seeing that intro "The department supports…", because that's a pretty positive affirmation in a social media policy for teachers  (much better than "You are allowed…"). You can find the NSW Social Media Policy for teachers here*.

                        So from now on, you can expect to have many more teachers discussing education, sharing links, and also looking for information through social networks.

                        If you're a supplier to education, what is your social media policy? If your customers are using Twitter, are you? Are you making it easier for teachers to find relevant information through social networks?

                        * It took me a while to find the social media policy for teachers, as it doesn't show up when you search their website. But happily it's listed alongside all of the other 184 current school policies and guidelines, alongside such timeless classics as the "Pirated DVDs Screening Guidelines", which uses quite a few words to say "Don't"!

                      • Education

                        One third of colleges considering changing their Learning Management System

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                        imageReading the Distance Education Survey 2010 (from the Instructional Technology Council) is fascinating. Although the report is only based American community colleges, I think there are lots of parallels to TAFEs here in Australia. First, before I dive into the information on colleges changing Learning Management Systems (LMS), some of key contexts:

                        • Enrolment in online courses in the US community colleges, is growing faster than enrolment overall (9% v 7/8%)
                        • Having run out of on-campus teaching capacity, 40% of colleges use off-campus instructors to teach online courses. Many of them don't live in the area of the college
                        • 65% offer some classes as completely online courses
                        • The proportion of colleges offering blended-learning courses increased by 50% last year, to 21%
                        • 4% offer live interactive video courses

                        All of which means that the mode of learning is changing (quite rapidly), and presumably colleges are becoming increasingly reliant on their Learning Management Systems to deliver online and blended courses. So LMS goes up the priority list for mission-critical IT for a college or university.

                        One third of US colleges considering changing their LMS

                        Which makes it odd that a third of colleges say that they are considering switching their LMS platform in the next few years - and that proportion has been roughly similar for all of the past five years. Because if it's mission critical, surely you wouldn't expect to see such massive change being considered so consistently?

                        On Page 10 of the report, there's more detail about the key LMS systems being used by colleges in the US:

                        Table 1, Page 10, LMS Usage

                        • Blackboard - their combined products make up almost half the market, because Blackboard, WebCT & Angel are now all owned by Blackboard
                        • Moodle - with a fairly static 10% of the market
                        • Desire2Learn - with a growing 7%

                        I think the change we're seeing in the chart is a reflection of the way that teaching style is evolving in tertiary education, and the changes in blended/online courses that are going to impact upon the way that learners learn and teachers teach - and the systems that are needed to support that.

                        Why do you think that so many institutions would consistently say that they are considering changing their underlying learning management system?

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