Great post on “Educational Social Overlay Networks”

The only post so far in this new blog (oh the marvels of Technorati, like it or not here come your readers, Terry A. ;-). Not so much a response to my posting on the false dichotomy that is being set up between Moodle and ELGG, instead it just takes that as its starting point for an extended musing on what the relationship could and should be between institutional provided systems and the users social networks, which by definition can and do cross all sorts of boundries. Personally, I find this approach a lot more palatable and mature than a lot of the all-or-nothing-it-must-all-be-open diatribes I come across these days, but maybe that’s just me being a good Canadian, trying to mediate between poles, and be a reformer, not a revolutionary. – SWL

ELGG vs. Moodle – defusing a false dichotomy

I’ve had a few people come up to me at conferences recently and ask me to compare ELGG and Moodle, and choose between them as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. Indeed, even within the Moodle community itself there seems to be a bit of dismissiveness about what ELGG does, and the notion that with just a couple of twists of code Moddle can easily replicate its functionality.

Well maybe, but this is what excited me so much about the paper linked to above by Terry Anderson and the work he describes taking place at Athabasca University. I had the pleasure of seeing Terry present on this recently and wish I could link to those powerpoints as I think the illustrate the point I’m trying to make better than the article does, but what is exciting for me is that Terry and Athabasca are putting together a large, production environment in which Moodle and ELGG will seemingly co-exist quite nicely, thank you very much, and take care of different problems. Hopefully I am not going to mangle this too much, but as I understood it, Moodle was being positioned to handle conventional ‘course management’ problems like the delivery of content, assessments, discussions. In Athabasca’s case (and I’d argue in all of our cases, but that’s another post) they also have to deal with a continuous uptake model, where instead of cohort-based programs they also have very much self-paced programs with differing start times. Thus they are using ELGG as one of the ways to build community “between” the space of courses, community that is formed not because of one’s membership in a pre-ordained group or cohort but out of your interests. Sounds to me like a job for social software!

Can Moodle support similar ad-hoc community formation across course (and even institutional) boundaries? Maybe, and it sounds like we will find out fairly soon through upcoming releases. And bully for them if they can. But what I love about ELGG is that it is built from the groud up around the user and their connections as they key focus, rather than on ‘courses’ or ‘content’ (I’m not trying to levy a criticism at Moodle here as I like it very much as well). Far from being only a ‘blogging’ tool or a ‘eportfolio’ tool, what excites me about ELGG is that it is becoming a social networking ‘framework’ (o.k. you can dispute that term as much as you like) that while it has initially focused on tools to create blog posts and share files, isn’t interested in restricting you to only its blogging tool (and why would it? RSS anyone?) and is looking at a whole set of other interesting apps (Calendaring? Synchronous tools?) that are also of intrinsic value but become even more useful if people can use them with other semantically related users.

Should elearning providers be looking to one single tool to provide all of these aspects and more? Maybe. Right now though, the best bet seems like trying to get the best solution possible through a set of provisional measures. Personally, I’m more interested in making these and others co-exist, and seeing if we can get the integration between them to be more than lame-ass ‘pointing to their URLS’ or simple single sign-on; if instead we see if we can get shared identity happening across a number of these services in a way that takes identity mean more than your username and password. – SWL

New O’Reilly Publication – Using Moodle

As if more proof was needed that Moodle has “crossed the chasm,” along comes this new publication from O’Reilly written by Jason Cole. The majority of the content you could likely glean yourself from Moodle’s various online communities, help docs and demo courses, but if for instance you have an administration that remains skeptical about the widespread nature of Moodle adoption, maybe this might help convince them. – SWL

Moodle Forum – Blogs, Forums and the nature of discussion

One of the things I love about the Moodle community is that, far more than almost any of the other open source CMS, they seem to have really rich discussions about the pedagogical uses of the tools they are building, not just their functionality utility or technical challenges (AND, you can even view them as a Guest if you are adverse to new accounts). And this particular one is no different – starting with a post from Moodle’s founder, Martin Dougiamas, this thread (55 posts long in 2 weeks!) discusses some of the ins and outs of blogs versus discussion forums, and starts to tackle the issue in light of the secured environment that CMS like Moodle provide, and that in many contexts (read K-12) likely cannot be dispensed with. The Blog feature itself is promised in an upcoming (1.6) release, but a demo can already be seen. – SWL

Athabasca University to adopt Moodle

Michael Penney, the Coordinator of the Courseware Development Center at California State University, Humboldt, sent me an email recently in response to my post on Moodle and “Enterprise Readiness.” The note pointed me to this post on the Moodle discussion boards (again, just use the ‘Guest’ login if you don’t already have an account.) I wish I had an official announcement from Athabasca to point to, but this seems an authentic enough interaction to constitute more than heresay and rumour, and thus seemed worthy of a post. If this is in fact as stated, then it would certainly be a feather in the cap for Moodle – Athabasca has long been consdered a leader in distance education in Canada, if not worldwide, and one would hope that their adoption of Moodle both sends positive signals about its qualities and that additional innovations will result as well. – SWL

Moodle, Open Source, and the “Mission Critical” Bugaboo

One of the favourite weapons in the “Fear Uncertainty and Doubt” arsenal is the claim that such-and-such open source app is maybe nice, but not quite “enterprise ready,” not able to support “mission critical” computing. And certainly, in the realm of Course Management Systems, it’s one you will hear levied at all of the open source contenders. more…
Continue reading “Moodle, Open Source, and the “Mission Critical” Bugaboo”

Enterprise-wide deployment of Moodle at Dublin City University


Nice paper documenting the rationale and steps to shift from a current enterprise-wide WebCT install to one using Moodle. They looked at three open source alternatives (Boddington, Claroline and Moodle). It is interesting to note what they stated as Moodle’s main current weakness, “the fact that, although there were already many small scale deployments in operation, at that time it had not yet been adopted on an enterprise basis by any university-level institution.” It will be interesting to see how Sakai stacks up in this regard, as the (perceived or real) lack of ‘enterprise-readiness’ continues to be one of the main sticking points for larger institutions who may be interested in open source CMS but worried about their ability to scale and integrate. – SWL

Where are open source course management systems being used?

One of the big “Fear Uncertainty and Doubt” questions I often get asked as someone who spends a fair bit of time looking at the course management system landscape is “But are open source systems really ready for use as enterprise systems?” (Up until recently one might have done well to ask the same questions of the commercial systems that alleged to be ‘enteprise ready’!)

I don’t know what better way to respond than to simply point to where these systems are being used, so as some initial examples:

There are lots of fears held by Directors of IT, EdTech and others (some justified, others extremely unfounded) that need to be addressed before it becomes easy to adopt open source for ‘enterprise’ needs. This should be an easy one, though – any open source project that seriously wants to be adopted and that doesn’t actively solicit information on who is using it and share this back with potential users is clearly overworked or missing something. Better yet, segment your responses (k-12/colleges/universities/corporate training” might be a start for the education sector) so that people can point to a peer group and say ‘look who else has adopted this software!’ You’d be amazed how effective an argument this can be, especially as we move along the famous curve of innovation adopters (e.g. early and late majorities are like that for a reason.) – SWL