Thursday, July 14, 2011

MyNotes - #Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System

When I first read the title of Jason Hollowell's book, I have to admit, I was a bit shocked. The words "Curriculum and Information Management System" make me think of expensive, enterprise systems that are impossible to maintain within a school district. Yet, Jason's perspective has made me re-evaluate that thinking. Over time, I've found that there are few, "enterprise" systems that actually work well, if at all, for schools due to constantly changing expectations and requirements. Contrast that with the perspective that "Schools just can't do this themselves; they need to focus on other things." These perspectives result in districts spending incredible amounts of money for expensive systems that seldom are kept longer than 3-4 years...couldn't that money be spent on building capacity within the District and use a system like Moodle?

If you're wanting to jump into the deep-end of Moodle MySQL configuration, then this is the book for you! The book is one long tutorial on the minutiae of Moodle backend configuration, and essentially turning Moodle into a Student Information System (SIS). This book will make a great reference book to have on your shelf if you're trying to use common tools like PHPMyAdmin, but the pages spent on Xataface are well...dangerous. That's not a bad thing, and it's great that someone covers these topics in detail, but...the question in my head as I kept reading the book was, Should we really have to go through all this trouble to remake Moodle into a CIMS? The answer is, not unless you're doing this full-time. 
I can't recommend this book for the casual Moodle user focused on instructional design. In truth this book just isn't oriented towards those readers. Since this book goes through excruciating detail on the tech side of things, I would only recommend it for Moodle server administrators...and in that case, administrators who aren't afraid of doing some coding.

Oh, which reminds of the practices some veteran Moodlers will avoid is modifying the php files in the Moodle installation directory to make things work. The reason why is that updating your Moodle installation--such as upgrading from 2.0 to 2.2--might result in replacing the very php files you just modified. As a result, you might very well get stuck in a particular version of Moodle that's not secure simply because the modifications you made are tied to some critical functionality your users expect and cannot lose.

My Notes on Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System:
  1. About the Author
    Jason Hollowell is an English language teacher and educational program administrator...he is now employed as an Associate Professor of English and the Director of the English Language Program. He has been involved in online education programs through the development of a SLOAN Foundation funded English writing program and, since 2004, has been an avid user of Moodle. Jason subscribes to the constructivist principles upon which Moodle was founded and has developed a working knowledge of PHP, MySQL, and Apache through many hours of experimentation and countless visits to online forums, especially those hosted on the website. (Gee, I'm starting to feel the truth of that last line regarding working knowledge development!! -Miguel) 
  2. Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System will show you how you can use Moodle to set up an environment that enables you to disseminate information about your educational program, provide a forum for communication among all those involved in your institution, and even to control your course registration and enrollment.
  3. Moodle is categorized as a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) or LMS (Learning Management System) due to its focus on learning and education. Additionally, Moodle is described to be a CMS (Course Management System), an LCMS (Learning Content Management System), and sometimes even a CMS (Content Management System).
  4. Moodle is similar to a chameleon that is capable of 'changing its color', or shifting its focus, in order to meet the needs of each institution and user.
  5. One of the quickest and easiest ways to get a Moodle site up and running for experimental purposes is to install a MAMP or XAMPP package. These packages consist of web server software (Apache), database server software (MySQL), and PHP and Perl programming language 'interpreters', that all run on your personal computer. This will allow you to run Moodle locally on your own computer. (Excellent introductions to how-to do this on Windows and Mac! -Miguel)
  6.  A lot of time spent customizing Moodle and here are some of the modules/themes used:
    1. My Courses block - This provides students with an easy way to navigate to courses in which they are enrolled, and more importantly from the CIMS perspective, it provides an administrator with easy access to all of the courses on the site.
    2. Attendance Package - This package actually consists of both a block and a module. The module is the main component, especially from the CIMS perspective and the block is used primarily to present personal attendance data to students in a block that appears in the course area.  
    3. Installation of the Aardvark Pro original theme
  7. Nice tutorial on upload users via CSV
  8. Rather than creating course categories and then courses one at a time and assigning teachers to each course after the course is created, we can streamline the process through the use of the Bulk Course Upload tool. This tool allows you to organize all the information required to create your courses in a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file that is then uploaded into the creation tool and used to create all of your courses at once.
  9. For educational programs that place students into courses upon their entrance into the institution, or that can utilize registration data from an external system in order to mirror that data in the Moodle enrollment, account creation and initial course enrollment can be accomplished at the same time via the use of the Upload users tool.
  10.  ...allows for the relatively easy and efficient creation of a standardized attendance module activity within courses throughout an educational program. Cooperation from teachers in maintaining their attendance records on the Moodle site then enables administrators to quickly access attendance data throughout their program. Later in this book, we will explore methods of aggregating the attendance data without having to navigate to each individual course.
  11. Creating a gradebook....
  12. ...we have set up Moodle to function as a CIMS, meaning that all courses in a program are created in the Moodle site and students and teachers are properly enrolled in those courses.
  13. For a final examination that is actually delivered through the Moodle system, the previous setup can also be used. The only difference will be that the exam will need to be created in or imported to the meta course that will serve as the administration site for the test. As all of the students from child courses are automatically enrolled in the meta course, they will be able to access the quiz module, that will contain the final examination, and take the test. The only difference in working with the test results data via this process is that the scores will already be stored in the Moodle Gradebook. In this case, the advanced option of automatically having scores copied over to the appropriate location in the child courses, that was mentioned in the previous paragraph, is likely one of the best choices for working with the grades.
  14. With minor modification, Moodle can serve as an information portal allowing an institution to efficiently deliver detailed information about its faculty, programs, and curricula to students and their families.
  15. How to edit the lib.php file in the moodledirectory/course path to display categories only when there is more than one course on the site.
  16. Lots of php this wise given how often Moodle php files are updated?
  17. Modifying permissions and roles to micro-track student
  18. Installing the Mentees block
  19. I love Chapter 7 that discusses use of Enhanced User Admin block, PHPMyAdmin, Custom SQL Query tools!
    1. If your Moodle site runs on the MySQL database, as does the site we set up for this book, you may use the PHPMyAdmin plugin to access and administer the database directly. This plugin is a very powerful tool that allows you to access data stored in the Moodle database directly. With power however, also comes the ability to corrupt or completely destroy the Moodle database and all of its contents. It is thus important to use this tool with caution.
    2. Browse the contents of this table and then browse through some other tables such as mdl_attendance_log and know that many of the tables are related to each other via one or more ID numbers. Think about how an educational administrator might be able to use data stored in the Moodle database if he or she could access and view it in an easy-to-understand format.
    3. CustomSQL Tool is a plugin for Moodle.
  20. Xataface...ouch.
  21. A lot more....

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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