Tag: moodle hosting

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Creating Customized Moodle Functionality

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I have a client who put this on his Moodle wish list last fall: some way for the participants to keep track of where they are in the course.  You see, this client (a big company) has a few hundred students in a completely self-paced course.  These are working adults, involved in a training program designed to span weeks or months.  There are no graded assignments, but there are dozens of tasks to be completed.  There are a number of pages to read and videos to watch.  It’s easy to lose one’s place. 

I found a couple of modules in the list of third-party contributed code that might fit the bill.   The client’s Moodle site is hosted and supported by ClassroomRevolution, so I asked Thom Caswell for a “background check” on these modules.  One, called Checklist, came up “clean”.  We decided to give it a try.  

The client was very happy with our initial testing of Checklist, but it still wasn’t quite what he wanted.  I said I’d see if the developer was willing to do some customizations. It couldn’t hurt to ask! 

I sent Davo Smith (the contributor of Checklist) a message through Moodle; I heard back from him within a few hours.  A few emails back and forth were all it took to explain what additional functionality we wanted and for him to begin working on it.  He had the first iteration to me in about a week.  With each iteration, ClassroomRevolution installed the module (which required some code knowledge), the client and I tested it, and Davo made the necessary tweaks. 

Despite the time of year (holiday season), it took only six weeks to have a fully functional Checklist installed on the live Moodle site.  It automatically brings in all resources and activities in the course, automatically checks off those resources and activities that the student has viewed, displays a list and a progress bar to both student and teacher, and gives the student control over several features.  Very cool.

To make a great story have an even better ending, this customization was not exclusive to the client.  It is available to the Moodle community, in versions compatible to Moodle 1.9x and 2.0.

I encourage all small businesses (and big ones, too) using Moodle to take this approach to customization.  It is a much faster and cost-effective way to add functionality than to hire a programmer to start from scratch to make something that is one-of-a-kind and proprietary.  (Unless selling software is your business, there’s no competitive advantage in having secret Moodle code all for yourself).  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Search through the third party modules. If you can’t find exactly what you want, find something close. If you have engaged a Moodle Partner and/or a Moodle expert course designer, you can ask for help in the search.  Very often, they’ll already know about something that does whatever and you won’t have to search at all. 
  2. Read the reviews and comments made by other Moodlers.  I avoid the ones where users have posted comments such as “I installed this and now my pages are blank”. Yikes!  If you’re going this alone, make sure you are able to install the module yourself.  Some require code tweaking.
  3. Even if you are a brave soul and can install a module on your own, if you took my advice on hosting, ask for help.  Most Partners offer services that include installation of third party modules and other integrations.  They make sure you have compatible versions and that the installation is done properly (it works and doesn’t break your site!)
  4. Work with the module developer to modify it to your needs if necessary.  Don’t let time zone differences scare you but don’t expect overnight results, either. Many (most?) of these people have “day jobs” so consider that when setting expectations for turn-around time.   
  5. Be collaborative.  Allow the developer to post the modified version back to the third party contributed code.   

For a relatively small amount of money, you’ll have all the functionality you ever dreamed of and you can give back to the Moodle community by contributing that modification.  Everyone benefits!

If you’d like to contact Davo, his email address is moodle@davosmith.co.uk.  To learn more about Moodle hosting and support, visit ClassroomRevolution.com.

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Monday, September 27th, 2010

A Few Words About: Internet lingo to help you in your eLearning decisions

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A Few Words AboutIn most small businesses, each person wears many hats.  Chances are, your small business does not have a full time IT person; even if you do, that person is probably not the one responsible for your eLearning design.  Because you’ll have to make decisions about what your site will be called, where it will be hosted, and who will maintain it, I thought you’d benefit from some simple definitions of the terms you’ll hear.

The following are my own definitions, sticking with the hotel analogy of the past few posts…  

  • A website is a set of pages (or just one page) of any type of content (images, text, dancing bear animations).  These pages are connected together by a domain name.
  • A domain name is the way we identify and find most of these websites. It’s the address of the hotel.  Example: PennyMondani.com.  You will register your domain name with a registrar, but you are under no obligation to host with that same company.
  • A URL is the location of each unique “page” on the World Wide Web, such as the page on this site about me:   http://pennymondani.com/penny-mondani.  This is the room number within the hotel. Notice that it contains the domain name plus some directions on where to find this domain name.
  • An IP address is the unique identifier for each computer (or other address) used to access the Internet.  Back in the Stone Age, we had to know the IP address of a computer in order to connect to it.  Now we use a URL on our browsers to connect through a series of computers (servers) to get to the website we want.  YIKES!  Think of this as the GPS location of every traffic signal you went through on your way to the hotel, the GPS location of the hotel itself, and the GPS location of the place you started.
  • A server is a computer that stores and “serves” web pages to those who wish to view them.  One server can house hundreds of websites or as few as one. 
  • A sub-domain is part of the domain, even if the actual address is masked to the visitor.  If you have MySite.com/Moodle, your Moodle installation must be installed on the same server as MySite.com. 
  • A web host is the company that maintains the physical servers and/or resells that service to you.  For all applications, the web host (or the reseller you contract with) should also be skilled in installing, upgrading, and using the application, unless you are very good at it yourself.   

For a whole lot more detail on applications, web site themes, and web content, please read this post.

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Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Moodle Hosting: Why every business using Moodle needs a Moodle Partner

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This summer I have been on my soapbox, helping my clients (both current and prospective) convince their clients of the soundness of hosting their Moodle sites with a certified Partner/Moodle host.  I am not a Moodle Partner, nor do I want to become one, so I have nothing invested in my recommendation except doing a good deed.  And, of course, I don’t want to create content on sites that are not hosted by Moodle Partners

Why? 

The reasons your business should host its Moodle site with a certified Moodle Partner: 

  • They know Moodle and everything in the Moodle universe.
  • Partners not only know how to run cron jobs and back-up the database, but they do it.  I am told that these tasks, with any web application, can be tricky, time-consuming, and dangerous.  Luckily, I’ll never have to worry about them.
  • Partners provide the proper bandwidth and storage (although these do vary amongst the Partners) to run Moodle.  A $7.95/month hosting plan at HappyMamaHost.com isn’t going to be sufficient.
  • Partners know Moodle; what it can do, what it can’t do, and what it might do in the future.
  • Partners know what third-party modules are out there, what problems they solve, and how to install them so they’ll work on your site.  You won’t have to spend dozens of hours searching for a solution that might not exist or might be well-known in the community. 
  • Using Moodle for business usually requires a little extra support, such as single sign-on capability, e-commerce functionality, and perhaps a greater level of security for privacy reasons.  No one will be able to integrate these applications better or faster (which is usually cheaper) than a Partner.
  • HappyMamaHost.com doesn’t help you with any of the above, at least not for free. 

A few examples of why this Moodle knowledge, expertise, and technical support matters: 

  • Last winter, Moodle sites around the globe were upgraded for security reasons.  All admins were required to create new passwords, with some serious specifications.  If your site is hosted by a Partner, chances are this upgrade was done for you.  If your site is hosted at HappyMamaHost.com, chances are you weren’t even aware of the security risk.  It’s guaranteed that they didn’t do the upgrade for you. 
  • If you have a WordPress site, you’ll notice that annoying little button that says “Version 3.01 is available; please upgrade now”.  You probably also know that upgrading without first backing things up can be very risky.  Not all of your plug-ins will work.  Some content might be lost.  The same is true for Moodle, but HappyMamaHost.com will surely have that same little button this winter on Moodle installations “Moodle 2.0 is available; please upgrade now”.  That will be disastrous if you don’t know how to do a major upgrade!   
  • I spoke of impossibly slow load times due to bandwidth issues in Getting Started with Moodle.  Storage requirements (for your actual course content) can become quite large, too, if you have more than a course or two.  By the time you upgrade to greater bandwidth and more GB of storage with HappyMamaHost.com, you might exceed the cost of hosting with a Partner. 
  • I have one client who must have web meeting functionality in his Moodle courses.  I have many others who are considering it.  I poked around and compared prices, options, and Moodle integration ability.  I was still not sure, so I asked my Partners.  They gave me the real run-down on which applications required coding and which installed as easy as 1-2-3.  We settled on DimDim.  All I had to do was ask “hey, can you install some sort of web meeting application on the site?” 

If you’re still not convinced that it is penny wise, pound foolish to not host with a Partner, what else can I do to change your mind?  I am willing to jump up and down…

One caveat: I would like to say that I worked with one web host (in Eastern Europe) who didn’t know Moodle at all, wasn’t a Partner, but still maintained a well-run Moodle site.  I’m sure there are others like him around the world, and I don’t want to be disparaging of their service or efforts.  I’m also sure that they are not the mass-sellers of discounted hosting plans, which is really what I want you to steer clear of.

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Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

If Moodle is Free, Why Am I Paying You?

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One common question I get is “If Moodle is free, why is it going to cost me so much money?” 

Well, Moodle is free, but learning how to use it can take a long time.  Knowing how to create good training can take a lot longer.  You can invest the time to learn all the various aspects of training design and online technology, or you can hire someone who already knows. 

Moodle is “open source software”, which follows a different business model than “proprietary software”.  Both models require that someone - somewhere in the chain - has the skill to put together all of the elements.  This adds cost (because very few of us work for free), somewhere in the value chain, regardless of the model.  The open source software model isn’t about offering free software; it’s about free access to the software code

What you’re paying for is the expertise (mostly) and time associated with installation, maintenance, hosting, content development, and usage of Moodle.  

While someone who is proficient in computer applications might get the knack of the technical side of Moodle (or any other software application) in a few weeks, there’s no guarantee that he can design training that won’t bore the socks off people.  

On the other hand, someone who is a vibrant speaker or nurturing teacher might struggle mightily to figure out how to upload files or create online training courses.  Like anything else, merging these skills will take time, people…and money

The Moodle Community, just like those of other open source applications (such as WordPress), not only shares information (and code) freely, it is a thriving commercial entity where knowing Moodle is a useful job skill.  Individuals are hired by businesses (large and small), by academic institutions, and even governments, to design Moodle training, maintain Moodle installations, etc.  Small businesses all over the world take part in various ways, from obtaining Partner certification, to hosting, to theme design, to code customization, to course development activities.  The business model is built on trust and cooperation, not industrial espionage and law suits. 

What you pay for when you choose to become a member of the Moodle Community (a very wise choice!) includes:

  • Expert and worry-free Installation, Hosting, Maintenance of your Moodle site.
  • A deeply involved community where help is usually a forum-post away, if you want to “do it yourself”… if you have the time, skill, and desire to learn how.
  • Content development - the design and creation of your Moodle courses - if you don’t want to do it yourself. 
  • Training of your personnel as Moodle Teachers and Administrators (if you want) and/or someone to do this for you.
  • Third party plug-ins, custom code development, and modifications if what you want/need isn’t freely available.  Moodle Partners, Moodle Course Developers, and members of the Community usually know what’s out there already. 

Stay tuned for future posts on Open Source vs. Proprietary: What does it mean? and spotlights on members of the Moodle Community Working Together.

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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

My Moodle site is up and running. Now What?

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OK, so let’s say you have followed all of my advice:

  1. Registered a domain name exclusively for your Moodle installation
  2. Hosted it with a certified Moodle Partner
  3. Hired a course designer to build it
  4. Launched a GREAT Moodle eLearning site

Now, it’s six months later (or next week or next year) and you want to make some minor changes.  Perhaps you want to update a quiz or edit some text.  Maybe you want to embed a really cool video you just found on YouTube.  You might even find that some of your external links and RSS feeds are broken.  (This will happen eventually, as the owners of those sites move things around). 

Who is going to do this?

If you’re anything like me, your first thought is to contact your course designer.  And, if your experience is anything like mine (with other such professionals, not course designers specifically), you’ll find that because she is in the middle of another large project, your request seems like a buzzing fly in her ear.  Not only does she find you annoying, but you feel like you’ve been swatted away.

So (again, if you’re anything like me), you decide to try it yourself.  Of course, if you knew how to do these things, you probably would’ve done them yourself in the first place!  But you try.  Maybe it takes you less than a day to do a 10-minute task and if you’re lucky, you didn’t break anything.  Maybe you took all day and maybe you broke a lot.  Now maybe someone will think your job is big enough to care about…

How can you avoid being a pest, wasting a lot of your time, and/or damaging your content? Some choices:

  • When you are choosing a course designer, make sure you ask about “going forward”.  Will she help you with that?  If so, what are the terms?  Get a Service Level Agreement (SLA) as part of your initial contract.  This document should define what it will cost you and what you will get in return.  One option  might be a flat monthly rate to check your entire Moodle site for broken links and incoming RSS feeds, as well as applications that are no longer optimal or viewable (because of upgrades to flash, Adobe Reader, etc.), and a stated amount of time making changes to your content.  (Remember, your Moodle host will do the back-ups and upgrades to Moodle so this should not be included in this SLA).  Another option would be an hourly rate, with a fast turnaround time, for changes to your content.  You would then be responsible for periodic checking of links and applications.

Or…

  • Find someone else whose business it is to do just these things.  Maybe your course designer can recommend someone.  There are many online “classifieds” where just such people post their skills and rates.  Search “Moodle”.  You can hire this person by the hour or on retainer.  If your business grows enough, you can hire a full time person to do this!

Or…

  • Take a course or two from a Moodle Partner.  Learn the basics.  Now that you have a working, revenue-generating site, you should have time to do this.  I’m not saying you will ever be a great Moodler, or that you even want to be, but you’ll be able to fix yourself a sandwich or heat up a can of soup (metaphorically speaking).

It’s easy to forget the need for ongoing maintenance of content when you’re all caught up in the initial phases of the project.  You don’t have to have all the details ironed out before you launch, but you should be thinking about it right from the start.  Good luck!

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Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Choosing a Course Designer

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I was recently asked how I chose which Moodle Partner to use.  I had to think about that for a minute…presumably, they’re all competent.  They all have state of the art server farms and they all know Moodle inside and out.  The real reason that I chose “my guys” is that I like them.  I can work with them.  They have the same perspective that I have, at least when it comes to what e-Learning should be.  It’s the same reason I chose Moodle.  It suits me.  

Just like when you choose a doctor, an architect, or even a roommate, you want someone who shares your vision and who complements your style.  You want someone who makes you feel at ease.  This is also how you should choose an eLearning course designer.  You want someone who, together with you, will have the full range of skills needed to build great eLearning. The skills and expertise needed to pull together GREAT eLearning include: 

  • Instructional design knowledge and experience
  • Performance measurement creation and analysis
  • Graphic arts and graphic design applications
  • Audio and video use and production
  • Familiarity with web technology (things like FTP, cPanel, PHP, HTML, CSS, database) and hosting
  • Familiarity (deep) with the LMS you’ve chosen (Moodle or another)
  • Familiarity with file types, when they should be used, and how
  • Writing and editing skill
  • Ability to target a message to a particular audience
  • Ability to translate content to another language

I don’t know a single soul who possesses expertise in all of these areas.  Most of us are really good at some things and well, not so good at others. To find someone who can do what you can’t – or don’t want to – do, make a simple list [like this one]:

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What would I like to learn to do or be involved in?
  3. What do I not want to do at all?

Find someone who can take complete control of everything you put in #3, is skilled at all the #2 items but will allow you to meddle with them, and will leave you alone with your items in #1.  Once you find someone whose skills complement your own, make sure that you and that person “click”.  I might even go so far as to say that you should click first, match skills second.  If you can communicate well, you can work through who is going to do what and how much it’s going to cost.  If you don’t click, you’re setting yourself up for tense decisions and uncertainty.  You have to feel like you’re partnered with your course designer, not at odds with her. 

I hope this helps you make this very important decision.  Converting your content to eLearning should be fun and exciting.  Good luck!

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