Tag: Moodle Partner

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

A Few Words About: Getting Help in Moodle

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Last month I asked my Moodle host to upgrade BeeLearn.com to 2.1.  I’m getting antsy to overhaul my curriculum using the new features of Moodle.  It took him about two hours to complete the entire site upgrade, including the back-ups of the old site. Everything works swell, except for a couple of third-party modules that we knew wouldn’t work beyond Moodle 1.9x (not yet, anyway).

A few days earlier, I had set up my new desktop PC, with the latest of every version of software for every application you can imagine.  As of today, I am still trying to get to the same level of functionality I had before the upgrade.  Since I had the same computer, with the same version of the operating system and application software for five years, I had many customized settings.  I had grown accustomed to the location of tools and options.  Now, I can barely delete an email.

The thing is, when I have a question such as “how do I enable conditional activities in Moodle” I have four choices:

  1. Poke around until I figure it out myself
  2. Read through the online documentation (always easy to locate)
  3. Post a question at a forum and wait for a response from another user
  4. Ask a Moodle expert, such as my host (if I have engaged him for a support contract)

All of these options are reasonable, by my standards.  I typically receive helpful answers in a short period of time.  Option # 4 is the only one that costs anything and it is also the most reliable.

In the six years that I’ve been using Moodle, I’ve heard some folks express concern that since it is open source there’s really no one to respond to questions; no one is responsible to provide explanation of a feature or help troubleshoot a problem.  That seemed like a valid concern, if options 1-3 above were not feasible for certain people.  I get it. Not everyone has my curiosity or tenacity; maybe they are more interested in rock climbing than learning Moodle.  That’s cool, too.

Now I’m wondering how those people are coping.  When I clicked on the Help icon in my brand-spanking new desktop software (it doesn’t matter which application; they’re all the same), I was stunned, horrified, mortified (you get my point) to be taken to an online community forum and presented with literally hundreds of posts that were somewhat related to my keyword.

What happened to the help index?  Where is the comprehensive list of how to do whatever?  I’m fine with that process when the software is open source and I didn’t pay to download it.  But when the application costs $1000 and I have to accept legal terms to use it, I do not expect to receive support from some other user who happened to figure something out!

What this tells me is that open source software (such as Moodle) just took one more giant leap toward “the business model of the future”.  That one advantage of proprietary software – paying more for the product to ensure technical support – just went down the drain.

If you had any reservations about Moodle – or any other open source application – because of the “lack of support” – you can rest assured that you will get at least – and probably better – support from the enthusiastic Moodle community than you will from the reluctant and desperate users of those “other products”. Most Moodle Partners offer on-going support contracts (essentially, personal help forums) that are less money than the purchase price of my desktop suite that has no such support.

Note:  When you’re building your business case and determining your budget, be sure to include the costs of training and support for Moodle if you plan to do most of the build yourself. If you don’t have the time or desire to learn Moodle to that extent, include the costs of a course developer in your budget.  Actually, these costs are added on to any project, regardless of whether you use Moodle, other open source, or proprietary software.  None of them come out of the box with your content in them!

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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Free Market Competition: The Good, the Bad, the Dilemma

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Most people who follow Moodle news know that Blackboard has just acquired two very popular online collaboration providers, Elluminate and Wimba.  Some fear that this is an attempt to reduce the options for those of us seeking such features for our Moodle sites.  I think that’s entirely possible; I also think it’s terribly flattering.  To be perceived as a market threat by one of the Big Boys means “you’ve made it”!

I believe in free market enterprise (for the most part).  Sadly, like everything else that is good, a free market allows some not-so-nice people to get away with nasty things.  Such is the price of freedom.  I once subcontracted with a consulting company that bought up all of their competitors.  Not only did they eliminate the people who had built those companies (and their reputations), they eliminated the brands themselves.  It’s OK to acquire another company for its talent and processes.  It’s not OK to erase all evidence of that company’s past and claim their successes as your own.  But what are you going to do?  It’s not illegal to be a snake.  Well, it sometimes becomes illegal after the first snake has bitten everyone…

The only thing you can do is to stick to your own values, be guided by your own principles, and band together with others who feel the same way.  In this case, I don’t think “fight fire with fire” is the right thing to do.  I think “fight fire with water” – or “take the high road” or some other lesson your grandmother taught you – might be more appropriate.  As this post by a Moodle Partner so eloquently describes it, we are part of an ecosystem; the Moodle community is a strong force in that ecosystem.  I believe it is to our collective advantage to avoid the Nash Equilibrium when choosing our partners and our objectives.  We can each try to take the whole prize (like the consulting firm I worked for), we can fall victim to the Prisoner’s Dilemma, or we can improve our lot as a whole, ensuring long and fulfilling lives for Moodle and our own pursuits.

It is in this spirit that I’ve decided to write a series of posts that will focus attention on those who develop and provide Moodle-specific plug-ins and/or work with Moodle for small business users to solve our unique needs. Not all of them are free and some are even “competitors”, but they can all be trusted in a dark alley. 

My first post in this series, Working Together, will be about Course Merchant.  Last week I sent them an email at midnight (my time).  When I sat down at my computer the next morning, I had a very detailed (and very helpful) response to some tricky questions.  I’ll tell you more about those questions – and their service in general – within the week.

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