Thursday, October 07, 2010

Moodle Odyssey

Martin Dougiamas at the ParthenonAfter lunch the MoodlePosium at Australian National University has reconvened to hear from Martin Dougiamas, developer of Moodle, on "Moodle 2 Good Stuff". During lunch I was talking to Martin, who mentioned he was on his way from Greece to Educause 2010. Martin emphasised the community aspect of Moodle, taking it beyond isolated individual courses (that seems to be a theme emerging at this event). One new aspect of the development of Moodle is Moodle QA. It might be interesting to see if some of the Quality assurance (QA) ideas for software find their way into course development.

Martin talked also about the internationalisation and security of Moodle. These are issues which arisen as more people in more places use the software.

Some other additions are dock-able blocks. The Navigation block provides an overall menu for navigating around Moodle. These features should remove some of the problems with having to decide what to fit on scarce screen space. The designer can put what they think is appropriate and the student can change it.

One practical feature of Moodle 2 is de-duplication of files. If a file is shared between courses, only one copy is kept. However, there is no version control built in, so if a file is changed slightly for one course but not for another then two complete copies of the file are kept and there is no record that the files are related. Martin commented that institutions tended to use specialised products such as EQUELLA Digital Repository (Allfresco may also be an option). However, that might be missing something fundamental to education about version control. As an example, instead of treating an assignment the student submits as being complete and fixed, it could be versioning, with the student and teacher then working together to improve the assignment.

One useful addition to Moodle is the concept of "completion". The designer can set criteria which when met, the system indicates the student has completed this part. This can also be used to progressively reveal content, based on what the student has completed. Perhaps the criteria could be used to award the student a degree automatically, when they have ticked all the necessary boxes. ;-)

The concept of a user in Moodle has been expanded, with enrolments and roles. I did not understand the details of how this works.

Moodle Hubs provides directories of Moodle courses. This allows for a "Publishing site" where a course can be downloaded from and a "Community site" which allows enrolment. One problem I have with the publishing is that there is no concept of versioning, so that each copy of a course is an independent entity, with no way to later share content. So if I download a published course there is no way to find out what updates may have been made later.

Martin mentioned a Mobile API for Moodle. This was disappointing as it is about building new and unique mobile interfaces for Moodle. I would prefer to see the Moodle interface be made to work on a mobile.

However, I suspect that Moodle 3, will be time for a redesign or another developer to do what Martin did: unhappy with the complexity and difficulty of Moodle, they would create something simpler with a philosophy behind it. In "The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist" (Addison-Wesley, 2004), Fred Brooks describes the OS/360 Job Control Language as the worst programming language ever designed, because the designers did not realise they were producing a programming language. Similarly Moodle has a large number of modules, some of which appear very similar. It may be time to rethink the design with fewer, more powerful modules.

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