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I went to a great event on this leap day at Senate House ‘Moodle 2: Making the leap’ organised by JISC Regional Support Centre. We heard pre/during/post migration experiences from 4 FE colleges who had made the move to Moodle 2.x from Moodle 1.x.

The most striking thing about their stories, and indeed from talking to others over coffee, was the diversity of setups both technical and organisational. The possible combinations of { virtual learning environment + student record system + database platform + ePortfolio } must surely be infinite! As well as that we also saw a range of uses for Moodle from straightforward course delivery to staff CPD to use as a student portal/intranet.

Why were we there? It was all about migration from Moodle 1 to 2 – how to do it? when to do it? what can go wrong? how to engage academics and students?

How to do it?

There are 2 basic approaches here:

  • upgrade installation in-situ
    This involves replacing the Moodle code old with new and letting Moodle do the upgrade – either via the interface or command line. This seems to be a better option for those with an externally hosted Moodle where there are relatively few code customisations or integrations. The further away your Moodle is from a ‘vanilla’ Moodle the harder this may be so watch out!
  • start afresh and populate via import
    Here a parallel Moodle installation is set up anew and courses are exported from old Moodle and imported to new. At one place a team of 8 staff manually migrated 471 courses in 2 days. This allows an opportunity to clear out old data but users and enrolments will need to be imported separately. When ready you simply need to change DNS settings to point your Moodle URL to the new installation IP address. You can keep the old one as an archive.

The interesting thing here is that there is no clear winner – it will depend very much on your setup and institutional policies on use of VLE. Some places insist on courses being rebuilt every year so for them the fresh install would be the way ahead. Either way both will probably involve a few days (weeks?) downtime while the work is carried out.

When to do it?
The resounding message here was ‘do it early’, probably before your academics go off for their summer hols – especially if you’re expecting them to check and develop their courses in the new Moodle. The start of the academic year is stressful enough so I can definitely see the logic here.

What can go wrong?
Lots! Or maybe nothing. Who knows? It really is a bit like that so testing is the order of the day. For the upgrade option make a duplicate site (and database of course) to test the upgrade process – see what borks it and fix it in your real installation. It could be something as simple as a dodgy filename buried somewhere in the content or rogue code in a label somewhere (paste from MS Word has a lot to answer for!) When testing try and replicate your original server architecture/platform as near as possible.

One college reported that 30% of courses failed to appear in their upgraded version! Whilst you may be able to fix this manually using an army of low-paid summer jobbers (as another FE did) if you are migrating 10,000+ courses then things start to get tricky!

If you have used 3rd party plugins in Moodle 1.9x and these don’t/won’t exist for Moodle 2.x then obviously you will lose this functionality so look at alternatives well ahead of time. The second migration option won’t carry over any users or user data (including glossary data) so you’ll need to deal with that.

How to engage academics and students?
The first step might be to hold mass-inductions (makes me think of Moodle as some kind of cult – maybe it is!) to show the wonders of Moodle2 followed by more personal and practical sessions with staff to cover the areas of major change (file management, navigation, blocks, quiz questions).

Another approach is to get the early-adopters to go over first and show the rest that the water’s lovely, come on in. For students it seems a stealth approach is best – as long as it works and does what they expect they don’t really care what version of Moodle you’re running.

The introduction of a new version of Moodle was used by some as a chance to reinforce the pedagogic principles of the VLE use while for others it was combined with a new swanky theme – you’re going to have to rebuild your theme anyway so why not?

Finally … incentivise! Several FEs who presented today use Moodle medals to award courses bronze, silver and gold standard. Any courses that didn’t meet at least bronze standard were not migrated – harsh but a good incentive for teachers to start engaging. One FE go even further and offer a Level 4 qualification in VLE use.

So, thanks to all the speakers, JISC RSC, ULCC and all people I ‘networked’. The emphasis was on sharing and helping and I personally found it a really useful day – I came away with a to-do list with over 30 ideas so watch out City!

It’s a hot topic alright but what is everyone banging on about? Moodle2 can be used out of the box without any repositories – you can still upload files from your computer. True, Moodle2 handles them in a different way and you no longer get the nice files area you used to get (unless you allow legacy files) but early reports suggest academics prefer this simplicity.

A really great White Paper by somerandomthoughts.com gives an in-depth account of the different use cases for repositories and Moodle2. Use cases is the key here – your institution must choose the right solution(s) for its needs. The key questions are around whether to link or copy and what that means for Moodle backups and audit activities.

“Repository” covers a wide range of things … YouTube is a repository, as is GoogleDocs, DropBox, Flickr and Picasa. These are things you may well use and wish to be able to link or copy files into Moodle. Repository can also mean some kind of institutional file store – such as Alfresco or Box.net. There are many more – the ones just mentioned are all supported by the standard Moodle2 installation. Either way you’ll need to consider carefully issues around authentication and licensing.

As we go forward with our strategy and start looking at Moodle2 we are beginning to formulate ideas on what repository options (if any) City adopts. One of the things I’d like to tackle is the tendency for academics to use Moodle as a personal file archive, keeping old course data, backup zips, student work from years gone by etc … all right there in the course file space. Sure, disk space is cheap but it’s just bad practice, rather like throwing the dirty dishes in the backyard instead of washing them up. Kind of.

We use PebblePad here at City but have also been looking at Mahara as a possible ePortfolio solution. What about WordPress though? What are the requirements for an ePortfolio solution anyway? Mahara seems overly complicated to me.

WordPress.com is quick to setup, easy to use and can (at the very least) be used as a reflective journal. You can make it private, invite people to view and comment, add media etc … seems to tick many boxes. And it is yours, to take with you, no institutional lock-ins or migrations needed. By using WordPress.com together with YouTube, Flickr etc it’s a kind of ePortfolio mashup.

This blog by Helen Barrett is a bit old but still of interest:

Create an Electronic Portfolio with WordPress

I work at City University as project manager for the Strategic Learning Environment (SLE). This covers quite a few things but mostly means I am responsible for our virtual learning environment (VLE) which is currently Moodle 1.9. I’ve been working at City already for the last 2 years as a contractor, first as a Moodle developer, then when we employed our full-time developer as development manager. This involved liaising between the schools and Information Systems and making sure Moodle was meeting everyone’s needs.

Moodle, the dominant player in our strategy, is joined by a host of other systems such as Turnitin, Adobe Connect & Presenter, PebblePad and WordPress (soon?) as well as the usual university systems for student records, registry, timetabling, library catalogs etc. Integrating and harmonising these systems  is a major objective of the SLE vision. Of course, as well as the software, there is also our physical space and the SLE remit includes learning spaces, lecture capture, infrastructure and our final most precious resource … people! More of all this as I progress with the blog.

Finally, why blog? Mainly as a personal space where I can reflect on the challenges and achievements of my job and to document some of the work we do here at City. I’ll be blogging about user group meetings, conferences, meetings and also about technical stuff – how we did things like get Moodle2 running.

I am Mike Hughes, the opinions expressed on this blog are my own and not those of my employer ... do I really need to say this?

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