Musings on Moot

moodle moot logoI attended Moodle Moot 11 for the first time this year. I’ve been happy to catch up from others or to visit blogs to get a sense of the up and coming Moodle stuff but I must say that there is nothing quite like a face to face dialogue with other practitioners to help to clarify the big “elephants in the room” and get them addressed.

Senate House

Senate House, UoL

Highlights of the conference for me included Gráinne’s keynote and her differentiation of services which are ‘object’ centric compared with those which are ‘ego’ centric. I hadn’t thought much about this up until now but I’m definitely finding an urge with my twitter and Facebook posts to make them ‘quirky and interesting’ and so Gráinne’s talk struck a cord. It was quite an academic and generic but none the less inspirational and her references to works by Sara De Freitas and Michael Wesch were on the money, for example how people either love or hate Facebook, the fact that the people and technology both evolve together and organisations are generally slow to employ technology well to evolve their practices.

I attended a workshop from Manchester Metropolitan University about their use of cloud service provision using Equella and ULCC to provide the hosting, platform and custom integration. Things that interested me about this approach was that they employed a post per faculty to assist with the migration. They migrated quickly and moved all undergraduate provision to the new platform from Blackboard. The key point that they made in my opinion was “We wanted to target resource elsewhere on the learning environment so bringing in expertise was best way to get ahead and it was important to get contracts right for hosting. Make sure you have the right partners.”

There was a workshop from University of Kent on their move from WebCT to Moodle which followed a similar model to MMU and they transferred in around nine months (January to September 2009). They made strong reference to the LTI specification and later in the MOOT we had confirmation for increased LTI support in M2. They have a blog site that explains their work in the LTI arena.

Other things that I attended included a workshop on Individual Learning Plans. I was impressed by the work done by Hall School on getting tutor feedback models and peer review and peer assessment processes in place and which they seem to think works. I also found it interesting that they (also) use Google Apps and Moodle model for their VLE and do various things around the portal to make these as integrated as possible and have single sign on working across them. The Hall School chap caused a bit of a stir by suggesting that Google Apps is the future for the VLE in his opinion and they’ve started using Google spreadsheets for peer assessment and Google Sites for ePortfolio (as they didn’t want to add an extra layer of complexity by adding Mahara to the mix).

There was a good talk by the University of Vienna on using Eye tracking for Usability using the Tobii Eye Tracker. I agree with everything that the chap said but we at the Open University also use the same equipment and also user studies, paper-prototyping and accessibility testing and a myriad of other practices throughout VLE development so I found it useful but to me it’s to be used in context of improved testing regimes rather than the ultimate tool (for example certain elements are more distracting to some people than others, causing fixations which could be interpreted incorrectly if not backed up by other evidence, for example whether colour blindness affects the fixation).

Martin Dougiamas

Highlights from day 2 of MOOT include of course the keynote by Martin Dougiamas given via video conference link. Things he covered included big push for mobile support, work on community engagement (Mooch), the new method and processes for deploying code which make it much more robust and creating what he calls “Safe environment for production sites”. He also mentioned work on performance improvement in v2.1. The development work included a shout to Tim Hunt and his work on the quiz engine and also the work on incorporating Forum NG, although here he was a bit vague on whether Forum NG would be adopted, adapted or  rebuilt from ground up. The three things I came away with were

(a) Martin wants to push to mobile effort and increase support across mobile tech, initially iPhone and closely followed by Android

(b) Martin wants to improve the mechanism for responding to issues and building them into the product through new process models

(c) Martin is not interested in building a repository within Moodle and indeed the emphasis is on building good hooks from and to Moodle with whatever back-end of middleware products you wish to use for your installation.

I spoke to the Equella people on day 2 and discussed how they’re working with MoodleRooms to provide an alternative hosting service to the MoodleRooms/Alfresco option. They also want to promote their products as aggregators and to enhance visibility of institutional repositories. Providing the glue.

I spoke to the Institute of Education about their use of PebblePad (hosted by PebblePad) but was surprised to find that they leave the whole service in the hands of the students so that for example it can be used for CPD activity but relies on the students being trusted to manage their portfolio and not ’embellish’. They did say that it was extremely well used by their students as a reflection tool.

I attended three workshops on day 2 two of which were from the OU as I was learning as much about how our developers see our installation as how other people view theirs. I found it refreshing to ‘look in from outside’ with fresh eyes. I think the team in the OU within the Learning and Teaching Solutions unit do a fantastic job of which they should be very proud and it really showed at the MOOT how much they are respected in the Moodle community.

The other workshop I attended was from Dyslexia Action about their support of students. Boy do they give intense and active management, guidance and support. I’m really not sure if it would scale to the numbers the OU supports but I admire their dedication to their students.  Camtasia to provide screencasts, Scribd to provide documentation support, help button and FAQ’s, webinars to get students involved then further webinars for tutorial support, live chat for support issues including Jing and Skype and when all else fails GotoMeeting . It made me tired just listening to him!

To finish off the moot we had a great stimulating talk about happiness. It was a fantastic way to end the event and made everyone feel upbeat. We even did a bit of flashmob doing actions to the ‘official Moodle’ song

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Future of Web Apps 2008

This isn’t a philosophical rant about what constitutes the future of web apps but rather a quick plug for the extremely informative FOWA conference which takes place in October (8th to 10th) in London. I’ve already booked my place and I thoroughly recommend it to others.

These conferences can sometimes be all hype and no substance but this one is full of great content. If you still don’t believe me then read my Blog post on last years event.

I’ll see you there.

I’m registered as both an academic and a manager this year, that should give me a confusing and interesting choice of ‘buddies’!

 

Future of Web Apps?

I went to the Future of Web Apps conference today in London http://www.futureofwebapps.com – It was an interesting day but as with many of these things I sometimes wonder if I couldn’t have got much of this by just researching on the web, it’s good to talk to the people involved though as I always like to hear the “what not to do’s” which are sometimes more important and something that people don’t like to admit to unless you’re talking to them in person.

The speakers I enjoyed were Heather Champ founder of JPG and Community Manager as Filckr. She did a duet with Derek Powazek of JPG and they had a good talk about what builds communities (or drives them away) with some common sense advice including the fact that ranking can be a big negative as it engenders a “gaming” to the community where they start to compete and also even those in the listing with high rankings tend to feed off the fact that there are others above them so it generally a no-no except in special cases. I discovered this myself when we started a top ten ranking of things in our Knowledge Network (a system we developed for Knowledge Sharing at the OU) – we discovered that if we ranked it top to bottom people always clicked on the top one always enforcing it’s status as the top, therefore the list becomes self perpetuating. We decided instead to gather the popular sites and then randomly display these in random order on the front page to show a variety of popular sites but which was fresh and different. …Anyway they had much more to say and I recommend their talk.

 The other speaker I enjoyed was Matt Mullenweg the funding developer of WordPress (and I’m not just saying that cos I use it!) – He looks about 12 and his powerpoint presentation is not special but what he says is real and his advice is sound in my opinion.

In general the speakers were all good although some a bit to techie for me (the Dojo, Ajax and Google Gears stuff was great but I nearly lost the thread (multi threading in javascript by the way – cool) a couple of times when he displayed a few code pages. Some was a bit too commercial, all about ‘monetizing the web’ but largely good.

The things that disappointed me were that I was bombarded with a hundred different ‘sponsors’ or mini site vendors Blurb, widr, yuuguu, wakcopa, pluck, baagz, zend, etc. so why the stupid names guys?!? – It was a bit overwhelming, I’m just about getting my head around Facebook and MySpace and now I’ve got aobut 50 more to explore (if I get the energy!). They weren’t disappointing in themselves, it’s more that I know that nine out of ten of them will be gone in a year or taken over by Google, Yahoo or Microsoft.

Second thing to disappoint me was that the presentations were largely ‘death by powerpoint’ – These so called designers and web app develoeprs actually put togehter pretty ropey presentations, I’ve seen my colleagues give much better ones and I was surprised that more presenters didn’t rely on a more off the cuff approach and a creative talk that was more dynamic, but then again I probably wouldn’t do that myself if I was speaking to several hundred peers!

Those things aside the conference is good and Im looking forward to tomorrow once I recharge my batteries. I do think that as one speaker said ‘even in the virtual world people like to end up with an artefact, something real and so it’s worthwhile thinking about how you can give them that’. I think the conference gives us that – it’s the reality around all the virtual.