Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Moodle no-brainer #1: Surveys
I like Moodle. A lot. I'm happy as can be that we're moving away from WebCT and onto a platform that costs over $100K less a year (even after taking staff and development costs into account). But one of the (few, all things considered) problems with open source is that necessary features, if they're not necessary to the folks doing the development, don't get implemented in a timely manner. Without any commercial incentive to bring out those features, there's a lag, exacerbated by the "well, you can build it yourself or use a third-party block" excuse as a way out. The latter's great every once in a while, but given the need for code validation* and integration with other services, it's not always viable. Nor does it excuse an incomplete core product (would you bother with Firefox if tabbed browsing or bookmarks were third-party plug-ins?).
In the E-Learning 2.0 world, that's extra frustrating. The "2.0" doesn't just refer to the Web 2.0 concept; it refers to the fact that most institutions have already had at least one major LMS (Learning Management System) or CMS (Course Management System) in place, and that there are certain expectations as a result.
The first one that's frustrating for me is the "Survey" tool. In WebCT, Blackboard, or just about any system out there (even the e-learning add-ons for FirstClass), you can create an anonymous (but authenticated and restricted to members of a course) survey using the same question modules available for testing. Some of the programs (Blackboard) even offer some options (like Likert scales) that are essential to good survey-building.
Moodle 1.7 offers four fixed, pre-built surveys. Unless you need one of their specific sets of questions, you're basically hosed. What's striking about this is that this runs counter to everything Moodle stands for; instead of putting the power and flexibility in the hands of the end-user, this restricts the users to pre-built question sets. I'd expect that from a corporation, but not from a program built from the bottom-up like Moodle.
And yes, I know that future versions of Moodle will fix this. But none of us can really tell faculty to put off teaching for another year, or students to put off taking classes (tempting though that might be). And we should all know by now how silly it is to fall back on the old "future release" excuse. Who hasn't seen a feature slide time and again, or come out barely functional (see anything Microsoft's ever done)? If it's not in the current release, it's not there.
Of course, a second option is to use the testing module, which works fine as long as you don't need anonymous answers (or some functionality like good scales). What's frustrating is that it's clear that the quiz module could easily power the survey functionality (as it does in Blackboard), but that this simply wasn't a developmental priority. If we had tons of resources, it would be great to fix it ourselves. Alas, out here in the real world, that's not always an option, and this is one of those features whose inclusion really should have been a no-brainer back at the 1.0 stage.
*Me, I'm not comfortable tossing any untested bit of code onto an enterprise service with FERPA and copyright concerns, thank you very much.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Apologies for the long hiatus. I took the blog offline for awhile as I went through the job search process, followed by the moving process and the settling-in process. In other words, life interfered with blogging (which is far, far better than having blogging interfere with life).
I'm attempting to revive this blog, and finding that the e-learning blog community has grown tremendously over the last year. There are a lot more folks with interesting thoughts on the subject, and a lot more really nifty technologies (some of which are even useful).
My focus, as always, will be on cool uses of technology in education, but I'll also be spending some serious time looking at Moodle, as we're in the process of a rather fast transition from WebCT to the open-source alternative.