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So today was my induction into the world of Moodle Moots. Despite working in Moodle for the last four years this is the first time I’ve managed to attend the annual UK Moot and today was thoroughly enjoyable. I missed the keynote from Martin Dougiamas as I was in the air at the time but arrive for the start of the first session at about 11am.
The day was organised into four strands consisting of three presentation strands and one training strand. Each strand was one hour long, the presentation strands consisting of two or three 20-30 min sessions with Q&A, and the training strands featuring a session by a single service provider.
Of the presentations I watched there were highs and lows as you’d expect of any conference, but there were some clear highlights, from which I have picked the following.
The Course Request Manager block was demonstrated by Daniel McSweeney and Kyle Goslin of the Institute of Technology at Blanchardstown, Dublin and it was clear a lot of work has gone into this. Users can make course requests and the admin interface allows administrator to approve or deny requests. Some great config settings with approver email addresses, editable email body messages for approve and cancel messages, and a form designer for the actual course request form. It has a really well rounded set of features with most use cases catered for around course requests for both student and administrator.
I’ve been watching the Remote Learner folks for some time as I like their ELIS product. Of all the Moodle ‘distributions’ that are available (ELIS, Joule, Totara) it’s the only one that is truly open source with publicly available downloads. They’ve put in a huge effort to port ELIS to Moodle 2 and this was the first look I’ve had at the new “ELIS 2” (my term, not theirs!). As per the Moodle 1.9 version of ELIS, it’s still a complicated system but is VERY powerful with an impressive feature-set. Of particular note are the programme management and reporting, which struck me as being pretty much the same differentiators as Totara, although in ELIS these are available to the community which Totara is not. Since the 1.9 version of ELIS there have been some changes in terminology around a few features, and certain extensions such as Integration Point are still being upgraded to M2. What really impressed me is that Mike Churchill was able to demo adaptive learning paths which allow course enrolment based on assessment results of prior courses, which is a really powerful new feature, and was complete in his demo version and will be available in the release version very soon.
Mary Cooch (@moodlefairy) did a thoroughly entertaining presentation on her school’s implementation of Moodle and Mahara. The key theme here was how to push the boundaries in the face of technical constraints, as her school is part of the North West Grid for Learning, comprising 700 schools sharing the same Moodle multi-tenant installation (as I understand it). This means that her school is stuck on Moodle 1.9 and can’t even change their theme let alone add modules, yet they’ve managed to squeeze a huge amount of value out of what they’ve got and Mary’s enthusiasm was a sight to see. If every school had a Moodle champion like Mary we’d be in a great place, but sadly I think people like her are few and far between. But hers is a great case of how to do lot with a little.
I saw quite a few other presentations today but those were the ones that did it for me. There were some really interesting talks about open educational resources and communities of practice, the latter by Tim Cunningham related to a Moodle at International Baccalaureate Organisation that we have recently started doing some work for at Epic, albeit another arm of the organisation, so that was a really pleasant surprise.
Apart from the presentations, the real value of today was in the networking. I met some fantastic people, and having been a Moodler for four years but this being my first Moot, I was kind of like a kid in a sweet shop. It was great to put faces to Twitter names, to meet up with the good folks at Moodle Partners like Synergy and Remote Learner, and to swap stories with Moodle practitioners from across the UK and Ireland.
A few news releases were talking points today, in particular the news that Blackboard are acquiring two major Moodle Partners, and to a lesser degree that Totara LMS are providing Long Term Support for Moodle 1.9. My take on the former is here, and on the latter my assumption is that given the Totara 2 release deadline of March 2012 has been and gone, their customers no longer have enough time to upgrade before Moodle 1.9 reaches end of life in June 2012. That kind of forces Totara’s hand to support it, but it truly is great news for everyone that they picked up the glove as a lot of people were looking very exposed on 1.9 security support. Cue sighs of relief all round, so a big thankyou to the Catalyst folks for managing the 1.9 LTS and to Totara for funding it.
I have to sleep now, as some madman approved BOTH my presentation applications for tomorrow (they are in the MoodleMoot presenters database if you want a sneak preview). All in all, today was was a really valuable experience for me. Bring on tomorrow!