VLE Report 2015/Moodle

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This page is part of the VLE Report 2015.

Basics[edit | edit source]

Moodle is open source software and a LAMP application, meaning that the initial setup is relatively straightforward. Issues are graphical design (Moodle themes), hosting appropriate to traffic, and upgrades, which Moodle provides about once every six months. Backups must be configured as a matter of urgency. Documentation is online at http://docs.moodle.org.

Graphics[edit | edit source]

Moodle has "moving parts" in the form of a distinctive right-hand sidebar. One effect is that a theme (CSS skin) for Moodle is quite complex as a collection of files. The presentation of Moodle via a theme is going to be one of: a standard skin free as a baseline, which is plain and unexciting; adaptation of free skins available online; or a custom design. Professional work in this area is not cheap.

There is a temptation to rationalise Moodle features, e.g. the calendar. Moodle evolves, and a theme may be broken by an upgrade, requiring maintenance edits.

Traffic and performance[edit | edit source]

It seems to be a largely empirical matter how to get acceptable performance from Moodle. With cloud hosting one can expect to expand the hosting in line with results. A database server and use of opcache are standard ways to tune the system. Again, upgrades may change the situation.

Moodle's caching to provide performance to institutions with heavy use of their sites is perhaps responsible for unexpected behaviour on smaller-scale installations. In any case the learning curve on performance is tangible unless the hosting is quite generous.

Navigation[edit | edit source]

Moodle is not really designed for random access to material. There is a category system, meaning that a rough subdivision of courses can be made clear from the home page. With self-enrolment there is a once-for-all need to access a given course for the first time.

Internal linking[edit | edit source]

Moodle's handling of internal linking between units is not on the pattern of the "wikilink". Within a lesson any linking between unit can be hardwired by a dropdown menu, so that complex schemes of optional navigation can be implemented. Crossing lesson boundaries is by ordinary URL linking (within the WYSIWIG editor). In other words there is no relative linking.

The nature of Wikipedia training means that brick-on-brick building up of material is not suitable in the large. Would one start with the Internet and what it is, or how to find the tilde and vertical bar on the keyboard, with international variations, or what the assumptions are that people have about encyclopedias, or Intellectual Property 101? This means that internal linking is at a premium for this particular VLE. For migration by URL changing domain there is a tool to mass-update, which turned out to work almost across the board. One other problem was encountered after an upgrade, with an offset occurring to unit numbers: the data storage method in databases made this troublesome, rather than an easy hack.

Software customisation[edit | edit source]

It seems that much of Moodle could be rewritten by PHP programmers, for custom use. The short upgrade cycle makes this unattractive if substantial changes are to be made. The project depended on two custom plugins, one of which required maintenance after the upgrade at the beginning of 2014 (and is still offline in April 2015); the other encountered performance issues. It is not so much that custom versions are impossible, but that there would be an overhead in terms of documentation, knowledge of Moodle function, and tweaks. The performance of a custom system might be improved with enough insight; on the other hand quantifying the work involved and the advantages could not be an exact science.