Virtual Learning Environment/2013 discussion

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The VLE Workshop scheduled for 9 November 2013 was cancelled).

Draft 12 month report for the board

Written by Charles Matthews

Board report draft

Summary: A prototype VLE running under the Moodle system was delivered to WMUK at the end of November 2012, of 16 courses on Wikipedia, a total of 81 modules. This report is to explain what has happened since. With limited resources, it has not been possible to configure the wiki+Moodle system intended, with the new software that has been written. Discussion in November 2013 has led to an agreed interim solution for the educational and training aims of the VLE, concentrating on developing quizzes for the site. On this basis, the existing group of trainers will be circulated and offered access, as the next step.

While the outcome of the year's work has not proved very satisfactory, both the educational issues (enrolment, assessment and certification) and inherent technical issues (presentation of material, performance and configuration) have seen much work and experienced gained.

Points for the Board to consider
  • Management of the project. The complexity of the project suggests that budget-holders need to be more hands-on, and that Bugzilla should be used more effectively as a project management forum.
In detail, the dual committee structure has put the VLE at risk of falling between two stools, and the committees themselves have had problems with convening enough telephone meetings. The Technology Committee uses also a mailing list, the tech wiki and Bugzilla to oversee the developer resources and their overall allocation, but has not found a consistent way to do this compatible with meaningful project management, in this instance. The VLE’s technical resources have been given out hand-to-mouth. Discussion with the office suggests this is a staff time issue, rather than anything else.
  • Finance for the VLE: The 2013 budget having been set at a level of about 50% of the initial cost, there has not been the possibility of doing much more for the actual content than keeping it ticking over.
  • Reuse of Content: There is definite interest from other chapters in translating VLE content. The quiz content can in principle be reused on wikis. There is potential therefore for the chapter taking a lead in this area, and there are shared larger goals with the Education Program of the WMF, as recent discussion with its Director has shown.
  • Scope of the project. A strategic view is required, given that there are more possibilities for use of the VLE than the initial one, of supporting workshops. It could involve combinations of modules with quizzes, badges, and videos, and new categories of content. The software that has been commissioned is innovative, with its novel view on wiki+Moodle systems, and attitude that educational material can be developed collaboratively.
  • Future Prospects: The VLE content counts as an Open Educational Resource (OER), and there are certainly prospects that it could be grant-funded, which is normal enough in the OER sector. This aspect should be treated both as a fund-raising matter, and as incentive to plotting a clearer development pathway.
Detailed explanations

The Board minute of July 2013 should be read in the light of poor communications on behalf of WMUK: a mail of December 2012 on funding and technical handover was left unanswered, the VLE budget was taken over by the office without notification, and the proposed consultation on the VLE ahead of the Train the Trainers report did not take place. A trustee made an issue of the VLE being hosted by WMUK itself, rather than with the Moodle partner where it was, prejudging technical issues that have turned out to be the limiting factors in the present funding climate. That was detrimental to the goal of having a working system showing all intended the features.

The technical goal is to have a wiki+Moodle system which has a single sign-on, so that the wiki front end can handle enrolment in particular; and such that community editing can be applied to content updates. The training goal is to have a site that can support training workshops, by allowing participants to go further at their own pace than a one-day event allows.

There was a blog post about the VLE in January. A complex system for managing the VLE's further development, involving two committees, was in place during the first half of 2013, but there was little activity, lack of developer time assigned to the project being the main reason. In this period five external assessments of the VLE were solicited, the basic verdict being that work was required on the presentation. A budget of £2K had been allocated, and was taken under the control of the office at some point. The Education Committee and Technology Committee were supposed to handle operational matters. To improve the presentation a custom skin was required, which would at market prices have involved 75% of the budget, so a volunteer was sought; that skin is now in place. Staff time was given to adding images to modules.

Subsequent problems with performance of new software have shown that getting Moodle to run is something of a black art, and the use of external consultancy on the technical side has been moooted. A number of internally-set deadlines for the technical development were missed. It was not possible to show a working system at the AGM, Wikimania, or a planned November workshop. Lead times in dealing with technical issues on the VLE stretched out to a number of months.

On other fronts, quizzes have been written under contract for the VLE. These use GIFT format, which can be imported easily in Moodle. After a recent decision to commission development of software, it will be possible for such quizzes to be reused on wikis, allowing prototyping of material outside the VLE, and more general use of quizzes in the community. Discussions of how, if at all, WMUK should use Mozilla’s badges, which will be available on the VLE once Moodle is upgraded to the latest version, are ongoing. The main point is what the chapter intends to achieve in giving badges.