Moodle Administration Book Review (Packt)

Courtesy of Packt Publishing

Moodle AdministrationRecently I was asked by Packt Publishing to read and review the Moodle Administration book by Alex Buchner. So here goes…

This book is ideal for persons who are starting a Moodle project or for anyone who is currently in the early days of administrating a Moodle project. The book covers a wide range of topics from setting up a Moodle server through to administering courses and users, server security, networking,theming and backups.

The installation section is easy to follow and should be enough for anyone to get Moodle up and running on a Windows, Linux or Mac environment. Although it is a step-by-step guide the reader would benefit from a previous knowledge of web servers, PHP and MySQL. The author has simplified the process as much as possible but a complete beginner would get lost setting up a web server. The book also covers the use of the Moodle CVS repository which is handy for users who are new to using a versioning system.

The course management section teaches the reader how to organise courses into categories and how to set up meta-courses. The concept of meta courses in Moodle is usually difficult to get your head around but this book explains it quite well. (Those who already use child and meta courses in Moodle will know exactly what I’m talking about here!)

The book covers enrolments and account creation and walks the reader through the steps of using LDAP and database driven enrolments. The use of roles is well documented in this book and an entire chapter is dedicated to monitoring user activity. Essentially this book is a read once affair, due to its step-by-step walk through nature, however, you may find yourself referring back to key chapters for reference and it doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover.

The only criticism I have with this book is that feeling of "I’ve read all this before". Much of the information covered is already available via Moodle Docs and the Moodle forums. However, this book brings all that information together in one place, without the reader having to spend valuable time searching the web to find key information.

Overall, this book is an ideal companion for any Moodle Administrator, and is essential for any organisation who doesn’t have a dedicated Moodle Technical Team. It is a lifeline for anyone has been told that they are now responsible for running Moodle, or have been told "We need Moodle, your good with computers, get it up and running!"

It doesn’t cover all the technical hiccups you will encounter along the way but if your deployment runs smoothly then this book will have been a big help, and you can always ask for help in the forums. Happy Reading!

Using Moodle as an intranet

There are literally dozens of open source content management systems available to download, plus many commercial ones, not to mention Microsoft Sharepoint, so why would anyone consider using a VLE as an intranet tool.

Well in short, we did.

Moodle has some great interactive tools (activities) and some unique ways of displaying information (resources). And we felt that these tools could be used effectively in an intranet environment.

Setting up a Moodle intranet is relatively easy. Each department or area is assigned a course. Inside this course is a bank of resources and information such as web pages, surveys, image galleries and so forth. The use of roles allowed us to assign editing rights to different parts of the intranet and also to key elements within areas using role overrides.

To begin with, each course (department area) is given a header in the first label and some introductory text such as a meet the team page or services we offer. We then trained a key member of each department in the creation of Moodle content.

We showed them how to create web pages, link to files and websites and generate questionnaires and surveys.

The rest is then up to them.

Over time, the course areas grow and soon enough hyperlinks are created from resources to others course areas and ultimately we are left with a web based intranet system that links with other pages and departments.

What about user access?

The system can be accessed externally so staff can work from home and any staff members that can edit intranet pages now have the skills to edit actual Moodle courses and vice-versa.

Meta courses are used to link the areas together, all staff get access to view each course but editing rights are assigned manually.

What about files?

Having files scattered across many courses would make it very difficult for users to find. Polices, procedures, calendars etc.. required a central repository. For this we used the database activity. All site wide files are placed in here and users can search it directly. RSS feeds provide a way to inform staff of new additions and we can even see when files were uploaded and edited and by whom.

How is it been used?

Staff are using forums to generate discussions, we have a global message board and a "for sale board" forum as well as individual forums in departmental areas.

Staff use the questionnaire module to get feedback from users or to evaluate training sessions or answer questions. The choice activity is used to get a global response to key questions and web pages are used to display static text.

We use photo galleries to display images from events and the face-to-face activity to book staff development training sessions.

What about Students?

We also use Moodle as a student intranet. It works in very much the same way as the staff intranet. But the theme is much fresher and the content is more refined and student friendly. Again, a multitude of resources are used to deliver content.

What problems did you face?

The biggest problem we faced was with searching text. Although Moodle does a very good at searching files and forums, it doesn’t support the searching of labels and web page text. Staff members often complained that they can only search courses, forums and files.

To get around this we created a new navigation block to allow users to quickly jump from area to area and I wrote a small AJAX script to dynamically return search results from the file repository.

At present there is no direct way of searching all content. I am working on a script to search the database for label and web page content but this is a big job and I need to think carefully about indexing.

This is perhaps where using a CMS like Drupal or WordPress as an intranet works better than Moodle. But to be fair, Moodle is a VLE not a CMS.

However, if you do not need to search text then Moodle offers a very efficient and interactive way of serving up intranet information. It’s secure, easy to assign permissions to resources, areas can be locked down and areas can even have their own look and feel via course themes.

It is a big project, but like so many, it starts small.

The biggest advantage of using Moodle as an intranet is that not only can you deliver information to your users but they can interact with it in so many more ways than found in a conventional Content Management System.

Moodle iPhone Video Detection – FLV’s now play MP4’s instead!

In order to maintain compatibility standards we use FLV files for all of our videos in Moodle.  This then uses JPlayer to stream the video.  However, JPlayer is a flash tool and therefore videos do not work on the iPhone.

To get around this I have embedded my iPhone detection script into mod/file resource on Moodle.  I then upload an .mp4 version of the same file, in the same folder as the .flv version.

The script then detects an iPhone, removes the .flv extension and replaces it with an .mp4 extension.  This then redirects the file to the default player on the iPhone.

Now everytime we link to an .flv video in Moodle we simply upload a .mp4 version to the same folder.

Now all of our iPhone users can view all of our videos on Moodle!

Only 1 problem remains….converting all our existing videos to Mp4!  I’ll put the kettle on.