As a user of a pilot WebCT installation, I find a VLE valuable to staff and popular with students. However, I have also come across annoying deficiencies in WebCT, which are not problems in Moodle. No doubt, more familiarity with Moodle would throw up some areas where further development is needed with it too.
Moodle clearly has been, and is, developing rapidly and many institutions have decided to adopt it. However, in the debate over which VLE to adopt, I have seen strong support for the view that any Open Source project may lose impetus and an institution using it would then be left with a system where no features would be added and no bugs fixed or else inexpensive in-house support would be needed.
My view would be along the lines that, under such circumstances, the data could be transferred to an alternative platform, provided that the Open Source software complied with widely used standards. Admittedly, there would be considerable planning and effort required for such a transfer but the scenario is not one where the timescale would be particularly pressing. The costs of the exercise would likely have already been saved, based on the reasonable assumption that the total cost of ownership of the Open Source VLE would have been less than that of a proprietary product.
I didn't see an instantaneous conversion to my viewpoint and so I would be interested to hear of any other arguments that readers may have to offer on this point.
Briefly, the other principal issue is having a vendor to pin down should problems arise over, for example, security. It is a valid point for an institution where it is not intended to have a development team in-house but simply to be an end-user.
Regards to all,
Any project may stagnate and cease development. WebCT may lose impetus and stop adding features. Moodle might do the same.
What are you going to do if WebCT stops providing bug fixes? I am guessing you would cut losses and migrate to another platform.
The advantage of Moodle over WebCT is that Moodle is Open Source. You could add your own functonality or pay someone else to do it. If Martin lost interest in Moodle, there would be people to take over or fork the project. There is a huge userbase and many who are adding new features.
I see Moodle as the winner in this hands down. If you want end user functionality and don't want to have to mess with details, talk to a Moodle Partner and you still save money over WebCT.
I am a former network administrator and earned Microsoft and Novell certfication back in 1999. For security and reliablity, I am sold on open source, and depend on Moodle in my classroom.
Or even worse, go belly-up. The dotcom crash should provide a cautionary tale in this regard. In that case, you're just stuck. All your content is now useless.
That is the answer.
Who remembers Quattro, Lotus 123, Wordstar, WordPerfect, dBase? We are talking giants in their time, they owned their respective markets, but are now meer shadows or simply memories.
There are no guarantees in software. Excel was in 3rd place behind 123 and Quattro. dBase owned the small database market. MSWord was a distant second to WordPerfect and neither existed in the early days of Wordstar.
I have lots of data, from text documents to raw fluorimetric data that I use as paperweights in my office because I cannot read it either by hardware (tape readers, magneto-optic devices, even 5-1/4 floppies) or software incompatibilities. I keep them only as a sign that I am getting older.
- Enrique -
"How can Moodle win in a debate in which the decision makers consider performance criteria secondary to the possibility that Open Source projects may stagnate and cease development?"
Is winning an important goal for Moodle? I am sure Martin never intended world domination with this wonderful resource! Organisations, some of which might have hidden agendas in establishing criteria for acceptability, can taken any arbitrary criteria for 'standardisation', so that the whole world can be moulded into their very own straitjacket.
Moodle's success has been by teachers who can see how it works, and know that it works. It has not been forced upon them, but has been integrated at the very heart of the teaching community. Compare this with the 'technology is good for you' approach, and 'off the shelf' solutions that educational authorities are now heading for.....given large injections of cash to support e-learning.
Performance criteria? How about considering the impact on teaching and learning? The bottom line is that is where schools and teachers are judged!
The grandparent might have used wrong word, naturally Moodle isn't an active participant in a debate. Nevertheless, it is important to me (as a eLearning faciliator) that I can argue convincingly on behalf the technology I want to use. In a way, winning these debases is the most important part of my job.
As to performance criteria, impact on teaching and learning is too broad and would be split into several subcriteria, which would be among the most important criteria for sure. However, there are many other imporant criterias: some technical like scalability, some economic like Return Of Investment.
I think you are in for a surprise if you think you are better protected or have more leverage with a closed-source product. With Moodle, you can join in the security discussions at security.moodle.com/org. This is not the case with other products, for example Blackboard. You are on your own to discover the holes that have been unplugged for nearly 1 year now.
Yet this is much more common with commercial software that fails due to poor management (or just plain odd, e.g. KPT) or gets bought and killed (Peoplesoft).
It's really less likely with an vibrant OSS software like Moodle, because even if Martin had to leave the project, there are plenty of folks who could sit in.
Why aren't these people (who I assume feel they are evaluating with due diligence) worried that WebCT will get bought and canceled by Blackboard, or Blackboard by Oracle? That is something that could happen with closed source code, and cannot happen with the current Moodle code.
In fact, it is fairly common for govt. and other buyers of mission critical software to demand rights to the source if the seller goes belly-up or gets bought-out. The CMS is increasingly mission critical for Educational Institutions, has anyone gotten such an agreement from Blackboard, WebCT, etc?
Well we already have guaranteed rights to the source for Moodle, it is a much safer platform to build a long term business model on, when you know you have rights to keep using the source as long as you want to.
Further, Martin et al. have developed an increasingly viable business model similar to the successful MySQL model, which is providing for long term stability in the development cycle. And the more institutions that drop their six figure CMS licenses and contribute code or $$ back to the Moodle developers, the more viable and productive this model gets.
I think this is a very good argument in favor of open source. While open source is a relatively new form in the field of computer software, it actually has similar antecedents that go back decades and even thousands of years. For example, in my field of study, the most popular author among the general public is one whose works were written 100 years ago. Although they are hopelessly out of date and a good scholar wouldn't rely on them, they are also out of copyright, which means that anyone can republish them without paying a royalty, and republish they do, in large numbers.
I do research on magic in Egypt. There are magical formulas, which with some modifications as they are recopied, have been in use for thousands of years and are still used today. The fact that the magic "code" is "open source," means these texts continue to be used today.
Thus open source is actually a very old (and successful) model that only has been supressed in recent centuries with the creation of copyright and patents.
You raise a very important issue of management and decision-maker concerns (one of them being to cover their own backs). Obviously, the old maxim "Noone ever got sacked for buying IBM" still holds some sway. What may be useful is to surface the extent to which large organisations, such as Universities are already using Open Source (LINUX, web servers, PHP, mail clients, etc., etc.). I don't know of any specific educational institution case studies but there is a great case study by Prof Brian Fitzgerald and Tony Kenny about Beaumont Hospital.
Money talks and the quote "The OSS experience has been very successful in Beaumont, achieving savings of circa 4.7 million in the first year, and a further 8.3 million in continued savings on an ongoing basis over five years." is likely to grab attention.
IMHO, governments and LEAs should be supporting evaluated pilot studies that look at the possibility of more widespread adoption of OSS, based on what has been learned. This goes beyond Moodle vs Blackboard.
Personally, I think that commercial software has a role but that we should be looking at mutually benefical relationships between commercial software providers and OSS and whatever! I am happy that there is a book and media publishing industry, and that I as an academic have a relationship with it.
One of the issues that I find instructive here is how different the commercial software industry is from standard industry's--there is no equivalent in most areas of commerce equivalent to closed source code.
It would be as if in the publishing industry, you couldn't ever cite a passage, or indeed as if all books were audio books and you couldn't actually look at (or even transcribe) the actual text.
As others have pointed out, it's like buying a car with the hood welded shut and with it being against the law to break the welds to change a spark-plug.
In the sciences, folks often by equipment from a company, and then open it up and start modifying it for specialized uses. Our old electron microscope at HSU is kept running with parts custom built in our machine shop since the original manufacturer no longer makes parts.
On our Nikon batch slide scanner, we rigged it with a paper clip to run more slides in a batch.
All of these standard practices with commercial products are illegal with closed source software, it really is not a standard capitalist sort of industry. Thus OSS is not at all anti-capitalist or anti-industry, despite M$'s FUD dances, rather it is a free enterprise alternative to a very strange business model which is much more restrictive of what a 'customer' can do with with the product they have 'purchased' (quotes because when you read many software licenses you find you are more like a renter than a buyer) than in any other capitalist enterprise.
Open source software is no better than commercial software and potentionally more costly if you don't have the resources to update or fix the software. For example, with a small institution where Moodle may fit best at this time, to hire a developer skilled in PHP, mySQL is about $60,000 ($50,000 +$10,000 fringes) per year. Basic cost of a WebCT CE Focus license, somewhere between $7-10,000 per year depending on enrollment. Yes, I could probably contract a Moodle partner but that could easily be $7000 or more a year with no ongoing support.
The other issue I have with Moodle right now is "open source, but closed system" with proprietary-like integration features such as the quiz import and export supporting various weird formats except the open standard IMS QTI specification. This is where WebCT and to a lesser degree, Blackboard will still look favorably to decision makers with their strong growing support of open standards (http://www.webct.com/standards) and a set of APIs and SDKs based on the standards (http://www.webct.com/powerlinks/viewpage?name=powerlinks_development). Where's the Moodle API/SDK for integration without having to hack the code?
Right now as I see it, I think Moodle has a better chance of "imploding" than WebCT or Blackboard for the following reasons:
- A user interface that is not cohesive across all features and tools (a problem WebCT had until they started fixing it in CE version 3.x to 4.x)
- Minimal support for open standards, particulary IMS
- No API/SDK for integration
- Community-based development that often results in a "Camel or Horse designed by committee". Feature bloat also goes here.
Now, I should say I really like Moodle for many reasons. As part of a two-person research project with no money or access to the commercial course management systems for our research work, Moodle has been great. For smaller institutions with tight budgets and limited resources, Moodle is a good fit. I think the strength of the community will give it the long-term stability we see with other community driven open source projects such as Apache.
Moodle has the potential to "win" in many situations. But one has to be realistic that Moodle can't be the "do-all" for everyone. Even WebCT recognizes this by maintaining the CE line because Vista will not be a good fit for everyone.
Hi Bob, I'd say to of your points here are off.
First, you don't need "a developer skilled in PHP, mySQL" to run Moodle. Only if you are doing custom development or running >20,000 students online, you'll need some skilled help.
Basic cost of a WebCT CE Focus license, somewhere between $7-10,000 per year depending on enrollment.
Is the focus license hosted by WebCT? I know that for local licenses, you'll need to have a Server admin and a WebCT admin, which is about the same as you'd need for Moodle.
For our Blackboard basic license, we certainly need a skilled Microsoft server admin, and we need a Blackboard admin, and our support costs for Moodle are looking about the same as for Blackboard basic.
This means that for a 'small school' of 7-10,000 students, running Moodle is $7-10,000 cheaper than Blackboard basic b/c the admin and support costs are (in practice) about the same. Of course it is a good thing to take some of these savings and roll them back as development, but that is optional with Moodle.
A second point is integration with SIS and enrollment. Does the CE license allow you to integrate CE with your SIS? I know BB Basic doesn't, as well a number of tasks must be done manually which could be automated. A BB enterprise license would let us integrate and automate BB, but it would still require an Oracle developer to write the code. IIRC, this is the same with Vista (it can be integrated with Peoplesoft, Banner, etc. but you have to hire a developer or three to do the integration).
This means (for the case I know well, BB Enterprise), to integrate with our SIS, we would have to pay ~$100,000 yearly for the license, and then pay a developer to code it, w/as with Moodle we just need to pay the developer.
Further, our support costs for Moodle drop over time as we develop scripts to automate repetitive tasks, tasks (such as course set-up, backup, etc) which need to be done manually with BB Basic.
Does WebCT pay for SIS integration with either CE or VIsta, as part of your yearly license or do you have to pay for it yourself?
and a set of APIs and SDKs based on the standards
Can you use the API with CE? With BB, custom coding is only allowed with the Enterprise license, so you have to pay ~$100,000/year to be allowed to use or build "building blocks". We found that developing for Moodle is much cheaper than that.
Don't really want to get into a flame war over this but I will answer some of the questions you pose...
WebCT Campus Edition 4.1 runs on pretty much the same hardware as Moodle, from a Windows-based department server to a large Solaris system. The license I quoted is for a institution running their own system, not a hosted solution.
WebCT CE 4.1 is actually easier to install than Moodle as the web server comes "pre-packaged" in the install file. For a Windows system, double click on "setup.exe" answer a few questions and wait about 30 minutes. (I understand Martin is looking for someone to do something similar with Moodle.) I tried installing BB6 on a Windows server and gave up after 8 frustrating hours.
Server administration for CE is about the same as Moodle depending on the size of the institution, ranging from a faculty doing it on the side up to a server admin to manage the box and a WebCT admin for the course/user stuff.
WebCT CE has several APIs. The Standard API for basic user management is available in both the Focus and Enterprise license. The Standard API mimics several of the web-based administration and can be easily done with command line scripting. An IMS Enterprise API is available with the Enterprise license. "Drop in" integration is available for SCT Banner, Datatel Colleague and Peoplesoft with little or no custom programming required. Additional APIs allow for portal integration such as UPortal and CampusCruiser.
WebCT CE also supports the IMS Content Package specification and IMS QTI specification for integration with other applications including Moodle if someone could get IMS support built into Moodle. Yes, I know someone would say "write the code yourself" but that's the crux of the issue with no resources (time, money, skills) to "DIY".
Do I like WebCT? Yes, for many reasons. Do I like Moodle? Yes, for many other reasons. As one who comes from a technology (horticulture) where one "selects the best tool for the job", they both are very good CMSs and both are "winners" along the continuum that's e-learning.
"Drop in" integration is available for SCT Banner, Datatel Colleague and
Peoplesoft with little or no custom programming required. Additional APIs allow
for portal integration such as UPortal and CampusCruiser."
Have you tried this with Banner? Since Banner is so customizable,
from what I understand there is a good deal of work involved with
Banner due to the fact that many Banner installations have very
different database structures. I'm also interested in how this works in
practice with PS student, as that codebase seems to be a bit of a
moving target as well. I'm also not trying to start a flame war, but
are the statements above based on personal experience or from talking
to a rep (we've found that there is often some difference between what
the reps say the system can do and actual capabilities).
WebCT CE also supports the IMS Content Package specification and IMS QTI
specification for integration with other applications including Moodle if
someone could get IMS support built into Moodle.
The other issue we have here is that our
faculty haven't shown much interest in content packaging or packaged
content. Most of them seem to prefer to create their own course content
"scratch". So far content packaging seems
to be something that gets few higher ed faculty excited (in a positive way). If this is the case in more places, and Moodle dev. is (as it
seems to be) primarily driven by teachers/faculty wants and desires,
then it may be some time before these standards are implemented as a core function of Moodle.
What do you think of the work done by Bob Puffer and Jason Cole to transfer course content between Blackboard and Moodle via XML? To me this seems like it may be a more flexible way to support content portability as it allows one to map course items and activities between LMS's rather than require the LMS to globally support what may be a pedagogically limiting standard?
Or do you think an IMS module similar to the SCORM module would be a good way to keep the flexibility of Moodle while supporting the IMS standards?
Regarding QTI, what do you think of the work Gustav is doing to bring this to Moodle?
Well, if you can get your U to switch, for the cost of a few years of CE license or (for goodness sake) 1/2 a year of vista, I think support for content packaging or certainly an IMS or WebCT to Moodle converter along the lines of the BB converter could be done pretty easily. IOW, DIY doesn't have to mean 'write the code yourself'.
I've worked with Ziba Scott from Linuxbox on the Blackboard converter based on XSLT. Jason Cole did the work in the Java. Just to clarify what you probably already know (since I've seen a few recent conversations between you and Ziba).
Thanks for your work
WebCT CE 4.1 is actually easier to install than Moodle as the web server comes "pre-packaged" in the install file. For a Windows system, double click on "setup.exe" answer a few questions and wait about 30 minutes.
Martin is right about Fantastico. I have installed Moodle 1.4 in less than five minutes on several installations. Also for standalone servers, there are now three all-in-one installers of Moodle-Apache-MySQL-PHP on Windows. I suspect they take 30 minutes or less. Tony Hursh is working on a similar installer disk for Mac OS X. In our university, we need no staff to administer Moodle--it is incredibly cheap compared to our overall computer centre budget--which supports Microsoft Office and other network functions. So, Bob, I am glad you have found WebCT cheaper to run for you. That has not been the case for us.
I am producing a very involved, upper-level capstone course. Over the past 6 years it has resided on WebCT, Blackboard and now Moodle. This course has always been used as an ongoing research project into distance learning and autonomous learning. It must be understood that this course is never advertised as a "distance learning course" in the university catalog. The students learn of this on the first day when we meet in a physical classroom.
In the past, we have had a 50% student drop rate, each semester. This semester our drop rate was under 25%. All content is the same, what we changed was the delivery system (using Moodle now) and we added in the option of attending the 5 live classes either online or in a physical classroom.
The students who have previous experience with WebCT or Blackboard have almost universally accepted the Moodle system as a better way of doing things. The students without prior DL experience comment on how easy and intuitive things are.
As far as setting up Moodle, once I learned how to do it, it now takes me less than 10 minutes to set up a new site, from scratch. I think that is impossible in either WebCT or Blackboard. Comparisons of adding resources to a course can't be compared. Remember, the instructional staff have no desire to be programmers. Click and go.
Is Moodle perfect? Not at all. I find it frustrating and clumsy the way things are displayed at times. But considering that the course has been running 24/7 for 4 months, without a single software related interruption is amazing.
Here we go again: we are a group of 9 schools, with 4000 students and 600 workers. When we started with Moodle several years ago we first tested it on a Windows laptop, then bought our first Linuxserver with backup system and we hired per hour a linux expert to do the install. I am not a technician or a computerfreak, but since that day I run on my own that system, install Moduls and Blocks,do some windowdressing on my own, have time to organise an eLearning team of teachers to cover the educational part of the adventure, visit conferences (I was at Valkenburg conference for three days when we did a server migration: algebra filter did not came up: one email to the Moodle community and it was fixed, costs: 0 cents, 1 THANK YOU),
I have meetings with the school administration about integrating Moodle in the schooladmin system, I attend many meetings at the schools to help to change the educational system and spot things that I could improve in Moodle to help our teachers on that road, I support the central Board in their choices with plans, I support one day in the week the teacher training center of the local University in their eLearning efforts. I am (a sleeping ) member of a Dutch educational standardisation organisation (NEN), I talk with many publishers and other schools about our approach and how we can cooperate. I visit schools to tell them about our Approach with Moodle and let me inspire by their solutions. On Saterday I do the groceries, I help my family with the dishes, the homework, I attend the violin concerts of my two daughters, visit our families in different parts of the country, and on Sunday I walk with my wife in the local woods.
We calculated that WE SAVE 10.000 Euro EACH YEAR only on licences if I compare Moodle with the cheapest commercial competitor (and that is NOT WebCT!). Our other costs for server, bandwith, networksupport, glasfiber between the 9 schools, wireless radio network spread over the whole city and Backups are the same as yours. That money we use to hire php-expertise perhour to make for us our local additions for our educational approach. For the website we use another Open Source Tool Typo3, only the admin system is a commercial one. (Dutch: Magister)
"Most boards prefer to buy a product from a company, so in case of failure they can point to that company. Our Board has more courage."
Oops I forgot, what was your point?
"what was your point?"
I was trying to show that there are still many things going for commerical CMSs and that in some situations (note the words "in some situations"), the commercial CMS may be the better option. In other situations, as you have found, a community driven open source CMS is the better option.
When I taught horticulture including golf course management, we spent a lot of time on equipment selection. From my own golf course work experience, one of the best mowers I ever used came from Europe. Price was very reasonable too. However, the more expensive, second best "red" mower was the better option because the dealer was just down the road with a large "on call" service department. Getting repair parts out of Europe would be one or two months. (For those who don't know the ins and outs of golf course maintenance, golf greens need to be mowed daily. Missing a few days can mean major problems with not only irate golfers but the health of the grass).
So the point is there are many factors with selecting a CMS besides the "cost" of the license, particularly when e-learning becomes a core service at the institution (some people call it "mission critical" but we ain't NASA ).
You make a good point on service. Once again we must compare apples to apples. I have, on several occasions needed to contact tech support for WebCT or Blackboard. There have been many instances where I am put on continual hold or have to leave voice mail for someone that may or may not call back. In conversations with tech support personnel at the two big commercial companies, I will often get the "it must be a hardware or operating system problem". This is the level of service that is provided to a major southern university that has a substantial investment in both of the commercial systems.
Now, with Moodle. During my entire learning curve I have asked numerous questions to this board. In almost all cases I have received replies within an hour or two. Many of my requests are simply "off the wall" and I know these would have been ignored by a commercial developer. With this support forum, I have, in all but 2 instances received detailed answers and solutions in less than 24 hours.
I didn't "pay" for the software (but did donate) and I don't pay for support. Yet I consider the support provided at a higher level that that received from the commercial enterprises.
As to hiring a php/sql person, I would assume that any institution of any size that runs its own website or has an IT or computer science department would have the available resources already in place. A small location can contract with a freelancer at a small price. When I first started using Moodle, I had never worked with php and I'm still not very good with it, but I have been able to alter many code components simply by following the advice of forum members.
Just some thoughts from the other side of midnight...
The matter of fact is that many commercial software vendors, make profits from selling the product. But for the Open Source software industry selling services is the only revenue channel. Thus, providing good support service is the whole business of FOSS companies, not just a secondary target.
As others in this thread has indicated, the grade of support provided by community alone is actually better that most commercial suppliers. And you can get even more services if you pay for them.
Our experience with WebCT (sorry, just a fact) in Spain is not very good. WebCT staff in Spain phone you every other day when the term of the contract is within a couple of months, to remember you to renew it. But can delay for that couple of months to call you back after a support incidence. Actually, they do not seem to have support people at Spain, but to redirect everything to USA. Very similar to your golf example, but in thr opposite direction. We have got much better support from Australia and New Zealand, actually the farthest possible country from Spain) than from WebCT Spain.
- Enrique -
Here in Sapporo--the farthest corner of Japan, we have a Moodle programmer who can be at our doorstep in one hour. We have never needed him for emergencies, but we use him to make new modules. He is not yet a Moodle Partner (there are 3-4 in Japan--which by the way is a very strong support organisation spanning every major nation), and he is very cheap. He told us he would charge us US$50 per hour for upgrades and emergency work. Fujitsu charges a minimum $150/hour. Funny, though, even at those inexpensive rates, we don't need him because the upgrades have been so easy.
Oh, and did I mention there is Moodle Security Centre? Thanks to that team's eagle-eye work, there has never been a security breakdown/hack into Moodle. Am I correct about that, guys?
So, are there any reasons left to prefer a commercially licensed CMS? Not maintenance, not stability, not total cost of operation. Only maybe features, right? Is there a CMS with better features than Moodle? Not yet for our university. Though I have heard a new one is coming that will beat the pants off of Moodle 1.4. Something called 1.5.
Yes, service is important AND FREE ACCESS TO THE CODE: when we needed that we first asked Martin todo a job for money, but he had no time. And then we asked several Dutch companies to do a proposal for a Moodle related project: we did NOT choose the cheapest, we decided to accept the most expensive one, because it looked more professional. (..and since that day we try - as good Dutchmen - to get reduction )
We now have our changes WELL DOCUMENTED.
As I see it the whole reason to go with a pre-created LMS instead of making one yourself is to avoid hiring someone with the skills described above. I'm not sure exactly why a "small institution" would need one to run moodle. If they had something specific to get done, they could easily hire someone on contract over the internet for a fraction of that price.
The installation itself requires minimal technical skills (careful reading and some experience with PHP). And good curriculum design is done in the planning phase, not in the availability of fabulous technology.
(Not that these was anything bad or unexpected about the response to Bob's view, Moodle community is by and large characterized by its maturity.)
I feel Bob did a good job point out weaker points in Moodle. This is very valuable information to any developer. Now, I don't agree with all that Bob said. For some points I simply lack the required knowledge to have an opinion, on some points just I disagree. Points about the incohesive user interface and the development model as a committee are of the later sort. The UI could be better, but it isn't that bad right now, and the problems are acknowledged and, from my perspective, taken seriously. Any development model can lead to "design by committee", feature-bloat etc. I would say that open source model of a bazaar + strong leader is more resistant to such dangers than any other that I can quickly think of.
One of Bob's points I would like expand on. There is no SDK/API for integration and/or custom development. This is probably because need for SDK/API in a open source product isn't comparable to the need for one in a closed-source product. In principle, whatever you can do with a SDK/API in closed-source product, you can do with the actual source code in an open source. However, SDK/API isn't just about access to the insides of a product; it's also about not having to access the insides. Having the source code is required but not enough to being actually able to use the source code.
In my experience the Moodle code base is quite a beast. Maybe not any worse than any product of its size and probably better than many. Still I have found the learning curve quite steep. Now, my knowledge of the Moodle code base is still rather cursory and my only experience with PHP is from reading Moodle code. So, while I consider myself a skilled software engineer, I might not be the best person to make such statements.
This spring a group of software engineering students has been working on a Moodle related project for me. I have found it more difficult than expected to offer them guidance. As a result, while a great learning experience, the project will probably not produce any code useful to Moodle community.
During Easter Holidays I spend several hours tracking down a particular bug in the wiki module. I think I did make some progress and I hope my work and bug report is useful to the module maintainers. I even came up with a fix that appears to solve the problem for me. However, I really couldn't say that I understand in any deep way how the wiki module works. I have debugged much worse code, but never has it been so difficult for me to follow the flow of the program. Maybe it was just that I'm quite new to PHP, but LAMP-stack(P=Python) is quite familiar to me and picking up new languages on the fly hasn't been problem before ... *shrug* Seriously though, a doubt about ewiki has been planted in my mind. Wikis are a large part of I how want information systems to work in an educational institution. Can this ewiki-based Moodle module be part of that or should I start looking elsewhere? (Not outside Moodle, but to bring some other Wiki into Moodle. I don't have a clue, and I don't like not having a clue.)
I don't know, maybe I'm going about this the wrong way. Maybe I should stick to facilitating eLearning, educating teachers, making sure that technology serves pedagogy, but I'm a software engineer, damn it! The hood is there, I have to look under it.
(Numbers below are hypothetical, but reasonable.)
The resources I directly have to put into Moodle development in all its forms (new code, debugging, documentation, writing on these boards, integration with other systems etc.) aren't much, maybe 10-20% of my time and a few thousand euros of tax-payers money. Projects with independent funding will come and go, pushing "my Moodle dev resource" to maybe 25% of my time and 10-20k yearly. This is not enough to get anything significant done by itself, nor really enough to establish a relationship with an outside developer. There are bound to be numerous organizations, tens in Finland alone, in a similar position. I content that currently these resources are wasted because they are used piecemeal, in tiny overlapping projects, without strategy, in a word: inefficiently.
An economist might say that we are lacking working market for Moodle development services that would allow us to decide the "what, how and to who" is produced. (Well, I guess because I said it than anyone who took Economics 101 might say it, and real economist might say something else. ) This is, btw, I believe the reason proprietary software is still around in large volumes: they have better markets - and the advantage is possibly inherit in the system, as they have all-money economy, while ours is a part barter, a part money and a part Something Else(TM). Anyways, in absence of a working market, which we can't just will to be, there are two things that can be done.
First is pooling resources. Anyone with development needs and resources should seek others with similar needs. This leads to less overlap and the ability to do bigger projects. There is overhead involved in this too, because of the effort expended to create "the pool".
Second way, and I'm finally getting back to my point, is to make it easier and less costly to participate in Moodle development. If Moodle code base was easier to understand sufficiently, then a coder will be productive more quickly and, possibly more importantly, eLearning administrator paying the bills will be better informed what actually is needed and be able to make better decisions. A good SDK/API will make development easier, although so will good documentation (Go Przemyslaw!).
I have watched this one for a while, and I think it would be safe to say a product that causes this much activity is credible. Also, there appears to be more people going to Moodle than leaving Moodle. A clear indicator of success. I have used many of the majors and Moodle can hold its' own against them. It even excels in many areas.
As for the short-comings, every application has them. If you used early versions of any of the major market apps you will understand what I mean. Moodle has already surpassed those early versions and it is still in a development up-swing.
I like Moodle and I have used WebCT, Blackboard, Lotus Learning Space, and IBM LMS. Their support is lacking because they only have so many technicians available to help.
Many of the posts in this thread have some validity, but I think at this point the debate over whether Moodle has won is mute. I mean, who cares lets use it because it is cheap, excellent, fills a need, efficient, you get the source so you can enhance it a little, and there is a huge community of support technicians and developers to fall back on.
I am watching Universities in Georgia and the South East move to Moodle and Learning Space users move to Moodle as well. LS users typically have lots of cash. They are moving for the capabilities and the longevity.
There are issues with Moodle that are minor, but what application under development does not have any issues? Bottom line is it takes as much or more effort to maintain WebCT, Blackboard, and a whole lot more effort to maintain IBM LMS. Oh yeah Moodle has the lowest entry level when it comes to cost. It is also scalable with open technologies like clustering.
Check out my comparison to LMS and Learning Space.
But the real question is how can Moodle lose? It takes an enourmous flow of money to keep a commercial enterprise afloat, so there is a much greater danger of commerical alternatives stagnating and ceasing. For example, BB could beat out WebCT or vice versa. More to the point, Moodle offers a better value proposition and is likely to beat out both of them. When sufficient cash no longer flows, companies get bought up by their competitors or the owners try to maximize their return on investment by halting further innovation and milking the locked-in user base. Where does that scenario leave these decision makers?
Graham raised another issue: "Briefly, the other principal issue is having a vendor to pin down should problems arise over, for example, security."
There is no such thing as pinning a vendor down. When a security hole is found, the vendors have a responsibility to their investors to weigh the investment(cost of the fix) against the expected risks (threats to cash flow)and benefits (revenue from upgrade). Many vendors attempt to minimize investment by relying on security through obscurity. They simply sue under trade-secrets laws anyone who divulges the resulting security gaps -- see for example http://news.com.com/Court+blocks+security+conference+talk/2100-1028_3-996836.html
I'm in the process of completing my Moodle experiment at the University of South Florida. According to the students (24 in the course), it beat both WebCT and Blackboard, hands-down.
The course is about the interactions of science, technology and society. This course is a very time intensive course for students. It is a 4 credit hour, upper level, capstone course for secondary science education and an interdisciplinary course for all fields. In the course students provide a weekly journal entry and must comment on three of their colleague's entries (48 postings minimum). They develop a weekly media watch and comment, where they find a story in some form of media relating to STS and report on it (24 postings). The students must watch 11 hours of streamed videos (the Connections series) and report on them. They attend 5 live classes, either physically or virtually using NEW and then provide exit memos giving their reflections on the class.
During this they also develop a variety of projects. This semester that included developing a case study or lesson plan relating to ocean sciences. They then created a project where they addressed information they took from the U.S. Ocean Commission Policy recommendations. Their final presentation is anything they want to do relating to STS interactions in the real world. They also had to engage in 2 "site visits" where they would go to a business, school or any physical environment and report on the STS interactions they witnessed there. They use an 8 page self-evaluation for their midterm, where they have to give themselves a grade, justify it and back it up with evidence. Meaning that they had to go back through all of their postings and review. Moodle made this a breeze. In the past, with WebCT and Blackboard, it was a nightmare for the students.
All related information and data was provided online, no text books are required in this course. We have spent over 6 years developing the research materials for this course. Materials consisted of over 2,300 pages of text, 22 hours of streaming audio/video and several software products. Moodle allowed me to create a "Virtual Resource Center" that was easily developed, used and controlled. That was never the case in the past.
In that past 6 years, approximately 50% of the initial students in each of the 8 produced classes withdrew. This semester we had less than a 30% withdrawl rate. The only difference was the method in which the course was delivered--Moodle vs WebCT/Blackboard. Students appreciated the automated reminders of upcoming activities, the way the forums worked and the ease of operations. In a survey comparison, not one student who had used one of the commerical LMS products scored it higher than Moodle.
Now, what about my side of the equation. I initially converted the Blackboard course (which was a conversion of the WebCT site). It took me about 1 week to get things working properly prior to the course starting. During the first 5 weeks, I probably spent about 20 hours a week watching the site, keeping up on things and general maintenance. That seems like a lot of time for one course, but remember that this was my first exposure to Moodle, and I was running it from servers at my house. By the 6th week, the time I spent on the course had dropped to about 8 hours per week. By the end, I'm averaging about 7 hours a week, total. This is because I figured out how to do so many things using semi-automatic functions I didn't realize existed when I started and I felt more secure in the software.
Over the past 14 weeks, I can not attribute a single system failure related to Moodle (using 1.43/1.44). There were a couple due to hardware problems or me messing around with my computers, but none due to Moodle. I've never had that happen with the "big gun" commercial systems.
So, there it is. The students loved it, I loved it. Can't beat the price either.