NC State University Enterprise Learning Technologies update
Contributions from: Dr. Donna Petherbridge, Dr. Martin Dulberg, Stacy Gant, David Howard, Jeff Webster, Laura Stephenson, Bill Hicks, Daniel L’Hommedieu, Drew Davidson & Thomas Zack
As we complete the fall 2010 semester, we continue moving forward with our Learning Management System (LMS) transition from Blackboard Vista to Moodle. At the same time, we continue to make progress on a single point of entry for our enterprise-level, Web-based instructional systems for students and faculty (https://wolfware.ncsu.edu). There are a number of changes we’ve made during the fall semester, and several that we are planning that we would like to share with you.
This article will include updates for the following:
- LMS Committees
- WolfWare as a Single Point of Entry for Web-based Learning Tools
- reVAMP (Vista Migration) & Vista
- Upcoming LMS Maintenance Windows
- Education and Training
- WolfWare Toolbox: Grade Submission for Moodle
- WolfWare Toolbox: Course Request
- WolfWare: Additional Feature Requests
- Recently Completed Work on LMSs
- Upcoming Work on LMSs
The LMS Committees (Steering, College Needs and Policy, Technical, and Best Practices and Support) are comprised of both DELTA staff and members of the NC State community. They continue to provide the governance that sets the direction for NC State’s LMS tools. In the spring they will be looking at a number of important issues such as prioritizing feature requests and determining the best use of development resources, evaluating changes needed for Moodle 2.0, looking at new roles that allow college representatives enough administrative rights to help faculty in their units, a course retention policy, and other issues that arise as we move forward. Policies and documentation from these committees can currently be accessed from: https://wolfware.ncsu.edu/sops/
WolfWare as a Single Point of Entry for Web-based Learning Tools
The WolfWare entry page was designed to provide students and instructors with a singular place to access not only student course schedules, but a range of functions which include but are not limited to: announcements, training, and LMS/Web-based learning tools for NC State-licensed and supported tools. We continue to make changes as we receive feedback for improvements (for example, you only see the announcement section now when there are announcements, minimizing empty screen space).
We are still investigating integrations that require students to only authenticate one time in moving between all of the Web-based tools, and integrations between the tools that will help them work more closely with each other and appear more seamless to the user. How to integrate certain externally-hosted tools and services, such as WebAssign and the publisher websites that some faculty use, continue to remain a challenge. Even though we are supporting the concept of Moodle as our primary Learning Management System (and dropping Vista altogether at the end of this semester), there will always be additional tools that instructors may choose to use. Our goal, however, remains to make the Web-based instructional toolkit as seamless as possible to our users, and available from one place.
ReVAMP is a program developed to assist faculty in migrating their courses from Vista to Moodle. We’ve completed nearly 400 course migration requests (Vista –> Moodle) to date, and currently have 67 active requests in our queue. Starting in January, anyone who has a course in Vista can apply for migration assistance, regardless of college affiliation. All courses must be moved off the Vista server by June 2011. Spring 2011 is the last semester in which Blackboard Vista will be available. We are well on track to have everyone migrated from Vista by May 2011.
Usage of Vista has gone from approximately 1,150 sections during spring 2010 to 450 in fall 2010 and we expect the numbers to continue to drop as we move toward the end of life of this system.
More information for those needing assistance in transitioning from Vista to Moodle can be found at:
Upcoming LMS Maintenance Windows
Moodle released version 1.9.10 in late October (we are currently using version 1.9.9). According to the release notes, over 100 minor bugs/issues were corrected in the code. As with any Moodle release, we have a detailed process to test and implement our campus changes and customizations, and to verify that the plugins and blocks we have installed work as expected with the updated versions. As we finish testing, if all goes well, we will be updating to Moodle 1.9.10 during the maintenance window on December 18. With this upgrade, there are no changes in the interface from the user’s perspective.
Moodle 2.0 was recently released by Moodle.org. Because of a substantial change in the underlying architecture of the software, and the need to make extensive modifications to the software to work within our environment, it will take us approximately 8-12 months to investigate and deploy Moodle 2.0 at NC State. We will keep you posted as we make progress testing Moodle 2.0, and making the modifications necessary to integrate it with our Student Information Systems, modify our themes to fit the architecture, update our backup systems and make any other changes needed to make it work reliably and effectively across campus. We will be working with our LMS committees in this process.
Education and Training
DELTA staff continue to work to expand our LMS training offerings for instructors. We now have 7 different Moodle Workshops that are available either as face-to-face courses or as online offerings. Please visit the link above to view current offerings, register for a workshop or view a workshop online at your convenience.
By now, most Elluminate users are aware that Blackboard has acquired both Elluminate and Wimba. Currently, NC State has an enterprise Elluminate license valid through March 2012, and Blackboard has indicated in their roadmap that they will support Elluminate version 10, the product our campus currently uses, until December 2012. Elluminate is a heavily used tool on our campus and our clients have primarily reported that it works well, and they are happy with this tool. We had the opportunity to meet with Blackboard, Elluminate and Wimba representatives at EDUCAUSE 2010 and we look forward to evaluating the combined Elluminate/Wimba product when it is available around June 2011.
We continue to get excellent support from Elluminate and have every expectation that we will continue to as they merge the two products together. The LMS Steering Committee will continue to keep an eye on Elluminate, and look to evaluate synchronous learning products as we get closer to the expiration of our license.
WolfWare Toolbox: Grade Submission from Moodle
Instructors who have stored final grades in Moodle’s gradebook can use the new WolfWare grade submit tool, which went initially went live for the College of Veterinary Medicine on November 19, 2010 for initial testing, and all of campus on December 4, 2010. WolfWare’s grade submit tool lets instructors submit grades directly from Moodle to Registration & Record’s student information system. The tool can be used during the period that Registration & Records has designated for grade submission.
WolfWare’s grade submit tool can be found by starting at https://wolfware.ncsu.edu/. In the right hand column under the heading, ‘TOOLS’, first click on ‘For Instructors’, next click on ‘WolfWare Toolbox’, and finally click on ‘Grade Submit’.
Upon selecting an individual course, you may see the class roster for more than one section. This is because one or more NCSU sections can be represented within a single Moodle space (this can be useful, for example, when an instructor wants to share course material between several sections). All grades are extracted from a Moodle space, segregated by NCSU section, and sorted alphabetically by student last and first name. Although Moodle provides a variety of ways to calculate, aggregate and display grades, the Moodle system administrator at NCSU has set the global defaults such that the course total is displayed as a letter grade (from ‘A+’ through ‘F’ and including ‘AU’, ‘NR’, ‘S’, and ‘U’ as appropriate) for submission to Registration & Records.
An online workshop is available for Using the Moodle Gradebook.
WolfWare Toolbox: Course Request
The Course Request portion of WolfWare Toolbox will enable instructors to request a Moodle space for their course and specify the initial settings. In future iterations, instructors will be able to use the Course Request tool to enable other tools or capabilities for their space, such as unstructured Web space.
The WolfWare Course Request tool will be accessed by visiting https://wolfware.ncsu.edu/. In the right hand column under “TOOLS”, click “For Instructors”, then click “WolfWare Toolbox”, and finally click “Course Request”.
Faculty can currently request a Moodle section by accessing the “Manage Moodle” page in Wolfware. The new WolfWare course request tool will be deployed January 15, 2011.
If instructors want to add NCSU sections to their Moodle space so that course material may be shared between them, they are able to add selected sections from a list, as well as view the class roster for each section. Also, instructors may add people to the space in various roles (for example, student, instructor, or support). A search field makes it easy to find people by name or Unity ID so the correct person can be added quickly. People and class rosters that have been added can also be easily removed from a space.
Instructors may also configure the initial Moodle settings when creating their space. A Moodle format may be chosen, either topic format or weekly format. The start and end dates for the Moodle space may be set, as well as separate visibility start and end dates. In addition, a Moodle theme may be chosen from a list of pre-defined NCSU themes that are displayed in a handy theme preview.
After the Moodle settings have been saved, instructors may then use the tool to edit the additional people, additional rosters, or visibility dates for their space.
WolfWare: Additional Feature Requests
Our goal is to provide robust and reliable enterprise learning technologies that meet the educational needs of the campus community in an efficient and cost-effective manner. To continue to improve our systems, we need to get your feedback about enhancements and improvements that we can make to our tools.
We currently have a rudimentary feature request system in place and are designing a system that will enable us to provide everyone with a transparent look at the feature request and implementation process so that anyone in the community can view the requests we’ve received along with the status, disposition and any other comments made as feature requests move through the process, which is governed through our LMS committees. We also envision this system as a way to make bug reporting and tracking more visible.
DELTA staff have been working diligently on the Mediasite Service plan for campus, which will be piloted with the College of Management and select ClassTech classrooms in spring 2011. Services offered encompass the acquisition, setup, and delivery of rich media presentations for academic departments and other units.
Use of Mediasite continues on grow on campus. Currently approximately 50 recorders in eight different colleges/units are connected to the Mediasite server infrastructure, but we will be connecting approximately 80 additional recorders during the spring and summer 2011. During the fall 2010, 5749 unique users (40% increase from spring 2010) viewed 7,564 presentations (34% increase from spring 2010) for a total of 208,021 views (37% increase from spring 2010).
To arrange an informational meeting, obtain pricing information, define a scope of services or learn more about any aspect of the Mediasite services, please contact Laura Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently Completed Work on LMSs
Over the fall semester, several updates were made to Moodle and WolfWare, including:
- A few small adjustments to the Moodle database (MySQL) to increase performance on the system as a whole
- Installation of the Respondus plugin in Moodle to help with quizzing and assessments
- Implementation of wording changes, theme updates, and UTF-8 symbol support (which are useful in certain equations) across systems.
- Addition of a Set Home Page URL tool in the WolfWare Toolbox to enable instructors to point their students to a course website that they created for their course outside of WolfWare. At this point, 40 instructors have used this, with 12 having set their course to an alternate URL such as a departmental server or for faculty who are using both Moodle and WolfWare Classic but want their students to start in WolfWare Classic.
- Launching Grade Submit for the College of Veterinary Medicine on November 19, 2010, and all of campus December 4, 2010.
- An updated grading scale on December 4, 2010 to match campus standard practice.
- Corrected some issues in the synchronization of Student Information Systems (SIS) and Moodle enrollments that affected Moodle courses that combined multiple SIS sections. The issue resulted in students not consistently being removed when no longer enrolled in the course.
- Pilot test with the College of Veterinary Medicine related to local administrative access in Moodle to support college level admin needs.
Upcoming Work on LMSs
We have many changes planned for the near future, and we continue to work with the LMS committees and the campus through the feature request process to determine and prioritize needs. Some of the changes that are coming soon include:
- The WolfWare Toolbox will add a Course Request/Course Management tool in January 2011 (described in detail above). This will replace the existing Moodle Integrations code. As part of this change, some adjustments to the process for creating and managing courses in Moodle are being made based on feedback on the current Integrations tool over the last year. This new tool also changes the creation from being Moodle specific to being a WolfWare course space with Moodle turned on. This will allow us to continue to add tools to WolfWare in the future while using one request/management tool for all of them.
- We continue to explore ways to build well-designed courses in Moodle. Specifically we are exploring:
- Methods for reducing the amount of scrolling in Moodle courses
- Ways to present content in Moodle that are easy to maintain, visually pleasing and provide context for important information.
- How to use the Glossary and Lesson tools to enrich the student experience in Moodle.
- Another area that we have been looking into is space utilization and monitoring. The current size of Moodle data is around 1.2 TB and growing at a rather linear rate of about 100GB every 4-5 weeks. Andjust to give an idea of how big that is, the entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress is only about 8 times bigger!
- We have been doing research into various system architecture changes related to MySQL, primarily around caching and using solid state drives (SSD) for the primary data storage. The SSDs look very promising and should be able to keep up with the performance needs for the immediate future. Another possibility for increasing performance is by utilizing the large amounts of memory on the primary MySQL servers by increasing MySQL cache sizes and using technologies like Memcached. Memcached is a system often used to speed up dynamic database-driven websites by caching data and objects in RAM to reduce the number of times external data must be read.
- We are investigating the implications of Moodle 2.0 on existing WolfWare themes. We’re also looking into developing a new icon set for use with Moodle 2.0. We’re developing visual styles for content areas in the College Abstract themes for use on the Moodle home page and in the book tool, including development of a set of larger icons that will allow continuity within these themes. This work will create greater consistency between courses in content areas to improve student comprehension and overall ease of use.
- We will be working with the LMS committees to identify the top priorities identified for WolfWare feature requests (see https://wolfware.ncsu.edu/feature-request/) and implementing those requests as feasible. We will also spent some time differentiating between new features that are being requested vs. possible or known bugs and make that more visible to our users.
- We have a scheduled wrap-up meeting and report of findings from the college level admin access pilot with the College of Veterinary Medicine, with plans to move forward for access in other colleges to be determined in January, 2011.
If you have any questions or concerns about the LMSs, please contact our LMS Coordinator, Dr. Martin Dulberg, at email@example.com.