Category Archives: Moodle

Free and low-cost Moodle hosting options

MoodleEvery year, web hosting and installing web apps becomes less technically demanding, quicker, and simpler and it’s getting to the point nowadays where it’s a consumer level endeavour. Here’s a few of the easiest low-cost options for hosting Moodle that I’ve seen so far.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the hosting providers mentioned in this article, neither am I endorsing any of their services. I’m citing them, without prejudice, as examples of types of Moodle hosting and they are by no means the best or only options that are available.

Why not use a regular web hosting service?

By “regular” I mean website hosting providers like GoDaddy, BlueHost, HostGator, etc. that are aimed at individuals and small businesses who only want to set up and blog or website to offer information, contact details, product and service catalogues, shopping carts, news, small downloads, etc.

Moodle 2.x is a large, powerful, and resource hungry piece of software. It’s a content management system, contacts and messaging management system, course management system, and can deploy multiple instances of discussion forums, wikis, blogs, presentations, documentation, multimedia resources, etc.. In other words, it requires a web hosting service that is more powerful than what most websites do. Using a regular web hosting service for Moodle is like using a car when you need a truck. The price gap between a website that runs WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal (a shared hosting service from about $5 per month) to a website that can handle Moodle (dedicated servers from about $80 per month) is a large jump and prohibitive to people who just want to try it out or run small, experimental, and/or exploratory projects (e.g. for research).

Are there cheaper ways to host or use Moodle?

Yes, there are. Here’s a few examples:

FreeMoodle.org FreeMoodle.org

If you’re a complete beginner and just want to try out Moodle as a teacher and course content developer, and/or curriculum developer, you can get started for free with FreeMoodle.org. This service has been running consistently and, as far as I know, under the same terms of service for as long as I’ve been using Moodle (Since 2006).

Pricing: Free for your own course(s) but very limited admin controls or privileges and on your courses only.

Link: http://www.freemoodle.org/

If you don’t need an online Moodle and only want it for personal use, you can install it on your personal computer, on Windows, OS X, or Linux. Please see this article: Update: Do you want to get started with Moodle?

In the past few months, I’ve come across a couple of new Moodle hosting service providers that I think offer good value for money. They are:

MDLSpot.com

This is a shared hosting service which runs one installation of the Moodle software but creates multiple instances of Moodle so that everyone can set up their very own Moodle and have admin access and control over the entire instance (WordPress.com operates in a similar way). AFAIK, you can’t install any 3rd party plugins or extensions yourself, so you’re limited to what standard Moodle can do “out of the box” plus a few “pre-approved” plugins and extensions.

Pricing: They don’t publish their pricing but they informed me that they charge something similar to Amazon Web Services usage rates (you pay per hour for what resources you use) which starts at around $200 USD per year. I suggest contacting them to confirm exactly how much your Moodle hosting would cost and what plugins and extensions they make available.

Link: http://www.mdlspot.com/

MDL2.comMDL2.com

This is an advertising supported service, i.e. free if you allow advertising in your courses (which may or may not be appropriate). Again, you get your own “out of the box” Moodle and have admin access to it.

Pricing: Advertising supported

Link: http://www.mdl2.com/

Here’s a list of free and ad supported Moodle hosting services.

Bitnami.comBitnami.com

Bitnami.com are more than just a Moodle hosting service. They’re a full cloud hosting service provider, mostly aimed at web developers, that have also developed a number of consumer level, user friendly website installation systems and services. If you create a Moodle instance with them, you get a virtual private server (VPS) which allows you sysadmin level access. This gives you almost complete freedom to install and add whatever features to Moodle and also install other software alongside it, meaning you can do some very advanced things with Bitnami that most low-cost web hosting services don’t allow.

BTW, Moodle is designed to be run on a “LAMP stack” (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) so Windows hosting options are not advisable.

Pricing: https://bitnami.com/cloud/pricing (See the FAQs at the bottom of the page; They offer very favourable terms and conditions). A “micro instance” with Moodle installed starts at around $200 USD per year.

AWS pricing: http://aws.amazon.com/pricing/ If you’ve ever bought anything from Amazon, e.g. books, movies, electronics, or whatever, you already have an Amazon account. All you have to do is activate an Amazon Web Services account.

Link: https://bitnami.com/stack/moodle

Finally

These are just a few examples of the options available and there are many more. If you know of any others or are a service provider that offers low-cost hosting services capable of supporting Moodle (2.5 and later), please let me know.

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Update: Do you want to get started with Moodle?

BitNami MoodleBack in 2012 I wrote the article, Do you want to get started with Moodle? which turned out to be one of the most read and most cited articles on this blog. A lot has happened with software and web tools in the following two years so I’ve decided to write an update to it. I’ll be featuring a free and open source localhost server and web app installers from BitNami. For the record, I have no affiliation with BitNami or anyone from BitNami and have had no contact with them about writing this article.

Why run Moodle on your computer?

There are many benefits to having your own version of Moodle on your personal computer. Here are a few examples:

  • An easy way to try out and learn to use Moodle for free without making any commitments, renting servers, etc.
  • A safe sandbox where you can try things out before putting them out on the world wide web.
  • An offline environment where you can create, develop and test learning activities, resources, and courses in private before uploading them onto a public server.
  • Moodle pages will load faster, shortening the time it takes to develop activities, resources, and courses.
  • Install, test, and make sure that 3rd party Moodle plugins and services work as expected and meet your specific needs on your computer rather than on a public server.

Why write this update?

Since I wrote the original article, I’ve run into some technical difficulties with more recent versions of the localhost server (Wampserver) software I originally recommended, especially for running more recent versions of Moodle, e.g. 2.5 and 2.6. In my search for solutions I came across a number of other developers and Moodle users that were having similar issues. The solutions were far from simple or easy to resolve and so I thought it would be a good idea to find something simpler, easier, and less problematic to run Moodle on your local computer.

Why BitNami?

BitNami provides free and open source localhost installers that anyone can install and get working with the minimum of technical knowledge and, as you’ll see later in this article, the process is about as simple as it can be. There are two main options to get started with BitNami and Moodle. Let’s get started…

Option 1: Install Moodle only

The first and simplest is the all-in-one Moodle installer (-AMP stack + Moodle), which is available on Linux, Windows, and Mac. Download the appropriate one for your operating system, run it, and follow the onscreen instructions.

Important! When you have completed the installation process and you have your Moodle installation up and running and you are logged in, edit your user profile, change your user name and password, and write them down. If you don’t, you can end up getting locked out of your Moodle when you log out and have to uninstall and go through the installation process again.

Option 2: Install Moodle + other web apps

Using the previous installation method makes it difficult to install other web apps alongside Moodle, e.g. WordPress, Joomla, or ownCloud. Luckily, BitNami provides a basic “-AMP stack” installer (AMP = Apache + MySQL + PHP) which allows you to install any number of web apps along side each other. This provides a base localhost server that you can install Moodle and other web apps onto:

Important! The BitNami -AMP stack installer will ask you to provide a database password. Write your database password down and keep it in a safe place. You’ll need it to install Moodle and other web apps. Now you’re ready to install Moodle. Here are the modules to download and run that install Moodle on your -AMP stack:

Important! Again, as with the stand-alone Moodle installer, when you have completed the installation process and you have your Moodle installation up and running, and you’re logged in, edit your user profile, change your user name and password, and write them down.

Moodle logoWhat’s next?

If you’re new to learning management systems in general and/or Moodle, please be aware that they are large, complicated, but powerful and flexible software and so it takes time and effort to learn to use them. Be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whatever your interest or area of expertise, there are many books, tutorials, and courses available to help get you started. I also recommend:

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Using chat to facilitate more interactive classes

chatHere’s how you can make your face to face lessons more inclusive and interactive quickly and simply by using a chat session during class, and open up a range of benefits that aren’t immediately apparent.

How does it work?

Before a face to face lesson or lecture begins, the tutor/teacher/TA opens or schedules a chat room in the course on the school’s, organisation’s, college’s, university’s, or institution’s Moodle*. All the class participants login and join the chat session. They can use their laptops, netbooks, or mobile devices. Now everyone can submit questions, requests, and comments and everyone can see each others’ during the lesson or lecture.

*Or any chat client on an elearning platform that has appropriate user management, privacy, and oversight facilities (e.g. most commercial chat services such as Facebook, Google+ don’t allow right of audit, which is necessary addressing ethical and behavioural issues), and that admins, teachers, TAs, and learners can access transcripts of previous sessions for learning and professional development (PD) purposes.

How does this affect the classroom dynamic?

  • All learners, even in a relatively large class, have the opportunity to participate in significant and meaningful ways.
  • Learners don’t have to raise their hands to interrupt the flow of the class just to have their question, request, or comment expressed and considered.
  • Less gregarious learners don’t have to compete for attention/get noticed and can therefore contribute their questions, requests, or comments more easily; everyone has an equal voice.
  • Learners can see their peers’ questions, requests, or comments whether they are addressed/focused on or not in the lesson.
  • Teachers/tutors can choose which questions, requests, and comments, in what order, and when to address/focus on.
  • Points raised by learners can be dealt with appropriately and in a timely manner and never “get lost in the moment.”
  • The transcript of the chat session is an invaluable record of what actually happened and when during the class, making it an excellent resource for critical reflection.
  • Teachers/tutors can review the transcript to see where the lesson could be improved and/or consider alternatives.
  • Teachers/tutors can see who’s participating more or less than they should be and find out why.
  • Teachers/tutors can assess learners based on their participation both quantitively and qualitatively even if it didn’t get addressed/focused on in class.
  • There’s a record of questions, requests, and comments that it may not have been appropriate to address/focus on during the lesson but could provide productive avenues of inquiry in subsequent classes.

Could it also get learners off of Facebook during class?

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Implementing star-ratings in Moodle

star-ratingsFollowing the upsurge of interest in gamification* of learning (not to be confused with “edugames”), this is a quick “How to” article for a question that seems to come up a lot these days: “How can I implement star-ratings in Moodle?”

How to implement star-ratings in Moodle

Moodle already has an elaborate, editable, and adaptable grading and rating system built in so the process is relatively simple:

  1. Log in to Moodle as an administrator (editing teachers can create scales for their own courses too)
  2. Go to Site administration > Grades > Scales
  3. Add a new scale
  4. Fill in the Add new scale form, e.g.
    • Name: Stars
    • Scale: ☆☆☆☆☆, ★☆☆☆☆, ★★☆☆☆, ★★★☆☆, ★★★★☆, ★★★★★
    • Description: (optional)
  5. Save

That’s it. Now, when you create/edit activities that support ratings, i.e. Forums, Glossaries, and Databases, the “Stars” rating will be available under the grading heading. By the way, you don’t have to limit your ratings to stars; you can also use more descriptive (text) ratings that inform learners in more meaningful ways, e.g.:

  • Scale: Please tell us more, Interesting, Insightful, Highly perceptive

or…

  • Scale: difficult to understand, fluent, complex, accurate, fluent and complex, fluent and accurate, complex and accurate, fluent complex and accurate

or…

  • Scale: I strongly disagree, I disagree, I agree, I strongly agree

or…

  • Scale: This is a bit like me, This is a lot like me, This is just like me

An important consideration to make when designing a set of ratings is how it may provide added incentives to learners to participate further in discussions, e.g. to elaborate on why they gave their particular rating to a forum post or glossary entry, or for the rating recipient to modify or elaborate on their post/entry, thereby encouraging deeper engagement and constructive discourse between learners. If learners find the ratings meaningful, helpful, and relevant to their learning needs, then they are more likely to use them to rate each others’ work (if you set the activity to allow peer rating).

Teachers can also use ratings for formative assessment, providing timely, easy to understand  feedback so that they can act upon it during the activities, thereby using ratings to initialise/invite instructional scaffolding. Here’s an example scenario:

  1. a learner posts a comment in a discussion,
  2. the teacher or a peer rates the comment,
  3. the learner has an opportunity to respond, i.e. make changes or ask for elaboration,
  4. the discussion might continue on its current trajectory or move in a new direction

* Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems. Gamification is applied to improve user engagement, return on investment, data quality, timeliness, and learning. Source: Wikipedia.org

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New readability analysis filter for Moodle

Moodle Readability filter pluginThis is a quick announcement to let you know that I’ve just started a new plugin project for Moodle. It’s a filter module that analyses text on Moodle pages and rates their readability according to the six most popular readability formulas:

 When installed and activated, it will automatically analyse texts using one of the chosen readability formulas and print a small, discreet box at the top right of the analysed text, displaying the results. Moodle’s text filters apply to all text areas and so learning content and user generated texts will have their readability level/index displayed, for example in Pages, Books, Forums, Wikis, Glossaries, Assignments, Databases, Lessons, and Labels.

I’m interested in hearing any comments and suggestions you might have for possible uses, advantages, and/or limitations of this plugin. I’d also like to keep the discussion as widely accessible as possible to all members of the Moodle community. To that end, rather than post comments here (comments are now disabled on this blog) please participate the Moodle.org discussion thread for this plugin: https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=243715. It’s free and easy to join, it’s well moderated, and you’ll be in contact with thousands of other Moodlers.

The beta version of the plugin (still under development) is here. At the moment, I don’t recommend it for production sites as it hasn’t been extensively tested.

Readability of this article

  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease     47.6 / 100
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level     11
  • Gunning-Fog Score     12.2
  • Coleman-Liau Index     13.8
  • SMOG Index     9.7
  • Automated Readability Index     11.1
  • Average Grade Level     11.6
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Free and open source concept map app for Moodle

Concept MapI’m pleased to announce that the  Concept Map app is now available on my Github.com repository as a free and open source project. It works with the SWF Activity Module for Moodle 1.9 and 2.5+ and a compiled version of the app is included pre-installed with the latest version of the SWF Activity Module for Moodle 2.5+.

What does the Concept Map app do?

Learners are presented with a blank page and drawing and writing tools with a limited palate of colours and shapes. Limiting the colour and shape options is intended to reduce the time and effort that learners spend on those aspects and hopefully focus their attention more on their learning objectives. Learners can draw and write and move the drawn lines, shapes, and text. The app works with all the usual input tools such as mouse, keyboard, and touch screen.

When learners are ready, they can click on the camera icon button to send a copy of the image to the server which gets saved as a PNG image file. Subsequent camera icon button clicks will overwrite the existing image for that particular activity for that particular learner. However, if you’d like to keep a history of images, the service script that saves the images can be modified to do that. If it’s deployed in Moodle, a corresponding grade book entry is created for the learner and the image is embedded in the grade book feedback column. The saved concept map can then be viewed and graded by teachers. In addition, learners with the appropriate permissions can view their concept maps in the grade book or in the File System repository and embed them in other Moodle activities.

Free and open source

As a free and open source project, it’s free to download, use, edit, and redistribute under the terms of the GPLv3 licence. This means that you can develop the project further to perform more or different functions according to your learners’ particular needs and learning ideas. The project is configured to work with FlashDevelop, a free and open source Actionscript and Flash integrated development environment (IDE) but can also be edited and compiled with other Flash and Actionscript IDEs.

Useful links

Greenwood College SchoolAcknowledgement

The interactive whiteboard SWF idea was conceived at Greenwood College School as a means to further personalize the learning experience for its students. Greenwood is excited to be partnering with Matt Bury on this project because this module enhancement will help educators using Moodle to track student progress using a flexible, online input method.

Greenwood College School

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Moodle.org introduce their first MOOC

LearnMoodleThis is just a quick annoucement about a project that may be of interest to teachers who are new to Moodle.

Moodle for teachers: An introduction is a 4 week introductory course with a recommended total of 8-12 hours participation time. Registration opens on 19th August 2013 and the course starts on 1st September 2013. There are no fees for taking the course and successful participants will be awarded a Mozilla Open Badges course completion badge that they can add to their Open Badges backpack.

From the course outline, it looks like it will be of most interest to teachers who have never used Moodle before, are curious about it, and only want to make a minimal commitment. Experienced Moodle teachers are also invited to participate as helpers and may be awarded a “helper badge.” I also suspect this is a experimental pilot project and that the intention is to provide a proof of concept for using Moodle for MOOCs and perhaps to investigate the possiblity of offering accredited Moodle training and professional development programmes in the MOOC course format. Moodle partners have already been offering Moodle Course Creator Certification courses (for between $200 and $800 AUD) since at least 2007 (Originally called the Moodle Teacher Certificate).

For more details and enrolment see: http://learn.moodle.net/

BTW, Moodle was informally used by some learners in the original MOOC courses, ChangeMOOC: Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, started in 2008 at the University of Manitoba and run by Stephen Downes (National Research Council of Canada) and George Siemens (Athabasca University), in which I participated.

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I’m moving my open source projects from Google to GitHub

github logoThis is a quick announcement concerning my open source project hosting. On the 20th May 2013, Google Code posted the following announcement;

Starting today, existing projects that do not have any downloads and all new projects will not have the ability to create downloads. Existing projects with downloads will see no visible changes until January 14, 2014 and will no longer have the ability to create new downloads starting on January 15, 2014.  All existing downloads in these projects will continue to be accessible for the foreseeable future.” — Source: http://google-opensource.blogspot.ca/2013/05/a-change-to-google-code-download-service.html

In other words, as of 15th January 2014, I will not longer be able to provide installer packages for my open source projects on Google Code. Because of this and the greater flexibility, functionality, IDE integration, and social features of Github, I am moving my projects there. My Github repositories are available here: https://github.com/matbury

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Update to SWF Activity Module for Moodle 1.9

SWF Activity Module logoThis is a quick update anouncement for the SWF Activity Module for Moodle 1.9. It fixes some issues that some users were experiencing with sending grades to Moodle’s grade book and some other functions. You can find the latest version released today on the project downloads page at Google Code.

What was the bug?

PHP 5.3 and above are becoming more widely used on servers that are hosting Moodle. Some of the old legacy core Moodle code contains functions that are deprecated in PHP 5.3 (some 400 or so instances of code) and are unlikely to be fixed. These deprecated functions trigger PHP to generate deprecation warnings, which in Moodle sometimes returns unexpected results that were interfering with the SWF Activity Module AMFPHP service classes. The result was that sometimes, grades weren’t being sent to Moodle’s grade book, and snapshot images from the Avatar camera and Concept Map MILAs weren’t being saved. It was an intermittent bug and difficult to track down but now, hopefully, everything should work for everyone all the time.

You can see some demos of the SWF Activity Module used to deploy Multimedia Interactive Learning Applications (MILAs) on the MILAs demo course on my R&D Moodle. You can login as a guest so no Moodle account is required.

SWF Activity Module for Moodle 2.5+

On a related topic, I’m nearing completion of a beta testing version of the SWF Activity Module for Moodle 2.5+. Please stay tuned for updates in the near future. You can subscribe to posts from this blog by clicking on the Follow tab on the bottom right of this page.

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Free talking picture dictionary for Moodle

Free talking picture dictionary for MoodleI’ve just finished putting together a Learning Content Cartridge which I’m releasing for free under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) licence for anyone to use, edit and redistribute as they please.

There are 28 entries (33 including plurals) and each one has a corresponding image and an MP3 audio recording. The package is designed for teachers and curriculum developers to use to test out my CALL Software (MILAs) before deciding if it’s suitable for their needs.

What’s more, I’ve used the images and MP3 files to create a talking picture dictionary for the Moodle 1.9 Glossary activity module. There’s an entry for each of the 28 Common objects items which displays a short definition, the corresponding image and the corresponding MP3 file, embedded using Moodle’s standard Flash audio player (Make sure you have the Moodle MP3 filter turned on in Admin settings for this to work). You can try it out on the Multimedia Interactive Learning Applications (MILAs) demo course on my R&D Moodle (use guest access). See section #1 titled, “MILA resource cartridge repurposed for a picture dictionary – Common objects“. I’ve packaged the exported XML glossary data, images and audio into a downloadable zip file.

Auto linking the dictionary

One of the features of the Moodle Glossary module is that it can be set to auto link to entries anywhere it find those entries in other text on Moodle pages (not PDFs or links to external pages). For example, if the Glossary module finds the word “dictionary” in a paragraph of text, it’ll automatically highlight it and place a link on it. When a learner clicks on the highlighted word, a pop-up window appears with the corresponding Glossary entry for “dictionary”.

Please note: Some of the text formatting in the exported talking picture dictionary is a bit messy but can easily be corrected in Moodle with the Glossary editor.

Download

Instructions

  1. Unzip the downloaded package and look for the file called, “exported_glossary_data_to_import_to_your_moodle.xml
  2. Upload the zip package to your Moodle course files directory.
  3. Unzip the package and make sure the directory structure is as follows:
        • commonobjects/mp3/etc…
        • commonobjects/pix/etc…
        • commonobjects/xml/etc…
  4. Create a new Glossary module instance on your course page.
  5. In the Glossary module instance, at the top right of the screen, click on “Import entries”.
  6. Browse to and select the “exported_glossary_data_to_import_to_your_moodle.xml” file on your computer and click on “Save changes”.
  7. That’s it. You’ve just created a talking picture dictionary on your Moodle course. Feel free to edit and modify it in any way you please.

There are free apps to try out in your Moodle on the SWF Activity Module project downloads page.

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