Moodle comes home!

A final update on this project.

On Tuesday 3rd July we carried out the final synchronization of data between our and ULCC’s Moodle and pointed moodle.arts.ac.uk to UAL servers, making Moodle live on our own systems.
A number of issues were identified, which we were not able to test during the development or User Acceptance Testing stage. A summary of these issues is below, but they are all now resolved.  (As part of the work, we have increased the security of Moodle and this will prevent embedded content from displaying in certain circumstances. Details of this, and how to manage the problem is at the bottom of this blog post.)
The other good news is that the Web Services team have successfully recruited to the post of VLE Application Support Analyst and Fardin Amiri is due to start with the Web Services team, 7 August. Fardin will be a great boost to the team, providing vital resource to support the in-house provision of our Moodle platform.
That’s not the end for Moodle: we still have the SITS integration and the 2018/19 rollover scheduled next week. We are, however, in a strong, and exciting position in terms of what we can now consider to do to continue improving the experience and service for all staff and students that rely so much on Moodle for teaching and learning.

Summary of issues:

  • Loss of connection to Blackboard Collaborate: Resolved
  • Unable to send external emails: Resolved
  • Course list not displaying correct hierarchy. Resolved
  • SSO for Workflow and MyBlog not working Resolved
  • Un-enrolling users – In Progress this is not a bug or an issue with Moodle but related to the SITS project. This will be resolved when we switch on the data feeds from SITS next week.
  • New student applicants not showing as enrolled in Moodle: – In Progress – this is not a bug or an issue with Moodle but related to the SITS project. The Registry team are still working on enrolling new applicants in SITS and this work is expected to be complete by the end of July ready for pre-sessional activities in Moodle starting in August.

Embedded Content

As part of moving Moodle in house we have also increased Moodle’s security and implemented https.  Content that has been embedded in Moodle sites using iframes may not display if the content comes from a third party webiste which doesn’t allow or support https.

It’s important to note that this is not Moodle or the UAL environment which is preventing this from working – it’s actually the browser.  The reason for this behaviour is that it’s seen as a security risk to mix http and https content in one page.

As many browsers are now moving to support https many websites will be converting their sites accordingly, so this problem will gradually be less and less of a problem. If embedded content isn’t working because https isn’t supported, then the only option is to use a regular link to point to the content, rather then embed it into a Moodle site.

Moodle is now fully back in service and colleagues are able to edit their course sites. If there are any issues or problems in using Moodle that you feel have arisen from this recent work, please do report these to dlsupport@arts.ac.uk for the team to investigate.

Tackling Course Site Design in Moodle

The challenges of creating course sites in Moodle that presents course information, resources and communications in a way that students can easily navigate through and find what they need are well known. Solutions aren’t easy  – not least due to the diversity and complexity of teaching approaches across UAL that need to be represented through Moodle course sites. Understandably, it is natural to consider Moodle course sites as any other web-page and we expect to be able to create a good ‘web-site’ experience for our students.  Good web-site design, however, does require a specific knowledge and skill set and, of course – time! Some courses are fortunate in that they have staff with this skill set who are able to develop quite complex  site designs and organisational structures for their materials. Relying on the skills of a few members of staff, however, is seldom sustainable in the longer term.

 

In June, the digital Learning Services team convened a small group of people interested in looking at how we can address this issue of course site design so that all staff can develop and maintain their Moodle site without specialist web-design and coding skills. The discussions were underpinned by the following principles.

  1. Sustainability – i.e. not relying on technologies that would rapidly date, or advanced skills and knowledge;
  2. Scaleability – ideas had to be sympathetic to demands of large courses and student cohorts.
  3. Responsive – course sites must respond to smaller screen sizes of mobile devices
  4. Reducing complexity

 

The group consisted of people from a cross section of support, teaching, training and leadership roles. Through the discussion we looked at examples of Moodle course sites, shared experiences of designing and maintaining Moodle sites, discussed the skills and knowledge required, thought about our training provision and explored ideas for new technical solutions.

 

By the end of the discussion, we agreed that the priority should be to focus on modelling what can be achieved in Moodle just using the tools and resources readily available – i.e. without any specialist knowledge of html / css. We agreed that we would collaboratively design three different scenarios for course site design that would help:

  • Reduce scrolling
  • Make resources easy to find / locate
  • Have visual appeal
  • Be easy for staff to add and manage their resources and content
  • Reduce unnecessary clutter and complexity

 

The more technically minded members agreed to explore the potential of ‘Markdown’ – an html / css editor that could enable greater flexibility within defined limits, but doesn’t require extensive coding knowledge. Another area to look at would be researching any available plugins that have been developed for Moodle.

 

We are going to experiment with using Slack (https://moodledesignworkgroup.slack.com)  to help continue our discussions. Our next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday September 19th, 2.00 pm. If you are interested, you would be warmly welcome to join in the discussions. Please email Andreea Stan (a.stan@arts.ac.uk) who will include you in any communications.

Preparing Courses for the next Academic Year

The 18/19 course sites are expected to be available in Moodle from July 12th ready for you to prepare for the next academic year.  Below you can find useful information that will help you copy content across from your existing course area to your 18/19 site. Please do take note of the activities (listed at the end of this post) which must not be copied between course sites.

  • New Courses Created
    New ‘EMPTY’ 18/19 courses will be automatically created in Moodle.
  • Students Enrolment
    Students will be automatically enrolled onto their 18/19 Programme, Course, Year Course and units based on the information held in SITS.
    Students will see their 18/19 courses in Moodle as soon as they enrol in August/ September
  • Staff Enrolment/Removal
    We will enrol staff onto the 18/19 courses in Moodle based on current staff enrolments on 17/18 courses.
    If you would like to be unenrolled please email dlsupport@arts.ac.uk with a list of courses.
  • Previous Course Access
    16/17 and 17/18 courses in Moodle will remain active and available to all staff and students enrolled on them
    15/16 courses will be switched off.

To copy content from your 17/18 site to your 18/19 site…

  • Copy 17/18 Course ID
  • Import 17/18 course content into 18/19 course.

DO NOT IMPORT THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITIES: 

  • Turnitin
  • Bb Collaborate
  • News Forum
  • Moodle Assignments
  • Database
  • Glossary

UPDATE AND CHECK THE FOLLOWING:

  • Hide/Show Topic Sections
  • Check hyperlinks
  • Add/Remove Staff
  • Check course structure is correct

For a more in depth information please visit: Preparing Courses for the New Academic Year site on Moodle. If you do not have access to this site and you are responsible for adding content to your course site please email dlsupport@arts.ac.uk .

Please note that there is a scheduled downtime in July for Moodle, necessary to complete the transition to the UAL hosting.  Moodle will be available, but users should note that if any critical issues arise during UAT and the decision is made to roll back and not change our hosting arrangements  all changes made in Moodle during these dates will be lost and not recoverable. More information on our previous blog post Moving Moodle Hosting to UAL.

Moodle Hosting

The work on moving Moodle hosting to UAL has progressed very smoothly and we are now in the final stages of the project.  This week colleagues across the colleges are testing the new Moodle environment to check the integrity of their course sites, course content and enrollments. The next step will be to take Moodle out of service so that we can switch the hosting environment. Important information about how this will impact you is detailed below:

  • Tuesday 3rd July: Moodle out of service all day. If you try to log into Moodle you will see an ‘Under Maintenance’ screen.
  • Wednesday 4th July: Moodle out of service until approximately 3.00 pm. When we turn the service back on access will be almost instant within the UAL network, but can take about 24 hours to be globally available.
  • Friday 6th July: final decision to either continue with UAL hosting or roll back to former hosting arrangement.
  • Monday 9th July: Moodle back in service

IMPORTANT: Wednesday 4th July – Friday 6th July: Whilst we are confident the switching to the new  hosting environment will be seamless,  we strongly advise that users refrain from making any major changes or edits to their course content during these few days. During this period the DLSupport team will be checking and monitoring the new environment to ensure  performance and reliability is as expected. Should anything critical  arise that means we need to roll back to our former hosting arrangements and any changes made to Moodle course sites will be lost.

Workflow Upgrade

Following consultation with colleges, work to upgrade Workflow is scheduled for 11th and12th September 2018. During the upgrade Workflow will be taken down and will not be available to colleagues or students. We apologize for the inconvenience, but the upgrade is essential to keep the platform in line with the most stable release of the software and to maintain platform performance and security.

View and test out the new version

If you would like to test the new version of Workflow and feedback to us before the sign off, please visit http://workflow-staging.arts.ac.uk and email any feedback to dlsupport@arts.ac.uk

Time Scales

  • Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 September 2018 – Workflow upgrade*
  • Thursday 13 September 2018 – Workflow will be back online for User Acceptance Testing**
  • Friday 14 September 2018 – Workflow upgrade sign off**

The Digital Learning Support team are currently upgrading the dev environment so that we can analyze any new features or changes to functionality. Digital Learning support will issue guidance about any key differences prior to the end of the Summer term.

*During this time Workflow will be taken down and will not be available to colleagues or students.

**Although Workflow will be available to use on these days, it is still ‘at risk’. We advise that colleagues and students do not make any critical edits to Workflow sites during this ‘at risk’ period as any changes are likely to be lost should problems arise requiring us to roll back to the current version of the software. We will put up a message in Workflow during the ‘at risk’ period to warn users of this.

 

NO Moodle UPGRADES scheduled for this summer

As you might have already read in one of our previous posts, Moodle hosting is planned to move in-house this July. There will be a necessary downtime in order for the full transition to be completed, but please note that there is no Moodle upgrade scheduled for this summer. Once the hosting transition is complete Moodle will continue to look and work the same way as before.

For more details regarding the move of Moodle hosting and the downtime dates, please read our previous post – Moving Moodle Hosting to UAL.

Digital Learning Support Self Service

You can now raise a help request directly with the DL Team through the MySupport Self Service.  

Why use The Digital Learning Support Self Service?

  • If you are working within the UAL network it is quick and easy to use!
    *It is not yet available outside of UAL network
  • Using Self Service will enable the team to process the requests more efficiently than by email. It automatically generates and sends you a support ticket that confirms your request for support.
  • Using Self service helps capture all the required information up front and saves time spent by the team contacting the sender for additional information before work can start on resolving the requests
  • Using Self service will ensure requests are automatically directed to the correct team, for example, login issues will be automatically directed to IT Services rather than Digital Learning Support
  • Through Self Service you can track the the progress of your request, or update your request with further information. This helps keep all communication about your request in one place, rather than dispersed across various emails.

Please do bookmark the link and consider using Self Service next time you need to contact DL Support. We look forward to supporting you!

 

 

 

 

DLS team away day

The DLS team got together last Tuesday for the annual team day. This time we thought it would be good to spend the day away from everything digital and to try something new to all, so we decided to have a go at pottery and started the day early in Peckham, at  The Kiln Rooms – a wonderful open access ceramics studio based at Peckham Levels.

The staff at The Kiln Rooms were incredible – great artists, teachers and people too – and they helped us quickly get from a handful of clay to not so perfect but still functional pots.

 

  

Catering was provided by Wildflower Cafe – super yummy and a must go, especially if you are vegetarian/vegan!

Moving Moodle hosting to UAL – key dates

For more detail about Moodle hosting please read the longer version – Moving Moodle Hosting to UAL

When we first moved to Moodle from Blackboard back in 2012 there was insufficient capacity, resource and expertise within UAL to host a platform as complex and heavily used as Moodle.  Since then, however, IT has acquired state-of-the-art hosting facilities in Slough, and re-organisation of the Digital Learning Team has helped build strong and collaborative working relationships with IT Services, placing expertise and resource where most appropriate to manage and maintain a robust and reliable service.

These developments have enabled us to review our hosting options, and over the past couple of months IT Services have been designing and building a prototype environment that has allowed us to assess the feasibility of hosting Moodle in-house. The testing and assessment of the prototype was highly successful and the decision has been taken to transfer Moodle hosting from our current provider to being managed and supported by UAL’s IT Services teams.

Expected Downtime

  • Tuesday July 3rd – Hosting switched to UAL. Moodle out of Service. 
  • Wednesday 4th July – Digital learning Team Testing. Moodle out of Service 
  • *Thursday 5th July – UAL Final User Acceptance Testing
  • *Friday 6th July – Final proceed / roll-back decision.  
  • Monday 9th July – Moodle back in service 2018_19 course sites available for rollover
    * Moodle will be available, but users should note that if any critical issues arise during UAT and the decision is made to Roll back and not change our hosting arrangements  all changes made in Moodle during these dates will be lost and not recoverable.

Moving Moodle Hosting to UAL

When we first moved to Moodle from Blackboard back in 2012 there was insufficient capacity, resource and expertise within UAL to host a platform as complex and heavily used as Moodle.  Since then, however, IT has acquired state-of-the-art hosting facilities in Slough, and re-organisation of the Digital Learning Team has helped build strong and collaborative working relationships with IT Services, placing expertise and resource where most appropriate to manage and maintain a robust and reliable service.

These developments have enabled us to review our hosting options, and over the past couple of months IT Services have been designing and building a prototype environment that has allowed us to assess the feasibility of hosting Moodle in-house. The testing and assessment of the prototype was highly successful and the decision has been taken to transfer Moodle hosting from our current provider to being managed and supported by UAL’s IT Services teams. We have now served our notice with ULCC and are in the process of planning with them the transition to UAL. 

What does this mean for our users? 

Bringing Moodle in house will not have any impact on how Moodle functions. It will look exactly the same and continue to work in exactly the same way as before. There will need to be some downtime while we make the switch and users should expect Moodle to be out of service for a couple of days. Details of the schedule are below. 

Hosting Moodle ourselves will, however, bring a number of benefits: 

  • It will give us much more access and control over our data, and the processes that ensure the relevant course spaces appear in the right order, with the right students enrolled.  
  • We will no longer be dependent on a twice daily sync process for changes to course structures or enrolments to be updated in Moodle. Any changes will appear instantaneously. 
  • We will no longer be dependent on a third-party for managing our annual upgrade process. We will have full control over the upgrade, and ensure that procedures are properly planned to ensure the upgrade proceeds smoothly and with minimal disruption for our users. 
  • Some of the costs saved by moving Moodle in-house are being used to recruit an additional team member within IT Services to support the management and maintenance of the platform.

What are the time scales? 

  • Tuesday 1 May until 31 July – Moodle code freeze for functionality change requests 
  • Friday 22d June – New hosting environment build complete 
  • Monday 25th – 29th June – UAL User Acceptance Testing 
  • Tuesday July 3rd – Hosting switched to UAL. Moodle out of Service. 
  • Wednesday 4th July – Digital learning Team Testing. Moodle out of Service 
  • *Thursday 5th July – UAL Final User Acceptance Testing
  • *Friday 6th July – Final proceed / roll-back decision.  
  • Monday 9th July – Moodle back in service 2018_19 course sites available for rollover
    * Moodle will be available, but users should note that should any critical issues arise during UAT and decision is made to Roll back, all changes made will be lost and not recoverable.

How does this project fit with the SITS Project? 

We are working in partnership with the SITS project team to complete the SITS-Moodle integration at the same time as bringing the hosting to UAL. Bringing these two projects together will minimise the amount of downtime needed for our end users. 

It sounds a complex project what are the risks? 

As with any institutional project there are a number of risks and the project team are conscious that the SITS integration brings in another layer of complexity. Below is an overview of those risks and how we are working in partnership with the SITS project team to mitigate the likelihood of them having a negative impact on our ability to deliver both the change of hosting and the integration with SITS 

Risk  Mitigating Action 
New hosting environment can’t be purchased and implemented in time scale  We have collaborated closely with the relevant teams and they are aware of our timescales and requirements. Budgets have been agreed and hardware requirements specified ready for procurement 
SITS integration work can’t be completed on time  We are holding fortnightly meetings with the SITS project team to review project plans and timescales. Key milestones have been identified to monitor progress. 

 

We have tested the Moodle prototype with data from the current student record system, QL, and, if needed the SITS integration can be rescheduled for a later date. 

 

Testing of the new hosting environment reveals a systemic problem.  We have agreed a rolling contract with our external provider so that we can continue with the current hosting solution.