Moodle: open source, closed doors. | Opensource.com

Moodle: open source, closed doors.

Posted 25 Feb 2010 by 

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It's the leading open source learning management system in the world. It provides 100s of 1000s (millions?) of students and teachers, learners and educators a means of collaborating, engaging content and organizing studies online. It's easy to tout the great things that Moodle has done for education in the dozen short years since it was created by Martin Dougiamas. It has certainly created and standardized the base-level of learning management systems available to schools throughout the world. Despite budget cuts and cost saving measures, Moodle can be installed and released to teachers with minimal resources1.  The locomotive that is Moodle is tearing down boundaries of accessibility to technology in the world of education, and that's a great thing.

That being said, as the playing field is being leveled in terms of access to technology; Moodle is having almost an opposite effect on the content that's placed inside of it. As you may or may not be aware, Moodle is capable of creating an open door to content and practical examples, and rich video, text/images and audio - for a select group of students with accounts on that particular Moodle instance. To the general population (those that may be interested in viewing, using, engaging or remixing the content), however, the door remains tightly sealed2.

In other words, if you are not a member of the organization, the Moodle instance is off limits, and so are the rich resources stored within its digital walls.

At this time, the greatest single resource available to Moodle users, Moodle.org, and the Moodle partners at Moodle.com, is the content which has been accumulated within each classroom's walls. These digital blueprints to learning are the key to turning millions more onto the benefits of Moodle. But the number of courses that are available to view, peruse, download and/or reuse is far fewer than the number of courses that have been completed.  By my estimate, nearly 100%3 of course materials created in Moodle are still closed to the public.

Thankfully, in Moodle 2.0 (out this spring 2010), the roadmap incorporates an important community resource hub which is designed to make the sharing of resources easier. With a specific set of modules and settings enabled, course creators will be able to share their resources with the community and likewise discover and select materials to augment their own digital materials. Will this be enough, though?

The Moodle community should be taking steps to open the content now; on current sites, with current versions with the content available. A library of available (and organized) content, ready to view, ready to download and use would be a boon to educators world wide. To students it would open an encyclopedia of learning materials and possibilities to engage content otherwise unavailable. The availability of tools to share easily will certainly be great for versions of Moodle in the future, but in the meantime, there's work to be done.

1there are several free hosting sites available for Moodle (totally eliminating the need for internal hosting and expenditure)

2A typical Moodle installation will be safe-guarded (as it should be) in several ways: guest access can be controlled or completely turned off to an entire site (or select courses) course passwords are required to enter and view content user creation is controlled centrally by a staff.

3according to Moodle stats (http://moodle.org/stats/) there were over 3,200,000 courses in Moodle, where are there are less than 70 courses in the official Moodle course exchange library (http://moodle.org/course/view.php?id=15).

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21 Comments

Michael Penney

A challenge with this great goal is clearing copyright - often this would be time consuming for a teacher or an institution to work out the details of what can be shared.

However, the OpenUniversity, an institution that produces it's own content and fully owns the copyright, does release a very large number of Moodle courses* on it's OpenLearn site: http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/ all under a CC SA license.

"*In April 2008 OpenLearn reached its target to have 5,400 learning hours of content in the LearningSpace and 8100 hours in the LabSpace."
http://www.open.ac.uk/openlearn/about-us/our-story.php

This shows what is possible when Moodle provides the platform and the institution provides the content :-).

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Joseph Thibault

I wish I had thought to mention openlearn's repository. I'm familiar with it and agree that you're definitely at the leading edge of sharing.

I guess my thought, generally, is that if the apparatus for sharing were inherent in the system, it would be infinitely easier for teachers to "flip the switch" to share their content. I'm not implying that there wouldn't be copyright issues (there are with nearly everything on the web), but I do think there's an ocean of content that teachers could tap that would be covered by fair-use and proprietary content from 3rd party sites could still be protected.

I think a lot of Moodle course construction comes down to contextualization. An example: A youtube video, with the proper contextualization, goes from just another video to a learning object in the right teacher's hands and capabilities--the incorporation of assignments and assessment as an extension of that content is where Moodle courses shared can provide a huge win.

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Michael Hermary

This is not a moodle problem, this is an education/copyright problem. There things that can be validly done for education purposes that might be copyright violations if done on an openly accessible system. Moodle actually goes a long way towards making information more broadly accessible as much of the content can be accessed through the internet. Once students know where it is they carry that knowledge with them and can disseminate it as they see fit. We had the same issues before we started using model or the internet for that matter.

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Sameer Verma

Moodle is the medium. The payload may or may not be clear for sharing. Licensing issues often prevent us from making the content available to the rest of the world. This isn't that different from say, Apache, running on an intranet site. Moodle does have the option of a "Guest" login (its on moodle.org) which allows one to be a guest and access information.

Remember, while the ethic of sharing is good and all that (in my opinion), its really up to the copyright holder to choose. Can't "gunpoint" these things. Some of us choose to do so (CC licenses, etc) and some of us don't.

cheers,
Sameer

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mchua
Open Source Evangelist

Even if not all Moodle content is open to be shared (which is completely understandable), I wonder how many could be open, and haven't been opened simply because people didn't realize their work could be shared. I'm not familiar with the Moodle interface, but I wonder whether users are asked if they want their work to "default to open" (or whether this is part of the improvements that Joseph talks about).

For instance, the MediaWiki installer prompts people to choose a content license when they configure their wiki for the first time, and lists (and links to) Creative Commons licenses as the majority of options, so you have to click something to not have your work be open-licensed, and you are specifically asked to make a choice.

Not having been through a Moodle install (and only having gone through the course creation interface within it once, a long time ago), I'm not sure if a similar option is presented at some point, or whether it would help - if the problem is not that teachers don't know they can default to open, but that they can't, then that's a different bug entirely.

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Sameer Verma

Mel,
This is a very good point. In fact, we've been talking about this on SF State campus. We use Moodle extensively. Our campus runs on it. I'd like to see an option where when my students submit work, they have the option to select a CC style license whereby the work will be exposed to the outside. There are operational issues about grading, assessment, etc. but I think those can be worked out.

Students should not be viewed as default copyright violators and plagiarists. Instead, they should be considered potential contributors.

cheers,
Sameer

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James Salsman

A couple of Wikimedia Foundation volunteers, including myself, are attempting to address the open instructional content for low-stakes self study with the http://bit.ly/assessCont proposal and the GIFT format extensions described at http://bit.ly/gift-fmt

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Joseph Thibault

James, this is a great example. The GIFT format (and several others, including Aiken) are great ways that a repository of questions could be created and shared centrally.

If a teacher could choose to submit their questions to a central repository (from within Moodle) and another teacher could search for questions and full exams (based on meta data, from within Moodle) this would be a huge win for course creation. As it is though, quiz questions would have to be shared as txt files in a central site making it more difficult to integrate.

3rd party work like what you're creating is definitely a step in the right direction.

-Joe

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James Salsman

Joe, thanks for your kind words. Can you suggest potential sponsors? We need to raise about $40,000 to sponsor the summer student ($5K) to put the OER self-study, low-stakes, adaptive quizzes on Wikiversity, and the rest to cleanroom about 30 kilobytes of http://tinyurl.com/osl08 interface code, establish a content development system, and populate it with about 5,000 words of initial beginning and intermediate level English so that the whole thing can remain open source for educators everywhere to integrate as easily as Moodle.

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Joseph Thibault

James, check out Talis.com (http://blogs.talis.com/education/incubator/) they just had a round of OS grants (should be awarded shortly) that may be a place to start. I think there's an additional deadline this coming summer.

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Ed Norton

It should not be hard to export only the course material into a separate "read only" course with universal access. Unless I am wrong, that should make the course material available to all, and still protect the privacy of the classroom participants, i.e. their identities, postings, comments, grades and so on.

One idea that Moodle should copy is the content-sharing model from LON-CAPA, another outstanding open source LMS. Here's a brief excerpt from the LON-CAPA description.

http://www.lon-capa.org/

LON-CAPA (The LearningOnline Network with CAPA) is a learning content and course management system. It offers an underlying shared content pool from which instructors across departmental and institutional boundaries can assemble granular learning content for their courses.

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Robert Austin

As one of the earlier comments alluded to, not all of the content placed on a Moodle site is made freely available by the content publisher. In the emergency services arena this is especially true, with multiple publishers creating content that is covered by strict copyright restrictions.

The Open ISES (Open Information Systems for Emergency Services) Project has begun to address this issue as it relates to the emergency service arena. We have begun a repository of lessons and modules that can be used on Moodle (or other LCMS) and are typically released under a CC license. The repository is in its early stages, but we have several fascinating offerings (mostly aimed at EMS) as well as some top notch contributors.

The Open ISES Project can be found at http://openises.sourceforge.net, with the educational component located at http://emstraining.eduforge.org/

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Paul Treadwell

Let me start by saying that I strongly support open access, content sharing, re-mixing, et al. .Having said that, though, I think there is an element missing here in this discussion of Moodle. The reason I adopted Moodle and have become a storng avocate for its use is the pedagogical foundation which serves as the bedrock for it's development. Fostering cohesive learning communities online is no small feat, but Moodle was design to help instructors and participants do just that, and in my experience it is remendously sucessful.

I have difficulty imaginging an install of Moodle that is totally open and sef-serve. There are many fine tools out there that can meet that purpose, probably better than Moodle can. To create a space where co-learning can happen, where solid mentoring relationships can develop, needs some degrees of trust and security.

Just my thought for the day.

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Mark Smithers

I agree with your preference for open access and open learning but this really isn't a Moodle problem. It applies equally to all learning management systems. The problem is related to organisational policy with regard to open access to learning resources and copyright limitations on making some resources openly accessible. It seems a little odd to select Moodle as being at fault in this case.

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ghenrick

Beware you are entering acronym city.

There are a huge amount of OER (open educational resources)projects around the globe and they have been accelerating.

Making OER or RLO (reusable learning objects) is very little if anything to do with the LMS or CMS.

Its about ownership of the materials used in creating the learning objects or resources. If a course uses purchases resources from a content supplier, its most probable it cant be opened, even for usage without distribution as they pay per person using them. Thats the business model of content creators.

Check out http://wiki.oercommons.org/

and check out http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2085 which has 60 case studies of OER projects.

There are 10s of millions of Creative Commons images in Flickr public which can be used for education. OER Overkill!

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Jack Skoda

I use moodle to teach for the Vermont state college system and my moodle is locked down to only those student who are enrolled at the college and listed by the registrar as being in my courses. Given bandwidth and instructor time limitations it would unfair to slow down the course or have non-students who have not paid tuition consume instructor time.

As many posters have noted Moodle is the vehicle for course delivery. The low total cost of ownership will help reduce educational costs and slow tuition price increases. That's how moodle will open up learning opportunities.

Griping about how course content is not free ignores the true power of moodle. There are several content production systems (e.g. Wordpress) but it's moodle that allows instructors to interact with students and students to interact with one another in a tracked and gradable fashion.

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Joseph Thibault

@Mark, I agree that the sharing of resources is a problem indicative of all LMSs (trust me that Bb's 'open' content pales in comparison to what I've found for Moodle already). It's not a Moodle problem, true. But it's a problem that Moodle could help address.

@Gavin, touche! I'll try not to fall into using acronyms, what I'm specifically talking about are is backup files that could be restored as Moodle courses, you're right, there are lots of OER, not all OER are Moodle course cartridges, but all open course cartridges for Moodle are OER. I think a narrowly focused effort to create a repository of open content specifically for Moodle would be a worthwhile endeavor (if it wasn't I don't think there'd be such a push to incorporate it into Moodle2.0 as the "community hub").

@Jack, I wasn't proposing that teachers open up their classrooms and provide instruction to additional students, rather, for those that are able I think there'd be value in sharing that content so that other teachers might "take the reigns" or learners might engage the content independently. There's value in a walled garden approach (it provides a way for students to get credit, for teachers to monitor progress, etc.), but there's also value in shared resources that could cut down on the time and effort that it takes to build the course that you currently deliver.

To all: The modern LMS is a great resource to colleges, students, faculty and anyone interested in learning through this digital/web-based medium. That being said, there might be a demand (high demand?) for a service that goes beyond a Moodle course hub and connects the various LMSs through shared course conversion. Would it be valuable to allow a Sakai facilitator to adopt a course previously created in Moodle and/or vice versa? It certainly might make migration from one LMS to another easier.

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Joseph Thibault

Someone commented recently about this article, "An article which doesn't really understand that there might be a reason why some courses aren't open to the world."

I do understand why courses are closed, without privacy and the ability to manage individuals we lose accountability.

To clarify (I hope) what my thesis is: when I'm calling for "A library of available (and organized) content, ready to view, ready to download and use would be a boon to educators world wide" I'm hoping that teachers will make the courses they've constructed available as course shells (so that another teacher, student, learner, etc. could download and install on their own server or that could be restored to a central repository of un-facilitated course materials). I am NOT advocating that teachers willy-nilly open their content. Content available online freely is great. But when it's contextualized in a Moodle course it's even better.

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James

Good instructional technology has usually acted as a personnel multiplier in education, allowing teachers to teach more in less time. But I suspect in Gutenberg's day tenured scholars were worried about the printing press as a potential threat that might make them redundant because books could eliminate the time spent supervising the copying of scroll-based instructional materials.

If most courseware were open, then students would have a baseline access to it and so much more would be made possible from our schools. The tendency towards the guild mentality is holding students back, and we are lucky that enlightened government officials are pressing for open courseware, including open assessment content, from which all of us (except the textbook publishers) should benefit.

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Morten Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér

Okay, so I don't get this thought - isn't that like saying because my mail server and text processor are open source, all my emails and documents should be available to everyone?

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Joseph is a husband, start-up junkie/entrepreneur, open source software user, blogger and online course manager/developer for www.StraighterLine.com. His goal is to advance open source software, open educational resources, educational opportunities and to make education more efficient. He writes about Moodle (at www.MoodleNews.com) and a host of other interests wherever he can get published.

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