Sunday, 18 September 2011

10 More Days

After a couple of years of contemplation and a lot of time talking to people and following the blogs and tweets of various career-breakers, I’m about to join their ranks.
At the end of September I’ll be packing up my desk at the Open University, handing over the Learning and Teaching Systems reins to my colleague Paul ( - I hope he’s going to start tweeting soon so I can keep track of what’s happening), and leaving Moodle and e-learning behind for six months.
The first three months are planned – Sri Lanka, Shetland and the South Atlantic - but although I’ve got lots of ideas for the second three months (including some places not starting with S), I have for the first time in a very long time got no firm plans.
One of my frustrations, over the last five years particularly, has been the lack of time to think about the trips I’ve been fitting in around work commitments.  I’ve rushed off somewhat manically to the airport as soon as I could, and spent as much time away as possible – and then plunged back into work again.  One consequence has been not enough time to go through the photographs I’ve taken or to put together the blog postings, or any longer pieces of writing, from the trips.
My hope during the six months way from the office is to have time to make the trips a bit slower than they might otherwise have had to be, to reflect on and to write about my travelling, to spend some longer chunks of time in our house in Shetland, and maybe get re-enthused about e-learning.
I don’t plan to post anything further on this blog until next Easter – although I will be posting on my travel/photography blog (, and I’ll be tweeting ( when connectivity allows.
Sitting in my study in Oxford on a Sunday morning, I have lots of conflicting thoughts about the time away.  Part of me can’t picture being away from the OU for such a long time (I first joined the University in late 1995 – and the commute to Milton Keynes is just part of what I do most days).
Part of me can’t picture doing anything other than returning to the OU in April. And yet another part of me can’t picture getting back into the formality of the daily commute again.
I'm certainly looking forward to the opportunities this winter will present - and I will give the occasional thought to the roll-out of Moodle 2 at the OU.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Moodle 2 in UK HE

On 18th June, the OU hosted a meeting of UK Higher Education institutions who are either in the process of moving to Moodle 2, or who are very close to setting off on that journey.
This brought together about 60 individuals from about 20 institutions, and gave us the chance to talk about what we’re doing here and to learn about what is happening elsewhere.  It was good to see so many people here and to have the opportunity to talk with other folks facing the same issues, challenges and opportunities.
My presentation from the day is available on slideshare
The full timetable for the event is available at (and we’ll be adding the presentations shortly).
One of the outcomes of the meeting was agreement what we should have regular meetings like this – and the suggestion was they we might have two face-to-face and two online meetings each year.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

OU Learning and Teaching Systems blogs

I was putting together a list of the various work-related blogs that members of the OU Learning and Teaching Systems Team keep - thought it might be useful to share it.

Jason Platts (for the JISC-funded DOULS project)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

MoodleMoot UK 2011 Presentations

There were four presentations from the Open University Learning and Teaching Systems team at the MoodleMoot last week.

Sam Marshall talked about working with Moodle HQ

Anthony Forth talked about recent work with mobile devices and Moodle

Tim Hunt talked about the new quiz engine (he gave his talk using the quiz engine, so there aren’t slides to link to – there will be videos shortly and I’ll post links to those when they’re available).

I talked about how we’re going to be using Moodle 2

And we're going to be hosting an event (in Milton Keynes on June 20th) on using Moodle 2 in the HE sector.  There's more information at 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

It's all about the Numbers

Over the last few months most of the development team at the OU have been concentrating on activities related to getting Moodle 2 up and running here - and particularly in migrating the OU developed components and plug-ins for Moodle so that both we and others can use these in Moodle 2 as it gets deployed.
Our intention at the moment is to start using Moodle 2 with a small number of students this summer, and to gradually move all OU courses across to Moodle 2 over the following 12 months.  One of the issues for us is around having confidence in the ability of the new Moodle installation to cope with the sheer volume of traffic that our current Moodle 1.9 installation carries, so I thought it might be interesting say a bit about our monitoring of Moodle and the volume of traffic we're handling at the moment.
We have two almost-real-time systems monitoring the VLE.
There is a dashboard report on the VLE which lets us see the activity level over last 5 minutes, last 60 minutes and last 24 hours.  We can see how many users are on the system, and also get a indication of which parts of the system they are using.
OU VLE dashboard report
Alongside this we feed VLE transaction information out of the VLE to a centralised OU monitoring system which lets us see how traffic varies over the day.  The curve below is a fairly typical weekday curve showing our traffic climbing gradually through the morning to our day-time plateau (with a little peak at lunchtime) before a tea-time dip and then the evening peak.
OU VLE daily performance
So what are these tools telling us?
Firstly, the OU VLE is busy and has been getting dramatically busier over the last 18 months.
In February 2010 (February is always a really busy time in the OU's teaching calendar) our busiest day saw just under 700,000 logged transactions from just under 50,000 unique users, in February 2011 we saw the daily traffic peak at 1.4M transactions from 60,000 users (and on 21 days in February 2011 we had over 1M transactions).
Over the last 15 months we've been logging both the total number of transactions and the total number of unique users we've seen each day.  Both of these show similar patterns through the year - but while the user numbers have grown by between 20% and 30%, transaction figures have grown by over 100% over the last 12 months.
OU VLE transaction figures
OU VLE users
The next question is, what are the users doing while they're using the VLE?  The short answer is talking to each other via the forums - over the last 15 months we've seen the number of forum posts created each month climb from around 14,000 to close to 500,000.  Again the curve shows the same shape but climbs even more dramatically than the transaction numbers.
OU VLE forum posts
Now we know both the scale and the type of traffic that we can expect from our users, we need to ensure that our Moodle 2 installation can cope with this.  Hopefully I'll be able to post again in a few weeks to let you know.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

OU at Moodle Moot UK 2011

I'm delighted that, despite the pressures we're currently under to bring Moodle 2 into service at the OU, there will be four folks from the development team talking at the Moot this year.
Anthony Forth will be talking about our recent work in supporting mobile users of Moodle:  "Mobile, Moodle and the Open University".
Sam Marshall will be talking about how we've been working with Martin and his team; "How to change Moodle: working with Moodle HQ".
Tim Hunt will be talking about the latest quiz related developments: "Introducing the new Moodle question engine".
And I'll be talking about "Moving the Open University to Moodle 2.0".  I'll pick up on some of the questions I raised at the end of last year's Moot presentation - and talk about how we are planning to migrate our entire student population from Moodle 1.9 to Moodle 2.0 over the next 12 months.