Over the last six months I've been as far south as South Georgia and as far North as the North Cape. I've taken more pictures of penguins than is sensible, I've seen the Northern Lights on ten occasions, I've been mugged by a striated caracara, chased by antarctic fur seals, learnt to drive a team of Siberian huskies and realised just how cold -20C feels.
And despite (or maybe because of) my absence the Learning Systems team at the OU has kept going, delivering regular VLE releases adding new functionality and working to migrate OU modules from the old Moodle 1.9 VLE onto the new Moodle 2 platform.
As I've got re-immersed in OU activities over the last few weeks, I've had the chance to reflect on what has changed while I've been away.
Learning System developments tend to be bundled up in monthly releases and, inevitably, these releases usually involve incremental, rather than earth shattering, changes. However over a six month period the incremental changes all add up - and coming back to the party after a while away it really is quite dramatic how far things have moved on.
- We've now migrated about 50% of OU modules onto the new platform (currently using Moodle 2.2.2), and we're on track to have almost all modules moved over by the end of 2012. At the moment the new platform is carrying about 25% of the total load (in terms of transactions).
- We've brought Elluminate 10 into service at the OU - and about a third of our real-time collaboration traffic is now on that version of the platform.
- We've finally turned off the FirstClass conferencing system.
- We've rolled out OU Annotate to everyone in the OU Community - and added lots more new features to it. We are seeing really encouraging usage levels on this too.
- We've specified and started to develop a new version of the OpenLearn platform, based on Moodle 2.
- We've specified and done lots of development work to support the OU's move to qualitifications-based teaching.
Within the VLE itself,
- We've added lots of refinements to the collaborative tools collection (the OU versions of the blog, forum and wiki), most visibly making these tools all much more consistent.
- The Quiz Engine continues to evolve with every release adding a few more question types (we're now up to 23 different types). There has also been lots of work carried out to redevelop the STACK computer algebra system as a Moodle question type. We've been demonstrating that development to the Maths Faculty at the OU, and we expect to have it ready for release in Autumn 2012.
- We've also added extra features to Structured Content (the OU's XML-based authoring system) to further enrich the learning materials that students can get access to on the VLE.
Any one of these developments probably wouldn't have seemed big enough to need a blog post celebrating their completion but seen together they look like a really impressive collection of developments.
Maybe I should go away more often.