Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Memoire in Eight Bits

Clearing out my desk drawer, in anticipation of escape, revealed a rich collection of old business cards, including lots of mine.

A history of online learning in eight bits (of card)?

First arrived at the Open University – in the Academic Computing Service.  Worked on THD204 built using Toolbook and delivered on 3 CDs.  First experience of learning and teaching online at the OU was hearing from disgruntled users demanding that we stay with CoSy rather than move to that new-fangled FirstClass system.
After a brief escape, returned to the OU to join the Library.  Helped them through the trauma of Y2K, made all their servers run the same operating system, and helped with the implementation of the Voyager library management system.
Jumped to the newly-formed LTS and to On-Line Applications Team.  We built course websites. Lots of them.  We worked with individual course teams and then handcrafted websites to do exactly what they needed.  Great fun, but very expensive and with lots of maintenance work to do each year. ColdFusion was our friend, and occasionally our foe.  Online stuff was, for most course teams, an optional extra or afterthought to the course, but we did make the revolutionary (or at least evolutionary) step of moving to load-balanced servers.

I must have been important by this stage – was allowed a yellow blob on my business cards.  Media Account Manager for OU Business School, for IET and ran the Corporate Team in LTS.  Lots of time taken up getting the OU's home-made lightweight Learning Management system up and running, and persuading course teams that they should move from their lovingly crafted website to that new-fangled Promises system.

Start of the Moodle years.  Clearly a time of radical thinking – we even had trendy ‘portrait’ business cards.   Made the decision to move away from lots of different systems and technologies, and hand-crafted websites to a single platform that would do (almost) everything we needed.   And in our spare time we built OpenLearn (building on the work we were already doing to make Moodle work at the scale that the OU needed).  Lots of grumbles from disgruntled users that we should stay with FirstClass rather then move to that new-fangled Moodle system.   
Everything gets bigger, including the type-face – business cards go back to ‘landscape’, and the FAX number now disappears from the card.   Every course now needs to have a course website, and online is no longer just an optional extra.  Senior management now get agitated whenever there’s a problem with the VLE. Not that there were too many problems.

Moodle 2 on the horizon. We make the decision that we will move to Moodle 2, and move away from the huge number of core customisations that we’d introduced while using Moodle 1.  Traffic levels still rising as more and more courses now make more and more use of more and more features within the VLE.  I’m sure we did have grumbles from disgruntled users that we should stay with Moodle 1.9 rather then move to that new-fangled Moodle 2 system.

Moodle 2 up and running and being used for the OU’s main VLE, for OpenLearn and for Qualifications OnLine.   Regularly seeing days with well over 1M transactions.  Regularly seeing days with over 60,000 unique users using the system.

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