Monday, 25 March 2013

March 2013 OU Learning Systems Update

In this update I'll mention the recent update to the OU VLE, talk about the traffic levels we’re currently seeing and then mention the developments that we have underway for VLE releases in April and in June.

First though, real time collaboration tools.  Over the last few months I’ve made slightly cryptic references to replacing the Elluminate system that we’ve been using since 2008.  I’m pleased to be able to confirm that we’ll be introducing OU Live over the next few months, based on Blackboard’s Collaborate Platform.

We expect to have the first pilot use of OU Live in May this year, and to progressively roll that platform out as a replacement for Elluminate over the next 12 or 15 months.  As with most major changes like this we’ll be making the transition gradually – migrating modules as presentations end.  We’ve already started talking to a number of module teams about the transition process.

The March VLE update happened as we planned on the morning of the 5th March.  We refined our update process for this release so that we could try and minimise the interruption to services, and I think that refinement worked well, and we were able to bring the servers back up a little bit earlier than we had planned.

Our next scheduled update is a minor one, planned for 16th April.  This release is being put in place so that we can deploy the bridge software that links the VLE to the new OU Live service.

We’ve seen VLE traffic drop off a little since our peak in early February.  This mirrors the pattern we’ve seen every year, but we are still seeing well over 7M transactions each week, and typically forty to fifty thousand users visiting the system each day.  Overall the system is performing very well, during this busiest period of the year, with the response times being well inside the targets we've set ourselves.

We’re also in the midst of development activities for the June VLE update.

We are expecting that update to be based on Moodle 2.4, and quite a lot of the development activity at the moment is being devoted to ensuring that all the OU developed components work correctly in the new version of Moodle.

There is still some performance testing work that we will need to carry out on the Moodle 2.4-based system to confirm that it will be to handle to huge traffic load that the OU Community will place on the server.

We expect the update to happen on Tuesday 4th June.

And it will include….
• Improvements to the Forum moderation tools
• Enhancements to the OU Anywhere tools
• An improved version of the OU Annotate system
• Improvements to the Wolfson Open Science Lab platform
• Improvements to the Quals on-line platform
• The first release of a new ‘Moodle for Exams’ platform
• An update to the OpenMark platform
• And a raft of minor changes to a lot of the other tools within the VLE as we’ve updated them to work in Moodle 2.4

And finally, this really is my final OU Learning Systems update. In the short term Geoff Aldridge will be taking over from me leading the Learning Systems team at the OU.

I do want to say that I am really proud of the work that I and the Learning Systems team have done over the last six or seven years, providing a truly world class VLE to the OU Community.   In the early days we struggled at times to cope with the growth in traffic, but we were able to find ways round those challenges.  And we were also able to use the move from Moodle 1.9 to Moodle 2 to re-engineer the platform quite substantially so that we able to cope with traffic levels that we could only have guessed at – or dreamt of - a few years ago.

I’m not going to single out particular members of the Learning Systems team for mention – the real strength of what we’ve been able to achieve has been down to the fact we’ve had a really strong team that brought different skills and perspectives to bear on the problems and challenges we’ve faced.

And really, really finally thanks for reading these updates.  I’ve appreciated the feedback I’ve received about them, and hope that they have been useful.  I will be continuing to blog about online learning, but my comments are likely to become much less OU specific!

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