Wednesday, 6 June 2012

June 2012 Learning Systems Update

I’ve been doing a Learning Systems podcast each month (with the exception of my recent ‘sabbatical’) since December 2008.  These podcasts are available to the Open University community but not more widely.  It occurred to me recently that I could (in the spirit of recycling) turn the scripts from these podcasts into a monthly posting here too – trimmed or extended where I get too OU specific.
At the time of the May post the Learning Systems team were still spending quite a lot of time grappling with the degraded performance we saw when we upgraded from Moodle 2.1 to 2.2 in early April.  Most of our users wouldn’t have spotted the degradation in performance – but on the servers we could see that the typical time it took to deliver a page within Moodle had jumped from around 300 ms to just over 500 ms. In itself perhaps not a figure to panic about, but something that we felt that we needed to both understand and remedy.  We were eventually able to isolate the problem to the new mechanism for handling context in Moodle 2.2 – and particularly to the sort of indexing required in PostgreSQL to support the context handling at OU scales.  Once we got our heads round the indexing, we saw performance jump back to the sort of figures we had with Moodle 2.1.  Panic over, for now at least.  The saga of the move to Moodle 2.2, has made us revisit the timetable we had in mind for deploying Moodle 2.3.  We had been planning to deploy 2.3 in either August or September  - with the latter being more likely give the slip in the release.  We now think that we need to do some serious load testing on Moodle 2.3 (as it’s configured at the OU) before can unleash it on our users, which will inevitably introduce some delay into the deployment.   There are a number of features in 2.3 that we want to bring into service here – not least the one’s that we’ve developed – so we will be bringing the new version into service at soon as we can.
Once we’ve got our collective heads around Moodle 2.3, we’ll turn our attention to Moodle 2.4.  The provisional specification for Moodle 2.4 mentions incorporating both the ForumNG and OUwiki.  Both of these were developed at the OU and shared with the community, and I’d be absolutely delighted to see these formally adopted into Moodle.  I’m sure there will be some work for developers here to do to smooth the way forward, and we’ll do whatever we need to do to help this happen.
In more routine business, we’re still gradually moving OU modules (courses in Moodle-speak) from our Moodle 1.9 installation through onto the newer 2.2 installation.  We’re doing this gradually as each module ends so that our students don’t see a sudden change in mid-presentation. At the moment Moodle 1.9 is seeing around 4.5M transactions each week, and Moodle 2.2 about 2.3 M – we expect that balance to switch round as we go through the summer and into the autumn.
We’ve also started work on refreshing the real-time tools we use alongside Moodle. We are currently running with Elluminate 10 (from Elluminate when we bought into it, now from Blackboard) – and we’ve just started the procurement exercise to allow us to either continue with Blackboard Collaborate for a further period of time, or to move to an alternative platform.  There is more information about the procurement exerciseelsewhere.
And finally, and only relevant to OU folks, there will be a update to the both VLE installations during June. On Tuesday 12th June we'll be updating the new VLE - the biggest single change being the new HTML Activities tool within Structured Content - significantly improving the ability to embed HTML4/HTML5 activities within the VLE. On Tuesday 19th June we'll be updating the old VLE - no new features being added, just minor maintenance updates.