Thursday, 11 October 2012

October 2012 Learning Systems update

I think it's safe to say that our autumn traffic surge has well and truly started. Over the last few weeks our total transaction count on the various systems within the VLE collection has climbed from under 4 million to 5 million to then to well over 7 million.  We’re also finally seeing our new Moodle 2 system really start to the take over from the old Moodle 1.9 system – recently the new system has been carrying well over 75 % of the traffic, and we recently saw the newer system finally have it’s first 1 million transaction day.  I’m pleased to say that the platform is continuing to perform well under this high load.

As I mentioned in the last update there isn’t a VLE update in either October or November, however we do have a lot of development activities underway targeted at the December release. I’ll talk about a few of these.
We’ve just about completed work on the STACK development to support assessment of mathematics – this work has been a partnership between the OU and University of Birmingham, and I’m delighted that the system is finally getting it's first use in Birmingham this month, and on OU systems shortly after that.  To find out more, go and join in the animated discussions on the forums. There is also due to be a book published shortly by Chris Sangwin (our collaborator at Birmingham) which will say much more about computer aided assessment in mathematics.
We’ve also been doing development work to improve the way that Moodle handles the growing number of very big files we have.  Moodle isn’t really designed to handle big files well, and as more projects and initiatives around the OU have started to produce huge video files or complex ebooks we’ve needed to find way to both store and deliver these to users.  A new development, that will be part of the December release, will make this process much more efficient. If everything goes well users won’t notice any change – but the overall system performance should get better. There is more about this on Sam Marshall's blog.
On the theme of system performance, we’ve been continuing to evaluate the performance of Moodle 2.3.  We’re currently running with Moodle 2.2 and we want to be sure that moving to version 2.3 won’t have an adverse impact on performance.
We’ve also started doing a further round of development work on the Annotate system.  We’ve given this system a little while to bed down, and we now have a series of new features we want to add to the system. These will appear progressively over the next few releases – starting with the December release. There is a some background information on Annotate on Jenny Gray's blog, and if you are a member of the OU community you can get more information and try it out at
Finally I want to talk about Elluminate.  We had an interruption to the Elluminate service during the last weekend of September, which impacted a significant number of users. There were two issues linked to the problem, the first (which we are still exploring with Blackboard) related to a problem with the underlying database which supports part of the Elluminate system, and a second issue which is related a slightly strange state that the system got itself into when it was restarted. We’ve already put a fix in place for this second issue, so that if similar problem recurs with the database we should be able to resolve it much more rapidly.
While I’m talking about Elluminate I should say that we are still working with a number of external suppliers to identify what will replace the current Elluminate platform next year – hopefully I’ll be able to bring you the outcome of that deliberation as part of the November update.