Thursday, January 17, 2008

Innovative Moodle development across a school

I've spent most of this morning in a meeting at Great Marlow School to explore, among other things, their steps towards integrating their Moodle with the Softlink Oliver library catalogue and our Adobe Connect videoconferencing and collaboration tool. Along the way I got to see a number of other developments they're undertaking. It's always encouraging when you see people working in ways in which you've imagined that schools might be able to work - and it's even more encouraging when they're working across an entire school. Here are some interesting aspects of the work I saw this morning...
Bullying Reporting Tool
An area for students contains a simple instance of the (optional) Feedback module which is in Atomwide's default build for Bucks and West Sussex Moodles. This tool allows students to report an incident of bullying anonymously, with the chance of giving their name if they want to. A pastoral co-ordinator gets an email whenever a student fills the form in - and the tool maintains a record of reports for later analysis if necessary. I'm hoping to co-author a tool like this (with different version for primary and secondary) to offer to schools if they want to use it through our BucksGfL Moodle Users area.
GMS Rewards System - Online Banking
This is an excellent tool whereby staff can issue "credits" to students in the form of an online banking system (which uses the fictitious currency of GMS Lira). It's essentially an instance of Moodle's Database module - with the course set up as separate groups - each student being in a group and hence only able to see their own credits and (if necessary) debits in the database. Credit is given for being a member of an organisation outside of school for a certain time, and a number of prizes are on offer for those with the highest balance at the end of specific periods. It's a really interesting and innovative use of the database tool - I love going to schools and seeing people using Moodle for things I'd never thought of.
Library System Integration
One thing I have thought for a while is that it's often the case that a group of people in secondary schools who get passed by in the development of a VLE are those who support students in the Library or Learning Resources centre of the school. People in these roles are used to handling, categorising and using large amounts of information and making it useful to students, so they're ideal to get involved at an early stage. In some schools I'd go so far to say that someone in that position should co-administer the VLE, as they may have the time to undertake some of the tasks a teacher might not (this depends on the school of course).
At GMS (and also at Beaconsfield High) the school have been wondering how they might start to integrate elements of their library system, which in the case of these schools is Softlink's Oliver.
This was first floated a while ago by Hadyn who works with GMS to develop their use of Moodle - a cursory view of the Oliver system didn't offer too much in the way of hooks which could be used in Moodle. However, with a bit of thought...
Most, if not all, of the information within Oliver is stored in a database - and as with any database, this could be exposed in different ways. It would be a fairly simple leap to make something like Oliver a little bit more Web 2.0ish - a simple way would be to exposed those searches, categories, reading lists, etc as RSS feeds displayed in Moodle RSS blocks. This would mean they could be easily included in any Moodle course (Geography reading lists in Geography courses, etc) and hence increase the use of Softlink's product. As far as I can see it, everyone wins.
Use of Adobe Connect to store content
You can store any file type in Moodle, right? Well, maybe that doesn't mean you should - particularly not if you've got a more efficient way of delivering it. GMS are (to my mind) leading the use of our Adobe Connect server for storing large and (typically) streamable files. In particular they are using it to store a number of videos relevant to science - and could even start to use it to host MP3 files to support music teaching. In the same way it's possible to create narrated PowerPoint content (like the background to the BucksGfL one I presented at a Naace conference a while ago) using the Adobe Presenter software (which our schools can use to upload PowerPoints to our Connect server) or simply just upload a normal PowerPoint and have it automatically converted to a Flash file. Here's another example written by a colleague on art - which explains why it is best to use the double primary colour palette and how to set out a painting station.
I'd love to have other secondaries developing like this in their own ways - to my mind this happens because GMS haev dedicated staff supporting the use of their VLE, whether it's for administration (an online staff bulletin), parents & carers' information, or support across the curriculum. With any luck we'll be able to share some of this with other Bucks secondary schools.


  1. Ian

    I am very interested in the reward system that is being used by GMS. Would they be able to give me some more information as to how they set it up?

    Some great posts here!

  2. Ian - have you someone I could contact at GMS?

    Barry Thomas

  3. Hi Barry,
    If you contact me directly (firstname.surname at then I'll pass your details to Hadyn from the school.
    Essentially, from what I remember, the course is set up with separate groups - with each group containing one student. The database activity is set up for separate groups, and all Yr 9 teachers are editors on the course. It's also set up so that only teachers can add records. The Add Record form allows teachers to add "credit" to a certain student (by adding it to that student's group) and then the student can see a list of their credits. I don't think it does a total, since the database module doesn't do that. I think that's it, but Hadyn might comment on this post to give more information!

  4. Ian,
    I have only just read your comments re-linking of the Oliver system to Moodle. A new version of Oliver has been released, which is based on a JEE development (not dependent on MS but available on MS SQL and SQL Express). It is possible for us to upgrade any existing Oliver users. There is no client install whatever and the integration with the likes of VLEs is via Web Services. I can give you (or any colleagues in other Schools) details of the technical architecture and all system requirements, if you are interested.
    We have been running Roadshows around the country, for all our existing School clients, but can discuss with individual Schools, as required.
    Best wishes, Iain Dunbar, Director Softlink Europe