New version of Turnitin Integration

March 1st, 2009

Last week I updated the turnitin version in CONTRIB – and I realised there have been a few changes recently, but I haven’t actually mentioned them anywhere! – here is an attempt at some “release notes” for those interested!

  • Improved display of errors to both Students and Teachers –  errors in the 1000 series are now printed directly to the screen instead of just displaying the error code to teachers.
  • A new option to the advanced assignment type has been added to allow teachers to choose when the files are submitted to turnitin – before or after a student has submitted the files for marking. (thanks to Darren Harkness from Athabasca for this patch!)
  • 419 error codes were occurring for older assignments due to a bug that has been fixed
  • 407 error codes were occurring due to the API calls happening too fast for the Turnitin API to catch up
  • 31 error codes were occurring due to files being deleted before submission to Turnitin – a check for file existence was shifted to address this.
  • new css class added to similarity links to allow better control in css
  • improved error checking and debugging information to various areas.
  • A bug with the logic checking for closed activities has been fixed

Hope that’s useful for some people! – I’ve also been talking with the Crot block authors this past week – I’m hoping there’s a way we can integrate the crot and turnitin work so that they are both available via a similar interface!

3 March 09 Edit: looks like I introduced a bug with the single upload assignment type in this last change – should be fixed now!

Student Feedback

January 20th, 2009

It’s really important for teachers to get feedback from their students – it can be very humbling, but it is always good to try and improve where we can. Teachers and Developers engage in the forums to constantly refine Moodle, but we can sometimes miss the voice of the students! Alex Miller has a post on the LTT blog about a session at Moodlemoot AU last year presented by some Year 12 students. One of the comments is directed at teachers – “Our teachers don’t know enough about the capability of these systems, which frustrates us, let us help!”

This really points out our need to train the teachers!- Moodle has a great Teacher certification program facilitated by Moodle Partners all over the world, I’d highly reccomend this program, the more teachers understand Moodle, the happier the students will be!

I also find the end of that statement interesting “let us help!” – students are a great resource, make sure that you provide tools in your courses to allow your students to share information – encourage it! – I’m looking forward to see the new Wiki tools get integrated into Moodle – engaging your students to generate wiki pages based on the course content will help them learn, and provide a great resource to share with other students!

The comments by the students in the LTT blog regarding social networking is interesting too! – Teachers have a range of opinions on this as shared in the forums, it’s good to hear what the students feel about this too! – maybe something for a future blog post!

Moodle 2.0 patches

January 12th, 2009

I’ve been working on getting a few patches ready for 2.0 this week that have been sitting in my list for a while! 2.0 is shaping up to be a really good Moodle release!

MDL-7206 – a patch to allow all assignments to be downloaded in a single zip
This is something I wrote a while back that has been hacked at by various people and a patch in that issues is available for 1.9 – I’ve wanted to get this into core for a while, but haven’t ever got round to it!

Some issues around error handling in backups – silient backups/restores dont’ do any error reporting, so I’m planning on modifying the backup_logs table to allow other errors to be saved other than just data related to scheduled backups.  details on this are in MDL-14736 and MDL-12037

I’d also like to prepare a patch for a new backup/restore type that would allow a restore to update a course, rather than duplicating or needing to delete the content of the course first – it would be nice to see this feature integrated into an improved backup/restore UI to allow a teacher to select each individual activity/resource and decide whether to update/delete/roll dates forward etc.

And then theres the Turnitn stuff I’d like to get into core, although it will require some funding so I can convert the code to work with the new stuff in 2.0

Turnitin and Moodle

December 18th, 2008

It feels like a long time ago when I first started to hack on a Turnitin Integration with Moodle – I was inspired to put something together after Turnitin released their Moodle Assignment Type which provided SSO into their site so that students didn’t have to go to the website login, and upload their files… I didn’t really like this much for a couple of reasons

  • it presented a different interface which did not use the Site’s Moodle Theme (although it kept the Moodle header in a frame at the top of the page)
  • All the files were stored on Turnitins servers, so if an institution cancelled their subscription to turnitin there was no easy way of retrieving and storing the submitted files against specific users/courses/assignment
  • It required manual editing of config files for account Id’s, secret keys, api addresses, emails etc.

So…. I started hacking on an integration that allowed teachers to use the standard Moodle modules – such as the advanced and single assignment types with an extra setting that allowed them to “enable” turnitin for “this” assignment. It’s taken a lot of constant refining (and there’s still more to go) but we now have a patch that works pretty well for 1.9 (and a 1.6 patch too!)

The development on this patch was initially done in my own time, but more recently has been funded by the University of Waikato, with Sussex University funding the 1.6 patch!

This past couple of weeks, Waikato have paid for some improvements to the error reporting – it now displays nicer error messages to the students and staff when a file has been submitted that Turnitin Cannot process – like errors around submitting images instead of text documents.

One of the issues with the integration is that it uses a single “global Teacher account” – every assignment/course/file is connected to that single “Teacher” in the Turnitin system. I did this initially as the turnitin system only allows 1 teacher to be assigned to a course, and as Moodle allows multiple teachers, we needed to share a common teacher account. But! – this means that if we were to login as that teacher on the site, we would have access to all assignments created by the Moodle integration. This isn’t suitable for people using the Turnitin Grademark tool, or to allow teachers easy access to the extended featureset available on the site. I’d like to modify this to use a single teacher account for each course inside moodle, to allow better access.

There are currently a couple of issues around the Turnitin API that the Turnitin dev team tell me they would like to fix!

  • There’s currently no easy way for a teacher to use the Turnitin grading interface (grademark has some fancy features which the Moodle gradebook doesn’t!) and then have those grades sent back into the Moodle Gradebook – The Turnitin guys tell me they’re keen to implement this (not sure on a timeframe) – it’s advantageous to them as people only using the Moodle integration may not want to pay for Grademark if it doesn’t integrate with Moodle.
  • The standard Turnitin interface allows a teacher to elect whether turnitin will store the submitted assignments in their main database for comparison against other submitted papers. This option isn’t available as part of the api, but it is an option that a lot of people I have talked to would like to have.

Another thing that bugs me a bit about the integration in it’s current form is the method used to munge e-mail addresses when institutions don’t want their students to be able to access the site directly. all this currently does is add some text to the start of their e-mail address which is fine if the students cannot alter their e-mail address and use an internal organisation address, but if they can use gmail/yahoo accounts then the “munge” introduces a range of issues.

I added the “munge” feature because the Integration creates valid assignments/courses on the site, and if a student went directly to the site and submitted an assignment, there would be no record of that submission in Moodle – which would potentially cause confusion for teachers! – so the munge was added to prevent that from being happen.

A “better way” to manage this would be for the Turnitin API to allow assignments to be created that do not allow manual submission from the site…… I must remember to ask the turnitin team about this……

My thanks goes out to all the people who are using the integration and helping others “trying” to use it in the forums – I get a lot of e-mail these days, and am constantly chasing my tail trying to respond to it all, so that help is really appreciated!

We do need some funding to do a lot of this work (including the work to create a 2.0 version of the integration and put it in Moodle Core) – let me know if this is something you might be able to help fund!

Less than 20 bugs in SCORM!

December 7th, 2008

We’ve managed to get the bugs in SCORM down to 17 issues! 7 are related to SCORM 2004, 6 are feature requests, and the remaining issues have a low impact for people using SCORM!

This past couple of weeks the following issues have been resolved:
MDL-17115 – Improved API check, which greatly improves the speed in which a SCORM object loads/performs for a user.
MDL-16651 – ability to delete SCORM responses
MDL-12588 – Restrict SCORM module availability via time/date duration (only in 2.0)
MDL-17034 – Update Frequency not enforced
MDL-11908 – allow skip content page with Multiple SCOS
MDL-11501 – improved control over SCORM content (2.0 only)
MDL-16123 – improved method of accessing external scorm objects via proxy

A couple of other small ones have been fixed too!

Of the remaining issues, MDL-16184 is probably the highest priority, then there’s all the SCORM 2004 work that needs to be done. We really need to put together a costing/quote to get the SCORM 2004 stuff finished so we can raise some $$ to continue to work solidly on SCORM

I’ve been impressed with the number of people helping out in the SCORM forum on recently! Thanks to everyone who has helped in the forums and in the Bug Tracker! There also seems to be a decline in the number of people asking for help using older versions of Moodle which is great! – I’ve tried to improve a lot of the SCORM Docs/Faqs to help with this as well.

OLPC and Moodle

November 25th, 2008

I’ve been playing around with an OLPC laptop from Martin Langhoff recently(so have our kids!) This is an amazing project! – Part of their mission statement: “To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.”

Larissa using the XO

Larissa using the XO

I have friends in the mission field overseas who tell me stories about the limited resources available to the children, these laptops are soo cheap and yet, they provide an abundant source of learning! – I’ve really been amazed at the quality and the quantity of what the OLPC team have packed into this device, especially the focus on applications that are simple and fun to use, and have solid learning objectives.

Martin Langhoff has been working on the School Server for the OLPC project, and Moodle is going to be a core part of this which looks quite interesting…..

Moodle has traditionally been used by higher education institutions, but as it has matured, it has been picked up by a range of other organisations (here in NZ it’s being picked up by a lot of government departments!)  the OLPC program brings in a very different demographic – 6-12 yr old children with no computer experience, no IT support, and maybe 1 teacher? From what I understand – the “school server” will sit at the school and the teachers won’t know how to configure/administer any of the usual stuff, so it will just need to reliably work out of the box. Martin alludes to some of the changes that are going to be needed here I’ll be watching this project with interest, and may dig out an old box at some point to install the school server to connect to my XO at home!

SCORM 1.2 Certification in Moodle

November 12th, 2008

Roberto Pinna did some great groundwork setting the SCORM module up, but unfortunately ran out of time to devote to it, and since then, SCORM in Moodle had really taken a dive! 🙁 – it’s became unreliable, there was a mounting list of bugs, and forum posts sitting with no response. Piers Harding and I took up the challenge to tackle the “Beast” and see if we could make it a bit more reliable, and compliant!

The first task of cleaning out the Moodle Tracker has been a mammoth one, sifting through a range of duplicates/bad SCORM packages, and red herrings! We’ve finally got the tracker into a manageable state (32 issues as of the time I write this post!)

Thanks to Piers hard work getting the ADL Self-Test Suite working – Moodle 1.9.3 and Moodle 1.8.7 both pass all tests in the test suite! – we’re hoping to get “Official Certification” at some point! – I hope we get a fancy logo to display somewhere on the site! 🙂

One of our constant battles at the moment is the number of people requesting help in the forums with older versions of Moodle – with the number of bugs fixed in Moodle 1.9.3 and 1.8.7 it’s really hard to gauge whether the person is referring to an old bug, or an issue with their SCORM object! – I’ll say it here again! – If you’re using SCORM, please upgrade to 1.9.3 or 1.8.7 before posting your request for help! – it will certainly help us focus on the work instead of re-hashing old issues!

There’s still a lot of outstanding work on SCORM that we’d like to get to! – Top of my list are:
MDL-16651 – ability to delete SCORM responses
MDL-12588 – Restrict SCORM module availability via time/date duration
These 2 should be really easy to implement, and I’m surprised they haven’t been in the Moodle Tracker untill recently.

Others that I’d like to see good solutions on are:
MDL-17115 – In 1.9.3 we’ve added a small countdown to the page to give a visual indication of a delay that has always been there! – It’s annoying a lot of people as they weren’t aware that the delay was being forced in the first place, and now we are displaying the countdown, the time it’s taking the SCORM object to load is much more visible. This delay is there to wait for the browser to load all the JavaScript API stuff before trying to call the SCORM object. This really needs to be done in a much cleverer way! – I’d like to see an extra check added to the time delay that somehow checks to see if the JavaScript API has loaded and redirects the user as soon as it finds the API. I think there could be a range of different ways of achieving this…if anyone has some good solid Ideas, I’d love to hear them!

The other thing that annoys me a lot is the reporting or lack of reporting for SCORM in Moodle – it’s clunky, and isn’t easy to get the information that everyone wants. There are a range of bugs in the Moodle Tracker related to reporting – I’d love to see some good examples on how reporting is managed in other LMS – let me know if you’ve got screenshots/etc that we can base some work on!

A lot of the grading/reporting issues people are having are related to settings that are being set incorrectly in their SCORM authoring tool. Piers has been working on a patch for Moodle 2.0 (not 1.9 sorry!) – that allows a teacher to force a range of settings even if set incorrectly in the SCORM package – see MDL-11501 for the details on this.

AICC is supported in the SCORM module, however there are still a lot of bugs in 1.9 – we’ve pushed these into Moodle 2.0, but haven’t had the time to test them properly in 1.9 – after talking with a few people this week, I might be interested in patching this for 1.9.4 – if anyone has any funding they could put towards this, make sure you let me know! – Also – let me know if getting AICC Certification would be useful – there don’t seem to be that many people using AICC in the forums…although that could be due to the number of AICC related bugs in 1.9!

I couldn’t finish this post without “mentioning” SCORM 2004…. this is still a way off for us, the common statement is “some of it’s there, but it’s missing sequencing and navigation”. I don’t expect we’d get this done before Moodle 2.0 release, It’s hard to balance whether time should be spent on the SCORM 2004 stuff, or the other structural/scalability issues. My feeling is that we need a good base to build the 2004 stuff into, and at the moment, the base is stronger than it was, but it still needs improvement! We still need help with managing the large number of forum posts – if there’s anything posted which you have experience with (or you’ve seen previous posts with similar info) it would be great for you to chime in and share you experience!

Moodlemoot AU 08

August 22nd, 2008

We booked our flights for Moodle Moot AU ( this week, Moodle Moots are a great way to network with other Moodlers! – It will be my first Moot outside of NZ, and will be good to meet some of the AU Moodlers in person!

The first day of the Moot has some full-day workshops which look really interesting – Julian Ridden is running a full-day workshop for Moodle Administrators which would be good for anyone supporting the use of Moodle in their organisation! – I’ll be attending the Developer workshop which Martin Dougiamas will be running! – I’ll look forward to meeting all the other AU Moodle Developers!

All good Moodle sites use a custom theme – Julian Ridden is running a session on the 2nd day of the Moot  to take people through Moodle Themes, and the ways you can customise the look of your Moodle site!, Julian is also running a session called “Turbo-charge your Moodle” – this will be a great showcase of some of the 3rd party contributed patches that allow you to add extra functionality to Moodle.

Keep an eye on Martin Langhoffs presentations! – Moodle Networking, which allows you to “network” a group of Moodle sites for SSO and other interesting things.. He is also presenting a session on the “One Laptop per Child” program – check out his session for a range of really cool Laptops and gadgets! – the OLPC project is a great project if you haven’t heard about it, make sure you check it out!

Nigel (from Catalyst) is presenting on the Mahara e-portfolio integration with Moodle. E-portfolios are pretty new, and this integration opens up a whole group of great possibilities!

I’ll be presenting on the Moodle/Turnitin Deep Integration, I’ll post more about this later on – but this patch is currently available for Moodle1.9Stable, Moodle 1.6Stable and is planned for inclusion in Moodle 2.0

If you’re going to be at the Moot – come and introduce yourselves, I look forward to meting you!

Finally a proper Blog!

August 22nd, 2008

Well, I’ve finally got round to setting up a proper Blog! – I’ve had a few in the past, but never really got round to regularly making updates! Still using the default theme, but I’ll get round to tidying that stuff up in the future.- I hope to make this a space for posting stuff that I’m working on or interested in! – keep tuned for stuff about Moodle! – specifically Turnitin, assignments, SCORM, and Backups!