Cloud Computing, Learning Tree, Open Source and Moodle

Happy New Year!

One benefit of cloud computing is that it facilitates examination (or re-examination!) of technologies that may previously have presented an administrative, financial or technical barrier. For example there are Amazon Machine Images which come pre-installed with open-source solutions as delivered as a “virtual appliance“. Similarly the Azure Companion makes it very easy to get popular open-source applications running on Azure.

Recently I have been looking at one such application, Moodle, for potential use within Learning Tree. Moodle is an open-source virtual learning environment (VLE). It has been around for about 10 years and has a large installed base and user community. Moodle is popular in schools, universities and businesses. It is not new, but it is constantly evolving.

What is (relatively) new, however, is the degree to which cloud computing makes Moodle accessible. Whereas previously I might have had to acquire a server, set it up, download software and futz around for a few days to get everything to work I can now just use a community AMI provided by BitNami (there are others too) that comes with Moodle already configured. Literally within a matter of minutes my machine is up and running with a Moodle administrator account ready for me to start adding users and courses.

Since I am a newbie to Moodle there was a bit of a learning curve. The online educational resources at moodle.org and from within the community, though, are excellent. So, after some moodling about (yes, that is an actual verb!) I was able to construct a course with content that closely resembles our classroom course 1200 – Cloud Computing Technologies a Comprehensive Hands-On Introduction.

Figure 1 Cloud Computing course on Learning Tree Moodle site

In the course I have made use of some other cloud technologies as well: Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live to share the course slides and written transcript; YouTube for short demonstrations and Amazon CloudFront for delivery of longer streaming media such as the chapter presentation; EC2 for hands-on exercises. The course also utilizes Moodle’s discussion forums, blogs and quiz engine. Probably there are other resources and activities I could add to the course as it evolves.

So, how might we be able to use Moodle at Learning Tree? While it is well suited to “traditional” education based on semester long courses, is this asynchronous model compatible with Learning Tree’s format of short, intensive hands-on immersion? Is there any value at all in using a virtual learning environment in conjunction with our instructor led training?

I believe the answer may be yes. For example it is conceivable that a resource such as this could be used both as a pre-course preparation tool and post-course reference. Students who chose to use the site for preparation would come to the classroom having already absorbed some of the material. Classroom time could be more productively spent asking questions about material they did not understand and using the instructor to really get into more depth on things. After the class is over students could use the site as a reference and could continue to participate in discussions and blogs. They may even have access to the exact machine configurations they used in class to perform the hands-on exercises.

While these are issues that we will no doubt discuss internally I am curious to know what you think. If you are a past, present or potential future attendee at a Learning Tree course is this something that would be of interest to you? Do you have any previous educational experience using Moodle or other VLE? Would you use this as a resource either for preparation or review?

I am sure there are a variety of opinions out there …

Kevin


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