Reinventing the wheel?

One of the questions which crops up regularly at the OU is why we’re enhancing tools such as blogs and wikis within Moodle when there are better ones out there on the Internet which we could give access to instead. Why don’t we just provide WordPress and MediaWiki which have a lot more features than their Moodle equivalents?

This is a wonderful concept. Grab the best of the open source software out there on the Internet, install it on University servers and roll it out to all our students. I wish it was that simple.

Firstly, there is now a large amount of expertise in Moodle at the University and an ability to keep on top of the developments happening to the product in the wider community. It would be a complex task to maintain a similar understanding of a broader range of open source products, their functionality, code base and release cycles.

Second, the products have widely differing user interfaces and have not been enhanced for accessibility and usability in the way that has been possible with the Moodle tools.

Third, the integration possible in a single VLE allows for example a forum contribution or a blog entry to be transferred instantly to the eportfolio, or a term appearing in the glossary to be highlighted within the forum, blog, quiz or any other module. Achieving such integration across multiple, continually evolving systems would be a highly complex software engineering task.

Fourth, there is no need to replicate user databases, access permissions etc across multiple systems, and the user needs only authenticate once.

Finally, it is far easier to track usage from Moodle’s single database rather having to trawl for data through the databases of multiple elearning systems.

I wonder also if people are so used to using systems like WordPress, the one I use for this blog, that they expect the same interface and functionality when they encounter one of these in an educational context. There may be a sense of unfamiliarity and disappointment when encountering these somewhat cut-down tools inside a VLE. But the new tool may actually have all the functionality needed for the learning activity together with a more straightforward and accessible user interface.

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