Sunday, April 26, 2009

Moodle Experimentation Scare

I freaked myself out this morning after making a small change which took down all of my sites on the same domain as my experimental moodle. Yesterday I installed Moodle using Fantastico on my hosted web server account and everything went great. I had one notification in Moodle telling me that I needed to change a setting in the .htaccess file. After finally finding the .htaccess file I found that there was not a single line of code visible. I decided to type in the line of code that the Moodle notification told me I needed to change. This line of code took down my portfolio site and a project site I am working on for a friends business along with my brand new experimental moodle installation. Needless to say this scared the crap out of me so I fired off an email to the support team at Everity web hosting who responded within minutes with a resolution to my problem.

Everity had the site back up in minutes and found a solution to the notification Moodle is giving me. Turned out I was not able to change the line of code which was "register_globals=off" on my server so Everity is moving it to a server where this setting is to "off" by default. It's going to take a few hours before I can be sure that the problem is solved but it sounds like a good solution. Everity provided great customer service with a quick response and resolution to my problem.

Once my experimental Moodle installation is back online I will be forging ahead by customizing the theme and setting up a course for an instructional design class I am taking in the Ed Tech program at SDSU. Hopefully I won't have any more scares but even if I do I am sure I will learn from it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moodle: Email Notfication Problems

A very common theme in the Moodle forums is problems with email notifications for things like submitted assignments, forum posts, graded assignments, etc. It's good to know that I am not the only one having these kinds of LMS problems. I was having issues with email notifications only working every once in a while and I finally had time to dive into the Moodle community and research the issue.

In my research I found that there are two common problems Moodle admins have with email notifications. Turns out I was having both of these problems. The first and more complicated issue is not having a Cron job set up on the web server hosting moodle and the second issue had to do with using SMTP to send email from Moodle.

The first issue was the tough one to figure out. Before researching this issue I didn't even know what Cron Jobs are which made it difficult for me to troubleshoot the issue. After trolling through Moodle forums I learned that a Cron Job is something that tells the server to run processes such as sending emails and running backup routines. I think I may have missed something in the moodle installation that automatically creates the Cron Job because I didn't have one created on my hosted server. Once I figured this out I jumped into creating a Cron Job using instructions from the Moodle Documentation Wiki. At first the instructions seemed easy but as usual the Cron Job I created using the instructions gave me errors. The error I was getting was a result of a UNIX command line that the server did not agree with. The Moodle instructions gave other command line options so I tried another option and it solved the problem. The Cron job started working but the email notifications still weren't working.

At this point the Cron job was working but the emails still weren't coming which lead me to the second common issue of using SMTP settings to send the email. In Moodle you have the option of sending email through SMTP or PHP. If you use SMTP you need to enter your servers information into Moodle which I did and I think I did correctly but it wasn't working. I came across several posts regarding this in the Moodle Forums and one post suggested simply not using SMTP and deleting the SMTP information you entered in Moodle. I did this and bang the emails started arriving. Moodle obviously didn't like what I entered for the SMTP information and wanted to send emails using PHP.

Now I have the email notifications working but they are working a little too well. Submitted assignment email notifications are going to people other than the "Teacher" of the class. I still need to do some fine tuning with this but I have a feeling it is something simple I overlooked.

I hope this post finds other rookie Moodle implementers and helps solve similar issues. Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions for the persisting email notification problems I am having.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rapid Performance Analysis

Rapid performance analysis, is there such a thing? In a discussion with a LinkedIn connection, the topic of a quicker way to complete an effective performance analysis came up. His company frowns on spending time up front completing an analysis and wants him to dive into course development to "Save Time." I understand the importance of producing a tangible instructional product quickly but I believe with a mindset like this you will spend more time creating solutions that are not effective or you end up wasting time doing re work after you come up with a great idea halfway through the project. After reading "Job Aids & Performance Support" by Allison Rosset, and "Analyzing Performance Problems" by Robert Mager and Peter Pipe, I am sold on the notion that a "course" is not always the answer and if a "course" is the answer it is crucial to conduct an analysis to produce an effective instructional product.

In the corporate world it is important to walk the fine line of producing a quality product and producing it quickly. So, how do we in the corporate training and development field balance conducting an effective performance analysis with the business need of producing it quickly? We hear so much about "Rapid Development" in the world of eLearning but we don't hear much about "Rapid Analysis." My favorite resource for helping work my way through a performance analysis quickly is Mager and Pipes "Quick Reference Checklist." I find the questions in the checklist help keep me focused on the important aspects of the analysis and make it easy to conduct an effective analysis quickly.

Below I listed out some of the key questions I ask myself when attempting to conduct an effective but rapid performance analysis. The questions I have listed out below is what I have boiled Mager and Pipes quick reference checklist down to after a few years of applying it in my instructional design work.
  1. What is the problem and is it worth pursuing? In many cases it may be more expensive or anti productive to address the problem then it would be to leave well enough alone. You always want to be sure that you are going to get a justifiable return on your investment.
  2. Is the performance problem a result of a skill deficiency, consequences, or the process? You would think this is such an obvious question to ask your self but all too often we assume that some kind of a course is the answer to the problem. I have found that in many situations that simplifying the process or providing consequences can have a much larger impact than any kind of instructional product. Is the workflow efficient? Is desired performance rewarding? Do they know when they are doing a good job? Are there any obstacles? Many of us are paid to turn out courses but you will prove greater value to the business by recommending the solution with the highest return on investment.
  3. If your answer to the above question is skill deficiency, then how often do they need to perform the task? Is it just something that they need to do every once in a while? If so, maybe a job aid would be more effective then a course. Sometimes all that is needed is a simple set of instructions that are accessible just in time. A simple job aid can sometimes produce better results at a fraction of the cost.
  4. Which solution yields the most value? By the time you answer the questions above you will have a good idea of what needs to be done to close the skill gap. At this point you need to decide which solution or blend of solutions is going to yield the most value to the organization. Not the solution with the most bells and whistles but the solution that is going to provide the most bang for the buck
Although not an exhaustive analysis I find the questions listed above get me off to a rapid start on instructional design projects. Please help me and my LinkedIn connection out by posting your rapid analysis tips in the comments section.