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What are “Cool Solutions”?

Cool Solutions is the name we use to describe Univention solutions which expand UCS with practical, advantageous functions and which we successfully employ for our customers. These solutions are regularly showcased in the Univention Wiki in the form of Cool Solutions articles.

In this article I would like to introduce the learning platform Moodle and its interface with UCS. At the end of this article you can also find an interview we conducted with the Chemnitz education authorities, which are currently implementing Moodle in a number of the city’s schools.

What is Moodle?

Moodle is an online learning platform offering many of our customers in the education sector the possibility of installing a comprehensive and fully customizable learning platform quickly and easily. One particular advantage of Moodle@UCS is the fact that the user authentication can be configured in such a way that it is run directly against UCS’ OpenLDAP. This renders the doubled administration of two user databases unnecessary.

Lehrer Screenshot in Moodle

How do I install Moodle?

With UCS 4.1 and UCS@school you can install Moodle via the command line. The individual steps required for this are explained in detail in the Install Moodle and setup ldap authentication article. The prerequisite for the use of Moodle is a Linux system with a web server employing PHP as the script language (e.g., Apache + PHP) and MySQL as the database. Some of these components are already available in UCS; only MySQL and PHP need to be subsequently installed. Moodle can then be set up via a web interface.

Moodle itself is configured in a web interface. There is an installation wizard to help you with the initial set-up.

Possible applications for Moodle

Moodle’s strengths are particularly evident when it is employed as a teaching support tool. For example, the learning software allows teachers to make materials and solutions available for courses or groups and to assign additional exercises and materials to individual pupils. Furthermore, Moodle also offers possibilities for rapid communication and cooperation between pupils and teachers, even outside of school hours, thereby supporting special approaches for independent working and learning. It also simplifies the organization of teaching groups involving pupils from different classes, as pupils and teachers can also work on tasks and contents outside of class and save them centrally on the Moodle system.

Moodle’s adaptability

Moodle offers more than 1,000 plugins, all including a wide range of extra functions. When selecting plugins, you should pay attention to the following aspects:

  1. The plugin should be compatible with your Moodle version (currently 3.1.2).
  2. The release date of the last version should not be too long ago. In addition, it is also advantageous if it supports multiple Moodle versions. These are all good indications that the plugin is still being actively developed. If necessary, you can also contact the maintainer directly for more information.
  3. The statistic given for the “Number of sites using the plugin” indicates a nominal number of installations (e.g., >1k). The distribution is also an indication of the plugin’s usability.

If you cannot find what you are looking for among the plugins, Moodle also offers interfaces for developing your own functionalities. Some of our customers implement their own plugins for special educational tasks.

Operation

1. Operator

As Moodle has been the leading Open Source course management and learning platform for years, there are a wide range of operating models and support possibilities on offer. Our customers generally operate the Moodle instances self-sufficiently and centralized in an IT center. However, other models such as direct operation in the respective schools are found too. Moodle is naturally also available as a “Platform as a Service” (PaaS), but this operating model is generally not suitable for schools and educational authorities for data privacy reasons.

Here in the Professional Services department at Univention, we mostly recommend that our new customers run it centralized in an IT center where the existing technical network permits this. The advantage in this approach lies in the lower operating efforts required in terms of the hardware and availability. Our customers then generally establish a virtualized Moodle instance for each school, configure it, and make it available to the teachers.

2. Teaching staff

Maintaining the contents in Moodle puts certain demands on teaching staff. In the beginning especially they should expect that integrating and maintaining the contents will require a certain amount of time and effort. However, this is also true of every other learning and communication platform available. To some extent, the teaching staff is also unaware of the extensive functions Moodle has on offer. Some of the educational authorities we support therefore integrating “Introductions to Moodle” directly into the basic teacher training and further training schemes for exactly this reason. This makes it easier for teachers to overcome their inhibitions when they begin working with the software.

3. Pupils

Moodle offers a wide range of possibilities for independent and supervised learning. The scope of functions is enormous and not always self-explanatory. In this respect, it is up to the teaching staff to make the pupil’s first steps with Moodle as easy as possible. In addition, there is also an extensive offering of online resources for getting off to a good start with Moodle. Once this small hurdle has been successfully overcome, however, Moodle offers the perfect opportunity for effective teaching and learning. It’s no coincidence that literally millions of people use Moodle on a daily basis.

Further information on Moodle can be found on the following sites:


Brief Interview with Ms Glutsch, a representative of the city of Chemnitz


We know that you use Moodle in some of the schools in Chemnitz. What made you choose Moodle?

It was a specification that was formulated in the project right from the word go and which we have now been able to implement. Of course, generally speaking, the use of such tools always depends on the individual teachers and their preferences. There are also schools in Chemnitz which use other learning platforms.

How exactly is Moodle employed?

We have made Moodle available to all schools. To do so, we created a primary instance in the IT center and then an additional further instance for each school.

What pitfalls did you encounter during the installation, administration, and operation?

We perform user authentication against UCS. This is done using the Cool Solution from Moodle. It works very well. Unfortunately, running updates when administrating Moodle is relatively complicated, as each instance needs to be updated individually. Apart from that, the administration is relatively simple.

The use of the instances does differ considerably though. For example, there are schools which prefer to employ other learning platforms and do not make use of the Moodle instances at all. On the other hand there are also schools which use Moodle intensively and work very productively with it. These schools run the tests and finals for entire year groups almost exclusively online with Moodle. The problem here is the content: schools have to compile that themselves. It doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, and its maintenance also requires considerable efforts on their part.

Thank you for your time!

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Michel joined Univention in January 2014, initially working in the Professional Services team as an education project manager. Here he was involved in various projects in the school administration environment. Currently, as Product Manager Education, he is responsible for the entire education sector at Univention and is working on sustainably advancing digital education in Germany. When he finds time next to family and work, his personal interests are running, football and cooking.

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