Sunday, March 3, 2013

2012 Mar 1~3 | Moodle Moot Japan | EnglishCentral on Moodle

Moodle Moot Japan 2013
I participated in the 2013 Moodle Moot in Japan hosted by the Moodle Association of Japan and Tokyo Kasei University.  The venue was right in a prime location in Tokyo (Itabashi Town) and is only minutes from a large district called Ikebukuro.  My role in the conference was to provide support to attendees in the Moodle Genius Bar.  That was to be the limit of my involvement, but little would I know that soon I'd be tossed into the mix in a professional corporate presentation.
About a month before the conference was scheduled to kick-off, I was contact by the folks at EnglishCentral (http://englishcentral.com), a provider of online language immersion tools.  The challenge placed before me was to integrate some of the aspects of their offerings into a Moodle course.  Working with the staff at EnglishCentral who are, by the way, spread around the globe in a very diverse set of countries, we were able to conduct preliminary research and to present a small tidbit of how EnglishCentral activities can be made to work with Moodle.

The benefits of working with a fully private and income-driven company are many.  For one thing, people work hard and respond to their tasks efficiently.  Anything I needed to complete the job (a developer here, a CSS expert there) was made available as I scrambled to meet the deadline.  I have been floating along in the sea of DIY for so long that I'd forgotten what it was like to be a part of the machinery that gets things done.

As the professionals at EnglishCentral have already spent a great deal of time and money perfecting their User Experience, it was difficult (to say the least) for them to grasp the limitations of the Moodle interface.  Combining the two worlds in such a short time proved quite challenging for both sides.  I did my utmost to explain Moodle's functionality and the philosophy of why things are done the way they are but I'm sure I left more questions than answers in some cases.

EnglishCentral is now available for Moodle!
In the end, the fruits of our labors can be seen at http://moodle.englishcentral.com where anyone can create an account and have a go at some EnglishCentral activities blended together with Moodle in a very basic initial offering.

The initial method for putting EC activities in Moodle was to make use of simple <iframe> embed methods. EC has an API which can be used to make calls into their server and return bits of data.  We only made use of the basic authentication and embedding of videos in the page for our demonstration.

However there are far more options available to explore in this methodology and the experience has led me to consider developing a full-blown set of Moodle plug-ins that allow users to configure and make use of more that EC has to offer.

As we (myself and the staff at EC) progressed in our preparations for the conference, we began to learn more about Moodle's implementation of LTI.  Basically, LTI allows Moodle to "provide" or "consume" data from other places and then make use of that data either externally or in Moodle itself.

There is a lot behind LTI and with 24 hours to go before our presentation, we decided to "add a column" with the possibility of LTI integration between EnglishCentral and Moodle.  Having EnglishCentral become an LTI provider would make the interface between EC and Moodle one layer more abstracted and therefore easier to implement and support.  (By contrast, a Moodle plug-in for EC would have to be more closely maintained with Moodle changes).

So with that said, we went into our presentation on Sunday morning armed with technical bits and a demo that was (for the most part) working with phase one of the <iframe> type integration implemented.

There will be more developments on this project to come, but the overall response to our idea was lukewarm at best.  Perhaps the audience was not quite able to see the potential for this type of integration between EnglishCentral and Moodle as a result of hurried preparations and technical information which was (to be honest) not 100% understood at the time of our event.

I'm grateful for the opportunity EnglishCentral has given me to work on this type of integration and I hope to continue my forays into this to get a deeper understanding of how LTI could be made to take the useful data from EnglishCentral (grades, %completion, phonemes, etc) and map that into Moodle feedback which would be useful to EFL students using Moodle/EnglishCentral to practice their English.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to attend that presentation on EnglishCentral and Moodle. It was a shame I could not see it. Perhaps you should do a webinar ..?

    I am interested to see how LTI integration goes. It raises a lot of possibilities for extending Moodle without needing to write a plugin every time.

    The EC/Moodle site looks good too. Excellent job

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