by Steve Taylor
Most software programs are in continuous development, as we all know from the “Upgrade to the latest version” alerts that pop up on our screens all too often. When the program runs on a server, as Moodle does, those upgrades usually happen without our notice, because the changes are either small or they happen to a part of the program that’s not so visible to us.
But then there are the big upgrades, the ones where the version number changes on the left side of the decimal point. Moodle has made that change (from 1.9 to 2.0) and we will be implementing the new version at Vassar this summer (2012.)
The most important reason for us to do this is simply to keep up with all the development that happens in and around Moodle. Since Moodle 2.0 was released in late 2010, third-party programmers have abandoned creating and enhancing the products that work with version 1.9 and have devoted themselves exclusively to writing for the new version.
Beyond that compelling-but-unsexy reason for us to upgrade, there are some great improvements to Moodle 2.0:
Better Editor. The editing tool that Moodle presents whenever you write a description, label, blog post, forum post, email message, etc. has been replaced with one that works properly with the Safari and Chrome browsers and is more resistant to the bugs introduced by pasting in text from Microsoft Word. (Text copied from Word includes LOTS and LOTS of invisible tags that can potentially “break” your Moodle page, to an extent that is very difficult to fix.)
External Repositories. When you add a file to your course site, the source doesn’t have to be your desktop computer– now you can directly add a link to a file from an external repository, like YouTube, Flickr, Dropbox, etc.
Better Looking. The new Moodle has more attractive themes to choose from, to set the visual tone for your site; it will also automatically format pages to look good on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets.
Re-engineered activities. The gradebook, wiki, and quiz activities have been completely overhauled for easier use and better performance.
The new version introduces some challenges, of course. A strength of Moodle is that it’s an open-source product, which means that third-party developers can create add-on functions. Some of the add-ons that we’ve used at Vassar won’t work with the new version. These include the FLV Player (for streaming video), Scheduler (for office hours), and the Page format (for multiple tabbed pages within a course site.)
Also, there will no longer be a “Files” area, hidden from students, where instructors can upload files for later linking. Hidden folders of files will now reside on the “front page” of a course site.
The switch-over will take place in mid-June. ACS will be working with instructors to make sure that their migrated sites still work properly and that instructors know how to work in the new Moodle.
* (Actually, 2.3)