I’ve been working on a project at work for several weeks now. The idea actually arose last spring, and I had hoped to have this complete over the summer. What I wanted to do was create a one-stop shop for online learning for our district. This would incorporate Moodle for course management, a way to host online meetings, and a place to store digital media such as video and audio files. I wanted all of this in a nice attractive, easy-to-use interface. Today all of that finally came together, and I brought my online learning community to life.
I had put together a Moodle server several years ago, and we used it for some online courses. Unfortunately, the server that I had it on crashed, and we were left without. The first step was to get this back up and running. I started with a server and set it up with Ubuntu Linux and did a subversion installation of Moodle. However, I really wanted two installations of the system – one for students and one for teachers. Since I’m not really a Linux geek, I couldn’t figure out how to do that through a subversion process. I also planned to use Ostube for video hosting, but it proved to be a challenge to install, too. That killed the summer, and I wasn’t able to get the system online by the start of the school year.
The solution was to use a a XAMPP server on a Windows box. This let me run Apache, PHP, and MySQL-base applications, but do so in an environment with which I was familiar.
I started with Moodle. I was able to get two instances installed as I wanted – one for teachers and one for students. I put together a simple HTML interface with links for both versions.
Next up I tackled the problem of media sharing. I finally decided on Vidiscript, a PHP-based video hosting solution. I’m not providing a link to it because shortly after I downloaded and installed the program the domain and company were sold, and the link now goes someplace weird.
Regardless, it took a little bit of tweaking, but I got it to work. Users can now upload video clips and share them. It’s pretty high compression, and it’s just Flash video, but it’s fine for classroom use. The system will also host audio files, and provide embed codes for both types of media.
I wrote a bit of code to check the IP address of visitors and limit it to those only within the district. However, the videos can still be embedded into websites, so they can be made accessible outside of the district.
The webinar hosting solution was even trickier. I wanted to use Big Blue Button, but the system required Linux and a bunch of other components that weren’t compatible with XAMPP. So, by fixing one problem, I had created others. The solution was to virtualize.
I set up a VMWare Player instance on the server and ran subversion install for Big Blue Button. This installed everything I needed, plus set up a virtualized server with its own IP address.
Big Blue Button is simple to use. You can upload PowerPoint and other Office files, and share your desktop for demonstration. You can also send audio and video via a webcam.
The problem was that there was no way to schedule meetings with the system. It’s bare bones and meant to be configurable for just about any situation. The problem was that it was TOO flexible.
I was able to install a plug-in that would make Big Blue Button work with Moodle. However, you had to enroll in a course that had BBB installed as a module, which was too many hoops to jump through for a simple meeting.
The solution finally presented itself in the form of WordPress. I use WordPress for this blog, and it’s an excellent publishing platform. It was a nice way to bring everything together, and there was a plug-in that let me set up BBB meetings with ease. Job done!