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Virtual Learning Platforms Thread, Help Building a new VLE in Technical; Hello i am not a teacher and i do not intend to become one however i believe that we have ...
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    Help Building a new VLE

    Hello i am not a teacher and i do not intend to become one however i believe that we have a common goal. Myself and several other IT students have decided to use our programming knowledge to build a VLE and intergrated school managment system. However after large amounts of questioning many of the teachers around our schools we found very few people willing to talk to us about what they want on it. Therefore i have decided to come here and ask for suggestions on what should be included. We are going to build the system form the ground up and have a large range of system and programming knowledge between us so are willing to try anything!

    Any Suggestions or advice ect would be most apreciated to help us wright the full specification.

    Yours Sincerley
    aTEK

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    plexer's Avatar
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    us wright the full specification.
    With spelling like that I'm not sure I would want you to do this?

    Ben

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    tech_guy's Avatar
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    [chortle]



    Seriously though - Moodle's out there already. Suggest you just take that apart and look at it in depth.
    Last edited by tech_guy; 27th November 2008 at 08:31 PM.

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    Spelling was never my strong point and im in lack of my firefox with a spellchecker but when it comes to code i dont make as many mistakes (there seems to be less words that can be spelt wrong), and of course i will have my spellchecker then. As im not on my PC i cant download the spellchecker built into this system. Very Sorry!!!

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    FN-GM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by plexer View Post
    With spelling like that I'm not sure I would want you to do this?

    Ben
    Thats not fair....



    Look into Moodle its a free learning platform

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    We have already disected quite a lot of moodle, however we want the challenge of building something completly ourselves.

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    localzuk's Avatar
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    Not wanting to discourage you, but there are currently a good number of open source projects doing just this. Projects such as moodle and SchoolTool.

    Take a look at schoolforge.org.uk for more information. You may be better working with these projects to increase integration and improve functionality - building these systems is massive work - Capita have a large number of programmers, millions of pounds in funds and have been at it for many a year yet their project is still not that great...

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    Thanks i will look into them and finde one that we can attach ourselves to!!!

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    stratisphere's Avatar
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    Not to mention Dokeos.

    Again, i dont want to knock you down, but a VLE is a huge thing. With teams of developers with huge financial backing, it can take ages to write. Then even longer to get it right.

    However, as "bedroom" developer myself, i wish you good luck.

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    Even if you did decide to build a "new VLE", when there are a large number of other options available - though my opinion is that most of them aren't great and will not be suitable for many schools by default - you still have a number of other hurdles to overcome.

    Mainly, the issue is once you have developed your "new VLE" your main two issues are uptake (e.g. marketing, investors, sales) and support & updates (I've compiled those into one criterion because they are interlinked).

    While I don't want to be too harsh here, it is my opinion that unless you have serious financial backing or the use of a fully established, experienced and knowledgeable team of individuals with a large amount of time (e.g. they'll need to be available during normal business hours and more, regardless, to support schools and colleges) you honestly have little to no hope of a) producing a usable, functional VLE system that would be suitable for a generic educational institution, b) understanding how to tackle the development of the application of the size required, c) being able to support such a system and integrate it with all required platforms (AD, Student Information Management Systems - Not just SIMS.NET, existing VLEs, SSO authentication gateways etc.), d) being able to maintain the system with the required future feature-sets and support required or e) all of the above.

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aTEK View Post
    However after large amounts of questioning many of the teachers around our schools we found very few people willing to talk to us about what they want on it.
    Indeed - that's the difference between "programming" and "software development", with software development you have to figure out what it is the end user is going to want / need. That's the tricky part. You aren't teachers (are you school-aged students, or just past, by any chance?), the teachers aren't programmers, neither of you is likely to be able to make a decent guess at which features are going to be most important and/or actually implementable.

    I'd suggest that the Monolithic Application That Does Everything is the wrong route to go down. Figure out one feature a school could do with and implement that as a small web-based application that can authenticate against a school's normal authentication server (i.e. probably their Active Directory / LDAP server - for preference, include support for single sign-on of some sort). Then do another one. Repeat until world conquered.

    We don't need yet another large VLE system that starts off offering only the basic features that other systems have had for years and have got the bugs worked out of, even if they are programmed in this year's best programming language. No-one will want to use your system until there's a good reason for moving to it from their existing one, or can do more stuff than the others on offer, so you'll be developing for several years before you get to version 1.0.

    We are going to build the system form the ground up and have a large range of system and programming knowledge between us
    What programming language / database / framework / source code control system / development methodology / etc were you planning to use? How big is your team - who, exactly, is "us"?

    Please, please don't get disheartened by the replies to your post - you've spotted there's a problem (current VLE software is kind of lacking), and you seem to have a team of more-than-one enthusiastic participants of varying skills, it's just that from the tone of your post most of us are guessing that you're less experienced developers (I could, of course, be wrong, and you could be an A-Team style squad of crack programmers, perfectly capable of turning out a decent system in sixth months, so please excuse me if I make the wrong assumptions). Do please post a reply or two with your further thoughts as I'm sure we can figure out between us the best way for you to be expending your efforts.

    --
    David Hicks

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    Who is your team?

    There is a team of 8 of us the majority of which are doing alevels. You where correct in thinking that we are not a team of crack programmers. However we do have large amounts of experience in our individual fields of programming for example several years ago we created our own webhosting company, ect.

    We have looked at many system's including that of open sim, and decided that a common ground system that is easy to customise and even easier to manage would be nessercery. We have been undecided for several weeks in which direction to begin the specification and what areas should be most focused on. One main area we all seem to agree is key to the system is direct email intergration. We also feel committed to the idea of bringing web 2.0 to school intranets through the likes of student blogs ect.

    What programming language / database / framework / source code control system / development methodology / etc were you planning to use?

    We are planning on producing the system as open source, written in a mixture of codes however mainly asp.net and coldfusion with html and php where necercerry. THe team also has great knowledge in Ruby and VB that can be used if required. The main plan is to use an SQL database as it is freely and easily available via many forms.

    The first process however is to wright a full specification of what must be included. This includes the features of the programming and mapping all of its process's using UML.

    Therefore i personally would be most greatfull of any features that we should focus on whilst building the system.
    Last edited by aTEK; 27th November 2008 at 10:33 PM.

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aTEK View Post
    There is a team of 8 of us the majority of which are doing alevels.
    Oh boy.

    However we do have large amounts of experience in our individual fields of programming
    You have enthusiasm, which is 50% (75%?) of the battle, but at 17 or 18 you don't have much experience of software development. Yes, you might well have started programming computers when you were 12, but that isn't the same thing.

    We have looked at many system's including that of open sim, and decided that a common ground system that is easy to customise and even easier to manage would be nessercery.
    The last thing the world needs is yet another best-system-ever. What we need is a central authentication server and things that integrate with it. Active Directory, LDAP, OpenID, whatever, all fulfil this central role - all you have to do is write the integrating applications.

    One main area we all seem to agree is key to the system is direct email intergration.
    In what way?

    We are planning on producing the system as open source, written in a mixture of codes however mainly asp.net and coldfusion with html and php where necercerry. THe team also has great knowledge in Ruby and VB that can be used if required. The main plan is to use an SQL database as it is freely and easily available via many forms.
    Okay - personally, I've always liked the idea of people being able to write their own code in whatever language they liked. One of my main problems with Moodle is that it forced people to become PHP programmers. Ug. So how do you plan to have each separately coded module communicate with the others - SOAP, REST, or similar? How distributed is your team? With a team of 8 you'll need some source code control - something like SourceForge will provide you source code control for free for an open source project, but you'll all need to get the hang of using it before you can start collaborative coding.

    Therefore i personally would be most greatfull of any features that we should focus on whilst building the system.
    I'll send you a PM - if you have Skype, please call me at work tomorrow.

    --
    David Hicks

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    So the main features that are suggested are for it to be fully customisable with practically any language available. Do you think we should also include a CMS for those users who have limited or no current programming language. I finally spoke to my head of ICT and he said that several main features we should look into are "students being able to access files from home", and "complete SIMS (or a similar system) integration. What do people think of these? We are still deciding on how it will all be tied together, it all depends on what our end user requirements become in order to decide how the codes must interact with each other ect. Oh and by the way my team just picked up 2 more programmers, one with mainly knowledge in C and Delphi, and one with extensive Java knowledge. However until we have got a complete end user requirement we can not begin to decide on which languages will be needed.

    Thanks for all the support and feedback we have been getting.

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    sahmeepee's Avatar
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    It looks to me like you might be missing a Perl developer and possibly someone with some Ada and Fortran knowledge. Did I miss any? ()

    Seriously though, the MIS idea is unfortunately not realistic. It has been discussed on here before at great length and the reality is that schools have become increasingly reliant on their MIS systems to allow them to do the things government asks of them, not least produce increasingly regular reports of a host of pupil and staff statistics to specified formats. No homebrew effort could hope to keep pace with the requirements - for perspective, the module of SIMS which is used to arrange cover teachers was recently revamped; the development cost was more than your school's entire annual budget.


    The VLE idea is maybe not in the right ballpark, but is at least in the right galaxy. VLEs are often poor and it's baffling to me how shonky the end-user experience is, never mind the experience for the administrator. Unfortunately your school is very unlikely to let you have access to any sample MIS data for data protection reasons so your integration testing will be tricky (only real data has the magic fairy dust that reveals bugs!).

    If your IT Support people were on side they might set up an instance of SIMS with the dummy "Green Abbey School" database for you to test against, but I suspect from your other postings about continually attempting proxy avoidance and "shut[ting] down sims via the active directory" () that you may have burned some bridges.

    If you are truly opposed to spending your time trying to customise or improve moodle (I'd be interested to know why) then you should at least look to its feature list as a shopping list of the things you would like to implement. I'm sure you could add your bonus features in no time after those are done. That might seem like I'm being sarcastic, but if BECTA's list of approved VLE suppliers had all been through that exercise thoroughly I think schools would be in a better place today.

    You also need to understand the sad reality that people do not always buy into the "technically superior" solution even if it is readily available to them. There are a bazillion other factors involved, some of them legitimate; some of them dubious. So you could produce the greatest VLE in the world... and give it away for nothing... and bring round free hobnobs to any school that takes it on... and they still might choose the pile of poop VLE you have at your school.

    The most constructive suggestion I can make is: create a multiuser blogging system. Yours won't be the best in the world - accept that. There are too many to count out there already. But you can make something usable quite quickly and improve it steadily over time. There is also some scope for splitting the workload amongst your team and a reasonable possibility of your school making use of it, because it isn't critical for their day-to-day operation.

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