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  • 1. Web Content Management for Education and E-learning Untraditional Open Source Software Solutions by Kevin Davison
  • 2. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 Table of Contents WRITERS
  • 3. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 Writers And Educators Prefer To “Keep It Simple, Sam” Decisions to use new technology for content management are often made by technical and professional writers. They often drive initiative to adopt technology, since their roles have evolved from simply gathering information from subject matter experts (SME), to using sophisticated software to publish content online. Technical and professional writers have paved the way for document tracking, knowledge and learning management, workflow, and web content management (WCM). The simplest solutions available are often the first choice for writers, as long as it meets the needs of everyone involved on the content development team. Enterprise software solutions often involve high costs toward implementation and support, which requires engineering resources and Keep It Simple, Sam. project management to maintain. With the increasing rate of adoption of The focus of this whitepaper various open source software solutions, the potential to save more time and is to introduce non-traditional money is evident. Fewer engineering and management resources are required open source solutions that fit for proven software systems with packaged solutions for academic and the requirements of technical career training purposes. This becomes appealing to writers, who prefer and professional writers for long-lasting solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved with content the management of content management and document workflow. used for education and e- Some perceive that open source software lacks the professional or learning, focusing on Drupal enterprise-level support that large software companies may provide. Many and DrupalEd. open source communities widely collaborate among their developers and offer equally sufficient support services, often for free. It’s difficult for those without experience in the open source community to realize how service can possibly be offered freely, since private software companies have charged for every feature and service they possibly can. Companies such as Acquia provide commercial support for Drupal, rivaling the support structures of large companies with proprietary software solutions. Open source software is emerging as an acceptable option for academic and corporate communities Acquia is a commercial open seeking solutions for online education and e-learning for students and source software company employees with non-traditional needs. providing products, services, There are several popular, open source software packages for Course and technical support for the open source Drupal social Management Systems (CMS), also known as a Learning Management publishing system. Systems (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) that will be covered. The focus of this whitepaper is to introduce these non-traditional open source solutions that fit requirements of technical and professional writers for the management of content used for education and e-learning, specifically elaborating on Drupal and DrupalEd. Traditional Approaches For Writers And Educators Open source education and e-learning web applications may be good options for organizations that require flexibility, and modular growth potential. Technical and professional writers require this to meet demands to provide 3
  • 4. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 content quickly, while developed cost effectively. There are many acronyms for Course Management Systems (CMS), also known as Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), that relate to online education and e-learning. Many familiar web applications, including Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai, Claroline, and ATutor provide packages for academic requirements that lack customizable interface design and application flexibility. Other web applications offer frameworks that increase this potential, and may require a little more effort to implement them to match their full capabilities, while not all organizations require this. The potential advantages from non-traditional solutions include design customization with greater community support, application flexibility, and a modular approach for scalability for potential growth in the number of users and those who contribute content directly. One Professional Writer’s Untraditional Approach Jon Starbuck is a professional writer and author of “Run Your Diesel Vehicle on Biofuels, A Do-It-Yourself Manual.” He maintains AEES.co.uk for the Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies (AEES) while continuing his own education about Renewable Energy Systems Technology (REST) and attending Loughborough University in the UK remotely. AEES is “the long- standing and successful MSc held at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Mid Wales.” AEES.co.uk is based on a non-traditional solution to provide constructive forums, recent news, document management, a collaborative Wiki, and general information to its students. Starbuck chose PHP-Nuke for this environment in 2004, which is an open source Content Management System (CMS), not a packaged LMS. Loughborough University uses Moodle, and they cannot be equally compared. Each has its own reasons for different features, and this isn’t a traditional academic environment. AEES needed a solution that could be customized and maintained easily by any content contributor or technical writer. There are some limitations to this non-traditional approach to education and e-learning, such as documentation because "coders are rarely good writers." Starbuck wrote much of the user documentation for CAT himself. PHP-Nuke provided enough information about its technical AEES is “the long-standing installation procedures with very little available about user issues and general and successful MSc held at support procedures. In Starbucks’s experience, a good solution should the Centre for Alternative provide useful documentation. Technology (CAT) in Mid Open source software has the reputation of being vulnerable to Wales.” hackers, and in Starbuck’s experience, “open source concerns include security flaws, but these holes are often filled and reacted to immediately." He had one experience where a Developer plugged some security holes, and it took only an hour of the Developer’s time since there was adequate technical documentation on PHP-Nuke’s website. The software was also writing in PHP, which is open source, and simple for most developers to debug and program. This software, like most open source software, doesn’t 4
  • 5. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 require direct involvement from any proprietary software support department. Anyone can help. The primary concern with any approach to provide content and collaboration between students is the missing classroom experience. His personal experience with this problem is in regards to his current online enrollment with Loughborough University. The Master’s degree is highly regarded, though “it lacks the learning experience. I feel very isolated, ignored, on the sidelines. I don’t feel part of the course and the community.” Could this experience be improved with better technology? “They do record the lecture, but usually the quality of the recording is very poor. The audio is poor, and often the video lacks production quality. What they’re trying to do is give remotely educated students like me, a ‘fuller experience.’” Unfortunately, the production quality of video is insufficient in this case. Essentially, the content is not nearly to the level of quality that the students can get in person. The multimedia component of any online education and e-learning system should utilize the best solutions available to provide quality audio and video to students and employees remotely. Technical and professional writers must also adopt these methods to provide multimedia content, not simply written documents to download. Students “For an open source WCM and employees who aren’t present in the classroom or workplace demand a vendor to be relevant, it must fuller experience. “It’s not necessarily about the education and e-learning have a satisfactory product system itself. It’s about the content that’s presented, the quality of the media. offering, proven enterprise- As with Starbuck’s current experience, the more he feels like he’s involved level implementations, and a large — and passionate — with the education and e-learning, the more he feels part of the community community of developers and he enjoys sharing. service providers” Educators, including professional and technical writers, have a challenge to utilize multimedia along with other written content now that it is Forrester Research available as a standard to utilize. This is independent of any traditional or non-traditional education and e-learning system, and is potentially the core component in some online learning environments. Ultimately, the most important component in any decision to adopt an LMS, CMS, or VLE is whether it can provide the best user experience possible. Jon’s experiences provide a unique perspective with implementing and using two different systems (PHP-Nuke and Moodle), as a professional writer, and now a student. The most important factor to him is user experience, not the technology itself. One Untraditional Approach For Writers And Educators “Compared to a traditional Drupal is traditionally considered to be “a free software package that allows Learning Management an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize System, Drupal can feel less a wide variety of content on a website” (Drupal.org). Packaged solutions for restrictive; Drupal has been academic environments like DrupalEd are catching up with traditional designed to interact with the LMSs, and there is increasing demand for Drupal in the academic Web, and to make the most community. While most LMSs like Moodle offer "a software package for of the array of possibilities producing Internet-based courses and web sites," this tight packaging can offered by the Internet.” limit the potential of some e-learning environments that administrators and Bill Fitzgerald 5
  • 6. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 content contributors may want more flexibility with (moodle.org). There are usually three types of users involved with Drupal sites: readers, content developers, and site maintainers. Content developers include Technical and Professional Writers who need a solution to contribute content, manage content, and distribute it through workflow. The simplest solutions mean the most to these users, and when site maintainers don’t need to be involved as often, this reduces cost. Drupal still lacks the traditional course management framework that Moodle and other LMSs contain. If course management and formal academic process is not emphasized for an education and e-learning project, then a non-traditional approach may be a better option. The non-traditional approach offers lower costs and flexibility to informal education and e- learning environments. DrupalEd And The “Funny Monkey Commons” DrupalEd is a free, packaged solution from Bill Fitzgerald, author of “Drupal for Education and E-Learning,” and FunnyMonkey.com. The Funny Monkey Commons is essentially a paid service for schools and learning organizations, a personalized version of DrupalEd. Compared to Moodle, it offers a similar range of features with more individual support. The goal of DrupalEd, according to Jane Hart, is to “create a flexible framework that allows for users to set up a social learning environment or a more traditional learning environment depending on the needs of the learners within the site.” Knight Hart is the Founder and Editor, Social Media & Learning Advisor, for the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. She considers DrupalEd “as an informal learning site where all users have “Drupal for Education and E- comparable permissions, or as a more hierarchical learning environment with learning,” by Bill Fitzgerald students, teachers, classes, and working groups.” This description covers a wide range of needs from educational institutions, as well as companies that need similar features to educate employees. Is Open Source An Added Benefit Or Setback? According to the Open Source Initiative (OSI), "stewards of the Open Source Definition (OSD) and the community-recognized body for reviewing and approving licenses as OSD-conformant… open source doesn't just mean access to the source code.” The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria [according to OSI]: 1. Free Redistribution “As a result, the open source 2. Source Code model often builds higher 3. Derived Works quality, more secure, more 4. Integrity of The Author's Source Code easily integrated software. 5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups And it does it at a vastly 6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor accelerated pace and often at 7. Distribution of License a lower cost”. 8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product Redhat Software 6
  • 7. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software 10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral Open source software, and especially those useful for Education and E- learning is cost-effective, and beneficial to environments that don’t want to “The open-source model has rely on proprietary sources all the time. Where proprietary software relies on a lot to offer the business “secrecy,” this simply means that fewer people know about the flaws world” because the source is concealed. However, that doesn’t make it any more secure. Open source software relies on the community to find obvious flaws, OSI - Open Source Case for Business and then fix them immediately. This is possible with so many Developer eyes constantly watching and testing the source code. Instead of proprietary software hoarding all the sales and support services, this is offered to the open source community. The community could include anyone at the same company or educational institution. This not only creates jobs, but internal resources that offer better availability and business memory that can’t be provided by proprietary software services at the same costs. Open source software facilitates income growth for business that supports its users, not customers that finance the mega-software company conversely. LMS and VLE-specific Options There are four main open source players, with Moodle in the forefront of the market share. However, “Other” tends to be the majority leader in this space, which includes hundreds of other small and custom solutions. SumTotal and Blackboard other proprietary approaches and do not meet the criteria of open source software. The following LMS or VLE options will be compared with the non-traditional approach that Drupal can provide: San Francisco State Moodle (<http://moodle.org/>) University students use “Moodle is a software package for producing Internet-based courses “iLearn,” which is a and web sites. It is a global development project designed to support customized version of a social constructionist framework of education.” Moodle for curriculum management and student Sakai (<http://sakaiproject.org/>) collaboration. “The Sakai Community develops and distributes the open-source Sakai CLE, an enterprise-ready collaboration and courseware management platform that provides users with a suite of learning, portfolio, library and project tools.” Claroline (<http://www.claroline.net/>) “Claroline is an Open Source eLearning and eWorking platform allowing teachers to build effective online courses and to manage learning and collaborative activities on the web.” ATutor (<http://www.atutor.ca/>) 7
  • 8. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 “ATutor is an Open Source Web-based Learning Content Management System (LCMS) designed with accessibility and adaptability in mind. Administrators can install or update ATutor in minutes, develop custom themes to give ATutor a new look, and easily extend its functionality with feature modules. Educators can quickly assemble, package, and redistribute Web-based instructional content, easily import prepackaged content, and conduct their courses online. Students learn in an adaptive learning environment.” Who Uses Drupal? Well-known universities like Yale, Harvard, Penn State, Rice, MIT, and Stanford use Drupal for education and e-learning, or simply to manage content internally. Organizations like Unicef, The United Nations, PBS, NATO, Amnesty International, and NASA also utilize Drupal. President Barak Obama’s administration uses Drupal to help educate the country about the stimulus plan at www.recovery.gov. Many for-profit companies are proud to admit using Drupal, even though they may have content management or educational web applications of their own. Some companies include Reuters, Yahoo, Adobe, The BBC, Forbes, and Fast Company. Drupal has its dedicated following, and there are reasons writers, educators, www.Recovery.gov and other users choose it for education and e-learning purposes. What’s Next For Educators, Writers, And The Readers? "24% of LMS owners are This white paper evaluated traditional and untraditional (open source) currently planning on software solutions for education and e-learning in academic and career switching platforms." training environments. Some may not consider Drupal as a traditional LMS or VLE. With the recent declining market share of Blackboard and Moodle, Learning Management Systems Drupal is being recognized as a valid solution that rivals Moodle, and other 2008: Facts, Practical Analysis, proprietary enterprise solutions for education and e-learning in various Trends and Vendor Profiles educational and business environments. Proprietary software can be more expensive than open source software when considering licensing fees and support costs billed at a premium. Some consider this price tag the payoff for software that’s labeled “easy to use,” and supported by certified professional services. This is not quantifiably the case, as the total cost of ownership involved fails to reflect value. The bottom line is that rich user experience, reliable community- based services, and ease of use for writers and readers are the most important factors involved. Writers and educators need the ability to connect with team members involved with managing content, while delivering it to readers easily and effectively. This includes the availability of quality multimedia with a community-building environment to help reproduce what’s missing from actually being educated along with other students or employees in the same room. 8
  • 9. by Kevin Davison, TPW 600, Spring 2009 Resources ATutor. ATutor Learning Content Management System: Information. 01 04 2009. 01 04 2009 <http://www.atutor.ca>. Claroline Consortium. Home. 01 04 2009. 01 04 2009 <http://claroline.net/>. Drupal. About Drupal. 28 02 2008. 01 04 2009 <http://drupal.org/about>. —. Drupal in Education. 01 04 2009. 01 04 2009 <http://groups.drupal.org/drupal-education>. Fitzgerald, Bill. Drupal for Education and E-learning. Birmingham: PACKT Publishing, 2008. Hart, Jane. Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day. 22 04 2007. 01 04 2009 <http://janeknight.typepad.com/pick/2007/04/drupaled.html>. Moodle. About Us. 01 04 2009. 01 04 2009 <http://moodle.org/about/>. Open Source Initiative. Open Source Initiative. 7 July 2006. 10 April 2009 <www.opensource.org>. Powers, Stephen. Web Content Management And Open Source. Forrester Research, Inc. Cambridge, 19 06 2008. Starbuck, Jon. AEES and Jon Starbuck Kevin Davison. San Francisco, 09 03 2009. Urevick-Ackelsbert, Alex and Jody Hamilton. "Slides from our presentation at the Higher Education Web Symposium." 17 07 2008. zivtech. 01 04 2009 <http://www.zivtech.com/blog/slides-our-presentation-higher-education-web- symposium>. 9