Plugin Request: Online learning plugin

I want to make an argument for WMPU DEV to take the lead in developing an online learning plugin, something like Stas Suscov's BuddyPress Courseware.

Stas has done a great job in developing the plugin, he built it in 2010 as part of Google's Summer of Code project. He worked with the Boone, from the BuddyPress Core team. He is also revisiting the plugin for this year's GSoC and is planning on adding some testing features.

For all the excellent work he has done with it, he doesn't support it much in the off-season and the plugin kind of lingers in development limbo even though he is doing work on it right now.

I started looking at it because I am planning to create some online courses for my industry, and the more I looked at it the more I realized how important it is to WP. I don't think the importance of the plugin has even been fully realized yet.

Case in point:
I currently attend on the United States most well-regarded online Universities, I'm in my junior year of a Business degree. I'm pretty well-versed in online learning and the importance of it cannot be overstated. Online learning is a major part of education these days, neglecting it is a mistake.

Why WPMU DEV should take the lead in this project.
As the keyholders for Edublogs, you have the resources, contacts, know how and even the market to be the premium developers of a courseware plugin of this nature. BuddyPress Groups makes a solid foundation for it, and given what I know about online classrooms, Stas is already well onto the right track with his plugin. More importanly, because of WMPU DEV's deep relationship with the educational community already, it seems like a natural extension of what you currently offer, and would be a shame not to be the leading developer for it.

~ Even if you create a partnership, or hire Stas as a contract developer to ensure the quality of it instead of taking it on from scratch, WPMU DEV needs to be a leader in that technology.

Why an educational/course delivery plugin of this nature is important
This is the sort of thing that moves WP forward in the CMS market. Entire schools can be brought online using WP. For my use case, I'm trying to partner with the leading certifier for my industry to offer online certification classes for business owners, entreprenuers, and lovers of my niche. Online training, testing and certification doesn't happen yet in my niche, but I know it can be done and I want to be the provider for it. If I have the vision to see how we could use WordPress to fill this gap, then I know that I am not alone, because others will have the same need.

Also, having it as a possibility for your premium Edublogs customers seems the right thing to do. Teachers could use it to supplement the work they do in the classroom and actually engage with their students at home, while doing their homework. Suddenly, a teacher's blog extends their classrooms into the homes where students can continue their interaction and also communicate with their teachers and other students.

  • kennibc

    I would like to offer my 2 cents as a K12 web developer.

    I am against creating testing and assessment tools for Wordpress/Buddypress. Why reinvent the wheel when apps like Moodle do this very, very well. If you want to integrate with online learning look for ways to integrate Wordpress with Moodle possibly via their new Portfolio API's which is what Mahara.org uses for their ePortfolio app. THAT WOULD BE AN AWESOME PLUGIN! Turn WPBP into an ePortfolio extension of Moodle. Or have a Moodle plugin that would interact with WPBP where when a teacher creates a course in Moodle they can also create a group and seamlessly move from Moodle to their WPBP group.

    In my opinion, there is only 1 thing missing from creating a social online classroom and that is an easy way to upload documents to a group activity stream. The Buddypress Activity Plus plugin is a tremendous step in the right direction allowing a teacher to quickly post all kinds of media, but it lacks the ability to upload a worksheet or agenda document and embed it into the activity stream.

    For Education there are a variety of plugins that transform BP Groups into GREAT online classrooms:
    * Buddypress Group Calendars
    * Buddypress Activity Plus (Hopefully with document uploading like photos currently does)
    * Buddypress Docs (kinda like a wiki for creating collaborative documents)
    * Buddypress Documents (File/Document repository. Not integrated with activity stream)
    * Buddypress Forums

    There is a website called edmodo.com which is very similar to Buddypress Groups. The nice part about it is the social aspects. Edmodo is like facebook for educators which is what I think we could re-create using Buddypress with the plugins described above and a Buddypress Activity Plus plugin that allows for file/document uploads.

  • Saunt Valerian

    I haven't used Moodle, but it has a great reputation so I certainly can't knock it. Looking at WPMU DEV's previous large-scale plugins, I can see they want to develop plugins that offer a white-label service. Meaning, they allows, as clients to create things that appear proprietary. They offer whole solutions, almost at the turn-key level, without reliance on other, third-party services.

    The existing BP Courseware plugin is a good starting point. In fact, I would say that taking that ball and running with it would be a good step, because it is already moving in the right direction - it just needs polish. Plugins like this would be a plugin similar to MarketPress or even Supporter, which enable clients here to do things in a premium way (but with a white label - adding value to our websites).

    These are the things I see as essential:
    Calenders/Scheduling - this is obvious to keep people on track.
    Documents/File Sharing - BP Group Documents itself is broken and no longer supported, a good deal of hacking is needed to get it working well. BP Docs is about collaborative editing, not so good if all you want is to deliver 50-page industry manual in PDF form to the students. This also needs to be hardened for security of the documents since, in many case, there may be copyrighted material being delivered. Both Group Docs and Document plugins currently require extra coding to harden them.
    Assignments/Pages - BP Courseware already has assignments as a feature and it is pretty good. The basic rule of thumb here is that the teacher/administrator has the ability to create and deliver assignments. Note that assignments in Courseware is already tied into scheduling, and even includes a facility for responses.
    Forums - This is already builtin. Courseware uses it nicely and very smoothly creates forum threads linked to assignments. This aspect already feels very polished.
    Testing - This is a big one. Courseware is getting it this summer though I do think that it is a bear of a function. After looking at http://www.classmarker.com/ an considering using that as the solution for my use case, we are talking a lot of development because of security and many other issues. There is no easy way to tackle this, but it may not be neccesary as a core function, since testing can be done in other ways and perhaps focusing on the technology of delivering knowledge might be better.

    I am not focused on K12 development, though having input from that perspective is extremely important here. I am thinking more about the possibility of business and industry training (huge market in this area). Both perspectives need to be considered, and a plugin of this nature needs to be flexible to support both (again, BP Courseware is already on the right track here.)

  • Ronnie Burt

    Hi all - this is an interesting thread!

    Like James said above, this is something we've been kicking around quite a bit with lots of excellent plans in place (I work a lot on the Edublogs side of things for Incsub/WPMU DEV).

    I'd love to continue the conversation :slight_smile:

    1. How essential do you think buddypress is to a 'courses' plugin? Our thoughts have been that it might be too limiting and clunky so we were looking at possibly creating similar group features that a) wouldn't need so much custom themeing and b) wouldn't be limited to one site on a multisite install.

    2. On the Edublogs side of things, ideally we would want the classes feature to include a way of grouping blogs of students all in one class and creating a central hub for all posts across all class members' blogs. What do you think? Useful to others?

    Keep throwing out the features you would like to see - I agree this is an extremely important plugin that would be useful far and wide!

  • kennibc

    Hello Ronnie,
    I think looking at functions would be the best approach. What would a 'course plugin' do for a teacher/classroom? Many of my teachers use Moodle for assessment and learning activities. They use WPBP for special activities such as journaling, ePortfolios, bellwork, etc. Each student uses up to 7 blogs anyway they want. They can have one blog for ePortfolio, one for a hobby they have, one for a journal, one for a class project, etc. Another way they can work is to create a blog for each hour that they have during the school day and put all their work in for that class. I suppose they could do all this with categories and such on a single blog but it depends on the savvy of the user.

    Creating a plugin to handle assessment would not be taken seriously by Academia unless it was of the Blackboard, Moodle, etc genre. There are so many options and features for testing alone that it would be hard to do in WP. Teachers are already weary of cheating for formal assessments.

    My idea would be that a Moodle module/plugin is created that transforms Wordpress into a Portfolio System for Moodle (But not limited to Moodle.)

    1) Teacher adds the Wordpress Activity to a Moodle course (Or this is done on a sitewide Basis by the Moodle Admin on the Moodle homepage).
    2) When a student clicks on the activity they are presented with a Blog Name/Blog Title form similarly to registering a blog on BP. The student creates their blog.
    3) A Moodle block can be added to the Moodle course which lists all the blogs created by the above activity and links when clicked allow the student to login to named blog. (Or if done on a sitewide level it presents the student with a single link to their blog)
    4) This new blog is now a "Portfolio" for the student. The Portfolio allows for all kinds of storage and interaction with the Moodle learning environment.
    Moodle Portfolios: http://docs.moodle.org/20/en/Portfolios

    http://mahara.org is another type of portfolio system that can be integrated with Moodle which can be seen as a model for how the Wordpress plugin should behave.

    Creating a plugin that would transform Wordpress into a Moodle Portfolio system would be HUGE! There are many other LMS systems such as Sakai, Blackboard, etc that this plugin could possibly be ported to support on those systems as well.

    My thought on this is to let Wordpress do what it is good at and let LMS’s do what they are good at. What the community needs is a plugin that would allow the two to work in harmony and not compete against eachother.

    I'd be interested to see what other comments may follow my 2 cents. My idea is probably out of the realm and scope of what most are thinking when you say 'course plugin'.

  • kennibc

    If you were to go my route with the wordpress/Moodle integration it might be possible to reverse the process whereby the teacher could activate the Wordpress plugin for moodle via wordpress and then it would interface with Moodle and create a moodle course remotely from wordpress. A new page would appear that would automatically link to the moodle course whereby the user could login to moodle or 'roam' over to the moodle course based on wordpress blog credentials. This might also be activated via Buddypress Groups if you go that route.

    Personally I think it would be easier to start with Moodle and work towards a portfolio integration with Wordpress. The portfolio is ideal as you could upload or create some type of "artifact" in Moodle and then click on a simple button in moodle that would interface with your wordpress blog/portfolio and publish a post containing the moodle content. It would be very cool!

    I am merely using Moodle as the starting point because it is also open source and I know of plenty of colleges piloting or using it here in Michigan. Moodle also has specs for a portfolio service.

    The problem I am having is that my students and teachers are loving Wordpress/Buddypress but they also like the structure and features of Moodle. I have tried blending the two with buttons on each system to allow going from one site to the other easily, but we don't have the integration a portfolio system like Mahara has. When I piloted Mahara, some of the students didn't understand what to do with the portfolio, but that was before the tighter integration within Moodle.

  • kennibc

    Hello Ronnie,
    I really think for a basic teacher who just wants to post homework/Assignments, maintain a class calendar, and allow for sharing of media/docs we are almost there with Wordpress Buddypress.

    Here are three things I see as needing 'help' if you didn't want to invest in a portfolio plugin I described above:
    1) Take the current Group Calendar and add the ability to create assignments. The assignments could be displayed on a new page and sorted via dates and possibly even create a widget that could be added to blogs that would allow you to select a BP Group and pull in the assignments and events from the group.

    2) I could see some colleges wanting a Group Documents plugin that allows them to upload and categorize files. Taking the current Group Documents plugin and hardening it would be great. It has tagging and some other useful features. What would be best is to integrate it with my third suggestion.

    3) Allow Activity Plus to upload documents! This would be great for teachers who want to share a timely assignment or other such things. It could possibly also add the document to the #2 Group Documents repository.

    I think for anyone using Buddypress for education, this would meet most needs with some of the other plugins I mentioned above such as Buddypress Docs. You can make assignments, calendar, and share media/resources. The only thing lacking is Assessment which is best left to the pros at Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle, and the others. What Wordpress/Buddypress Groups is great at is creating specialized communities and that is what classrooms are.

  • Saunt Valerian

    One thing to be aware of about calenders in online learning is that no body uses them efficiently. My university uses Sakai and I have yet to see an instructor use the caleder system at all. It is just "there". Teachers post assignments and simply include the due date. Working with calender requires extra steps on the part of the instructor.

    One thing that is done right in BP Courseware is that assignments are deeply integrated with the calender. When creating assignment, the date is selected as part of it and then sent into the calender system. If you are going to build a calender into any educational systeem, then you need to integrate with the other functions so the workflow is effortless. Adding a calendering system as an after thought simply because it "needs to be there" adds bloat because it simply won't get used.

  • Dan

    I would second this request. I have been a Moodle user for several years now and as much as it has to offer, I have never been satisfied with it. For one, it's not very intuitive when you install it and then you have to configure it, which requires a lot of learning about what each and every thing does. Even after working with it for several years I have to go back and read the documentation to remember what some of the terms mean and how it works. I would much rather have someone reinvent the wheel, because I think the only reason Moodle is so popular is because that's the only free LMS out there. I think it can be done way better, but because nobody wants to do it, Moodle will always remain what we all have to settle for.

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