Distance Learning Centres Project
Education Sector Investment and Reform Programme
Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development

Report of Workshop

Introduction to Learning Management Systems (LMS)

(1)         Evaluation of LMS
(2)         Workshop Report

Venue of workshop:        PFnet Internet Centre, Honiara, Solomon Islands
Date of workshop:          15th June 2005

David Leeming, Manager, DLCP
Peter Pitia, Project Officer, DLCP
Ghislain Hachey, ICT4D Volunteer, PFnet

Executive Summary

A workshop was held on June 15th 2005, by the Distance Learning Centres Project, to introduce Learning Management Systems (LMS) and electronic course authoring tools to senior strategists and technical officers of domestic education providers.

LMS are server-based software systems that enable distance education providers to administer courses and students over the Internet, and students to access courses and interact with tutors and fellow students in support of the learning process.

Course authoring tools are software packages that can be used to transfer course material electronic format. They often support interactive and graphical content and publishing in various formats for computer-based training (i.e. on CD) or distance and flexible learning (i.e. for delivery over the Internet).   

The workshop was intended to raise awareness of these systems as a potential way for education providers to deliver DE, and included hands-on sessions to demonstrate their ease of use. The workshop also aimed to test some specific LMSs and course authoring tools that had been identified, evaluated and installed on the DLCP server by the project before the workshop.

The evaluation is included in this report. The recommendation for a general purpose “enterprise” LMS solution is ATutor, with a second alternative Moodle. Both are open source packages, free to download and use, widely used and supported. The evaluation considered and largely concurred with independent evaluations of LMS by Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) and University of the South Pacific’s Distance and Flexible Learning Centre (USP DFLC).

Two course authoring packages were also evaluated and included in workshop. These were “eXe”, an open source tool being developed at the University of Aukland and recommended by CoL, and a commercial package “Lectora”. The former, eXe, is a simple and easy-to-use package targeted at the course owners who might not be highly skilled in computing, whereas the sophisticated Lectora package is targeted at the supporting organisations PFnet and Youth First Computer Centre (YFCC), who would be able to offer course creation as a service to the education providers.

The workshop was attended by senior delegates from USP Centre, the Solomon Islands College of Education (SICHE)’s School of Education (SoE) and Distance Education Centre (DEC), Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT), Solomon Islands Association of Rural Training Centres (SIARTC) and others.   

In evaluating the workshop, participants reported that LMSs such as ATutor would be appropriate and helpful as tools to facilitate distance education. They reported that the LMS had much or all the functionality required, and furthermore might help address resourcing problems, such as distribution of course materials. However, further capacity building would be necessary. The project should work individually with each provider to follow up and build on the workshop. Some pilot activities are suggested, like putting SIARTC’s beekeeping curriculum online.

The project will continue to develop support for ATutor, with Moodle as an alternative, and has already negotiated a 3-user license for Lectora, one of which will be given to YFCC. The project will then work with providers and YFCC to pilot local content generation.

The report is written in two parts: (1) Evaluation of LMS and (2) workshop report.

Part 1: Evaluation of LMS

What is an LMS? [1]

Learning (and Course) Management Systems may be defined as:

Internet based software that deploys, manages, tracks and reports on interaction between the learner and the content & the learner and the instructor. LMS can perform student registration, track learner progress, record test scores, indicate course completions, allow instructors to assess the performance of their students.

From the learner’s point of view, most LMS allow the student to:

  • Register and Log on
  • Find courses and enroll (if required)
  • Study the course modules in order
  • Access supporting / reference materials
  • Do quizzes / tests
  • Submit assignments
  • Consult their tutor
  • Chat with other enrolled students
  • Have structured discussions/debates
  • Check their marks / history

Most LMS allow the instructor to:

  • Create course categories
  • Add new courses
  • Create, import and link to course content
  • Administer enrollments
  • Lead discussions and chat sessions
  • Access student assignments
  • Track student’s activity and progress
  • Track student marks
  • Make announcements in specific courses

Administrators can also configure the LMS system itself, and have overall control over the users.

The diagram below is a visualization of an LMS, in the context of the Distance Learning Centres network. It shows that the LMS itself is a server-based application, that is positioned somewhere on the Internet backbone. All administrators and users interact with it remotely over the Internet. Through the LMS, the user has access to other resources available on the Internet.

LMSs are not courses in themselves. They are frameworks in which courses can be administered and delivered. Some authorities (i.e. Commonwealth of Learning) advise that it is best to keep course content separate from LMS.  Although many LMSs have integrated content (course) authoring functions, in most cases the course material is created elsewhere and may be either imported into the LMS (i.e. saved on the server) or accessed through a hyperlink.

In general, electronic course content can be:

  • Imported into an LMS;
  • Published on web sites and in other forms and linked from within the LMS;
  • Accessed from dedicated course libraries/repositories;
  • Stand-alone, i.e. computer-based training (CBT) content that is accessed directly from a CD or online source without using an LMS.

In order to facilitate the freedom to transfer course content between different modes of delivery and storage, standards have evolved. One of the most commonly referred to is the Sharing Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). This is a standard for sharing e-learning objects based on XML. It was developed by the IMS, an

international organisation that develops and promotes standards and specifications for online learning resources in collaboration with the IEEE, AICC and Ariadne.

Standards such as SCORM allow content to be created and transferred, imported and exported, to and from course authoring systems, LMSs and libraries/repositories.


Evaluation of LMS

Prior to the workshop, the project evaluated open source and commercial learning management systems. The evaluation relied on three sources:

  1. The Edutools website [2] . This contains a comprehensive analysis of around 60 LMSs. It allows one to view the functionality and to compare LMSs side-by-side.

  2. The Commonwealth of Learning publication COL LMS Open Source [3] . This reported on an evaluation made by CoL to select an open source LMS for their own use. In doing so, it uses a systematic technique to compare LMSs.

  3. The University of the South Pacific DFLSC, USP Course Management System Evaluation Plan [4] . This reports on the development of a 4-stage evaluation plan of course and learning management systems.

The intention of the evaluation was to identify an LMS that would have all the functions required by potential Solomon Islands-based education providers in the formal and TVET sectors. The selected LMS should be easy to administer and use – appropriate for the skills-levels available – whilst being affordable and free to use across the board – without any restrictions imposed by licensing, etc.

In this evaluation, notice would be taken of other external evaluations, in particular by the most reputable centres of knowledge such as Commonwealth of Learning, and also by any regional organisations/stakeholders with existing experience of LMSs. If this process led to the identification of a few candidates, it would not be necessary to extend the evaluation to more LMSs unless they were specially referred to the project.

The project first considered the options of (a) open source, or (b) commercial LMS.

Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) [5] has both advantages and disadvantages, in the context of LMSs.

In the opinion of the project, the advantages of FLOSS LMSs are that they may be:

  • Free to buy;
  • Free to use;
  • Have good peer-to-peer support (forums);
  • Designed with interoperability in mind;
  • Possible to modify and customize;
  • Part of a VERY active e-learning FLOSS scene;
  • Most suited to an open learning environment.

The disadvantages of FLOSS LMSs are that they may be:

  • Tricky to install (only a factor for the administrator);
  • Not always fully compliant with standards;
  • Not (quite) as function rich as some commercial LMSs;
  • Not usually supplied with built in courses.

In the opinion of the project, commercial LMSs seem to be:

  • Easy to install;
  • Provided with good technical support via hotlines (email, etc);
  • Very compliant (SCORM, IMS, etc);
  • Very function rich;
  • Often supplied with built-in (or access to) course libraries;
  • Most suited to a corporate learning environment (mainly due to the need to specify who the licensed users will be).

Some of the disadvantages of commercial LMSs is that they can be:

  • (Very) expensive to buy (especially those designed for corporate use);
  • Made available to licensed users only;
  • Designed with exclusivity in mind;
  • More difficult to arrange modification within the product cycle.

The project then aimed to try out a range of LMSs.

Initial online research led to the observation that the open source software Moodle [6] is one LMS that is very widely used, and seemed to be well regarded. It also seemed to measure up well against with others when compared with the Edutools utility. ATutor [7] was also referenced favourably in the online literature.

The project therefore downloaded Moodle and ATutor and installed them on the DLCP application server. They proved to be straightforward to install, if a little tricky, provided that the instructions on the web sites and help files supplied with the downloads are carefully followed. As with many open source applications, some tweaking of code in the configuration files is necessary (this is described in the help files). Various flavours of the software for Windows or Linux are available; the DLCP chose to install on Windows 2003 Server, with the required scripting language engine PHP, database MySQL and web server Apache. Of course, this administrative detail is not of immediate concern to the users, other than that it involves no licensing fees.

This process resulted in the two systems becoming accessible from any host computer on the PFnet local area network, by simply typing the IP address or name of the server into a browser (Both IE6 and Firefox 1.0.4 were tested).

The project also identified two popular commercial LMS, WebCT and Blackboard. These were examined by browsing demonstrations on their websites.

Evaluation using Edutools

A comparison of ATutor and Moodle was made using the Edutools website. A summary is shown below:

ATutor best

Moodle best

Assignments / file sharing

Internal email

Demo course / help system

Offline viewing

Public/private/protected courses

Accessibility

Exporting SCORM packages

Editable appearance and feel

Chat

Support with hosted systems

Testing and scoring

Grading

Student tracking

Course templates

Support for sequencing learning

         

In summary, from the Edutools comparison, the two LMS are very similar in functionality. You can do all the important things in either.  Perhaps it can be said that ATutor is CURRENTLY stronger in technical functionality, and Moodle CURRENTLY has the edge in student assessment (i.e. assignments, grading, tracking, testing).

Evaluation by CoL

The purpose of evaluation was to:

  • Develop criteria for evaluation of LMS
  • Evaluate open source LMS
  • Recommend one LMS for installation by CoL


The evaluation looked at 35 candidate open source LMSs, 5 of which were were shortlisted. In their shortlist,

  • ATutor was their top choice
  • Moodle was fourth

In their paper3 they make the following observations about between ATutor and Moodle.

 

Good

Bad

ATutor

  • Good on accessibility standards
  • Can export SCORM content
  • Built in course authoring
  • Course and assessment support
  • IMS/SCORM standards
  • Good help/support/demos
  • Uses best open source technology    
  • Not widely used, smaller user base
  • Less scalable than Moodle

Moodle

  • Very student centred
  • Very widely used
  • Very usable, easier to use than ATutor
  • Less Function rich
  • Less content authoring

Evaluation by USP Distance and Flexible Learning Centre (DFLSC)

A small working group was asked to evaluate a number of course (learning) management systems including commercial systems, community-based open source systems and commercially-supported open source systems.

The group was asked to develop:

-                     A plan of how the evaluation would be conducted;

-                     A list of software to be evaluated; and

-                     An outline (or template) showing the criteria with which the software would be evaluated.

The evaluation plan consisted of a four-stage selection process. The first two stages constituted a preliminary selection from a wide range of commercial and open source software, the aim of which was to formulate a narrower list of software for further evaluation in Stages 3 and 4.

USP already uses the commercial LMS WebCT, and has a local license for 8000 users. However, there are concerns about the cost and the implications of the way WebCT is developing, with certain features that USP regard as attractive not being supported in newer versions. They noted that certain universities had already made the “brave” leap to the upcoming open source systems, and the evaluation was partly intended to see if there was a rationale for doing this at USP.

Their paper4 details the evaluation plan, and shows progress made in selecting software for full evaluation.

Of the candidates looked at, 10 have so far progressed stage 3, which will assess the software against the University’s criteria, look at their track record at other institutions and how competitively they are priced.

Of these 10, 2 open source and 8 commercial LMS were identified. Moodle, WebCT and BlackBoard were included. ATutor did not progress to stage 3, for the reasons stated in their report:

This software (ATutor 1.3) is missing a significant number of essential criteria, including the calendar, offline integration, groupwork, homepages, assignment upload/download and security.  There were question marks about Banner integration, training and support and scalability. For these reasons, we decided to exclude it from further evaluation.

However, the version tested was 1.3, whilst the current version is now 1.5. The evaluation noted but did not assess the introduction of ATutor’s companion module ACollab, which performs all the functions that were noted as missing in the evaluation.

Moodle was noted as having potential. The report described it as follows:

Moodle (1.1) is an open source community software available distributed for no cost.  It does not allow for the inclusion of offline material, groupwork, or Banner integration.  There are limited training materials and support (for a fee) and scalability needs to be looked at.  However, it is very intuitive, features can be added, and one lecturer is already testing it and finds it more ‘user-friendly’ in terms of design than WebCT.  For these reasons, we felt it was worthy of further evaluation. The current version is Moodle 1.4.

It is important to note that a large institution such as USP is obviously concerned about the stability and available support for such a critical system. They also have a well defined user-group. This tends to lead it towards the commercial systems.

“Hands-on” evaluation by DLCP staff

ATutor and Moodle had already been identified as possible candidates, even before the evaluations by CoL and USP were considered. These two systems were downloaded and installed on the DLCP development server. The observations of the project staff are given below:


ATutor 1.4

·          Very slick in appearance and with good features, but a bit confusing to navigate initially, despite the superior help system with the demo course.

·          From a student’s point of view, it has all the functions of a commercial LMS that one of the project staff used recently to study by distance at a Canadian university.

·          Imported SCORM content is integrated and sometimes did not render correctly.

·          Excellent help system and demo.

·          Sharing resources (assignments, tutorials), and group work needed separate module ACollab installing and we did not manage to get it working before the workshop.

·          We couldn’t find how to schedule work apart from quizzes. Moodle seems to have better scheduling / calendar built in.

·          ATutor is obviously less used than Moodle, as the support forums have very few users. Not enough critical mass yet to make troubleshooting easy.

Moodle 1.4.4

·          Less slick in appearance than ATutor but easy to use. 

·          Easier to navigate intuitively than ATutor.

·          Renders imported content more naturally (in a separate frame).

·          Assignments, group work and scheduling are all built in well.

·          Great technical support forums with many users.

WebCT

·          Excellent products, but not suitable for a general purpose DLCP LMS, due to very high costs and the need to be specific about the users for licensing purposes. These are really suited to a corporate application such as a learning institution, not an open network. Some features can be accessed without buying the full software.

·          BlackBoard has a section called CourseSites where you can create and post up courses using HTML and imported learning objects, free for 60 days.

·          WebCT has a large library of prepared courses called e-packs (you have to pay for them). These would be very attractive but they (some) appear to be designed for WebCT exclusively and are not (in general) SCORM compliant.

·          USP has a corporate license for  WebCT. If they wish, they are free to extend the license to allow USP students in the DLCs to use the WebCT-based resources, if this is not already possible.

·          In general, the evaluation for a general-purpose LMS for the DLCP focuses on the open source options.

Blackboard

The following important general observations were made of the open source LMSs:

  • Open source LMS such as the ones studied are rapidly developing. Although we have found a small difference in the functionality between the two LMS studied at this stage, any comparison made now will most likely be invalid in 6 months. For example, ATutor was not quite as good as Moodle in handling group work, sharing of resources (i.e. assignments) and scheduling. However, the developer of ATutor has said that this will definitely be improved. Since the workshop, ATutor 1.5 has been released. This contains improvements that make some of the observations made above, including those in the CoL and USP studies, irrelevant.

  • In general, the open source LMS studied appeared to have all the expected functionality required by potential Solomon Islands educational users. A full practical with “hands-on” testing by stakeholders was planned at the workshop, in order to test this assumption.

It was concluded that either of ATutor or Moodle would be likely to meet the needs of the targeted users who are not already using their own LMS (such as USP, who may choose to stick with WebCT).

The next stage in the evaluation was to allow potential users to try the two systems for themselves and judge whether the software would meet their needs. The workshop was held to conduct this exercise.

Part 2: Workshop Report

Introduction

A 1-day workshop on Learning Management Systems and course authoring tools was held on the 15th June 2005 by the Distance Learning Centres Project of the Ministry of Education, at the People First Network Internet Centre, Honiara.

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are described in the previous section.

Improving rural access to education, both in the formal and vocational (TVET) sectors, is the aim of the Distance Learning Centres Project, which is funded by the EU as part of the Education Sector Investment and Reform Program and is being implemented by the People First Network. The project will establish nine distance learning centres located in rural community schools, fitted with broadband Internet. The VSAT satellite communications network is being supplied through Solomon Telekom and will constitute a whole new, highly scaleable platform for rural communications that may also benefit other sectors and customers [8] .

The workshop was held to introduce learning and course management systems to the senior strategists of education and knowledge providers including SICHE School of Education and Distance Education centre, Solomon Islands Development Trust and Solomon Islands Association of Rural Training Centres. The long term aim is to build capacity so that such organisations can deliver courses, including in-school teacher training and upgrading, in the footsteps of USP, who already have such programs and are expected to expand their USPnet services to the rural centres.

The workshop included practical work on using open source course authoring software and learning management systems including ATutor, Moodle, eXe and Lectora. USP gave a presentation on their use of the commercial learning management system WebCT.

PFnet plan to host a suitable management system and to build capacity to support course authoring services.

Objectives of the workshop

The objectives of the workshop were:

  1. To demonstrate to education and knowledge providers software systems that can be used to manage the delivery of DFL courses over the Internet to the Distance Learning Centres (DLCs);
  2. To demonstrate to education and knowledge providers software systems that can be used to create computer-based and Internet-based DFL courses;
  3. To de-mystify the technology and highlight practical ways of enabling vocational knowledge as DFL content, with technical and knowledge support from PFnet and YFCC;
  4. To identify any specific requirements or design considerations needed by the potential providers;
  5. To test specific LMS and course authoring software systems using realistic simulations with a group and ask potential users to assess their appropriateness and usefulness;
  6. To brief distance education and knowledge providers on the DLCP.

At the end of the workshop, the participants should have been:

  1. Oriented on their role/relationship to the DLCP and future SchoolNet;
  2. Given understanding of what a Learning Management System (LMS) is;
  3. Made aware of various choices of LMS;
  4. Able to log on and navigate a LMS as a learner: browse and enroll on courses, interact and access other functions and services;
  5. Able to log on and navigate a LMS as an instructor: administer students, set up courses, allocate resources, run discussions and forums, etc;
  6. Given understanding of the simple practical steps required to create electronic learning and course material that can be delivered through the LMS or on CD or other ways;
  7. Made aware of more sophisticated systems that can produce e-learning resources;
  8. Oriented on the proposed support arrangements of a future SchoolNet;

Workshop activities

PROGRAM

Facilitator

Time

Opening remarks

Objectives of the workshop

Briefing on the Distance Learning Centres Project (DLCP)


Introduction to Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Introduction to USP’s usage of WebCT

Introduction to Course Authoring software

Break for Tea

Course Authoring practical

Lunch

Learning Management Systems practical

  • Learner’s perspective
  • Instructor’s perspective

Including Tea Break

Discussion and evaluation

Close

Alan Agassi

David Leeming

David Leeming
Peter Pitia

David Leeming

Mark Dennis

Ghislain Hachey

Ghislain

David & Peter


David

8.30

8.40

8.50


9.15

9.45

10.15



10.30

12.30

1.30

3.15

4.30

5.00


Each of the activities is described below:

Introduction to DLCP

A presentation was made on the DLCP, covering the following topics:

  • Background
  • PFnet trials in 2002
  • ESIRP
  • VSAT Networking concept
  • Educational services to be supported
  • Progress
  • Site selection
  • Physical design of centres
  • Sustainability of operations

The participants were oriented on the support arrangements for the learning network, with PFnet providing technical support and the Youth First Computer Centre (YFCC) providing knowledge support with PFnet. It was explained that the capacity of YFCC (and secondly, PFnet) will be built to support the users of the LMS, course authoring services and support for course authoring. PFnet will maintain the LMS server remotely (after development it will be hosted by Telekom or an overseas host so as to optimize speed).

Introduction to LMS session

This 30-minute PowerPoint presentation closely followed the description of LMS given above, in Part 1 (page 4).

Introduction to Course Authoring

This 30-minute PowerPoint presentation was intended to raise awareness of solutions for local generation of e-learning course content.

During the course of this the presentation on course authoring, participants were given information on the following topics:

  • What we mean by course authoring
  • A brief history on course authoring
  • Why they should use course authoring tools
  • Choosing a course authoring tool
  • Where they can go for more information.

Course authoring in this context is the conversion of a paper-based course into a computer-based format. 

A brief history on course authoring was given, to make the participants aware of the evolution of course authoring in the past 100 years.  Teachers not so long ago were still writing their manuals with pencils and papers (or typing machines for the lucky ones) and now we have access to sophisticated software that allows the teachers to easily create course which are easily deployable on the Internet via Learning Management Systems.

The presentation discussed why one should use course authoring tools, and made it clear what course authoring tools would and would NOT do for them.  Course authoring tools would help them put their course onto the Internet/Intranet, and would prepare the course for easy publishing as executable files, HTML Web pages, SCORM compliant, and even self executables.  In addition, participants were told what course authoring tools would NOT do for them, for example, these tools won’t create the course content for them and it won’t improve the content of their existing courses.

Three different options for course authoring were described and briefly demonstrated. These were:

  • Microsoft Office (especially PowerPoint).
  • Lectora [9] , a sophisticated package that the project had identified as a leading commercial product;
  • eXe, an open source (free) course authoring tool that is being developed at the University of Aukland [10] .

Some of the pros and cons of the three different alternatives were presented to the workshop:   

  • Microsoft office (more specifically Power Point) is easy to use and there is rich documentation available. This can be quite adequate – PowerPoint in particular can be used the create sophisticated presentations – but it is not optimized for the purpose of creating courses, and is reliant on the Office software being installed on the host computer. It also lacks publishing features and is not SCORM compliant. 
  • eXe is a simple-to-use HTML editor, targeted at education providers with only limited computing skills, that creates courses in various formats ideally suited for online and CBT delivery, such as web site format, SCORM package and executable files. As an open source package, it is continuously being improved, and the users may have close contact with the developers. It is SCORM compliant and is free software. The current version lacks some features like inserting graphs and pictures and it hasn’t got as many publishing features as a commercial software.  However, in the same way as open source LMSs are rapidly developing, it can be expected to increase in sophistication until it matches the commercial alternatives.
  • Lectora is a very powerful commercial software which is not as easy to use as the previous alternatives mentioned above.  Lectora provides several publishing features (on a CD, as a Web page, SCORM compliant, as self executable...).  One could also use Lectora as a revenue generator, however, it is very expensive. The project has negotiated a 3-user license at considerable discount, and has established a working relationship with the suppliers who are also regional experts in DFL.

While indicating the pros and cons to the participants we also demonstrated example of courses created using the three different alternatives to course authoring.  We used a training manual called “Introduction to Beekeeping in the Solomon Islands” and transferred that manual into a computer-based format using the three course authoring tools.

In closing the presentation, it was explained which tools would be the appropriate choice for who.  For example, the easy and free eXe course authoring tool would be appropriate for the non technical teacher who wished to deploy course content on the Internet/Intranet.  As for the expensive Lectora course authoring tool, it could be used by organization specializing in using that software.  That particular organization would work closely with the education sector and other training oriented organizations.  We finish by telling the participants where to go for further research.

The course owners (providers) are not expected to have sophisticated computing skills, but are expected to have Office computing skills – or have technicians available with those skills. For this group, Microsoft Office (particularly PowerPoint) and eXe would be appropriate.

Technical support service providers such as PFnet and the Youth First Computer Centre, whose capacity will be built during the project to support course authoring. This group will be given licenses for Lectora, and will be able to develop more sophisticated, polished course materials on behalf of the providers, as a service.

Course Authoring Practical

Participants were then guided through a practical on using the open source course authoring tool eXe to create an electronic version of a paper-based course. For this purpose, all participants had access to a computer with eXe installed, and supporting material including a paper version of the course, a Word file with text for copying and pasting (to save typing time) and step-by-step instructions (which were also used by the presenter). PFnet and DLCP staff supported the participants and any problems were noted.

The following steps were followed:

  • Starting eXe
  • Layout and functionality of eXe
  • Creating a new file
  • Creating the course structure
  • Adding various types of content including interactive content such as quizzes
  • Exporting a finished course
  • Saving a finished course as an executable

A few technical bugs were noted and passed on to the developers of eXe. This is not a major issue, as the software is being rapidly developed. However, by the end of the session, most participants had created and saved an executable course file.

Copy of the materials used in the course are available.

Learning Management Systems Practical

In this session, participants all had access to a computer connected to the PFnet network from which they could log on to the two open source LMSs installed on the DLCP application server – ATutor 1.4 and Moodle 1.4.

The session focused on ATutor because of the excellent “How to use ATutor” demonstration course that is available. However it was explained that most of the functionality is similar across the two systems.

The participants were guided through the process of logging on and using ATutor, firstly as a learner and secondly as an instructor. Accounts were pre-configured to allow each participant to log on uniquely. The presenter’s computer was projected onto a screen to help guide the participants.

A small number of preloaded courses were made available on the LMS. These included the bee-keeping course used in the content authoring workshop, and a demonstration course “All about bio-diesel” written especially for the workshop.

The workshop took participants through the following process:

(1) Using ATutor from the Learner’s perspective

  • Starting and logging on to ATutor
  • Changing personal profiles
  • Browsing courses
  • Public/protected/private courses
  • Example of an open course – “Bio-diesel”
  • Enrolling on a private course – “Beekeeping” (showing instructor actions)
  • The “How To use ATutor” public course:
  • Navigating the course using the menus
  • The TOOLS menu/utilities:
    • Exporting content
    • Viewing test results
    • Accessing groups
  • The RESOURCES menu:
    • Links
    • Repositories (TILE)
  • The DISCUSSIONS menu
    • Using Forums
    • Using Chat
    • Using the internal email system
  • The ACOLLAB group work module
    • Access groups
    • Down/uploading assignments and shared resources
  • Creating Tests
    • A demonstration test was pre-configured
    • The participants tried out the test and the assessment system
    • Instructor (presenter) marks test
    • Viewing results
  • FREE TIME TO TRY OUT ATUTOR IN THE ROLE OF A STUDENT
    • How To course
    • Biodiesel or Beekeeping

(2) Using ATutor from the Instructor’s perspective:

  • DEMO of Instructor tasks
    • Emailing students
    • Adding an assignment
    • Creating a test
    • Creating a new course
    • Creating some content
    • Importing a SCORM learning resource (course)
  • FREE PRACTICAL TIME IN ROLE OF AN INSTRUCTOR

(3) Demonstration of Moodle

Finally, a demonstration was given of Moodle, showing that although it looks different, in fact it has very similar functionality.

Evaluation of the workshop

In a wrapping-up session, participants briefly discussed their impressions of the LMS and content tools and of the workshop.

General comments/notes on workshop

  1. Course authoring practical – this threw up some problems with eXe that need referring to the authors. Generally is good but has some bugs in saving documents and dangers for low-skilled users.

  2. ATutor Practical generally went well. No major problems. All users managed to access and use the functions as learners and instructors.

Comments made in evaluation

  1. USP – ATutor is now very similar in function to WebCT. The gap is closing and the evaluation made by USP using version 1.3 may be out of date.

    Is it possible to enable import/export etc for text only, to assist low bandwidth connections?

  2. SIARTC – Suggest using Pamua as a pilot, where they are developing beekeeping. They could use the beekeeping course directly. Ghislain to follow up with Linda and Julian. This would make a good test case.

  3. SICHE DEC – It can greatly help SICHE to take education to rural areas. At the moment SICHE is greatly hampered by the cost of materials. Using the Internet would reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

    It is a lot to learn in one day – SICHE have a long way to go and capacity and training is needed to follow up the workshop.

  4. PFnet – Suggest working with each provider (SoE, SIARTC, DEC, SIDT, etc) to develop a single practical test/demo case for each organisation.

It was agreed that the project could consider using the Beekeeping course as a pilot at St. Stephen’s College.

It was noted that the project will have to continue working individually with the participants to follow up and develop their strategies for using the DLC network.

Post-workshop evaluation

Following the workshop, participants were asked to answer four questions:

 

  1. How appropriate and useful do you think that a Learning Management System like ATutor would be for your organisation?
  2. What ideas, if any, do you have, following the workshop, for creating electronic learning materials for your organisation?
  3. What did you think about ATutor? Do you think it would be easy for your organisation to use?
  4. Was the workshop relevant/useful to you? Please explain why / why not.

The following responses were obtained:

Director, SICHE Distance Education Centre

  1. How appropriate and useful do you think that a Learning Management System like ATutor would be for your organisation?

    The ATutor would be very useful for my organisation (Distance Education Centre - SICHE).  If I understood the ATutor programme properly, that students in provinces would be able to download or retrieve their course materials at the Learning Centres; they can enroll at LC, they can contact the instructors, they can chat, etc. then it is indeed an answer to our current problems:  lack of machine for course material production; promotion of our programmes in provinces, in other words reaching out to those who would like to further their learning, but live in provinces.

  2. What ideas, if any, do you have, following the workshop, for creating electronic learning materials for your organisation?

    I may not have any new ideas, however, creating electronic learning materials is the answer to our current financial handicap.  We need the ATutor programme installed into our computer, then adjustment of our course materials master copy, that are already formatted according to "distance learning" mode and are saved in the Microsoft Word programme, would be done.  We currently have five students in Gizo, who sometimes have been disadvantaged because of communication and transport system difficulties.  We need to send them their learning materials, answers to their queries, and even tutors to conduct tutorials and mentoring sessions with them.  Once again, this electronic learning system would improve our course delivery to the provinces.  It would save us money to send tutors for all tutorials and mentoring.

  3. What did you think about ATutor? Do you think it would be easy for your organisation to use?

    I strongly believe, that it would be easy for my organisation to use ATutor, as long as its installation into our computer is free or the charge is affordable for us.

  4. Was the workshop relevant/useful to you? Please explain why / why not.

    The workshop was an eye-opener for me when I have long been frustrated because we have not been able to run our programmes for the Class 6 - Form 3 pushed outs for the last five years. Our main problems are as follow:  we lack course materials because we do not have heavy duty photo copying machines to do our production.  We do not have these machines because of the cash-flow problems that SICHE has been facing.  We have not been able to produce our course materials or out-source our production needs because of financial difficulties that SICHE faces.  Hence, this ATutor programme should be help ease some of our current problems.

Director, School of Education, SICHE

  1. How appropriate and useful do you think that a Learning Management System like ATutor would be for your organisation?

    With the intention of offering teacher training courses through the DFL mode, ATutor would be seen as an appropriate means of delivering our courses electronically.
  1. What ideas, if any, do you have, following the workshop, for creating electronic learning materials for your organisation?

    In the redevelopment of the SOE programmes and courses, I think it would be useful to prepare electronic versions of our course materials using ATutor programme.
  1. What did you think about ATutor? Do you think it would be easy for your organisation to use?

    I think the Computer literate staff at the SOE should find it easy to use ATutor.
  1. Was the workshop relevant/useful to you? Please explain why / why not.

    The workshop was useful as it gives me an idea of the possible Computer Program that my School could use to produce an electronic version of its courses for the DFL mode.

Linda McMillan, SIARTC

  1. How appropriate and useful do you think that a Learning Management System like ATutor would be for your organisation?

    I can see uses for it.  In some ways if the technology and support is there we could eliminate the need for books and notes.  The cost, however, would be prohibitive without significant government or donor support.  RTC's are not well enough financed to afford satellite connections.
  1. What ideas, if any, do you have, following the workshop, for creating electronic learning materials for your organisation?

    We might be able to take materials developed by the Commonwealth of Learning who have focused on putting their materials on disc, and enable RTC's to have carpentry courses on line too.  I would have to work with C of L to see about that. Also, I would love our bee curriculum to be a test on line course.  We could put it on line and have it out there for others to try.
  1. What did you think about ATutor? Do you think it would be easy for your organisation to use?

    While everyone in our office use a computer, I am not sure that everyone could put the programs to use.  We use computers for writing papers, reports, and  for financial management. At present the staff in the EU/RTC office are not even able to use our existing data management programme effectively.  Our staff are not able to update data or manipulate it, so adapting existing curriculum to ATutor might be a problem without some specific training.
  1. Was the workshop relevant/useful to you? Please explain why / why not.

    It was inspiring and worrying.  I see the potential, but don't quite know how to leap over the slope and start skiing with it.  I have visions of jumping off the cliff and landing at its base (Parachute failure).

Workshop Resources

All PowerPoint presentations are available from the project and may be shared freely [11] . This workshop can be usefully replicated in other countries and programs.

To be made available on the Internet: www.peoplefirst.net.sb/dlcp

  1. Introduction to DLCP powerpoint slideshow
  2. Introduction  to Learning Management Systems ppt slideshow
  3. Introduction to Course Authoring ppt slideshow

Other resources:

  • Beekeeping Course published as on eXe, Lectora and SCORM
  • ATutor and Moodle installed on the DLCP server
  • eXe open source course authoring software
  • Lectora 3-user license course authoring software
  • \PFnet\DLCP\Workshop folder with printouts etc

Administrative details

Attendance

  1. Julian Treadaway, Form 6 Tutor and ex-Director, USP Centre,
    St. Stephen’s College, Pamua, Makira (site of first learning centre)
  2. Hilda Kii, Director, Distance Education Centre, SICHE, Honiara
  3. Connie Siliuta, Department of National Planning PAC
  4. Hemaima Moreni, Coordinator, Youth First Computer Centre, Honiara
  5. Alan Agassi, Chairman, RDVA, Honiara
  6. Linda McMillan, SIARTC, Honiara
  7. John Kea, Technical Officer, School of Education, SICHE, Honiara
  8. Randall Biliki, Manager, PFnet, Honiara
  9. John Roughan, Advisor, SIDT, Honiara
  10. Paul Craig, Advisor, EU-PMU, Honiara
  11. Mariselo Asupemane, Webmaster, PFnet, Honiara
  12. Brenda Mauli, SIDT, Honiara
  13. Mark Dennis, IT Officer, USP Centre, Honiara
  14. Patricia Rodi, Director, School of Education, SICHE
  15. Franco Rodi, Director, Curriculum Development Centre, Honiara
  16. David Leeming, Manager, DLCP, Honiara

Invited but did not attend

All organisations invited sent at least one representative.

Cost of workshop

The cost of the workshop (SBD) was as follows:

Lunch                                       $684.80

Morning/afternoon tea              $308.40

Venure Hire                               $1300

Taxi fares/spoons                     $84.40

Total of workshop                     $2,376.80



[1] This section is included in this report to help readers who are not familiar with LMS. It closely follows the actual presentation given in the workshop.

[2] http://www.edutools.info/course/productinfo/index.jsp

[3] Report 2003, Issue 1, received from COL in private correspondence.

[4] Carole Hunter, Valentine Hazelman, May 2005, internal document received in private correspondence.

[5] “Free, Libre” indicating “free to obtain, free to use”

[6] http://www.moodle.org

[7] http://www.atutor.ca

[8] More information can be found at www.peoplefirst.net.sb/dlcp

[9] http://www.lectora.com/

[10] http://exe.cfdl.auckland.ac.nz/

[11] See http://www.peoplefirst.net.sb/dlcp or contact leeming@pipolfastaem.gov.sb