Entity view (Content)

Moodle and Alfresco: Great apart, better together

By tthomas
Jun. 19, 2017

When it comes to repositories and enterprise content management systems, not all options are made equal… As developers, our world is usually centred around code, workflows and making systems work. Recently, however, I have had the pleasure of working closely with the E-Learning Manager for Glasgow Clyde College. Our discussions were centred around the real world benefits and improvements that the integration of Alfresco with Moodle project would bring to education, teaching staff and, ultimately, students in Glasgow.

So, rather than replicating the style and approach of previous blogs, explaining the technical activities of how we delivered a project, I would like to share my experience on this project from a business perspective.

Surprisingly, Moodle no longer provides a native repository for their LMS, leaving it to the user to choose an external system with which to manage the vast quantity of content that each teaching establishment accumulates.

If you peer out into the world of content repositories and content management systems, you’ll observe a crowded, competitive and bustling landscape. Everyone’s offering migrations, integrations, version controls or upgrades. Some companies represent the builders, the caretakers, while others occupy the content management solutions provider territory.

In terms of Moodle/Alfresco integration, let’s open with some important ways in which educational professionals can avoid ‘content chaos’, enhance productivity, save time, and generally create a streamlined, secure and effective content repository and content management system.

Content chaos is a genuinely problematic issue in education content management circles, this can be due to a number of factors, including but not limited to: 

  • Content is kept on individuals’ own devices 
  • Risk of losing content due to damaged devices, staff leaving etc. 
  • Creating/Duplicating the same content multiple times 
  • Copyright infringements 
  • Lack of version control 
  • High amount of time needed and spent by teaching staff searching for content  
  • Lack of content governance

So the benefits of tackling this problem are both numerous and tangible. Clearly, we appear to striking a chord within the education sector, having implemented a scalable solution for Glasgow Clyde College, (watched with keen interest by the Scottish Moodle User Group), while across the pond we have also partnered with Athabasca University in Canada, embarking on exactly the same journey.

As a central repository integration set-up, marrying Moodle and Alfresco makes a lot of business sense. I know all this through experience of delivering other Alfresco based projects to meet a wide variety of situations where content chaos pervades. So, if I may, let me take the time to explain just how an Alfresco repository, working in pure harmony with Moodle, would address, redress, and solve the potential chaos and pains I discussed above...

Increased Productivity

By having an Alfresco repository and workflow, the courses can be moved into a defined folder, which is directly accessible from Moodle. Simply put, this means faster change management on content editing.

Increased Security

This is achieved by defining the roles and permissions in the repository, which will subsequently define what the users can see/do in Moodle. Single Sign On integration between Alfresco and Moodle is possible, something which will drastically improve the user experience.

Reduced Errors

Reducing errors by having a central repository for all the content in Alfresco, and the ability to have a workflow associated with content. This means that the content will be available in a single repository, so it won’t be kept on individual devices, which would generate a substantial risk of losing content with damaged devices, staff leaving, etc.

Better Revision Control

This invaluable benefit ensures that users always have access to the updated version of the content. With this feature/functionality, it also reduces the risk of copyright infringements, with staff downloading content and images from the Internet.

Cost Saving Benefits

Of course, when solving major business issues, there are cost savings involved too, and with such a plethora of problems being solved, it follows that the savings can come in many ways. By avoiding content duplications, and potential re-work based on eliminating out of date course material, the time saved can allow teaching staff to focus on other activities that they wouldn’t otherwise have the time to do.

That said, let me demonstrate one simple saving example, and show that, by ordering your content efficiently, huge benefits can be available. If we take Glasgow Clyde College as a benchmark example, it’s easy to see just how financially sound this integration is.

Using even the most conservative viewpoint, the College is convinced the solution will save them an hour a month per teaching staff member, simply by having content in an organised, searchable central repository. Glasgow Clyde College has 600 teaching staff, but if we take out temps and other non-FTE, the number is 450, with average ‘On Costs’ of £30ph.

If you consider that the academic year is 10 months duration, then these are some pretty compelling figures we’re talking about: 

  • Employee 1 hour per month time savings: 450 x 10 x £30 
  • Potential cost savings of £135,000 p.a. Or £405,000 over three years!!!
  • That kind of saving is easily equivalent to freeing up the time of 2 full time teaching staff per year to concentrate on your students.

If we take a typical University scenario, say with with around 2,500 teaching staff, and assuming the same OnCost of £30 ph, the cost savings are simply staggering:

1 hour per month per teaching staff member time savings: 2,500 x 10 x £30 That amounts to a stunning £750,000 pa, or an incredible £2.25 Million over a 3 year period.

By freeing up teaching staff time, it is possible to give students a better experience of higher education and improve satisfaction levels.

A survey of more than 15,000 full-time UK undergraduates found that on average students spent more time studying independently than they did with teaching staff, leaving some feeling unsatisfied with their experience of university. The research, carried out by Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA), found that students were less satisfied when they had fewer than 10 contact hours a week and class sizes of more than 50 students.

So it’s not surprising to see the education sector showing so much interest in the Moodle-Alfresco integration model. Put in those terms, the fiscal and productivity benefits are not only obvious, but achievable and impressive.

To clarify more briefly, here are the features…(or at least the main ones)

  • Single sign-ons between Alfresco and Moodle
  • Central repository for all content in Alfresco
  • Ability to control permissions (as per ACLs in the Alfresco)
  • Ability to have workflow associated with content
  • Bi-directional synchronisation

But there’s more…(just when you thought it couldn’t get any better…)

During our discussions with users interested in adopting this solution we discovered there are two main concerns when introducing a repository to work with Moodle:

  • First, with the huge amounts of content and the extent of the chaos in which it is currently stored, many establishments are daunted by the prospect of tagging 10s of thousands of documents manually. Even though the benefits are huge for doing so, the very thought of doing it puts colleges off, even though content only ever increases in volume!  
  • Second, a large number of higher education organisations use SCORM files, typically for subscriber or paid-for course content.

We’ve looked at these concerns and are currently working on the following innovative solutions -

  • A content loading tool. This will essentially preview the content that is being loaded into Alfresco and look for keywords etc.  From here the tool can then add the first layers of tagging. Although it is impossible to automate 100% of content tagging and some human intervention is inevitable we aim to reduce manual effort by up to 70%.   
  • Building a custom viewer for Alfresco that will show the content of those important SCORM files, allowing teaching staff access to view any content straight from Alfresco.

And don’t get me started on other LMSs, as the same principles apply, so maybe we’ll get asked to sort them out too!