PhD Update #24: off to the crocodile form

Another early update today – off to the Crocodile Farm as an excursion with the boys so today’s a write off. However, progress has been good and the end is nigh for chapter 2 – at least in first draft.

What I’ve done

The aim for this week was to complete the pedagogy component. The component will have three sections: The centrality of the pedagogue (done); Learning theories, research and advice for pedagogues (about half done); and Lessons from Pedagogy for e-learning (most of the ideas in place – these are generally quick to get done).

What I’ll do in the next week

Two main aims for next week:

  1. Complete the pedagogy section and get Chapter 2 all together.
  2. Get started on chapter 5.

How do you develop a cross-LMS usage comparison?

I recently posted about the need to develop an approach that allows for the simple and consistent comparison of usage and feature adoption between different Learning Management Systems (aka LMS, Virtual Learning Environments – VLEs – see What is an LMS?). That last post on the need didn’t really establish the need. The aim of this post is to explain the need and make some first steps in identifying how you might go about enabling this sort of comparison.

The main aim is to get my colleagues in this project thinking and writing about what they think we should and how we might do it.

What are you talking about?

Just to be clear, what I’m trying to get at is a simple method by which University X can compare how its staff and students are using its LMS with usage at University Y. The LMS at University Y might be different to that at University X. It might be the same.

They might find out that more students use discussion forums at University X. More courses at University Y might use quizzes. The could compare the number of times students visit course sites, or whether there is a correlation between contributions to a discussion forum and final grade.


The main reason is so that the university, its management, staff, students and stakeholders have some idea about how the system is being used. Especially in comparison with other universities or LMSes. This information could be used to guide decision making, identify areas for further investigation, as input into professional development programs or curriculum design projects, comparison and selection processes for a new LMS, and many other decisions.

There is a research project coming out of Portugal that has some additional questions that are somewhat related.

The main reason is that there currently appears to be no simple, effective method for comparing LMS usage between systems and institutions. The different assumptions, terms and models used by systems and institutions get in the way of appropriate comparisons.

How might it work?

At the moment, I am thinking that you need the following:

  • a model;
    An cross-platform representation of the data required to do the comparison. In the last post the model by Malikowski et al (2007) was mentioned. It’s a good start, but has doesn’t cover everything.

    As a first crack the model might include the following sets of information:

    • LMS usage data;
      Information about the visits, downloads, posts, replies, quiz attempts etc. This would have to be identified by tool because what you do with a file is different from a discussion forum, from a quiz etc.
    • course site data;
      For each course, how many files, is there a discussion forum, what discipline is the course, who are the staff, how many students etc.
    • student characteristics data;
      How were they studying, distance education, on-campus. How old were they?
  • a format;
    The model has to be in an electronic format that can be manipulated by software. The format would have to enable all the comparisons and analysis desired but maintain anonymity of the individuals and the courses.
  • conversion scripts; and
    i.e. an automated way to take institutional and LMS data stick it into the format. Conversion scripts are likely to be based around LMS and perhaps student records system. e.g. a Moodle conversion script could be used by all the institutions using Moodle.
  • comparison/analysis scripts/code.
    Whatever code/systems are required to take the information in the format and generate reports etc. that help inform decision making.


I can hear some IT folk crying out for a data warehouse to be used as the format. The trouble is that there are different data warehouses and not all institution’s would have them. I believe you’d want to initially aim for a lowest common denominator, have the data in that and then allow further customisation if desired.

When it comes to the storage, manipulation and retrieval of this sort of data, I’m assuming that a relational database is the most appropriate lowest common denominator. This suggests that the initial “format” would be an SQL schema.

How would you do it?

There are two basic approaches to developing something like this:

  • big up front design; or
    Spend years analysing everything you might want to include, spend more time designing the perfect system and finally get it ready for use. Commonly used in most information technology projects and I personally think it’s only appropriate for a very small subset of projects.
  • agile/emergent development.
    Identify the smallest bit of meaningful work you can do. Do that in a way that is flexible and easy to change. Get people using it. Learn from both doing it and using it to inform the next iteration.

In our case, we’ve already done some work from two different systems for two different needs. I think discussion forums are shaping up as the next space we both need to look at, again for different reasons. So, my suggestion would be focus on discussion forums and try the following process:

  • literature review;
    Gather the literature and systems that have been written analysing discussion forums. Both L&T and external. Establish what data they require to perform their analysis.
  • systems analysis;
    Look at the various discussion forum systems we have access to and identify what data they store.
  • synthesize;
    Combine all the requirements from the first two steps into some meaningful collection.
  • peer review;
    If possible get people who know something to look at it.
  • design a database;
    Take the “model” and turn it into a “format”.
  • populate the database;
    Write some conversion scripts that will take data form the existing LMSes we’re examining and populate the database.
  • do some analysis;
    Draw on the literature review to identify the types of analysis/comparison that would be meaningful. Write scripts to perform that role.
  • reflect on what worked and repeat;
    Tweak the above on the basis of what we’ve learned.
  • publish;
    Get what we’ve done out in the literature/blogosphere for further comment and criticism.
  • attempt to gather partners.
    While we can compare two or three different LMS within the one institution. The next obvious step would be to work with some other institutions and see what insights they can share.

The knowledge and experience gained this for “discussion forums” could then be used to move onto other aspects.

What next?

We probably need to look at the following:

  • See if we can generate some outside interest.
  • Tweak the above ideas to get something usable.
  • Gather and share a bibliography of papers/work around analysing discussion forum participation.
  • Examine the discussion forum data/schema for Blackboard 6.3 and Webfuse.

That’s probably enough to be getting on about.


Malikowski, S., M. Thompson, et al. (2007). “A model for research into course management systems: bridging technology and learning theory.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 36(2): 149-173.

BIM#7 – Getting the prototype up

Last time I worked on BIM I got to know weblib.php enough to get the first canned Moodle page generated. The student details page which lets the student see what BIM knows about their blog contributions for the current course.

The rationale for this prototype approach includes:

  • let me get to know Moodle programming a bit slowly;
    Last week was getting to know weblib.php a bit more. The week or so before it was activity modules and it won’t be to long before I dive into that again.
  • get a prototype working within Moodle so I can show folk and get feedback.

In terms of using the prototype, the current plan (i.e. it might change) is to: produce some screencasts using the prototype, create a discussion forum around the screencasts and encourage people to give feedback both online and offline.

The aim today is to get more of the student view of BIM put into the prototype. If I get lucky, I might even start on the academic’s view.

What the student will see

An earlier post gave some details of the various screens/operations different users would be doing with BIM. The following is a simple list of what I need to do with students:

  • the blog registration page;
  • the blog details page; DONE

Gee, I’m further along than I thought.

Play with Moodle more

Given I’m a bit further along and because creating the blog registration page is very straight forward, this should allow me to play around with Moodle a bit more.

The blog registration page and the blog details page for the students should be the same link. Before the student has registered a blog with BIM, it should show the registration page. After they’ve registered, it should show the details page (possibly with an option to change the registration).

Rather than hard code this, let’s play with the Moodle code so that it performs this check and displays the appropriate HTML. Based on this, I’m guessing I’ll need to:

  • Ensure that a database table is created that allows BIM to store that a student has registered their blog.
  • Ensure that the show details page only appears for students.
  • Have the code look at this table and display the appropriate fields. Sort of.
  • When the registration page is submitted, have it update the table to “register the blog”.
    This could either be a dummy value or an actual registration. At this stage it won’t do the checks that are necessary to determine if the URL entered by the student is actually a blog with a feed.
  • Update the details page to allow a change in registration option.
    Eventually this will have to be configured by the course coordinator. Yes the students can change their registration, or no they can’t.

The database

Time to remind myself about the database tables I’ve created and how in Moodle to create/check these.

  • Go to the admin page on my Moodle install.
  • The XMLDB editor is used to create/edit databases and is under the Miscellaneous menu (I’d forgotten that and had to dig).
  • Currently there is only the bim table. Matches the module name and is used to associate an instance of the activity with a course – and some other stuff.

What I want to do know is take the BAM_BLOG_STATISITCS table from BAM and put it into the Moodle “schema”. The table stores information about a student blog. Currently its desc is

  `ID` int(10) unsigned NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
  `COURSE` varchar(10) NOT NULL DEFAULT '',
  `YEAR` int(4) NOT NULL DEFAULT '0',
  `STUD` varchar(12) NOT NULL DEFAULT '',
  `LAST_POST` datetime NOT NULL DEFAULT '0000-00-00 00:00:00',
  `BLOG_URL` text,
  `FEED_URL` text,
  `A_TITLE` varchar(100) DEFAULT NULL,
  KEY `TermYearIdx` (`PERIOD`,`YEAR`)

The proposed translation shown in the following table

BAM field BIM field Description
ID id bigint(10) unisigned) Unique ID for this table
COURSE,PERIOD,YEAR,A_TITLE bim bigint(10) unsigned In BAM this identifies a unique use of BAM. Within Moodle I believe this will be represented by the id from the bim table. The quiz engine seems to use a similar in mdl_quiz_attempts.
STUD userid bigint(10) unsigned Unique CQU stud number for BAM. userid in BIM. This should allow staff to register blogs as well. Potentially useful for other uses of BIM. Will likely have to allow coordinator to configure who can register a blog.
NUM_ENTRIES numentries mediumint(6) The number of posts in the feed. Using a Moodle naming approach and the same type as used in quiz_attempts
LAST_POST lastpost bigint(10) unsigned The date time of the feed’s last post. Going by quick look at other tables. Seems that Moodle uses bigint(10) for dates – UNIX timestamps?
BLOG_URL blogurl varchar(255) URL for the blog, varchar(255) used for URL in user table
FEED_URL feedurl varchar(255) See blog url
Keys Only need the primary key. The other keys/indexes no longer make sense with the new fields.

That seems okay and it’s been created. God I hate the XMLDB editor.

The question now is how to get this update in play. That’s right, just update the version number in version.php within the bim folder – that works.

Only “show details” for students

The idea is that only a user who is a student in the course that has the bim activity should see the “show details” HTML. Need to check that this is working.

  • Create users of different types
    I have three accounts – the admin account (admin), a teacher (fred) account and a student (david) account
  • Login as each one and check.

Yep, that’s all working as I’d expect.

Look for entry in table for student and change display

Okay, so now I have to check for the existence of an entry in the new bim_student_feeds for the current user and the current bim activity.

The DML functions are what you’re supposed to use to get information from the database. There’s a nice set of links that points to seeing if any records exist match a given a criteria. Using the function

record_exists($table, $field1=, $value1=)

The forum code seems to use a collection of library functions in forum/lib.php to add additional checks, just not record exists. I think that’s probably a good practice to follow. I can see view.php getting quite large. So we’ll start there with a simple one

function bim_feed_exists( $bim, $userid ) {
  return record_exists( "bim_student_feeds", "bim", $bim, "userid" $userid );

Of course, have to get the bim and userid values in view.php and call the new function. No worries.

Seems to be all working, except I’m getting the message that the mdl_bim_student_feeds table doesn’t exist. And it doesn’t. Bugger! I thought that was working.

I’ve made sure the XMLDBB stuff is saved. It is showing that the XML is storing it. The XML file has it there. I’ve updated the version number, run the “notifications” stuff, it is saying that the database has been updated. But no mdl_bim_student_feeds table!!!

Is there something wrong with the naming? Is there a log telling me something I’m not looking at?

When in doubt, delete. That fixed it. But that will be annoying.

Okay, time to display the registration form

The obvious thing to come of this is that weblib.php stuff is not what should be used to create the form. formlibs.php is. Will have to start there I think.

Summary and to do

Okay, I’ve got bim starting to read and react to content in the database. Started using the lib file. Different users are seeing the right information.

To do

  • Use formslib.php to handle the register process, this includes saving the data in the database – but not checking yet.
  • Move onto the hard-coded prototype stuff for the teaching staff.

Pedagogy – the centrality of the pedagogue and what they believe

The following is the first part of the Pedagogy component of the Ps Framework with forms part of Chapter 2 of my thesis. As with previous thesis posts this is a rough first draft of the content, feedback welcome. This is the first of three parts to this component. The next will say something about “learning theory” and the final will draw some lessons.


This thesis draws on the definition of e-learning as “the use of information and communications technology to enhance and/or support learning in tertiary education” (OECD 2005). Other sections of this thesis have covered the “information and communications technology” (Product insert cross ref) and “tertiary education” (Place insert cross ref) components of this definition. This section pays attention to the “learning” component. Since the purpose of this thesis is to formulate an information systems design theory for e-learning within universities this precludes from consideration some aspects of individual or informal learning. It suggests that the practice of e-learning will almost certainly involve some input from a teacher, hence the use of Pedagogy (not to mention it fits within the naming scheme of the “Ps Framework).

The importance of learning is summarised by the point made by Alavi and Leidner (2001)

Most would agree that the objective of using technology in learning should be to positively influence learning in one way or another; that is, the student should either learn something that he/she would not have learned without the technology or learn it in a more efficient manner.

However, the approach taken here does not start with a focus on the learner, instead, – in line with the use of Pedagogy – it assumes that within a university context the teacher remains a significant, perhaps the most significant, direct influence on student learning. Consequently, this section starts by justifying this perspective and describing its implications in The centrality of the pedagogue (Section 2.1.1). It then moves more generally to examine Learning theories, research and advice for pedagogues (Section 2.1.2) before drawing some Lessons from Pedagogy for e-learning (Section 2.1.3).

The centrality of the pedagogue and what they believe

Alavi and Leidner (2001), in discussing technology-mediated learning, suggest that it is important to conceptualize technology features and attributes in a manner directly relevant to instructional and learning processes. For quite sometime there has been a growing recognition that student-centered approaches to learning are the most effective. The learning theories of greatest current influence suggest that learning occurs through student’s active construction of knowledge supported by various perspectives within meaningful contexts with social interactions playing a critical role (Oliver 2000). It is a view that suggests the highest levels of student learning occur when the focus is on what the student does (Biggs 2001). The question then is why start with and focus on the teacher, the pedagogue, and what they believe? This section seeks to answer that question and connect the pedagogue with the other aspects of the Ps Framework.

While agreeing that the main aim of university learning and teaching, and e-learning in particular, should be a focus on improving student learning it is the nature of university courses that they are designed by pedagogues within a particular context. Trigwell (2001) – in developing a model to evaluate good teaching – argues that rather than separating learning, teaching, context and other aspects associated with university learning, all these aspects must be considered together and, in order for learning to be judged effective, they must be aligned. Figure 2.1 is a representation of Trigwell’s (2001) model of university teaching, it is intended as a set of concentric spheres. At the centre is the student and their learning, however, that learning is directly impacted upon by the strategies adopted by the teacher, which are in turn influenced by the other factors.

Trigwell's model of teaching

Figure 2.1 – Trigwell’s (2001) model of university teaching

Trigwell (2001) suggests that focusing more holistically on the combination of elements – especially on the teachers’ conceptions of teaching and a focus on students – makes the differences between teaching qualities more discernible and judgements easier. A focus on the strategies and technologies used by a teacher ignores the influence that their conceptions can have on how such strategies and technologies are used. Approaches to staff development that focus on the provision of prescribed skills and teaching recipes result, in many cases, in participants querying the feasibility of presented methods, defending methods they are already using, using new methods mechanically, or modifying methods intended to facilitate student learning into didactic transmission modes (Gibbs 1995; Trigwell 1995). A focus on strategies also ignores the likelihood that contextual factors also influence the appropriateness and implementation of strategies and techniques. Even a teacher with a student-centred conception of learning will adopt alternate strategies if the context is not appropriate.

Based on this argument, there is little value in examining the relative worth of various educational theories and pedagogical strategies without first having examined the context and the pedagogue’s thinking and planning. Various other sections of this chapter and other components of the Ps Framework (e.g. Place, Process, People and Product insert cross reference) have dealt with various aspects of the teaching and learning context. This section briefly repeats and expands on what is known about the thinking and planning of pedagogues within universities that was initially mentioned in the Past Experience section (insert cross reference). The following section (Section 2.1.2) examines what is known about learning and teaching strategies.

As outlined in the Past Experience section (insert cross reference) there is a significant body of literature that establishes the conceptions of learning and teaching held by academics and links those conceptions to the quality of student learning outcomes (Kember and Kwan 2000; Biggs 2001; Trigwell 2001; Norton, Richardson et al. 2005; Eley 2006; Gonzalez 2009). That literature generally places pedagogue conceptions into one of two main orientations: teacher-centered/content-oriented and student-centered/learning-oriented. Figure ?? shows a graphical representation of these orientations and five underlying conceptions identified by Kember (1997). As mentioned above, a student-centered/learning-oriented orientation is broadly agreed to contribute to better student learning outcomes.

There has been only a small amount of research on conceptions of and approaches to e-learning that allows understanding of this phenomenon (Gonzalez 2009). However, the level of reported work is increasing (Roberts 2001; Smyth, Mainka et al. 2007; Gonzalez 2009). Gonzalez (2009) in the most recent work and attempting to build on the work of Roberts (2003) identified three conceptions of e-learning: web for individual access and assessment, web for learning related communication and web for networked learning. Pedagogues with the first conception were found to have a content-centered orientation to learning and teaching while pedagogues with the other two conceptions of e-learning had or were moving towards a learning-centered conception of learning and teaching. Table 2.1 summarises the conceptions of e-learning identified by Gonzalez (2009) and describes the associated dimensions. Table 2.2 provides a description of approaches to e-learning that fit within the conceptions from Table 2.1 along a number of dimensions.

Table 2.1 – Dimensions delimiting conceptions of online teaching (adapted from Gonzalez 2009)
The web for individual access to learning materials and information; and for individual assessment The web for learning related communication (asynchronous and/or synchronous) The web as a medium for networked learning
Teacher Provides structured information/directs students to selected web sites Set up spaces for discussion/facilitates dialogue Set up spaces for communication, discussion and knowledge building/facilitates-guides the process
Students Individually study materials provided Participate in online discussions Share and build knowledge
Content Provided by lectuerer Provided by the lecturerer but students can modify – extend it through online discussions Built by students using the space set up by the lecturer
Knowledge Owned by lecturer Discovered by students within lecturer’s framework Built by students

The literature is also in general agreement that pedagogues generally teach the way they were taught (Dutton, Cheong et al. 2004). It has been suggested that in the absence of formal teaching qualifications, many university pedagogues teach in the didactic way that they were taught (Phillips 2005). Conceptions of teaching that are at the content end of the orientation spectrum. What’s more this predilection shapes the outcomes from the introduction of e-learning as educators see the technology as a means for carrying on doing what they have done before with more expensive technologies (Dutton, Cheong et al. 2004). In an effort to survive the difficulties of coping with the new introduced technology pedagogues can focus on content rather than the process of educating the student (Herrington, Reeves et al. 2005). Increasingly, organisational priorities can also negatively impact upon how pedagogues approach their teaching responsibilities with the consequence that students can sense the pedagogue’s distance from teaching (White 2006).

Table 2.2 – Dimensions delimiting approaches to online teaching (adapted from Gonzalez 2009)
Informative/individual learning focuses Communicative/Networked learning focused
Intensity of use Small range on media and tools used to support learnign tasks and activities (mainly sources of information with small opportunities for interaction and communication) Wide range of media and tools used to support learning tasks and activities (with emphasis on interaction and communication)
Resources Web pages with information. Lecture notes. Links to websites. Web pages with information. Lecture notes. Links to web sites. Discussion boards. Chat. Blogs. Spaces for sharing. Animations. Videos. Still images.
Role of the learner Select and present information Design spaces for sharing and communication. Support the process.
Role of the students Study individually information provided Participate in a process of knowledge building

Changing conceptions of learning and teaching

The relationship between conceptions of learning and teaching has implications for educational change (Tutty, Sheard et al. 2008). Change towards more sophisticated forms of teaching is only possible if the pedagogue’s conception of teaching are addressed first (Ho, Watkins et al. 2001). There is little evidence to show that pedagogue’s conceptions of teaching will develop with increasing teaching experience or from formal training (Richardson 2005). Pedagogue’s approaches to teaching change slowly, with some change coming after a sustained training process (Postareff, Lindblom-Ylanne et al. 1997). Given that it appears most university pedagogues hold content-centred conceptions of learning and teaching and that the majority of e-learning appears focused on distributing content, there appears to be a need to change the conceptions held by pedagogues.

Changing pedagogues’ conceptions of teaching, however, are a necessary but not sufficient condition for improved student learning. While pedagogue’s are likely to adopt teaching approaches that are consistent with their conceptions of teaching there may be differences between espoused theories and theories in use (Leveson 2004). While pedagogues may hold higher-level view of teaching other contextual factors may prevent use of those conceptions (Leveson 2004). Environmental, institutional, or other issues may impel pedagogues to teach in a way that is against their preferred approach (Samuelowicz and Bain 2001). While conceptions of teaching influence approaches to teaching, other factors such as institutional influence and the nature of students, curriculum and discipline may also influence teaching approaches (Kember and Kwan 2000). Prosser and Trigwell (1997) found that pedagogue’s with a student-focused approach were more likely to report that their departments valued teaching, that their class sizes were not too large, and that they had control over what was taught and how it was taught. Other contextual factors that frustrate pedagogues’ intended approaches to teaching may include senior staff with traditional teacher-focused conceptions raising issues about standards and curriculum coverage and students who induce teachers to adopt a more didactic approach (Richardson 2005). In addition, teachers who experience different contexts may adopt different approaches to teaching in those different contexts (Lindblom-Ylanne, Trigwell et al. 2006).

Efforts to improve teaching have often failed because the complexity of teaching has been underestimated and such attempts should consider the integrated system of relationships that constitute the teaching experience as a whole (Leveson 2004). One such important complicating influence are differences that have found differences between discipline areas (Lindblom-Ylanne, Trigwell et al. 2006), which suggest a need to understand teaching from both a general and discipline-specific perspective (Leveson 2004). Beliefs about teaching vary markedly across different disciplines and these variations are related to the pedagogue’s beliefs about the naure of the discipline they are teaching (Richardson 2005).

There is a lack of empirical evidence that development in conceptions of teaching will result in prompt improvement in teaching practice (Ho, Watkins et al. 2001). There is at least one alternate model (Guskey 1986; Guskey 2002) of teacher change that suggest it is the experience of successful implementation that changes the attitudes and beliefs of pedagogues. Pedagogues believe change will work because they have seen it work and this experience is what changes their conceptions of teaching and learning (Guskey 2002). Existing research informs us of the static relationship between existing conceptions and teaching practice, but has limited findings in terms of the dynamics of the way changes in teaching conceptions are transferred to changes in teaching practice and at what rate (Ho, Watkins et al. 2001).

The way e-learning is adopted in tertiary education is most likely explained by the pedagogues’ approaches to teaching, in general, which are often the result of their conceptions about teaching and learning (Elgort 2005). As above, institutional factors play a mediating role. In examining conceptions of e-learning held by academic staff Gonzalez (2009) that institutional factors and the nature of the students were the most relevant contextual factors influencing teaching. Rhetorical claims espousing e-learning seek to appeal to a pedagogues’ vision with an emphasis on innovation at the expense of reflection on pedagogues’ thinking and practices (Convery 2009). The unrealistic expectations of e-learning inhibit pragmatic attempts by pedagogues to integrate technology into classroom contexts and contribute to pedagogues being blamed for the failure of technology to fulfill its promise (Convery 2009).


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Tutty, J., J. Sheard, et al. (2008). "Teaching in the current higher education environment: perceptions of IT academics." Computer Science Education 18(3): 171-185.

White, N. (2006). "Tertiary education in the Noughties: the student perspective." Higher Education Research & Development 25(3): 231-246.

Phd Update #23 – Getting closer to the end of chapter 2

I’m taking the weekend, including Friday, off from the PhD – so an early update. It’s been a good week. If only a short one in that I’ll miss Friday.

What I’ve done

In the last update I was aiming to:

  • complete product; and
    This was done: section on alternate models for procurement and product and also the lessons section completed. The procurement section might need some minor tweaking, but basically there. The lessons section draws on much of the work set up in the other sections to argue for the limitations in the LMS model.
  • hopefully complete pedagogy.
    I’ve come up with a structure with three sections: the centrality of the pedagogue and what they believe; learning theories, research and advice for pedagogues; and, lessons from pedagogy for e-learning. I’ve just about completed the first section, have the main ideas for the lessons section and much of the content for the second.

What I’ll do next week

The aim will be to complete the pedagogy section, put a rough draft of chapter 2 together (i.e. write the conclusion) and make a start on chapter 5.

BIM #6 – Learning weblib.php

It’s been a while since I last did some work on BIM, various other tasks getting in the way. The main mid-term KPI is the delivery of a working prototype of BIM working within Moodle. That’s what I started in the last bit of work.

The aim here is to get into weblib.php enough so I can get most/much of the prototype in place. weblib.php contains PHP functions used in Moodle to generate output. I could just output HTML but using weblib.php will make it easy for the prototype to look like Moodle. weblib.php also brings other benefits, so better to start using it now, rather than later. Just another step in learning Moodle.


The following is an attempt to understand and internalise the model/approach that underpins weblib.php – defined in the comments as

Library of all general-purpose Moodle PHP functions and constants that produce HTML output

First, I’m simply going through the library file and getting a feel for the functions there. The following is a list of those functions, in the order that they currently appear with some light categorisation applied. On the surface it’s a mindless exercise, but it helps me see the “lay of the land”.

  • Utility functions:
    • s|p($var, $strip=false) – add quotes to HTML characters
    • addslashes_js( $var ) – quote javascript
    • strip_querystring( $url ) – remove the query string from url
    • get_referer( $stripquery=true ) – return HTTP_REFERER
    • me() – return name of current script with querystring
    • qualified_me – me with a full URL
  • class moodle_url – useful for dealing with URLs with multiple parameters. Apparently mostly for pages that link to themselves.
  • More utility functions
    • data_submitted( $url=” ) – is there form data waiting to be processed
    • stripslashes_safe($mixed) – removes backslashes from string
    • stripslashes_recursive( $var ) – used on arrays/objects
    • addslashes_recursive( $var ) – reverse of above
    • break_up_long_words( $string, $maxsize=20, $cutchar=”) – break up text …
    • str_ireplace( $find, $replace, $string ) – search&replace
    • stripos($haystack, $needle, $offset=0 ) – find location of string.
  • Popup windows
    • element_to_popup_window(…..) – the description is harder to understand than the function name. I’m assuming it displays something that leads to a popup window
    • link_to_popup_window(….) — seems to be a trend developing
    • button_to_popup_window(…)
    • close_window_button( …. )
    • close_window($delay=0)
  • Form elements
    • choose_from_menu(…) – take an array and output HTML for select element
    • choose_from_menu_yesno(…)
    • choose_from_menu_nested(…)
    • choose_from_radio(….) – group of radio buttons
    • print_checkbox(…) – display html checkbox with optional label
    • print_textfield(…)
    • popup_form(…) – little popup form
  • Misc utility functions
    • formerr($error) – print some red text
    • validate_email($address )
    • get_file_argument( $scriptname) — extract file argument
    • get_slash_arguments – get them from the environment variables
    • parse_slash_arguments – get the PATHINFO stuff at end of URL?
  • text formats –
    • format_text_menu() – return array of text formats that can be used in a popup menu
    • format_text(….) – take text in a variety of format codings and return it as safe HTML.
    • text_format_name( $key ) – get the name of the Moodle text format of a given selection of text in that format.
    • reset_text_filters_cache()
    • format_string(….) – take a string, return string after processing. Used for activity titles, post subjects etc.
    • format_text_email(…) – given text in variety of formats return it as normal text ready for email
    • filter_text( $text, $courseid=NULL) – HTML text is run through filters
    • filter_string( $string, $courseid=NULL )
  • Trusted text
    • trusttext_present( $text ) – is this text marked as trusted?
    • trusttext_strip( $text ) – called before clearning…??
    • trusttext_mark( $text ) – mark text as trusted – without doing anything on it???
    • trusttext_after_edit(…)
    • trusttext_prepare_edit(…)
  • cleaning up text and other stuff
    • clean_text( $text, $format ) – take raw text and remove nasty tags
    • purify_html( $text ) – cleaning function using HTML purifier
    • cleanAttributes() – clean attributes of tags
    • cleanAttributes2() – another one?
    • replace_smilies() – replace text smilies with image one
  • text conversion
    • text_to_html(…)
    • markdown_to_html(..)
    • html_to_text()
    • convert_urls_into_links(..)
  • Misc other
    • highligh(…) – highlight words in a given string
    • highlightfast(…) – faster
    • get_html_lang() – return lang attributes in HTML
    • skip_main_destination() – an accessibility think to skip to main content
  • standard web page parts
    • print_header(……) – header of HTML
    • require_js – include javascript libraries
    • get_require_js_code(..) – not called directly
    • force_strict_header($output) – debugging aid
    • print_header_simple
    • print_footer
    • current_theme – what’s the current theme
    • current_category_theme
    • style_sheet_setup – called by style sheets
    • theme_setup
    • user_login_string – indicates login status of user
    • check_theme_arrows – have they been set?
    • link_arrow_right(…) – return the HTML for..
    • link_arrow_left(…)
    • get_accesshide(….)
    • get_separator(..) – return breadcrumb separator
    • print_navigation(…) – print breadcrumbs
    • build_navigation(…) – used by print_header etc.
    • print_headline(…) – retained for backward compatbility
    • print_heading($text, $align=”,$size=2,$class=’main’,$return=false) – print text formatted for a heding
    • print_heading_with_help – centered heading with help button
    • print_heading_block(…)
    • print_continue( $link, $return) – print link to continue on another page
    • print_box($message, $classes, $ids, $return ) – print a message in a standard themed box
    • print_box_start(…) – starts a box with divs
    • print_box_end()
    • print_container(…) – print message in standard themed container
    • print_container_start|_end
    • open_containers – return # of open containers
    • print_container_end_all – close ’em all
    • print_single_button(…) – self-contained form with single submit
    • print_spacer(…) – print spacer image
    • print_file_picture(…) – include picture from file/url
    • print_user_picture(…) – print user’s avatar
    • print_user(…) – print summary of user in a little box (uses a table to get the box!!!)
    • print_group_picture(..) – show the group’s avatar.
    • print_png – show png image
    • print_table( $table, $return=false ) – show nicely formatted table
    • print_recent_activity_note(….)
    • print_textarea(…)
    • use_html_editor(…) on all textareas in the current page
    • print_editor_config(…)
    • update_course_icon( $courseid) – show the edit button for courses
    • switchroles_form(…)
    • update_mymoodle_icon..
    • update_tag_button
    • update_module_button
    • update_categories_search_button
    • navmenu – return popup menu with course activity modules
    • navmenulist – similar to above</li
    • print_date_selector – print form items for date entry
    • print_time_selector –
    • print_timer_selector
    • print_grade_menu
    • print_scale_menu
    • print_scale_menu_helpbutton
    • print_error – error page
    • editorhelpbutton() – print help icon linked to help page on a number of topics
    • helpbutton(….) print a help button
    • emoticonhelpbutton
    • editorshortcutshelpbutton
    • notice( … ) print a message and exist
    • notice_yesno(….) print a message with yes or no options
    • redirect(…) – print notice and redirect
    • notify(…) message in bold in optional colour
    • obfuscate_email(..)
    • obfuscate_text()
    • obfuscate_mailto()
    • print_paging_bar(…)
    • print_side_block(..)/print_side_block_start|end
    • print_speller_code – code for spellchecking
    • print_speller_button
    • print_maintenance_message
    • adjust_allowed_tags
    • class tabobject ??
    • print_tabs
    • page_doc_link – string contining link to user docs
    • doc_link(..)
    • debugging/disable_debugging
    • frametarget
    • print_location_comment
    • print-arrow(…) – used to show up/down arrow for column sorting, can be given language string to save on dbase access
    • right_to_left – true if language is right to left

Some questions that arise out of that:

  • What’s the difference between container and box?
    Haven’t found an answer to that one….only a quick check. From experiments, the container is a HTML container – doesn’t necessarily look like anything. While the box is visual.

Getting into it

Time to get some hard-coded HTML in place. Work on the default view for students that shows their details, blog posts and other stuff. Working, alright for first step. More next week.

BIM student details

Lessons from product for e-learning

This post contains the last section of the “Product” component of chapter 2 of the my thesis, at least a rough first draft version of it. This is getting to the crux of my argument and problem with how most universities implement e-learning (adoption of an LMS) and it refers back to many of the other components of the Ps Framework. This will eventually become part of my EDUCAUSE’09 presentation and I’m thinking of re-working the following from thesis speak into something a little more leading.

Since this post relies on many of the other sections of the thesis (including one that isn’t written yet) and that the way I’ve been blogging these sections means that there is probably no easy way for you to connect all the dots. Going to the thesis page is probably the easiest, as all the posts should be linked from there.

Lessons from product for e-learning

Based on the above examination of the Product component of the Ps Framework for e-learning this section draws two lessons for e-learning: that the outcome of technology implementation is emergent and unpredictable and that the LMS model of e-learning is inappropriate.

The outcome of technology implementation is emergent and unpredictable

The impact and outcomes of the implementation of technology within a social system like a university cannot be predicted. The nature of the technology will interact with the people, processes and requirements of the organisation in complex and unpredictable ways. In ways that only become obvious after the fact and are not likely to repeat.

The LMS model appears to be inappropriate for e-learning

The selection and implementation of a learning management system embodies (at least) two standard assumptions: the product model and the procurement strategy. The product model of an LMS is an integrated, enterprise system sourced from a single vendor. The procurement strategy, using the three efficient procurement strategies proposed by Saarinen and Vepsalainen (1994), is that of package acquisition. Both of these models are inherently inflexible. This creates a problem in that the nature of e-learning within universities is such that it needs high levels of flexibility.

Best practice advice for the implementation of integrated, enterprise systems is to implement vanilla, to implement the system as provided (Robey, Ross et al. 2002; Pozzebon, Titah et al. 2006; Wagner, Scott et al. 2006). This advice recommends that it is cheaper to modify the organisation to fit the capabilities of the enterprise system (Gosain 2004; Strong and Volkoff 2004). The modification of the system to meet organisational needs, either initially or in response to lessons and changes in context, is deemed to be too expensive. The enterprise systems themselves are often designed in a way to make such modification or integration with other external systems difficult. The package acquisition procurement strategy is most appropriate for routine systems (Saarinen and Vepsalainen 1994). Routine systems are those where requirements very stable, they do not change, and there is high certainty that they can be identified correctly.

Based on the examination of the Ps Framework in this chapter it is suggested that a key requirement for e-learning within universities is flexibility. Table 2.4 presents a summary of the lessons from each of the components of the Ps Framework and suggests a connection between these and requirements for flexibility (the table uses a simple scale of high, low or none to indicate requirements for flexibility). For example, the lesson that a university represents a type of complex adaptive system (insert cross ref) in which on-going change is a traditional and increasing suggests a need for a high level of flexibility. Table 2.4 suggests that 4 of the 7 Ps components suggest a requirement for high flexibility and the remaining three suggest a requirement for low to high flexibility. This suggests that e-learning within universities requires significant levels of flexibility.

Table 2.4 – How flexible does an e-learning system need to be: Lessons from the Ps Framework
Ps Component Lessons
Requirement for flexibility
Place insert cross ref Change is traditional, inherent and necessary
Inconsistent requirements, tensions and paradox
It is complex
People People mean variety
Academic staff aren’t prepared or rewarded for teaching
Most students, academic staff and people are conservative
People mean agency
People are central
Process Assumptions of teleological processes appear not to hold
Process must be aware of and match the context
Revolutionary change and its relationship with teleological and ateleological design
There appears to be a need for both teleological and ateleological
Purpose Problems with a singular view of purpose
Problems with purpose proxies
low to high
Past experience Consisting in change
Retentiveness – or lack therof
The technology-mediated learning hype cycle – perpetual infancy
Pedagogy There is no one learning theory
Most academics don’t use any
low to high
Product The outcome of technology is emergent low to high

There is significant literature suggesting that there should be a fit between organisational requirements and its information technology. Weak fit promotes the existence of risk-related behaviours in organizations (Hogarth and Dawson 2008). The recognition that the assumptions within an LMS provide little or no flexibility and that the components of the Ps Framework for e-learning within universities suggest a requirement for significant flexibility suggests a weak fit between organisational requirements for e-learning and the predominant form of information technology used to fulfil those requirements.


Gosain, S. (2004). "Enterprise Information Systems as objects and carriers of institutional forces: the new iron cage." Journal of the Association for Information Systems 5(4): 151-182.

Hogarth, K. and D. Dawson (2008). "Implementing e-learning in organisations: What e-learning research can learn from instructional technology (IT) and organisational studies (OS) innovation studies." International Journal on E-Learning 7(1): 87-105.

Pozzebon, M., R. Titah, et al. (2006). "Combining social shaping of technology and communicative action theory for understanding rhetorical closuer in IT." Information Technology & People 19(3): 244-271.

Robey, D., W. Ross, et al. (2002). "Learning to implement enterprise systems: An exploratory study of the dialectics of change." Journal of Management Information Systems 19(1): 17-46.

Saarinen, T. and A. Vepsalainen (1994). "Procurement strategies for information systems." Journal of Management Information Systems 11(2): 187-208.

Strong, D. and O. Volkoff (2004). "A roadmap for enterprise system implementation." IEEE Computer 37(6): 22-29.

Wagner, E., S. Scott, et al. (2006). "The creation of ‘best practice’ software: Myth, reality and ethics." Information and Organization 16(3): 251-275.

Curriculum mapping, process, technology and higher education – some questions

A long-running problem at my institution – I don’t think we’re alone, I think most universities are in this boat – has been the absence of any support or processes around curriculum mapping.
I’ve written briefly about this before, but now I have to produce a report with some background and recommendations.

The following is an attempt to ask questions and see if anyone can provide some additional insights. The following is based on the little bit of searching I’ve done so far.

The questions

Some of the questions I have:

  • Is curriculum mapping a good idea?
  • Has anyone been able to do it with a large group of university academics in a way that is embedded into the group i.e. it’s long-term and sustainable? How?
  • What’s the good literature in this area?
  • What tools are people using?
  • Is anyone going bottom up rather than top-down?

Some definitions

I like this definition of curriculum

a sophisticated blend of educational strategies, course content, learning outcomes, educational experiences, assessment, the educational environment and the individual students’ learning style, personal timetable and programme of work (Harden 2001).

For curriculum mapping this definition works for me so far (same source)

Curriculum mapping is a spatial representation of the different components of the curriculum so that the whole picture and the relationships and connections between their parts are easily seen. (Harden 2001)

The literature is full of reasons about why this is a good thing, for me the representation of the curriculum – as a whole or various perspectives – provides a tool to enable analysis, disussion and reflection by the full spectrum of management, teachers, support staff, students and others.

Who’s done what?

Most of the work seems to be in schools. There are a few web-based tools, apparently focused at schools:,, and

Some – much? – of what’s been done in higher education seems to originate from the generic skills push/literature/practice. One example is a paper by Sumsion and Goodfellow (2004). The stuff in the AUQA good practice database appear to be directly related to graduate attributes – mapping and integrating/mapping.

The other major source in higher education appears to be the medical and health disciplines (e.g. Harden, 2001; Holycross, 2006). Holycross (2006) report on using Excel for their maps. As mentioned in the previous post the University of Virginia School of Nursing appeared to be doing some work in this area, but I can’t find much beyond the above.


Harden, R. M. (2001). “AMEE Guide No. 21: Curriculum mapping: a tool for transparent and authentic teaching and learning.” Medical Teacher 23(2): 123-137.

Holycross, J. (2006). “Curriculum Mapping – An essential tool for curriculum development.” The Journal of Physician Assistant Education 17(4): 61-64.

Sumsion, J. and J. Goodfellow (2004). “Identifying generic skills through curriculum mapping: a critical evaluation.” Higher Education Research & Development 23(3): 329-346.

e&i report #2 – 20th August – 1st September

This is the second in the fortnightly reports of what I’ve been doing in my current positionhere’s the first. These posts are made just before the meeting with my supervisor. Due to a change in date for the last meeting, this doesn’t report on a full fortnight.

What I said I’d do

In the last post I planned to be working on the following

  • Help out on a paper for the indicators project.
    This took up almost all of the time. It took up most of last week, a lot longer than I thought. Typical case of under-estimation of effort required. The paper was completed and submitted to ASCILITE.

    The work on this paper produced two blog posts: one and two. The second post summarises some of the findings and identifies a significant hole that has the potential to generate additional papers and funded research and/or development.

  • Progress BIM.
    Only limited work on BIM as most of the time was spent on the paper. Some time was spent also on supporting use of BAM – some detail on this necessary support reported in this blog post. What work was done on developing BIM is reported here. Essentially work has commenced on developing a hard-coded prototype.

    There have been some nibbles from a program in using BAM to implement the idea of program level e-portfolios.

  • Progress the curriculum mapping project/requirement.
    Little has been done on this one, little potentially can be done on it due to the nature of the problem and local constraints.
  • Complete the presentation.
    Some work has been done on this, but only in terms of refining the argument and improving resources.
  • Make progress on the PhD.
    Somewhat limited but it is moving forward. Aiming to have the lit review (chapter 2) completed to first draft stage by the end of next week (may go a little longer).

What I’ll do in the next fortnight

Current plans are

  • Work on BIM
    Still aiming for a prototype at some stage in the next 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Research presentation.
    The presentation has been scheduled for the 22nd September. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be spending more time on this.
  • Scholarship of L&T.
    Aim to turn work on the indicators project into some resources to give advice to people wanting to publish.
  • Curriculum mapping.
    Aim to develop a report to submit up the hierarchy.
  • Indicators project.
    Some additional work on this arising out of the thesis and also areas indicated by the paper. May aim to generate a report on this to submit up the hierarchy.
  • PhD
    Aim to complete chapter 2.