Book review – Moodle Add-Ons

Moodle_AddOns_BookCoverYes, I know, its been a while. In my defence, life has been somewhat tumultuous in the past few months and blogging has been the furthest thing from my mind. Perhaps I’l get back into it again – I still have plenty of stuff rattling around in my head, but as I’ve gradually transitioned most of my ‘hands on’ Moodle work to the likes of Mark, Kim & Minh-Tam in the Consulting team at work, so has my focus shifted to a bunch of other challenges that most readers of this blog wouldn’t really care about reading. Makes me ask the question of whether I wrap this blog up and leave it accessible but not actively maintained and start a new one, or simply restructure it and start posting new stuff on only loosely related topics (think: open source product management, IT service management, team management, general observations on where I see the ed tech industry heading and all sorts of other wanky strategy stuff – oh, and learner/ing analytics, as dreadfully cliched as that would be). Ask me again later this year when the smoke has cleared…

Now, on to the topic of the post. My friend and respected colleague Gavin Henrick asked me if I could read a proof of his recently released book, simply called ‘Moodle Add-Ons’¬†and post a review of it – so here it is. The book has been co-authored with Michael de Raadt from Uni of Southern Queensland and Moodle HQ fame, and will be a useful addition for those who are interested in learning how to extend the base platform of core Moodle.

The book is divided into two distinct parts.

The first three chapters in the book relate to some of the logistics of running plugins on a Moodle site, starting with the reasons why plugins are necessary, where to find them, who creates them, what kinds there are available, how to test them and some of the considerations to take into account when running them. Having worked with some of Australia’s largest universities as they grapple with these exact same questions I can say that the book makes for a pretty good overview of these kinds of questions, and for the vast majority of Moodle admins this book will be a great resource. I only say ‘vast majority’ rather than ‘all’ because of the level of testing, governance and change management rigour that the unis I work with require exceeds the information in this book – but having said that if the book had been written with these kinds of environments in mind it would have been voluminous and dull – Gavin and Michael have put enough information in to give most Moodle admins an excellent governance framework for managing plugins.

The remainder of the book provides an overview of a range of Moodle plugins, including some of the more commonly used plugins, how to install them, how to use them and what problems they might solve. The chapters cover types of plugins such as resources, activities, navigation, administration, course formats and more, and gives a good grab-bag of some of the plugins out there. Again, for the really large-scale Moodle users I looked at plugins like the ‘ad-hoc database queries’ plugin and shuddered in fear at the thought of unleashing SQL query access to an end user (even an Admin) on a Moodle environment supporting 50,000 users, but once again, for the vast majority of Moodle sites this probably wouldn’t be an issue.

Overall, the book would be a welcome addition to anyone running their own Moodle site and looking for an introduction on the realities of extending Moodle, provided in an easy to understand, practical form. As with all hard copy books, the information in it is going to go out of date as soon as Moodle and/or some of the plugins are updated (i.e. probably before the book went to print), but what won’t change are the concepts and examples shown in the book, particularly the first three chapters which will I think give new Moodle admins a good framework for managing an ‘extended’ Moodle.

If Moodle is free like a puppy is free, then a Moodle with a bunch of plugins is free like a whole litter of puppies is free – this book might provide some of the essential basic training needed to stop everything in the house being torn to shreds!

One comment on “Book review – Moodle Add-Ons

  1. I must point out that the ad-hoc database queries add-on was created by one of the worlds largest Moodle sites, and if it works for us, I don’t see why you will have have a problem on your tiny little Moodle sites with only 50,000 users ;-)

    There are some heuristics (which no-one has managed to defeat yet) to ensure users only write SELECT queries, so the worst that could happen is that someone write a very slow query that slows the whole server down. That has not happened yet.

    On the plus side, it lets us answer all sorts of odd little questions about what is going on on our Moodle site without either: a) having to write the PHP code for a specific report, test it and deploy it; or b) give someone access to the database though phpMyAdmin.

    More to the point, one person with the right capabilities can create a particular report, for example “Check that every course in category X that meats these conditions has an instance of the Y block on it” and then other staff can just run that report, and if necessary fix the problem sites.

    A feature added recently was the ability to run the report once per day, and send an email with the results if the query starts returning data. I am sure you can see how that can be useful for managing a large Moodle site in the face of complex business rules.

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