Plugging into Moodle

So where is Moodle going, listening to Martin Dougiamas at the Ireland and UK Moodlemoot, we see how he (and Moodle HQ) want to take Moodle over the next few years.

Virtual Keynote #mootieuk12

Martin was pretty honest about how the use of plugins in Moodle are not as user-friendly or simple as it should be. I have always thought that Moodle needs to come with core modules and blocks as it does now, however administrators have the option to add blocks and modules via a web browser rather than installing files on to the server. If Moodle plugins were more akin to how WordPress (as in WordPress.org not the .com service) it would make it much easier to work with plugins.

On WordPress you search for plugins from a plugins repository, and then install the files. Once installed, you can then “activate” the plugin and it will then work across your WordPress blog. Such plugins allow you to add media players in your blog, make it easier to add third party services into blog entries, also how users can interact with your blog.

I think it would make as huge improvement to how many people view Moodle if the plugin process worked like WordPress. You as an administrator could choose which plugins would work across a whole site, it would make it much easier to add third party services. For example rather than using the Slideshare embed code, think how much easier it would be if all a user needed to do was paste in the Slideshare URL and Moodle took care of embedding the presentation. Moodle 2 does this already with YouTube videos, so it’s not “impossible”.

I also think it would be nice if plugins could be installed, not just globally, but could be installed and then made available to courses on a course by course basis. Add this plugin if you want it, otherwise leave it well alone. Would it be beyond current thinking to allow course creators to install plugins?

At the moment adding plugins to Moodle is not a simple task and can cause issues, especially if an older plugin is installed on a newer Moodle installation (and vice versa). I do hope that one day we can see a simple web based plugin installation with flexible permissions.

Is this possible?

5 thoughts on “Plugging into Moodle”

  1. I’m sure the issues here can be broken up in several ways – but here’s my take:

    1) An institutional Moodle installation is much more like a WordPress.com blog than a WordPress.org one. As a user of the service, you get what you are given in terms of functionality. This can be a frustration when using WordPress.com – and lack of auto-embed of YouTube videos etc use to be a reason people moved across to self-hosted blogs with WordPress.org. However, WordPress.com have improved their offering with some of this functionality – and so the need to do something ‘custom’ for an individual has decreased. Allowing course creators to install plugins creates many issues with the service management, and I can’t see this happening. As with WordPress.com the option for someone wanting to push the boundaries of what is possible is to install their own copy of Moodle (like WordPress.org). However, unlike WordPress.org you’ve got lots of other aspects to worry about with Moodle (integration with other institutional systems probably the main one)

    2) The ability to install plugins from the web browser rather than having to access the filesystem on the server is mainly about permissions rather than anything else. I suspect this would be relatively easy to tackle in Moodle, but opens up some security concerns (if you make the filesystem writeable from the browser you increase the risk of unauthorised files being added to your server – something I discovered to my own cost recently!) However, I would have thought this would be relatively easy to achieve, and could make it easier for “Moodle Admins” to add plugins – which would be nice.

    3) To really see a benefit we need to see a community of plugin developers and a repository of plugins – here I think there is a lot to learn from WordPress.org. A plugin repository, searchable, with ratings etc. etc. would be a big step forward. If this could be associated with a push to get more people developing plugins and offering them (perhaps even selling them?) it could greatly increase the functionality available in Moodle. The examples you give of Slideshare URLs – this would be a really simple thing to develop – a couple of hours work maybe? (and maybe someone has already done it!)

  2. I, too, love the way plugins are handled and managed in WordPress. I think it’s one example of the usability and extensability features that have made WordPress such a big open source success. It has not just helped users, it has promoted the use of plugins and the contribution of 3rd party addons to the platform.
    Your other idea on selectively allowing use of plugins on different areas or courses is reminiscent of the way WordPress now handles multiple blogs on a single install and would be a major step towards multi tenancy in Moodle.
    As for security issues – there are ways of making things safer, such as seperating the plugin code areas/folders from the basic infrastructure.

  3. As an avid WordPress and Moodle user I find this a very grey area.

    A content website or a blog and a learning management system are two different beasts.

    The impact of a wordpress site being crashed by a bad plugin, or hacked due to lack of upgrade and so forth is very different to that of the institutional VLE being down /hacked/ etc due to someone adding something they should not have.

    I have a list of over 30 criteria which I recommend that people should assess before deploying a plugin into Moodle which I will probably publish on my blog in coming weeks as this issue becomes more hot, but to take one of them.

    If you install a small bit of functionality into a blog and the plugin later on stops working with upgrades, that is one thing. However if you deploy a block into Moodle and it becomes a heavily used and a core part of learning delivery – should it subsequently not be updated and upgradable you are faced with losing something core to the learning or having to pay for the ongoing keep yourselves. This is one of many decisions that should be taken before installing a plugin into Moodle. It is a business/process decision. Should a site admin (on web side) be able to make that decision?

    Also, good code management means you would probably be using GIT or something else to manage your code, the changes (theme, plugins, integrations) etc, and deploying into your web tree. Having Moodle install the plugins which bypasses this code management process leads to more business / organisation risks.

    That said, have a more integrated plugin system with alerts for updates and so forth would be a great idea.

    Gavin

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