Schools are becoming increasingly attracted to open source virtual learning environments (VLEs), according to a report by the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa), which also reported a solid increase in spending on the software packages that assist the development of personalised learning.
The report, Personalised Learning in Schools, questioned more than 600 schools in England and found Moodle, a free e-learning platform, was now the second most popular in schools, but with the preference split between primary and secondary. Moodle was the virtual learning platform of choice among secondary schools and the third most popular among primaries, after Digital Brain and My Grid for Learning.
However are they going for Moodle because of the benefits of the open source system, the flexibility and the fact that it “works”, or are they attracted because they believe that it is free and are under the impression that this means free as in no cost.
Anyone who has every run a VLE realises that when you take in all the costs of running a VLE, the licences are a very small part of the overall cost of the implementation, development and operational costs of running a VLE.
Hopefully those schools which are using a VLE (and that means any VLE not just Moodle) are not relying just on the efforts of a sole enthusiast and have a scalable and costed implementation plan. Anyone can install and run Moodle (personally I have three versions running on a single Mac mini) however it is a different story when that implementation needs to be accessed by hundreds of learners from across (and outside) the institution.
I have over the years looked at how we can store and use digital video to support and enhance learning. Generally small video clips seem to work better online (just look at the success of YouTube) rather than whole programmes.
Though having said that I am currently enjoying the BBC Archive trial and the BBC iPlayer beta and on both of those I am watching full length programmes. However I am watching it for entertainment rather than educational – raises another question, is there a such a stark difference between entertainment and learning these days?
We are storing video clips we use on the VLE (we use Moodle) using the Flash Video format. Though some staff are using YouTube or TeacherTube.
Our Flash video generally streams “okay” both inside and outside the college.
I have found that using Quicktime H.264 encoded files results in a similar file size, but much better quality. This was particularly evident with the Italian Language programme I used as my example, where the audio was out of sync with the video when using Flash video which would have proved difficult for language students to follow the foreign language.
However it does require that the client have Quicktime installed and though this is a free download for users outside the college, the Quicktime player we have installed on college machines is not capable of playing H.264 content.
The main advantage of encoding H.264 was the time it took to encode the files. Though quality and final file size were also advantageous.
To encode a 15 minute MPEG2 Freeview recording took around 15 minutes on my iMac.
To encode the same 15 minute MPEG2 recording as a FLV file took about five to six hours… and then I needed to create a Flash object which contained the FLV video file.
We now have a 15 minute limit on files just because anything longer will take too long to download. For those video recordings/files we put them on DVD and allow the students to view them via a DVD player.
Longer term for larger videos we are aiming to have a media/video server, but this will be mainly aimed at streaming internally.
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