End of year rollover

September 14, 2012

End of Year strategies

In some ways, end of year as a phrase is perhaps misleading. The approach of preparing for the next intake of students for one or more courses may have nothing to do with a year-end. Here are some different examples:

  • One organisation I know runs a two-week online course and runs it every month. So every four weeks they go through a rollover process clearing out old work and adding the new cohort.
  • Another organisation is a 3rd level university. For the most part, all of their courses finish their online usage of Moodle in June or July of each year giving the staff just six weeks to prepare for the next influx of students.
  • One last example is an organisation which has a range of different type of courses for in-house training and continual professional development. Some of the course modules are self-paced courses which people elect to take as and when they wish to. Some other courses are yearly courses that need to be taken for regulatory reasons such as health and safety or professional standing.

These can come down to a few basic options:

  • Rolling over one course
  • Rolling over a selection of courses
  • Rolling over the whole site

There are a number of rolling over strategies used by schools, colleges and other organisations. Which strategy is used is dependent on a number of different criteria including:

  • Who creates the course structures / content?
  • The type of courses which are in place
  • The volume of courses that is live
  • Whether all courses stop/start at the same time.

But before we go down the variations which can occur, let us look at the three standard mechanisms for a course rollover.

Course Reset

The standard method for rolling over a course uses the Moodle course reset option and can be initiated by the course teacher with editing rights. At the end of a course, when all grades, certificates and so forth have been issued, the teacher may go through the following steps

  1. Take a complete backup of the course
  2. Store this somewhere on the network drives for long-term archiving
  3. Go through the course reset steps in the course administration settings

These steps enable the teacher to:

  • Reset the user created content
  • Reset the enrolments
  • Reset grades

Once the reset has happened adding new students follows whatever enrolment mechanism is in place (database, or key based etc…) or manual.

The teacher is in control over what aspects are reset. They may for example choose to not reset certain activities that they want to keep the use content from (a forum, or a glossary or database for example).

This of course can be done by the teacher or by someone else for the teacher with that person having the rights to do so in the course following the same steps.

This is a very manual process although when done by the teacher each one has just to do the same amount of effort sharing the load out. However, if this is managed centrally, it can take up quite a lot of resources when a large number of courses are being reset. The drawback of having someone other than the teacher run the reset is that they would need to know if any of the activities should not be reset.

PROS

  • There is only one course in the instance
  • Permissions for teachers do not change
  • The initial content and activities are already built for the incoming class
  • The effort can be outsourced to each teacher

CONS

  • This is effort that is needed for every course and is a linear cost in time based on the number of courses that need resetting.
  • Students and teachers do not have live access to the prior instance of the module which may be desirable for a number of reasons.

Copy Course

So if there is a reason to keep a live copy of the course in the Moodle instance, for example giving the students access to their work even after they move to the next modules, often people will clone the course giving it a new name and short name so that the incoming students can identity it.

Depending on which steps you follow this process may require a greater level of permissions than just a teacher in a course.

Approach A

The basic approach requires the higher level of access, being able to create a new course in the intended category. The user takes a backup of the course choosing which parts to back up and which data to backup. They then restore it as a new course into the chosen category. The user can also choose what data to use and activities they wish to deploy so can choose to only have some parts of the course and not all of it that would be needed. No full backup of the original course is needed as the course still exists and whatever process for archiving the course is not related to the roll-over procedure.

The process is simpler:

  • Take a backup of the course
  • Restore the course into the new category as a new course

As before the enrolment happens depending on whatever process is in place already.

PROS

  • Students and teachers have live access to the prior instance of the module.
  • The initial content and activities are already built for the incoming class
  • The effort can be outsourced from central administration to each teacher if they have sufficient permissions in their own category

CONS

  • There is more than one copy of the course in the Moodle site
  • If carried out by a teacher they now need course creation rights in a category.
  • This is effort that is needed for every course and is a linear cost in time based on the number of courses that need resetting.

Approach B

This approach only requires teacher level access for the person doing the restore, but this means that they need to have an empty course created before this and editing teacher rights assigned. This is more usual where the central student management system automatically creates the empty courses and enrols students and teachers to it. The teacher can then add the content from the backup of the old course.

The steps are:

  1. New course is created (automatically or manually centrally)
  2. The teacher is given editing teacher role on the course (automatically or manually centrally)
  3. The teacher can just import the resources and activities from the other course into their new shell using a similar process as backup/restore however this requires that they have teacher permissions in both courses.

PROS

  • Students and teachers have live access to the prior instance of the module.
  • The initial content and activities are already built for the incoming class

CONS

  • The effort cannot be fully outsourced to each teacher as someone has to create the course and assign the teacher rights although this may be automated.
  • There is more than one copy of the course in the Moodle site
  • This is effort that is needed for every course and is a linear cost in time based on the number of courses that need resetting.

In both of these scenarios, the two instances of the course exist in the same Moodle site, with the same resources and activities but with different students.

Rebuild

So apart from resetting and copying in content from an existing course, there is a third option which can be adopted. This is where an empty course is created each year and the teacher is assigned to it. However, the course is empty and the teacher is required to build it again each year with the new resources and activities. They can import if they wish but this is often done where the content has potentially changed so new versions of resources need to be added rather than last year’s re-used.

The steps are:

  1. New course is created (automatically or manually centrally)
  2. The teacher is given editing teacher role on the course (automatically or manually centrally)
  3. The teacher builds the course from scratch

PROS

  • Students and teachers have live access to the prior instance of the module.
  • The content is potentially different in each instance of the course
  • Some of the effort is outsourced to the teacher

CONS

  • The effort cannot all be outsourced to each teacher as someone has to create the course and assign the teacher rights.
  • There is more than one copy of the course in the Moodle site
  • This is effort that is needed for every course and is a linear cost in time based on the number of courses that need resetting.
  • The initial content and activities are not already built for the incoming class

So there are the three basic approaches to a rollover, however what about those variables I mentioned earlier?

Who creates the content calls the tune.
So who creates the content for the course? I should clarify that question – By that I mean who uploads the content and creates the activities for the course?

In some organisations it will be the teacher who manages the course content, facilitates the course, grading, assignments, activities and so on. However this is not always the case.

In some organisations there may be a faculty, school or department learning technologist or admin who proxies the effort and uploads the content on behalf of the teacher/lecturer. If this person caters for a number of teachers, then any option which requires them to do a lot of effort in rollover may lead chokepoint.

It could be the teaching assistants in each course that do the work.

So in thinking about rollover strategy, understanding where the burden of work will fall and having buy-in for this to happen, is of primary importance.

Not all courses are lists of PDF hand-outs

There are many types of Moodle courses. Some courses can be self-paced interactive courses with resources, activities assessments and certification. Some courses may be supporting a face-to-face delivery by providing digital copies of hand-outs and notes and perhaps recordings of lectures. And other courses could be blended courses where some of the resources and activities happen in Moodle and outside of Moodle. So how does the type of course impact the approach to rollover?

If the course has predefined content and activities which will not change for the next iteration of the course then forcing a full rebuild is a huge cost which could be avoided. However if the resources are digital copies of the latest lecture notes and recorded lecture, then it potentially changes every instance of the course and is built over time.

The course could also be a combination of the two, with some default content and other resources/activities being added or built over time.

Size matters

If your Moodle has 10 courses managing a rollover is a different prospect compared to if your Moodle site has 2,000 courses. Doing backups of 2,000 courses and restoring them in a few days, or short period will add significant load to your Moodle site which needs to be taken into account when planning.

If 1000 teachers log in at 9am on a Monday and hit backup you will need some serious hardware to be able to cope with that, and it is possible that your normal server will be able to cope unless this task was taken into account when coming up with hardware solutions.

So how can you handle this?

If you have 1000 courses each 100mb, then a teacher takes a backup, and then a teacher restores it. The Moodle site has nearly trebled in size in Moodle 1.9.  However in Moodle 2 it has only doubled as the file system is designed to not maintain two copies of the exact same file and therefore only the backup file is adding to the size. So a course which appears in the Moodle site with the exact same content is not using twice the space. This is one of the very cool aspects of Moodle 2.

So if those backups have been made, you will need to either have planned for such duplication of course content and have enough disk space, or have a process that they remove them after using or move them to somewhere else out of the live Moodle.

Time after time.

If all the courses in Moodle stop and start at the same time, then everything can be tackled as a mass problem or task. If however they stop/start at different times, then you cannot necessarily tackle it the same way and need to look at how to handle the exceptions to the common approach. So if you have courses than run September to June mostly, but some run Jan-December, then you have to plan for the common action for the majority, and come up with a solution to cater for those few which will continue during the rollover.

Keep it lean, keep it fast

I would like to introduce another concept into the mix which I had not mentioned yet. That in general, having an application running with the bare minimum of content or data in it usually has it running at its best performance.

The more the data in the database, potentially the slower the inserts and queries can get, the longer that backups will take, restores will take, upgrades will take and well, you see where this is going.

So if you maintain multiple years / instances of courses in the one Moodle site, your performance given that everything else is equal, will decrease over time and the costs of storage, maintenance and support will increase over time.

So what approaches can be taken?

Well, taking the hardware aspect aside as it could be using different machines, or different virtual servers or even the same box, but different databases… one approach is to isolate each year.

So what I mean is that each year a new instance of Moodle is used for the upcoming student intake. Then only the needed courses, users, and resources/activities are added to this, so that it is kept as lean and as high performance as possible.

If you still want your students and teachers to have access to the old course you can keep it alive as well, but on an archive URL so that they can still log in and use it, but it is now isolated from the new content and users. You could also go through a process of changing roles so that you minimise the type of data changes that can happen.

So your Moodles may end up looking like:

  • moodle.somewhere.com/2009
  • moodle.somewhere.com/2010
  • moodle.somewhere.com/2011
  • moodle.somewhere.com/2012

or moodle2009.somwhere.com and so on.

The process here has two primary options

  • Clone the whole site and put the clone as the archive URL
  • Create a new Moodle instance and then restore in the courses or create from scratch

Whichever you choose to do the pros and cons are similar.

PROS

  • The old courses are still live to be accessed by students/teachers
  • The live site only has the data that is needed in it.
  • The live site does not necessarily have to be the same version as the old one.

CONS

  • There is now another Moodle instance to maintain/patch/upgrade
  • If a teacher wants something from the old instance they need to back up the content and the upload to the new site before restoring, adding two extra steps of downloading/uploading.

 

*Although  here are many posts, discussions on end of year strategy, rollover and resetting, the purpose of this post was to try and pull all the concepts together which I discuss with clients. I am sure some have posted about some of these aspects here, so if any good posts  are out there – please add link to comment and I will edit into the below list.

Some relevant URLS:

http://docs.moodle.org/23/en/Course_backup

http://docs.moodle.org/23/en/Course_restore

http://docs.moodle.org/23/en/Import_course_data

http://docs.moodle.org/23/en/Reset_course

http://docs.moodle.org/23/en/Year-end_procedures

Video on Backing up your courses on http://enhancingteaching.com

 

 Creative Commons Licence
This work by Gavin Henrick of Learning Technology Services (www.lts.ie)  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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