Developer Profile – Jenny Gray

This is part of a blog series of short profiles on plugin developers within the Moodle community. Today it is Jenny Gray.

Name: Jenny Gray
Twitter: @jennymgray
Source Code:

Tell us something about yourself

I am a leading technical developer for the Open University, UK.  I’ve been working mostly on OpenLearn over the past 5 years, and recently transferred some of our plug-ins to Moodle 2 and built a separate web annotation system.

When did you first start programming?

I started programming in 1990 in Fortran.  I worked for the Bank of England and was responsible for maintaining and extending their macro model of the UK economy under the guidance of a team of economists.  I had no programming training at that time and was totally self-taught.  The Bank kindly paid for me to get an undergrad degree (from the OU!!) in computing. Over time I moved into their web team and was responsible for creating their first Intranet site.

When did you first encounter Moodle?

In 2005 when I was told to use it as a platform to set up our Open CourseWare initiative, OpenLearn.

What did you use Moodle for?

I’m admin for OpenLearn (and a couple of other smaller special projects sites which are less public), and developer for all those platforms and occasionally for our student-facing servers.

What was your first Moodle plugin? Why did you write it?

Too long ago to remember!  Probably the “download this unit” block, which just prints links to everything in a folder called “downloads” where we put the alternative format versions of OpenLearn units.

I get asked for this block a lot, because people think it’s doing the conversion as well.  Sadly it isn’t!

What is your latest Moodle plugin & why did you write it?

My latest plugin is A recommender block.

Admins customise which recommendation services they want displayed (so our OpenLearn and Student platforms can have different ones through the same block), and the block queries the database and offers links to things that might be useful.

For example there’s an “other open educational resources like this” service, a “people on this course looked at this activity recently” service…  Services can be added without rewriting the entire block.

What would you say to someone who is considering writing a Moodle plugin?

Start simple, read the documentation, use the forums for help, think about adapting something that already exists.

The important thing is to know what your users want – who is the plugin for, how can you make things easy for them.  If you get this right, probably with paper prototypes first, you’re more likely to be successful.

Final Thoughts

I’m a pragmatic programmer with a strong customer focus.  It doesn’t matter to me if the standard is perfect – if it is difficult to implement and/or not useful to your audience then there’s no point in adhering to it.

I also think it is better to release early and get feedback so you can iterate towards the best solution, adding bells & whistles as you go.

So I guess I’m advocating an agile/rapid application development style of programming.

Some Plugins

This is a list of the plugins that Jenny has contributed to that are currently (Jan 2012) in the new Moodle plugins database. To view all these in the Plugin database check this page

Rate a course
This block provides an Amazon-style 5 star rating system for courses. Users each give a rating and the total is displayed in the block.
This block offers four different recommendation services: popular activities on this course; popular courses on this site; open educational resources; shared bookmarks. Each can be enabled and configured separately.
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