Moodle + WordPress = Online University

A year and a half ago, I was looking for some online teaching to round out some contracting work I was doing, and I saw an advertisement in the Classical Association of Canada Bulletin from a new online university called ‘Robert Welch University‘. I applied, and soon found myself teaching Latin 101 over RWU’s Moodle system. Moodle is one of a number of course management or learning management systems (others you might be familiar with are Blackboard, Horizon/wimba, and of course, the much loathed WebCT). What is nice about Moodle is that it is all open source, php and mysql driven, and there are numerous plugins, modules, and themes to expand its functionality.

Being inclined to tinker around the innards of things I soon found myself in charge of managing the moodle and doing a university-wide moodle upgrade (nothing like a small institution for upward mobility!) RWU is a completely online school, devoted to Classics and Liberal Arts. When the moodle goes on the blink, the whole university effectively ceases to exist. The moodle interfaced with a front-end website that was completely custom-coded by hand, so when I upgraded the moodle to the latest version, I was not aware of the full complexities of how that interface was handled.

Uh-oh.

For about 10 hours one bleak afternoon, the university disappeared. It would be like somebody turning up for class at the University of Toronto, and finding just an empty lot where the campus ought to be. I learned a lot about php that day…

A daily problem we were having with the front-end of the University site and the Moodle was all of the custom coding. It was so byzantine that once the original creator had moved on to other things, it took a lot of trial-and-error to figure out what was responsible for what. It was also extremely difficult to update the site with new content or layout. Consequently, it was stuck in something of a design rut. Anyway, the point of this post: I’d been thinking of ‘ecologies’ of various web services for delivering education (see earlier entry on Facebook and WP Courseware plugin), and decided that moodle + wordpress = online university. So over the last two weeks I’ve been carefully migrating all content and functions from our old site to WordPress, and I’m pleased to say that it is done and I invite you all to take a look.rwumain-screen.jpg

Why WordPress? We’d looked at Joomla initially. I even did a mock-up Joomla site. But in the end, my experience writing this blog won the day. WordPress just seems to be much more flexible and with its enormous user-base, there’s a plug-in for almost any occasion. The next time we want to change the look of the site, it ought to be much less painful, too. When I killed the site this time, we were only offline for two minutes.

More about RWU:

RWU is a new university based in Wisconsin, receiving state EAB approval to operate as a university and to grant the Associate Degree in Liberal Arts. Its proposed BA is currently undergoing review. It operates five six-week sessions per year, with seven to ten students on average per class. The university concentrates on Classics and Classical languages, along with modern and ancient Hebrew, and Arabic.

Update: Much to my sadness, RWU is no longer a going concern. This post continues to generate a lot of traffic, so I will leave it up for old time’s sake.

rwumoodle-screen.jpg

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21 thoughts on “Moodle + WordPress = Online University

  1. Hi
    I am currently combining Moodle + frontpage in Joomla and I think, it was a bad idea (at least I don’t know Joomla so well yet), thanks for tip, maybe I will use WordPress next time . Will you share some tutorial how you progressed? Good luck with Moodle 😉

  2. The key thing for migrating the previously dynamically-generated pages was noting in the original php where distinct header and footer files were called, and then altering those files to grab the wordpress theme’s header and footer content. While I was doing all this, I duplicated nearly every php file and had two sites running in tandem, so I could carefully tweak my duplicate and compare with the original (and restore things, if necessary!) to figure out what was doing what. The original code used html templates to dump content into, too (sometimes), and in those cases it was a matter of finding the header and footer html template and copying in the html generated by a normal wordpress page.

    …if that makes any sense at all?

    For other pages, it was simply a matter of cut’n’pasting the old content into a wordpress page or post.

  3. I feel your pain re Joomla, by the way. Joomla has a module that is supposed to reach into the moodle users’ database and use it for authentication and site login, but I never managed to make that work the way it was supposed to. Joomla is just so finicky. Getting it installed in the first place required using a special script file on my server to double-check every file, and then re-installing the corrupted files. Apparently, ftp’ing can do that, sometimes, but I never had troubles like THAT before!

  4. Hi Shawn . I am just in the process of putting together a School site that is running on the WP platform and this post has inspired me to take it one step further and try to integrate it with Moodle. Rather than re-inventing the wheel I wonder if you’d be willing to make this available as a download in its basic form or in some other way you are happy with !!!
    Look forward to your reply
    All the best
    Graham

  5. Hi! Thanks for the note. Our site was a bit of a dog’s breakfast, in terms of how it called information out of the database and so on. A lot of what I did revolved around making the existing dynamic pages play nice with the wordpress pages. So I don’t think there’s anything I could give you to download that would be helpful. But let’s talk more – who knows!

    You might want to explore these two plugins, for wordpress and moodle respectively:

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/external-database-authentication/#post-1270

    http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?d=13&rid=1154

  6. Hi Shawn , Sorry for not replying sooner , Been busy developing as you do !!
    Yes it would be good to talk … how would you want to do it ?? email / skype ???

    Very keen on creating a system that someone could just download, install and be up and running !!

    All the best
    Graham

  7. Hi Shawn,

    I am working on a WordPress + Moodle site myself and you currently represent the sum total of all my internet research results!

    I thought my time and effort so far on a WP education site may have been wasted when I recently stumbled across Moodle. On further investigation I did start to wonder whether Moodle was ideally suited to being the “entire” site.

    I am still very new to Moodle. Could you possibly comment a little more on why you didn’t opt to use Moodle itself as the front end of your site, and where you see WordPress leaving off and Moodle picking up (Moodle does include blog functionality for example)?

    Do you think WordPress MU fits into the picture? Do you feel it would offer advantages over equivalent Moodle functionality?

    If you could recommend any “essential” Moodle site developer resources I would also be much obliged!

    Best Regards

    Alastair

  8. The decision not to use moodle for our front end was made before my time, but part of the reason was for reasons of security, and also because we wanted all of our registration process to happen independent of the Moodle; we had a couple of different things going on in the background, and not every student would necessarily be accessing Moodle right away. I guess the metaphor might be that the front-end was to act like the registrar’s office, the ‘welcome to RWU’ office, and the social experience of university, whilst the moodle was expressly meant to be the classroom space.

    I’ve tried the moodle-blog and wiki features as part of my formative assessment exercises in some of my classes, but I wasn’t very happy with the results. Besides which those features exist within a course structure, and so couldn’t be used as a front end. (there’s a plugin for wordpress that authenticates users of the blog from the moodle database, which can be useful, see earlier comments)

    Another approach worth trying is an ‘ecology’ approach. Use wordpress for the main institution site, install some of the stuff from http://scholarpress.net/ a suite of plugins for wordpress and facebook for running individual course, and then skype for a live classroom experience. That in fact might be easier than trying to make moodle and wordpress play nice together!

  9. Hello hello! Interesting to read all of this on Moodle + WP integration. I am looking for a sensible way to use both together. Currently I just have my language and education students use Moodle. Any further developments on this? Others who may be tackling the integration? Many thanks.

    Jeff

  10. Hi Jeff – you might try contacting Graham, above in the comments; he seemed to be making good progress last time I spoke to him. You might also take a look at http://scholarpress.net/ for a somewhat related kind of project.

  11. Hello–
    I could use some help . . . just installed wp and hope to install moodle. I think this will be the best method for my needs–Shokanten Professional Education. After reading all of this, am more concerned than when I started out. (Read: Scared!). Could any of you give me some pointers? Or out and out help???
    Many thanks,
    Wendy

  12. Just to add to the conversation, We’ve been using Moodle for our online learning environment for some years now. We’re about to shift our main web site to a WordPress based site from a Dreamweavered site, and we did think about what the benefits might be for integrating the two. However, in the end we have decided to keep them separate, with the logic being that the two systems serve the two separate needs just fine. The two needs being 1: find out about our courses and how to enrol (wordpress-to-be) 2: The learning itself: moodle. However, I do wish Moodle was more WordPress like at the admin level, with its simple upgrading, plugins and theme management….

    1. I am a Mandarin teacher, looking for tips about Moodle-WP combination for my language class … Read your post, and really curious how do you run the two system separately. Would you please elaborate a bit more on using each, or would you please recommend some useful plug-ins for an online language class using both WP and Mood ? Many thanks in advance !

  13. WordPress is starting to become very LMS like, at least in more creative uses of it – see http://wpmu.org/wordpress-as-a-learning-management-system-move-over-blackboard/

    And here’s a fellow who’s trying it out, and he’s carefully specified exactly how he makes it all work, rationale, privacy concerns (he lets the students themselves pick the privacy settings on some of their work; other stuff is in private and secure dropboxes) etc :

    http://prestidigitation.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2010/01/16/open-lms/

    and part II

    http://prestidigitation.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2010/01/31/alternate-worlds-part-2-the-class-begins/

    And the class website itself is at
    http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/alternateworlds/

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