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.
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.
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.