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Maintaining sites for the students’ programme duration

At Sussex we made a decision that Moodle sites which related to a Sussex course should be maintained for the duration of the students’ degree programme. This means for any particular course we have sites for every year it is run.

For example Sussex 3rd year students have Moodle sites for all the course modules they have taken, through the academic years 10/11, 09/10 and 08/09. They can return to their first year, and indeed any sites they have been enrolled on during their time at Sussex.

This has implications pedagogically, socially and technically.

Pedagogical implications

There are advantages for the students because they can access their previous year’s sites so for example they can return to their original lecture notes, the discussions they had and the feedback they got from formative online assessments such as quizzes.

Social implications

Often student contributions to Moodle activities are chatty and temporal in nature and it is not always useful or desirable to have them inscribed permanently in the online learning space. Keeping sites for the entire length of a student’s degree ingrains the idea of permanency of student contributions and might deter students from contributing.

Technical implications

Whist we have tentatively explored hosting different Moodle installations for different years we currently keep all sites on one Moodle installation, having decided it is better to have one code source and database to maintain. This effects the method by which we roll sites forward to new academic years, navigate Moodle sites and server disc space.

Rolling sites forward

At the start of each academic year courses have new empty Moodle sites created for them.  Often the tutors want to import the data from the previous year’s site. There are two Moodle features which help tutors do this: “import” and “backup and restore”.  Because import is simpler we encourage tutors to use this method. To support this we added a plugin which meant the “import” process brought across the site section summaries if one didn’t exist.

Navigating Moodle sites

Because we keep Moodle sites for three years or longer we have many sites available to our users. If sites are sorted alphabetically users have to sift through many old sites which they no longer regularly access. In order to combat this we have added an academic year field to the database that allows us to sort sites chronologically.

Server disc space

In general sites within a 1.9 Moodle installation have separate file stores. This means that files used in more than one site are stored separately. Often tutors might use the same files from year to year. This means that we have different files containing the same data for each instance of a site (08/09, 09/10, 10/11).  As a result we currently have in excess of 400GB of data. This is an issue for our infrastructure team and it also means that there is too much data for us to have an exact development replica of the live system.