JISC Final Report

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Project Identifier: Distributed

Open University Learning Systems (DOULS)

Version: 1.0

Contact: Judith Pickering (j.a.pickering@open.ac.uk)

Date: 09011
2


Page
1

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Document title: JISC Final Report
-

DOULS

Last updated:
09012
-

v1.0



JISC Final Report



Project Information

Project Identifier

To be completed by JISC

Project Title

Distributed Open University Learning Systems

Project
Hashtag

#DOULS1

Start Date

1 July 2010

End Date

31 December 2012

Lead Institution

The Open Unive
rsity

Project Director

Niall Sclater, The Open University Strategy Unit

Project Manager

Judith Pickering

Contact email

j.a.pickering@open.ac.uk

Partner Institutions

N/A

Project Web URL

www.open.ac.uk/blogs/douls

Programme Name

e
-
learning programme: Distributed VLE

Programme Manager

Sarah Davies
s.davies@jisc.ac.uk

/ Paul Bailey
p.bailey@jisc.ac.uk



Document Information

Author(s)

Judith Pickering and Jason Platts

Project Role(s)

Project Manager and Lead Technical Developer (respectively)

Date

5 Dec 2011

Filename

DOULS_final_report.doc

URL

http://www.open.ac.u
k/blogs/douls/wp
-
content/uploads/2012/01/DOULS_final_report_v1.0.doc

Access

This report is for general dissemination


Document History

Version

Date

Comments

0.1

05/12/2011

Initial draft


Judith Pickering

1.0

09/01/2012

Final draft


Judith Pickering












Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

Contact: j.a.pickering@open.ac.uk

Date: 05/12/2011


Document title: JISC Final Report Template

Last updated : Feb 2011


v11.0

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JISC Final Report



Table of Contents



1

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

................................
................................
................................
............................

3

1.1

T
HE
O
PEN
U
NIVERSITY
................................
................................
................................
................................
..

3

2

PROJECT SUMMARY

................................
................................
................................
................................
.

4

3

PROJECT OUTPUTS AND
OUTCOMES

................................
................................
................................
........

4

4

METHODOLOGY

................................
................................
................................
................................
.......

5

4.1

B
ACKGROUND

................................
................................
................................
................................
.............

5

4.2

A
IMS AND
O
BJECTIVES

................................
................................
................................
................................
..

6

4.3

M
ETHODOLOGY AND
I
MPLEMENTATION

................................
................................
................................
...........

7

4.4

S
OFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

................................
................................
................................
.............................

9

4.5

E
VALUATION METHODOLOG
Y

................................
................................
................................
.........................

9

4.6

A
PPROACH T
O STAKEHOLDER ENGAGE
MENT

................................
................................
................................
....

10

5

OVERVIEW OF PROJECT
FINDINGS AND LESSONS

LEARNT

................................
................................
......

10

5.1

E
VALUATION


KEY LEARNING POINTS

................................
................................
................................
............

10

5.2

S
TABILITY OF THE
G
OOGLE
A
PPS FOR
E
DUCATION ENVIRONMENT

................................
................................
........

10

5.3

D
EVELOPMENT PHASE

................................
................................
................................
................................
.

11

5.3.1

Discoverability of shared documents

................................
................................
............................

11

5.3.2

Adding staff to the system

................................
................................
................................
............

11

5.3.3

Security associated with
domain level API access

................................
................................
.........

11

6

IMMEDIATE IMPACT

................................
................................
................................
..............................

12

6.1

N
ON
-

GADGET INTEGRATIONS
BETWEEN
M
OODLE AND
G
OOGLE

................................
................................
.........

12

6.2

U
SABILITY AND
A
CCESSIBILITY POLICY
AND PROCESS IMPROVEM
ENTS

................................
................................
...

12

6.3

OU

AND
G
OOGLE INSTITUTIONAL
RELATIONSHIP

................................
................................
..............................

13

7

FUTURE IMPACT

................................
................................
................................
................................
.....

13

8

CONCLUSIONS

................................
................................
................................
................................
........

14

8.1

G
ENERAL CONCLUSIONS

................................
................................
................................
..............................

14

8.2

C
ONCLUSIONS RELEVANT
TO THE WIDER COMMUNI
TY

................................
................................
.......................

14

8.3

C
ONCLUSIONS RELEVANT
TO
JISC

................................
................................
................................
.................

15

9

RECOMMENDA
TIONS

................................
................................
................................
.............................

15

10

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE

FUTURE

................................
................................
................................
............

15

11

REFERENCES

................................
................................
................................
................................
...........

15


Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

Contact: j.a.pickering@open.ac.uk

Date: 05/12/2011


Document title: JISC Final Report Template

Last updated : Feb 2011


v11.0

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JISC Final Report

1

Acknowledgem
ents

The DOULS project was funded by the JISC e
-
learning programme: Distributed VLE. Our thanks go to
the programme managers Sarah Davies and Paul Bailey, and to the JISC CETIS team, in particular
our regular contact, Sheila MacNeill.

1.1

The Open University

K
ey to the DOULS project was collaboration across many departments and teams at the Open
University. The project would particularly like to acknowledge the input from:


DOULS Project Team

Jason Platts
, Lead Technical Developer

Judith Pickering, DOULS Projec
t Manager

Niall Sclater, Director of Learning
, Teaching & Quality, Programme Director

Anne Jelfs
,

usability expert

Chetz Colwell
,

accessibility expert

Justin Wylie
, Technical developer

Adam
Lewis
, Technical developer

Paul Hill
e
ry, designer

James Davies
,
P
roject
Manager (temporary)

Toni Cokayne
,

Finance and planning officer

Margaret Mulwa,

co
-
ordinator


DOULS Steering Group

Ross MacKenzie, Strategic Development Manager, LTS

Gill Needham,
Associate Director Information Management & Innovation

Liz Burton
-
Pye
,

Head of Learning Teaching and Quality Office

Will Woods
, Senior Learning and Teaching Technologies Manager


Usability and
Accessibility

testing

and personas development

Caroline Jarrett

(Usability Consultant)

Tony O’Shea
-
Poon (Equality and Diversity)


Gad
get
C
onsultants

Rachel Hawkins, Assistant Director Learning Design and Technology, Student Services

Leanne Daniels
, OU Student website development manager (StudentHome)

Stuart Brown
, Social network expert
(
eBusiness Manager Online Communities & Web Develop
ments
at the OU)

Martin Weller,
Professor of Educational Techology, IET.

Mathieu d’Aquin, KMi research fellow and expert on
the Semantic Web and online knowledge
distribution.

Tony Hirst, expert in the application of web technologies to learning and develo
per of Facebook
applications.

Rhodri Thomas



Google
Apps Project Manager, on integration of toolset.

Alex
Mikroyannidis
, KMi and ROLE project

Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

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Date: 05/12/2011


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Project Summary

With the growing sophistication of external systems and platforms such as Google Apps for
Educa
tion, widgets/gadgets, and the increasing use made by students of social networks and mobile
applications, there are mounting opportunities to exploit such tools for teaching and learning.
Enabling users to interact with these external systems from within

the VLE will provide a more
integrated experience for students. Consequently a move towards a more distributed, service
-
orientated VLE architecture with the ability to deliver these services via browsers or feeds or other
mechanisms needs to be found. T
he DOULS project has explored opportunities for integration
between Open University (OU) learning systems and Google Apps to deliver:



e
-
portfolio functionality



social networking opportunities between students



the ability to pull study calendar info
rmation

from the

Moodle

VLE into iGoogle



gadgets that are able to interrogate the OU

Moodle

VLE and return forum recommendations
based on search terms entered



gadgets that enable iGoogle access to VLE forum posts



Release of code for the above to the community via

Github
.


The DOULS project was also involved the development of:



a range of student online personas which have been used to verify requirements and inform
decisions made about the
project.



an institutionally

agreed framework for managing accessibility of the VLE Platform



a technical model for developing

an integrated VLE



Release of details of the above to the community via the
DOULS project blog



3

Project Out
puts and Outcomes


Output / Outcome Type

/ URL

(e.g. report, publication, software,
knowledge built)

Brief Description

Project Plan
(report)

Outline of project aims, objectives, approach, outputs, risks and detailed
project plans

Technical Model

(report)

A
report on technical investigation and outline of approach for
development phases.

Online student personas

(pub
lication)

Created as a way to verify requirements and inform decisions made about
this project

Google Apps


Moodle integration
possibilit
ies

(report)

Report following desk based research which investigated the potential
uses of distributed learning systems, other institutions use of distributed
learning and internal developments in this area.

Google start page investigation

(report)

An investigation into iGoogle and Google sites, their use in Google Apps
and features and functionality they support in relation to gadgets.

Updated student personas (Oct 11)

(publication)

Online personas that have been updated following fee
dback from student
testing.

DOULS Development Plan

(report)

Outlines the developments that will be undertaken

Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

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Date: 05/12/2011


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Last updated : Feb 2011


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DOULS Interim Report (July
-
Dec
2010)


(report)

DOULS Interim project report for the period July to December 2010

DOULS Interim Report (Jan
-
June
2011)

(report)

DOULS Interim project report for the period January to June 2011

Project output source code

(code
rep
ository)

Source code for the following
:

Google collaborative activity
M
oodle

2

module

Moodle

2

webservice

protocol

OpenSocial Gadget connector for Moodle

2

web services

Portfolio Activity Tool for Moodle 2

Google gadgets that connect to Moodle

2

Alternate
calendar export for Moodle 2.0

OU Open Forum search gadget

Buddy SilverStripe module

Gadget connector for SilverStripe web services

Buddy Google gadget

All source code is publically available at
https://github.c
om/JISC
-
DOULS

Presentation from Widget Bash

(presentation)

Power point with project update and development plans

Usability and accessibility testing
plan and guidance

(p
ublication)

Approved testing plan

A System for Managing
Accessibility for the VLE Platform
in RAP

(knowledge built)

An institutionally agreed framework for managing accessibility of the VLE
Platform.


4

Methodology

4.1

B
ackground

The Open University (OU) is the United Kingdom's
only university dedicated to distance learning. It
has around 150,000 undergraduate and more than 30,000 postgraduate students. The University’s
VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), based on the Moodle open
-
source software, hosts approximately
600 ‘live’ co
urses and has around 100,000 students accessing it each month.


The University will be
using

Google Apps for Education to run alongside other learning systems, with
services that include: email, instant messaging, contact management, calendar, shared docum
ents,
and online document creation.


Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

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Date: 05/12/2011


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The University has produced

a learning systems roadmap with input from key units across the
University
, commissioned by the Vice Chancellor and the Pro
-
Vice Chancellor (Learning, Teaching
and Quality),. Enhancing the V
LE at the OU is fundamental to the institution’s Learning and Teaching
Strategy, and other strategic priorities. The roadmap has been informed by a range of personas of
likely future users of the system.


A wide range of requirements from users across the

institution has resulted in the selection of five key
areas for learning systems innovation: personalisation, user
-
generated data creation, e
-
portfolio,
Google Apps deployment and mobile provision.


To meet the required innovations specified in the learni
ng systems roadmap there is a need to move
towards a more distributed, service
-
oriented architecture with the ability to deliver these services via
browsers and other mechanisms (such as RSS feeds) on a variety of platforms and devices. The OU
infrastructu
re needs to migrate from its current web
-
delivered model to become both a consumer and
provider of data services. This will enable users to interact with the VLE from within external systems
and platforms such as Google Apps for Education, widgets/gadgets
and mobile applications.


The
Distributed Open University Learning Systems (
DOULS
)

project
was undertaken
within the

context of a

wide
-
range of developments outlined in the
OU’s
learning systems roadmap
which aimed
to add

functionality, features and servic
es to meet the need for a more distributed VLE.

Within this
context, the
DOULS project sought

to:




Undertake visioning activities involving units from across the university and to include
pedagogic, technical and usability experts, to research the needs o
f end
-
users and
investigating technical models, ensuring the solution is achievable and fit for purpose.



Utilise user
-
centred design, running regular sessions with end
-
users to assess their
requirements and receive feedback on current developments. Using t
hrowaway
-
prototyping
techniques, user
feedback

will be sought

at an early stage of development
to

assess if
proposed solutions meet the users’ needs.



U
se iterative software
-
development techniques, producing, testing and releasing features in a
staged appro
ach. Releases of software onto OU learning systems will align with system
-
wide
release schedules, which occur on a quarterly basis. In parallel
,

software

will be released

to
the wider community using an open
-
source software project hosting site. All softwa
re will
have associated documentation, including developer guidelines.



E
ngage with the OU community through various mechanisms, including: engaging with
relevant groups, running a staff workshop, using existing processes for disseminating new
system featu
res, and promoting the solution to students.



E
ngage with th
e external community, primarily

through the project website and JISC e
-
Learning Programme events. A dissemination and consultation event with the HE/FE
community at the end of the project will sha
re the final outputs, approaches, documentation,
developments and ideas for the future.


4.2

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives for the DOULS project were set
out

in the
Project Plan

as follows:


Aims

a.

Enhance the OU learning systems roadmap, with applicability to other institutions wishing to
develop linkages between their VLEs and external systems

b.

Understand the implications for institutions and
users of the provision of cloud services
alongside institutional VLEs

c.

Enhance several key areas of learning systems functionality, notably personalisation, user
-
generated content creation and e
-
portfolio

d.

Develop the interfaces between the institutional V
LE (Moodle) and externally
-
hosted systems
such as Google Apps, iGoogle and Facebook.


Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

Contact: j.a.pickering@open.ac.uk

Date: 05/12/2011


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Objectives

a.

Explore opportunities for integration between OU learning systems and Google Apps with a
view to creating e
-
portfolio functionality

b.

Identify key areas of e
xisting functionality in OU learning systems that could utilise a
distributed approach and assess the impact of this approach on end
-
users

c.

Identify features in the learning systems roadmap that could utilise a distributed approach and
assess the impact of

this approach on end
-
users

d.

Develop, test and release services within OU learning systems to provide data to external
systems

e.

Develop, test and release standards
-
compliant applications for third
-
party platforms that
interface with OU learning systems

f.

Ev
aluate students, staff and other end
-
users experience of the solution, assessing usability
and impact.


Changes made to the aims and objectives during the project

The principle change from the original proposal was that the project focussed on interfaces
between
the institutional VLE (Moodle) and Google Apps, iGoogle. To date integrations with Facebook have
not been made. This was as a result of the strategic decision to redevelop the institutional ePortfolio
using a toolset comprising
largely of Google
applications.

It was also in response to a VC
commissioned survey into Facebook usage which found that a majority of OU students would prefer
not to involve Facebook in their study experience.

Consequently focussing on VLE/Google
integrations became the
priority.


4.3

Methodology and Implementatio
n


Project Management

The project was managed in accordance with both JISC and Open University guidelines. The core

project team
consisted of project manager

and lead technical developer.
Consequently it
w
as easy
for these individuals to
work closely together over the cou
rse of the project and meet

regularly
to

review progress and agree actions.



The DOULS project steering group consisted of individuals from key units from the Open University
with

a strategic int
erest and expertise

in

relation to the project aims.

The steering group met quarterly
and provided the project team with invaluable advice such as visioning, contact with appropriate
experts for consultation, development prioritisation.


As an
d

when requi
red
,

resource was sought from outside of the core development team
, f
or example
in the development of personas, expert testing for usability of prototypes, usability testing, specific
technical development support,
and
financial monitoring. The targeting
of specific resource as and
when required was a positive experience and helped the project keep to budget.


Requirements Gathering

Requirements were gathered via
five

key routes:


a.

Visioning

A ‘visioning’ activity, researching and developing ideas for a ‘di
stributed’ Open University learning
system, was initiated by Niall Sclater (Project Director) through a serious of meetings with project
members/contributors and other institutional stakeholders. This focussed on the potential uses of
distributed learning

systems, other institutions use of distributed learning and internal
developments in this area.

The output from this was a
visioning paper
.


b.

Online

personas

Online
personas

were created and used

to

verify requirements and inform decisions being made
about
potential developments.


Project Identifier: DOULS



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Date: 05/12/2011


Document title: JISC Final Report Template

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c.

Staff workshops


Staff workshops were conducted to educate staff in the principles of
distributed learning in the
form of gadgets and widgets. This was supported by the production of a guide,
‘A short
introduction

to gadgets’.



Outputs from these meetings
fed into the generation of a

consolidated list of
gadget ideas

which
was taken f
orward
as follows:



Technical
feasibility of all options

investigated



U
s
ab
ility testing of some of the concepts

/
paper
-
prototypes

was undertaken with expert
testers and student testers



Ident
ification

of

any issues and dependencies for the options



S
teering group approv
al of final shortlist for
development.


d.

Expert input

Expert input was sought via a variety of means:

-

Meetings with experts

The team met with experts from units across the univers
ity who understand the needs
of our students. These were experts in the areas of Student Services and
s
tudent
social networks including OpenLearn, Google and Facebook.


-

Expert focus group

This group
made up of individuals with expertise in online experien
ces, social
networking and gadget development were
tasked with selecting and evolving the

best
gadget

ideas.


-

Steering group

The steering group
approved
a

shortlist

of functional specifications

in advance of

technical
specification and development.


e.

Stud
ent testers

Concepts were tested by putting working prototypes or interactive models to student users for
feedback on their desirability.



Technical Model

A detailed description of the technical investigation that was
undertaken to understand the possible

technical approaches to delivery of a distributed VLE, are outlined in the
DOULS Technical Model
paper
.


The technical areas that were researched were in
formed by:



some of the initial ‘visioning’ work



the need to understand some of the technologies involved and their potential use



co
-
ordination with relevant areas of the OU VLE development programme (in particular
Personalisation)



ideas discussed at the J
ISC DVLE programme meeting in Bolton on the 14
th

September


Research focussed on developing an understanding of widgets and gadgets, how they can be
deployed and which approach should be taken to maximise chances of maximum adoption.

Usability
testing was
undertaken to establish whether a Google start page or a standard iGoogle page would
be the most appropriate vehicle for gadget delivery to users.


Investigation into how it would be possible for an iGoogle gadget to interact with a Moodle VLE was
undertak
en. This focused on using the native functionality in gadgets, provided by the Open Social
API, which enables secure requests to be made to cross
-
domain servers. These investigations lead to
the concept of creating a mechanism by which Moodle could verify
these requests and provide access
to its internal web services to provide data specific to the user of the gadget.

This approach would
provide sufficient functionality to deliver a platform on which any required gadgets could be
developed.


Project Identifier: DOULS



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Date: 05/12/2011


Document title: JISC Final Report Template

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The visioning a
ctivity highlighted use cases where integration between Moodle and Google might
occur, namely integration of Moodle with Google Apps to create repository and portfolio functionality.
Subsequently research into using the Moodle 2 Portfolio API with Google
Docs was undertaken and
this resulted in raising a number of bugs in the
moodle.org issue tracking system
.

Using the Moodle 2
Portfolio functionality a demonstration of pushing Moodle content into Google Apps was
developed as
a proof of concept and was demonstrated as a way to use Google Apps for ePortfolios at staff
workshops.


In order to specify the functionality of such integration
s

between Google and Moodle
it was necessary
to understand the features and cap
abilities of the Google Docs API. Knowledge used from
investigation into this area was applied in the creation of the functional specification for the portfolio
and collaborative Moodle activities.


4.4

Software development

Software development for the project

was carried out in line with the Open University software release
cycles, and was fully integrated into the quality assurance processes already in place. This ensured
that the project worked to clearly agreed deadlines and released high quality software.


Where the project has released software, this has been done

at intervals in line with the Open
Universit
y’
s VLE software release dates. Code freezes were imposed several weeks before the
software release to enable full testing before

release. The testing

was carried out as part of the usual
testing applied to all software releases from the Learning and Teaching systems team, rather than by
dedicated project staff.


By integrating testing into this team the project ensured that best practice was followed
based on
existing Open University methodology. Software developed as part of the project becomes part of the
core services offered by the Open University via
the
Learning and Teaching S
olution
s

unit
, and will be
supported by them in the long

term.

The Ope
n University has a commitment to Open Source software, and releasing code developments
to the wider community as Open Source is a natural part of the development process. Software
developed within the project has been made available as Open Source via
Github

.


4.5

Evaluation methodology

Throughout
the
project,

f
unctional specifications were developed into paper prototypes or in some
cases beta versions. These were put in front of expert usability and accessibili
ty testers. The
feedback in these instances was incorporated into the developments before putting them to student
testers.

Testing outputs included detailed reports which then

fed as required into further developments.
Development of usability and access
ibility approaches has been a key deliverable of this project. The
agreed approach has been formalised and recorded in the
Usability and Accessibility Testing Plan
and Guidance

document.


As and when our gadgets
are put into the live environment, we

are planning to gather usage data to
analyse adoption
over time
.

For the Moodle gadgets this data is availab
le in the Moodle log as each
call to the gadget web services is recorded. Within iGoogle students can leave feedback comments
on a specific gadget, Google provide an ‘About this gadget’ page that includes this feature, and this
can be monitored.

To comple
ment this we also intend to identify users of the gadgets and ask

them
about their experience. This could take the form of an interview or user diary. Observations from
these evaluations will feed into later gadget developments and approaches.


Project Identifier: DOULS



Version: 0.1

Contact: j.a.pickering@open.ac.uk

Date: 05/12/2011


Document title: JISC Final Report Template

Last updated : Feb 2011


v11.0

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4.6

Approach

to stakeholder engagement

The work of the DOULS project was disseminated through a wide variety of routes:





Presentations at the Open University



JISC CETIS
webinar



DOULS

project blog




Podcasts




JISC Pro
gramme meetings, i.e.,
CETIS
Widget bash
, 23
rd

March 2011



Twitter
(#Douls1)



Posts to
YouTube


The project made every effort to ensure that any dissemination activity was constructed in such a way
that it enabled the community to realize the benefits of the project. The project also made use of
social media and Web 2.0 platforms to disseminate the project.

The gadgets developed as part of the DOULS project will be released to students in March 2012
as
part of a coordinated role out of OU iGoogle gadgets and specific OU iGoogle tab pre
-
populated with
these gadgets. The availability of the iGoogle tab will be publicised to students via the OU
StudentHome page and OU computing guide, in an effort to ma
ximise uptake.


5

Overview of project findings and lessons learnt

5.1

Evaluation


key learning points

Through evaluation and student testing of the gadgets and Google integrations we developed, we
learnt that students need help and guidance in the use of gadget
s. This will be addressed by the
development of guidance and support documentation to be delivered within the OU computing guide
and clear functional descriptions to be associated with each gadget via the iGoogle interface.
Students are also nervous abou
t engaging with Google from a privacy point of view and therefore
guidance needs to make it clear to students what information is being shared when using any gadget.


Expert accessibility testing also confirmed that Google tools
are not particularly acce
ssible

to students
w
ith visual or motor impairments, for example insufficient keyboard accessibility, contrast settings,
screen reader support etc.
Google Apps for Education is central to most of the developments outlined
in this report. L
ack of accessib
ility

of Google Apps for Education means that these tools
cannot yet be
used for compulsory teaching and learning until

the accessibility issue is
resolved

(which is within the
control of Google who were aiming to deliver accessible apps by the end of 2011
). In the meantime
Google Apps for Education

can

only

be used for students’ personal use and on a limited pilot basis.

As a project we have been working closely with Google to highlight our situation and discuss their
timeline for accessibility improvem
ents to their apps. In the meantime, we continued with gadget
development in addition to making alternative accessible provision available, e.g., enabling access to
aggregated forum feeds from within the VLE in addition to via iGoogle.

5.2

Stability of the
Google Apps for Education
environment

Google reserve the right to amend and develop their apps. They have a history of regularly updating
the user interface at short notice.
One recent example of a change made by Google was within
Google
D
ocs where they renamed ‘folders’ as ‘collections’
. This has implications for any additional
guidance and support documentation we produce for our staff and students because any suppor
t
material can rapidly become out of date. To minimize this risk we
have aimed
not to incorporate
screen shots

within guidance documentation

in addition to limiting reference to specific Google
features. Wherever possible
we
have
kep
t

guidance centralize
d and also point to Google’s own
support material if appropriate. One recent positive development is that Google have now produced
a
release calendar

which provides users with advanced warning of forth
coming changes to the apps.
This of course helps us to manage the risks associated with working with third party software.

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5.3

Development phase

Throughout the
development phase of the project there was a constant learning process. This was to
be expected as
working with technologies new to the organisation is always going to present an initial
challenge, both technically and institutionally. The results of the solutions to these challenges can be
seen in both the approach taken by the project and in the final

tools developed. Descriptions of the
software development outputs from the project and insights into some of the technical challenges are
detailed in posts on the project blog.


Some of the challenges presented to the project were not expected; these were

as a result of
particular issues around the technologies we were integrating with and many could not have been
foreseen before the project development started.

5.3.1

Discoverability of shared documents

During the course of testing our group provision for Google

Docs we discovered that

documents
shared with a group do not appear within individuals Google Docs

list

until
they are
access
ed directly

(usually
via a link contained within the
sharing
email notification
)
.


If a student hasn’t set up Gmail as their prefe
rred email account, they won’t notice the email
notifications to alert them to the fact that a document has been shared with the group (functionality
that is part of the Collaborative Activity Tool development).


Possible solutions include advising tutors

to copy and paste the url of any shared document into their forum. Guidance could also be offered to
students to encourage them to either use Gmail as their preferred email account or to set up
autoforwarding of email from Gmail to their preferred email
account.

5.3.2

Adding staff to the system

The OU staff email service is Outlook. In order to enable staff and tutors to engage with Google, e.g.
share documents with individuals or groups of students, collaborate within Google Apps for Education
etc, staff nee
d to also have Google Apps for Education accounts. Signing up for a Google Apps for
Education account automatically includes the provision of a Gmail account. A policy decision was
made not to provide our staff

or

tutors with two email accounts, i.e., Ou
tlook and Gmail therefore we
have been aiming to programmatically set up autoforwarding of email from Gmail to the staff Outlook
accounts. At the moment, although this can be done manually, we haven’t
been provided with the
necessary API tools to do this

programmatically. The impact of this is that Google Apps for Education
can only be rolled out on a pilot basis until this is resolved. We are currently exploring this with Google
in addition to looking at alternative approaches that are not reliant on Goo
gle developments.

5.3.3

Security associated with domain level API access

T
he

VLE Google Collaborative activity require
s access to a central account to use for the creation and
sharing on activity documents. As it is not possible to log in to this account progra
mmatically the only
way to achieve this functionality was to use

domain level API access to
the

Goog
le Docs account
.

Although this access is restricted to certain tools (Google Documents only, not mail etc) it is not
possible to restrict this access to a s
pecific account. A result of this is that the API authentication
details used by the Collaborative Activity code

could be used to access the documents of any user
within the domain.


In order to provide an extra layer of security to this process and “shiel
d” the API authentication details
from a wider group of developers and administrators (so only Google system administrators have
access) a web service was implemented as a “gatekeeper”. The Google Collaborative Activity
requests the API authentication deta
ils from this web service; rather than storing them itself. This web
service has been restricted to only work when requested from the known VLE servers.

By
implementing this method the institution can be sure that access to students’ personal data has not
been compromised.

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6

Immediate Impact

A decision was made institutionally that we would migrate our Moodle V
LE from Moodle 1.9 to Moodle
2.

Preparations for the migration have now been complete and the first teaching modu
les were
migrated into Moodle 2

in S
eptember 2011. By the end of 2011 of the
100 plus

modules

available to
study at the OU
,

9
ha
ve
been

migrated

(
this amounts to approximately 2500 students)
. The
remaining modules will be migrated by
February 2013.



This
staggered migration does have impl
ications for the adoption of all Moodle / Google
integrations
delivered as a consequence of the DOULS project
. DOULS developments have been designed o
nly
to work within the Moodle 2

environment and therefore will only be made available to
students
studyin
g modules that

have been migrated to Moodle 2
. For this reason the impact of these
integrations are unlikely to be fully realised until later in 2012.


6.1

Non
-

gadget integrations between Moodle and Google

The following
non
-
gadget
integrations between Moodle

and Google were developed as output of the
DOULS project:


Google collaborative activity tool

enables the sharing of a centrally managed Google document with

Moodle course groups. This activity act
s in a similar manner to a Moodle wiki


the system
creates/controls the document whilst giving the correct level of access to users who can interact with it
and add content as they wish. Google documents offer feature
-
rich collaboration and the activity
s
upports standard documents, spreadsheets and presentations.


Portfolio activity tool

is

a key part of the
portfolio toolkit

offering at th
e Open University. The
Moodle
module helps teams to deliver structured material to a student’s portfolio; files/folders either on their
desktop pc or stored in the cloud using Google Docs


Exporting
Moodle calendar data to
Google calendar

-

an update to the calendar export process so
that students can get the
d
ata from the VLE into their Google calendar much more easily. Once in the
Google calendar the events synchronise with data on the VLE so if a
ny events are changed then the
Google calendar should reflect this change.



Assessment of the impact of these developments is difficult at the moment due to the availability of
these tools within Moodle 2

only
. Further to this, roll out of
applications
within Google has been
restrict
ed to optional use only due to limited accessibility of Google tools. Google are due to resolve
the accessibility issues and the OU are working with them as trusted testers, however there will be
delay as any improvements ar
e checked by OU accessibility experts before essential use of these
tools can be authorised. It is hoped that formal adoption can be rolled out from March 201
2 onwards
but this is dependent upon Google’s progress.


6.2

Usability and Accessibility

policy and p
rocess improvements

The DOULS project has had some immediate impacts on the Open University’s approach to usability
and accessibility testing. An output from this project was the development

a
Usability and
Accessibility Testing Plan and Guidance Document

which included a

new model for testing and
research for the OU’s learning systems which has enhanced p
rior practices and has now been rolled
out as standard practice across the institution.


To complement this, the set of
Open University Online Stude
nt Personas

has been updated in light of
student testing undertaken in conjunction with the DOULS project.

These personas are used by
online projects across the university to assist with functional specification and expert usability testing
activities.



Also in conjunction with this project a new institutional process for the assessment and management
of VLE accessibility was devised (see
A System for managing accessibility for the VLE platform
). This
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was made necessary due to the absence of an operational institutional framework for accessibility
supporting the OU Securing Greater Accessibility (S
eGA) policy. Consequently a process to feed
VLE platform accessibility information/queries to the SeGA group was proposed and agreed along
with formal governance reporting lines. This Group now provides institutional interpretation and
implementation of t
he British standards and legislation with the OU mission; and is responsible for
identifying accessibility contacts for each unit, providing them with training and resources and a
community of best practice for accessibility. Gadgets developed by the DOUL
S project were used to
test the process in practice and as a consequence some refinements were made.


6.3

OU and Google institutional relationship

Institutionally the OU made a cultural shift, with the agreement to adopt Google tools and use them to
provide an

institutional ePorfolio. Previously the OU may have been more likely to adopt an off
-
the
-
shelf product or produce an in
-
house solution, however the decision wa
s made to adopt tools which
have
the benefit of being widely used by the public in general, inc
urred little or no charge, aligned with
other strategic projects, and were perceived to be more future proof.
In the case of Google, the risks
of this approach were that the OU as an institution have little or no leverage over Google and
therefore changes

could be made to the tools without prior notice; Google were unlikely to adapt the
tools to meet the specific needs of the OU; accessibility was a known issue.


To mitigate these risks the OU sought confirmation from Google about their intentions to impro
ve the
accessibility issues and also signed up to become trusted testers.

Efforts were made to build
relationships between Google and the OU at the strategic and operational levels. Operationally

this
included efforts by the DOULS Project Director who is

a member of the UK Google Users Group. In
this role, Niall Sclater championed and lobbied support to improve Google accessibility across UK
HEIs. The DOULS Project Manager also had monthly phone meetings with Google representatives
including members of
their accessibility team. G
ood relationships were established however due to
the internal structure of Google, our operational contacts on the Google side were not always able to
escalate and action OU requests to a level where they would have an impact.

This has been
frustrating, however it was a critical lesson learnt.

Ultimately pressure applied to Google to improve
accessibility was helped by the US law case brought by
the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).


7

Future Impact

The gadgets developed

by the DOULS project will be released as part of the next VLE release cycle
in March 2012 as part of a suite of gadgets presented to students within an institutional iGoogle tab.
Promotion of this tab and the gadgets
included
within will commence in late
February 2012.


The following gadgets have been developed and the code released to the community via
Github
.

OU Study Planner gadget
:
a Google (OpenSoc
ial) Gadget that displays a student’s Moodle course
website(s) study planner(s).

Open Forum search gadget
:
gives students the opportunity to find help/information across some
public OU resources bas
ed on keyword search

Collaborative tools status gadget

(formally known as the Forum recommender gadget):
informs
students as to whether there is any unread content within collaborative activities o
n their course VLE
sites

Buddy gadget
: a networking application that enables students to find others with similar academic
interests and communicate with them.


Based on feedback recei
ved by students during usability testing, it is hoped that there will be a
reasonable uptake of these gadgets. This will primarily be by students who already make use of
Google and iGoogle, who are probably fairly technically savvy already, e.g. Android p
hone users.
However promotion of the iGoogle tab and gadgets will be OU wide
. Such promotion
, in conjunction
with

simple access to the gadgets, availability of

support and guidance material and
informative
descriptions of the gadget functions and benefit
s
,

should encourage
a wider uptake of these tools.


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Successful adoption of DOULS gadgets will support the expansion of gadget use. Institutionally the
OU is reassessing
its

VLE and

provision of VLE functionality. Both website and gadget formats are

curre
ntly under consideration.

8

Conclusions

8.1

General conclusions

The project met the majority of the
aims and objectives

stated at the outset
, to
budget
. Several
integrations were delivered between the OU VLE and Google
which not only took the form of gadgets
but also new web tools that enhanced student opportunities for collaborative working and portfolio
functionality. As a consequence much was learnt about the implications of incorporating cloud based
services and wor
king with such providers and these will be discussed in more detail shortly.

Full
evaluation of the tools and integrations developed is the only point at which less than ideal progress
was made. This was due to delays and complications arising from the i
nst
itutional adoption of Moodle
2

in addition to accessibility improvements that are still awaited from Google.

8.2

Conclusions relevant to the wider community

Some very positive conclusions to draw from the project include the beneficial impact of having a
cl
ear
vision

at the outset. This was a very useful starting point and was referred to when decisions
were made about the tools / functionality to be d
eveloped. The vision outlined clearly the potential
benefits for the student user and this, in conjunction with the online
personas
, helped to verify

requirements and info
rm decisions and specifications and was complemented in some instances by
paper prototype testing of concepts with student users. The latter helped us to prioritise development
efforts on tools which would be of most use to our stude
nt users.


The approach taken by the project to include usability and accessibility expert testing of concepts and
early prototypes helped to
refine the functional and technical specifications at an early stage thus
enabling the build phase to focus on the

development of prototypes in which many of the accessibility
and usability issues

had already been addressed. Later student user testing was therefore
undertaken using beta versions of the software which then only required minor tweaks to transform
them
into the final release versions.


Although there are many benefits of incorporating tools and services provided by Google into the
institutional VLE provision there are also inevitably issues and risks to be considered.

The benefits of
adopting a cloud ba
sed system such as Google
include the ability for students to
access OU material
from within their own Google environment and for change
s to that content to be synchronised

between Google and Moodle. They also enable the presentation of a Google App withi
n Moodle,
enabling users to access the extensive functionality of Google Apps, while
still giving the impression
that the user is still within Moodle.
This

approach

had already been exploited by
Valladolid University

who

in
corporate
d

a Google Doc as a Moodle activity

thus enabling a

tutor
to

see the spreadsheets
being worked on live by different groups


in a single scrollable page within Moodle
.

The cloud based
nature of Google also enables students to access content store
d in the cloud from any devi
c
e with
internet access.


These benefits need to be balanced against the issues and risks some of which are inherent with
adopting a third party provision. In the case of Google/Moodle the issues have been largely
associated
with integration of two systems that by their very nature cannot be fully integrated, i.e.
Moodle is written in PHP, Google Apps in Java.
The issues have been described
above

and have
largely been resolved, howeve
r working with such a big provider has meant that as an institution the
OU have had limited influence over Google to speed the resolution of issues identified. For this
reason it is important to understand the potential for delays that may occur when wor
king with such
large corporations. The current impact for the OU is a delay in the full roll
-
out of many of our
integrations for essential teaching and learning tasks until such time that Google have resolved the
accessibility issues associated with their

tools. It has also meant that in some cases provision has
been built into the tools to enable saving not only to Google Docs, but also to ‘Word’ as an accessible
alternative.

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8.3

Conclusions relevant to JISC

Project dissemination was well supported by JISC
. In particular the re
-
tweeting of project tweets to a
wider community was useful. The opportunity to present at the Widget Bash and JISC C
ETIS
online
conference were also valuable vehicles to aid dissemination and to enable the DOULS project team to
und
erstand the approaches of other parallel projects.

9

Recommendations

Recommendations for the wider community

are as follows:


Recommendation 1:

Future projects should consider the

development and use of online user
personas to verify requirements and inform

decisions made about potential developments.


Recommendation 2:
Future projects should consider
the adoption of a clearly defined process for
usability and accessibility testing which incorporates early student exposure to paper prototypes,
expert testing

of first prototypes followed by student testing of beta versions.


Recommendation
3
:

Future projects should consider the careful logging of

the outcomes following
a
ccessibility
testing. W
here accessibility is an issue,
and should a technical solution n
ot be possible,
seek to provide alternative
approaches to meet the same learning outcomes.

10

Implications for the future

Software developed as part of the project becomes part of the core services offered by the Open
University via Learning and Teaching S
olu
tion
s

unit
, and will be supported in the long

term.

This will
be particularly necessary for features that integrate with Google as there may be a requirement to
respond to updates made to their products over time.


Longer term evaluation of student use and

consequently further development of the gadgets will be
built into the next VLE development roadmap.


Full roll
-
out of the Google Collaborative Activity and Portfolio Activity Tools is on hold awaiting
expected improvements to the accessibility of Googl
e tools which is expected by Spring 2012.
Consequently this work has been adopted and will be run by the OU Google Apps Development team.


All software has been release
d

to the community via GitHub; this provides mechanisms to raise
issues highlighting bu
gs or feature requests and allows other developers to contribute to the code
base. Moodle
-
based code outputs could be submitted to the Moodle plugins database for approval.
This would give exposure to a large audience of users leading to increased testing
and the possibility
of collaboration and contribution to the project code from the Moodle development community (which
is substantial).


11

References

1.

GLUE! is an architecture for the integration of external tools in VLEs and has been developed by
Intelligent

& Cooperative Systems Research Group (GISC)
at Valadolid University.

Carlos Alario
-
Hoyos, Juan I. Asensio
-
Pérez, Miguel L. Bote
-
Lorenzo,

Eduardo Gómez
-
Sánchez, Guillermo Vega
-
Gorgojo, Adolfo Ruiz
-
Calleja
.
Integration of external
tools in Virtual Learning Environments.

ICALT 2010

Other GLUE!
materials available are:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJh3FxLslXE

http://www.gsic.uva.es/glue/

http://www.slideshare.net/calahoy/1
-
slide
-
shareglueintegrationofexternaltools
-
4789426