Moodle on a stick

Moodle 1.6 on a stick screen grab

Moodle 1.6 is in final beta with the stable release expected within a few weeks. Moodle is an open source Virtual Learning Environment, it provides all the features you need to deliver e-learning via a Web site including forums, computer marked tests, chat lines, and even a Wiki. Moodle is organised around the idea of students taking ‘courses’, each course having one or more teachers and consisting of a series of ‘topics’ or weekly lessons. The ‘topic’ based courses allow roll-on roll-off use, the calendar based courses allow you to build a genuinely active scheme of work for a specific class.

Moodle consists of a series of php scripts that are designed to run under a Web server (usually Apache but it is possible to use Microsoft Web servers) and they store information generated by teachers and students in a relational database (usually MySQL). It is possible to run a Web server, the php scripting engine and MySQL on an ordinary computer, but setting up all the software can be a demanding task.

You can download a special version of Moodle [ Complete Install Packages: scroll down to the bottom of the Moodle Downloads page ] as a package that contains all the software that you need to run Moodle on a laptop or desktop computer – a complete installation of Apache, php, MySql and the Moodle script files all set up to recognise each other and function. You simply click the icon, and then load your Web browser and go to the special address ‘http://localhost/’. There is only one draw-back: the Moodle folder must be in the root of the hard drive of the computer, or at the root level of a usb stick or other device.

Computers at the College do not allow root access to the hard drive for security reasons, so I downloaded the Moodle the Version 1.6 beta for Windows and extracted the moodle folder from the .ZIP file. I then saved the folder on the root of a brand new 256Mb USB stick. After following the instructions in the ReadMe file carefully, I was rewarded with a fully installed Moodle running from the stick.

The installation process hard wires some paths in the configuration process so if the USB stick on your Windows computer has the drive letter E:, it will only run on other computers if they allocate E: to the USB stick.

One fact I have already learned: Moodle 1.53 uses a different encoding for letters than Moodle 1.6 (which is Unicode), so courses that you back up on Moodle 1.53 cannot be directly Restored to Moodle 1.6 – the documentation recommends upgrading the 1.53 installation to 1.6 en masse. Future upgrades should allow piecemeal transfer of courses as they will all be using Unicode.

More soon…

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