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OU release dates and what that means for our plugins

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Wednesday, 22 May 2013, 15:15

People frequently ask the question 'when will [an OU-developed Moodle plugin] be available for [a new or upcoming Moodle version]?' So I'm writing a blog post to cover it. Not very amusing I'm afraid...

In general, OU releases are about six months behind the community Moodle version (possibly seven months now the community schedule has been shifted). This is necessary to ensure reliability but also to give us time to update our plugins, while maintaining new feature development.

If you want to use a released, tested version of our plugins, you'll need to follow our release schedule. Or if you want to live life on the edge, you should probably find that the untested 'master' branch of our plugins will have been updated to work on the next Moodle version by about two months before our live release, i.e. about four months behind moodle.org.

This was probably hard to understand, so let me do headings and bullet points.

If you want a Moodle 2.4 version of our plugins...

  • (Moodle 2.4 came out on 3 December 2012.)
  • An untested version has been available in the 'master' branch of each plugin in GitHub since approximately the start of April 2013.
  • The tested version will be available in the MOODLE_24_STABLE branch of each plugin in GitHub at some point early in June 2013. (You can pester me online if I have forgotten to update it!)

If you want a Moodle 2.5 version of our plugins...

  • (Moodle 2.5 came out on 14 May 2013.)
  • An untested version will be available in the 'master' branch of each plugin in GitHub by approximately the start of October 2013.
  • The tested version will be available in the MOODLE_25_STABLE branch of each plugin in GitHub at some point early in December 2013.

Caveats

  • The above dates for our future releases are not definite and are subject to change!
  • You can extrapolate from this to Moodle 2.6 (June 2014 live date), Moodle 2.7 (December 2014), etc - although we might change our release pattern by then, who knows.
  • As soon as we release a new stable version, we stop supporting the previous stable version. For example, once we have a MOODLE_24_STABLE branch, there will be no more changes to our MOODLE_23_STABLE branch. If anybody wants to support these old branches, we suggest forking our GitHub repositories.

Occasionally asked questions

  • I want to use your plugin in a new Moodle version before these dates, does it work? No idea! Please try it. (Sometimes plugins intended for a particular Moodle version will actually work unmodified in the next version. Unfortunately there are lots of cases where this does not hold true.) If it doesn't work, you can feel free to file a GitHub issue, but we probably won't fix it sooner than those dates.
  • It doesn't work but I still want to use it before these dates, what can I do? Please fix it yourself and send us the patch. smile
  • I have a patch that fixes your plugin for the next Moodle version, do you want it? Yes we do! And thank you for fixing it. But because of how our release process works, the 'master' branch of our plugins has to refer to the release currently in development at the OU. For example, if you submit a patch now for Moodle 2.5, we won't be able to put it on the master version of the plugin until about the start of September 2013 (about a month earlier than the dates I gave above). Of course, if you've put your patch on a GitHub issue, then other users can still benefit from the patch sooner by applying it manually themselves.

 

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OU plugins updated

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Boring post but for info, the OU plugins on GitHub (ForumNG, OU wiki, OU blog, subpage, etc.) have been updated today:

  • The MOODLE_23_STABLE branch is now based on our latest live code from our March release last week, which includes patches/bugfixes.
  • The master branch includes our latest fixes from our 2.4 development release.

So anyone waiting for a 2.4 version, you might like to try it again. We think most of them basically work now but there may still be some problems (especially subpage might only work under certain conditions). If something's still broken in 2.4, feel free to file issues in the relevant GitHub project.

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OU Moodle plugins and 2.4

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Oh dear, it's my first blog post of the year. smile

There is probably something more interesting I could talk about, but we're getting a bunch of questions about 2.4 versions of OU plugins lately.

To recap the OU schedule:

  • We typically go live with a Moodle release about six months after it comes out, unless something goes wrong.
  • Development for our release takes a three-month period that ends about a month before our release.

In this particular case for 2.4:

  • We should have stable versions of our plugins for 2.4 (MOODLE_24_STABLE) in June.
  • We should have development versions (on the master branch) that work in 2.4 at some point between February (yes, I know it's February now) and the end of April.

Of course, some of our plugins from previous releases may continue to work unchanged - it depends whether any of the APIs in Moodle core were modified in a way that breaks our plugins in that release.

Where our plugins don't work in 2.4, feel free to file an issue on our GitHub site, but be aware that we won't fix it until our development period starts. If it's a simple problem and you want to fix it for us by submitting a patch, please do - we'll try to apply these patches early in the development period, i.e. more like February than April. (We can't apply them before the development period starts though, sorry.)

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New blog post

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Just an update for any other sites using the Open University's Moodle 2 modules that I am responsible for, such as ForumNG, OU blog, OU wiki, and subpage.

Currently these modules are available and maintained for Moodle 2.2, with stable versions updated monthly (and occasionally at other times) when there are changes. In order to get the updates, you have to grab them from our GitHub site as I do not have time to do the manual update process for the Moodle plugin site.

Moodle 2.3 is about to be released but the OU will not be using it immediately. There are  changes in Moodle 2.3 which break some of our modules, especially ForumNG. If you rely on our modules and don't want to do without them, it would be advisable not to upgrade to 2.3 until we do.

I don't promise dates and these might change but I would expect that we will have 2.3-compatible but untested versions of these modules in our code repositories at some point during September. It looks likely that our first 2.3 stable branch will be in early December.

Before then, if people wish to submit patches (using our GitHub site) to fix problems so that the modules do actually work in 2.3 earlier, you could do and if it seems safe I will include it. But please test the patch fully against 2.2 before submitting. smile

Permalink 9 comments (latest comment by Sam Marshall, Tuesday, 5 Mar 2013, 10:50)
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New blog post

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I haven't done a public blog post for a while, so here's one! It is mainly of interest to anyone using our add-on modules (ForumNG, OU blog, OU wiki); apologies for general boringness.

The OU is now live with our VLE2, based on Moodle 2.1.x, on a couple of courses. So it's a slowish launch but trust me, there have still been plenty of panics along the way. smile

On an entirely unrelated matter, if you are using the beta versions of OU modules for Moodle 2, especially ForumNG, it would be a good idea to upgrade to the latest version from our github site - after testing it on your system first of course. Just saying.

Seriously - I do have a system in place to transfer single commits from our system into our GitHub public repositories now, so you can actually see what hideous bugs got fixed. The commits do reference numbers in our own bug tracking system, which is internal so you can't see it, but you can read the summary and see the code changes. This might be enough to achieve most of the comedy value, or alternatively to make an informed decision about including the same code patch in your own servers.

It would be a good idea to get a GitHub account if you don't already have one and 'watch' the repository if you use one of our plugins (or use the Atom feeds or whatever else they provide) so that you can see each change as it comes in, just in case it might be important to you

At present, the version on our repositories is what we're still calling a beta - it is typically ahead of the live server, but as we are currently in a rather wild-west deployment phase, not by much! There will be a point where we switch to basing the repositories on our stable branches so that only critical bugfixes appear there. I'll no doubt blog about that at the time. smile Until then you should be extra careful about testing before you upgrade.

 

 

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ForumNG, OU blog and OU wiki update

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Friday, 9 Sep 2011, 12:48

Today I've done the first proper release of three Open University contributed modules for Moodle 2.2. You can get all these from our public GitHub repository site:

https://github.com/moodleou

Click into the appropriate repository:

  • moodle-mod_forumng (ForumNG)
  • moodle-mod_ouwiki (OU wiki)
  • moodle-mod_oublog (OU blog)
  • moodle-local_ousearch (OU search back-end, supports all three)

Within each repository you will find a readme (scroll down to see it) with information about the plugin. To install a module, use the 'Download' button; unpack the zip file; rename the folder inside the zipfile (e.g. rename 'moodle-mod_oublog' folder to 'oublog') and put it in the right place in your Moodle install.

I have also gone through the somewhat tedious process of adding these to the new Moodle plugins repository as well, so you can probably also get them from the official site instead (this may save you the rename step mentioned). At time of writing, they haven't been approved there yet, but I'm sure that will happen soon.

Important cautions:

  • These are now considered beta versions (as opposed to the alpha versions I put out before). They have had some testing, but still not (quite) live use with students.
  • Nobody's lately checked them on a standard Moodle install or when using MySQL as a 'database'. (OU moodle is now actually pretty much a standard Moodle 2.1.x, just with a huge stack of plugins added, so hopefully it should be fine, but.)
  • We can't offer individual support. Please don't contact me if you have problems with them - try to get peer support from suitable moodle.org forums (it's possible I might reply there, if I have time). However, if you find a bug, please do feel free to report it in the appropriate area of the Moodle tracker.

I hope we will release release-quality versions at some point after our next mid-October release so that from that point, these publicly released versions can be the same as our live ones.

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OU contrib modules for Moodle 2

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Monday, 12 Mar 2012, 10:48

Edit: This post is now out of date and there are new versions available on our GitHub site - see newer posts. I have deleted the files from Google Docs to avoid confusion.

I've been ridiculously busy over the past weeks but having hit (or, at least, passed) one deadline I now have time at least to write a blog post...

As promised, except slightly late, I'm now releasing the main OU contrib modules - oublog, ouwiki, and forumng - in their Moodle 2 versions.

These are not very tested alpha versions and are bound to be broken in various ways. (I probably don't want bug reports at the moment, because basically I know lots of things are wrong.) We are not using these in live production systems and I would recommend that other people don't either.

Link to Google Docs folder containing the three zip files

If you're familiar with these modules you will note that these are basically exactly the same as the 1.9 version except with support for the Moodle 2 attachments system. (So that, if we were actually running Moodle 2 here, I could actually attach files to a blog post instead of having to stick them on a random google docs site.) OU blog and wiki (but not yet ForumNG) also support the Moodle 2 portfolio API as well. All three support activity completion.

There is one notable case of reduced functionality in the wiki - we have been phasing out the 'comments' facility because it is confusing (timid students add comments when they should be editing the page - having two communication mechanisms is confusing) and it is now not present. The 'annotations' facility that lets teachers 'mark' work and add comments to it is still there. (but, no gradebook integration yet.)

OU wiki and OU blog were converted by Catalyst developers. ForumNG was converted by us (actually, me). All are released under GPL.

The required Moodle version is 2.0.2, except for annotation in ouwiki requires 2.0.2+ or 2.0.3 to work properly. These versions are probably not correctly defined in the 'requires' variable in version.php...

Anyway, this is definitely an 'at your own risk' thing (but then it always is). If you want to use them, good luck ;)

We hope to release 'more tested' versions of these modules after the OU deploys them in live systems this autumn.

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Moodle 2 conversion

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Monday, 22 Nov 2010, 10:56

Just a quick update here about our Moodle 2 conversion plans (two people have asked already so I thought I'd post here and save effort later). If anyone's using any of the main OU custom modules and wants to know, it's good news! We will be converting these to Moodle 2. Specifically:

  • ForumNG we'll be converting in-house soon. I'm hoping it will be finished around January. Same applies for the OU search block that provides live full-text search facilities to all these tools.
  • OU blog and OU wiki we are currently trying to outsource - I wrote some specifications with really detailed test cases... We are hoping to get the code probably a bit later than ForumNG, maybe end January.

In both cases we are hoping to put these in with other code for final integration testing etc for an internal release at the start of March. First real usage (along with some other features) will be with our second-phase release in June, and it's likely students won't use it until July.

So basically, we should have the basic converted modules ready quite soon, but the more reliable 'same code we are using for live students' versions will be later.

I know Moodle 2 is theoretically about to be released very soon, so there might be some people out there thinking 'argh! but i'm about to upgrade and you're telling me I will lose my reliable ForumNG version for another seven months!' - but the version that's coming out now is the first one and in my opinion you'd be very unwise to use it on a live system. I'd recommend you wait at least another three, four months to upgrade live systems, even if you don't use any OU custom modules...

 

So anyway that was the good news - now for the... wait, it's more good news! Of a sort. We're planning to do a similar public release (with similar timescales) of our OU content module, which provides online content within Moodle based on XML document files, which are basically equivalent to textbooks but can include audio, video, Flash, Java applets, and some interactive thingies, etc. (By the way, this is also the same XML format we use to produce most of our actual printed textbooks, although the 'print' part is done in a separate system and won't be included in this release.) Example of current 1.9 version on OpenLearn

However, there might not be sufficient documentation etc. for anyone to actually use it as we have quite enough trouble supporting this system in-house without supporting other people too. It will definitely be an 'if you're stuck, better start looking at the code' type system. Still if you're interested, that's something to look forward to; I will post in this blog when it's available.

 

Also, I'm not quite sure this blog post can withstand yet more lashings of good news, but we're trying to make our entire Moodle 2 code repository public, which will mean that even if we don't officially 'release' and support something that is used in-house, anyone can come and get almost anything we do. Alternatively it will be a great resource for those who just want to point and laugh at our code quality, or count the number of customisations in core code, etc...

However, it's not me doing the public repository, and I don't know how it is going, so this part is a bit less sure than the other parts. smile Just thought I'd mention it since it seemed to fit in with the topic.

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Public comments now working

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Just an update on my previous post. Public comments in OU blog are now working (I hope - I'm about to test it), so you can leave comments on this post even if you don't have an OU login.

If you have an OU blog like this one and you want to use the feature, see the previous post for information about how to turn it on for your own blog posts. You have to select it for each post, it won't happen by accident.

 

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OU blog public comments

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Thursday, 19 Aug 2010, 16:27

It's all about OU blog recently! Well, it isn't, but that's what I'm going to post about.

First, just to mention, we started releasing a new 'stable version' yesterday. See the relevant Moodle forum if you're interested, or just go to the information/download page.

Second, I've made a new screencast about the public comments feature. This might be of interest to people at the OU as well as to Moodle community users; at the OU, we ought to be getting public comments next month.

Screencast about public blog comments (4.5MB) - click the Open link at top left of the Google Docs page

One thing to clarify since I'm not sure I made it totally clear in the video - the new feature is totally optional. Public comments will not be allowed on any blog post anyone makes anywhere on the system, unless that person specifically selects it.

 

The public comments feature was actually coded a little while back, but it's been tested just recently. Apart from fixing bugs (which is the story of my life right now, at least when I'm not in meetings) we've also been working on stuff for the December release which is going to have some nice features.

I think the best one is probably being able to subscribe to specific groups within ForumNG (which Ray is coding). This should be particularly useful for course* staff and some tutors, and for generally making the subscription logic more comprehensible. There's also some improvements to the search-all-forums feature that Mahmoud did.

* I'm not sure I'm allowed to still say 'course'! Maybe somebody will jump out and kill me.

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OU blog questions

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Friday, 13 Aug 2010, 14:28

I got asked some questions about oublog (I mean, from somebody who is considering using it on their Moodle system), and I thought the answers might be useful to other people, so I'm reposting here.

What is the Personal blogs link on the front page?

The link on the home page takes you to the personal blog for the current user. I don't think there is a way to remove it, so please just hide it if you don't want the personal blog facility (if you are only using course blogs).

How can I set a course blog up for use as a journal where only the student involved, and a teacher on the course, can see that student's personal blog?

a - Set 'Individual blogs' option on blog settings to 'Separate individual blogs' (means students can't see each others' blogs)

b - Make sure your teacher role(s) has the 'View individual blogs' capability (I think they should have this by default but just to check)

c - Decide whether or not to use group mode:

i. If you only have one teacher there is no point.

ii. If you have lots of different teachers, each of which has their own group of students, then use group mode. Use visible groups if the teachers are allowed to see each others' students, or separate groups (and of course make sure the teachers belong to the groups) if they are only allowed to see their own students.

Who can edit comments?

You can delete comments (your own; or whoever posted the blog post can delete all comments; so can admins obviously), but not edit them. We didn't provide an edit facility for comments because they're supposed to be kind of trivial. [Also because, since we have to make sure everything's auditable, making them editable adds a lot of complexity.]

Could you add a grading option when upgrading the module to Moodle 2?

I will see what we can do but can't promise anything unless we manage to get some internal users to request it.

If we added grading, how should it work? Would you want the teacher to grade the student's participation (i.e. a single grade) or to rate each post like on forum (i.e. ratings per post with some kind of aggregation feature, like taking the average, to come up with an overall grade)?

My guess is that the former is more useful - but it's also something you can achieve already by manually adding a grade for the activity in the gradebook and having teachers use the gradebook interface to set the grade, so we'd only be making the interface a bit nicer.

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Tuesday, 6 Jul 2010, 18:01

Two things this post, first a part for almost-normal people, then one just for geeks, er, I mean, Moodle developers.

The almost-normal part: if you're reading this, you're seeing the OU blog activity module. So you might be interested in a change to OU blog in our upcoming release. In September we will launch public comments on OU blog, so that people without an OU login can leave comments on your post. If you turn this on, you (the blog author) will have to approve public comments, so that there isn't any spam. Want to learn more in harder-to-understand detail? Read this exciting functionality document (PDF). It hasn't been tested yet; hopefully the system doesn't completely fall over and get turned off before we release it. smile

Now the geek bit. Basically I wanted to warn about a Moodle coding antipattern. Here it is:

// $thing is some object we previously got 
// from the mdl_thing table. It has the
// current values of a row from that table.
$thing->numericfield = $newvalue;
update_record('thing', $thing);

Don't do that!

For those who didn't immediately go 'yeah duh, of course not' - here's why. Let's say the $thing has some other field you didn't change. When you call update_record, Moodle doesn't know you didn't change it, so it'll update that as well. Which means if it contains any apostrophes, it will create a database error; and you've just made an opportunity for an SQL injection attack.

Even if $thing currently doesn't have other fields (or they aren't text fields, or you manually addslashes to them), another field might be added to that table later - et voila! A lovely security hole in code you didn't even change.

So, the only correct way to use update_record is this pattern:

$update = (object)array('id' => $thing->id);
$update->numericfield = $newvalue;
update_record('thing', $update);

Well, you could use different syntax (and should probably check the return value), but basically, what I'm getting at is that you should always call update_record with an entirely new object that only contains the ID and the fields you are actually changing (which should have slashes added if required).

As you might have guessed, I'm not writing about this just for fun smile This precise hole was recently discovered in part of our VLE code (actually a part written by outsourcers, but I'm not saying we wouldn't have done it in house). I waited to make this post about it until our live server has been patched, so this security hole isn't in our system any more...

This hole wasn't discovered by developers or testers here, but by a student who reported something broken (which turned out to be related to an apostrophe in another data item). Luckily I don't think they realised it was a security hole! Anyway, many thanks going out to Jeanette Stephenson');UPDATE mdl_grade SET totalscore=100 WHERE userid=157790021;--!

smile

(Yes that is an old joke. And no the person who found the bug wasn't really called Jeanette Stephenson, and didn't really have that user id, I just made both up. But, if you do recognise yourself - I think rather unlikely since I was cagey about where this problem actually was - thanks. Really. smile

In reality there are some extra layers which might protect against actual attacks of this nature, but even so, I think Moodle 2 (which doesn't require you to get slashes right) will be a big security improvement. Still good practice not to update_record with all the fields, though!

 

 

 

 

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Sam Marshall, Wednesday, 11 Aug 2010, 15:18)
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Edited by Sam Marshall, Thursday, 25 Feb 2010, 22:19

Yes, I fail at updating blog. Sorry. However! Here's an update.

ForumNG

We fixed several critical bugs in the contrib version thanks to bug reports from the community. Thanks! There have also been bugfixes from our internal testing.

Ray's finished the subscribe-to-discussion feature (but I don't think it is committed to the contrib version yet).

OU blog

Mahmoud's working on the individual-blog feature (aka 'learning journal' - every student has their own individual private blog within a course, which their tutor can monitor).

I put in a feature request to see if we can allow public comments (moderated) so that people who don't have an Open University account can leave comments in my blog. (Wait, did I say my blog?! I mean, the vast array of blogs hosted on our system! Er, don't pass this bit on to the people who prioritise feature requests.) Even if this gets the go-ahead it will be quite some time before it is developed though.

OU wiki

Bryan's annotation feature (which basically lets tutors 'mark' work in the wiki by locking a page and adding comments at any point within the text) is finished and mostly bugfixed, and I think it's great! We've been showing it off to people as part of our upcoming release (see below). I'm afraid this also is not in our community release yet - we need to do an update of ouwiki at some point.

My work

I've been continuing to spend a depressing amount of time on support and bugfixing and troubleshooting and writing specifications and even just on reassigning tasks. I don't actually mind doing any of this, but it's put me way behind on the dashboard system I'm supposed to be developing.

That said this week I did get back into work on that system and it is great (not the system, the work). It's in Java which means everything in the IDE works perfectly (I can refactor, woohoo) and I'm writing unit tests immediately after I finish each new method, with code coverage for tests at about 80% (the 20% is mostly odd/impossible failure cases and stupid setup code and the like). This should be really reliable! I hope.

General comedy

I did a briefing about our upcoming release for Helpdesk yesterday and for Media (an internal division that... eh don't worry about it) today, both done together with Sharon who is in charge of dealing with the transition from the old proprietary conferencing system to forums (and other things) within our Moodle-based VLE.

These already had a certain comedy aura because the 'upcoming release' has just been postponed (somebody's off sick in the team that works on servers and the person who would've stepped in for them is on leave) so we're doing briefings for an update that isn't even going to happen yet. But it's even better because:

  • In yesterday's briefing, somebody turned off the Forums block just before we did the demos. I was showing off the mobile view. 'So er... what there are no forums! ... well if the forums were showing, they'd be there, and it would only show the unread ones...' etc.
  • In today's briefing, the computer in the presentation room has an irritating wireless mouse, and it wasn't working! For added amusement, they replaced the keyboard with one which has all the keys in the wrong place (Return and Backspace tiny and surrounded by other keys) so I kept mistyping.
    After I did some of the demo on keyboard only, Sharon saved the day by going to get the key to the locked cupboard with the computer in, and plugging her own mouse to it. Best moment: when she'd just achieved this, still in my part of the demo, and we were on opposite sides of the room, me with the keyboard and her with the mouse. 'Click on the Resources link!' Good times.

Yes, I have pretty low standards for what consitutes 'comedy' but, well, I work in computing. smile

(And talking of low standards, I also made an an image macro based on the Xzibit 'Yo dawg' meme with reference to a proposed new Open University website design... but I think that one had better stay in-house.)

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Edited by Sam Marshall, Friday, 15 Jan 2010, 17:35

Here's my weekly update. It's just one week into 2010 (workwise) and I'm already feeling a bit tired...

I took the first week of the year off. This week I've been trying to deal with bugs (a few in live system, mainly in the March release that we finished developing before Christmas). One of these was a special bonus IE7 bug in one of our systems. IE7 crashed when you tried to print a page. It turns out that the crash occurred when headings had a margin of 2em. Setting it to 1em or 1.5em solved the problem. WHAT. That browser is crazy.

Apart from that I've been helping developers on my team get started with work for the June release. 'Helping them get started' is a euphemism for 'telling them to do something'. Unfortunately, it usually involves me having to write specifications and answer lots of questions and things like that, which makes it a lot less fun than the average dictator gig.

The goal of doing some actual development has seemed rather far away - I did clear all the assigned bugs now, but there will be more, it's like washing-up or something. Anyhow when I get started on that  I will be working on a new courses dashboard, initially for tutors.

This is going to show you all the forums on all the courses you're tutoring on - links and the 'unread' indicator so you know if you need to check that forum. The idea is that it saves tutors visiting every single course website when they just need to know if the forum changed. (It's not just forums, which by the way it will support both old and new NG ones - we will also show OU blogs and wikis, although they don't have unread information so we will just use the last-changed date.)

Probably the most interesting thing from my point of view is that this development isn't being done inside Moodle! I get to write it in Java. smile It will support some links from other university systems, and maybe eventually include other external systems too - that's why it's not being built as a part of the Moodle system here. (And by the way, you might notice it's actually a little bit like the existing My Moodle feature. But not the same.)

Back to Moodle development, we are doing some more stuff to our contributed modules in this development period. There will be more improvements to ForumNG (and another public release - in fact we're moving development to occur primarily in the contrib cvs, hopefully very soon). And we're finally adding the 'learning journal' feature to OU blog (so that you can have a course blog where students don't see other students' entries).

Finally, I'd like to highlight this article about developing an Android app just because Anthony wrote it. Might be helpful if anyone finds themself needing to do the same...

Now, I think I'll head home... um... just remembered, I do actually need to do some real life washing-up as well... smile

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