A few months ago I wrote about how I missed using Moodle, and how it was way better than Sakai (which is ironically branded as “SmartSite” at UC Davis*). Partly as a result of writing those posts, I decided I couldn’t teach with Sakai anymore, and got myself my very own Moodle site, which I used to teach my courses this quarter. It was much easier (and cheaper) to set up than I would have thought. So, if you want to roll your own Moodle, here’s what to do:
- Rent some server space. I got everything I needed for $11 a month at Hosting Matters. I haven’t run into any space or bandwidth issues, even while hosting three course sites this quarter, one of which was taught synchronously in a lab (i.e., even with 25 students logging in at the same time). Make sure the server space you rent comes with what’s called the “Fantastico auto installer.”
- Register a domain name. I spent about $14 at godaddy to get “learningbox.org” for a year. Some names cost more than others.
- Set your name servers. Basically, you need to connect your domain name with the actual server where your stuff resides. Your server host will provide you the names of the servers you’re on, and you tell these names to the people you registered your domain name from. Sounds complicated, but it’s not.
- Install Moodle on your space. The Fantastico auto installer makes this a breeze. From the dashboard or control panel of your server space, find Fantastico, and tell it you want to install Moodle. It’ll do all the work for you, like setting up the necessary directories and databases. You can also install other stuff this way, like hosted wikis and blogs.
- Set up Moodle. It’s pretty much ready to go out of the box, and fairly intuitive. The help features are also useful, if you get stuck. I spent an inordinate amount of time picking a “look” for my site (from the available templates), but you may be less finicky.
There’s not much more to it than that. The only potential downside is that students aren’t added as participants automatically, the way they are with Sakai. Still, since students can register themselves with an “enrollment key” provided by me, the work is pretty minimal. Mostly I just had to manually remove students who dropped the course.
“Wait a minute,” you might say, “you payed out of your own pocket to run course management software?” Well, yes. And it was worth it. Running Moodle this quarter has only confirmed for me what a train wreck Sakai is. I figure what I saved in time and frustration more than made up the cost of it. I’d do it again, too, if SFSU didn’t already use Moodle (but they do, yay!).
* At the time, I avoided mentioning where I was, which was kind of difficult as it became clear to me that the local version of Sakai UCD uses is a part of the problem. I’ve decided I don’t care about anonymity anymore, if I ever really did.