Troy Patterson

Educator, Thinker, Consultant

Month: January 2015


LimeSurvey - the free and open source survey software tool! 2015-01-27 20-52-21

One piece of software that I keep coming back to is LimeSurvey. A quick guess will reveal that this is survey software. It is open source, wonderfully powerful survey software. Full featured and ready for complex surveys software.

This is not for every use. It is overkill for many people and many situations. I use Google Forms as much as the next person. If you just need to create a survey with a couple of questions, Google Forms is hard to beat. It is easy to use and incorporates well with other Google Apps. You can even create quick quizzes (exit tickets, short quizzes, formative assessments, etc) in Google Forms. Google Forms will even shuffle the questions and answers now.

Of course surveys can also be done in Moodle as well. In fact, Moodle is more powerful with more options than Google Forms. Moodle will allow the teacher to actually have different questions presented to each student. Options (answers and distractors) can be shuffled within a question. Lots of power. Lots of options.

Sometimes, though, a survey with complex rules is needed. That is where LimeSurvey comes in. Granted, you need to have access to a web server (really, not that hard these days) to install it. However, once you do so, you can create surveys that sing.

For example, I was recently asked to create a survey where respondents will indicate whether they have had interactions with a variety of groups. For the groups that they have, there are follow up questions. So, let’s say we have ten groups. If you’ve dealt with two of those groups, but not the other eight, you would get follow up questions only about the two groups. If I’ve dealt with five of the groups, but not the other five, I would get follow up questions just about the five that I’ve dealt with. LimeSurvey makes this pretty dog gone easy to do.

In the example above, I created an Array with the names of the ten groups. The question was “have you interacted with….” and the answers were Yes/No/Uncertain. Then there were a series of follow up questions pertinent to each group. A conditional rule set to display the follow up question only if Yes was chosen for that department. Powerful. And easy to use.

LimeSurvey also allows for multiple languages. (You do have to write the questions in each language. This is actually very preferable to the “translated” questions which can have unintended consequences.) For schools, multiple language support can be extremely important.

LimeSurvey also allows you to create templates from questions. This feature is a real time saver. Once I’ve entered all of the schools, I don’t have to that again. These templates mean that common questions can be quickly and easily reused. Of course, you can also export and import full questions from one survey to the next.

Templates are also customizable for making the survey reflect your organization. Adding the logo and custom text that is specific to your organization provides a different experience than a common or popular survey site. It also lets your users know what type of survey that they are completing.

LimeSurvey also provides very powerful results. It will give you quick graphs in a variety of formats. You can export the data to popular formats.

Of course, the data is all yours. You control the information.

If you are looking to really “up your game” with surveys, and you have access to a web server, LimeSurvey is a great way to go.

Moodle Social Wall

Moodle & eCommunity | REMC 13 2015-01-25 19-50-43I’m a big believer in Moodle. Moodle has the power and flexibility to provide an excellent, full featured learning experience for teachers and students.

The biggest roadblocks for Moodle are the learning curve and the “look and feel”. The learning curve is what it is. Moodle is powerful software and there is some learning to do. (Boy, if only someone would write some examples to learn Moodle effectively). So, there really isn’t too much to do about the learning curve. Teachers will put in the effort to learn once they really realize the value.

The other issue then, is the look and feel. Moodle can look a little dated. Yes, there are lots of themes that can change the look and feel. (Moodle seems to have acknowledged this in large part. There are only a couple of simple themes included in the core release now.) However, there really isn’t a super easy way to change the size or fonts of the Topic sections. There are icons which correspond to different activities. While these are informative, they also look dated.

What to do? Well, I also get to work with the very talented Mr. Chris Kenniburg. We’ve been talking for a couple of years about making Moodle more user friendly. One of the topics of discussions was to make Moodle more “Facebook” like. Teachers are very familiar with Facebook and would find that easy to use. Unfortunately, the work was beyond the budget that I could creatively find. However, Chris is resourceful. He worked with Bryan Smith of Ingham County ISD to garner funding through a grant to implement.

And they did. They have now unveiled the first run of the Moodle Social Wall (originally named the e-Community – seems naming can be more tricky than one thinks). This can be downloaded and installed (note though that there is still some tweaking to do) by REMC members (the plan is to provide an open source edition later on).

So why bother with all the trouble and work of writing a grant, pitching the idea, working up the schemas, etc? The whole idea is to more readily get teachers involved in using Moodle. I’ve seen many teachers spend lots of time chasing “bright shiny” things (web sites, web apps, etc) and become frustrated. I sat down with one teacher and we talked through the time that she had spent learning different “bright, shiny” things. (This was after a student had creatively placed lots of text in a Padlet that she had created. She wanted to know who it was. There was no way to know.) We very quickly ran up a tab of over 20 hours that she had spent learning things that she was no longer using due to inadequacies, frustrations, limitations, etc. I calmly pointed out that those 20 hours would’ve gotten her pretty far in Moodle. (For some odd reason, that didn’t make her feel any better or happier 😉 ).

So, with the Social Wall format, the idea is to allow educators a very comfortable environment with the full power of Moodle behind it. The Social Wall looks and acts very much like popular social networking tools. Educators can use the Social Wall and work just fine. They will have the extra advantages of being able to create Quizzes, add resources and more. They will also absolutely have the power over their own data. However, if the educator ever decides to transform their site into a more structured course, the power and structure of Moodle will be right there.

Seriously, this is good stuff. Take a look.

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