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Text 13 Apr External Tool in Moodle 2.2

For all you LMS nerds…

I’ve been playing around with Moodle 2.2 and found a neat option, IMS LTI or External Tool.

Gavin Hendrick wrote up this nice piece on the specifics of this tool.

The upcoming release of Moodle 2.2 now has the IMS LTI or “External Tool” functionality which is going to be one integration type that I forsee being heavily used.

But what is it? What is IMS LTI and why would you want to use it?


IMS LTI – quick overview

For those who have not heard about it before, IMS LTI is an IMS standard for Learning Tool Interoperability. This means that learning tools now have a set way in which they can seamlessly connect to each other.

In practice while a user is logged into one tool (Moodle for example) they can then connect over to the other tool (a wiki or blog) and be automatically authenticated providing a seamless experience.

This is a link to a 30 minutes video about Basic LTI by Charles Severance which I recommend you watch when you have time!

But let’s get back to Moodle.

How will this work within Moodle?

So one example would be, that a teacher can set up an Activity in the Moodle course for the students which connects them to a blog site(like WordPress). This process automatically authenticates them and enables them to use the external blog. #

This could be used for any standalone learning tool which implements LTI.

Think about the possibilities – someone builds a really cool maths engine and instead of having to make it work inside Moodle, all they do is implement the IMS LTI standard and provide connection details to those who want to use it.

There are a range of tools already enabled such as Learning Objects Campus pack tools and Noteflight.

How to use

The integration in Moodle 2.2 is simple to use, it is just an activity in a course. A teacher turns on editing, and then starts adding the activity External Tool from the dropdown.

The basic integration details that are required are

  • Launch URL
  • Consumer key
  • Consumer secret

This is the information the Learning Tool provider needs to give to the teacher so they can connect. Depending on the tool, it is also possible to pass over some extra custom parameters which can be used to display one particular resource. This would be where the overall connection has a library of activities, but the teacher wants to connect to just one.

External Tool Settings


External Tool Settings

There are four privacy options which can control how much information the tool gets from Moodle.

Privacy Options



Privacy Options

The one that stands out for me is that the tool can pass grades back into Moodle. This has much potential.

An Example – ChemVantage – General Chemistry.

ChemVantage is a free resource for science education which includes grade exercises, homework exercises, practice exams, video lectures and free online textbooks. It was created by ChemVantage LLC which was founded by Prof. Chuck Wight, who has taught General Chemistry at the University of Utah since 1984. The site is powered by the5 Google App Engine.

The below image shows homework exercise on Atoms and Elements embedded into the Moodle webpage. Although the exercise is hosted on ChemVantage.org the LTI enables the teacher to use it in Moodle without having students log in again.

ChemVantage embedded into Moodle with LTI

ChemVantage embedded into Moodle with LTI

An Example – WordPress Multi-user

As mentioned, it is also possible with some changes to to an existing web application to make it an LTI provider tool. One example is turning WordPress Multi-user into an activity for Moodle. The below image shows WordPress site embedded within Moodle with the teacher automatically logged in.

Wordpress Multi-user embedded into Moodle 2 with LTI

Wordpress Multi-user embedded into Moodle 2 with LTI

This was using Dr. Chucks WordPress Multi-User Sandbox.

An Example -Mediawiki

Here is an example screenshot of using the External Tool to embed a Mediawiki site into Moodle. The category it goes to is determined by the course shortname.

Mediawiki embedded into Moodle 2 with LTI

Mediawiki embedded into Moodle 2 with LTI

An Example – Musicflight

This is an example of how it can work with a really cool Music tool called Noteflight.

More to come!

I will update this post with other examples too over the coming days.

So that is it, or isn’t it.

What are the benefits of having the tool outside of Moodle?

Learning Tool Producers

Organisations who want to provide their tool into Moodle now don’t need to learn Moodle, they just learn and implement the standard. Where before each system released an integration activity or block for Moodle and other LMS they wanted to support, now this means less cost for them in supporting and maintaining those connections. They can focus on their product – the tool.

Institutions / Teachers

If a teacher, or an institution has an idea for a tool but want to ensure it is usable with Moodle, it won’t matter if they are Perl, Java or Python developers – they don’t need to learn how to program in PHP, nor how any of the APIs in moodle works. All they do is code their tool to the standard.

Training Companies / Content Providers

Where before training companies provided a set of learning objects (usually Scorm or full course backups) which users installed into their LMS, this will provide an alternative strategy.

They will now be able to keep all the content centrally, and provide LTI access to it. This offers the training company and the end users many benefits. These benefits include:

  • Any fixed or small changes can be done centrally, and benefit everyone without having to distribute a new copy of the learning object
  • Any improvements can again be applied centrally
  • The ability to provide test access is much improved, and does not compromise the security of the content, so it will be easier to get to test something out without having to install it locally.

Moodle administrators / Teachers

Up to now, if you wanted to add a tool into Moodle you usually went through a vetting process with IT – which could include many technical, functional and security type tests such as

  • Is the code written in a secure way
  • Is the code maintained
  • Does it work with our version of Moodle?

Now it will be easier to test and check out the tools (when they implement the LTI connection) without having to worry so much on the technical side.

Summary

This seamless integration will open the doors for many cool learning tools and activities to further extend the learning eco-system beyond the LMS.

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Gavin Henrick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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