Monthly Archives: March 2016

Moodle Moot Ireland & UK 2016, London

Martin Dougiamas Moodle Founder with Sean Gilligan Webanywhere Founder

Martin Dougiamas, Founder, Moodle with Sean Gilligan, Founder, Webanywhere

London’s Park Plaza Hotel recently played host to the annual Moodlemoot for Ireland and the U.K. People descended from around the world for the Moodle convention on the Thames in the capital. Over 350 people attended from all walks of life, including course creators, administrators, developers and business decision-makers. Whilst the majority of the audience were from the further education and higher education sectors, 25% of people came from the corporate sector.

Moodle is the world’s largest open-source learning platform, and a new release is imminent – Moodle 3.1 will be released soon, and the priorities for the Moodle development roadmap include:

  • New default theme with no blocks and Bootstrap 4
  • Activity module overhauls
  • Easier integrations
  • Strong mobile support

Moodle tips

Matt Porritt MD of Catalyst, Melbourne, Australia.

  • Always upgrade your Moodle. Every version of Moodle gets better.
  • Challenge your staff and ask if you can see the latest Moodle backups.
  • There is a Moodle plugin for just about anything so this is worth searching for.
  • You can turn off some of the advanced functions of Moodle to make the user experience easier to use.
  • LMS analytics is becoming a big thing, providing you have enough Moodle data to poll. Analytics can be used to generate management information for student interventions and to inform which courses are working and therefore how to enhance your learning design.

Moodle has three main influencers for the product roadmap. A lot of resources in Moodle HQ have been placed in Moodle for Mobile and there are some huge benefits for Moodle here as lots of the Moodle modules work in offline mode. Moodle mobile apps can be branded for institutions that want them and then rapidly deployed to the Apple App Store and to Google Play.

Benn Cass and Conor Gilligan at Moodle Moot Ireland and UK, London, 2016

Benn Cass and Conor Gilligan at Moodle Moot Ireland and UK, London, 2016

Moodle in universities

The Open University’s Jenny Gray reflected on 10 years of Moodle at the OU. Moodle is still the learning platform of choice for them and has recently been chosen again by the OU based on student experience. The OU is now on their 3rd redesign of Moodle to allow for greater personalisation and flexible learning pathways. Furthermore, they have included streamlined tools in Moodle for better student support.

Jenny described some of the priorities as being critical feedback, showcasing work and comments. The OU has 20 developers plus business analysts and associated project managers managing their Moodle platform. They release Moodle updates on a quarterly basis. The OU’s Moodle averages 30k visits per day and they have over 100,000 users on their platform.

So what next for the OU? They’re focussed mostly on a quicker route to going live for content. They are also looking at improving their collaborative learning tools alongside their media player.

The OU’s wish list includes:

  • Better search
  • Single student profiles
  • In page discussions
  • Learning analytics
  • Progress indicators
  • Student archive

The pace of change of tech means the OU now review their learning on a 2-yearly basis. The OU are focused on infrastructure as a service and the benefits of going to the cloud. Going to the cloud will allow the OU to deploy with less downtime. The OU are one of the biggest deployments of Moodle out there, and it is seen by some that their decision to choose Moodle has since led to significant growth in the Moodle Project.

Chris Meadows shared Manchester Metropolitan University’s 5 year journey with Moodle. Moodle is the hub of the student learning experience for their students. Access to library systems and attendance registrations are all glued together via Moodle. They survey 35,000 students across 8 facilities to inform their future Moodle developments. Manchester Met have developed an automated audit script which runs each night on the Moodle. The results of the script produce a compliance checklist whereby learning technologists can review the quality of courses and engagement levels. This evidence is then used to train academics on how to better develop courses. Best practice checklists have then been developed to improve the quality of the courses and the learning experience. Moodle templates have been developed to help with the consistency of the learning experience.

Student voice is taken very seriously at Manchester and the top 3 issues from students were as follows:

  • Poor communication
  • Resources being made available before lectures
  • Some materials of poor quality
Moodlers at Moodle Moot IE UK 2016, London

Moodlers at Moodle Moot IE UK 2016, London

At Portsmouth University the theme of feedback continued. The need for feedback they thought was more important than the marks themselves. Students at Portsmouth need to give their feedback to get their marks released. Of course, the beauty of Moodle for students is that they can speed up or slow down the lectures!

The overriding themes of the Moot were feedback and analytics. We must get the right data to the right people at the right time. The Moodle Moot gave good insights into the latest trends and key drivers in educational technology. Moodle and the Moodlers demonstrated the Moodle community is as strong as ever.

Peter Wilkinson Speaks at Inaugural Tech Dinner, KPMG, Leeds

Peter Wilkinson Yorkshire Tech Entrepreneur

Peter Wilkinson Yorkshire Tech Entrepreneur

Graham Pearce, Director at KPMG in Leeds, invited me to the inaugural Tech Leeds dinner with guest speaker Peter Wilkinson. Peter started off in the tech business back in 1974 and, whilst not being very academic at school, he started his first business selling potato chips to students before it was shut down. His costs were a potato peeler and and some potatoes – he still claims it to be one of his highest margin businesses to date. Whilst Peter was not the most academic at school, he probably had the most pocket money.

On the issue of Entrepreneurship – “Are Entrepreneurs born or can it be learnt?” – Peter believes it is something you are born with. Peter’s success has meant the creation of over 7,000 jobs and this is one of the things he is most proud of. His philosophy was to start a business, get it to a certain size and then sell it or hand it over to professional managers for the repetitive operational management. Peter is very much a creative personality full of both ideas and the determination and energy to make things happen. He admits it isn’t getting any easier, and you need to get the timing in business correct. Sometimes you can be too early.

Peter got involved with game-activation with Sky set top boxes and pressing the red button. This is now commonplace, but at the time it was ahead of the market and so it failed. In failure, Peter expresses, you need to be able to write off the failures, learn from them and start again.

Peter’s involvement in telehealth and MedTech came from the fact that a work colleagues was spending ridiculous amounts of time visiting the hospital for health checks. Focusing on the problem, Peter developed an application to automate this process without the need to go to hospital, saving time, money and the inconvenience.

At 61, Peter is nearing the end of his career, and he openly admits his next two projects will be his last. One project is to put Wi-Fi networks into football stadia and the other is a telehealth app aimed at reducing the burden on the NHS. The NHS now has 70% of beds taken up by the elderly and the more of this care which can be done outside the hospital, the better for the healthcare system, which is already under pressure.

Peter is very humble in his achievements and downplays his intellect – he only got one A level in Ancient History and failed everything else! Peter is also a proper Yorkshireman, telling it how it is with no waffle – he is direct and to the point.

The founder of Freeserve has been involved in many tech success stories in Yorkshire including Sports Internet, Planet Online and InTechnologies, and he bought Hull City Football Club before  selling it a few years later after Hull’s promotion to the Premier League. Peter has also made a donation to Leeds University and the incubator facility, helping seed fund many university spin-outs and start ups which show much promise.

On TechNorth and the Northern Powerhouse, Peter says the North needs a “Boris Johnson-like figure”, and without it there will be too many egos and clashing of agendas rather than the joined up thinking of a figurehead to drive it forward. Peter considers himself politically neutral but admits the transport infrastructure needs to be better to make the Northern Powerhouse happen.

Peter, when questioned by KPMG’s Dermot Callinan (Partner and Head of UK Private Client), explained the importance of respect and good old-fashioned traditional values. He also warned of the entitlement attitude and the potential threat of the emerging economies, where people have to work hard or they are fired. Peter stated he would like to see more big businesses and corporates buying from small to medium sized enterprises. He feels we have evolved into a risk-averse culture where corporates only buy from corporates.

On the issues of talent, Peter commented on the fact that most talented people are already running a business. The people left are hard to find and are a rare breed. Dermot commented that this talent is really the differentiator between growing a business with A-players and not making the grade. It was openly admitted that there is a shortage of tech skills in Leeds, and an example of this is Sky Bet, a company Peter sold to Sky. Sky Bet is now having to find its tech talent not only in Leeds but also in Sheffield due to shortages.

In 1974, Peter explained, tech was quite narrow, but now it is all-consuming and very broad. There is great demand for tech talent and it cuts across many industries – be it smart TVs, MedTech, FinTech, EdTech – the list goes on. So when you talk about tech, you need to ask what sort of tech do you actually mean, as all businesses are becoming tech businesses.

All in all, it was great to meet and connect with other Yorkshire tech businesses such as York Data Services, AQL, Fleet On Demand (FOD) and more. Peter shared words of wisdom from someone who is very much a private person – he rarely does public speaking. Peter joked this is the first tech dinner talk and probably his last. Peter prefers to spend his time with the peace and quiet of the North York Moors. Silicon Dale, after all, does not have the earthquakes that you get in Silicon Valley!

Yorkshire Post UKTI International Business Roundtable

Exporting Yorkshire

Exporting Yorkshire

The need for the right skills dominated a roundtable discussion which I attended at the Yorkshire Post headquarters in Leeds.

A group of Yorkshire businessmen from a diverse range of industries met with Greg Wright, Deputy Business Editor of the Yorkshire Post, for a discussion on International Business, sponsored by UK Trade and Investment.

Alongside the Post’s delegation other people attending the roundtable included Stephen Crow (Business Development Partner at Clarion solicitors), David Wragg (Operations Director of Hargreaves Industrial Services), Mark Parks (Managing Director of Boston Air Group), Colin Russell (UKTI), Jim Hart) CEO at OneGlobal) and Daniel Hughes (Director at Turner & Townsend).

Starting off proceedings, Greg asked questions regarding selling the Yorkshire brand overseas. Do foreign firms buy from you because you are a Yorkshire business? Daniel Hughes, of Turner & Townsend, responded that it wasn’t the fact that the business was Yorkshire-based which decided why customers should buy. However, Daniel went on to state that the region did have positive connotations around the character of the people of the County and their trustworthiness. OneGlobal’s Jim Hart added that being a UK business in terms of USA trade was deemed as a negative, because Americans preferred to buy local.

UKTI advisor Colin Russell added that Indians might know of the “brand” Yorkshire due to the deep roots of cricket. Nonetheless, Colin went on to state that, fundamentally, customers want to know you have the knowledge and skills to deliver a quality service. The Yorkshire brand adds colour to the UK story but it’s ultimately about what you deliver. Mark Parks, founder of Boston Air (a recruitment business focused on the aeronautic industry), went on to say it’s easiest to start exporting British into North West Europe. David Wragg of Hargreaves Industrials went on to state that the Yorkshire accent is notable, and people do ask where the accent is from when you’re abroad.

Greg then challenged the group on the importance of getting the right skills. Daniel responded that the key barriers to doing international business were mobilisation issues. Jim Hart stated the importance of selling in the local language and having a local website presence. When you are trading with a foreign country, you’ve got to be committed to it and localise your products and services.

Exporting Yorkshire

Exporting Yorkshire

Some of the bigger challenges around international business, highlighted by Mark Parks, were deemed to be around the issues of regulation. Another businessman added the importance of understanding the culture of the country and how to deal with people.

Everyone attending the roundtable agreed that service exports, which were once traditionally done by the largest plc companies in the UK, are now being seen by mid-market firms. Quite often, what happens is suppliers follow their clients from one country to another and this is how internationalisation occurs. UKTI suggested the importance of Yorkshire businesses collaborating and learning from each other.

Daniel Hughes went on to reflect on the importance of having the right partners and being very selective when it comes to finding business partners overseas. Once you find the right partners you can then scale up your business.

Greg’s final question was to ask us what tips we would give to other businesses looking to export around the world.

Here’s a few snippets of the best pieces of advice for going International:

  • UKTI advised to go for easiest markets first e.g. North West Europe.
  • Jim Hart – Commit to one market at a time.
  • David Wragg – Go to the top of an organisation when selling abroad and find the right decision makers.
  • Stephen Crow – Make sure you talk to UKTI.

Personally, I think businesses should start small and scale fast. The difference between a good business and a great business is whether it is international. We now live in a global village and, with cheap air travel and the Internet, it has never been a better time to get started.