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Tricks to debug Captivate SCORM 1.2 content

November 26, 2014 1 comment

If you have to make Captivate-generated SCORM 1.2 content in your (web) platform and you want *more* information about what’s going on, this guide might help.

One of the trickiest things about Captivate and SCORM is that Captivate doesn’t handle the credit/no-credit (cmi.core.credit) very well. This parameter, in combination with cmi.core.lesson_mode should let you retake exercises that you have already completed and passed.

In Chamilo, if you want to debug the SCORM interactions on the Chamilo side, use Firefox, login as admin, go to the learning paths list and click the ladybug icon in the action icons next to the learning path you want to debug. This will only affect you, so no worries about doing that in production.

ladybug debug iconThen enter the learning path itselt (simply click its name). Once you’re seeing the content, launch the Firefox debugger with SHIFT+F2 and go to the “Console” tab. Click on any item in the table of contents, and you should see the SCORM and LMS interactions pooring in. Something like the screenshot below.

Chamilo SCORM general debug screen

Chamilo SCORM general debug screen

This is already very nice to understand the interaction going on, and when Chamilo will save the information in its database, but it still lacks the possibility to understand what’s going on, on the Captivate side of things.

Captivate itself has debug features though, but they’re not prepared for just any tool. Luckily, we can tap into them with a moderate level of complexity.

First, you need to know where the Captivate content is on disk in your LMS. In Chamilo, this is typically in the {root-folder}/courses/{course-code}/scorm/{scorm-name}/{scorm-name}. For Captivate content, Chamilo usually generates its own folder, then Captivate, which means you have it duplicated.

You’ll have to get into that folder and, for each SCO (item in the table of content in the screen above), locate the scormdriver.js file.

Around line 1032 of scormdriver.js, you’ll find something like this:

function WriteToDebug(strInfo){if(blnDebug){var dtm=new Date();var strLine;strLine=aryDebug.length+”:”+dtm.toString()+” – “+strInfo;aryDebug[aryDebug.length]=strLine;if(winDebug&&!winDebug.closed){winDebug.document.write(strLine+”<br>\n”);}}
return;}

We’ll hack into that and just replace it straight away (keep a backup copy if you’re afraid) by the following line:

function WriteToDebug(strInfo){var dtm=new Date();var strLine;strLine=aryDebug.length+”:”+dtm.toString()+” – “+strInfo;aryDebug[aryDebug.length]=strLine; console.log(strLine); return;}

This will simply:

  • force the debug to be active (we don’t check blnDebug anymore, we assume it’s on!)
  • redirect the debug messages from this weird winDebug.document to the officially-supported-in-all-reasonnable-browsers “console.log”, which prints the log in the browser console, as illustrated above

Now, to get this to work, you need to clean the cache in your browser. My favorite way of doing this in Chamilo is to press CTRL+F5, then go *back* to the learning paths list, enter *another* learning path, then enter the hacked learning path again. Captivate debug information should start showing in your browser’s console:

Captivate logs in browser console

Captivate logs in browser console

Now you can analyze all the information flow.

That’s all, folks!

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On the Criticality of Learning Management System

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m often surprised at the little importance large education institutions put on their Learning Management Systems (LMS). Many times, after years of starting a modest pilot and slowly convincing all the people involved, institutions find themselves in a situation in which students (and sometimes teachers, but rarely the institution itself) drive the development of the LMS by demanding for changes.

Students, of course, see it as a way to get better, more ubiquitous access to their course material, to practice more without the need of the teacher, to get feedback faster, etc. Sometimes students feel more confident facing a computer than they would do in class.
Anyway, expectations increase and the institution has to follow or, sometimes, lead this evolution.

However, where the “mild” integration might have been slow in classical educational institutions, there is one crucial step where institutions *have* to make sure everything goes right: the move to a critical LMS integration as fast as their end-users require it.

A critical LMS is a service (not only the software, but also the team around it) on which you can rely to launch and follow training/teaching activities that are critical to your organization.

Obviously, teaching is critical for an educational institution, but it is not critical in the LMS sense if the LMS acts as an *extension* of the classroom courses.

It becomes critical when:

  • students can access to the course *only* through the LMS
  • the LMS serves to generate the students’ grades
  • the LMS is used to generate reports on the activity of teachers or students
  • it is expected to be online permanently, without interruptions of more than half an hour every week or so

If you compare it to other systems deemed “critical” by the IT department in an education institution, you should get this kind of table:

System Must be up all time? Critical information? Must sustain high load?
ERP Not really Yes No
Website Yes No Not really
Library system Not really Not really Not really
LMS Yes Yes Yes

I’m sure some of these criteria can be discussed in specific situations, but when the LMS is used for the cases above (which is usually the case for any serious implementation), it *does* match all these criteria at the same time.

In each and everyone of these cases, it is necessary to be able to rely on a skilled team of specialists, that will be able to assess, intervene and report on any case that might cause some level of inconvenience to the students.

What this means is that a multi-dsiciplinary team of specialists will have to get involved in your project, and give you the power to do what you want and need. Building the team takes time, building and maintaining a high level of skills takes time, getting involved in a project takes time, and providing you with the best possible solution takes time, dedication and vision.

Many times, as the company behind the development of Chamilo LMS as a free software (we have high goals in terms of social responsability), we face this misunderstanding in the first step of our interaction with new customers.

The LMS is not *valued* by the IT department as it really should, and even less when it is based on free software. But software is just software, and although Chamilo LMS is in the top 3 best open source e-learning paltforms around, you can’t hope for a lot if your team doesn’t know how to manage it. And it’s not just a technical issue: dealing with online courses involve a combination of skills that you will need to have if you don’t have the right team to help you out:

  • planning the tools you will use for interaction (videoconference, chat, forum, etc)
  • knowing the limits of your students’ available technology (screen resolution, plugins, apps, etc)
  • being able to design lightweight courses (bandwidth)
  • knowing your students’ behaviour
  • being able to plan (and take action) for a load increase on a server, ahead of a high-attendance online event
  • being able to pinpoint reporting data to improve education methods
  • and much more…

Understanding all this, if the budget for your institutions’ online education project is a 10th of its ERP’s system, it’s probably not going in the right direction, for its first step.

Only once the institution has understood the criticality of their LMS and how it will affect their institution’s image and efficiency, the project can start in the right environment.

Learning Management Systems are critical, not only for educational institutions. They represent a very unique tool that is both desired and required to improve the efficiency of teaching, learning and managing skills. Don’t let it fail. Make sure everybody understands what a LMS is and how useful it will be, and your organization will thrive into the 21st century!

Chamilo LMS

Chamilo LMS is a web-based learning management system focused on usability. It is developed and published under the GNU/GPLv3 license, which allows anyone to use, analyse, modify and distribute copies and modified copies of the software. In its first 4 years of existence, Chamilo LMS has been granted several software prizes and has grown from a community of 10 developers to a community of 9 million users worldwide.

Chamilo allows you to create courses, manage administrators, teachers, students and other typical roles for organizations or departments focused on training. It is suitable for academical, corporate, associative and personal environments.

The BeezNest group

BeezNest is the company behind most of the developments in Chamilo LMS. It specializes in analysis, development and support of e-learning projects in about 40 countries, with offices and collaborators in Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, the UK, Peru and Mexico. Projects managed by BeezNest deal with portals from 100 to 680,000 students, worldwide. It deals with every aspect of e-learning projects, from analysis, to hosting, platform developments, training, online courses building, to data analysis. All you need but marketing (which it prefers leaving to its customers).

Contact BeezNest at info@beeznest.com

User’s mail: My Chamilo LMS is slow

September 24, 2012 2 comments

Sir,
I am a user of Chamilo 1.8 as my Website is : http://www.team**.in and i am having about 1300 users registered on that portal
but i always face big problem with chamilo 1.8 that when i take test of all users on same day then it stops working.
chamilo 1.8 is not able to handle online users more than 40, so i am facing big problem right now.

Sir, i want to ask u that should i upgrade or use chamilo 2.1 so that i can handle up to 2000 users online at same time for better output.
or please give me the solution for my problem .

Waiting for your response!

Regards
M.K.

Our answer:

Hello Mandeep,

You can try Chamilo LCMS Connect 2.1 if you want, but:
– there is no working upgrade mechanism from Chamilo LMS (1.8, 1.9) to
Chamilo LCMS Connect (2.1, 3.1) at the moment
– Chamilo LCMS Connect 3.1 should be out in a few days now
– Chamilo LMS 1.8 is *much* lighter than Chamilo LCMS 2.1 as far as we
know, so upgrading would definitely not fix the weight problem.

Apart from that, you might be interested to know that:
– Chamilo LMS 1.9.2 will be released this week (but it is a bit heavier
than Chamilo 1.8)
– Chamilo LMS and Chamilo LCMS Connect have no real common point (apart
of the fact that they are managed by the same association and are LMS
platforms)
– there is an optimization guide in the documentation/ folder of Chamilo LMS. Please
read it and make sure you apply a few hints from there to your portal.
You might get great improvements in speed if you know a little bit of
optimization principles (for example showing the number of connected
users adds a massive load time to each page if you do not use any shared
memory variable caching)
– 1300 registered users shouldn’t be a problem. However, the number of
*simultaneous* users is really where the stress might come from. The
hardware you use for this site will be the issue if you use a virtual
machine with low resources, for example. Do not think of an LMS as a
blog or website: in an LMS, all the content has to be personalized,
which is much more difficult to optimize than a website, where the
content is the same for all users.

I’ve had a look at the reports for the homepage (can’t go further
without login) of http://www.team***.in/elms/ and it seems
alright (C-Rank without optimizations is rather good).

Taking a test for 1300 users simultaneously will
*obviously* put a lot of load on the database. You could reduce the load
by trying different settings, like having all questions on one page
instead of one question per page (because people will finish the exam at
different times and will only send one big SQL request at the end of the
test, which will hopefully be treated faster than one request every time
one single person answers one single question), or adding in-cache
indexes to your MySQL database but, most of all, you will need to have
a solid database behind your site (having it on a separate server to split
the load between php and MySQL might be a good idea).

Best regards,

Y.W.

Déjà vu: SAP buys SuccessFactors, customers feel in danger

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m always surprised at how large companies are taking their IT politics too easily, and then are surprised by what happens.

Today, Josh Bersin (of Bersin & Associates, a great guy to follow: @Josh_Bersin) published an article on the plans by SAP to buy SuccessFactors (probably the leader in employees performance management software, at least in terms of completeness), and the fact that some customer of SuccessFactors was worried about support for important features being dropped.

It’s just the same old stuff repeating over and over again, and it’s why BeezNest has been pushing open source development forward since its creation: One CANNOT rely on a single provider for critical IT infrastructure, even less when it offers a closed source software. When this provider dies, gets bought or otherwise changes direction, there will be nothing for you to do. At best, you’ll have a useless piece of software that you cannot upgrade, cannot fix, cannot improve, and on which you won’t be able to train people.

Using, supporting and co-developing an open source solution would ensure you’d always be able to take ownership of the software and/or find another provider willing to take over the task of maintaining the software. In the worst case scenario, if you find yourself with a bad provider, you’ll most probably be able to find another one or to migrate to another system, because most open source software uses open standards, so migrating your data is just about reading the docs and executing a simple migration.

As BeezNest starts developing its employee management software development skills in the next version of Chamilo LMS, I find it slightly frustrating to find myself aiming at medium-sized companies while our solution fits the larger ones, and with only 30% of the annual budget companies spend on these closed solutions, we could reach a similar level very quickly with open solutions. It certainly has something to do with the fact that we are not very present on the US market for now, and the US market is certainly the most active in employee management right now.

I hear many voices say that we, open source software providers, pretend to be capable of delivering large scale solutions when we are not. Think again. It’s pretty much like any company: there are reliable companies, and there are unreliable ones. Only the free software companies understand and adopt the way things change, much more so than conventional software companies. They are able to adapt quickly, are globally local and do not having the running costs of giant software businesses.

To them, I say we’ve already done the kind of things we pretend to be capable of, and that’s why we’re so sure about it. We’ve migrated companies and universities from proprietary software. We’ve made them save 100’s of thousands of dollars in closed software licenses and customized the software to their needs. We’ve also been able to do so improving our software regularly, in a sustainable fashion and at a tremendous scale (from 0 to 700,000 “public” users in just 18 months must be kind of a proof). Companies of up to 200,000 employees use our software for free too. Apparently our customers are quite happy about it. If you need a quote, send us an e-mail, I’d be pleased to have a skype conversation with you.

BeezNest is a company present in Belgium and Latin America, focused on the development of software and services based on free software. In the last 7 years, it has taken the leadership of the Chamilo LMS software and its ancestor, making it grow at a rapid pace amongst its free and non-free equivalents. BeezNest provides services to companies and universities in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, New Caledonia, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

Chamilo LMS is a free software Learning Management System which empowers teachers and trainers with easy-to-use digital tools to increase the efficiency of their training and the availability of their training resources. With more then 700,000 people around the world using Chamilo, there remains only less than 25 countries which DO NOT use it. It is the first e-learning platform to have included a social network with friends and activity groups. It is highly internationalized, with translations to Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Quechua, French, English and many more languages. Chamilo can be tested freely at http://campus.chamilo.org

e-learning platforms list

Just as a reference for later (in alphabetical order) – this list was originally quickly composed as part of the planning of a comparative study which was not concluded:

Open Source:

  • A-Tutor
  • Canvas LMS
  • Chamilo
  • Claroline
  • Docebo
  • Dokeos
  • eLMS
  • Ilias
  • Moodle
  • OLAT
  • Sakai
  • .LRN

Non Open Source:

  • Angel (now Blackboard)
  • Blackboard
  • CourseMill
  • e-Doceo
  • e-Ducativa
  • SharePoint LMS
  • TotalLMS
  • WebCT

References for studies on e-learning effects

Just publishing a list of references that I found about Mathematics and e-learning.

Diferencias Moodle-Chamilo

En nuestros correos de usuarios, recibimos la siguiente consulta que es frecuente entre nuestros futuros usuarios:

Hola Yanncik, una consulta.

La vez pasada me consultaron las diferencias entre moodle y chamilo. Por lo que he podido ver en moodle, ambos lms tienen los mismos módulos y las mismas funciones.

Qué tiene chamilo que lo diferencia de moodle?

Ahora… siempre es difícil responder a esta conulta porque varía bastante de una versión a la otra, pero en fecha de Junio del 2011 y comparando Chamilo 1.8.8.2 con Moodle 1.9 y Moodle 2.0, podemos decir lo siguiente (de forma muy resumida)

Mi respuesta va así:

Estimado usuario,

Los dos sistemas son valiosos, pero según el uso, podría querer usar/recomendar el uno o el otro. Es más fácil definir lo que hay en Chamilo, que de decir lo que no hay. La diferencia viene a la sencillez de instalación y de uso, y lo que está incluido (y soportado) desde un inicio. Siempre recalco la sencillez de uso. Ciertos usuarios nos reportan hasta un factor 5 de sencillez de uso frente a Moodle (8h de capacitación necesarias en Chamilo contra 40h en Moodle). Moodle 2.0 no arregla nada de usabilidad, según nuestros primeros reportes de usuarios.

En Chamilo, desde el inicio, encontrarás:
– hojas de asistencia
– un sistema de evaluación / objetivos pedagógicos / certificados (con generación de certificados a imprimir)
– un plugin para videoconferencia con BigBlueButton (solo falta instalar BigBlueButton o vincular Chamilo con una instalación existente a través de 3 parámetros)
– un panel de control para los administradores (seguimiento)
– una red social con creación de grupos de interés
– la gestión de sesiones/ciclos/periodos/promociones/carreras (toda la estructura de formación académica o, renombrada con otros términos, corporativa)
– sistema de escenarización de ejercicios
– indexación fulltext
– un excelente soporte del idioma español
– la posibilidad de redefinir los términos de interfaz a partir de la interfaz (web) de administración
y una serie de cositas más del nivel de herramientas prácticas:

– text to speech (conversión de texto a voz)
– edición de imágenes tipo Photoshop(tm)
– edición de diagramas SVG tipo Inkscape
– grabación de voz (con Nanogong)
– soporte de Google Maps (previa instalación de una llave API de Google Maps)
– más sencillez en general en la manipulación de los objetos

Moodle tiene de notable:
– más formatos de importación/exportación (para ejercicios y lecciones)
– una herramienta de ejercicios más detallada (en ciertos sentidos)

Aparte de esto, la mayoría de lo que se puede tener en Moodle se obtiene únicamente a través de módulos/extensiones que la mayoría del tiempo (70%?) no están mantenidos de una versión de Moodle a la siguiente, y por lo tanto implican arreglos (si es que se pueden arreglar).

Saludos cordiales,

Yannick

Obviamente, esta lista cambiará a futuro. También llegará un momento en el cual Chamilo 2.0 aparecerá, accelerando el proceso de desarrollo.

Update 2012-05

A este artículo del año pasado se van sumando una serie de puntos que quizás puedan ser de algun uso para el lector.

Ante todo me gustaría regresar sobre el punto importante de la sencillez: disminuir por 5 el tiempo de capacitación de docentes tiene los siguientes impactos:

  • reducción del costo de capacitación inicial
  • reducción del impacto en la gestión del cambio (“sí, cambia, pero por algo que no es tan complicado“)
  • reducción de la necesidad de soporte, pues los usuarios tienen la vida más fácil y por lo tanto molestan menos al equipo de soporte
  • aumento de la motivación del staff docente, y en consecuencia mejora de la calidad de los cursos

Recientemente, en un correo en la lista del Linux Users Group de Perú, una persona con experiencia en Moodle 2 sugirió que este usa alrededor de 40MB de RAM por usuario conectado (por carga de página). Esto representa el uso total de memoria necesario para generar una sola página. Midiendo Chamilo 1.9 (todavía en desarrollo y sin optimización), llegamos a 22MB con el nuevo sistema de plantillas (Twig, de Symfony 2), lo que significa un uso de memoria dos veces menor.

De otro lado, Chamilo LMS usa poco de este paradigma de desarrollo llamado el orientado objeto, y que si bien en teoría mejora mucho la reusabilidad de componentes de software, en muchos casos está usado y abusado por los desarrolladores para poner orientado objeto de todos lados, aun cuando esto no tiene sentido. Pues no es nuestro caso, por lo que es muy probable que Chamilo también use considerablemente menos recursos de procesador.

Me llamaron la atención también una serie de reportes que traduzco aquí del reciente iMoot, en el cual el público se pone en admiración frente a una serie de funcionalidades anunciadas para Moodle 2.3… que existen en Chamilo desde hace más de un año (a veces dos) y nos parecen totalmente naturales:

  • 2.3 usa […]. Ajax ahora está activado por defecto […]
  • La ayuda […] ha sido re-introducida para las actividades y los recursos[…]
  • Las bocas se abren mientras […] sube ficheros en un curso […] con un simple drag and drop desde su escritorio” -> bueno, yo lo muestro en demo a cada rato y las bocas no se abren. No se si es que los hispano-hablantes somos menos impresionados con la tecnología o solo un poco menos enloquecidos por Moodle, pero por ahí tiene que haber una diferencia fundamental…
  • […] jala un archivo zip […] dentro de un curso. Se extrae mágicamente y crea una jerarquía de carpetas. Más bocas abiertas[…]” -> aquí para nosotros no se jala directo para los zips. Si se quiere extraer con estructura, se tiene que usar el modo de subida simple, porque sino como hacemos para subir un archivo ZIP sin querer descomprimirlo?
  • Subidas de imágenes […] ahora generan sus propios thumbnails[…]
  • Cuando se añade un fichero […] se genera un tipo de fichero y un tamaño para los estudiantes[…]
  • Ya no hay 5 tipos de tareas[…]” -> que mala idea fue tener 5 tipos de herramientas de tareas para empezar, no?
  • […] las fechas de entrega ahora aparecen en el calendario[…]

Y así sigue por 1 hora, que fue la duración de la presentación de la próxima versión. Obviamente de vez en cuando hay algo menor que realmente es distinto de Chamilo LMS en sus versiones anteriores pero… todas estas funcionalidades que recién aparecerán en una versión 2.3 que saldrá el 18 de Junio del 2012, *ya las tenemos hace mínimo 9 meses* y en muchos casos más de 2 años, así que es bueno mantenerse informado y no juzgar demasiado rápido.

Hoy he tenido una reunión con una institución bastante grande, que me plantea la probabilidad alta de tener 100,000 alumnos dentro de 5 años (ahora tienen 27,000). Pues conversamos un rato sobre este asunto, y ellos estuvieron bastante preocupados por la idea de alojar un solo campus con esta cantidad.

La verdad es que nosotros alojamos dos campus de referencia: uno  de 142000 usuarios registrados pero solo hasta 600 simultáneos en un solo servidor (el campus gratuito de Chamilo) y otro de 11,000 alumnos registrados pero con hasta 3300 alumnos simultáneos. Este usa una infraestructura bastante más potente (que no está usada ni a un 10% por ahora), pero en fin de cuentas, lo que importa es que no hemos tenido que modificar casi nada de Chamilo (le agregué un poco de caché para la cantidad de usuarios conectados en simultáneo) y el servicio de alojamiento se resume literalmente a una intervención al año a menos que hayan actualizaciones importantes de seguridad.

En fin: lo que cuenta para tener una solución muy resistente de Chamilo no es solo la aplicación misma sino la gente que se va a encargar de ella. Con el mismo Chamilo LMS, se puede tener un éxito tremendo como se puede tener un fracaso total, dependiendo de las personas que se involucran en este y cómo se involucran en este.

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