Updated: 24/9/05; 10:31:41
 Saturday, March 9, 2002

Some people have asked where I've been for the last couple of weeks. Well, I'll tell you, but first I need to tell you what my day job is, or part of it at least.

I run Frontier/Manila to support our undergraduate medical curriculum. I'm an educator, I teach on this course myself, but I'm also responsible for managing and developing the online support for learning and teaching in the course. We have 2,000 students and staff registered to use a set of 60 linked Manila web sites. Each module of the course has its own Manila site with its own local editors. All students are signed-in members of these sites. The 60 sites are linked as I was able to change the way membership works in Manila. Each site shares a membership cookie that's set when a user authenticates against an external database. The external database can be any authentication system you like, just about. That was a major breakthrough for us.

With this number of registered users and Manila sites this is clearly a sizable operation. Manila has been extended to include a great many educational features via custom plug-ins. I owe a debt of thanks to many people for contributing help and ideas for these extensions but the greatest thanks go to David Bayly who's been invaluable as someone who really understand what Manila does, and more importantly, what it doesn't. Overall I think my system is doing a pretty good job.

As an aside, there are a lot of educators using Manila and I think there's great opportunity in trying to assemble a forum, but more about that another time.

Anyway, because our system is not Microsoft, because it's not based upon any of the commercially available virtual learning environments (VLEs) as you might expect there's some question in the mind of others that this system may be a risk. Is it kosher? Does it really work? Is it supportable? Etc.

So for the last couple of weeks I've been in business planning mode and yesterday we had the first of several visits from an external technical auditor, someone with an established track record of using VLEs in higher education in the UK. A technical report will be written by the end of March. The results of that report will dictate whether we can carry on developing this system, or scrap it for one of the commercial competitors.

So there's a lot at stake. I've been trying to give a good account of the way the system works, how the core software is supported by UserLand, etc. You can imagine that this is pretty serious.

So now you know. Thanks for all the support everyone's given me over the months and years. I'm hoping I'll be back with loads of new ideas and projects very soon.

Posted 10:00:14 AM - comment []