Tag Archive for packt

Drupal Multimedia (Aaron Winborn, Packt Press)

Cover image, link to publisher web site

Having worked with Drupal for two years, I have reached the point where I need expert advice in order to continue to grow. Drupal is a bit like a forest with many paths running through it. You could spend all year trying each one and learning from experience, or you could get an experienced hand to point you in the right direction, especially if you cannot devote all your time to learning Drupal.

Aaron Winborn is experienced, knowledgeable, and helpful, if his writing at all reflects the man. The creator of the Embedded Media Field module, his has recognized expertise in configuring Drupal to handle multimedia content. In Drupal Multimedia, Winborn describes the state of Drupal multimedia support with one eye toward Drupal history and the other exploring the future. Context helps achieve deeper understanding.

For most of the book explains how to include images, video, and audio in Drupal sites. In these chapters, I found answers to questions I had been asking for a while. What felt right about the Image module (e.g., image galleries), and what needed fine-tuning to work better (e.g., WYSIWYG integration)? Winborn takes the reader from Image to Image Assist, Image Attach, and finally the TinyMCE DrupalImage button, the last of which had escaped me in my previous forays into online documentation and support forum discussions. I was only disappointed not to find an answer to another longstanding want: easy bulk image upload for end-users.

Winborn does not always take a single path through the forest. Often, he points out two or three different paths that might work well for your needs, while omitting mention of those that (I assume) he feels might not. After the comprehensive introduction to Image, Winborn changes approach. He describes how to use ImageField and ImageCache in conjunction with one’s own custom content type. Comparing the two approaches not only helped me better understand how to structure my own approach but also provided an important insight into the Drupal ecosystem.

Winborn takes care not to blow his own horn too loudly. His creation, Embedded Media Field, plays third string behind other image solutions. The explanation is critical to integration with third-party media hosts such as Flickr and YouTube.

Winborn introduces the book as a “beginner to intermediate” Drupal resource while acknowleding the advanced nature of some examples. I thought this description was right on. A Drupal beginner would likely not be comfortable implementing some of the solutions provided, for example adding a preprocess hook to display the appropriate media player for an attached video. On the other hand, I found the emphasis on Node Reference essential for me to understand how to keep media items in their own nodes yet allow web pages to display them in the proper player.

Later in the book, Winborn takes a couple of thoughtful turns. He treats video before audio, upsetting the conventional order between them yet explicitly acknowledging the dominance of video these days. He also presents the embedded video field before addressing how to upload “local” video files. That also makes good sense to me, as I have quickly discovered how even a low-volume site benefits from hosting video at a specialized provider, such as Blip.tv.

Your perspective on the book may depend on your definition of “beginner” and “intermediate.” I benefitted from both the high-level view and the relatively complex explanations. The book provided something to seek me teeth into and room for growth, which I imagine every Drupal developer needs. True beginners may quickly lose themselves in the details. Advanced users may not find the text sufficiently challenging.

Drupal Multimedia will remain an essential resource for me, due to its vertical treatment of key techniques. Yet, I also find myself wanting more almost immediately. Will DrupalImage reach production site quality for Drupal 6? How should I provide bulk image upload capability to end users? What will support and maintenance of these techniques look like a year from now? While I am glad to have added this book to my knowledge base, I have quickly followed up the read with more tinkering on a test site and surfing the discussion forums.

Moodle Administration (Alex Büchner, Packt Publishing)

Moodle Administration

How ironic it is to read a commercial book about open-source software! I was nonetheless intrigued when Packt Publishing invited me to review a complimentary copy of Moodle Administration. Why not give book learning another try? I might find new value and improve my knowledge of Moodle.

Moodle Administration presents a clear and thorough review of essential concepts and tasks for Moodle site administrators. Büchner consistently focuses on his priority audience, staff who are tasked with installing and managing Moodle. He stays away from systems administration or course construction tasks. The guide will make sense in a variety of contexts, from campus-based schools and universities to virtual schools.

Moodle’s own structure guides the book’s organization. Chapter topics include installation, course management, user management, look and feel, security, backup and restore, backup and restore, and networking. This makes the book easy to use for a variety of purposes: an introduction to the new Moodle administrator, a refresher for a current Moodle admin, or as a quick reference for specific topics.

The Moodle community maintains its own documentation for administrators. These freely-accessible, maintained documents also cover the basics of site administration and follow Moodle’s structure. Why buy the book? Overall, Büchner’s focused effort demonstrates greater thoroughness and consistency than does the online documentation. One finds an appropriate level of detail and visuals throughout the book. That said, some explanations of the administrative interface reference and borrow from existing, free Moodle documentation.

The book helped fill a number of gaps in my knowledge, many of them new features in version 1.9 and some older. I will look into the Accessibility Options module as a way to provide screen-reading and high-contrast themes to three of our users. I enjoyed the clear explanation of how to set up parent roles using the mentee function, though I did not find the answer to my longstanding question of how to most easily provide parent access to their child’s courses. I had heard of Mahara e-portfolio integration, but the book’s explanation provided me with more complete context for the relationship than I had previously encountered. I learned a lot about how to synchronize enrollment with our student information system, which we may do one day. I also learned about file access via WebDAV, which could help teachers who maintain large file collections, but I was left curious when the book only demonstrated how to connect a Windows client to a WebDAV-enabled system.

I wish the book had spent more time on year-to-year transitions. Büchner alludes to year-end and start-of-year administrative tasks, underscores the importance of planning your course organization ahead of time, and explains both importing activities and restore from backup. Büchner could more fully explain different ways to help teachers who want to carry their course from one year into the next. I don’t recall a reference to the Reset Course feature or manual approaches that teachers may use to keep some content and remove others from one year to the next.

Ideally, the Moodle community would make this quality of documentation available online. In the meantime, this book should find a receptive audience. I am pleased to read that Packt donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book to the Moodle project. I trust that Büchner’s company, Synergy Learning, regularly contributes core code and modules to the Moodle project.

While academic technology specialists and teachers bear the most responsibility to understand how Moodle may support a constructionist learning environment, the Moodle administrator also plays a role. Moodle Administration misses the opportunity to educate Moodle admins on what makes Moodle different from its peers and competitors. The book could draw particular attention to configuration and maintenance tasks that facilitate student-centered instruction. For example, what block configurations typically accompany the Social Format for courses? How could students use their personalized calendar views to manage their own assignments? How may one allow more student control over course content? What features do students use to monitor course activity, especially in discussion forums? How does one configure inline commenting to provide more opportunities for teacher-student dialogue around completed work? In other words, it is great to know the function of each configuration setting, but should we not also teach the purpose?

The book encourages me to explore two of Packt Publishing’s other Moodle titles, Moodle Teaching Techniques and Moodle E-Learning Course Development. These may provide more of the broader perspective on administering Moodle that I seek. On the other hand, how many school staff would spend about $150 US in order to purchase them all?

Moodle E-Learning Course Development  20081108-moodle_teaching_techniques.png

Moodle Administration fulfills its primary goal, to provide clear, comprehensive explanations of all of the major components of Moodle 1.9 to staff responsible for system installation and maintenance. It should serve as a useful introduction to new Moodle administrators or a reference manual for current admins. Advanced Moodle administrators may find the text useful as a refresher.