The Release Day

I’m lost. I’m pretty sure I can get un-lost in time to present, but a proper sales pitch requires a certain degree of expertise that exceeds the parameters of this assignment.

I find myself craving 37Signal‘s mantra of Do Less Better. Check the beautiful minimalism of their front page and then check the clutter on Moodle‘s. Then again, 37Signals isn’t open source or built for outside development, so: apples and oranges. Still, I kinda prefer apples.

Anyway, at 08h00 I set into Elgg, Moodle, Joomla, and Drupal.

SCRIBBLED NOTE: Joomla is very pretty, at least the way Eric has done it up. Drupal has a front page that instills confidence.

Elgg seems eager for some sort of Nerdly MySpace cachet, which is fair, but why, then, does every example page they link to look exactly the same, every page asphyxiated by that same spartan header and log-in box?

Picking nits? I can’t help it. I’m gonna get up in front of a faculty and get creamed if I’m not seeing this situation from their eyes, which are also, to some degree, my eyes.

Therefore, the solution has to be pretty and inviting. It has to be easy. Again, after the initial config, WordPress just requires a log-in and then it’s go time. I’ll put any amount of administrative work in on the front end if means Skeptical McStubbornpants can walk to a workstation, type in her username and password, set up a class, and start posting assignments.

SCRIBBLED NOTE: I can’t sell wikis. I have no idea how to sell wikis. Stop by Vicki Davis’ place sometime.

How do I deflect Ms. McStubbornpants’ concerns that this will all devolve into a school-sanctioned MySpace, with forums and student profiles just as debauched as they are at home? How do I deal with that concern?

SCRIBBLED NOTE: It seems like what’s necessary is a garden, pretty and inviting, but one with walls around it to protect our students. A “walled garden,” maybe, if you’ll allow me to coin a phrase

And that was just the first hour.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Our school started using Elgg – I have come to the same conclusion you have about it.

    I am going to start to use Drupal next week with my students. I can share more about it then.

    We are currently working on a seamless portal that will allow students to log in once and be able to go from Drupal to Moodle and to their school email.

    I also know Mr. and Mrs. McStubbornpants, and I have reported to them that the students at my school (Science Leadership Academy) use the blogging software as their “professional myspace”. The students need a place to have an online portfolio that can be shared with a wide audience. You can check out some examples on Elgg.

    Yes, initially it will be messy, but learning is messy. Some of my students have accounts were you can not read the writing, but they are learning how to code the background on their own. This is amazing plus teaching them how to tone it down and the elegance in minimalism is a good way to spend a class period and I already have examples in house to start with what not to do!

    Serious answer:
    Graduating seniors are going to need an online portfolio, they will need someplace to tinker and mold it into their very own, what better way to do that than with a school blog, where teachers and parents can guide them. Students will be able to can their great pieces and reflect about what they are learning in school. It is also a great way to publish all the cool things teachers do in their classrooms. The biggest reason to publish to the world wide web is that is changes the audience, and students tend to write and create differently when they are publishing an assignment rather than turning it in only for the eyes of the teacher.

    You say you need a selling strategy for wikis? Well read Will Richardson’s latest book. It is great…. here is a cool link to learn about the process a wiki goes though to be made:

    We are using Moodle if you would like to see it or hear more about what we are doing with it feel free to contact me.

  2. The walled garden is what makes moodle so attractive, I agree.

    I also agree that Moodle’s interface isn’t exactly clean. That’s why we did not make Moodle SLA’s front page. Too cluttery, and I like clean too.

    I’m lousy at selling wiki’s too. Will Richardson is another amazing resource there.

    I haven’t heard much Joomla edu-development, whereas Drupal has much more. That’s why I like Drupal. I think there’s an edu-community behind it, and in the world of Open Source, a community is pretty key to solving problems. (And as cluttered as is, the community support is amazing.)

    I think you hit on exactly the problem with Elgg. It’s really Academic MySpace. So it’s *great* for organic community building, and, I found, really limiting and tough to admin for a school with created communities (classes.) We’re moving away from it to Drupal as we speak.

    In the end, as everyone keeps saying, as soon as we have a “one-login” solution that combines Moodle and Drupal, we’ve got our killer app.

    Good luck. Don’t get too lost. And I *do* think that Moodle is the best app for convincing teachers to go digital because, in the end, it’s still structured on-line very much like something they are very used to off-line. My $.02.

  3. Good observations…. In (slight) defense of Moodle, I think that their own site is pretty heavily covered with several bells and/or whistles. However, you definitely don’t have to include all of those sidebar menus, etc., when you configure it. While Moodle sites are somewhat known for all bearing a strong family resemblance, I think that someone with decent knowledge of CSS, and someone with good graphical design ability (a la Photoshop, Gimp, or whatever you Mac folks use), could collaborate to make a pretty decent looking interface.

    I appreciate a) your hard work at researching and comparison shopping, and b) your sharing that info to the rest of us!

  4. Dan,
    I think you hit on two main points that John and I worked hard at.

    Number one: You will get creamed if you don’t see the situation from your audiences point of view (I can see that you are already headed towards administration). No one cares if you like it, you are the one presenting. How is the staff going to view it, that is the main point.

    Number two: If it is as easy to use as log in and go then even mcstubborn pants won’t have a problem. Your front end admin work will pay huge dividends. It certanly has for Aptos Junior High.
    Making it as simple as pie to start with is the best, then add in the degree of difficulty over time.

    John has created this at

    If you click on the link that says teachers only add a new assigment you get that page: the log in. From there it is simple as choosing your category (which is your name and then typing and hitting save)

    The amount of front end admin work that John did was huge, however it gives no excuses to anyone for not posting. By the way our school uses Movable type which seems to be working great, in my limited backend experience.

    It sounds like you are headed in the right direction.

  5. Clarification on my first comment: When I said you are already headed towards administration that was a good thing in your forward thinking about how is the audience going to view it. Most people forget that they are actually presenting to someone.


  6. I do like Moodle, and have been contributing to its development since 2003. It is a good classic, centralized, Learning Management System, very stable and the way I like: “powerful and simple”.

    On the other hand, I also DO like Elgg, being the perfect rapid social networking platform. I is really good for informal learning and connectivism. It is also powerful and simple, but involves a cultural change: distributed, not centralized environment.

    Please, take a look at my thoughts on this at:

    Any comments to that post will be welcomed. :-)

  7. I really appreciate all the commentary here. I find myself lacking my usual desire to give, take, and mix it up with y’all in the comments, though, simply because I’m depressed as hell about the low correspondence between enthusiasm and lucidity on this whole tech-in-education issue. All your comments excepted.

    My day o’ research ended kinda ugly, I guess. Kinda alienatingly, I guess. It’s left me feeling like this: if I, an open-minded kid with a pretty good facility for current tech, can’t process all the jargon and insider terminology that is in abundance Out There, then what hope does the mainstream have? What hope do I have of explaining it to my faculty?

  8. Dan,
    Don’t give up. You are on the right track. Remeber, as I just learned the other day, “the journey of a thousand miles, starts with the first step”

    Start small, introduce something that they all can master, gain their confidence, let them gain confidence. Work with your “new tech toy” for the rest of the year. Then at the beginning of next year, after it’s calmed down, reinforce what they learned last year, handout, training whatever, and then introduce something new. Add water and stir, let bake for 3-4 months and start over. It is a slow process I know but in the end it is worthwile.

    Keep on trucking,

  9. Dan, I think you are pretty smart, and do know way too much more than what you think. The only thing you have to teach your faculty is to take care of their students, and listen and not only teach, but learn from them.

    No matter what technology you use. Make them comfortable and confident. You are a good person. Take it easy and keep on doing your good work. I am really glad to meet you. :-)

  10. Sorry, Dan, it seems like WordPress broke the link when I pasted it… you can get it back from the post I talked you before. I added it as a resource. I hope this can help you.

  11. To the rest, this is the link that WordPress chopped up.

    To David, thanks.

    [edited to change the commenter’s name from Graham Wegner to Dan Meyer.  Don’t ask.]

  12. Funny thing is that while that article is exactly right about Elgg’s strengths, those are the same strengths that make it not a great tool for a school that *is* built around classes and courses and such.

    I think, if you want to build an organic system of integrated learners who have the freedom to build communities around common goals and interests, Elgg is a really powerful tool. However, that’s not what schools are right now. There’s a larger argument as to whether or not that’s what schools should be, but that’s not your school (nor is it SLA), so I’d argue it’s not the tool for you.

    Elgg has a very particular pedagogical framework that makes it perfect for a Free School / Unschool / Homeschool kind of environment, and maybe it’ll be the way we all teach and learn in something called school now, but I found that it didn’t do what I needed it to do as a school administrator.

  13. So can I ask you, if your professional obligations were no object, that is, if you had the freedom to choose your pedagogical framework, would you tend towards this Free School / Unschool / Homeschool thing?

  14. There’s no problem with Elgg and the classic training. You can just keep on using your current courses and workshops on Moodle, adding “e-learning 2.0” capabilities to your students and free social learning allowing them to use Elgg.

    You can even use Elgg in a centralized way: just use communities for that: the community blog is the forum, the community files are the contents,… you have lots of Elgg plugins to add more features, such as wikis and so on.

    What’s the problem? Are you afraid of your students? ;-)