Friday, 13 April 2012

Who or what is a 'Moleover'

Water Wheel
Water Wheel by spaceamoeba on Flickr under a
CC BY-SA 2.0 license
It seems like no sooner than the year has started than I have to begin thinking about creating the following year's courses in our virtual learning environment, MOLE (My Online Learning Environment)!  These courses won't be made until the early summer and won't actually go live to students until September... but the process has to start much earlier in order for everything to happen in time.  This is the process called the 'Rollover'.

I'd got quite used to the previous way of doing a Rollover - or 'Moleover' as some people have started calling it - but this year we have the added excitement of doing it in MOLE 2, our new virtual learning environment, where things are similar... but somehow never quite the same!

So what happens during the Moleover? Basically we make the new courses for the coming year, but in truth there's a bit more to it than that...

First things first... in January I make an uber-spreadsheet in which I plan everything that needs doing... this probably isn't strictly necessary but with such a long running task it makes me feel like I've not just started but have actively done something!

Next, I write a specification... hopefully by March, so our technical bods (also in CiCS) can write a script that will create the new MOLE courses for next year according to whatever is in the directory of modules.  If there is a MOLE course from last year it will copy all the content from that course into the new course. It also needs to copy all the Instructors and recreate any cross module links at the same time.

What is a cross module link? Say MEC223 and MEC323 are essentially the same module  but some students take it in the second year and others in the third year and it is taught together. It is possible to link the two sets of students to the same MOLE course. We do this by putting all the content in the lower numbered course (MEC223) and renaming it MEC223~323. We then make MEC323 unavailable to students and staff. So both sets of students see just one course. This can be done with any number of modules and the Moleover script will recreate the course links each year. 

This bit takes a while as there is lots to consider and lots of testing to do as well.

Then, I send out an email to staff letting them know that the Moleover will happen in the summer (usually July) and what that will mean for their courses.  It's really important that staff know what's happening and when during the Moleover.

This year I'm also hoping to send out targeted emails to Instructors with special courses - these are ones which don't appear in the directory of modules and include programme based courses. These courses will only be rolled across to the next year if they are specially requested. I make a web form to collect this information - it'll probably a Google form this year - so that people can easily send in their requests. This will automatically build me a spreadsheet of all the special courses which will need rolling by hand... one less task for me!

I also contact each department whose courses are being rolled (this year, just those who went to MOLE 2 in September 2011) and will ask them if any of their module codes are changing this year. It means we can put the right content into these new modules using the script rather than having to do it by hand afterwards. Finding who to contact in departments each year is always tricky as administration of MOLE courses can sometimes seem to fall between the cracks of teaching and admin staff in departments. Any volunteers please contact us at mole@shef.ac.uk!

So normally, it's July and time for the courses to be copied... and we'd be switching off this year's courses off to staff access at this point (students would retain them for reference and resits). This was not ideal but at least it stopped the issue of staff updating the wrong course when they had both this year's and next year's courses in their course lists. Often the only difference in the course title was the final digit in the year at the very end of the title. Mistakes would be very easy to make and it could be extremely frustrating for everyone.  

But... this year it's going to be different and better! There's a new feature in the next version of MOLE 2 - Terms! These split up the courses into separate Terms so it will be obvious which courses are from which year... 
New course list in MOLE with Terms enabled
How Terms appear in the Course List in MOLE 2
So this July... we'll send round an email at the start of the copy process warning Instructors that changes made in the next two weeks will not be copied into next year's courses and then the courses will be copied in the background with users none the wiser until they have been checked. We check that the content is correct, that any other modules linked to a course are still linked (this will mean that students from any linked modules will see this one as well) the dates and terms are correct and then we add the Instructors.

Once the Instructors are added the new courses will appear in their course lists and that bit of the moleover is complete.

We'll then email to say the new courses are ready and highlight any changes in the new system and any housekeeping that will need to be done before the students are added to the courses in early September. This gives anyone who's an Instructor plenty of time to make any changes before the beginning of the new academic year.

Meanwhile we start copying all the special courses by hand... and sorting out any hiccoughs that might have happened along the way.

Needless to say our work is not yet done... at this point, we have to archive this year's courses. Undergraduate courses become unavailable to students at the end of August and Postgrads lose access at the end of September. Shortly after that we need to start removing them from Staff course lists... unless they want to keep them, but that is a different story...

So roll or should I say mole - on - July? [sorry!]

Jo

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