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WordPress, Drupal, Moodle

This weekend I installed WordPress on our personal server. The process took about two hours, including customization and tweaking beyond the basic installation. No great PHP or MySQL skills were required; as long as you know how to use the command prompts you can install WordPress.

The modifications included adding Amazon code to the PHP-generated pages. This allows us to use Amazon links without long URLs. To do this, I had to copy code from our Amazon Associates account and paste it, formatted, into the PHP code. Not a challenge, thankfully. I also enabled two spam filters via the PHP code.

What makes WordPress, Drupal, and Moodle popular is the ease with which these systems can be extended. Third parties have created numerous plug-ins, widgets, and themes for these three open source platforms.

I could, rather easily, support a pretty large number of teachers and students using open source software (OSS) for Web applications. The price is ideal and the skills required are increasingly common. I bet many high schools have dozens of students familiar with MySQL and PHP. Students could earn class credit supporting platforms, reducing costs even more and giving the students real-world experiences leading to future career opportunities.

I am a big supporter of Drupal and Moodle. I think schools could do a lot with these platforms. Drupal is portal software with every feature you might want: local messages, forums, blogs, and even collaborative books. For classes, Moodle offers these features within the safety of closed classrooms. Moodle is more complex the Drupal, but it has a different purpose.

Drupal is a content management system (CMS) for general use. You can do a lot with it, but it wasn't designed to include gradebooks and other academic features.

Moodle is a learning management system (LMS). It assumes you might want to grade all content. I would definitely use Moodle for any class I teach without hesitation.

While Drupal and Moodle support blogging, I only needed a basic blog for a project. Drupal would have been serious overkill.

I can envision a school system adopting all three for the same reason I have: they serve distinct purposes.
Media teachers, from art to writing, are going to have to know how applications differ and what their purposes are. I recall a time when people used Lotus 1-2-3 as everything from a word processor to a database. The spreadsheet was forced to be everything… and did many things poorly.

Making Moodle do everything, as I have seen, is not wise. Mixing and matching free platforms is not difficult and produces better results. It does mean learning three systems. It also means learning how to design themes for each of the three that are consistent visually. You can "hide" the shift from one platform to the other.

One platform I have dropped recently is Wikimedia. I was increasingly disappointed in the Wiki format and the slow progress of the platform. It is strange, since Wikipedia is so popular, but it is a text-centric system. I found other platforms handle mixed media better.

I have used Wikibooks and Wikimedia installations in classes, but the students found it difficult to organize and maintain books online. Drupal books are easy to maintain and organize, moving chapters and sections via drag-and-drop interfaces. Plus, Drupal uses standard HTML, instead of Wikitext markup. For all its flaws, HTML is still the dominant Web standard for page design, coupled with CSS and JavaScript.

I encourage teachers to read about the OSS applications I've mentioned. I love using them and I'm sure my students have, too.

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