Archive for 11th March 2010

Wandering Code Minstrel – Two Weeks in Europe – IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability

I started a tradition last year to try to spend Spring break coding somewhere. This year thanks to gracious support from JISC to participate in the JISC Dev8D Developer Days in London, I had airfare to Europe. I decided to add some pre-and-post travel at my own expense to touch base with some collaborators in Europe. It was a wonderfully productive trip – here are the details.
I departed for Zurich on February 20, arriving on Sunday Feb 21 – in order to save costs, I stayed with my good friend Dave LeBow in Zug and commuted to Zurich each day.
Monday February 21
I spent today at the University of Zurich working with the OLAT (Online Learning and Training). I worked with Joel Fisher, Guido Schnider, Florian Gnagi, and others. I had built a simple OLAT Course Node extension for IMS Basic LTI which we cleaned up and checked into the 6.4 Branch of OLAT for the next release.
Tuesday February 22
I spend most of the day in Zurich with the OLAT team and gave a talk on Basic LTI featuring Marc Alier’s Dinosaur video. We finished the LTI Course Node and talked about Common Cartridge and QT 2.1 plans. That night I hopped an EasyJet flight to London.
Wednesday February 23 – Saturday February 27
I already blogged about my Dev8D experiences.
Generally, I was going all-out every day and every night – I gave a new presentation three of four of the days of Dev8D and was fixing / documenting something nearly constantly. My most fun talk was my “Informatics: The End of Dilbert” lightening talk – which I had been afraid to give because was my thoughts were still a bit unformed and I thought it might be controversial. But I figured “what the heck” and the crowd seemed to like it.
Sunday February 28
Travelled to Cambridge – Talked to Ian and John about Sakai 3, the Sakai board, and other stuff. It was nice to catch up in person. I apologize to their families for taking them away to the Eagle pub on a Sunday afternoon.
Monday March 1
Visited Matthew Buckett at Oxford. We reviewed their Sakai installation with Hierarchy – very nice and very very cleverly done with surprisingly simple modifications to Sakai. Shows the flexibility inherent in Sakai 2’s underlying approach. Matthew also showed me their mobile portal – m.ox.ac.uk – it is done in DJango and uses a very nice architecture. I hope to get University of Michigan interested in being a partner in the effort when Oxford open sources it all in a few months.
Tuesday March 2
Went to the Open University at Milton Keynes – to visit with all my pals there and the OLnet team. I may get some funding to work with Open University folks such as the Cohere Project that is building a tool to build concept maps of web content. Cohere is a Firefox Plugin – kind of like CloudSocial – but further ahead and more practical. I may also do some other things like a CC authoring program or Basic LTI in their production LMS.
Wednesday March 3
Visited my friends at the Open University of Catelonia (UOC) Campus Project and got some updates. We talked about Open Social and their recent integrations that made MediaWiki and WordPress into OKI Bus tools. It was really clear that there architecture had morphed to become very similar to IMS Basic LTI and that it would be a simple matter to make a Basic LTI Producer for these tools quite easily.
Here is a cool video taped in 2008 in an earlier visit to UOC: Campus Project Overview
Thursday March 4
Went to visit my Marc Alier and Jordi Piguillem at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona (UPC). There I also met Nikolas Galanis who had done the most recent work on the Basic LTI support for Moodle 1.9 – it was in good shape but we put the finishing touches on it to bring it up to par with the other Basic LTI Consumers. Thursday evening I ended up at the Universal Disco to spend a few hours to catch up with Lluis Vincent of LaSalle University.
Friday March 5
We a taped a podcast for Marc’s “Bite of the Apple” podcast and talked about things like the history of technology before Windows, Linux and Mac OS/X in the 1990’s and how standards and interoperability he been an important part of how we got where we are. Later Nikolas and I continued to clean up the Moodle 1.9 Consumer.
Saturday March 6
I continued to work on Moodle from my hotel room doing cleanup and then using it to test me IMS Certification for Basic LTI Tool Consumers and produced this video:
http://www.vimeo.com/9957979
After three days of coding on Moodle, I gave myself a little “treat” by renting a scooter for a few hours and seeing if I enjoyed it. The scooter was fun but a little scary. I had one close call that was enough for me to decide (at least for now) – no more scooters for Chuck in Barcelona.
After I came back from scootering, I decided to fix a few Sakai bugs in the JSR-168 portal which were identified during the JISC Dev8D meeting and get that taken care of while it was all fresh in my mind. I finished the code, tested things, checked in my fixes and went to bed.
Sunday March 7
The flight back was pretty grueling – I had kind of worn myself down over the two weeks by eating too much rich food and not getting enough sleep. I felt pretty queasy all the way back. But I got back in one piece and fell into bed.
Monday March 8
I woke up with a splitting headache and had to teach my SI502 class at 8:30 AM. I made it through the class and took a nap in the afternoon. But then I could not get the idea of a WordPress plugin that I saw at UOC out of my head so I started coding, imitating the UOC code. In four hours where I kept having to take little naps because I felt so woozy, I had a working prototype of a Basic LTI Producer for WordPress which I gleefully sent around screen shots and the URL access information for the Basic LTI tool and quickly got confirmation that it was working from Desire2Learn, Moodle, and Jenzabar.
Tuesday March 9
Antoni Bertran of the Open University of Catalonia Project quickly imitated the patterns in my WordPress Basic LTI Producer and wrote his own Basic LTI Producer for MediaWiki and released the source code.
Wednesday March 10
I got Antoni’s MediaWiki plugin installed and running on one of my servers for folks to test and of course it worked great in Desire2Learn, Sakai, Moodle and Jenzabar (this interoperability stuff is starting to feel really fun). I also helped Steve Swinsberg of Australia National University improve the Sakai Basic LTI Producer so he can plug Sakai tools into uPortal using BasicLTI.
I was feeling well enough to eat solid food again on Wednesday.
Thursday March 11
I think that I am caught up and ready to go back to programming being a background activity. It was fun to drop everything else and purely code for 2+ weeks and do so with my best friends and collaborators around the world.
In summary, I visited two countries, six cities, wrote and committed code in three different open source projects, found the coolest new Basic LTI tools so far (MediaWiki and WordPress).
It just goes to show that sometimes doing a bit of wandering around can result in some really cool things. I wonder how I can top it during next year’s spring break.

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