Google Apps to integrate with Moodle

Just saw this via Digizen:

Google Apps Education Edition is coming to an open source learning management system near you. Moodlerooms, a Moodle partner, is launching a new enhancement to the open source LMS in collaboration with search giant Google to provide access to the application suite using a single sign-on.

As you may already know, I’m no fan of the learning management system, period. And the more big companies like Google and Microsoft push their way into the open source LMS realm under the aegis of single sign-on, the more I wonder how cheap the soul of edtech really is.

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12 Responses to Google Apps to integrate with Moodle

  1. I don’t know if edtech is selling out or just trying to stay solvent in these times. With tech layoffs surpassing 300,000, the thought of losing one’s job weighs heavily in such decisions.

    I don’t think these decisions are made in haste as a result of fear, however. My observations have been that careful considerations of the alternatives are being examined and the most economically feasible wins in the end.

    If that is an incorrect decision is a difficult question to dissect. The analysis should be made on an institution by institution [perhaps department by department] basis.

  2. Hello, Reverend,

    Within K12 at least, there is a huge demand for integration of anything with Google Apps.

    Of course, this begs the question: what is integration? Is it provisioning? SSO? A consistent identity? Content sharing between various integrated pieces?

    In some ways, this is both silly and unnecessary, because if Google broadened their support for OpenID, the SSO and possibly the consistent identity (via attribute exchange, part of the OpenID 2.0 spec) would be covered.

    @peter naegele, re “the most economically feasible” — often, price is the driving factor, at the expense of what is best for learners, and the process of teaching and learning. Google’s terms of service and lack of data portability both leave a lot to be desired, and make them less than ideal for school settings. But the blend of convenience and cost have people lining up (in what could possibly be described as a lemming-esque fashion) to pitch their data into the abyss. Never mind that Google’s services have been prone to extended flakiness and blackouts.

    For the curious, the code for this is available here: http://code.google.com/p/moodle-google/

    But, as the Rev implies, building a solution using open source tools doesn’t ensure that the solution will be pedagogically sound.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  3. @Bill. Did you not read the second half of my comment?

    Since you have disdain for google and apprehensions regarding OpenSource [which, by the way does not mean FREE] Bill, what is the SINGLE solution for all levels of education, teaching styles, learning styles, campus sizes, and economic situations? Additionally, what is the SINGLE solution that will support all of the above, remain reliable / stable /secure 24/7 – 365 and provide portability across all platforms at all times?

    The reality is that there is no panacea, it needs to be evaluated case by case, as I stated. As improvements are made, adjustments can be made accordingly.

    I use google docs in my labs, a twitter hashtag for some announcements and BB for delivery of course content [from assignments to vodcasts]. This isn’t what I did 5 years ago and I don’t expect it to be what I am doing 5 years from now.

    It’s about having flexibility and the ability to face the reality of your available resources while remaining conscious of your goals.

  4. Hello, Peter,

    I think you misread my original comment, and you are certainly off base in your personal characterization of me as someone with “apprehensions” about open source/free software.

    FWIW, I was largely agreeing with you.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  5. Chris L says:

    We’ll have one of the moodle primary developers on the line from Australia at some point today (or tomorrow). I plan to ask him about this.

    @Bill I would like to see more OpenID support too, particularly if it included attribute exchange. But in the meantime (or instead, really) I’m OK with the Google intermediary. Google Apps have downtime, but my experience it is on par– if not significantly less– than that of most sites. Including, sadly, the Bava

    Then again, I may have sold my sould a long time ago because in the end, I love the convenience of a single sign-on and its often a significant factor in my decision on which tools to use in many situations…

  6. @Bill I apologize for not understanding your position on opensource. However, you said “building a solution using open source tools doesn’t ensure that the solution will be pedagogically sound.” To me, that sounds apprehensive

    Additionally, I do not feel it is appropriate to characterize the K-12 community as lemmings because of the #’s moving toward google apps.
    My friend teaches in a severely depressed are of Ohio and google was the ONLY feasible solution.

  7. Hello, Gentlefolk,

    Chris — we did some work with OpenID within Moodle back in 2006/2007 — I think it’s fair to say there was some resistance to OpenID within the Moodle community. This thread provides a pretty good overview with my experience: http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=50403#p232074

    We were part of a team that released some working OpenID code — the bulk of the coding was done by a dev named Kevin Jardine, and this was back in the Dark Ages when we were still working as OpenAcademic — the announcement is here: http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=62452

    I hadn’t visited this thread in between 12-18 months, and it looks like there has been some work done with it in the meantime, which is good. The code we released was somewhere b/w alpha and beta quality, and definitely needed polish. One of the features, though, was a traffic-light system that allowed some domains to be blacklisted, others to require email confirmation, and others to allow streamlined one step sign on. This allowed OpenID to facilitate collaboration within a partially closed environment, where only people from within specific domains could be allowed to log in.

    But for all I know, OpenID support is on the roadmap for inclusion in core. I’d be surprised if the work hasn’t made significant progress in the nearly 2 years since I stopped tracking it.

    RE downtime of Google being less than the Bava: this blog runs on WordPress. If the Reverend could be persuaded to step up and run a more robust platform, like, say, Drupal, he likely wouldn’t have these downtime concerns.

    /me ducks 🙂

    Cheers,

    Bill

  8. Reverend says:

    @Peter:
    I put myself in a tough place here, particularly because I use Google apps, and often recommend it to faculty and students for a variety of projects. At the same time, what concerns me is that very logic of convenience and lemming-esque worship that starts to emerge, as Bill points out. Let me give you one example of why I’m apprehensive, and I am, about companies like Google moving into the LMS world, which I think is to some degree different than being a free service anyone signs up for by their own volition or recommendation. This post over at Coyle’s Information suggests the future of a deal made with a Google devil for convenience. The post should be read in its entirety, but here is a snippet that frames the deal Google made with AAP, and how that impacts libraries who had been invited by google to help them digitize their libraries for free (or a deal with the devil):

    The deal that Google and the libraries had was that in exchange for working with Google to digitize books in their collections, the libraries received a copy of the digital file. After that, it was up to the libraries to do the right thing based on their understanding of copyright law. Participating with Google has been an expensive proposition for the libraries in terms of their own staff time and in the development of digital storage facilities. Part of the appeal of working with Google was the assumption that partnering with the search giant gve the entire project clout and provided some protection for the libraries. With Google and the AAP now in cahoots, the libraries must join them or try to stand alone in an unclear legal situation; an unclear situation that Google invited the libraries into in the first place.

    This is classic bait and switch. And it is bait and switch with powerful commercial interests against public institutions. There is no question about it…

    THIS IS EVIL

    So, therein lies my apprehension, and this is recent history with Google, and why should schools be any different than libraries? Maybe solvency and job preservation is jey in this time, but we also must be careful how far we are will to go to feel safe within a system that has habitually rat fucked the little person over the last 30 years.

    Additionally, I think you are a bit off base with Bill, he is in fact my open source developer hero, he runs one of the smartest edtech companies that work soley with open source tools, and he shares everything. We may not agree on Drupal and WordPres all the time, but there is a guy I would want in my edtech foxhole, his vision about these tools and the questions that surround “free and open” (not open source per se) services need to be looked at far more critically than they currently are, before a deal with the devil is made while we are all looked in Google’s application world. I’ll be the first to admit Google’s the best at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t scare the shit out of me.

    @Chris,
    I have commented too much to you today already, suffice it to say read the story above about Google and the AAP, it is eye opening. Additionally, I’ll give you back your soul for free , but only on the condition that I have access to all your data for ever and ever 😉

    @Bill,
    The only reason the bava is down so much is because it is a cutting edge machine. If it weren’t down so much I wouldn’t be doing my job. And when Chris made the comparison between bava and Google, he was intentionally try to play on my ego while argue his point, a classic rhetorical move that I saw right through. Yet, and while the bava may have questionable up time, I have a far more attractive site than Google and you never have to login in at all. I don;t even want your data. I just want love.

    As for OpenID, that is really the key to all this as you and Chris suggest, and the fact it has been so slow to evolve given the uneven development of major sites like Google and the like suggests to me their is something to gain my not allowing a kind of shibboleth of identity that the user can own and maintain. That for me is what brings me back to open source. Ic an serve my own CMS, OpenID, wiki, etc., and at the end of the day only have to worry about hackers, and quite frankly if you have a decent backup system in place, it ain’t much of a concern. And, as Martin Weller recently suggested in a wonderful post about the Microsoft vs. Apple controversy and the space of love in this debate. I extended his discussion to open source, you and I love our respective platforms, and that, by extension, makes them greater and the spaces we work in richer. And the ability to be apple to shape these spaces and customize them without a corporation behind you is a luxury to many people don;t think much about, and that is scary to me. I hate to be all against google and other apps that are awesome, but if everyone isn’t even questioning the reality that lies therein, we’re fucked.

  9. Jim….the blog post is interesting. If Google is indeed a monopoly will be worked out in the class action suit.

    However, as is implied in the post, if the disputed particulars of the relationship were in the contract, then perhaps the libraries should be taking action against their legal representation for malpractice. In either case, the author states that libraries were working off false assumptions.

    Was the deal shitty? Probably. Who’s at fault for the end result? I don’t know, but Macgillivray [google’s lawyer] has given is $.02 here.

    As <a href=”http://www.negativland.com/news/?page_id=22″Negativland has pointed out,although for different reasons, the current copyright laws are out of date….and that’s where all of this should have begun. Not after the contracts were signed.

    In any case…..I am tired of being slammed when I mention the use of anything Google. I am tired of my friends being slammed because they have no alternative but Google. If you don’t want to use Google, then don’t. But to characterize me, my colleagues, friends and relatives [who all use those tools to teach] as lemmings is insulting.

    As I stated in my original and subsequent post, there is no panacea. Careful consideration must be taken along every step of this path.

  10. Reverend says:

    Peter,

    I agree with you that copyright needs to be re-thought at its core, and the question of using Google is not at issue for me here. I think we all use Google and it would be ridiculous of me to suggest otherwise. What does concern me, however, is the larger questions of institutions making deals with large companies that ultimately may have far too much power over everyone’s data. There are questions already being raised about Google as a monopoly, and I find it hard to argue against, but they are also very, very good at what they do. No question innovation has brought them to where they are, that said, unchecked capital and power may be a dangerous thing. I don’t think anyone was intending to make this personal, and wouldn’t even see this post as a call for everyone to abandon Google, or a sense of righteous condescension for those who use Google. Look, Google owns me, there are no two ways about that. But I wonder if it’s something I should be thinking more critically about, that’s all. And while “give me convenience or give me death” is the montra I like to follow, I think the consolidation of too much power into the hands of too few companies should be a major concern for everybody.

  11. Hello, all,

    The line between selling out and staying solvent is a fuzzy line indeed.

    Since this thread has veered into soul-baring confessions of Google use, I might as well get this off my chest: I use Google Apps. I use GMail (it synchs with my iPhone, another closed device that I hate to love). I have mentored students in the Summer of Code, and helped out in Google’s Highly Open Participation sessions. Heck, the OpenID code we released several years ago is hosted, for free, on Google Code.

    So, this is my glass house. It’s mildly uncomfortable, but hey, it’s home, and I like the interior.

    The reality is, you can’t spend any time working online and *not* encounter Google. That’s not a bad thing, as they are excellent at what they do. The internet is a different, and I would say better place, because of Google.

    However, that doesn’t mean that Google offerings should escape scrutiny. Google (and other search engines) have an awful track record on China and supporting the Chinese gov’t in silencing political dissent: http://is.gd/kyFT

    And Google’s advertising business has been caught attempting to game its popularity, like when they approached pharmacuetical companies to buy ad space alongside searches for Sicko: http://is.gd/kyFV and http://is.gd/kyIi

    Ironically, I had to use yahoo! to find these articles. They didn’t show up using on the first page on Google, and I used the same search strings with both search engines.

    In my experience, the rush to Google services has not been well thought out; it has been done based on price alone. The notion that there is no other choice doesn’t hold up. You can set up a SMTP server using open source tools, you can set up thin client networks using open source tools, OpenOffice can be used to publish to the web via a Blog API, Mediawiki and other open source wikis support collaborative doc. The list of blogging/publishing tools is too extensive to list here. So, the claim of “no options” doesn’t really hold up. This doesn’t mean that Google wasn’t the best option, but that is not the same as no option.

    So, when I say: “the blend of convenience and cost have people lining up (in what could possibly be described as a lemming-esque fashion) to pitch their data into the abyss” — I mean precisely this: Google mines its data and uses this to hone their advertising/content recommendation business. Google doesn’t make it easy to move data out of their services. The costs of these conditions needs to be considered when making the choice, and many schools/decision makers never read the terms of service, let alone consider the implications of these terms on end users.

    Peter: please understand. This isn’t about you. I’m not slamming you. In my original comment in this thread, I attempted to agree with you. From what you have said, you have made an informed choice about the tools you use, and how they inform/support your work. I wish more people followed that model, but I haven’t seen that.

    Jim: re Mr. Lott and WP/Drupal, and the cutting-edge-ness of the Bava: all snark aside, the work you do here is amazing. I love the way you dance along the bleeding edge — WP is an amazing tool. I seized upon the opportunity presented by Chris’ comment to inject some Drupal propaganda, but you know the way I roll. WP is a great tool, and you ride it like a [fill in metaphor here].

    Cheers,

    Bill

  12. James says:

    Interesting string and many thoughts I grapple with regularly. At the risk of diverting this discussion …

    To get the main points out of the way, I’m an open source junkie and I’ll support extensible platforms ahead of anything else because a little PHP can take you a long way. Even when the code is not completely open, an open API will often do just as well. I use WordPress personally and love Google tools.

    I won’t make this an observation about the gaps in what I can do with Google Apps versus a regular Google account – I’ve switched back and forth because of Google reader integration and other anomalies.

    With regard to Google apps and something like Moodle … I’m not an edtech guy per se, but use Moodle in my MA program and have used D2L at work. The problem with a normal LMS is not only aesthetic design and the poor attention to interaction design typical of them, but the tools they crappily cobble together to provide functionality that something like Google apps provides at a much higher level, is what makes integration of those things a natural. Having said that, there are so many ways to skin this cat, that I’m not sure the LMS model makes any sense, particularly if you get into the whole issue of individual experiences, constructivism and the fact that using an LMS makes this a very hard concept to realize (if it’s ever possible).

    The thing that I’m surprised no one worries about is not so much data portability, though it is a concern, but what about basic FOIPOP type legislation? If you think about the IP that gets created during a program or course and the fact that Google would have control of that, it’s a problem, not to mention privacy with some very personal content.

    As a Canadian, in most cases, I wouldn’t be able to make the case for Google apps in many applications such as these anyway. If the server is located outside of Canada, many institutions here won’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

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