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OpenACS Home : Forums : .LRN Q&A : AUBG Plans a .LRN Pilot and Seeks Advice for the Startup Phase

Forum .LRN Q&A: AUBG Plans a .LRN Pilot and Seeks Advice for the Startup Phase

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I would like to announce to the community that the American University in Bulgaria (www.aubg.bg) is planning to start a .LRN Evaluation Pilot. I have been working on this project together with Al Essa and I want to publicly thank him, for his indispensable support, as well as the team at AUBG, for making it happen.

Since they need to make some budgeting assumptions very quickly (within less than a week) we would like to solicit relevant information from all who have gone through a similar startup phase. Specifically, we hope that you would share your experience in terms of:

1. How many people were involved at first?
2. In what capacity?
3. How many hours per person, let's say per week?
4. What was the skill level?
5. How long it took to get comfortable?
6. And things up and running?

Some of these are pretty general questions, so feel free to share whatever relevant information comes to your mind, or, if you know of other forum discussions dealing with similar topics. As more questions about this will come up, I'm sure, we'll keep adding them here. Thanks in advance to all who would be able to respond.

I know some of the more active community members either personally or through email, but for the rest -- I'm not a developer, unfortunately. If I "specialize" in anything, it is the structured presentation of information and I would like to contribute "my only tangible skill" to "spreading the message," focusing first on explaining .LRN to potential donors. The goal would be to add to the body of materials that anyone in the community can send out or take to a meeting with potential donors, or other decision-makers. The "communal capitalism" aspect of the open-source phenomenon simply fascinates me, so count on my very-long-term involvement.

Hey Grigor,

Welcome! Glad to see you around.

talli

Welcome Grigor

Without knowing anything about your project I would say that the hardest thing is not the technology but getting the people and processes right. I know this might not look that the forum for this type of foreign opinions :-)

Some of the projects are very big, with many thousands of users, other like mine are small (a couple of hundred). I will describe my experience in the low end:

> How many people were involved at first?

1 (me)

> In what capacity?
Lame developer and advocate

>3. How many hours per person, let's say per week?
For the second version I had help from a student, after seting it up we have had to do almost nothing, it just runs by itself. Setting up with graphic design backups etc took a few weeks.

> 4. What was the skill level?
We are all software engineers with experience in Unix systtems. After setting up, the skills required are of a "webmaster" who has played around with dotLRN (no programming required).

> 5. How long it took to get comfortable?
depends for what.. developing applications is a never ending learning experience, using the tool is not hard but you keep learning things.

>6. And things up and running?
The system (small configuration) is just weeks.
getting academics and students to exploit the tool is a MUCH longer process.

cheers

Rafael

I must add that the "small configuration" could mean just a day (installing it in my laptop took a couple of hours). Writing the templates, agreening on content and design, the whole process takes a bit longer.
Great news, Grigor ... Al and I will have to stop teasing you about ... well, never mind :)

I think Bruce Spears is probably a good person to talk to, because he's a "smart user", not a techie, and he put together the university's pilot almost entirely by himself.

Grigor does a very good job putting together materials, for those of you not familiar with him.  He put together an excellent outline of a marketing piece he shared with Al and I in Berlin.  Welcome aboard, Grigor, glad you're here.

I forgot to mention in the original post that the pilot would be implemented by Computer Science Faculty and Students, so their first issue is "getting to know" .LRN as "techies" and budgeting for the time they would need more or less, not so much an issue of general technical knowledge and skills. The users would start coming gradually into the picture obviously after that.

Rafael, thanks for taking the time to tell us your experience, it definitely helps. We hope to have yet one more case study for you, and then carry the torch to the rest of Eastern Europe too.

Talli, you are everywhere as always. When do you want to organize a social in Bulgaria? I'll post to offer help for LinuxWorld in January.

And Don, your personal endorsement buys you a license to tease me in perpetuity, so you're welcome too :)

But seriously... Don, I think I saw a post by you before about how to get something as news on the front page. Can we have this post there, if it's suitable? What do I have to do? Thanks!

Grigor
send me what you want in the news sectrion I can post it
Hey Grigor,

we are using lars-blogger for news and etp as a kind of cms...

We have a *dirty* hack that lets you interpret procedures within an etp page. We are using the following code:

## article-index.tcl and article-content.tcl
foreach element { content } {
    if { [catch {
        set code [template::adp_compile -string $pa($element)]
        set pa($element) [template::adp_eval code]
    } errMsg] } {
        global errorInfo
        ns_log Error "$errMsg while evaluating ETP ADP page at [ad_return_url]: \n$errorInfo"
    }
}

## inside content of an etp page:
<div style="float: right; width: 30%; border: 1px solid #cccccc; padding: 8px;">
<%=[lars_blog_get_as_string -url "/weblog"] %>
</div>

Cheers

1. How many people were involved at first?
In Heidelberg we are about six people working on the set  up of .LRN

2. In what capacity?
As there are no capacities given by the university of heidelberg the team is 50/50 given by the computer center and the medical faculty. Roughly i think 2 FTE (Full Time Equivalents), 2 50% Workers and 4 25% Workers on the project. Most of the time is spend getting th emigration from webct to .LRN done.

3. How many hours per person, let's say per week?
see above

4. What was the skill level?
Advanced Linux, Oracle etc. knowledge

6. And things up and running?
We are still on the migration process to .LRN 2.0

As mentioned above the big deal, i think is not the setup of the technology but to get people used to E-Learning.

Regards,
Oliver

Grigor,

Thanks for the great news! It is good to hear that you are going to be involved long-term.

Sounds like things will work out fine if you push things and have some CS guys supporting you.

Carl

P.S. Sorry I'm late to the party (started a medical rotation in Boston that requires sleep, food, and network deprivation).

> How many people were involved at first?

1 (me), + ditto! and over this past year, upto, now, there's well over 100 people and I'm still the main contributor by far. I signed up 2 students in the last two days and gave them their own subsite and dotlrn.

my initial installation was on oacs 4.5 and within a few weeks of purchasing a vserver from acorn.hosting.net, i installed the .lrn virtually, with the help of jim, who i met at the linux expo in sf.

the ctLRN community is located at teknowledgy.org an is the .lrn package on this service. I'll continue this when I get a chance....it's nice to be able to edit messages into the futures.

> In what capacity?
Lame developer and advocate ditto

>3. How many hours per person, let's say per week?
For the second version I had help from a student, after seting it up we have had to do almost nothing, it just runs by itself. Setting up with graphic design backups etc took a few weeks.

another ditto

> 4. What was the skill level?
We are all software engineers with experience in Unix systtems. After setting up, the skills required are of a "webmaster" who has played around with dotLRN (no programming required).

another ditto

> 5. How long it took to get comfortable?
depends for what.. developing applications is a never ending learning experience, using the tool is not hard but you keep learning things.

week or so and now

>6. And things up and running?
The system (small configuration) is just weeks.
getting academics and students to exploit the tool is a MUCH longer process.

Hi Grigor!

Glad to see you've gotten this far!

In my experience, if everything goes right, .LRN can be set up in a couple of days.  In my experience, not everything goes right. I remember Doc Edgertan saying about his experimental strobes and cameras: "You always make three of everything: you lose the first one and you need the second one for parts to keep the third one going."  The essential thing is: finding a Linux Wizard, someone who knows Linux real well, and therefore, can figure out how to set up the Linux box and security, and when OpenACS/.LRN troubles begin, can figure out what is going on.  If someone knows Linux and Perl, they can figure out Tcl.  My Wizard, Manfred, can solve anything.  Having such people nearby only encourages fools like myself to dig themselves in deeper.  I've got only a couple of years of self-taught computing experience and only one formal computing (Oracle) course: I've taken this project on more or less as Sport. The best programmers I know are also sportsmen: there's something about the technology, especially Linux programmers, that is amenable to minds happy at play.  Manfred is an archer.  Don and I are photographers.  Staff your project with someone who likes to fiddle.  Setting up the system: a good week for a Wizard and Fiddler; a day per week thereafter to keep the box in shape.  Best to incorporate it in a larger, on-going, professional Linux operation -- I think security issues alone require a full-time employee, as we have here, advising the rest of us.

Implementation, working with the users, is something else, requiring constant care and feeding.  It was just great to have the .LRN crowd meet my customers and explain to them how and why OpenACS/.LRN was an unruly beast and how using it required a change in attitude: instead of a consumerist mentality, thinking BMW, throwing temper tantrums because the software was not perfect (Blackboard is being sold as "finished").  My colleagues learned enough about the development process to develop a different relationship to .LRN: to lower their expectations to the minimum of functionality necessary to get the job done, to see themselves as part of a implementation/development team and working cooperatively with them, and to see the advantages of .LRN/OpenACS over the long term: no license fees soaking up resource, investing in the local implementation/development team instead, being part of a larger development project, a sense of experiment and play, etc.  That is, if you've got a university administration giving a computer center a pile of money, then I suppose you can see the problem as the technical one of setting up the box.  But I'm doing it from the bottom-up, I have to win my customers and grants myself, and I've got only a couple of "true believers" on my side: the rest have to be won over.  Choose your woman/man on the ground over there carefully, how many hours they work per week, I think, is secondary to the problem of building a strong customer base, or maybe put better: the problem of building supportive social relations to support the technology.

I should hasten to say that I think the atttude of experiment is is true for ANY system: I've just had the pleasure of reading the forums for a number of classes using Blackboard.  I'd seen the forums only from the outside, in a formal presentation, and it all looked very impressive and hunky-dory and I left the room feeling like they had figured everything out and I had not and therefore I was small.  But then I got passwords and read the forums in detail and saw how the system was being implemented, and now I have to confess that I have enjoyed a simply perverse satisfaction: the users entered most forums in dribs and drabs, but the forums on using the application were filled, and filled with invective: the interface was much too confusing for many, they didn't like the way it was being dumped on them, they thought the whole business hype and resented it being foisted on them.  I don't think I have that problem at all -- even with all sorts of snafus, because of the low-key, voluntary way most of the handful of faculty I've signed on have gotten into it.  I learned much of this from Al Essa, by the way, as you will recall from that fine story he gave of the professor who never touched the stuff until the day he wanted to connect to that one URL that had some data he wanted, and having gotten to it, has been a happy camper and supporter of IT at his school ever since: match the technology to real needs, don't push, build strength from the bottom.  When I finally get the video conference call with Blesius online, the tapes are now being converted to .mpg, I'll make sure that that anecdote is indexed clearly so you can hear the lesson in all its insight and humor.  Since then, I've been struck by the image of .LRN as being as innocuous as a toaster, a kitchen appliance.  In my own mind, I've changed my own title, too, from System Adminstrator to Expectations Administrator, and in the spirit of this time of budget cuts, I have joined the "race to the bottom" and gotten mostly there: our overhead is low, the box can be replaced easily, and when things go wrong, like when I mess around with the code and crash the server or some portlet doesn't work, my customers call up and all but apologise for complaining.  Plus, I like to tease The Competition by explaining how our original concept was to install .LRN on castaway PentiumII boxes, sticking one in each professors office, and having a half dozen of them standing by: an image that was so terrifying to some that we ended up being given a fast box built to our specifications.  I still think the castaway box a good idea.

All the best,

Bruce