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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moodle Security: A Review

Even if you're using a third-party service for your learning management system (LMS), it is still important to be mindful of security, and to understand the ins and outs of where the vulnerabilities exist. For Moodle administrators, the issue of security is important on a number of levels. First, are privacy issues and regulations; second, are integrity issues, as you seek to keep your information and data intact; third, are authentication issues to protect users. Finally, is the issue of ongoing bot activity that can potentially hijack your server and make it perform in ways that you would prefer it not to.

Packt Publishing's Moodle Security ( addresses concerns of both administrators and users. The book provides information that can be helpful in addressing the very real legal liabilities that occur with security breaches.

The organization of the book is easy to follow, and screen shots allow the user to work through the processes in a step-by-step way, and it allows both Linux and Windows users to implement security protocols for Moodle.

The first several chapters have to do with securing Linux and Windows servers. The chapters that deal with authentication, roles, and permissions include a variety of configurations, that include installation procedures.

On the side of user authentication and content assurance, the chapters are thorough and clear. Some current and ever-evolving threats -- bots, viruses, and other types of vulnerabilities are dealt with on a conceptual level as well as with step-by-step instructions.

One area that could be expanded in the Moodle Security is the underlying approach to computer forensics and historical approaches to determining crime / criminal elements.

Note: This title and other Moodle titles are available at a discount through the publisher for a limited time. (Moodle March campaign).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reality TV and E-Learning: The Next Frontier? Three Possible Edu-Reality Shows

Are you one of the 2 million or so viewers who watched Charlie Sheen's UStream show (Sheen's Korner) within the first week of its broadcast? Are you one of his 2 million Twitter followers? If so, you may have witnessed a new form of reality television -- one that could have applicability to e-learning. There are courses that study cultural and sociological phenomena, and there are entire degree programs that focus on trying to make sense of our rapidly evolving world. Why not consider new kinds of informal learning?

Let's look at where we are. So far, reality television and live news coverage functions as an enhancement to courses, but let's think of them as the course itself. What would it look like?

The idea of streaming video and live feeds of classrooms, surgical centers, and other instructional settings is definitely not new. One could argue it's as old as television itself -- how many people remember when children gathered around the television set brought into the classroom specifically to watch lift-off of the various NASA missions, starting with Gemini, and moving on with the Apollo missions, and the various space shuttles.

Reality television is a different prospect altogether. Certainly, recorded snippets and entire episodes are often woven into online courses as examples, case studies, and discussion / debate points. Think of various intervention shows, along with family and community relations / situations.

So, to return to the idea of reality television as the course itself, how would we do it? What would it look like?

Here are a few ideas / suggestions, which could all be extremely low-cost, especially if they're done via UStream ( The production values could be as low as in the case of the now notorious "Sheen's Korner" -- which can be seen either as a feeble attempt to usurp Conan O'Brien, or, a way to push the boundaries of reality television, particularly the "train wreck" genre. Celebrity meltdowns, unfortunately, tend to be the gift that keeps on giving -- the more you watch, the more mesmerized you become -- it's almost like watching clips of exotic pets mauling their hapless owners in Animal Planet's "Fatal Attractions" ("My Pet Crocodile").

You don't want to watch, but once you do, you want more and more. You ask yourself why, and all you can come up with is that there is something cathartic about tragedy (not exactly a new finding -- but ranks up there with the eternal verities) -- and, the Aristotelian ideas / precepts still hold: the tragic hero is compelling because of the essentially flawed nature of his/her beingness, and hubris resides at the core.

"There but for the grace of God ..." we intone because we all have a "hubris trigger" in our heart of hearts -- we all would love to be invincible and to somehow transcend / escape angst, pain, fear of death, and death itself.

But the tragic hero tends to die -- and to die prematurely -- precisely because he / she tried to cheat death, and to grab onto all the spoils of life -- wealth, glory, fame, progeny -- and the act of grasping is what triggered the downward spiral.

In very cogent terms, we can say that we participate in our own destruction and salvation. We position ourselves psychologically on the edge of the abyss, and, depending on our mood, we push ourselves over, or, we snatch ourselves back.


Needless to say, the opening credits would need to be accompanied by a link to something by the Pet Shop Boys -- my vote would go to "You Are Always On My Mind" but of course, it's up to the pet shop owner...

People have short attention spans. Keep it short. Keep it tight, and quickly shifting scenes and situations. I'd recommend five 3-minute scenarios that are shot live, but which have been planned in advance. I'd recommend a simple flow from one place / activity to another. Each activity would bring to bear real issues "teachable moments" that have to do with the following categories:

1 -- "Yes, we eat our young" -- The tragedy of overpopulation. Talk about the gerbils, white mice, and, well, the snakes.

2 -- "Sure, we can sell you a genetically engineered Rainbow Goldfish, but is this really what you want?" The dark side of extreme breeding.

3 -- "You make me sad when you make your breed do that!" Breed rescue situations -- why / how the popular way to deal with a breed leads to tragic exploitation (look at pugs, pit bulls, exotic popular pets, and more.

4 -- "I will pay you $5,000 for a Rhodesian Black Mamba" and other ethical dilemmas

5 -- Pet therapy saves lives -- how pet stores can help institute pet therapy in ways that no one really thought would work; and how people's lives are materially changed / benefited

Here's a way to bring together the way we use math in every day matters, but do not realize how powerful the decisions can be when they are connected to real-life situations.

1 -- Casinos R Us: the mathematics of gaming / gambling

2 -- Insurance? What, Me Worry? Delusion is not always the best mindset to maintain when you are trying to live your life in a sustainable way.

3 -- Felicific Calculus Redux: Death Panels, Hospice, and Cost-Benefit Analyses of Keeping Hope Alive -- What do Jeremy Bentham and the purveyors of health plans have in common?

4 -- Was Malthus Right? The Corn Revolution Did Not Count on Technologies of Seeds, Husbandry, and Finance

5 -- Urban Patterns: Why Urban Planning Matters, or, How So Much Crime Is Geographically Determined


This would be a 40-minute show (with commercial breaks, if you can find sponsors and advertisers) with 8 minutes per segment: the goal is to look at what people are doing, and to explore in a rather depthful way, what happens when one goes with the flow rather than hanging tough and enforcing an aggressively egalitarian view of competence and inclusion (essentially a meritocracy).

1 -- Twitter Backfire: What happens when you entrust your publicity to a person who is grammatically inept; the tweets erode your brand image!

2 -- Facebook Shame: Poor grammar, inadequate communication skills; your Facebook presence is suddenly a liability rather than an asset

3 -- Geographical Netherland: We try to go global, but it's not good when our employees think that Ecuador is in Africa.

4 -- Math Phobia Is No Longer Cool: A live feed of employees caught in painful math gaffes

5 -- The Leaderless Organization: Enlightened, Evolved, or Utterly Foolish?

Ratatat! I love it -- why not pull in music from MySpace and incorporate it as the reality soundtrack for reality elearning / education ... ??
My recommendation? Ratatat!! Please suggest your own (it's up to you...)

Find more artists like RATATAT at Myspace Music

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Interview with Paul Cypher, NP Training Works. E-Learning Innovator Series

Finding affordable ways for associations to provide elearning for their members can be a challenge. Professional development, lifelong learning, certification, and skills-building are important to the members. Welcome to an interview with Paul Cypher, NP Training Works, a provider of elearning services for not-for-profits.

1. What is your name and your relation to elearning?

I am Paul Cypher. I am President & CEO of NP Training Works. We have been in the eLearning business since August 2009. I have been a trainer and adjunct professor at Medaille College for many years and have many experiences with eLearning as both a teacher and learner.

2. What is NPTrainingworks? How did it get started? What is its goal / mission / vision?

The NP Training Works eLearning Partnership Program was designed specifically for the needs of National, State, Regional and Local associations who serve members. Our partnership model gives our partners the ability to meet their mission of providing outstanding professional development options while creating a new revenue stream. Their members have access to more than 600 courses specifically designed for them. We partner with leading content experts to offer courses in compliance, management, leadership, finance, accounting, computer programs, IT, media, design, personal development, fundraising, marketing, human resources, program development and more - all provided within a learning platform user interface that is straightforward and easy to use.

Our Learning Management System (LMS) is extremely user-friendly learning platform. Our partners’ members simply go to their home page where they manage their learning environment. Simple clicks take them to their courses and/or progress reports. Our highly interactive courses provide depth, allow for downloading of files and incorporate activities that address multiple intelligences.

Intuitive back-end management gives our partners all of the report functionality they need in a simple to navigate format. On their administrator profile page they access reports that provide them with the information they need to make great decisions as a Chief Learning Officer. All reports can be downloaded in Microsoft Excel format. And, on a quarterly basis, they receive up to 20% of the revenue from courses taken by their members. All we ask is that they promote their online learning program at conferences, on their website, and other places they promote professional development opportunities.

The NP Training Works partner process is simple. There is no initial or annual investment from our partners. They provide us with their brand elements – logo, color and images. We set up their branded LMS. Their members access the LMS through a link on our partners’ organizational website. After they register, members are provided with their own personal learning page where they access their courses and receive newsletters and other information from our partners.

Our staff has more than 90 years combined experience serving the nonprofit sector. Paul Cypher, President and CEO of NP Training Works, knows the challenges our partners face. As Vice President for Advancement at the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) he faced the challenge of trying to provide training opportunities for 20+ staff members on an annual training budget of less than $6,000. In 2001 he saw the same challenge magnified, when, as Executive Director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI), Cypher was tasked with providing training opportunities for 62 employees with an annual training budget of $25,000. As a consultant to nonprofit organizations he saw that many others faced the same challenges. It was very frustrating for him to see the immense need for training among a very dedicated staff and not have the resources to address that need.

As he discussed his frustration with hundreds of colleagues he quickly realized he was not alone. He spent years, researching a solution and came to the conclusion that the answer was available through affordable and available online training. In 2009 Paul started the business using his savings and investment from three partners with an affinity for the nonprofit sector. From 2009 until 2011 we built the LMS and tested the system with two initial clients, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the YMCA of Greater Rochester. The goal of NP Training Works is to provide the highest quality, latest and greatest learning opportunities at costs that are affordable to professionals in the nonprofit field. Below are our mission and vision.

3. What makes the LMS different than others? I noticed that your LMS has a special program for not-for-profits and associations. Could you explain?

I combined your number 3 & 4 questions because they are related in our mind. NP Training Works exists to meet the needs of nonprofit associations who want top-notch eLearning programs, but lack the staff expertise or financial resources to develop a system in-house. We are focused on a very specific market sector.

As you know, to develop an eLearning program institutions need to purchase an LMS (or implement an open source solution), then they need to pay for content development, and often they have to pay fees per user. In addition, they need staff to support the system or they need to pay for annual licensing/support fees. Often their customers are not comfortable navigating through the more complicated LMS systems that were primarily designed for instructor-led courses in a University setting.

According to a 2009 report by American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) most smaller businesses and nonprofits reported they would like a low-cost, easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain system. The LMS systems that were developed for Colleges and Universities are not offering what the small business and association clients need.

The learner interface needs, time and attention for a business and/or association is drastically different than it is for a University. Learners in a business/association environment want straightforward, easy access to their information in one central area. They don’t have time for extensive training on how to use the LMS or to search through a number of modules to get to information as the University Learner does. Systems designed with instructors and for the contact hours required for a 3-6 credit University course are far different from systems designed for the learning needs of someone who is trying to find and retain information for use in a business environment. In addition, the costs of a typical LMS is prohibitive for the association/business customer. According to the Association Learning Management Report the average three-year cost of implementation and maintenance of a traditional LMS is $59,450 for 500 users. For unlimited users the three-year cost average sky-rockets to $435,500. These systems require set up costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, and per-user fees that range from $8 - $64/user. While this cost structure is okay if you are charging a student $1,500-$5,000 per credit hour, it doesn’t work for associations and businesses who are trying to provide professional development opportunities for their employees and members at a reasonable cost.

There are no companies offering the partnership program model that NP Training Works offers. This model was created based on the knowledge and experience in the industry of our President & CEO, Paul Cypher, who has spent his entire career in the nonprofit sector. Our target markets are nonprofit associations and companies/organizations that serve nonprofit or for-profit businesses. Examples include Realtor Associations, payroll companies, nonprofit membership associations (i.e. Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and professional associations (i.e. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants). In addition to our LMS with an established course catalog we develop custom eLearning courses for our partners who have a need for specialized training. Our rapid development model offers a low-cost development option for our partners with the opportunity to earn revenue if the coursework can be added to our catalog and offered to others.

As stated previously, our model is simple. We have an established catalog of courses. Our partners receive a branded LMS at no cost. They promote the courses to their members. Our partner receives quarterly payments for their percentage of revenue from their members who take courses.

Here is a chart of our client process:

At our initial meetings we explain the NP Training Works partnership model and gain a thorough understanding of your professional development goals and objectives. You decide which path you want to follow; Partnership Program, Custom Instructional Design or a combination of both. We then present you with a project proposal.

When the proposal is approved we follow one, or both, of the project paths below.

Branded Marketing Partner

NP Training Works has developed a catalog of courses for nonprofit professionals. We take on all costs associated with course design and development, web hosting, eCommerce and customer support. There is no front-end cost or investment by you. The process is simple:

1. You list our courses and provide a link on your website or anywhere else you promote professional development opportunities.

2. You promote the courses to your membership and/or customers. We will attend your annual conferences to promote as well.

3. Your members are taken to a branded site with your logo where they enroll in a course.

4. We provide you with a quarterly report and check for 5-20% of the course fees from your members/customers.

Custom Instructional Design

1. We begin the Custom Instructional Design Process with a Discovery Meeting on your premises.

2. We utilize the ADDIE model of Instructional design—Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation—as a guideline for building effective training and performance support tools.

Our typical client process includes the following steps:
a. Project history, overview, and introductions
b. Purpose and objectives of the project
c. Audience Issues
d. Look and Feel - Functional / Branding Specs
e. Resource Analysis
f. Detailed Content Analysis
g. Review of Project Scope
h. Detailed Project Management Plan and Schedule developed

3. Implementation of Project Plan and Schedule

5. Many associations provide professional development and certification for their members. After students complete training, do you send the information to the association in a form that they can use for generating certificates and keeping track?

We have the ability to incorporate certificates for download in courses after the learner completes assignments. Our SCORM/AICC compliant LMS tracks learner information from the course, such as time spent, information viewed, and test/quiz results. These are stored within the reporting area of the LMS. Administrators from our partner organizations have the ability to view their reports in chart and table formats and download the information in Excel spreadsheets. Our system also offers an association to set up groups and allow group managers access only to the reports for the members of their groups, with the association administrator having access to reports for all learners in all groups. For instance, the administrator for the AZA has access to all learner reports for all zoos and aquariums groups under the AZA.

6. Do you maintain a talent management system? Do you have plans to do so? Can you work with associations to help them develop lifelong learning tracking for their members?

We are in the process of developing a talent-management system at this time. It will be released in the new version of the LMS within the next 18 months.

7. What is your philosophy of learning? How do you view your product and how does it reinforce what you consider to be the most effective way to develop one's professional skills and credentials?

NP Training Works’ learning approach and educational philosophy are grounded in the conviction that learning happens every day and everywhere, and you learn best by doing. We utilize sound learning techniques in a constructivist learning environment. Constructivism is a theory -- based on observation and scientific study -- about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through active experiences and reflecting on those experiences. We provide tools such as problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities with which you formulate and test your ideas, draw conclusions and inferences, and then put your conclusions into practice and share your findings with peers. Our educational philosophy transforms you from a passive recipient of information to an active participant in the learning process.i

To accomplish these learning objectives we immerse you in an active learning environment that incorporates cutting-edge technologies and interactive experiences, with a goal of improving your knowledge and confidence. We complete the process by connecting you with peers in our Social Network.

Our approach makes learning available anytime from anywhere in an effort to reduce travel, time, space and other barriers that get in the way of learning and restrict access. Our approach works best with learners who are motivated, have self-discipline and are actively engaged in your own learning outcomes as a means to your own personal and professional development.

NP Training Works educational philosophy views learning as a process and understands that learners have different needs. Therefore, our courses incorporate a variety of learning styles to accommodate the various learning preferences of each learner. We know that well-designed learning environments offer individualized learning experiences. To this end we utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy Learning Model when constructing our courses. Bloom demonstrated decades ago that most teaching tends to be too focused on fact-transfer and information recall - the lowest level of training - rather than true meaningful personal development. ii
NP Training Works instructional design incorporates interactive experiences to make learning powerful and fun. We create a learning environment that encourages exploration of new avenues of learning and allows you to better yourself and your organization. To do this we employ these strategies:

We bring the most knowledgeable experts to the learner. Our course instructors are consultants, professors and professionals with many years of experience and knowledge.
We build on your current knowledge. Our courses give you an edge by building on base courses and prior knowledge to help you expand your horizons and find new areas of learning.
We provide instruction that addresses multiple learning styles. We utilize exercises, hands-on practice, case studies, simulations, games, and discussion opportunities to diversify the learning experience and incorporate your learning preferences.
We encourage interaction and information sharing. Our Learning Connection site gives you the opportunity to share your own ideas, information, experiences and solutions with their peers.
We help you put your new learning into action. Our courses provide exercises and examples that encourage you, the learner, to put what you are learning into use immediately in your daily work life and in your organization.

8. Please share the name of a book you recently enjoyed.

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I have always been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln as a leader and person. This book delves into the strategy he used to bring his rivals into his cabinet and accomplish great things by working with other strong leaders who challenged his thinking. I really enjoyed the book because it encapsulated my view of the essence of a learning leader - to constantly stretch yourself and your modalities and learn from those around you, especially if they challenge you.

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