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Plugins (external and internal)

QMplus has many core tools and activities that come as standard (such as the assignment, quizzes and forum activities). However there are also several tools that have been created by developers (external third parties), which can be ‘plugged into’ the standard QMplus environment (known as plugins). These plugins offer additional functionality and can provide richer teaching and learning opportunities. However, any limitations of plugins cannot be fixed by the E-Learning Unit, as these will need to be updated by the external third party who has developed the plugin. Should a problem exist with the plugin that causes issues for the QMplus site, then the plugin may be removed from QMplus if the problem is not resolved.

Types of Plugins

There are different types of plugins available in QMplus:

  1. Core Plugins – These are plugins which come ‘out of the box’, that is, standard with a Moodle installation
  2. ULCC Approved Plugins – These have been evaluated and tested by our host provider, ULCC
  3. QMUL Plugins – These have been developed in-house
  4. 3rd Party Plugins – These have been developed by an external body – this could be a renowned organisation (E.g. Echo360 or Turnitin) or an individual developer or smaller company.

Before adopting (or developing) a plugin for QMplus, it is important that the University fully evaluates and tests its suitability and reliability. This is done through a collaboration between the E-Learning Unit and the IT Services teams and requires not only evaluating the plugin itself, but also testing its impact on the QMplus environment (e.g. does it interfere with other plugins or a previous version of the same plugin that is being used; will it impact performance or data security), as well as we will need to understand the implications in supporting the installation of the plugin in its current format and through future upgrades.

Although the plugin may provide a wealth of benefits for particular users of the system, if the ELU and ITS teams are not able to fully evaluate it then it would be prudent for the plugin to not be installed or for the installation to be delayed until full evaluation is possible. Also, if the plugin is installed, and later there are issues uncovered (such as during an upgrade) then the plugin will need to re-evaluated, and possible removed from QMplus.

Timeframe for Plugin Installations

Plugins will be evaluated (or developed), tested and potentially installed within one of three QMplus scheduled releases:

  1. Summer – during the annual upgrade
  2. Christmas
  3. Easter

There may be a possibility for a plugin to be installed at other points in the academic year, but only with good reason and if there is a minimal interruption to normal service required. These will typically be planned for either:

  1. Before start of term
  2. Reading Week

This will be done in exceptional circumstances only.

Requesting a Plugin

If a plugin has already been developed and is available in the Moodle community for QMUL to use, users can request for this plugin to be installed into the QMplus environment. Alternatively, users can request for a feature or functionality to be developed by a QMUL developer. Requests are best done by speaking with a member of the E-Learning Unit and can be raised via one of the following methods:

  1. Users can raise a ticket on Helpdesk, which will get routed to a member of the E-Learning Unit or an email can be sent to elearning@qmul.ac.uk
  2. Requests may come through a user forum (such as HSS, S&E or SMD E-Learning Users groups or the E-Learning Steering Group).
  3. Users can enter their requests on the QMplus request tracker (although speaking with a member of E-Learning first may be beneficial in helping us to understand your needs).

A member of the E-Learning Unit will normally meet with the requester to gain more information and discuss the feasibility of its installation or development. At this meeting, it is the responsibility of the requester to convince the ELU staff member about the usefulness of this plugin, especially for the QMplus user base for generally. A performa outlining some initial questions will be given/sent to the user to complete so that the ELU can make a more informed evaluation (sample questions below).

Criteria for evaluation

The E-Learning Unit will be looking for certain criteria when evaluating a plugin for development or installation. The criteria is based on those used by ULCC, which include:

  1. Functionality
  2. Uniqueness
  3. Security
  4. Sustainability
  5. Upgradeability
  6. Documentation
  7. Stability

The E-Learning Unit will also take into account the usefulness of the plugin – in terms of how widely the plugin can be used, both within the QMUL community as well as externally in the Moodle community.

Evaluation of the Plugin

Once the request has been made, the E-Learning Unit will evaluate and determine whether it is possible to implement for the next scheduled QMplus release or whether it can be developed by a QMUL developer if it does not already exist as a plugin.

Evaluation of existing plugins includes:

  1. Existing Documentation – is this a current plugin that has been updated for our version of Moodle?
  2. Existing tools – is there anything that can do what this plugin does that already exists in QMplus
  3. Support? IS support provided by a reputable organisation (such as Turnitin or Edho360) Who will support this plugin going forward? Is the ELU support team expected to take on support of this plugin or will the department be able to manage?
  4. Any reviews? Are there any existing (positive or negative) reviews about this plugin.
  5. Is it easy to use? Will Teachers need to be trained? Will Students?
  6. Will internal guides need to be produced?
  7. What would happen in future if it isn’t upgraded?

ITS will additionally evaluate

  1. Is it easy to install
  2. Is their documentation available on installation and troubleshooting
  3. Is it available via GIThub?
  4. Are there configuration issues
  5. Will it impact performance of QMplus (for instance does it rely on heavy data retrieval or usage)
  6. Will it impact storage?
  7. Will it affect other tools or plugins?
  8. Is there a roadmap for updates/improvements for future versions of Moodle?

 

Performa for Users:

Things to consider as the requester

  1. What are the Teaching and Learning benefits?
  2. What is the purpose of the plugin/development?
  3. Have you considered other features which already exist in QMplus?
  4. Has a plugin already been developed?
  5. Is there documentation for developers, for end-users? If so, please provide this or a link to it. Will documentation need to be created – Who will create it?
  6. Which system is this for – Mahara/Moodle?
  7. Business use – is it administrative? Who will be responsible for administering it, if needed (for example, will accounts need to be created for other users to use it, can it be deployed college-wide? Will other staff/students want to use it – and who will support them?)
  8. Who will use it? – can all staff can use it or will it need to be restricted to only certain faculties/schools?

 

Other Useful Information

This page covers the policy/guidance around requesting a plugin or development for QMplus. You might be interested in viewing existing QMplus plugins or reading through existing requests for plugins and development:

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