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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ajax Replacement Chat - an improved chat room for your Moodle 1.9 site

I was thinking about Moodle's chat module yesterday. I thought about how my Moodle 1.9.7 site's chat module could be improved. This post is all about chatting in Moodle. Ah yes, online chatting. A major addictive time-waster in most cases. Raise your hand if you have ever wasted more than an hour chatting with others online. My right hand is up. Along with games like Tetris, Lemmings, Counterstrike (pretty old games, I know), chatting is one big time sinkhole. Despite this, some academicians do use it in a controlled and constructive manner.

In this post, I show how you can improve your standard Moodle 1.9.x chat module with Ajax Replacement Chat (ARC, May 2010). If you surfed to this post looking for a chatroom for your Moodle course, you will feel like a kid in a candy store. Sorry to keep you in suspense, but I will reveal more about ARC in a moment. First, a brief review of some more-commonly known chat methods or modules currently available for Moodle. At least one is a commercial offering, whilst the others are free.


Standard Moodle 1.9 Chat Module




 

 Figure 1. The standard Moodle 1.9 chat

Some tutors feel that the standard Moodle 1.9 chat is too slow and that it is a bit of a resource hog. I seldom use it because I find it slow and sluggish. In additon, it opens up as a separate window. I prefer if the chat interface were embedded within a Moodle course page itself.



Shoutbox Block
I have tried several alternatives to the standard chat. Shoutbox is a very nice chat block for Moodle 1.9 - if I could get it to work again on my site! It has that layered cake colour effect and the user's name and profile icon is posted along with the text. Shoutbox is the creation of Anil Sharma.

Figure 2. The Shoutbox block. Nice touch, especially with the 
user's accompanying profile image.


Very nice. The only problem was for some reason, one day Shoutbox decided to go all buggy on me. After doing lots of mod installs and what not, I somehow managed to lose the usual colours. Later I couldn't even reinstall it. So I had to give up on a very good block. Pity really. If you are still using Shoutbox on your course page, then good for you. Maybe you don't need to read any further.


Chat modules at Moodle.org
A quick check at Moodle.org's Modules and Plugins page reveals 8 hits for the keyword "chat".

Figure 3. Chat modules listed in Moodle.org' Modules and Plugins page.

Banckle Live Chat
I haven't yet tried the third part Banckle Live Chat for two reasons. It's for Moodle 2.0 and I haven't upgraded my site to M2. Secondly, I couldn't figure out how to set it up. Just me goofing up I guess. I will keep this new kid on the block one for a future blog post.

 Figure 4. Bankle Live Chat. Part of a whole Cloud suite.
I haven't gotten my head around it yet.


Gmail-Like Chat
This interesting and useful block came in July 2011. Gmail-Like Chat was announced by Yedidia Klein. It allows two persons to chat online in private. The nice thing about it is that its Chat Console shows you who is currently online in a block. You can then click on the person's username to conduct a one-on-one private chat. It is the creation of the Israeli company named Atar and Plus, with graphics by Comverse.


Figure 5. Gmail-Like Chat for one-on-one texting. Nice.


Gmail-Like Chat is great, except that it doesn't (yet) handle group chatting. Perhaps one day.


123 Flash Chat
The 123 Flash Chat module looks promising and is chockful of features multimedia. It is a commercial product but you can get a free host here. You can also try the 123 Flash Chat demo here.

123Flash Chat is very cool. It has a very slick and nice interface. It feels very profesional and has a polished look. You can even embed Youtube videos inside a chat post (just like Chatango.com). How many chat widgets do you know that allow you to do that? Check it out. The only drawback I faced was that it took some time to initialise, but that should be a one time thing. My opinion is that this is a class chat product. Give it a try today!

Figure 6. 123 Flash Chat, a commerial product. Looks very flashy and it allows webcams.


Ianitsky Chat
I checkout Ianitsky Chat, but unfortunately, the download link was broken. So I couldn't try to see if it could work with my super state-of-the-art-NOT Moodle 1.9.7.


Figure 7. Ianitsky chat. I couldn't get it to work. A pity.



Ajax Chat Replacement

NOW WE COME TO THE MAIN MEAT OF THIS ARTICLE!
This is a replacement for the standard moodle chat. It requires no additional database tables (uses standard moodle chat fields). It is jquery/ajax driven and uses no frames. 
 
It has sounds and other options. Installs easily (see the read me file inside the zip dowload file). It works with Moodle 1.9x. Click here to get the latest Git repository file for this hack. The download link to the 17th January 2011 version is found here.


  Figure 8. The directory structure of the Ajax Replacement Chat mod. Notice the patch file?


Installation Instructions:


1. backup your entire mod/chat folder in case you want to restore the entire chat system
2. be sure to backup these files in your Moodle site:
  • mod/chat/view.php
  • mod/chat/settings.php
  • lang/en_utf8/chat.php
3. unzip the contents of the zip file into your moodle root folder (example /var/www/html/moodle)
4. apply the patch file with the command: patch -p0 < patch-ajax-chat-2011-01-17.patch
5. get the lang folder by downloading the older version chat_ajax_R16_2010-11-07.zip file
6. go to Notifications to install the new chat mod
7. go to Site Administration | Modules | Activities | Chat | Settings and change the Chat method to "Ajax Method"


 Figure 9. Changing the Chat settings so that Ajax Replacement Chat is activated



That's it! It should now work.

Figure 10. I managed to install Ajax Replacement Chat on my Moodle 1.9.7 site. It's a GREAT addition. Yippee!

To see this "new, faster and improved" chat in action, feel free to log on to my Moodle site here.
Use the following inputs:
Username: student
Password: moodle



If you compare the Ajax Replacement Chat to the standard "old" chat, you will notice that the text appears faster and the feel is more slick. This is what the standard Moodle chat module should be like! If in the past you felt that the standard chatroom was just too slow, why not give Ajax Replacement Chat a try?

Be warned: even though the text is posted faster compared to the standard chat module, many users logging onto the chat may bring your Moodle site to a crawl. User discretion is advised.

Question

Ajax Replacement Chat opens as a new window. What if you wanted a chatroom that was embedded right on your Moodle course itself - right within the topic or week? It is possible.

In my next two posts on this blog, I will show in detail the TWO alternative methods of adding a group chatroom directly inside your Moodle course page. The 99Chat.com chat widget and Free PHP Chat. To whet your appetite, you can demo them here. Use the following inputs:
Username: student
Password: moodle


One involves a free chat service that you can embed right into your Week or Topic section:

Figure 11. Embedding a chatroom inside your week or topic with 99. 
The figure shows a course that uses the Collapsible Topic format.
 


The other method uses free PHP code that you can host on your Moodle site. It is not dependent on any Web 2.0 service or third-party.


 Figure 12. Embedding a chatroom inside your week or topic.


The problem is this: how did I managed to get the chatroom to be embedded inside a topic or a week? Ah, that's my secret for now. You'll have to tune ...er...surf in next time to find out how I did it.

Both methods are fully customisable so that you get get them to blend into your site's theme. Better stillm both methods can be used on Moodle 2.x. More will be revealed in my later posts once I recover from writing this post. Heh. I would like to end by asking you these two questions:
Question1: How has your experience been with chatting on Moodle sites?

Question2: Do you use a different chat room service from what has I have mention in this post?

If you have a different chatting method, please share your experience. In the meantime, HAPPY MOODLING!

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