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Saturday, August 3, 2013

My first experience of FrogOS compared to Moodle - why can't we have Froodle?

Froodle.
Don't sue me.
I'm just dreamin' on.
You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one.

In today's post, I want to talk about my first experience of FrogOS. Previously I had only known about it from the local newspapers. And the only frogs I knew about were Frogger the Atari video game, HipHop from Cheaper By The Dozen, Kermit the Muppet, LeFrog from Flushed Away and Nanette from Gnomeo and Juliet.  I guess that you could say that I was a katak dibawah tempurung (Malay for frog beneath the coconut shell)! In Cantonese, we say mong cha cha (clueless). Now I know more about FrogOS and I want to take the opportunity to share what I know with you. But first, some background.



Malaysia is the first nation in the world to adopt a virtual learning platform called Frog VLE developed by FrogTrade. YTL Communications Sdn Bhd (YTL Comms) launched the Yes 4G Chromebook units by powered by YTL's 4G network in June 2013. In Malaysia, the FrogOS initiative is managed and administrated by FrogAsia. FrogOS is changing the education landscape of Malaysia with the multi-million pound contract with Malaysian government’s 1BestariNet project. In short, 10,000 state schools will be using FrogOS as the Virtual Learning Environment.

FrogTrade Ltd, the company behind Frog software and FrogOS, has garnered an impressive list of recognition and awards. Amongst them are:
  1. The EducationInvestor Awards 2013 - 14 November 2013 (Award finalists, category of Use Of Educational Technology)
  2. Bett Awards 2013 Winner (ICT company of the year in the over £3 million turnover category)
  3. 2013 Computerworld Awards (Finalist in the World-Good category of the for transforming teaching and learning in Malaysia)
  4. Education Investor Awards 2012 Winner (Virtual Learning Provider of the Year)
  5. Deloitte Technology Fast500 EMEA 2011 Winner (Ranked 32 out of 50 in revenue growth driven by technology innovation at 909% growth rate)
  6. Education Resources Award (ERA) Winner.


Recenly I was driving along the highway when I saw a FrogAsia billboard on the New Klang Valley Expressway with the tagline "Tomorrow's Education Today". I was curious to know more about FrogOS. In my desire to get up close and personal with this new-fangled Learning Management System, I surfed over to http://www.frogtrade.com. FrogTrade's Sales and Marketing Coordinator, Nic Wojtowycz, set up an online appointment for me to experience, first-hand, a demo of FrogOS. It is a complete rebuild and the Cloud-based version of the previous version of Frog software, Frog 3.0.

The demo took place over a Friday night at 11pm Malaysian time. Nic used a combination of Skype and Join.Me to walk me through the system. In today's post, I want to relate my experience of using FrogOS and to share my first impressions of it. I want to also give my opinion of FrogOS in comparison to Moodle. The purpose of this post is not to exalt one LMS at the expense of the other. Rather, I would like to share certain things that Moodle can learn from FrogOS and what FrogOS can learn from Moodle. By the way, in this post, when I mention Moodle, I am referring to Moodle 2.5.

FrogOS Dashboard

Right of the bat in the online demo, I noticed that FrogOS had a very slick interface! For basic actions like adding files or quizzes, it is very easy to use. Almost everything is point and click, and click and drag. Very Blogger-like and Google Docs-like. Frog's widget icons look new and shiny. Lots of abstraction is involved which isolates the non-techie user from the details.

Frogs, everywhere.
A safe and filtered Google-Youtube environment.
Less file management needed by the user.


For example, adding an image or video through the google-Youtube image-video interface thingy means that the user's file management actions are largely simplified. I also had a view of the Quiz system which I felt was functional but there were only four types of quizzes. Namely, Free format text, True/False, Multiple Choice and Multiple Choice Images. I learnt how sites could be setup and shared with others.

In the half hour demo, I got a flavour of Frog OS, and so I don't profess to know very much about the intermediate and advanced capabilities or power-user features. Now I do want to give my opinion on how Frog compares to Moodle. I'll take a deep breath and start.

Mouth-watering graphics
and graphical user interface


Interface-wise, I know that Frog beats Moodle 2.5. Hands-down. Those Frog screens are so crisp and clear, colourful and scrumptious. Check out those shiny widget icons.

Usability-wise, Frog again beats Moodle 2.5. It's simple to use. Most changes are updated on the fly without any screen refreshing - very Facebook-like. The menus are clear and the options shown are not superflous. The options shown to the user are enough to get the job done. In the Moodle training sessions that I have conducted, I realise that novice or first time users feel uneasy with the multitude of options available to them. This is evident from the frown on their faces when they see so many text options to learn. Case in point, Moodle's Adminstrative menu. I don't have the facts to back this up, but I bet that Frog has a higher percentage of non-techie users adopting it after the initial training sessions, compared to Moodle.

Social Networking-feature wise, Frog makes it easy to share sites among students in larger Frog cloud network of 10,000 schools. Well, Moodle has Moodle.net (previously known as MOOCH) that connects you with free content and courses shared by Moodle users all over the world. Moodle.net allows you to download other Moodle site's course content and to install it on your site. As of 3rd August 2013, Moodle.net has 189 enrollable courses and 146 downloadable courses. However you need to have Admistrator rights to download those courses. Frog users can share content with others on the Frog Network. In my humble and unbiased opinion, Frog beats Moodle.

Content-creation-wise, Frog makes it easier for teachers and students to create content. Fast. I can see that tech-illiterate newbie teachers or students in a Frog training session, smiling to themselves and saying "I can do this!". Frog has Blogger-like and GoogleDocs-like interface to add widgets via drag and drop. It takes me up to an hour to setup and test the Facebook-like Wall on a Moodle site. In Frog, you just drag and drop a Wall widget with a flick of the wrist and mouse. All it takes is 3 seconds and your Frog Wall is ready to use. Fantastic!
              My feeling about FrogOS is non-tech teachers, with limited time on their hands to do website admin work, will enjoy using FrogOS. I enjoyed creating a Mahara dashboard, and I am sure that teachers will feel the same, if not more, about customising their own dashboard in FrogOS. The FrogOS eye-candy is great and highly functional. Students too, will enjoy using Frog because of the Mahara-like features of drag and drop widgets and the Frog dashboard.

Gamification-wise, FrogOS has it in the form the newly acquired "I Am Learning,: Success" a UK company. I Am Learning: Success. The company, under the two young technopreneurs and directors, Michael Wilkinson and Steve Holt, uses free and subscription-based games and mobile apps to motivate learners. The gamification of the LMS facilitates effective homework, revision and exam practice whilst promotes independent learning. This is a major factor in increasing Student Learning Time (SLT) among students. The homework is self-marking with "meaningful reports with detailed gap analysis to identify weaknesses, monitor progress and help improve learning outcomes". Very interesting stuff indeed. Moodle of course has moved forward in leaps and bounds with conditional activities, activity completion and stamps and Open Badges. Can we have more 'addictive' games within Moodle that serve as motivation for students to keep trying the quizzes and in the process, learn more?

Structured Repository. FrogOS has its own version of GooglePlay or iTunes, called (what else?) FrogStore. Students and teachers can now rate an item after adding it to their Library. Users can also find out what others in the 1Bestari network are recommending. Free widgets abound, some widgets are paid-versions. This is pretty cool.

Just 4 quiz question types.
Enough to create assessments but
not as engaging as Moodle's large stable of question types.

On the flipside, FrogOS has a limited range of quiz question types. Just four, compared to Moodle's thirty five. Moodle has some really nice tools like PDF submission annotation. There's nothing like that yet in FrogOS. FrogOS developers, take note! So in terms of comparing the range pedagogical tools and activites available, I believe that Moodle wins big time and hands-down. IMHO, it wasn't even close. There is no reason why FrogTrade, with its huge resources, cannot close the gap here with the leaders.

In my opinion, FrogOS is the choice for organisations that
  1. can afford to and are willing to pay the package costs (I suppose that after comparing the Total Ownership Costs of using FrogOS with the TOC of other LMSes, the rate can be or is attactive)
  2.  have a large majority of non-techie users
  3.  and want their workforce or students to actively create content, fast, with minimal training.
  4. want to leverage on mobile devices to access information. FrogTrade and FrogOS has big plans for mobile E-Learning on tablets and smartphones this year (2013).
Okay, now for Moodle. First off, some perspective on Moodle compared to other LMSes based on a survey by Capterra in October 2012 (as reported by Jospeh Thibault of www.moodlenews.com):

The Top 20 Most Popular LMS Software Solutions
© 2012 Capterra, Inc.

Capterra is in Arlington, Virginia, USA. If you noticed, FrogOS was not listed. Perhaps FrogOS wasn't marketted in that part of the world back in October 2012? I don't know.

So, how does this make me feel about Moodle, then? At the moment, Moodle is ideal for me for the following reasons:
  1. The software is free, and free to download. I can setup an unlimited number of Moodle sites for 'free'. read the Appendix section below to understand why I put single quotation marks aroung the word free.
  2. I have the skills to download, install, manage and customise Moodle
  3. At the moment, I have access to a "free" dedicated server which means I am paying nothing to host my Moodle site.
  4. I have access to the advice and help from the Moodle Community on Moodle.org's forums - a huge base of a world-wide users and developers who have made Moodle what it is.
  5. Moodle is Open Source, which means that the PHP code is fully customisable and I can knead, fold and hack the code to do almost anything I want to.
  6. Moodle's quiz system, mostly created by Open University, UK, is second to none. You can create a rich and wide variety of online assessments!  Quiz question types include:
    • Variable numeric - allowing random numbers, variables and expressions within questions
    • Drag and drop into text - enabling words to be dragged into sentences, lists and tables
    • Pattern match - providing sophisticated response matching features
    • Marker - enabling markers to be placed on images
    • Opaque - allowing the connection of external question engines
    • Cloze questions
    • Drag and drop arrange sequence of items in the proper order
    • And so many more! In fact Moodle lists at least 35(!) different question types available from the plugins webpage.
  7. Moodle gives me many plugins and pedagogical tools to install and use on my site. For example, I can do E-Marking of assessment via PDF uploads and annotation (plugin by Davo Smith). At the moment, Frog OS has nothing like this. There are Moodle plugins for second-marking, real-time quizzes, and the list goes on.
  8. I wouldn't have learnt about PHP and MySQL if Moodle weren't so darn customisable.

In my humble opinion,
  1. FrogOS is the platform of choice for the entity that can afford to pay the package rates, and that wants to empower its staff and students to create content quickly and with minimal training. It also shines in Social Networking side. However, I do wonder what happens to users who become or who already are Frog power-users. For example, will the four basic quiz types that Frog OS offers be enough for their needs? What if they want a certain feature of Frog OS to be implemented in the code? I am sure that they can give feedback to FrogTrade, U.K., so that future versions of Frog OS can be enhanced by including those requested features. For the majority, among whom are government-school teachers with many things already on their plate, they will find Frog a breath of fresh air.
  2. Moodle is the platform of choice for the organisation, company or institute that wants an Open Source LMS that can be modified to its hearts content. Moodle is absolutely sterling in its richness of plugins, blocks, filters, themes and user contributed code. Most are available for free and customisable. Almost anything I can do in terms of content creation and assessment in Frog OS, I can do in Moodle. For now, the opposite cannot be said. There are many plugins in Moodle for which there is no equivalent in Frog. Case in point are the multitude of Moodle quizzes available, Marginalia forum post annotation, teacher e-comments and e-annotation of students' PDF file submission, Second Marker system, Realtime Clickers-like quizzes and many more. Moodle is a teacher-technologist's dream come true. Free code, hackable and fully-customisable. However, what percentage of the teaching staff in a non-computing faculty, have such skills to hack code, to install the latest Moodle plugins, and to manage and maintain the school's Moodle server and enviroment? Frog OS is cloud-based with no server for the user to maintain.

I believe that Moodle's archille's heel is in its interface and usability issues. For example in Moodle 2.5, you need click the mouse more than a few times to merely duplicate a label. In my experience, getting IT-challenged staff to use Moodle for their work or teaching is not easy. It involves a lot of work to win over the masses. Perhaps it's just me. I can see the benefits of Moodle, but how can I get this across when teachers are dealing with multiple mouse clicks, screen refreshes to update data on the screen, text options, and many displayed Menu options - some of which will not be used, but only serve to frighten the already sceptical. Click this interesting post on Moodle.org to understand what I mean. But Moodle is getting better. Every six months or less, the next version of Moodle will be released. Each release improves on the previous version. The user interface of Moodle has seen major improvements and is continuing to improving over time.

In conclusion
How I wish that Frog OS and Moodle HQ could combine forces to produce a joint-collaboration LMS named Froodle(!). Such a LMS would have the strengths and benefits of each other. Frog OS would have the richness of activites and user-customisation of source code, and Moodle would more social networking with better notifications and dashboards, be less clunky, have more shine and slickness in its interface, and have a good acceptability and better usability. Alas, there is no such thing as Froodle. At least Moodle can learn from Frog OS' strengths and subsequent success in Malaysia and the U.K., and FrogTrade can add a variety of powerful pedagogical plugins and cater for power-users' needs by provinding a plethora of activites, widgets, blocks and filters.

Making Moodle a culture in an organisation can be done with proper planning, training and getting them to experience and to buy-in the benefits of using the latest Moodle. At best, in my opinion, this is an uphill task for the Moodle evangelist within an organisation. I say this because there are many alternative LMSes that are slicker, have nicer-looking interfaces, background images and icons, are totally cloud-based, have better social networking and more impressive notification system. These LMSes hold an attraction for the majority of IT-challenged teachers or novice-casual LMS users in terms of ease-of-use, faster content creation, social networking fun and overall acceptability. FrogOS is not one of them, FrogOS is the shape of the future, NOW.

regards
Frankie Kam

APPENDIX
Is Moodle really free? It is interesting to note that Jeffrey Roth argues that Moodle is not free, rather it may cost up to US$72,000 a year depending on what you want to do with Moodle in an organisation and how many users the server is estimated to support. Jeffrey takes into account initial install and setup, CSS site branding, customization, content creation, hosting, IT staffing, training of users, site maintenance and upgrades, authentication to enable single sign-on with the school's website and adding communities and social networking components. To be honest, the cost of setting and maintaing a Moodle site can be as low you want to be, or as high as you want it to be, depending on what you want the site to do and to have.

Other interesting FrogOS-Moodle (well, mostly FrogOS) related links on the Net
Frog wins Education Investor Award for Virtual Learning Provider of the Year
An Interview with Michael Wilkinson and Steve Holt of I am learning: Success  
Free internet for all schools in Malaysia through MOE project
Switching over from Moodle to Frog 
12 Common Complaints about Learning Management Systems (LMS)
Frog OS First Peek
FrogAsia's blog
I Am Learning game-based assessments
Frog '13 Celebrating Outstanding Education
FrogOS anyone seen it?
VLE Comparison by EdTech
Moodle and its GUI - on Moodle.org
Gareth Davies' Wordpress blog

Dislaimer
I have no affliliations with FrogTrade or FrogOS other than being a VLE enthusiast and a Moodle hacker/developer/blogger. My views expressed here are mine and are not necessarily that of other organisarions or entities.



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