Verify if learning management systems would really help the students to deliver better results or not.

| November 27, 2012



ABSTRACT

Education is the essence of life and to grasp the things quickly is more important. Learning management systems is one such tool which are adopted by a number of institutions and organizations to train their students and employees to grasp the knowledge as and when it is required rather than to wait for the trainer. Online education is the latest buzzword and schools like MIT, WAYNE and others have already implemented various online educational degree programs for their students, which ensure they can learn even from the remote corner of the world.  The growth of these online educational programs has given raise to a number of tools and it is very important for us to understand which tool delivers us better results.  Tools like Blackboard and WebTV, which are a huge success, is a costly affair. So, an alternative method should be identified to reduce the cost and still provide the same level of quality education, which these tools provide.

In this dissertation, I’ll try to compare all the alternatives of Blackboard like MOODLE, ATUTOR and CLAROLINE and will detail my decision-making and testing process capabilities to come up which would be a better alternative solution. Also, to get the better results, I’ll also compare the user output and user satisfaction results and will calculate how the user experience is.

CHAPTER 1.0 INTRODUCTION

A number of learning management system tools have come into market today. Almost all the technologies provide same features with their own user interface. With so many learning management systems around in the market today, it is very important to understand which learning management system should one go for and what would be the reasons for choosing that LMS technique. Factors like user interface, ease of functioning, the number of additional features available in the systems, ability to easily understand are some important factors which I would like to discuss as a part of this research. A number of comparative studies about blackboard and other learning management systems are already available in the market but there are very few which actually compared the technical features of both the systems. Also, the learning effectiveness of the systems was never compared and thus, I’ll take these two points as my main agenda along with providing the user experience results as well.  Before jumping into the dissertation and the study, let us in the next section understand as to what has been effectively achieved so far. The next section helped me to identify what has already been done and I’ve used some of the already existing features to do my study on user experience as well. Overall, combining the existing techniques with the technical review of the learning management systems which I’ve presented, I tried to prepare a comprehensive document to the best of my abilities to list out all the differences and provide an overview to the users

1.1 BACKGROUND

Kathy Munoz and Joan Van Dozer from California state university in Humboldt presented a paper in which they provided the survey conducted on a set of students about online courses [1]. For this survey, they selected a group of 35 students from various backgrounds and various fields and gave them an instructional course for online learning modules. The main aim of this survey was to verify if learning management systems would really help the students to deliver better results or not. Though the data provided in this survey was raw, the main objective, which is to identify the user response, was successfully achieved and it was concluded that learning management systems would surely help the students to gain good amount of knowledge as they gain in any classroom sessions. Next the target for the author was to compare different learning management systems and the second part of the survey had a number of questions related to look and feel and the ease of the application. At the end of the survey, there was no clear winner as there were few students who preferred MOODLE and there were few who preferred BLACKBOARD. Also there were many features, which had different answers from the students. Few people who preferred MOODLE were interested in the ease of use and few students who preferred BLACKBOARD were amassed by the amount of courses it had. So, at the end of the survey, though no substantial evidences were made, the support for MOODLE was marginally higher when compared to BLACKBOARD, as this is a free open source product unlike BLACKBOARD

David Bremer and Rueben Bryant [2] have conducted one more survey and provide their presentations in International Open source LMS conference in 2004 that is more or less similar to the first paper. The only different which they had ensured is that this time around the group of students whom they have chosen already had the knowledge of BLACKBOARD and they were working only on MOODLE and the authors wanted to confirm if MOODLE provide all the features which BLACKBOARD provided or not and if this is an effective alternative to MOODLE or not.  At the end of the conference, authors concluded the presentation saying that MOODLE functionalities were almost as good as BLACKBOARD if not better and the advantage for this is the open source availability.

From both the papers, we understood that one of the driving features, which are forcing the people to move towards MOODLE, is the open source availability. So, at this point of time, it was not concluded if MOODLE is preferred only because it is open source or will that be preferred when some other open sources will come into account or not. Also, from both the papers, I understood that though MOODLE was preferred, there is no clear winner amongst them. In this dissertation, I’ll try to do a similar research and I’ll provide the users with multiple open source options like CAROLINE, ATUTOR along with MOODLE and will now compare them all using qualitative as well as quantitative analysis.

The main challenge for us in this dissertation is to understand all the learning management systems in this limited span of time and to effectively evaluate them with the features, which it provides and I’ll try to provide the results to the best of my abilities.

1.2 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

The aim of this dissertation is to identify the best learning module system which will give a tough fight to blackboard which is more costly when compared to open source systems and provide a brief overview of the entire open source learning management systems which can be used much effectively for less cost. Below are the objectives

1)      To evaluate the open source technologies like MOODLE, CAROLINE and ATUTOR and give a brief overview as to which one is better

2)      To identify the differences between these learning management systems and which platform has all the sources

3)      To identify which application is better suited with the ease of understanding

4)      To create a survey and provide our results and compare which one is poised better to help the users to learn the application

5)      Which will provide more information amongst all these learning management systems?

6)      Which system has better user interface to interact to the users when required?

7)      Which system provides all the functionalities, which an online student requires?

8)      Which system has the capability to teach everything, which the user is expecting and can, built on the artificial intelligent quotient to make the life of the user easy?

9)      Which system the users if given an option will prefer?

If I can find a solution to all these questions by doing qualitative as well as quantitative analysis, I would conclude that the objective of the dissertation is completed.

1.3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The overall dissertation will be a combination of both qualitative as well as quantitative analysis. To do qualitative analysis, I’ll install these machines on my system and will start using it and to do quantitative analysis, will prepare questionnaire sessions with the users who actually who worked on it and will collect data from them. To complete the dissertation, a number of analysis features and data calculations with respect to the effectiveness of the application, responsiveness, ease of use, the advantages and disadvantages and many other features were compared amongst all the learning management systems. Once the comparison was done, in the next level, the results were prepared into graphs and graphical results were then verified. With these graphical results, we tried to understand which open source network was the best for using. I’ll follow a descriptive analysis strategy with my inputs from a developer’s point of view to further support my research and this would also be accompanied by content analysis of the survey results

1.4 CHAPTER PREVIEW

The rest of the chapters in this dissertation are self explanatory. In the second chapter, I’ll briefly explain about various learning management systems which I’ll need to understand before comparing and the third chapter will mainly concentrate on comparing blackboard with MOODLE. Once I compare blackboard and MOODLE, the fourth chapter will put the remaining focus on comparing MOODLE with CLAROLINE AND ATUTOR. Thus by the end of the fourth chapter, I’ll get an overall view about various learning management systems. The fifth chapter will be concentrating on gathering the user experience results with the web questionnaire which I’ve presented and this will be followed by the discussion and conclusion to close the dissertation.


CHAPTER 2.0 LITERATURE REVIEW

This section will mainly concentrate on different learning management systems, which I’ll be comparing in this dissertation. The first of the lot would be started with MOODLE followed by ATUTOR and CAROLINE. Before concluding, I’ll also briefly explain about Blackboard to which we are trying to compare all these learning management systems.

2.1 MOODLE

This is the first and foremost learning management system, which came as a competitor for BLACKBOARD, and an open source system. Modular Object oriented Dynamic Learning Environment popularly known as MOODLE as said is a free open source software platform which came as a competitor to BLACKBOARD and has almost all the features which BLACKBOARD provides. It is also known as the virtual learning environment (VLE) or Course Management system as students from all over the world can learn virtually sitting in their home and can manage the courses via Internet. A survey conducted by Virtual learning MOODLE organization provided the stats in which they MOODLE already has 49,952 registered users into their account and is serving more than 37 million users with over 4 million courses worldwide [3].

Developed by MARTIN DOUGIAMAS based on Blackboard to create a new environment for the users to learn and share the knowledge for free, the main aim of this application was to interact with other users and share the knowledge and content though internet and pass the information to one and all who wants it without any fuss by a simple means.

MOODLE Pty Ltd is the headquarter for this software application development firm located in Western Australia in Perth and all the development for this application takes from that development centre.  Along with this, there is also a MOODLE community which is again an open source blogging network where in more than a million customers through out the world are registered and keep in touch with MOODLE development team constantly wherein they share the new ideas, development blogs, code snippets and useful information for the development of MOODLE.  The reason why MOODLE has be developing rapidly is because of the amount of support they are getting from all these users who are part and parcel of MOODLE module development program wherein the developers can add additional modules to the existing system to improve the features of the application. Thus, with the help of these users who are located internationally, though the main branch is rooted in Australia, it was able to develop rapidly with a number of modules and best features.

With its rapid development and ever increasing features, it has a number of features, which are considered to be the core set of requirements for any learning management system. Few features of MOODLE are [5]

1)      Assignment Submission functionality through which students can submit the assignments to the concerned tutors

2)      Discussion forum in which blogging and discussion topics can be opened and students can share the information and knowledge

3)      Files Downloading capability through which we can download all kinds of files which are shared by the tutors as well as the other students based on the permission levels of the module

4)      Online training calendar in which you can see all the training courses and also create your own timings and schedule

5)      Online news and announcements in which we can keep track of the latest things happening on MOODLE and also any new things to learn

6)      Online Quiz programs within the students to improve your learning skills and to bring competitiveness

7)                  Wiki to provide all the information which the students require

Non-Core developers who work for the development of MOODLE via the community by creating add-on modules have a number of methods in which they can add the functionalities. MOODLE by default accepts a number of different plug-ins which are given below

1)      Activities (A number of fun filled activities as plug-ins for word and mathematical number games)

2)      Different resource types

3)      Different questions like multiple choice questions, descriptive questions, blanks and options can be enabled

4)      Graphics module is present to add graphical plug in

5)      Users can add data fields to make database related changes

6)      Has a built in authentication module to add authentication requirements

7)      Has a built in enrolment module to make use of

8)      Content filters which is specifically designed for MOODLE and which blackboard doesn’t have [4]

There is a number of Third Party MOODLE Plug-ins, which makes use of all these built in infrastructure for their internal learning management systems [6]. With this, I’ll stop the MOODLE topic and will move to the next topic, which is ATUTOR

2.2 ATUTOR

Like MOODLE, ATUTOR is yet another open source learning management system and is a web-based application. ATUTOR defines itself as a Learning Content Management System and has more or less the same features, which MOODLE provides. ATUTOR is useful in providing courses to various students in management, professional development courses, career development courses, research oriented courses, short-term training and long-term technical training sessions etc. [7]. When compared with MOODLE, ATUTOR stands tall on the accessibility features which it provides as this is one of the few learning management systems which can help the visually impaired and disabled learners as well with its voice recognition system and built in voice module.

The American Society for Training and Development [8] termed ATUTOR as on of the best online Learning Management systems for open source development due to its distinguished concept of helping the visually impaired people and is branded internationally. ATUTOR provides educational courses in 15 different languages internationally and also can support more than 40 additional languages with its built in language toolbar and is also further planning to develop its application to other languages [9]

ATUTOR is deemed as the first learning management system, which follows the World Wide Web consortium 1.0 protocols and has a rating of AA+. It provides access to the users as per the specification of W3C WCAG 1.0 specifications and manages the administrator account with additional security [10]. Its ability to link up and work in co-ordination with XHTML 1.0 will also ensure that ATUTOR can display consistent set of results with any applications and is compatible with any technologies

As described before two features which ATUTOR has and which ensures it is different from other learning module system is its ability to train the visually impaired people with its built in text alternative methods for all the visual elements on the screen and its special features to access the keyboard to all the elements of the program. This will ensure that a blind person can listen to the subject with a screen reader and there is no further requirement of any external devices like mouse to scroll down, as the system would automatically take care of everything. Thus, even devices like PDA’s and TOUCH Pad’s are trying to build ATUTOR as one of its built in module. The next LMS, which I’ll be describing here, is about CAROLINE.

2. 3 CAROLINE

Last but not the least; CAROLINE is another learning management system or otherwise known as the E-learning system which is helpful for the teachers. This learning management system is known as the Teacher for Teachers and is also a web based learning management tool, which follows all the principles of W3C regulations.  It’s built in content management system will allow all the administrators to create online courses which can be accessible via the web browsers. Few important operations of CAROLINE are

1)      Its ability to allow the users to publish all kinds of documents like HTML, Word, PDF and others

2)      Its ability to provide various public as well as private discussion forums for the users based on their level of authentication

3)      Its link management system

4)      Assigning the users to groups and keeping them as a bunch and also its ability to create groups

5)      Its ability to create different exams and exercises online

6)      Its ability to schedule the task deadlines and keep a continuous track of the time

7)      Online announcements and featured blogs availability

8)      Built in assignment module submission

9)      Keeping itself updated continuously

Along with the above functionalities, the following features also make CAROLINE one of the most used LMS today

2.3.1 FEATURES OF CLAROLINE

  1. Different approach to other VLE’s. the courses are broken down into component elements, and then published on the site under separate areas (announcements, exercises, chats, resources, links etc)
  2. Students have the full flexibility in the order that they undertake the elements of the course
  3. Whether they are exercises or required reading, discussions, or similar
  4. Categorised links feature for the both students and course administrators to manage relevant URLs
  5. Ability for course administrators to set the exercises and assign completion deadlines
  6. Ability to upload video files for the use of course resources

2.4 BLACKBOARD

A discussion will not be completed unless we understand the concepts of blackboard. This is the first learning management system which was implemented and everything was based on this. So, blackboard simply can take all the credit for introducing new technology to this world. Also known as the WEBCT, blackboard is a virtual learning system which is a commercial application sold to a number of colleges and organizations for providing E-learning capabilities.  It is a significant step in the world of learning as this was the first step for a virtual learning environment and is used by more than 10 million people across the world [11]. Developed by the Murray Goldberg from British Columbia University in the year 1995, on his continuous thirst to implement a new web based learning management system to provide better student learning management capabilities and to spread learning across the globe, finally WEBCT was developed in 1996 as a small application which would do this.

A lot of development was carried forward for this there on and  added a number of features to it. Few important functionalities of BLACKBOARD are

1)      Assignment Submission functionality through which students can submit the assignments to the concerned tutors

2)      Discussion forum in which blogging and discussion topics can be opened and students can share the information and knowledge

3)      Files Downloading capability through which we can download all kinds of files which are shared by the tutors as well as the other students based on the permission levels of the module

4)      Online training calendar in which you can see all the training courses and also create your own timings and schedule

5)      Online news and announcements in which we can keep track of the latest things happening on MOODLE and also any new things to learn

6)      Its ability to allow the users to publish all kinds of documents like HTML, Word, PDF and others

7)      Its ability to provide various public as well as private discussion forums for the users based on their level of authentication

8)      Its link management system

9)      Assigning the users to groups and keeping them as a bunch and also its ability to create groups

10)  Its ability to create different exams and exercises online

11)  Its ability to schedule the task deadlines and keep a continuous track of the time

12)  Online announcements and featured blogs availability

13)  Built in assignment module submission

14)  Graphics module is present to add graphical plug in

15)  Users can add data fields to make database related changes

16)  Has a built in authentication module to add authentication requirements

17)  Has a built in enrolment module to make use of

Thus, with all these features, BLACKBOARD has become one of the most cherished online learning management tools. The only problem with this tool is the fact that it is not an open source system and is commercial software. To purchasing the license will surely cost the organizations a certain amount.

With this, I’ll conclude my literature review and in the next chapter, will concentrate on identifying the differences between blackboard and MOODLE as a first part.

 

CHAPTER 3.0 BLACKBOARD VS MOODLE

Blackboard being the first learning management system created in the market, it can be easily said that the rest of the applications will follow blackboard with some additional features. MOODLE was the first learning management system which actually gave a big fight to blackboard by making learning management system open source software. Being open source system, the development was going on rapidly in this application and as a result of this; there were a number of features implemented in MOODLE which turned out to be better than blackboard. So, in this particular chapter, I’ll concentrate on comparing blackboard with MOODLE on a number of factors.

To give a simple overview before going into the comparison, blackboard is a learning management system which is used by the instructors to upload the information of the course and related materials. All the details related to it and exams can also be uploaded via this application. It allows discussion between students and has the below given features which are the most important

1)      Mainly implemented for helping tutors and thus, will be driven by teachers for the content delivery

2)      Mainly used for primary and secondary education and for large classroom environments

3)      Has a lot of built in courses which would help the students

4)      Is not an open source and henceforth, has licensing fee

MOODLE on the other hand is an open source learning management system also used to create an online educational community and to share and improve the learning capabilities of the students or educators across the world.  it is an easily downloadable application which will provide links with online community and the main focus of this application is on

1)      mainly used to deliver the information of the course and whereabouts

2)      used for sharing, group tasks, collaborating, communicating and conducting online quizzes for enhancing the learning capabilities of the students

3)      provides the ability to the users to further develop the application

4)      is an open source software

Both the LMS systems have some common features and in the next section, I’ll provide the similarities of these two applications

3.1 SIMILARITIES

  • Both the systems will provide the facility to enrol students into the courses
  • Has the abilities to restrict the users based on the applications they are registered to
  • Has the ability to customize and show the contents as per the requirements
  • Provide facilities to the tutors and students to upload informative documents for sharing like word, PDF etc
  • Provides the capabilities to link to external web applications for data collection and information
  • Has a built in discussion forms for discussing about the topics
  • Has a built in chat messenger to communicate across the world
  • Has the ability to create quizzes and exams online to improve knowledge
  • Will provide the course contents to the students as and when required and has the ability to zip and write it on CD as well
  • Has a built in calendar to keep track of all the activities
  • Will provide monitoring functions and can copy the contents of the course from semester to semester basis
  • S.C.R.O.M compliant

3.2 BASIC DIFFERENCES

Now, the above mentioned features are few common features which I’ve observed in both the systems whilst trying to figure them out. In the next section, I’ll try identifying the differences which is the most important part of this dissertation.  The most important differences which I’ve identified are bandwidth, learning curve, discussion capabilities, tools, customization facility, and the stats of the users along with cost of the application. Below are the differences which I’ve identified

  • MOODLE application works on the dial up features whereas blackboard works on the hog of the bandwidth and thus, has a chance to timeout. So, the bandwidth capabilities of MOODLE are better when compared to blackboard
  • Discussion board threads in MOODLE application are nested and photos can be shared whereas blackboard doesn’t allow nesting of threads. Only one post can be seen at a point of time which makes the life difficult
  • MOODLE with its open source facilities have a number of tools like blogs, Wiki, workshops, journals, glossary sections whereas on the other end, Blackboard just has a teacher instructed training course like whiteboard.
  • The customization in MOODLE is far easier and can be done by any student or the user whereas blackboard being a licensed application, this is not possible
  • MOODLE maintains a built in chart about the details of the users and the number of visits they have made whereas blackboard doesn’t have any feature like that. The only feature which hit has is to identify the amount of time spent by each student on a particular page
  • Last but not the least; MOODLE is a freeware whereas blackboard is a licensed application.

Below is the picture which shows the differences in a tabular format

FIGURE 1 MOODLE VS BLACKBOARD

Other than these common features, other important difference which I’ve identified between MOODLE and blackboard is the format of the course.  In MOODLE, when I initially tried to select a course under the list of courses in my courses section, it took me to a separate homepage with a number of options named topics, weekly and social.  On the other hand, when doing the same thing in blackboard, it gave me a fixed format in which the LMS would work. Some set of organizations and sub categories to which we can get into are listed based on the restrictions. This means that MOODLE has a lot more flexibility when compared to Blackboard. The format in MOODLE is totally dependent on the choice of instructor and can be handled via administrator section. Below is the sample default initial interface for both MOODLE and blackboard

FIGURE 2 MOODLE INITIAL INTERFACE

FIGURE 3 BLACKBOARD INITIAL INTERFACE

Though the initial interface can be defined in a number of ways based on the requirements of the administrator, the basic view will be shown as given above

Now that we know what the initial interface looked like, in this section, I’ll explain about various terms and what they refer to from the initial screenshot. For this, we need to understand the screenshots much better.  The below screenshot will show the student view of MOODLE application.

FIGURE 4 MOODLE STUDENT INTERFACE

From the above diagram, you could see that the most important parts of the MOODLE interface for the students. Breadcrumb will define the system to which we are connected to and this might be the university login and thus will store the path where the student is currently resided in. To gain access to particular MOODLE environment, the most important thing is the breadcrumb which will also allow the people or the users to keep track of the locations they are in.  It is a navigation aid box which will help the user to keep track of the location and the document path where the user is present in.

The second menu to understand is the activities menu. This menu is mainly used to provide quick access to a number of tools and resources which student can use in the MOODLE application. Assignment box, chat messengers, forums, glossaries, quizzes, wikis, workshops, resources and choices are some options which this box provides.  The search forum shown in the above given diagram will allow to search all the forums to which the student has access to. The administration box present in the above given diagram is the place where students will actually monitor their performance. This block can be hidden by the administrator if he feels that it is not required. Online users are another block to the right hand bottom corner in the above diagram which will show the list of users who are online in the application and students via this will have an option to communicate with the users. The calendar tool present just above the online users will help us in keeping a note of all the important activities or classes which are coming in the weeks ahead and will provide an outlook options. The main block present in the centre of the screen is the place where the actual course content is shown for the user. Administrator again over here has an option to hide the details of the courses based on the requirement of the person.

Now that I’ve described the overview of MOODLE screen, similarly, I’ll now explain the different sections of blackboard as well. The below given figure will provide us a detailed overview of blackboard

FIGURE 5 BLACKBOARD OVERVIEW

From the above diagram, you could see that a section called course tools is present in the left hand side of the application which will provide the list of tools which blackboard provides to the users. It will have all the web links to which the user has access to, calendar, the chat forum, assessment module, announcement section, discussion board, learning module, and the list of users who are online. So, blackboard basically has clubbed 2-3 different groups of MOODLE in a single entity over here. The next section is the section called My Tools which will show the grades of the users to check their progress in the LMS subjects. Entire course related activities can be tracked via this tool.  The last part of blackboard is the main content section which is sorted in chronological order and a number of content folders are present in this. Each folder will have sub folders in it and will list the entire material for the particular coursework which needs to be submitted.

Now that we know how MOODLE and blackboard look like, in the next section, I’ll try to provide the number of differences which MOODLE and Blackboard has in communication tools point of view.

3.3 COMMUNICATION TOOL DIFFERENCES

  • MOODLE with its chat messaging facility and instant messaging tool will allow us to send messages to the users who are not present online at that time just like in the case of general chat machines. The messages will automatically be emailed if the user is logged out of the application and via these message tools, user of MOODLE can easily communicate with each other. Blackboard on the other hand will send the email across to all the students in the subset of the group which we are put into. Thus, personal messages is a tough feature in it
  • The instant messages will allow you to chat with the online users and mail the content to the user if he is offline in MOODLE. In blackboard, this tool is only used to send communication to the users if they are offline and if not, it is not used
  • In MOODLE, there are a total of three different discussion forms available for the user to choose from. MOODLE provides the facility to rate the students. The rating can be provided both by the instructors as well as other students in that particular group. A message posted in a common forum can be automatically emailed to the entire class as well if we wish to do so.  Blackboard on the other hand has only one type of discussion forum and the student can only reply to that particular discussion forum. He cannot create any topics on his own and it is the responsibility of the administrator to monitor and create new topics if required
  • Blackboard has a special whiteboard tool through which the students will be able to share images and drawings in real time. MOODLE doesn’t have any such tool.

Below given picture will list out all the differences in a tabular format

FIGURE 6 COMMUNICATION TOOL DIFFERENCES

After the communication tool differences, the next difference between MOODLE and blackboard is its ability to add grades and scales for the students who are using it.

3.4 GRADE AND SCALE DIFFERENCES

  • There is a tool called Scale in MOODLE which will allow creating our own pool of grading. Tutors will have the ability to create a pool of ratings for the students who are taking exams like Good, Outstanding, Poor, Fail etc and can assign the scale to the students based on their performance. Blackboard has no such functionality to create
  • MOODLE will allow us to provide grade to the students whilst creating an offline activity and we can supply comments to the grades as well. Blackboard will have no such facility and for doing these activities, all the details must be entered in a new column in the student activities

Below given picture will list out all the differences in a tabular format

FIGURE 7 GRADES AND SCALES

3.5 OTHER IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES

Some other important differences between MOODLE and blackboard are present in tracking capabilities of the student, announcements, assignments, and wikis, lessons, choice and hiding capabilities. Below are the differences listed between these applications?

  • In MOODLE, you can track the status of the students and can get a lot of details like the days students accessed the content, number of times the content was accessed, IP address from where the content was accessed for all the tools like discussion forums, assignments and assessment modules. A report can also be generated for the number of attempts taken by the students to complete the task. Thus, with the help of this the performance of the student can easily be monitored and reported as requested.  Blackboard will also provide most of these functionalities and has the facility to share this information with the students as well
  • In MOODLE, if any new activities like QUIZZES or assignments are added with a particular date to the set of students in a forum, their calendar will be automatically updated with the time and date when the action should be taken. BLACKBOARD has no such functionality.
  • MOODLE has a built in Wiki on which the students can work and develop the application further along with adding new web pages and content information which will be useful for the students accessing the pages. It also has the facility to restore all the web pages in its repository. Blackboard has no such tool in its domain
  • The structure of Lessons in MOODLE is interactive and will present a number of facts and questions to the students to improve their learning capabilities along with testing their levels of concentration.  Blackboard has no such tool to check the student knowledge at the end of each section
  • MOODLE provides the facility to post multiple choice questions and thus, will also allow the students to vote on the particular question. This is not present in blackboard
  • MOODLE provides the facility to hide and reveal a single file in the course or in the lecture whereas blackboard doesn’t have this facility. It only allows you to hide entire content in the module unlike in MOODLE
  • Blackboard will provide support on different browsers like IE6, IE7, safari and Chrome but has some issues when opening the application from Firefox. MOODLE along with all the browsers which blackboard is accessible on, will also provide proper support for Fire fox.
  • When the usability factor comes into question, GUI is too polluted in blackboard with its L shaped menu often confusing the users. MOODLE on the other hand provide customization and thus, user can have his own menu as per his requirements
  • Blackboard on the whole has three different home pages for each user. They are the system home page, the homepage of the institution and the home page for the courses which the user is handling. MOODLE only has two home pages which is the system home page and course home page
  • There is a separate section on blackboard named HOME which if clicked will take the student to blackboard website and often confuses the student. MOODLE system homepage only has the list of courses and this again can be modified as per the requirements of the student.
  • Blackboard has the facility to provide mobile support and we can access the application via touch phones. MOODLE as of now doesn’t have any feature like this

Keeping all these points in view, from the above discussion, it is clearly understood that MOODLE has a number of additional features which Blackboard doesn’t provide at current point and thus, is MOODLE as per my comparison is a better option. A number of universities are already implementing this and have successfully migrated to MOODLE. University of DUBUGUE after migrating from blackboard to MOODLE, gave the below statement [12]

“Blackboard and MOODLE seem to match up pretty much across the board in terms of features. MOODLE is the big winner in the ease of use category, IMO and based on feedback from faculty and students.”

Similarly, LUTHER College staff after moving from MOODLE to Blackboard has given the below statement [13]

“All and all we are finding MOODLE a refreshing and remarkable change from our four years with Blackboard.”

Athabasca university after moving from Blackboard from MOODLE has given the below statement

“(MOODLE’S) appealing visual design, the ease and intuitive feel with which online  activities can be added, the online help and support provided by the documentation and  user groups make this a superior and user-friendly LMS.”

Thus, clubbing the feedback of the users from throughout the world along with the differences which I’ve identified, in this particular chapter, I would like to conclude that MOODLE is a better option when compared to blackboard.

 

CHAPTER 4.0 MOODLE VS OTHERS

In the previous chapter, I’ve tried to compare MOODLE with Blackboard and have identified a number of differences between them from both technical and functional point of view as a developer and come up with the conclusion that MOODLE will be a better option to use when compared to Blackboard with the number of additional functionalities which it provides.

The main aim of my dissertation is to also provide a comprehensive overview of ATUTOR and CLAROLINE with MOODLE and compare which is better. So, in this particular chapter, I’ll try to compare ATUTOR and CLAROLINE with MOODLE again from a developer’s point of view.

As I’ve already described the features of MOODLE in the previous chapter, in this section will not elaborate about the features of MOODLE again and will directly start the brief overview of both CLAROLINE AND ATUTOR

4.1 CLAROLINE

Created by a group of people from French university as one more alternative to Blackboard, even this was started an open source and thus is a good competitor not only to blackboard but also to MOODLE. As suggested above, CLAROLINE was implemented by a group of French people and henceforth, most of the instructions for installing the applications were more or less defined in French language. So, whilst installing the application, it created a number of files and database tables which had a valid meaning in French language but was really difficult to understand for any other users. Also, the help package which generally comes along with the installation was also in French language making the process much tougher to understand a non French user. So, the first experience for me whilst installing the application was pretty tough and was really time consuming.

4.1.1 FEATURES OF CLAROLINE

  • CLAROLINE tried to bring in its own visual learning environment by adopting a different approach wherein the courses are broken into a number of components. This was never the case with MOODLE and blackboard
  • Students logged into the application were provided the options to handle the elements individually for each course before completing the entire course. They can handle the exercises or assignments or any module of the course if the manner they want to
  • Special feature called categorised links are provided to the students and tutors through which they can manage the required links which are relevant to the course for future references
  • Implemented a new feature called agenda which provides authors some special abilities to set deadlines for the projects, assignments and give announcements when required
  • Has a layout configuration style in which the authors or administrators can see and control the elements to be there on the page with the help of admin module
  • A built in chat facility between the users
  • Very easy simple text interface system to type and deal the details
  • Has an ability to do peer review. With this feature, students have the ability to upload their papers and do a self assessment of it
  • Has automatic as well as manual registration process
  • Has the ability to grow the size of the course and its content based on the requirements and strength of the students
  • Has statistic features in course content which will help the author to keep track of the records as to which course is more popular
  • Application provides an interface to upload videos as well to explain the course works making it a unique system which has the capabilities to handle videos.

Now that I’ve explained about some technical features of CLAROLINE, in the next section I’ll similarly explain about all the features of ATUTOR

4.2 ATUTOR

ATUTOR defines itself as a Learning Content Management System and has more or less the same features, which MOODLE provides. ATUTOR is useful in providing courses to various students in management, professional development courses, career development courses, research oriented courses, short-term training and long-term technical training sessions etc. [7]. When compared with MOODLE, ATUTOR stands tall on the accessibility features which it provides as this is one of the few learning management systems which can help the visually impaired and disabled learners as well with its voice recognition system and built in voice module.

The American Society for Training and Development [8] termed ATUTOR as on of the best online Learning Management systems for open source development due to its distinguished concept of helping the visually impaired people and is branded internationally. ATUTOR provides educational courses in 15 different languages internationally and also can support more than 40 additional languages with its built in language toolbar and is also further planning to develop its application to other languages [9]. Some important features of ATUTOR are listed below

4.2.1 FEATURES OF ATUTOR

  • It has built in themes section through which the users can change the look and feel of the application
  • Easy administration module to handle all the courses
  • Courses are further broken down into a number of content pages to handle them effectively
  • Has the ability to export the courses and has a link to export the courses and thus with the help of this feature, the content transfer between multiple systems is possible
  • It has an inbox feature through which a link is developed between course administrators and the users for them to communicate between themselves
  • Has a multi send option in which the course content can be sent to multiple students with a click of button
  • Has slide by slide built in contact form for courses
  • It’s pretty simple to navigate between the content pages but the authors of this application are required to have HTML skills to explore the functionalities properly.
  • Has a built in glossary functions which will define all the acronyms and provide links to various external sources and databases through which wide range of material can be downloaded.
  • The documentation present in its help manual is considered to be the best to help users to navigate across to different modules
  • Have integrated WYSIWYG editor which helped them to create content without HTML language skills

Now that we know the 2 important Learning management systems, in the next section, I’ll try to compare these applications

4.3 COMPARISON

Whilst trying to work out the differences between MOODLE, ATUTOR and CLAROLINE, I found that ATUTOR and CLAROLINE mostly had the same features. So, I’ve tried to compare these two applications with MOODLE and find the differences in particular. The differences were segregated again into various sections like communication tool differences, productivity tool differences, Administration differences, course delivery tool differences, content development tool differences and hardware and software difference. Below are the main differences which I’ve identified between MOODLE and other applications

4.3.1 HARDWARE & SOFTWARE DIFFERENCES

MOODLE supports different databases like ORACLE, SQL SERVER, and MYSQL and also supports POSTGRESQL on top of all these things. ATUROR and CLAROLINE on the other end support only MYSQL. Both the applications however has both UNIX as well as windows version of the application and thus, can be useful for all the systems without any restrictions

4.3.2 COMMUNICATION TOOLS

  • Users can enable or disable the discussion form messages coming into their email boxes in MOODLE or have an option of selecting a daily digest functionality which would send all the messages in a single mail. The same is not available for ATUTOR or CLAROLINE. Also, MOODLE has the facility to subscribe to RSS Feeds which ATUTOR or CLAROLINE doesn’t provide
  • MOODLE has a QYSIWIG editor whereas ATUTOR and CLAROLINE has WYSIWYG editors
  • In MOODLE, the course administrators and instructors can allow students of the course to create new groups and instructors or students can act as moderators for these courses and peer reviewed before actually being posted. ATUROR and CLAROLINE on the other end will allow sharing the discussions created by the moderator across the different courses and students here has limited abilities.
  • In MOODLE, the statistical review process is present which will give the stats for the courses completed, attended and accessed by the students which is not present in the other applications
  • File exchange facilities in MOODLE can be done via simple dropdown boxes and can thus submit all their course works easily. ATUTOR and CLAROLINE along with this facility, also allow the students to share their personal folders and has active directory enabling which will allow the administrators to give user specific rights
  • The internal email features of both the learning management systems more or less look similar the only difference being MOODLE has extra space for Online journals and Notes which others doesn’t have
  • MOODLE supports limited number of chat rooms in its real time chat functionality whereas ATUTOR doesn’t have any restrictions on the number of rooms it supports. The built in PHP application chat functionality has easily achieved these features
  • MOODLE supports third part add-on like DIM-DIM and ELLUMINATE which ATUROR or CLAROLINE doesn’t support

Thus, the above mentioned are the major differences between the three applications. In the next section, I’ll similarly identify the differences in productivity tools

4.3.3 PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS

  • MOODLE has built in calendar and progress review features through which the entire course calendar can be maintained and all the important activities can be measured. The list of courses and important dates to submit the assignments, attend the classes and others can be maintained via this. ATUTOR and CLAROLINE will support this feature via a third party add on application
  • MOODLE has a tool through which the search operations can be performed in all the discussion threads, chat boxes and also virtual classroom sessions in which live recordings happen. In ATUTOR, students can only search in discussion threads
  • MOODLE provides a number of online tutorials which it can make use of to learn and understand the application along with the help tool. ATUTOR and CLAROLINE along with what MOODLE provides, will also provide multimedia documentation
  • In MOODLE, students have the ability to self select the groups in which they want to be in which is not there in other VLE.
  •  Community networking is possible in MOODLE and has a number of features like creating clubs and joining those clubs. Though community networking is present in ATUTOR and CLAROLINE, it is not totally explored so far.
  • MOODLE provides Single sign on facility to enhance the security which CLAROINE doesn’t provide

After identifying the differences in productivity tools, in the next section, I tried to identify the differences between the systems in administration process

4.3.4 ADMINISTRATIVE TOOLS

  • Built in authentication process where in administrators have the ability to define the access levels of the users is defined in MOODLE as well as ATUTOR and CLAROLINE but the main difference is that in MOODLE can authenticate the system against external LDAP server as well as Kerberos whereas ATUTOR and CLAROLINE can only do it for LDAP server
  • MOODLE application has built in registration integration functionality through which the student information can be altered bi directionally.  The information of the student can be transferred between the system and SIS using tab delimited files or IMS Enterprise specification web services files. This functionality is not present in ATUTOR or CLAROLINE
  • Administrator in MOODLE is provided with a number of online marking tools through which instructors can rate and comment on the performance of the student which is not possible in other applications

Other than these, there are also other differences between MOODLE and ATUTOR, CLAROLINE which are mainly trivial and henceforth, I’ll ignore them in this dissertation.  After analysing all the differences, below is the conclusion which I could make out of the differences

4.4 CONCLUSIONS

So far, I’ve compared each of the applications with a number of features and differences. From the list of features, it is clearly understood that each application has its own set of features which will define it and thus, the applications have its own advantages as well as disadvantages.  One biggest disadvantage which I’ve observed in both ATUTOR and CLAROLINE is the fact that it is not fully compatible with Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) to ensure the sharing capabilities between different visual learning environments which MOODLE is trying to maintain. Also, ATUTOR and XML CLAROLINE don’t use XML metadata for providing E-learning content though ATUTOR is trying to implement these features to better its standards. MOODLE on the other hand implements these features already.  A number of different what you see is what you get editors enabled the users to directly write the content on the pages rather than to get the knowledge of the systems and one positive feature is to make the application really simple for the users. One point in which ATUTOR scores over the other is in providing the internal communication facility which other learning environments don’t provide.

So, keeping all these things and various advantages and disadvantages of each application in mind, it is really tough to comedown to one learning environment but from observations, I would go for MOODLE due to its ability to provide SCORM support and have the ability to provide sophisticated applications created with a blend of creativity and usability. Also, the installation procedure for MOODLE was far easy and can be done in simple steps when compared to ATUTOR and CLAROLINE. Also, creating the first course was done very easily with the online help as well as the extensive support features provided in MOODLE. The Print compiler facility which MOODLE has provided is one of the best features in it which will help the students to keep track of all the notes whilst going through the class and can finally print the required documentation easily.

On the whole, the overall time taken to learn and the time taken to install MOODLE were far less when compared to ATUTOR or CLAROLINE and this, I would conclude saying that MOODLE is the best alternate learning management system when compared to ATUTOR and CLAROLINE due to its ability to continuously built upon the process and the kind of work and support which it provides to all the users from the team of developers.

Henceforth, I would conclude this chapter by saying that MOODLE amongst all the learning management systems is the best alternative which I’ve found and though this is a complete discussion only from my point of view and the overall features and the answers may differ when someone else do a similar analysis.

Now that I’ve defined MOODLE as the best alternative from Technical and developer’s point of view, in the next section, I’ll try to discuss the same from the user satisfaction point of view. To do this, a number of questionnaire sessions are prepared and the answers to all the questions were analyzed. Based on the answers which I’ve received, I tried to conclude which is a better application from user’s point of view.


CHAPTER 5.0 USER EXPERIENCE

After identifying all the technical differences between the set of applications, the next target for me was to compare the learning management systems from a user’s point of view. To do this, a set of questions were framed and I tried to identify the way users rated each of the modules with the help of those questions. A set of 7 users were chosen to do this test. To ensure the application is checked from a novice point of view, I ensured that 2 users don’t know how to work on learning management systems. After this, to find differences between Blackboard and other modules, I’ve selected the remaining 5 users in such a way that they have worked on one of the learning management systems.

Below are the set of questions which I’ve framed to get the user satisfaction level. The exact questionnaire is provided in the Appendix section of the dissertation

1)      Please identify your level of experience with the LMS applications mentioned below

2)      As an Administrator, how easy was it to install the applications

3)      As an administrator of a course, how easy was it to learn to use the below LMS Systems

4)      As a student of the course, How easy was it to adopt to the below LMS systems

5)      As a Tutor, How easy was it to share the applications and courses with Students

6)      How difficult was it for the student to adopt to the system or the courses

7)      How satisfied are you with the number of features which the VLE has offered.

8)      How good is the support or the help for you to enable self learning capabilities

9)      Do you really think these applications will help the students to learn properly? If so, what features do you think are the best

10)  If you don’t have any LMS used so far, are you planning to use any and if so which LMS will you be preferring

11)  What are the reasons for preferring the LMS mentioned in the above question

12)  What do you think as possible threats to each of these LMS systems

13)  What are the interesting reasons which you have found in these LMS systems

14)  The LMS applications offer a number of modules listed below, please rate each module separately

15)  Which applications do you think will help you further down the line

16)  Any other thoughts you would like to share about the application?

Thus from these set of questions, I tried to understand the nerve of the user from both Administrator as well as tutors point of view. Below is the output of my research and analysis which I was able to do base on the survey.

5.1 ANALYSIS

The first question was mainly put to understand the level of knowledge users have on Learning Management systems and this was to get a general overview of whether they have used the applications or not. Below is the bar graph which I’ve received from the 7 users I’ve surveyed upon

FIGURE 8 COUNT OF USERS

From the output, I’ve understood that there are 2 persons who doesn’t have any knowledge of learning management systems and 1 user who knows what learning management system is all about but doesn’t know in depth about it. The remaining 4 users have a good knowledge about the applications. After this, in the next part, I’ve tried to check from an administrator’s point of view as to how easy is it to install the learning management systems and below is the bar graph which I’ve received for it.

FIGURE 9 INSTALLATION COMPLEXITY

From the above graph, I clearly understood that the complexity to install CLAROLINE due to its French installation process was turning out to be tough for the users and of the lot; MOODLE was the easiest for all the administrators. Thus, as far as Installation goes, it can be easily concluded from this bar graph that MOODLE has the easiest installation process followed by Blackboard, ATUTOR and then CLAROLINE

After understanding which LMS was easy to install, in the next section, I tried to understand as to how easy was it to learn courses and below is the bar graph which I’ve received for the same.

FIGURE 10 LEARNING LMS

From the above graph, again it is interesting to identify that most of the users have clearly mentioned learning MOODLE was really easy followed by Blackboard. Interesting aspect which I’ve observed here is that the people who said installing CLAROLINE was tough really didn’t want to go forward with learning that system and they directly said CLAROLINE was tough to learn as well. Another fact which I’ve observed here is that few users who already had knowledge of Blackboard gave comments saying that MOODLE was way far easy to learn when compared to Blackboard. Also, A Tutor scored good points in this part. The results said that MOODLE was the best followed by both blackboard and ATUTOR and then CLAROLINE.

In the next question, I tried to gather the nerve of the student and tried to understand if they are able to adapt to the system easily or not. Below is the graph which I’ve received for the same.

FIGURE 11 ADAPTABILITY

From the above graph, I’ve again understood that MOODLE and Blackboard are the two most used systems and most of the users were finding it really easy due to the way they can adapt to this. Also, the comments passed by the users say that the ease of navigation in MOODLE and BLACKBOARD are the best followed by CLAROLINE. So, on the whole, the adaptability factor of MOODLE has grown continuously.

A number of other questions where present in the questionnaire session wherein I tried to understand what the students are trying to think about the application. Few comments which I’ve received as a part of this questionnaire session are given below

“The overall MOODLE process is really simple. Not only MOODLE but Blackboard as well but the way MOODLE was able to build its content pages made the life really easy. Wherever and whenever I was not able to understand that system, all I had to do is to play around with it for a while and I finally understood as to what needs to be done”.

Another student writing about Blackboard said the below things.

“The best part of the system is the ability to chat with other students about my course works and share the knowledge with everyone”

After this analysis and the answers which I’ve received about various questions, I clearly understood that most of the users were more or less preferring MOODLE followed by Blackboard and ATUTOR and then CLAROLINE. The only reason for CLAROLINE to go back into the priority list was the fact that most of the installation process and help process was in French language rather than in English and henceforth, it was turning out to be tough to understand the system.

From a developer’s point of view, after analysing various technical and functional differences in the third and fourth chapters, I’ve clearly mentioned that MOODLE with its open source ability and its extended functionalities is far better when compared to Blackboard, ATUTOR and CLAROLINE.

Thus, both from Users point of view and from the analysis which I’ve made from the questionnaire section, I can confirm that MOODLE by far is the best open source learning management system which will give tough competition to Blackboard and other open source learning management systems as well.

 

CHAPTER 6.0 CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORKS

When the virtual learning environments were created, Blackboard turned out to be a revelation and slowly it began to grow. Observing the growth in virtual learning environments, slowly other applications also started to adapt this system. It is very clear that online learning today is very important as it is tough for people to move across to places. Also, a cost effective way of learning and gaining knowledge is achieved by online learning systems. Blackboard started to implement this and gave a new look and feel to the world of learning. Though it is commercial software, this turned out to be the best application available and was widely used. After the growth of open source software’s started, there was a new boom coming in E-learning systems. The idea of an Open source E-learning system came into existence and a potential user of the learning management system gave the below statement

“I have been impressed but my head is sceptical . . . [it] reasons that a system such as MOODLE costing nothing cannot be up to the job” when most schools invest thousands in the same type of software” (NICKLENEY, 2003).

However, today, we can confidently say that a number of applications like MOODLE, ATUTOR and CLAROLINE are an answer to the initial doubt which was created. These applications today are available for free of cost and are connecting people through out the world to share knowledge.  These applications will work for students, tutors as well as the administrators to check the status and thus, a new world of learning was effectively created with free of cost.

When so many alternatives are available, the biggest question now is to understand as to why technology should be used and what the various factors to go for that technique are. In this dissertation, my main aim was to differentiate all 4 learning management systems and bring the differences between them from both developers point of view as well as from the user’s preferred choice.

To understand the difference from developer’s point of view, I compare all the applications based on the productivity tools, installation times, ease of navigation, additional applications available and various other options. Chapter 3 and chapter 4 of the dissertation will concentrate on this and I was at the end of the able to provide differences in which I concluded MOODLE was the best possible learning management system.

After this, I tried to understand what the nerve of the student is and thus, create a questionnaire through which I wanted to identify what which learning management system according to the users is the best. From the survey results, I understood that most of the users were interested in MOODLE followed by blackboard, ATUTOR and then finally CLAROLINE. Thus, from all the three chapters, I successfully confirmed that MOODLE out of the available options, is the best open source learning management system which will give a tough competition to Blackboard as well as the other learning management systems.

One thing which must be understood is that this is totally derived from my observations and users may have different opinions and this should only work as a yardstick to check the differences.

Though I was able to compare the technical differences as well as differences from user satisfaction level, one thing which I would still like to improve in the dissertation is the data analysis part. At this point of time, due to lack or resources and time, I only chose 7 users for the data analysis. The real outcome would be available if more than 100 to 200 users actually answer the questionnaire and then finally get the results out of that. So, this is one point which I would still like to improve as a part of my dissertation future works.

 

From a student’s perspective, course management systems are a step above a classroom website. Information sharing is no longer static; these systems utilize tools that allow both synchronous (different place but same time) and asynchronous (different place, different time) interaction. They have the most important task: addressing the needs of the ultimate end user – the learner. Each course management system available currently has key features that allow students to be actively involved in their courses, including downloading and uploading files, participating in chat and discussion boards, taking assessments, viewing grades, and contacting teachers and classmates. 

When choosing a CMS for an educational institution, the usability of the system is the key to the effectiveness and efficiency of the online courses that are to be implemented. One of the most important aspects of an effective CMS is the usability for both instructors and learners. The effectiveness of the course will help the learners achieve the specific goals of the course. The ease of  navigation through the course will help the learners achieve their goals. If the course is not effective or efficient, then it will affect the students’ learning.  The goal of this study was to report the results of a comparative usability study conducted in 2008-2009 on two different course management systems, BlackBoard and Moodle. It can be concluded from this study that in almost every module or function comparison that was made, Moodle was favored by course participants over BlackBoard with the exception of the Discussion Board module where scores were not significantly different.  At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that use of Moodle in online courses can be a suitable alternative to the current CMS system (BlackBoard). In fact, now that the pilot has showed that Moodle is as effective as BlackBoard, the researchers have already shared their experiences with other faculty members and expanded their investigations by involving numerous other online courses, instructors, and students, because the product showed significant potential for further examination. This study adds to the growing body of studies that are carried out as the initial attempt to research to see if an open source CMS (Moodle) warrants consideration as an alternative to the institution’s current course management system. In addition to comparing the students’ feedback  quantitatively, this study also tried to explain in detail what specific component / function of each CMS students found useful or better than the other. Rather than focusing only on student satisfaction scores, this study further investigated what aspect of each module for each CMS course participants particularly liked or disliked.  This study is an example of a pilot study on students’ first time experiences with Moodle during their Introduction to Educational Technology Course and reports the results of a comparative usability (field) test. This study can be used as a guide to be easily replicated to help educators to test their own findings, at their own institutions by exploring additional concepts, implementing supplementary models to the conceptual framework, expanding the population of interest, analyzing additional educational settings, and using other research designs.  Even though the focus of this study was to investigate and compare the usability of two course  management systems to see if an open source course management system (Moodle) warrants a consideration as an alternative to the institution’s current course management system (BlackBoard), there are other factors that can influence such decision. Operational factors include reliability, external support, flexibility in design and functions, and features of the CMS, stability and security and strategic factors include ease of adaptation, stability of the platform. 

The total cost of ownership is another important factor to consider. It is a fact that commercial systems require high fees, which may be prohibitive for educators and institutions working with limited budgets. Some universities and colleges are beginning to be able to afford only the basic versions of these commercial systems and that can threaten to diminish the educational experiences of students. This is forcing smaller universities to consider cheaper CMS alternatives, especially during times of such a volatile economy and shrinking budgets. This study has certain limitations. The study has small sample size, includes only one course, and focuses only on students’ perspectives of use of Moodle. Further studies are recommended for educators to conduct their own tests of the alternatives or other studies focusing on pedagogical value, financial concerns, support issues, assessment criteria for accreditation, integration with the information technology services, and long-term viability are recommended.

 

 

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