Back to School: Get a classroom (free hosting, self-hosted or commercial vendors)

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It’s Back to School 2011!  We’ll be running back to school focused posts throughout the week of September 2nd, highlighting some good tips and suggestions for making the most out of your Moodle usage in 2011-2012.  

WIRIS

One of the most important decisions you can make this year if you’re just starting out Moodling is where to host your classroom.  From my point of view, if your school is not already providing a hosted solution (which is the best option to utilize if available) teachers generally have three choices:

1. Get some Free Hosting: there are a good many free hosting companies for Moodle around (and more seem to pop up every month).  We’ve got a collection of sites available and have highlighted the various benefits/drawbacks of using each.  Note that no official Moodle partner is currently offering free hosting, but a few of these options will provide you ad-free, quality hosting (sometimes even with service and 3rd party plugins).  Depending on your needs these free hosting options can be a great way to get your feet wet and get started with Moodle.  The beauty is that if your school institutes/integrates Moodle later you can easily backup your course and restore it to your new environment (so no time/effort is lost).  A few tips if you go the route of free hosting:

  • Understand the limitations/drawbacks: there may be ads, limits to users, or other constraints that could create a nasty bottleneck down the road. Get a sense of what those are before creating your course
  • Know the version: some free hosting solutions use 1.9, others use the latest release.  Know the upgrade policy and think ahead if it might affect you (or your move away from free) now or later.

Free hosting options: http://lmspulse.com/collections/hosting/

2. Buy some shared hosting: I host a few Moodle sites using shared hosting/virtual server environment.  It’s cheap (about 5 bucks a month) and it gets the job done.  Benefits include the fact that you can choose version, get full control of your environment and don’t have to worry about rebooting your server. Drawbacks include a higher level of technical expertise is required, 3rd party addons will need to be installed manually, and there may be some serious limitations to synchronous classroom use (shared hosting is not necessarily the best option if you’ll be having 25+ students logging in at once to take a quiz or chat).  If you’re providing an asynchronous reference point for students (serving files, hosting discussions and sharing embedded content, or providing practice exams) it can be a great arrangement.  Not so much if it’s solely for classroom use.  I use Bluehost, but there are others like Dreamhost, Hostgator, GoDaddy, etc. which can provide you with soup to nuts setup (even domain registration).

3. Contract with a Commercial Vendor: there are Moodle partners and non-partners world-wide who will provide you with a supported and paid Moodle solution. Moodlerooms is one that will even provide individual classrooms.  Prices vary, but the cost is providing you with a much higher level of service and support.  Non Moodle partners also provide single classrooms for fees, a quick Google search or review of the “premium” services by free hosting providers might give you a sense of the benefits and “guarantees”.

Depending on your budget there are some great options for getting started with Moodle and off to the races, knowing the lay of the land will definitely help when you bring your case to the school hoping for a school- or district-sponsored hosting arrangement.