FreeEmbedChat – you’ve never seen a free PHP chat like this for your Moodle site before!

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The early 1990s were the good old days of the Internet age where text ruled the roost. Internet connections were mainly dial-up lines. Chat clients like mIRC and ICQ were all the rage. I should know. I once wasted the equivalent of one whole week’s worth of working (studying) hours just chatting online.The best game I ever played on a PC. Period.

In this post, I unveil a modified version of a popular free PHP chat software that caters for Moodle and Web 2.0. You are cordially invited to read on!

I. INTRODUCTION
For the last 3 weeks I’ve been working on an embedded chat widget for my Moodle 1.9.7  site. I am sure that it can be easily modified to suit Moodle 2.x.
My improved chat is actually a modified version of Stephane Gully’s excellent (and Open Source) phpfreechat. I incorporated object embed code from Eloy Lafuente’s Multimovie filter  and Simon Karpen’s Voicethread filter.

I call this modified chat, “FreeEmbedChat”.

II. IMPROVED FEATURES ON THE CHAT

Here’s what the improved chat can do:

a. Direct Login (integrated with Moodle username)
It takes the Moodle username login as the chat username automatically

b. Posting of Images direct
You can copy and paste in an image URL and the image appears on the Chat post directly.

Example chat post syntax:   http://website-url/filename.png or jpg or gif

c. Posting of embedded Youtube videos
You can copy and paste in a youtube URL and the youtube video appears on the Chat post directly.

Note: it requires a basic [y][/y] tag-untag pair to embed the playable Youtube video inside the chat post

Example chat post syntax:   [y]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crypticcode[/y]

d. Embed Voicethreads
Facilitators and students can also embed Voicethreads inside your chat post.
Chat post syntax:   [[vt:value]]   or  [[vtsmall:value]]

The above mentioned features are not found in the stock downloadable version of PHPfreechat.

I’m trying to think of other useful Web 2.0 objects that would be useful if embedded in a chat. Does anything come to your mind?

III. DEMO SITE FOR YOU TO HAVE A FEEL HOW IT WORKS
For a working demo, please check out my production site at
http://scm.moodleace.com/course/view.php?id=44
Username: student
Password: moodle
Click on the PHPFreeChat green collapsible topic tab.

FreeEmbedChat works best with Mozilla Firefox. I believe it has some issues with Internet Explorer. If you are using Internet Explorer AND if the previous link of the demo did not work for you (all you saw was blank chat window with no sign of activity), then click on this link: http://scm.moodleace.com/mod/resource/view.php?id=3302

IV. PEDAGOGICAL VALUE
Does this Chat have any learning value? Although one should be cautious of chat in the classroom, I think with proper instructions and supervision by the facilitator, it can be a learning activity. It could be a useful activity (almost akin to the Wiki) where a classroom of students can share posts of images, Youtube videos and VoiceThreads inside the chat window. As with all chats, supervision, monitoring and education on chat etiqutte is important.

BTW, phpfreechat is an entire universe of its own. See http://www.phpfreechat.net/. There are many forums of users’ posts and questions on how to customise phpFreeChat. Some very instructive posts have been archived as in here.

As for performance, Stephane Gully states on http://phpfreechat.net:

“phpFreeChat is a free, simple to install, fast, customizable and multi languages chat that uses a simple filesystem for message and nickname storage. It uses AJAX to smoothly refresh (no flicker) and display the chat zone and the nickname zone.”

Performance-wise, I’m not sure how it will fare with 20 or more concurrent users on a Linux server. Worth a tryI would think.

It comes with a word censor (with a customisable ‘naughty’ or ‘rude’ word list) and many other features that a typical chat widget has.  For example, you can issue the command /join baseball and a new room tab is created. So multiple rooms can be created. The colours can be changed by editing css files, and you can add a background image(!). I used an image named brick.jpg to make the background of gray bricks that you see in the screenshot.

There’s also the whole slew of chatroom backslash (‘/’) chat commands, ala mIRC. Doesn’t this bring back memories of the good old days of your chatting craze? You can disable the /nick command so that those who use the chat can be identified by their Moodle login. So no more monkeying behind the teacher’s back by using anonymous or mysterious nicknames. I disabled the /nick command on my site and also in the zip file containing the source code.

The chat widget can be embedded into your Moodle course page, or as a webpage resource that can be opened as a separate window. It is fully customisable, but mainly by poking around the code with a text editor.

V. LICENSING
What about licensing? Stephane Gully was gracious to keep its a Open Source. So it is free as long as you keep the linkback logo  on your chat widget. if you want to remove the logo and completely rebrand the widget, then that is a different matter. See http://www.phpfreechat.net/license for more details.

To get the source code, installation instructions and more details, read on here. Until the next time, happy Moodling!