The Open University of China seems to be the largest Moodle site, perhaps the largest LMS in existence. How did it stay hidden this long? For the recent MoodleMoot US, Wei Xiong shared some insight on this formidable online learning platform.
OUC was a university radio and TV broadcasting system
Established as the China Central Radio and TV University in 1979 in Beijing where it’s still headquartered, it was intended as the national Ministry of Education’s way of delivering higher education through radio and television.
The introduction of Information Technologies coincided with a rebranding to its current name, as well as a strategic realignment that hinges more emphatically on lifelong learning. For the Chinese government as well as multilateral organizations such as UNESCO, it is an example and breeding ground for massive scale, low-cost, highly effective Higher Ed practices.
Its stats are not too shabs
- Distributed between 44 provincial universities. While its focus is distance-based and increasingly online, it’s still a largely hybrid learning institution, with face-to-face sessions taking place in more than 1,000 city and 3,000 county-level branches.
- 85,000-strong staff, with over 52,000 full-time.
- 75 majors offered by 6 faculties.
- 3.7 million registered students at the time of Xiong’s address.
OUC has been a Moodle user for almost 10 years
The relationship between Moodle and OUC started in 2010 with a trial. It included 300 hundred out of the 3-million plus students enrolled at the time. It was meant to validate technical and educational hypothesis, which the site successfully did. For the 2012-2013 academic period a “not that public” public launch expanded the LMS to 1,000 students, integrating it to the rest of the learning ecosystem:
- Student Information System
- Reporting and Analytics
- Document Repository
- Document Repository
- Unified Authentication Provider
OUC seeks to implement Open Source solutions whenever possible. In addition to Moodle, key technologies are Alfresco, free open source repository software, Mahara as the ePortfolio solution, and LDAP as the open Authentication Provider protocol.
OUC’s Moodle is cloud-based since 2016
After years of constant improvement, topped with a large-scale optimization effort in 2015 where it already was hosting half a million students, the university decided to go cloud.
The decision had both cost and efficiency benefits, not to mention the ability to provide centralized compliance. Given the massive size of the operation, a central management allows to monitor on real time and optimize performance, which the IT staff does relentlessly. If a plugin slows down the site for a few milliseconds, it might be enough reason to take it down. If a course keeps the student guessing where to go next for longer than they have to, a more efficient design or layout could save millions.
Moodle at OUC: More stats
- Daily active users traffic ranges between 150,000 and 360,000
- At least 10 thousand concurrent users at a given moment, with a peak as high as 26 thousand
- Between 100 and 253 million pages served and viewed every day
- 40 to 100 terabytes of data flowing through the network on a daily basis
- Some course have up to 680,000 students enrolled in one period
Sub-massive challenges: Onboarding
Despite the efficiency gains, there are several second-level human challenges to address. Onboarding over a hundred thousand instructors and tutors is no small feat. In addition, the potentially thousands of IT and tech support need introduction to Moodle development, at the LMS is not a familiar enough technology.
The answer is both a technological prowess as well as a labor-intensive tour de force. A 4-tier system for training and escalation makes sure needs and requests are fielded promptly and efficiently. On-site training is preferred, as it often provides a more cost-effective solution. This is made possible, among other things, by training and encouraging tutors to provide at least “first-tier” support.
On a similar vein, Learning Analytics and reporting is playing a higher role in making the gigantic LMS run. Key of the solution is to provide real-time dashboards to teachers and high-level support staff. They can quickly address outstanding issues, or notify them above the chain. The bottom-up collaboration process can be summed up in 4 principles:
- Do your own work
- Cloud is your friend
- Effective sponsorship
- You are not alone