Content management in Learn OR what I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks

You may know that we are moving Learn to the cloud in the summer. This is a good thing – it will mean we can do more frequent updates to the application with less downtime. At the moment, we are restricted to a single update of the application over the summer, because they require downtime and it is difficult to find a slot that it suits users to schedule that downtime – even the summer months are getting busier.  After our cloud move, this issue should disappear – most updates can be applied when the system is live and so any exciting new functionality will be available to our students and staff more quickly than before.

In order to migrate to the cloud, Learn will require some downtime – significantly more than our upgrades have required in previous years, because there’s a lot of ‘stuff’ to move.  So, something I’ve been working on for a few weeks is how to minimise the quantity of ‘stuff’ resulting in the reduction of downtime required for the move BUT still ensuring we move everything we need.

I’ve been working on this with 3 of my amazing colleagues – Steph, Sean and Sonali (the 3 S’s) who have been keeping me on the straight and narrow!  Although I feel like I’ve been in my job forever sometimes, I also am aware that there is still much for me to learn, and the 3 S’s have brains packed full of helpful information and are happy to share.

Steph and I wrote a data cleansing proposal with our ideas of how to tidy up now but also how to keep tidy going forward. The proposal is on our wiki if you want to see our suggestions (soon to be overtaken by a more official policy for data retention, a result of the consultation).

However, as I’ve dug through the data on Learn, I’ve noticed that there are a small number of courses which take up a large amounts of space (the 80%/20% rule?) and I thought it might be useful for me to go through some house-keeping tips which might help reduce the time it takes for migration but also keep course areas tidier and easier to use.  Basically, I’m looking for quick wins – things we can delete that aren’t being used anyway, but which perhaps no one’s really noticed for a while.  This is based on many years of experience as a Learning Tech in our Schools, but also looking at it from a central services point of view.

The golden rules of tidy Learn courses are:

  1. If you copy or import courses annually – make sure this really makes sense. Ask yourself – ‘will I actually re-use last year’s content’?  My experience has been that many people change the content a little every year (even if it is just dates/slight tweaks to PowerPoint files) and so you end up with two *almost identical but not quite the same* copies of the same file (one from last year, one from this year).  This doubles the space you use and also means it would be quite easy to accidentally link to the wrong version of the file.  There is some guidance for course copy on our webpages.
  2. Backing up your course is good – but think about how many back-ups you need and where you are keeping them. Digging through the biggest courses, I’ve found many courses with several back-up files, many of them very big indeed. I am fairly certain most of the back-ups aren’t needed and could be deleted with no impact on anyone.  If you want to take a back-up and keep it, they can be downloaded and stored locally or on OneDrive so we aren’t migrating them and slowing the process down.  The added advantage of this is that you can keep them safe and no one else can accidentally delete them (anyone with instructor access to the course on Learn can delete back-ups).
  3. Don’t store your video files on Learn! We have a lovely streaming service which is carefully crafted by our Media Hopper team and designed specifically to host and properly stream video content to all devices and network speeds. If you need the video to be private to a course, it can be set up as private. Video files take up huge amounts of space in Learn and Learn is not designed to hold them. Please move your videos to Media Hopper Create. Find out more on the Media Hopper Create web-pages.  Any content on Media Hopper Create is kept until you decide you don’t want it or you leave, so your content isn’t going anywhere.
  4. Massive files – an issue, not only for the space usage on Learn but also your students who might be using Learn on their mobile device or from slower wifi in a café/on a train. If you have big files, they’ll be slow for the students to download.  There are lots of ways of compressing files, and a quick Google should help you with less common file types, but here are some links I hope you’ll find helpful:

I’d suggest that files over 10-15MBs are probably too big – unless you have a specific reason for sharing a very big version (i.e resolution is important or the file contains lots of data you wish the students to use – ie is a GIS file, or illustration file). Keep your original files for your lectures and upload the compressed version to Learn.

If you aren’t sure how to see your files in Learn, you can see them in the Course Management part of the left hand navigation, by expanding the Content Collection.  Press the first link (the link which is the course code), you can then click on the SIZE column label to order the files by size (press it twice to see biggest files first).

We are happy to help advise on any of this so please drop us a line through the IS Helpline (is.helpline@ed.ac.uk).

 

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay (Free for commercial use)

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