A young (and ongoing) discussion on Microsoft Office integration within Moodle, taking place on the Moodle Forums, is starting to look like a new instance of that old battle between two eternally clashing ideologies. The twist here is that, if the two do not concede something to one another in order to reach the next playing field, they will both probably perish, as EdTech teachers and students move forward, towards better integrated third-party services.
It all started when Damyon Wiese, Moodle HQ Development Team Manager, shared the news that their team were “doing some brainstorming” on possible office suite integration at the core. Voices were raised, including some decrying the very fact that such brainstorming was happening. More pragmatic users recognized the dependence of office suites, often vendor-specific, by large swaths of the Moodleverse. Back in November, Moodle CEO Martin Dougiamas suggested in an interview that partnerships with Google Apps and Office 365 were underway.
The endless tension between Open Source and proprietary environments has always been present in the relationship between Moodle LMS (Learning Management System) and the education products of tech giants, primarily Google and Microsoft. While the Microsoft Office suite has seen better days (at least according to global market share), its dominance is far from over. This holds true, among other playing fields, in corporate training and institutional education. While Google Apps have made a dent in this sector, Microsoft reigns, and Moodle does not match any of their office suite capabilities. Debatably, Moodle should not have to, if not for the fact that Google and Microsoft seem to be constantly pushing into LMS territory.
Dougiamas weighed in with earnest openness, as well as confidence that the tech giants’ “Classroom” products are, to date, “a dumbed-down idea of an LMS and online learning”. In contrast, the “not very good at all” integration options available, in part due to the limitations of the plugin architecture, “make Moodle look like a poor option”.
But to withstand the risk of losing users by letting them access an office suite from within Moodle, others pointed out how Moodle should make the kinds of improvements the “Classroom” products (Google Classroom and Microsoft Classroom) are known for. This includes but is not limited to better organization and sorting options of files, specially students assignments; easier, single log in enrolment; even accessing the office cloud editors and folders, avoiding file conversion and redundant storage.
After all is said and done, the possible paths are variations of the following:
- Move forward with deeper (core) integration, perhaps with particular vendors.
- Similar to the first one, integration of an Open Source solution.
- Improve the ease of interaction, probably with some kind of office suite API or expanded capabilities for office suite plugins.
- Do nothing, and support office suites through plugins, as it has been the case.
Most of the ideas and talking points that will inform upcoming Moodle 3.3 are stored in a draft at docs.moodle.org.