Day 10: Moodle Struggles

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I’ve been struggling to get Moodle performing well for the dozen or so teachers on campus who use it. See that line of numbers at 7:40am where the ldavg numbers spike as compared to everything around them? That’s Moodle losing its damn mind.

Working on this server* has been a great intellectual challenge. I’m making just enough progress every time to be not discouraged. But the progress is lots slower than I’d like.

My Moodle server is hitting the CPU hard and making kids wait (like for minutes, man) to get their quizzes and homework. Since that’s just not cool, I’ve asked for and gotten help on the Moodle forums. Right now, I know the problem is that the server we’re on isn’t powerful enough to run Moodle. I need to make a change — maybe more CPUs or RAM — but need more data before I can know for certain what’s wrong. I’ve learned that Moodle, its underlying database, and the webserver software can all be optimized. But you have to know what you’re optimizing for. So every day, I log in and try to break Moodle so I can see the results.

A sysadmin friend of mine wrote me with some advice, closing with a quote I think could apply in physics labs as well as server troubleshooting, “The key, though, is to isolate the problem, figure out what it’s doing, and then try to generate a small reproducible case that you can work against.”

Other stuff today:

  • Outlined the pneumatics training module for the robotics team I help coach. I’m working with a student to plan the weekly class. My favorite: the student suggested a troubleshooting class where we purposely set up problems for the kids taking the class to fix.
  • Had a lot of flailing time in physics 4th period. Ugh, I hate that. It was my fault for being under-planned. But once I got my act together, we had a nice half hour of problem solving about waves reflecting off a fixed boundary. Kids were stressed by me not telling them if their answers were right. Slowly but surely, we’re going to build up their thinking abilities.

*oh, I didn’t mention? I was appointed the Moodle admin at my school. It’s a collateral duty I took because 1) I love Moodle, 2) I use Moodle in my class daily, 3) I NEED Moodle to work, and 4) I’m a little of a control freak.



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