Moodlefairy gets a slice of Raspberry Pi at #RJamboree

So I went to my first Raspberry Jamboree today, a big event showcasing uses of the Raspberry Pi in education, a larger scale version  I suppose of the regular Raspberry Jams held around -well- basically everywhere. I attended as part of the three day marathon  at my former high school Our Lady’s in Preston which also included teacher training, an evening social and a family “hack jam”

I went for several reasons – first, because it was just down the road from me at my old school, so I reckoned even if I didnt know anyone or anything about the Raspberry Pi, at least I’d be in the place which was my second home for 28 years.  Secondly, I went because I’ve known Alan O’Donohoe @teknoteacher since 1985 when he was a pupil in my first ever French exam class, and I remember very well a few years ago sitting with him in the staffroom as he explained with enthusiasm about this tiny computer that was really cheap and had the potential to revolutionise teaching in schools. And  finally, I went because, having watched from afar for the last few years the progress and development of the Raspberry Pi movement, I thought it was about time I saw it for myself and found out whether I was the Pi type or not…

So here are my personal impressions…

Doors open at 10 said the info. I ambled in at about five past to find the restaurant at my school already buzzing with lots of  children and adults, with even more turning up by the time of the official start at 10.30 – the “official start” being Alan standing on a chair and doing a “5,4,3,2,1″ as we do in class. The restaurant (which incidentally is state of the art hi-tech, none of your typical school dining hall) was decked out with Pi-attached monitors for the Pi-less amongst us (like myself)  and a  number of separate areas were in evidence: a talk space where various people spoke about their experiences with Pi, a learning space where tutorial sessions took place, a hack space where I guess people tried stuff out, a Minecraft space with a server and a keen gang of players and a food space with cakes, coffee and  coveted bacon butties. While I noticed that men and boys seemed to make up most of the attendees, I did also  notice a pleasing presence of  girls and their mums keen to learn – in fact; I appreciated the number of parents, male and female who accompanied their children, male and female, with the desire to find out more about this growing movement. And of course  the Leader of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Education mission, Carrie Anne Philbin is a great role model.

After a brief intro by Alan, we moved into the first sessions. I had decided to stay for a couple of hours and in fact I couldn’t have got a more appropriate flavour of Raspberry Pi in the time I was there: Alan ran a beginners class, so I joined that, sitting alongside mums, dads and primary school children  all keen to get Pi-ed up.

I  confess to being a little fazed at first as one of our tasks was to  play a short game either in Minecraft ( a game I simply do not “get”) or Scratch ( a program I have only briefly looked at) and when I chose the Scratch marble game, I realised I didn’t even know what to click to start the game  -  but that in itself was a learning experience; it’s very valuable to be a total newbie and not very skilled at that!  (To be frank, one of the reasons I have so far stayed away from the likes of Pi and the new wave of computing teaching is that I have no interest in developing or hacking games, but I am well aware that’s a big draw for many youngsters.) On the other hand, I adored the “Sabotage” game where we had to deliberately “break” something in our set-up and then get someone else to try and work out what we had done. This totally appealed to my  love of troubleshooting problems, one of the reasons I enjoy helping out on the Moodle forums. It’s all about diagnostics, working through possible causes and eliminating stuff until you solve it. Magic.

And then, again, perfect for my first-time needs, came a fascinating and enlightening ” Brief history of Pi” from Pete Lomas, the Raspberry Pi’s hardware designer:

By this stage I was seeing similiarities in the ambiance of  the Raspberry Jam(boree) with that of  Moodle User Groups and some of the smaller Moots: attendees are passionate about their product; they are enthusiasts and evangelists, experienced or willing to learn from each other. Indeed, as they learn, create and hack together, they’re totally putting into practice the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of social constructionism, upon which Moodle is based. And  I had to confess to smiling at Pete’s outlining the differences between model A, A+, B, B+ , Generation 2, Compute and so on… I could tell you equally the changes between (pick a number)  Moodle 2.0 – 2.8 , what’s coming new in 2.9 and so on… My only slight question was – again similar to Moodle events – are they preaching to the converted? How many new participants come each time and how comfortable do they feel  amongst regulars who are all friends? I  expect the answer to that is, an increasing number and they are made to feel very welcome, but I just wondered.

I left after a very pleasant couple of hours with my curiosity satisfied and many questions answered. But I still have some questions left, so here goes

Will I go to another Raspberry Pi event? Probably, especially if it’s on my doorstep. I think I’d be more interested in a session for teachers on teaching with Raspberry Pi – even though I am not likely to teach with Raspberry Pi; it’s something I could relate to.

Will I buy a Raspberry Pi? Possibly. I guess I could attach it to the TV and keyboards and mice are very cheap, but I need to find a purpose for the purchase, a reason for committing myself to it. As mentioned above I’m not interested in games but I have in the past got involved in techie stuff as a means to an end: I actually have  ancient City and Guilds qualifications (Merits!) in Electronics and Radio Transmission in order to join my then boyfiend and his mates in the joys of Amateur radio; I’d never have studied such topics for the sake of it. In a similar way, I’d need to know how getting  a Raspberry Pi could benefit me directly. I guess I could explore Linux and the Terminal – but I already have a laptop with Kubuntu and a Terminal that I venture into from time to time.   I don’t want a hidden camera or dog alarm but I’d still  like to give it a go!  Of course, it’s so cheap I could buy it, try it and if it doesn’t rock my boat, donate it – as Pete Lomas pertinently said, it’s not much different from  a few service station Lattes and cakes.

How does Moodle work on a Pi? A quick Google suggested installing Moodle is do-able – is it slow? Is it functional? What would be the point?

I was  interested in Pete Lomas’  experiences of  the shortcomings of  Computing  students at Imperial and  Cambridge. I suppose it’s early days yet, but is there evidence yet, or how long before we get measurable evidence that Raspberry Pi and associated events are having a beneficial effect on the numbers of pupils taking computing to a higher level and then becoming more skilled at university? 

And finally...would I recommend a Raspberry Jam(boree) to anyone of any age who expresses an interest? Yes, absolutely :)

4 thoughts on “Moodlefairy gets a slice of Raspberry Pi at #RJamboree

  1. mrverrall

    “How does Moodle work on a Pi? A quick Google suggested installing Moodle is do-able – is it slow? Is it functional? What would be the point?”

    Totally doable! Sticking a full software stack on a single Raspberry Pi 2 (database, web server and file-store) I get page processing times for under 1s for a ‘vanilla’ moodle install. This is better than some of the hosting we have migrated people from before now.

    How would this perform in the real world? Well probably fine for a small school, the biggest bottle neck being the SD-Card storage.

    But can this scale up? This is the really great thing about Linux on commodity hardware like the PI, If we separate out our core system functions like the database by deploying more Pis things should not only scale, but probably even get better/faster.

    So if we buy a few Pis and have have maybe some for a dedicated and replicated database and perhaps two or more for webserver/php frontends, we can even add load balancer or two, again using Pis . Our bottleneck of the SD-Cards space and speed can be solved with a cheap-ish ‘home’ NAS. So long as we are happy with the speed this can scale horizontally to as many pi’s as we need for our user numbers.

    I think all this can be achieved in under £500. So why not just get a £500 PC which might actually be quicker on your average page load? Well what we’ve build with the Pis is a fully redundant ‘High-Availability’ solution which stays up if any one component fails and only costs us <£40 when it does.

  2. Visvanath Ratnaweera

    Hi Paul

    Your MooPi https://moopi.mrverrall.co.uk/ is a neat job!

    The installation is not “plain vanilla” though: I saw that Nginx, php-fmp, php-apc, Memcached, PostgreSQL, etc. are all part of it. Thanks for the description: https://moopi.mrverrall.co.uk/course/view.php?id=4. I wished, it’d be more detailed, so that others can repeat the exercise. Once I installed Moodle on a Pi 2 but the performance was disappointing. I found out that the the SD card is the bottle neck. Mine was not class 10. Hoping to retry with your system next time.

    BTW, https://moopi.mrverrall.co.uk/course/view.php?id=8 was a nice surprise!
    ;-)

  3. Paul Verrall

    Hi Visvanath,

    Thanks for looking! The documentation is a work in progress and I’ve been backfeeding the docs at moodle.org where appropriate too. The Linux history course is freely available at moodle.net and I thought it would be good to have one normal course to show performance.

    Regarding SD cards, class is actually fairly moot for the Raspberry Pi and random read/write performance is much more important, see here: https://www.raspberrypi.org/buy-a-pi-get-an-8gb-noobs-sd-card-for-5/
    Moopi IS using a class 10 card, but specifically a Samsung card with the same random access performance boosts Raspberry Pi HQ had identified, I settled for a 32GB Samsung evo card because it was pretty cheap, see: http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-microsd-card/

    As for Vanilla, for a bare minimum install you need an HTTPD, a way to hook that into PHP and a database, so that is Nginx, php-fpm and Postgres covered as essential necessities. If you’re using a newish version of PHP (5.5+) you’re probably already using the built-in PHP opcache, I have APC as the Raspbian PHP binaries are a touch old. Lastly Memcached support has been in core Moodle since 2.4, so I’d consider that pretty vanilla too.

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