Merce Select

E-learning system
  • Summary

    Industry Education/ vocational training

    Client Newly founded distance education institute in India

    Requirement New business venture, offering training programmes in electronic design and CAD subjects through an Internet-based e-learning system. The solution needed to manage the complete student lifecycle and deliver course contents and online examinations.

  • Our solution

    Solution features The entire business with all processes other than financial accounting needed to be computerised. This included

    • Student registration management. Registration, course enrolment, fees collection, verification of student credentials. Scanned copies of documents needed to be uploaded into the system for verification by officers.
    • Payment management. Receive payment by cheque, DD, credit cards, debit cards, and provide an interface for physical payment verification by an Accounts Officer.
    • Course material accessible to registered students
    • Course material management. Interface for teachers to manage and publish course material
    • SCORM support. The ability to upload, process and publish course content as per SCORM standards.
    • Question banks. Support for question banks with various types of questions and the ability to associate tags and attributes with each question.
    • Student progress tracking. Track which students have worked on a specific assignment or component of course material, track assignment submissions, scores, etc
    • Tests. Conduct tests online, publish results. Provide support for teachers to score answers which are not objective in nature, assign grades.
    • Collaboration features. Support discussion forums which allow teachers to interact with the class, or students to interact with each other. Support for instant messaging, notepads for personal notes, messages (like email), wikis, etc

    Most of these features are available out of the box in mature open-source elearning solutions including Moodle and ATutor. We used ATutor as the foundation for our solution.

    Scope of work We mapped the customer's requirements to the ATutor feature set and implemented various features. We also provided various additional services to enable the customer to get started. Our work included:

    • Registration management. ATutor supported only student self-registration. The customer needed manual control and enabling of student registration through their institute's administrative team. We added those features. The institute needed to examine scanned copies of the student's credentials, previous marksheets and certificates, as part of the registration process. We extended the registration process to enable the applicant to upload scanned images of these documents, and provided an interface to the institute's academic administration team to examine them and authorise the application.
    • Multi-semester courses. The institute needed support for multi-semester courses with computerised enforcement of policies of allowing a student to register for courses in a later semester only after clearing pre-requisites in the previous semester. ATutor supported pre-requisites relating one course to another, but not one semester to previous semesters. We added support for semesters and policies for pre-requisites related to them.
    • Fees management. The institute needed tracking of all fees collected from students and tracking of pending dues. This sequence started with paying for the paper based blank application form, followed by registration fees at the time of submitting the form, followed by other course-related fees. New modules were added to ATutor to support all these operations. Payment could be through online credit card gateways (Paypal), Demand Draft, cheques or cash. Details of payment instruments needed to be captured against each payment received.
    • SCORM enablement. The institute did not have internal team members with SCORM experience. We liaised with course content creators on behalf of the institute to test the SCORM content created by these vendors. We uploaded the SCORM content on the elearning system, reported errors, and assisted in sorting out errors.
    • Question papers and assignments. We assisted the institute in uploading question banks and managing attributes of questions, so that they could create question papers out of them correctly. We adjusted and extended the attributes of questions and banks, and configured question paper related settings to assist the institute to get the question paper generation to work as per their specifications. We assisted the institute in configuring assignment submission settings as per their requirements. We extended the testing module to map tests to courses and semesters, so that a student's performance in a semester could be maintained and displayed in a coherent manner. We configured system performance parameters to support large numbers of simultaneous online tests with acceptable performance. In many of these tasks, ATutor algorithms needed to be modified or extended.
    • Infrastructure components. We managed the OS and layered products on the production server during initial deployment and testing. We tuned PHP parameters, Apache configuration, to deliver stable behaviour of ATutor in the presence of heavy access or when handling large content files. In one setup, the institute needed a warm standby backup server and we set up MySQL replication from primary to backup server.

    Technologies Linux OS, Apache Web server, PHP, ATutor (which is a PHP-based application), and MySQL database system.

    Deployment We deployed the solution on a cloud-based test server initially, with suffiicient resources to allow the institute to do complete acceptance testing and then transition to production use without re-installation. After production use stabilised over 4+ months, we migrated the installation to the customer's infrastructure and handed over the system to their team.