ConversionThingy 2

ConversionThingy 2

Converting Archives and Backups with ConversionThingy 2Status Tab during a conversion

ConversionThingy 2 automatically identifies the type of archive at hand and processes only those that actually have content that can be processed--ANGEL's 7.3, 7.4 and 8.0 backups and archives and Moodle backup files (1.98 and probably some earlier and later 1.x versions) are recognized automatically and processed accordingly. 

The process of converting an archive file involves clicking the Giddyup button, selecting which file to convert, and then watching the progress on the Status tab as the program enumerates the objects being converted and created. This document provides some important information on what converts, what doesn't, and what you can do to make your course conversions as useful as possible.

ANGEL 7.3, 7.4, and 8.0 course archives and backup files process virtually all content, transforming most course elements into a resonable equivalent in Moodle; Moodle 1.x backup files are passed through a restructuring process to emerge as Moodle 2.x backup files, retaining in the process the most common core activities and resources along with gradebook entries and scales, and settings.  In neither case does user data get converted or retained.

Item selectorAllowing for variations in computer speed and course composition, most course sites that were saved without user data should convert in less than half a minute. The greatest portion of time spent in processing most conversions is the time spent unzipping the source archive: archives without user data will be processed more quickly. Aside from the processes of unpacking and repacking the archive files, the most time-consuming element is the construction of questions in course sites that have enormous question banks  For some details on optimizing conversions and minimizing issues in the converted output, see the "Recommendations for a Good Conversion," below.

If you've chosen the configuration option to "Select specific content for each conversion," after ConversionThingy has unpacked the backup file and run a set of preliminary functions, ConversionThingy will prompt you to deselect the items you do not want in a conversion.  If you want it all, just click cancel or ok: if you want only a subset of the content, remove the checkmarks beside the items you don't want converted.

When Things Go Wrong

Some conversions won't work. ConversionThingy 2 itself may stall out, crash, or produce output that your Moodle installation doesn't know what to do with. If you find yourself with a file that didn't survive a conversion attempt--and this will happen--your only practical recourse is to try to tweak your source materials (according to recommendations below), use the configuration option that allows you to select which specific elements are going to be included in the conversion (and thus weed out the offending element), or to abandon the conversion of the file that's (f)ailing. You can, if things are very desperate, send me a note (click the "Feedback" button on the program's "License" tab). But you oughtn't trouble the nice people at Moodle with problems created by ConversionThingy 2: they've got their hands full and really can't be expected to resolve problems that are not of their making... 

NOTE: If your output is destined for a Moodle 2x installation, you might want to make sure that you've got a good healthy timeout set in your PHP configuration.  A max_execution_time of 300 seems to make possible restorations of backups that simply fail to restore if the max_execution_time is set to 30 or 120. 

Requisite Reminder about Copyright

Before converting ANY course archive, you should ensure that you are not violating any copyrights in doing so: this means that you should not convert course archives that contain e-reserve materials, course cartridges supplied by publishers, or other materials for which you do not hold copyright or appropriate permissions. You must remove any such materials from course sites before archiving and converting them.

Recommendations for a Good Conversion

This is a short list, but it's pretty important stuff, all related to the general theme of cleaning up the site before you generate the backup file or archive you're planning on converting. Most of these recommendations are worth considering regardless of whether your source files are to be derived from ANGEL or Moodle.

  1. Remove any duplicate copies of assessments/drop-boxes that you may have set up to accommodate special teams.
  2. Remove any materials that don't actually serve a current function in the course site--don't, that is to say, convert a publisher's volume of question bank materials that you're not actually using, and don't convert those hidden folders full of "unused materials" that haven't been used in years....
  3. Get rid of any remnants of ANGEL Quiz objects: they won't be processed in the conversion.
  4. Get rid of any empty question bank folders that were generated by ANGEL as part of a Quiz-to-Assessment conversion. While you're at it, get rid of duplicate assessments.
  5. Make sure that your gradebook actually adds up and has values attached to all categories and assignments.
  6. Make sure that you haven't lost keywords or difficulty levels at some stage of an ANGEL upgrade or archive upload, or question pools using those criteria will fail.
  7. Make sure that the question pools that you expect to return x number of questions actually return x number of questions.
  8. Get rid of Assessments that don't have any questions in them.
  9. You might also want to trim away any ANGEL Games, Syndicated Folders, or Blogs--none of those will be converted. They won't cause any problems in the conversion, they'll just be skipped.
  10. Ensure that content that is drawn from ANGEL's LOR's is COPIED and not LINKED--if it's linked, it doesn't move into the course archive and won't be part of the conversion.
  11. In ANGEL 7.4, use the Backup rather than the Export option to create the file to convert--the 7.4 Export omits a block of course related information identifying the instructor, department, section, course title, etc. The export-generated archive can be processed, it'll just be missing details that you'd be able to use to review all conversions for a particular instructor; it'll also have a less-than-intuitive title when it gets parsed by Moodle.
  12. Make sure that your ANGEL File objects and ANGEL Link objects connect to their destination files/links.
  13. If you've built a wee subweb of interdependent files (html/jar/image) in ANGEL's associated files area, prepare for this to fail horribly. You might as well get rid of it before the conversion, because only the entry page of that interdependent cluster will be included in the conversion. (With the files on hand, you might be able to pull off a similar structure in Moodle 1.98 or in Moodle 2, but the conversion doesn't handle it.)
  14. If you use ANGEL's Matching question type, ensure that you've provided for at least three matches.

Things That Won't Convert from ANGEL

As noted above, ConversionThingy 2 will make no attempt to convert ANGEL's Games, Syndicated Folders or Blogs; beyond these objects, there's also no attempt made to capture ANGEL's Standards or Association mappings or specific team assignments, although Team ids and Team descriptions will be migrated.  Question Bank and Assessment questions are converted insofar as it's possible to do so. ANGEL's Sorting questions, and Offline item questions do not have ready equivalents in Moodle, so those types will be sidestepped; although Moodle supports questions based on algorithms, ConversionThingy 2 makes no effort to reconcile ANGEL's algorithmic questions with Moodle's.  Whenever ConversionThingy encounters an ANGEL question that cannot be converted, a "description" object is popped into the corresponding Moodle quiz/question bank, indicating that a question has been omitted. It bears mentioning that ALL converted materials should be checked carefully to ensure that missing (or potentially corrupted) items do not end up passing unnoticed. Particular attention should be paid to gradebooks and quizzes/tests in the converted site: you don't want to be surprised when a pool of questions comes up short because of omissions based on question types, and you don't want to be in the middle of a semester and discover your gradebook no longer adds up.

ANGEL's "Quiz" objects (as opposed to the "Assessments" that replaced them) are not processed. If an older ANGEL archive (like a 7.2 or potentially even a 7.1 archive) slips into the conversion cue, you'll discover that gradebooks go missing also, as the format has changed considerably. At the moment, there may be less-than-graceful failures in the handling of ANGEL archives that were generated under versions earlier than 7.3; if earlier versions of ANGEL archives parse at all (and some may), they will be without Quizzes (see above) and they will probably also be without gradebook entries.  In all likelihood, they'll just draw an error message and shut down.

A "Conversion Report" document is generated with every conversion--it gets included in the "Files" area of the Moodle backup file.  This document contains, amongst other details, notes on most (if not all) of the omissions that may have occurred as the course site was transferred.

Things ConversionThingy Doesn't Know and Can't Do

Just as no two ANGEL implementations are exactly the same, it's also the case that any two Moodle implementations may differ considerably.  As such, ConversionThingy  makes no guesses about file size limitations (it assumes there are none in Moodle that wouldn't also have been at hand in the user's ANGEL system), it guess that there's no problem with javascript in files, it supposes that no content must urgently be blocked (so it doesn't flag SWF files, even though it's an administrative option to block these in Moodle). And, finally, it doesn't presenlty offer any choice of which "blocks" that should appear as part of the Moodle site (it assumes that the default set is pretty much OK). The program also doesn't know what the course dates or access dates for converted materials should be, and rather than populating these fields with dates in the future, it inserts a date safely in the past. Users of the converted materials will have to reassign dates before the course can be taught, but that should be pretty standard practice anyway, one might think.

Shifting the New Backup File to Moodle

In a Moodle 1.x course site, click on the Files link, upload the newly created backup file, click the Restore link, and follow the prompts.  The video, below, takes you through the process really really quickly...

In Moodle 2.x, look for the "Restore" link among the admin options on the site home; upload the file, and then follow the prompts, or find the restore link amongst the Course Administration settings in a course site. (It bears noting that some odd things can happen if a course backup having 18 topics is restored into a course site that has only 10: you'll want to adjust the number of topics before completing the restore process.)