Getting started with Valamis - eLearning for Liferay

Introduction

This post is only a technical guide on getting started with Valamis eLearning software, therefore you won't find here how to create or manage courses nor how to use the system as an end user. These information can be found in the upcoming user manual.

The target audience of this documentation is mainly system admins who are supposed to set up and maintain a Valamis system so that the teachers and students can fill it up with content and use it.

Valamis 2.0

Supposedly you are somewhat familiar with the concept of Valamis by the time you have reached this document. In short: Valamis is a social learning environment for sharing and receiving knowledge. It has been built upon the Liferay portal and comes in a form of plugins such as portlets, hooks, layouts, theme, etc.

Version 2.0 has changed the Valamis UI into a fully responsive design. At the same time the entire Valamis back-end, which was built to support SCORM standard for eLearning, has been moved to support Tin Can API. These are big changes, but at the same time, they allow us to look past of the limitations of SCORM and Learning Management Systems.

Related tools and systems

Valamis is built upon and integrated with other third-party systems that you might want to familiarize yourself with in order to use the system to its full potential.

Liferay

Liferay is a free and open source enterprise portal written in Java. It  [Liferay logo] includes a built-in web content management system allowing users to build websites as an assembly of themes, pages, portlets/gadgets and a common navigation. You must have a decent knowledge about Liferay in order to use Valamis.

Find more information at www.liferay.com
User Guide https://www.liferay.com/documentation/liferay-portal/6.2/user-guide

Open Badge Infrastructure

The Mozilla Open Badges (Open Badge Infrastructure or OBI) project is a program by Mozilla that issues digital badges to recognize skills and achievements. The badge structure allows one to display real-world achievements and skills which may help with future career and education opportunities. The OBI allows badge issuers and developers to build badges and allows online learners to choose from a number of different pathways for development.

Find more information at www.openbadges.org/about

Tin Can API

The Tin Can API, now officially known as the Experience API (xAPI), is an e-learning software specification that allows learning content and learning systems tospeak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences. Learning experiences are recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS). LRSs can exist within traditional Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or on their own.

Find more information at https://experienceapi.com/overview/

Summary

Now that you have a basic understanding of Valamis and its third-party tools and probably have some useful knowledge about the Liferay portal system, you are ready to install and set up a Valamis system.

In the following chapter, we will go through the installation step by step.

Installing Valamis 2.0

This chapter will guide you through the installation process of the Valamis e-learning system step by step, providing you every detail you might need. The discussed platforms will be Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. You have two ways to get Valamis: download it from the Liferay Marketplace or get the source code from GitHub and build it by yourself. We will discuss both ways.

Installing from Marketplace

If you are installing Valamis from the marketplace, you won't have the direct source code and we assume that you don't want to further customize it, just use the current latest build. 

Install Liferay

The first thing you want to do is installing a working Liferay environment if you don't have access to one already. Please keep in mind that the Valamis 2.0 officially supports Liferay version 6.2.

To download a Liferay bundle, go tohttp://www.liferay.com/downloads/liferay-portal/available-releases
For installation instructions, followhttps://www.liferay.com/documentation/liferay-portal/6.1/user-guide/-/ai/installing-liferay

Configure the memory usage of your Java Virtual Machine

For Valamis, the recommended Java heap size is 2048m and the perm size is 512m. You should set these values for Liferay before first starting it, but definitely before you try to install Valamis.

  1. Go to your /liferay-xx/tomcat-xx/bin folder.
  2. Open your setenv.sh (or setenv.bat if you are using Windows) with a text editor.
  3. Find the part Xmx1024m -XX:MaxPermSize=256m
  4. Modify it to Xmx2048m -XX:MaxPermSize=512m
  5. Save the file and start or restart your Liferay. Use the shutdown.sh/.bat to shut down liferay, and the startup.sh/.bat to start it again. These scripts can also be found in the /liferay-xx/tomcat-xx/bin folder.

If you are starting Liferay for the first time, you have to go through its initial configuration. You will find information about it in the previously mentioned Liferay documentation.

Open the Liferay Marketplace

In order to install Valamis, first, you have to purchase it from the marketplace. Don't worry, the CE version is free of charge and the EE version has a 30 day trial period.

1. Log into your system as an admin user. The default login screen's address is under the /c/portal/login, for example https://localhost:8080/c/portal/login

2. Click on the "+" button in the top left corner of the page.

3. Scroll down in the appearing menu and click on the "Install more applications" button.

Purchase Valamis

1. Search for Valamis in the search bar.

2. Select your preferred version. Here, we will choose the free EE or CE version.

3. Click on the "Free" button and finish the transaction.

 

Install Valamis

Now that you have purchased Valamis, you can install it.

1. Navigate to the "Purchased" menu in the marketplace.

2. Click on the install button.

The installation could take minutes. The portal will download the sufficient Valamis portlets, hooks, theme, etc and will deploy them. After these steps, you will have a working Valamis environment.

Installing from source-code

If you would like to download the source code of Valamis and build it for yourself with the possibilities of later customization, you can do that as well. If you have these kind of plans, you are probably not new to programming thus we will have only a brief collection of advices here.

Suggested IDE

Valamis is developed using IntelliJ IDEA: http://www.jetbrains.com/idea/

Another good choice would be using Eclipse:https://www.eclipse.org

Since Valamis is a Liferay application, you can consider using Liferay's modified eclipse, the Liferay IDE:https://www.liferay.com/downloads/liferay-projects/liferay-ide

Installing JDK

In order to work with the Valamis code, you must have the latest JDK installed on you computer:http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/java/javase/downloads/index.html

Installing Maven 3

Valamis has been built with Maven 3. You can download its latest version here: http://maven.apache.org/download.cgi . Information about the installation process can also be found there.

Getting the source code

The Valamis source-code is accessible from Github under the following link: https://github.com/arcusys/JSCORM

If you are familiar with Github and the git version control system, this link is probably enough for you, to get the source code. If not, don't worry, you can use the "download as zip" button on the page to get the current version.

Building the source code

Navigate to the source code's base folder. Before you start building the application, make sure, that you have configured the java virtual machine to use enough memory. Valamis require 2048m Java heap size and 512m perm size. Set the MAVEN_OPTS environment variable to "-Xmx2048m -XX:MaxPermSize=512m"

Under bash shell: export MAVEN_OPTS="-Xmx2048m -XX:MaxPermSize=512m"

When the environment variable has been set, execute this command in the source code folder: mvn clean package

Deploying Valamis

After the building process is finished, you have to deploy each component to your Liferay environment. (To set up a Liferay, go to chapter 2.1) In order to do this, copy the war files from the components target folder to the Liferay's deploy folder.

Summary

In this chapter, you have installed Valamis and it is ready for use. In the following chapter, we will go through its basic configuration.

Contents of Valamis

In this chapter, you will a brief summary of the content that will be added to your basic Liferay instance after the installation of Valamis.

Valamis theme

Valamis comes with its own, fully responsive look and feel. The portlets mostly contain their own design but this theme bounds them together with a modern and elegant style. Not only the basic site elements like the header, footer or navigation are involved, but the Liferay on-site control panel bar got a new design as well.

Valamis Lesson Tools
Lesson Designer

Allows you to create new lessons to the course. A lesson itself can have a title, a short description, and a representative picture. The lessons can contain various contents including text documents, sideshows or tests.

Lesson Management

Allows you to manage the published lessons on the course site. You can delete, hide or edit them. Their content cannot be changed here.

Lesson Viewer

Allows the user to search inside the published lessons and watch their content.

Gradebook Viewer

The student's grades on the attended courses.

Question Management

Gives you a possibility to construct tests and questions.

Valamis Curriculum tools
Curriculum Management

Allows you to create new certificates.

Curriculum Viewer

The users can watch their own and the available certificates.

Valamis Analytics
Course Event Report

Display various events of the course.

Participant Report

Displays a number of participants on each course.

Valamis TinCan Course Report

Displays detailed information about the courses including course number, student number, completeness and many more.

Valamis TinCan Latest statements

Displays the latest actions of the user.

Valamis TinCan Reporting Viewer

Displays the rate of started, completed and passed courses.

Valamis TinCan Reporting by Period

Same as the reporting viewer, just uses a time period to restrict the report.

Valamis TinCan Statement Viewer

Displays the actions of every user.

Valamis TinCan Students Latest statements

Displays the latest actions of the users.

Valamis TinCan Teacher's most active students

Displays the teacher's most active students.

Valamis TinCan students leaderboard

Leaderboard of the best students.

Valamis Administration

Contains administration portlets. These portlets will be introduced in the next chapter.

Valamis Demo Site

Valamis comes with an example site as well, where you can see a simple set-up of a course.

Valamis Administration Tools

Now, that you have a working Valamis instance, let's examine its administrative tools and options.

1. Go to the Site Administration page

2. Expand the Content menu on the right.

You can see there the Lesson Management, the Valamis Administration, and the TinCan API Client Manager portlets. Under the administration, there are four more submenus: Manage Roles, Open Badge Settings, and Optional Settings. Let's examine these options.

Manage Roles

The Valamis system distinguishes two types of users:

  • Teachers that are creating the course material.
  • Students that are attending the courses and studying the course material.

Logically, these two user types have different eligibility for the Valamis portlets and they can see and use them differently. On the manage roles screen, you can bound existing Liferay roles to these categories, so they will act as teachers or students in the Valamis system. On a fresh Valamis installation, there will be a new teacher and student roles created and bound to these categories, but if you already have a database of thousands of users, you might want to bound your existing roles.

Open Badge Settings

Valamis can use the Mozilla Open Badge system to give badges to the students. These badges act as certificates and contain information like the certification's title, logo, the issuer's name, the owner's name, etc. In order to give verified badges with your Valamis, you have to fill these fields correctly with your data.

More, detailed information about issuing badges and the requirements of becoming an issuer can be found in the following link: http://openbadges.org/issue/

Tincan settings

Here you can connect your Valamis with a Tincan Learning Record Store that will keep track of the user's learning activity. This LRS can be internal or external like https://cloud.scorm.com

More information about Tincan: https://experienceapi.com/

3.4 Optional Settings

 

These miscellaneous settings are used in special cases.

Reinitialize database

As its name suggests, this button will wipe out every data from the database and return it to its initial state. This means every Valamis related data will be erased. Certainly, you don't want to push this button on a live system unless you have an up to date copy of the database.

Create Site Template

By pushing this button, you will create a new Valamis course site template. Later you can customize this template and use it to create courses sites.

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