Focus on Drupal in Education

I’ve decided to focus on a particular expertise of mine, the Drupal CMS.  Although this isn’t itself exclusively intended for educational use, there is a collection of modules which have been created to allow for a Drupal Educational website.

Out of the box, this installation profile allows for student, teacher, and administrative users with different levels of permissions.  Teachers can create groups to organize content around their classes, and students and teachers both can post content into these groups.  Podcasting, video, blogs, and a content management system to boot.  The obvious advantage to this over Moodle is that one can build a website using the same tools that one is building course content.

The faces of the cube:

Market focus

This installation profile for Drupal has been designed with a secondary school in mind, but it could easily be used for any level of education.  It would probably not be appropriate as is for a corporate environment.

Types of offerings

This installation profile doesn’t provide any services for the end user, or any content.  Instead it provides the necessary infrastructure to build content.  Unfortunately the lack of services means that if there is a problem with the site, or the end user wants some customization, they are left to figure it out themselves or hire a professional.

Who is the buyer?

This type of site requires some understanding of the technology being used and could not reasonably be expected to be set up by the average teacher.  This means that the IT personel at a school would have to set it up, however since the profile is free, this makes the set up just following some instructions, and having server space to support it.

It is conceivable that this could be something set up by a district, but they would want to create individual sites for each school in that case.

Global Markets

One of the nice features of the Drupal CMS is that it is possible to translate the interface to any language.  Many languages on already have had most of the interface already translated, and the additional text associated with this installation profile can be translated through the default administration profile of Drupal.

This means that this installation profile could be used in any market where someone is willing to take the time to translate the interface.  Since this requires a web interface, this could be an issue in countries where the internet connectivity is poor.

Development of the market

Other than providing a support group where questions can be asked and answered, there has been no effort made to create a market for this product.  Obviously there are a lot of schools out there they may want to use this product.   Unfortunately they will have to hear about this system through word or mouth of because of a deliberate search for this type of product.

Competition with other learning platforms

There is a lot of competition in the elearning market, so obviously this installation profile of Drupal would have an uphill battle in order to gain an noticable market share.  There are a lot of expensive elearning platforms on the market, and a smaller number of open source platforms, Moodle being one of the leaders in the Open Source field.  What most of these platforms lack however is a proper CMS.  Moodle can be used as more than an E-learning platform, but requires significant customization to create a useable website.  Drupal has this feature built in, although the E-learning portion is weaker than Moodle.

Many schools have worked toward integrating Moodle into Drupal with a shared user base and shared information.  They have been somewhat successful, and this combo might be a better bet than using the Drupal for Education installation profile.


1 Jarrod Bell { 09.20.08 at 10:21 pm }

Hi David, I agree that Drupal has some pretty powerful components and is a great CMS. There are ways to integrate Moodle into Drupal but require time and expertise. I started playing with Moodle and Drupal several years ago, more separately than together though.

Drupal is very powerful in management features, but also can be quite confusing for some users depending on the task at hand. I found training users on management was difficult as the range of abilities was broad from school to school. So in the long run I switched to WordPress as I could train people from 15 to 60 minutes on the full management of their school website. The district has central moodle sites that tie directly into our active directory so account maintenance is not needed.

If I wanted any kind of special permissions for different groups and areas and wanted a nicer look than moodle, then I would definitely go with Drupal (if I had the time…)


2 David Wees { 09.21.08 at 1:21 am }

Yeah, I agree WordPress is easier to use out of the box than Drupal. However, with some work, you can actually create a duplicate of the WordPress Dashboard and post functionality within Drupal. A lot of work is being focussed on creating more user friendly distributions of Drupal.
However the problem with using WordPress with a CMS is that it basically allows you to publish pages, in whatever type of hierarchy you want, but gives you limited access to other types of data. In Drupal you can create a database front end and store whatever type of data you want, using some of the contributed modules (CCK + Views). This functionality is the reason to use Drupal, it’s flexibility. It definitely makes it a developer tool though.

3 Susan Wilson { 09.21.08 at 6:21 am }

Thanks for the explanation on Drupal.

I had heard of Drupal and WordPress before. I checked them out then realized that I would not be the one to implement anything like that – I am limited to “click here to download” and auto-install!

I did, however, want to comment on the notion of “word of mouth”. In this post, and in another earlier post, the lack of deliberate promotion and the need to rely on word of mouth are seemingly critcisms of the product promotion. In my opinion, word of mouth can be much more powerful than pointed advertisements if the companies are aware of the power of ICT in spreading their word.

People are blogging about Drupal and WordPress. They are linking to each other’s blogs, asking and receiving help on installation and implementation and the comments are positive.

I would imagine that Drupal has monitored the number of Drupal “tweets” (short posts on Twitter) and has seen that they do not need to advertise.

Word of mouth takes on a whole new meaning in the blogshere!

4 Gillian Gunderson { 09.21.08 at 1:05 pm }

I think that I am obsessing about the thought of “free”. Maybe I ‘m just cheap, but I like the idea of free! However, I have been
encountering some issues with the realities of “free”.

It seems that many of the free/open sourse applications require either a large time commitment in order to gain the expertise to customize them, or the utility is lacking.

Like Susan, I do not have the technical background to be able to
perform complicated installations. I also get very frustrated if I can’t easily do what I need to get done (I tend to use technology to achieve a goal rather than to explore/experiment).

In the future, will there be a larger market for services (customization, support, etc) if the product is free?

It seems like VCs were more into product than service, as product meant that money could be made while people slept!

5 davidp { 09.21.08 at 1:49 pm }

To Gillian’s question…

Yes, the service business around the open source space is vibrant.

There are companies in Vancouver that specialize in making Moodle and Drupal do what corporate and academic customers want. See:

The bigger issue around Drupal and other fairly complex open source solutions is the question of whether it is the core business of teachers or school districts to actually build out these systems internally.

Do you build your own car? Should you? Or, do you just drive one?


6 David Wees { 09.21.08 at 3:25 pm }

Yeah David, I see your point about the car. However what has happened I think in the education market is that a lot of teachers have bought what they thought was a Ferrari but was actually a Ford. Maybe more of these E-learning tools and web management tools should have an actual teacher on staff?

For example our school uses Gradequick which is the least intuitive and most bug prone piece of grading software I’ve ever seen. It has clearly not been designed by someone who has any clue about usability and rational UI design.

It would be nice if a company would specialize in providing a complete solution (CMS + school administration + all online) for schools. They would make a killing.

7 davidp { 09.21.08 at 4:17 pm }

Good one, David…

“It would be nice if a company would specialize in providing a complete solution (CMS + school administration + all online) for schools. They would make a killing.”

Totally agree. But, they would have to overcome all of us who believe we know a better way.

This course blog is a perfect example of the instructors believing there is a better way, and a less “Fordist” way of offering an online course.


I suspect we’re still at the front end of getting online learning right.

8 Joe Dobson { 09.21.08 at 8:36 pm }

I think the general comments here about user friendliness are in line with a lot of what I hear at work about incorporating technology in the classroom. I know some folks in a number of places that walk to class with tape recorders till because they know it’ll work.

One of the biggest problems with computers and IT in general is the amount of time that can be spent trouble shooting (to pick on Ford some more, the Pinto comes to mind). If cars we drive were to perform similarly all hell would break loose. I love technology and the myriad ways it can be used, but like David P. I think things are a long way off in many respects.

9 Gillian Gunderson { 09.21.08 at 10:26 pm }

Hmm… build my own car.

If I were the shop teacher, yes.

As an elementary/middle school DL teacher – no. I’m too busy teaching or doing learning plans for all of the other subjects.

Are technology and LMS’s integral to my job? Over the last 20+ years, I didn’t produce the marks books, I only recorded in them. I didn’t produce the textbooks – but I could have worked for (and been paid by) a textbook company.

I should be able to use the technology, not produce it, if the use rather than the production is part of my job.

I think that David W. hit the spot – we’re hoping for Ferraris and getting Fords.

But… maybe we get the Ferraris and can’t handle them, so we want to return to the Fords.

This blog interface makes me have to think about exposure (I HATE being able to google my name and coming up with a hit), tags, RSS feeds, etc. At times, I yearn for the safety of Vista.

Do we, as teachers, abandon best practices for expediency? Do we hope for the Ferrari, but feel more comfortable with the Ford?

Does that mean that business ventures in educational technology produce more Fords? Because they’re easier to handle?

I’m sorry to introduce this “philosophical” thought in a business ventures course, but it seems to me that the available technology far surpasses how we utilize it at an elementary level ( my area of expertise). The demands on an elementary teacher’s time leave little time to explore the technology.

So, I feel guilty that I don’t know how to build the car, but I’d really like to learn to drive it.

(Yup, another long post – I have to figure out how to make these short in a blog environment!)

10 Laura Macleod { 09.28.08 at 11:01 am }

Gillian – These are really interesting questions! As someone who is involved in the production of these products, I’d say that – with both print and digital products – a good 40% of what we produce doesn’t get used. Print products like teachers manuals, testbanks; digital products like websites (yes some are lame but there are some really good ones!) to accompany books, and digital study guides. So maybe you want a Ferrari, can cope with a Ford, but have a Volvo.


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