Online Learning at Penn State
The College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State had been using the open source CMS Plone to power their online course delivery system. Over the years, it had grown to more than 120 individual courses, and the college was experiencing performance issues. Six Feet Up addressed the issue by consolidating the sites into just 1 system using the Linage product.
The College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State had been using the open source CMS Plone and the learning management system ANGEL to power their online course delivery system called "eLearning". Under that setup, each course was a standalone site that contained lessons, images and videos. Over the years, the course offering had grown to more than 120 individual courses, and the college was experiencing performance issues, especially on nights preceding an exam.
From 120 sites to 1 with Lineage
Six Feet Up addressed the issue by upgrading the system to the latest version of Plone, and by consolidating 120+ sites into just 1. The existing content was migrated to a new architecture where all courses are now living within one single Plone site. Using Lineage, our subsite management tool for Plone, we grouped courses by department and created a series of seemingly independent child sites. The result of this consolidation effort is a unique Plone instance with 30 department sites, and over a hundred course subsites that each have their own search and navigation system.
This consolidation effort makes the online course system much more efficient: all courses have shown a huge improvement in uptime, stability and performance. "The system is performing very well. Complaints from teachers and students about the site being unavailable have stopped" stated Gabrielle Hendryx-Parker, CEO of Six Feet Up.
Simplified & Automated Content Management
Editing courses has also been much simplified. The College of the Liberal Arts' admin only needs to remember one password to one website, and browse to the course or lesson that needs to be edited. Adding an entirely new series of courses is much easier too: upon clicking of the "add new course" button, the system automatically creates a default basic structure of lessons, folders, and placeholder images, and the parent theme gets applied to the new course.
Learning Management System Integration
Penn State's new eLearning system is now using the ANGEL LMS as an authoritative source of user and group information. Thanks to the Plone product AngelPas, any new course can get instantly linked up to the students and faculty who are assigned to that same course in ANGEL. This means the site administrator no longer has to manually set permissions on courses to give access to faculty and students.
The College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State was running their online courses on an underpowered VM infrastructure and using an inefficient web software architecture. This resulted in multiple performance issues and outages at peak traffic time.
In addition to application improvements, Six Feet Up carried out a technical investigation aimed at identifying the most appropriate hosting setup for the College. The team proposed a new hosting architecture, and specified what size VMs (RAM, CPU cores, etc.) to set up, and which filesystems to use. Finally, Six Feet Up deployed and tested the College's new hosting infrastructure.
The courses are now running on 9 Virtual Machines: 1 for testing, 4 for acceptance and 4 for production. The Plone CMS is running in each environment on a pair of application servers and PostgreSQL is running on a pair of database servers. For better concurrency and scalability, RelStorage is used to store the data on two PostgreSQL database servers. A Netscaler load balancer is used internally and externally to provide scaling and high availability, as well as used as a caching proxy. Memcache is used in the application for caching sessions and frequently-used RelStorage data. Six Feet Up used Pacemaker and Corosync to ensure high availability at the database layer. The team leveraged Locust.io to run the final performance tests.
Since the new system went into effect, the server issues have been entirely resolved and the College of the Liberal Arts has enjoyed a fast and "rock solid" system.
Overall, the consolidation of the course sites and the integration with ANGEL have greatly streamlined the management of online courses at the College of the Liberal Arts.