Updated on July 1st, 2019.
Zapier is an automation service that works with a lot of popular applications, including Gmail and Dropbox. A “free forever” tier lets you plug services in up to 5 simple processes. To our knowledge, most LMS do not provide automation services, with the exception of Blackboard Conduit, an exclusive automation and scripting tool.
An automation process involves two parts: Triggers and Actions. A Trigger is the event (or set thereof) whose occurrence is necessary for the Action to take place. The Action is the completion of the operation. It sounds simple, which is often the case for powerful applications with unmeasurable possibilities. In the Zapier lingo, a Trigger-Action link is called a “zap”.
How do teachers and administrators, even students use Zapier? Learning management professional and developer Lewis Carr gives us their thoughts for the case of Moodle LMS. Currently there is not a direct integration for Moodle, be it throught plugin or an API.
As of 2019, the only official LMS support available by Zapier goes to TalentLMS, with dozens of ready-made recipes for the propietary, cloud-based platform catering corporations mostly in the US.
Moodle’s Event Monitoring: Half-way of a solution
Lewis suggests to take advantage of the outbound services that Moodle does offer, and use them to connect to other apps. Many of them hinge on Moodle’s Event Monitoring, a fairly broad method to capture actions taking place inside the LMS, be it by the users or the system.
The obvious limitation in terms of automation is the inability to add listeners or triggers. It is not a built-in feature, and we don’t know of a plugin that helps doing this.
While it seems Event Monitoring is available for Moodle up to 3.7, beware, as the official documentation has not been updated for a long time and only shows Moodle 2.8 examples.
With event monitoring enabled in Moodle, you can receive emails for actions and changes, from student submissions to updates to calendar. Then, link your email account with Zapier to connect to other services. Lewis team communication tool Slack. Set a rule to update the status of a Moodle project in its Slack channel when there is a meaningful update on Moodle. This way, for example, the developer can notify the instructional designer when Moodle is set up and ready to be filled out with the content.
Lewis mentions RSS to “zap” for automatic updates to Twitter or Facebook; or push notifications with OneSignal. OneSignal is another online service where you can activate notifications on your desktop, or on your mobile device through an app, and receive an instant alert from a RSS update. Another cool idea is to reward a student contribution or submission with a notification, perhaps with an SMS. Same as Zapier, it has a free tier.
Automating database connections to other apps has added complications. The first one is that MySQL zaps are only available in the paid version of Zapier. The second one is that you need administration permissions to enable a firewall exception to allow another app to “talk” with the database.
Zaps selected by Lewis include creating Mailchimp mailing lists from course sign-ups or when a user subscribes to a forum; keeping score of items on the Moodle recycle bin, maybe on a spreadsheet; or updating a calendar for time-related updates to the Moodle Database and track the story of your Moodle configuration.
There are more than 500 apps supported by Zapier. For a full list go here.
Our coverage on The Tech and the latest innovations behind LMS and Learning Systems is supported by Moonami, a company that provides a full range of Moodle services combining the flexibility, scalability, and power of Amazon’s world-leading cloud platform (AWS) with fanatical Moodle support. Click here to learn more.