From February 13-15, 2013, members of the Centre for Instructional Development (CID) attended the Moodle Moot Canada 2013 conference in Vancouver.
Vancouver Community College has made a strong commitment to using the Moodle LMS platform for delivering online courses. Moodle Moot is a major annual event that brings educators, technologists and industry reps together to share ideas, show off projects, and discuss issues in online learning, educational practice and the implications of digital technology.
The CID and the DL Support team attended a variety of educational and technical sessions at this stimulating two and a half day conference. (Many attendees tweeted out URLs, notes and quotes using the hashtag #mootca13.)
Martin Dougiamas: “Why are we in education?”
The keynote speaker on Day 1 was Moodle’s creator, Martin Dougiamas.
Although he’s known primarily as a software engineer, Martin has an educational background. This is evident from his Moodle design philosophy, which is based on Social Constructivism – the idea that learning happens through the knowledge that we grow by actively working and constructing with others. (Wikipedia: “Groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings.”)
This open, collaborative philosophy also parallels the goals of the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement in general. Openness in its many forms (free and open code, open course content, and open collaboration) is the underlying quality that sets Moodle apart from all the commercial LMS competitors (which are neither free nor open).
Features coming to Moodle in versions 2.5 and 2.6
Martin said that Moodle HQ has spent a lot of time over the past few releases improving Moodle’s architecture and performance.
Here are the features Martin said we can expect in the Moodle core, in versions 2.5 or 2.6:
- The Open Badges open standard will be supported in 2.5 and 2.6
- An HTML5 app for smartphones is in development (PhoneGap). This will provide a better user experience for Moodle users on their mobile phones. (A beta version may be available this week.)
- Offline marking of assignments was a much-requested feature, and the new mobile app may accommodate this.
- An LTI interface will provide much easier integration of plug-ins (mostly of use to plugin developers)
- More instructional videos are on the way to the Moodle.org site!
- The TinyMCE editor in Moodle will have an “auto-save to browser” capability in version 2.5 or 2.6.
Efficiency has been the major focus of Moodle’s engineering efforts, but Martin also admitted that while advancing the technology is crucial, he personally wants to go “back to the classroom” and revisit his earlier research. So, he looked to the audience and asked them the question that he was, in effect, asking himself: “Why are we in education?” Audience members responded with brief, personal statements which sometimes were quite blunt and essential: “to make the world a better place”, “to help others have a better life”, or “because it’s fun”.
After seeing how he connected with the room in that brief exchange, I could not see Martin Dougiamas as just a techie or an engineer. He was saying that he’s continuing to reinterpret and redefine his role against the dual backgrounds of technology and education – something that I suspect many of the people in his audience had likely been doing as well.
Martin said “the tools we use change us” and affect our behaviour. I’d find that theme coming up again in later sessions, particularly where social media in education is concerned.
Session: Teaching with Moodle – Beyond Bloom’s Taxonomy
This small breakout session was led by Jason Maitland and Kristina Thomson – two high-school teachers from Rundle Academy, who aimed to show how they’d extended their learning practice “beyond Bloom’s Taxonomy” by integrating Moodle with other online services. (Their Prezi slide deck is available online.)
They described how they applied differentiated learning, using various types of content for their adolescent learners. In one example resource for teaching literature (in this case, Shakespeare), text was displayed in simplified English, and accompanied by audio and video clips, all embedded on the same page. This multi-modal approach (promoted as a UDL standard), allows learners with different learning styles to absorb information in more than one mode using multiple forms of media. It was neat to see the principle applied so enthusiastically by young teachers in the first few years of their careers.
Key Topics Raised
How will Moodle fit into the 21 Century Competencies?
- Creativity and innovation
Critical thinking and problem solving (metacognition)
- Bloom’s Taxonomy – moving beyond this to metacognition (a blending of all of the learning steps – understanding, evaluation, creation, etc)
- Differentiation – make content accessible to all students in different ways
- Teacher needs to understand content
- Needs to understand the interests and learning profile of students
Other observations from this session:
“Moodle is a frame to consolidate different apps or plugins. Moodle is the house students can always use to access their content.”
I thought this was a particularly strong message, and a practical approach to organizing the presentation of features from other services into a common learning environment.
Use Twitter as your back channel. Use it to compile issues as in an exit survey.
Put embed code in HTML block (some templates don’t like Twitter embed code).
Other Example Uses of 3rd-party web services
- Students may be asked to Tweet current events or other content as part of their homework. The teachers found that it was easiest for their students to all use a common communal Twitter account for this.
- Collaborative Doc Sharing (Google Docs or PiratePad, embedded in Moodle.
- Use issuu.com to publish a “class book”
- Geogebra.org for embedding math simulations.
These teachers have discovered that they can embed outside services or rich media into Moodle resources or activities by using the IFrame HTML tag. Technically speaking, it’s a simple technique, but logistically it’s a good approach, giving the student a common context (Moodle) while taking easy advantage of 3rd-party features which Moodle doesn’t have. Embedded outside services of media into Moodle resources or activities also gives them the ability to grade activity in Moodle’s Grader report, and to use the activity logs to see if an embedded resource has been visited recently.
For these Teachers, Moodle became the picture frame through which other services and media could be seen and used. Moodle became the context or framework within which a variety of web technologies could be used (especially ones with which their students were already familiar).