From the MELTA News archives:
Dear Cousin Web,
I’ve been hearing a lot about Moodle lately. The MVHS has it now, and so does the LMU. Recent CELTA courses have been using it, and even my kids have got Moodle at school. So what is it, and do I have to learn how to use it or even get Moodle myself?
Moodle (http://moodle.org) is course writing software that is used to create “online learning environments”, or “virtual classroom” websites that can be stocked with all kinds of contents, including media, exercises and links. In addition, Moodle includes communication tools, such as forums (where you and your students can leave written messages for the whole course) and chats (where you can all log in and text each other to your heart’s content). There are nifty course management tools for assignments so you can organize the feedback you give your students as well as various tools to give your students both automatic and personal feedback on their work.
So, Moodle is not a commercial platform that comes already stocked with materials, like Macmillan English Campus. It needs to be filled up by a person who designs and writes the course. It’s “open source software”, which means the source code can be looked at and understood by people who can read it, and it’s freeware that can simply be downloaded on the Internet. Anyone wishing to set it up needs quite a bit of technical skill, though, and I had to get help to set up my Moodle site. There are some costs involved, too, since you need to rent space on a server to host your Moodle site.
So do you have to get Moodle? No. But it’s not at all difficult to use if a school you work for has it. You needn’t be put off if there’s not much content in a Moodle site, as it can be quite fun to put together a course with brand-new material, right? Be sure to attend an introductory workshop to see what it’s like to work with this tool before you take the plunge. I really recommend creating a lot of interactive quizzes, which your students will love to click away at for instant feedback. I took my extensive Moodle course with the Bayrischer Volkshochschulverband. It was run by Margit Kanter, and many VHSes are now offering courses run by alumni of that program. Just talk to your local VHS course coordinator.
Now, do I use my own Moodle site much, is the demand high? Frankly, no. I have offered blended learning courses, where my students are assigned homework and projects. Moodle makes it easy to manage assignments and the ensuing correspondence, to find things, get and send messages, post and read feedback, use links etc. Everything is neatly organized, very pleasant. No hassle with incoming emails and attachments. So Moodle shines as a platform for a classic teaching setup, with the teacher giving and correcting assignments in a virtual classroom. I’ve had courses like that, for instance Jobline for the LMU, but not many others so far. Why? Frankly, my adult learners don’t have the time or inclination to do homework. If they want feedback from me on their written work, they will tend to mail me directly.
That’s not what I originally intended to do with Moodle, because for one thing my teaching is generally much more geared to what my adult learners need ad hoc. Also I promote collaborative learning projects that need initial input from me but give my students a lot of leeway, and I was hoping the Moodle forums would work well for that. However, Moodle’s weaknesses are the weakness of online learning in general, namely that it is exceedingly difficult to create the many dimensions of spontaneous social interaction and learning in a more or less text-based online environment. There is just no way that Moodle, even when you add a lot of extra technology such as Second Life, can replace the face-to-face interaction that is so productive in collaborative projects.
Then, Moodle is a closed-off, password-protected platform. This is nice if you want to keep your virtual classroom door closed. On the other hand, you don’t get the surprise visitors that add spice to life. Being out in the Internet, surfing around and posting comments in open forums can be far more stimulating than what a small group of people can produce. So open-access blogs and wikis that everyone can read but only your and your invited students can write in might be better, after all.
The rest are didactic details. I’m not happy with the Moodle blog function. I was originally hoping that students would keep their own blogs to chart their learning progress, but that’s not happening. Few people are born bloggers - they prefer a clear assignment. Also, while wikis are wonderful tools for collaborative learning, the Moodle wiki is too complicated for students to have fun with. When technology is not really great to work with, it’s counterproductive, because it puts people off completely.
That said, I do think online learning platforms are here to stay. And frankly, I much prefer any type of platform that lets you look at the code and add your own contents over one that provides you with a closed box of contents and charges you an arm and a leg for it. So Moodle is good. Take a good course to find your footing and get started. We’ve only just seen the tip of the iceberg in education technology, so I guess I’ll just have to keep moodling through.
Want to set up a Moodle site to practice on? Go to NineHub.com, a free webhosting site where you can experiment to your heart's content.
Just starting out with blended learning? Read Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett, Blended Learning. Using Technology in and beyond the Language Classroom and Gavin Dudeney & Nicky Hockly, How to Teach English with Technology.
You’re a teacher already using Moodle and want to expand your didactic range? Read William H. Rice, Moodle Teaching Techniques. Creative Ways to Use Moodle for Constructing Online Learning Solutions for ideas on how to use the Moodle features quiz, question, choice, wiki, glossary, lesson and workshop.
You're a teacher who wants to explore the potential of online learning for promoting learner autonomy, and learn a five-stage didactic model that works? Read Gilly Salmon, E-tivities.
Want to see a really nice Moodle site? There are lots out there. The Open University LearningSpace is probably the biggest one.
A great online community on Ning, the social networking site, is dedicated to Moodle discussions: iMoodle
Experimenting with Moodle and online learning may be fun for us, but will the students enjoy it? Caveat! Just watch highschool students complain about the way their teacher uses Moodle for everything: