2. Professional development

What makes a great Moodle course? Part 1 – What is a course?

What is a course?

Introduction

Reading Wikipedia like Britannica sucks. Reading Wikipedia like Wikipedia is mind-opening.

Cory Doctorow (http://www.edge.org/discourse/digital_maoism.html)

What is mind opening about reading Wikipedia? Click ‘Discussion’ on a popular or contentious Wikipedia entry and you’ll see. The history, variety of views, contributions, changes, updates, the links, the enormity of effort across even one entry will (probably?) ‘hit’ you. It’s free, intellectually brawling, universal, instantaneous and pretty damn accurate (I won’t elaborate on ‘truth’ of either – more on that some other time, blame the French ;-) ).

To borrow Doctorow’s quip – reading Moodle like a textbook sucks. Reading Moodle like Moodle is mind-opening. But how do you read Moodle? How do you know a good Moodle site or course when you see it (beyond a pretty theme …)? What set of skills and understanding do you need to read it? Create it?

These questions will be the focus of the next few posts, a series loosely called ‘What makes a great Moodle course?’ The aim is to flesh out a few core questions to help Moodle users not just create and participate in courses but to support and enhance sharing of courses through Moodle 2.0 ’s new feature called Community Hub. And please, this is only a ‘thinkaloud’ …

The first post will explore a (not ‘the’) definition of a ‘course’ and invite you to ponder a particular view, long held by Martin Dougiamas, the creator and lead developer of Moodle. The next post or two in the series will explore the convergence of technological, content and pedagogical expertise in a great Moodle course, then imagine a great Moodle course as primarily a communication and creation tool. Finally, we will bring it all together and suggest some ‘point format’ guidelines for developing, nurturing and appraising Moodle courses.

Now, this may seem like an individual effort but I would hate it to be so. I would love to hear what YOU think makes a great Moodle course and share it in probably the easiest way possible by contributing to our SynchIn pad (a version of the old beloved Etherpad) or, of course, in the comments below. Because “we” know a lot more than “me” on this one ;-)

So … what is a course?

When asked this question, most people would probably answer something like “a course is a structured body of content and activities that students enrol in, complete tasks and get graded by the teacher to see how well they have done at the end of it.” Yes? No?

But what if you see a course essentially as a community (Martin’s remark that has lingered with me since my first few days at Moodle HQ). What if you even replace the word ‘course’ with the word ‘community’? A few things change …

Whether online, blended or offline, communities, particularly the most successful ones in terms of participation and engagement, have a lot in common:

  • They are not inert, linear, static, fully set and pre-determined things.
  • Roles of members are defined but flexible enough to cater for changes should the circumstances require so.
  • There are understood rules and consequences for breaching them in order for all to feel safe.
  • In a community (unlike a network, more on that perhaps another time…), one cannot just ‘(un)friend’ or ‘(dis)connect’ but learn to deal with, work things out.
  • Its members are responsible to each other in pursuing a common set of goals. Interdependence through contribution and participation is implicit and made explicit in its design.
  • There are multiple channels of communication, not just top-down announcements.
  • Participation and learning are active, done mostly through challenges, feedback and mastery not by passively going through the laid out material.
  • Changes, adjustments, improvements are essential and welcome at different levels and different areas – everyone improves, not just one type of members at one thing.

Sound like qualities of a good Moodle course? Well, sounds a lot like a party too… as Lee Lefeever of the CommonCraft fame explains the thing about online communities in his usually succinct way:

A blank Moodle course (well, an entire site really…) is essentially an incredibly versatile wiki, hence the Wikipedia reference at the start. By design, a wiki is a platform for a community. If imagined this way, the question then becomes not whether a (your?) course is a community or not, but rather how does a (your?) community cater for its members and their needs, passions, welfare and interests by using Moodle.

And when you see it like THAT, the imagination and mindset matter more than the technical skills. And so they should.

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By human on May 4, 2010 | 1. Moodle, 2. Professional development | 4 comments
Tags: ,

Serious fun in Water!

The world of water

The world of water: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snapr/484776493/

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” (Chinese proverb)

At the start of this week, we opened Water! – a demo Moodle course designed to show not what Moodle can do but primarily what people can do with Moodle (while of course showing some Moodle features). Big difference between the two!

The response has been phenomenal! We got to ‘capacity crowd’ of 40 within 36 hours of me sending the first tweet about it. 40 people, mostly moodlers but not all, are happy to spend approximately two to four hours over the next few weeks and play students, most under fake names, to generate sample course data. And they seem to be really enjoying it (well, most of them at least…).

Water! is a very simple course about something that we all use and need – safe, clean, fresh drinking water. It does not require a great depth of content knowledge at all. It features just a few standard, out-of-the-box Moodle activities and it isn’t linear. Deliberately, NO knowledge of Moodle is necessary to participate – just a basic ability to click, link, upload and follow a few instructions. The only two things needed are an open mindset and imagination.

For now, Water! is there for us to gather sample data. Once we generate enough of it (posts, replies, answers, questions, attempts, submissions, comments, pictures, links etc…), we will then offer the course (together with sample data and explanation of every activity!) for free to anyone to enrol in and play in, even download for their own place of learning for people to get involved and have a play in this ready-made sandpit.

Because the Chinese proverb at the top is right on. Being a student in something first, where you get to see real examples, get to try and safely muck things up a little with others and just like others, but at the same time SEE and get ideas you could use in your own context is sorely needed in supporting our kids and educators. And not just in using Moodle either…

Now, this is the first taste of Moodle’s new educational demo site. The idea is to have courses like Water! in up to ten broad areas of learning (eg. Arts & Media, Maths, Language, Second Language, Natural Sciences etc). These courses will not go to great depth of content knowledge or technological knowledge (ie Moodle features), both of which often make things hard to understand, but to tickle that area that really makes it all go – sound pedagogical use.

I am passionate about Moodle but I am helluva lot more passionate about great teaching and learning with it.

PS. If you would like to give Moodle a try and actively participate as a ‘demo student’ in the upcoming courses similar to Water!, please head over to http://mec.moodle.net and create an account. I will register your email and send you a notice when the next course becomes open (as stated, Water! filled within 36 hours!) if you wish. NO Moodle experience necessary!


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The REAL 140 characters

Welcome to the brand new home of the old ‘Human’! (please adjust your subscription/links details, tell your friends too if you please, thanks).

I am still messing around with layout, pages etc. but all in its good time.

To celebrate the occasion at the end of an amazing year I sat in a pub one long afternoon, racked my brain and came up with a list of people I have either connected with for the first time this year, extended a face-to-face or online relationship in 2009. Symbolically, the list is 140 ‘characters’ long to represent that 2009 was a sort of “The Year of Twitter” for me.

This list is awfully unfair to MANY people whom I don’t mention below but with whom I have learned, laughed, argued, annoyed, had my stuff passed on by (re-tweet) etc over the year. The 140 names below also isn’t some sort of ranking of all-important leaders with thousands of followers (many of these guys have only a handful of followers!). If your name is NOT on the list .. please don’t shoot but let’s strengthen this amazing web of people.

I am going to show this to anyone who doubts ’social media’ and its potential. This is investing in the best possible resource there is – PEOPLE!

Have a safe and merry Christmas and a great New Year 2010!

And now, my longest ever Christmas card (a #follow2010 of a kind) … Enjoy :-)

More…

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By human on December 23, 2009 | 2. Professional development, 5. Twitter | 17 comments
Tags: ,

Catch-A-Teacher Day

Welcome!

Welcome!

It’s over! Our four day school Web 2.0 Expo extravaganza over the last few days of school year was largely (and I don’t use the word lightly) adjudged as ‘a success’, ‘eye opening’, ‘interesting’, ‘informative’, ‘fun’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘a bit crazy’, ‘unusual’ by a range of people around the school (eclectic and funky as our cover clip :-) )

For four days, three teachers (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & myself) and about a dozen student-helpers (13 to 15 years old), put on a ‘23 things’ of a kind for our school community to inform, teach and stir about ‘Web 2.0′ and its culture-changing potential that is starting to be realised in our societies yet (still) largely outside school walls.

To ‘walk the talk’, we not only set up stations, but also created the event’s wiki (largely student work!), even a Ning (well, sort of … :-) ), got a bunch of students to start up their blogs, Twitter, set up RSS readers, fooled around with Skype, Etherpad, Twiddla, Moodle etc.. We had a number of educators from around the world dropping in virtually via Etherpad (copy of excellent contributions here, thank you SO MUCH to all who have contributed), we had encouraging tweets from around the world … all in all, we were ‘doing’ Web 2.0.

But out of the four days of messing up, playing, teaching, learning, succeeding, working together, guessing and generally having a ball, the last day will remain seared in my mind forever.

Until the last day, we had very few staff that came to the expo. They would bring groups of students down but then (most of them) didn’t quite engage with the expo in any way. “That’s for the kids, not for us…” was the general sentiment, with few notable exceptions. With the whole thing PRIMARILY for staff, we weren’t making the dent. The matter was raised at our regular morning ‘war briefing’. We made the decision that the last day was going to be ‘catch-a-teacher’ day.

It was pretty simple really. Student-helpers were encouraged to approach a teacher, invite them to the expo, try to work out and ask what the teacher might be interested in to learn…then demonstrate, teach and help them learn (about) a particular Web 2.0 tool and how it could be useful to them (the teacher). We also asked our student-helpers to note down on the central ‘tally’ board what teachers they taught what.

Students took up the challenge very seriously and we had them literally chasing teachers down the halls to invite, talk to, teach the teachers. With most teachers agreeing to come (even if out of courtesy if not curiosity) it was an incredible sight.

Catch-a-teacher ... live

Catch-a-teacher ... live

Catch-a-teacher ... come in

Catch-a-teacher ... come in

And this is what the tally board looked like after only a few hours!

21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!

21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!

Yes, I repeat: teachers are far less likely to say no to a student than a ‘tech integrator’ with a resonable (tech) proposition for teacher’s problem/idea in class. It just works!

Another highlight of the day was the technically so damn easy yet so profoundly different (to ‘regular school’) Skype conference of our ‘helpers’ with a good friend Ira Socol. I saw Ira tweeting, hooked up over Skype and within seconds the whole class said ‘Hello” to Ira and his dog (“with a weird name Sir…”) in Michigan. We soon shared a screen with Google Earth on it where Ira literally showed us around his neighbourhood, place he works, we zoomed out to see and learn a bit about the Great Lakes (some of the kids watching have not been further than a few blocks from their place in their life!), cracked a joke or two and after a few minutes thanked Ira for his time. After the event Ira tweeted:

Damn right!

I read the tweet aloud to claps, cheers and hollers of approval at our post-expo ice cream ‘debrief’ (yes, we did treat the awesome crew :-)

Yum! Well deserved.

Yum! Well deserved.

The sense of community, appreciation, working together, problem solving, the JOY of learning, particularly on the last day of our Expo was palpable. Many of our student-helpers ‘got off’ on it, dare say far, far more than many a lesson in the year just finished. There it was, a working rhizome of education I dream of, where roles/status/label/credit did not matter, only what we can learn, share, help, improve. Sure, it was quite an intense day, but one where the students saw the potential of what many of us have been banging on about for … years now.

Before we took our parting group photo, I asked the student-helpers is they would like to attend a school organised and run a bit like our expo – passionate, hard-working, following people’s interests, funny, a bit messy and unexpected, unclear at times but always valuing learning of all kinds: “Yes, sure, we’d love to…” I replied with just a line: “Demand it for your own kids.”

Just imagine! Or as a colleague quoted in his farewell speech yesterday: Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you anywhere.

And since I mentioned farewell speeches – I delivered mine yesterday too (copy here). I will miss the people of Belmont City College (and my first Moodle, my baby :-) ). They matter.

Thank you!

Thank you!

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Through Web 2.0

Today, we kicked off a Web 2.0 Expo at our school with two main aims. The first one is to make staff and students see and reflect on the changes in online world that are rapidly transforming and building communities on and offline…and all with a slightly pointy educational bend (see clip below). The second aim is to go hands on and start to dabble in or improve on ‘Web 2.0’ with a helping hand nearby – a modified “23 things” of a kind.

While the expo is the brainchild and organisational baby of ‘three amigos’ (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & yours truly), it is the students as volunteer helpers that are the real drivers and superstars.

During the first day, we had a bunch of kids creating blogs, wikis, even a newly born Ning dedicated to the expo. We had a wonderful but usually very withdrawn student, who doesn’t have Internet access at home, absolutely flourishing after setting up his Gmail account (first ever) and within 45 minutes TEACHING (!!!) five other kids how to set up RSS through iGoogle (very “hole-in-the-wall”-ish). We had teachers saying things like “wow, this Skype is really neat!”, or “do you think we could set up a Ning with our pen pals in Hawaii?” (OK, we had our share of stuff-ups too :-P )

When asked about Ning, I simply pointed my colleague who asked the question to a self-appointed ‘Ning specialist’ among our student helper crew and 30 minutes later I saw them in deep conversation about “settings and updates”.

I said it before and I repeat – magic happens when students help teachers. I have not seen a teacher who refused help with tech when a kid says “did you know Miss there’s a really good way to do … Do you want me to show you?”

If I said it, it would not stick nearly as much (if at all).

For the occasion, I made an ‘introduction’ clip about Web 2.0, based on a fantastically funky YouTube clip by Kutiman (Thru-You-01 Mother of All Funk Chords) . The wording is appropriate because it is through the changing web (shhh, don’t mention Web 3.0 yet) and through the people that I for one hope to see the changes happen. Real ones.

I hope you enjoy the re-mix, feel free to share (see CC licence). I knew we were onto a good thing with it when a Year 10 student clapped when he saw it first. Students – the yardstick that matters by far the most in things ‘educational’. (if YouTube blocked, version here)

PS. We are hoping to bumble through our next few days just as well :-P A message to people who were happy to ‘drop in’ – look out (& pass onward if you like) for tweet(s) with a drop-in link. Sorry, but it’s a little “crazy good as we go”. Any line, sound, tweet, comment from ‘the outside world’ will be read and appreciated, thank you.

(If you see an ad on top of the post… not my idea(l) :-( Sorry)

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Using real world

I can’t claim some sort of exclusive on this line, I think it belongs to Michael Wesch, collected through Twitter (where else!). But I just had to put it in a strip comic this afternoon.

GoAnimate.com: Real World by moodlefan

The tall person is meant to be a teacher, the small one a student. On the ground, where it matters most, questions like these stick more than seminars full of ‘gurus’. No, this isn’t some book-bashing, it is about seeing education as a part of OR divorced from the society it operates within, draws from and sustains.

Speaking of seminars, our school will be running a ‘Web 2.0 Expo’ for four days next week (Tuesday, 14 Dec to Friday, 17 Dec; 9.00 (9am) to 15.00 (3pm) UTC +8 world clock here). The three amigos Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong and myself plus 15 student volunteers who have signed over the last few days through our school forum will try to live our expo slogan: “This is not about computers, this is about people.

We will showcase ‘Web 2.0′ and demonstrate what it runs on – people, their care and their ‘cognitive surplus’.

For that reason, we would love it if you or anyone you know might be interested to drop in via Twitter, Skype or other ways to meet, share, laugh, ask, learn. For now, if you could tell us your location, contact (you can tweet me @lasic, leave a comment below or email me moodlefan at gmail dot com), when you could drop in and maybe a mode (Twitter, Skype, your choice…) it would be FANTASTIC!

Thank you & feel free to spread the word.

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By Tomaz Lasic on December 10, 2009 | 2. Professional development | 3 comments
Tags: , ,

Grow a Moodle

moonflower seed after soaking overnight

I have been thinking about and scouring the net for ‘best’ models of trying to get teachers to use Moodle for some time. I have tried a few things myself with mixed success until the most obvious thing hit me.

There are gigabytes of info on ‘growing gap between the teachers and students in using technology’. And what do we mostly do? We get ‘experts’ (adults) and fellow teachers teaching the newbies, reluctant or otherwise. Yet the biggest resource and pool of experts sits right in front of our nose – our students!

Talk about focusing on solutions not the problem…

More…

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10 minutes ahead

Oh, the orbital language of ‘21st century skills’ and ‘leadership’.

If you are an educator keen on using technology and wanting others to join you and benefit from it, don’t try to get them to move into “21st century” – just get them to move 10 minutes ahead to the point where they have just learned something simple and useful that will work in their class.

Use the gamers approach to learning – easy entry, easy win then level up and try again. Move them as a colleague, with empathy (“walk in their shoes”) not sympathy (“oh, you poor thing”).

Dean Groom tells it better - thanks mate for this gem. You can tell it below.

(A short blog post never felt better)

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By Tomaz Lasic on June 4, 2009 | 2. Professional development | 3 comments
Tags: ,

Best when human

Getting busy at the Education.au ICT in Learning Symposium

This is an attempt to organise many thoughts after spending an amazing weekend with a number of passionate and wise ‘ed-tech’ people at and after the SICTAS symposium in Sydney last weekend.

It may have been an ‘echo chamber’ a little at times but…it felt wonderful. The gathering was passionate, informed, engaging, motivating and hopefully fruitful when our recommendations come to the top echelons of public service in Canberra. A big public thank you goes to people at Education.au for pulling it all together.

But there were some curious moments and statements that made me think. More…

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One sentence

Good news travels fast. ‘Sticky’ ideas even faster.

In her recent comments, fellow teacher and moodler Mary Cooch (known also as @moodlefairy) mentioned how the staff at their school spend a couple of minutes of their weekly meetings talking about their use of Moodle in the classroom. I loved the idea and in the brief email exchange that followed hinted that I will try to use it here at our school too.

This afternoon, I had a cryptic staff meeting agenda item called ‘Share’.

When I got my turn to speak, I simply asked:

‘Could you please share ONE thing or strategy you have found Moodle useful for in your classroom.”

Silence. Tick, tock, tick, tock – 15 seconds.

Then it opened. What followed was just about the best 8 minutes of my three years at this school – 10 short stories, 10 people, 10 different uses, 10 different skill levels. Genuine, specific, relevant, encouraging … and more we haven’t heard because of the crammed agenda.

As I write this, an email popped into my inbox from a colleague Aaron. This is the last sentence from it:

“What took place in today’s staff meeting is exceptionally rare, so from one colleague to another, well done”

I find myself happy and sad at the same time.

Sad? Because, as Aaron says, it is exceptionally rare. Making such things standard practice won’t change a few staff meetings – it will change the profession we are in.

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