Panic button

Panic Button

Source: Panic Button http://www.flickr.com/photos/trancemist/361935363/

A story from this morning’s paper, in response to a recently publicised assault on a teacher by a student recorded on a mobile phone camera.

…”State School Teachers Union president Anne Gisborne said measures were needed to ensure an urgent response when teachers were in danger. “In circumstances such as that school, there might need to be phones in each classroom, that makes it easier to contact, there might be an emergency bell,” she said.

Education Minister Liz Constable said all options would be looked at. “But again you have to be in the place where that panic button is, don’t you, when the incident occurs,” she said.”

‘Hard to get to’? ‘Need to be in the place where the panic button is’? ‘Might need phones?’ (Another) ‘bell?’

I had to read the passage twice to check and thought: How about that device called mobile phone? You know, the most commonly used, instant, ubiqutous communication device, banned from most classrooms these days.

But mobiles are not a panacea. They are simply extension of human power to do wonderful and stupid things alike.

On the same day, I saw a former colleague bullied on YouTube (I won’t give you the link because I do not want to give this or similar clips any oxygen). It is cruel, ignorant bullying of a teacher out in plain view, recorded on a mobile. Good teacher or bad teacher – it doesn’t matter. It is a sad and disturbing case, bringing out what REALLY sometimes goes on in our classrooms. A person got hurt. Period.

Some would argue at least it’s in public and the perpetrators can be brought to account, some would be horrified at the prospect of having something like that aired publicly, to the pleasure or horror of Anonymous. Then again, I hear many pundits already saying “it’s those damn mobiles, ban the lot in class, they have nothing to do with learning”.

They do and they don’t. Why?

To me, three best things a teacher, parent, or a school can model and encourage are: a) resilient love of learning, b) sustained attention and immersion with a meaningful learning task, and c) ethical discernment when things are appropriate or not.

Apart from some amazing individuals I’ve worked with or heard of, your regular downtown school sucks at these: a) is quashed by grades, b) goes out the window when the bell goes, and c) is usually talked about AT students or staff, not WITH them, because everyone needs to “mind their own role (in the hierarchy) and do their job”.

When mobiles (mostly all sophisticated net devices these days anyway) help us find things, communicate, connect, understand and expand in a matter of seconds like never before (or perhaps help the safety of staff and students…) – use them (a). When mobiles become weapons of mass distraction – turn them off (b). But talk with (not AT) the kids honestly and challenge them when it comes to ethical use (c).

Kids know a lot more about the use of mobiles, appropriate and inappropriate, already than Education Minister or Union President (not hard that..) but they either have little say in things or they are, yes, plain immature. Now there’s a chance to give them a chance at real responsibility to mature.

Outside of school walls there are times we ignore mobiles – we discern, make choices.  I’ve sometimes joked with kids in class saying: “Would you respond to a call, txt, tweet or friend writing on your Facebook wall when you are about to kiss the guy or girl you have been wanting to kiss for months? Why not?”. There are times we multitask and we need to and so on… There are times for things and there are reasons for them.

So, mobiles (much as violence against teachers) are not a  technology issue or at least something technology will help us instantly solve. They are an opportunity to discuss ethical issues.

By knee-jerk banning mobiles, we may be eroding the very things we could do the kids and ourselves as educators and parents the biggest favour with – examining our own and each other’s ideas and change them if necessary, not just imposing the values and making sure that the ones carrying the biggest stick win, no matter how stupid they actually are.

Hard? Yes. Worth it? More than a lot of other stuff taught.

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By human on May 22, 2010 | 4. Teaching | 4 comments
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Invited

Our first demo course for the new Moodle Educational Demo Site has wrapped up nicely. Thanks to 40 participants from around the world, we generated some useful sample data and activities for people to see, dip in, even download and play with (now available at ’standard’ Moodle Demo site ).

Most importantly, we hope that this course, and others like it in the future, helps people make the cognitive, personal leap from ‘this is just a piece of software‘ to ‘hey, that’s how I could (use it to) solve the X problem/realise the X idea/make X happen‘.

Here is the story, told in a clip.

Now, you are kindly invited to have your say in building resources like this, together with people who participated in Water!

Hear what the plan for edu-demo site is, then help us make it better in an ‘open microphone’ and shared whiteboard Elluminate session this Sunday/Monday (depending on your timezone).

I for one want Moodle to be the shining light not JUST in providing an awesomely flexible, #1 LMS but also in generating great ideas and examples from and for its huge community of users about of how to use it well where and when it matters most  – ‘on the ground’, with people.

Join us !

Huge thanks to Gavin Henrick and the team at Enovation Solutions (Irish/French Moodle Partners) for providing the use of Elluminate room for this occasion.

Session date & time across timezones

Session details (including technical)

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By human on May 13, 2010 | 1. Moodle | 6 comments
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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
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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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A Prezi

Nothing terribly brainy from me today…

I gave up on Prezi twice before but last couple of evenings I finally got my head around it. It takes a little getting used to conceptually (endless depth and width of canvas) but it is a fun tool with some pretty cool final output.

Here is little presentation about Moodle (gee, how original ;-) ). While navigating you can play full screen and autoplay too (‘More’). Feel free to share, copy, rename, even print this Prezi out if you like. My first…

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By human on March 31, 2010 | 1. Moodle, 6. Leftovers | 5 comments
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Three shakes

scream

Scream

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dariuszka/374750916/

Shake one – Friday afternoon

A beer with “Michael”, a friend, teacher at (one of) the most ‘exclusive’, expensive, ‘high-achieving’ girls school in Perth. I have just explained what I do at Moodle these days and touched on my deep conviction against spoonfeeding students and instead giving them real responsibilities, real problems, real chances to fail and succeed.

Me: “I hate it when they look up to me to give them the answers as some kind of oracle. At 15! “Go away and don’t bother me because you can’t be bothered to figure it out  on your own, with your classmates or a person on the other side of the world – but wake me up in the middle of the night if you want to learn more or tell me I am wrong somewhere.” This is why quite a few kids, majority (wannabe) ‘high achievers’, never liked my teaching style and philosophy. But that’s life sunshine! What am I setting you up for?”

Michael: “Oh mate, you would struggle at our school. That’s exactly what I’ve been telling them for years. But… the school is all about academic results, that’s all they are really interested in. And the kids? “You are here to help us get the top marks so just tell us” It drives me mad sometimes, what are they going to do when they get the top marks, what are we really teaching them?”

Shake two – Sunday morning

A visit to another friend, another teacher and former colleague (yes, I do have non-teaching friends too :-) ) Let’s call her Dina.

Dina really wanted to do a bit of emerging curriculum with Year 8 kids new to school. They looked at a documentary, then a mockumentary to pick differences and the kids really ‘got’ the genre and the idea. Then it dawned on her that the kids could actually try and make one. They jumped at it! Kids were asking their teachers if they could they leave their class early so they could come to Dina’s class and work on their doco. The two AEO (Aboriginal Education Officers) assigned to her class as support remarked “you don’t need us, these kids are doing amazingly well!”

Me: “So, what happened?”

Dina: “Well, I came one day all excited to the office and told our Head of Department [a ladder-climbing tick-a-boxer, my note] about it, expecting a “great job, how can we help” sort of thing. Instead, I got questioned and told off : “…I am concerned about this, ”documentary” is not in the Education Department’s ‘Scope and Sequence’ document for Year 8, only for Year 9.”

Shake three – Sunday evening

I had a long phone call with my brother in Slovenia.

His 6 year old son (my nephew) started Grade 1 in September. He enjoys school and learning activities, plays basketball a little and is generally a happy, yet quite an observant and sensitive child. He also carries a bit of extra weight. Recently, he developed a severe tick. It works out he has been bullied at school (won’t go into details but quite heinous).

My brother: “… and to top it all off, he comes home the other day all in tears because he made, for the first time, two mistakes in the maths test (!!!!) He came apologising, as if he somehow let me down. My heart broke I tell you.”

Excuse the swearing but have we gone fucking mental? THIS is what happens when real people are reduced to educational numbers, syllabus documents and grades.

I could write rantily or eloquently (or bit of both) on us becoming the bastards of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ (John Ralston Saul wrote an outstandingly scathing and well-argued trilogy on this last decade, highly recommend) – but I won’t, not tonight at least.

Kiss your kids and tell them you love them. Often.  (Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that line before and times I said it…)

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By human on March 27, 2010 | 3. Change?, 4. Teaching | 2 comments
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Community Cookbook

the recipe

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deqalb/1497728891/

It’s finally here … but with a great twist!

I have been meaning to write a cookbook of recipes for using Moodle in education for nearly two years now (just ask Julian “Moodleman” Ridden!) Last year, I suspended writing one with Packt Publishing about halfway through (personal reasons) but I remain eternally grateful to Packt’s Acquisition Editor and a ‘master of succinct’ David Barnes for his advice and insights along the way.

Why recipes? Because we can see ourselves cooking, serving and enjoying the product of our labour, usually with others too. And guided by a mouthwatering title, maybe a picture, short list of ingredients, description of the cooking process (where you can maybe always add a little of your own take on it), a tip or two, then a cool serving suggestion – we actually want to get off our butt and try to do it! Even if we stuff it up a little and the thing we make doesn’t look EXACTLY the way it looks or sounds in the recipe we are happy to have tried and made it (well, most of the time :-) )

And how many of you working in ed-tech field have muttered, exasperated: “If staff could only get off their butt and try to do it!” Well … let’s give them some recipes that they will understand and want to try and cook!

But this time, instead of going back to solo slavery of writing a recipe book (oh, I do admire those who persisted!) I thought “why not simply create a space and format for a community cookbook?” More heads know a lot more than one.

Today, such a community cookbook (Moodle Recipes for Educators) was launched at Moodle.org, in a brand new section called Teaching and Learning with Moodle, a space I maintain and moderate. Feel free to visit, you can enter as guest if you don’t have a login at Moodle.org (a good one to get anyway!).

How does this cookbook work?

Educators can add their own magic Moodle moments in a given, easy format (‘format sets you free’ as David would say).

Firstly and MOST importantly, they state the pedagogical purpose of the recipe (a simple ‘who’ did ‘what’ and ‘why’) in a single sentence. This gives us a title like “Students jointly build a list of useful websites to improve their understanding of water use” rather than “How to combine the use of Moodle Forum – Single Discussion and Moodle Wiki Page Splitting function”. Yeah, I know which one of these you or that reluctant colleague of yours would like better (or maybe I got it all wrong!?). This strategy is repeatedly reported as by far the best way to meaningful change. Why not use it?

Next comes a broad description of the task (does it help to collaborate, communicate, evaluate, compete, create or organise – can select more than one) and which Moodle tools they used. This helps the search process immensely later on. After that, educators are asked simply to describe what did the participants, and that includes the activity creator (usually teacher but not always) DO. Brief context, major settings, how did it all work, what happened, maybe a screenshot … all in teacher language. To finish off, we ask the educator for any tips, tricks or warnings, links to any external tools or resources (could be a goldmine that one!), select the educational setting this recipe would work best, area of learning and subjectively select the degree of difficulty of this recipe. Link to a tutorial document and even downloadable version of the activity is appreciated but entirely optional.

I have written a few of these recipes now to kick things off and each one of them took me about 20 minutes. I merely described, told a story of what happened with a few key pointers and clicked a few options. That’s it.

While the educators with more Moodle experience will probably contribute more (and more complex) ‘recipes’, it will be those perfectly simple, useful ideas that will make the most difference, particularly with new moodlers who are just starting out.

My brother is hardly a good cook but his simple jam recipe makes the best jam in the world. Same goes for teachers using Moodle.

When browsing the recipes later on, they are easy to search by whatever the parameter or perhaps keyword you choose. Just examples of collaboration? Sure. Primary school only? No problem. Natural sciences? OK. Uses of Moodle wikis? Here they are. Combine a few of these things? You got it.

Over and over again, I keep hearing phrases like ‘pedagogy before technology’, ‘people before technology’ yet we so often end up in these boring, counterproductive ‘correct clicking’ sessions where the focus inevitably shifts to the tools, their precision and functionality rather than the messy, imprecise, (counter)intuitive thing called humanity that will drive it. Clay Shirky once clevery observed that “revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when it adopts new behaviours”.

Show them a travel destination they like and they will save for the fare to get there. Show them a mouthwatering recipe they can master today and they’ll step in the kitchen. Show them a desirable behaviour or goal enabled by technology and they will click and stumble their way to it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need your recipes please (difficulty, size or setting don’t matter)! Thank you :-)

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By human on March 19, 2010 | 1. Moodle | 2 comments
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Tools, drools and fools

Enjoyed the 2 minutes of one of the greatest scenes (and cuts) in film history? The classic of “technology as an extension of human power”…

I have long been interested in the debate about Learning Management Systems (LMS, often called VLE in the UK) and have read several papers and many (ranty) anti-LMS and pro-LMS blog posts and comments (the binarity so misses the point…). Recently, two papers (Lisa M. Lane’s ‘Insidious CMS – how CMS impact teaching‘ and Ofsted’s (UK) Evaluation of use of VLE - thank you Tim Hunt for the heads up) and a complaint by a frustrated friend using Blackboard at his university made me get on this puny little soapbox of mine.

Some research seems to support a few things that the “VLE-is-dead” voices say. Here is the gist of of the LMS critique, in point format:

  • LMS mostly started as submission of assignments and posting of content.
  • They reinforce routine work and the predominant instructionist, transmission model of education. In other words, they are a mere translation of the dominant pedagogical style into online environment.
  • The way they are deployed and used is mostly content-centric and institution-centric.
  • While students use LMS and appreciate creative, innovative use of LMS, they place no great expectations on them to replace face-to-face instruction or become their ‘Facebook’.
  • Most teachers using LMS have been top-down drafted into it under, broadly, two fears: of irrelevance (a kind of technological left behind) or of losing their job.
  • LMS are not really consistently quality assured. If/when evaluated, they are studied for their ease and frequency of use, not the ways they influence and guide pedagogy.
  • Cost of staff development in using LMS is of higher concern than the direct cost of the system.
  • LMS have increasing number of features that allow more open, constructionist approaches but these are underused by teachers.
  • Despite being rolled out in increasing numbers, the use of LMS at curriculum level is more of a cottage industry relying on enthusiasts rather than a (much touted) revolution.
  • The use of LMS is usually not comprehensive across learning areas across organisations. The pockets of activity and exemplary use are regularly linked with overall good teaching and good use of technology by enthusiasts.
  • Within LMS, teaching staff mainly use their own developed materials, little sharing and use of external sources occurs
  • Novice LMS users (staff) use only the aspects they understand from non-Web context (much like email is the old venerable memo). They use what they are comfortable with to reduce cognitive load. They are generally satisfied with such use more than they are with experimenting with less or un-known features.

Well, firstly, all of these points above are really just an eloquent confirmation of the bunch of anecdotals observed on the ground by many of the above mentioned enthusiasts, myself included. Check the forums at Moodle.org and you will see my point. Talk to Moodle Partners around the world who are training hundreds of teachers every year and observe these things. And more…

So, nothing new. But is that it? No good can come out LMS? Do we just give up and go home to embrace the e-nirvana of the LMS-bashers or perhaps even swing the other way and listen to the ‘traditionalists’ who think such systems and computers in general are the digital hemlock of of quality education.

What do we do? Get rid of LMS? That would be missing the point and a monumental waste.

I can only speak for Moodle, not other LMS which Moodle often gets bagged together with, when I say that it changes for better by the day. Seeing it as a static, monolithic system is simply neither fair nor accurate.

On the design part, with the support of community of users and philosophy of developers, Moodle has been and continues to evolve into something that can incorporate so many of the things critics are pointing out as lacking. Moodle is essentially an immensely versatile and free platform (seen the Lego clips :-) ?) .

We surely can and we are making it easier to grow into something organic, flexible that people (individuals, groups) literally grow, not pay for to be ‘administered’ by the top banana.

But just what can we do on the use(r) part to make LMS like Moodle really go and realise the pedagogical ‘oomph’? (I borrow a couple of points from Dave Cormier’s excellent ‘Buying tech for learning‘ post and Lisa’s paper.

1. When using it, focus on solving problems. Student problems, predominantly. With a little creativity and simplest of tools, Moodle can do that brilliantly. A humble three-click-set-up forum or not much more complex wiki can do that, not to mention other activities teachers and students can set up and run. Sure, they can that using external tools like Google Groups, Wikispaces and hundreds more but a quality, familar platform full of equivalents (highly modifiable, if needed) is kinda hard to beat.

2. Aim for perfect simplicity, complexity is easily added later. Most activities in Moodle run just fine with defaults, but you can always add things and layers of complexity the way you, the user want not how the system is set up. As Lisa points out, unlike Blackboard’s bells and whistles from which you then have to opt-out (but must look mighty impressive in a sales meeting), Moodle in an opt-in system. Start with bare bones then add what you need. Think of it as a toolbelt.

Chances are that solutions on the fly with free, open source system like Moodle (can be run by a single teacher) are also cheaper in money and time than using a very expensive, institutionalised, locked-down systems for which a ‘clear’, yet rigid idea (no matter how misguided) had to be produced before parting with tens of thousands of dollars to buy it then have it justified madly.

3. Now we come to the heart of it…

Pay most attention to the hardest and most rewarding thing to examine and change – pedagogies. I deliberately use plural because the ‘right one’ is only right in the context of a class, a student in front of you. Sometimes it takes a collaborative approach of wikis, sometimes a more ‘traditional’ quiz does the job beautifully.

Good teacher, just like a good parent, can and has to be behaviorist, instructonist, constructivist, connectivist or any other -ist in the given moment for the benefit of the students. Just like a parent, you don’t have to be perfect – just good enough. But just like at home, good enough primarily for the kids, your students, not the principal or the Minister for Education.

As an LMS, Moodle can help support all of these -ists. I don’t quite buy the technologically deterministic argument that certain technology has the power to change pedagogy on its own, that it has certain philosophy embedded into it. A knife, LMS, phone, car, Facebook or lawn mower may lend themselves to perhaps a more common use but they are not precluded to be used in different ways. Does that mean LMS can be used in way we don’t want it to be used? You bet. And it is, often. Yet it isn’t either. Often.

Moodle has and will be built with social constructionist principles in mind but one can hardly make people use it that way.

Unless we adequately provoke, stimulate, and guide novices (still the vast majority of users) to increasingly varied and flexible LMS like Moodle with samples of pedagogical approaches first, we run the risk of these novices slipping into mastery of a couple of tools that will simply allow them doing thins they have always done, just maybe a little faster and more efficiently. They will be happy but hardly stretching in the way the LMS like Moodle affords them to.

Before creating help desk for ‘how and what tools can do’ in an LMS, create a help desk to offer and consider what pedagogical goals can be achieved with it.

“It doesn’t matter what tools are provided if teachers don’t have a suitable philosophy of teaching to exploit fully the tools. An instructor well versed in constructivism can teach in a learner-centred way with an LMS such as Moodle, but a teacher with only a transmissive model of teaching will be lost with Facebook. So without a suitable understanding of pedagogy, it doesn’t really matter what tools you use.” (Tony Bates)

4. Do it as a community, with others. Walk the collaboration talk. Why?

Apart from the world valuing such approach more and more, because it is the easiest and the most lasting way to change the hardest things to change, mentioned above – the pedagogies and their underlying, internalised and normalised assumptions of what should be or happen in class (or not).

But when it comes to talking pedagogies, teachers are a lot more likely to put the walls up and say “don’t you tell me how to teach” (similarities with parenting again).

It’s “all that fuzzy philosophy stuff yet all I want to do is just teach, normally.” Pedagogy goes deep with people and it is best seen at moments of stress, when we reactively fall back probably on the ways we were brought up and familiar with (enter ‘little change’), unless we have the knowledge of alternatives, and the context, opportunity and safety to deploy them. Technology throws up many of such stresses, daily. Yet wise use of technology can also help us relieve them, even thrive on them.

Let’s look at the very useful TPACK model above. Now imagine you work closely in a team together with technological ‘experts’ (eg an experienced and creative Moodle user, let’s not forget students themselves here!!!), content ‘experts’ (eg a great historian with deep knowledge of Russian History you are working on in class) and ‘pedagogical experts’ (eg great at supporting and ‘provoking’ teachers to try a range of approaches and question, examine their philosophical approach to education). The roles here are purely illustrative because they morph constantly.

You are far more likely to change when challenged AND supported this way.

Then, let’s look at just one particular feature of soon to be released Moodle 2.0 – Community Hubs, described by Mark Drechsler. These are designed to support exactly what you see above among Moodle users (32 million registered worldwide and counting..)! Imagine being a part not of a Learning Committee but a Learning Community (more on that another time, have a post ‘in waiting’).

Not to mention the talk of Moodle 3.0 (few years away) that will again transcend this and adapt to be a platform supporting…whatever the trends may be then. I invite you to flick through Hans de Zwarts excellent presentation from the recent iMoot on this.

Yes, LMS designed and used in the way that my colleague showed me two days ago (Blackboard at a local university) should be dead.

But uncritically bunching LMS/VLE together and dismissing them as ‘dead’ is naive at best.

By all means, unlock and give teachers the freedom and funk to choose their tools. But no matter how shiny, ‘buzzy’ and ‘bleeding edge’ the tool – if they don’t know what the learning aim is, if they don’t have or see the need for the kinds of pedagogies most valuable to students, or they plainly don’t know what they are talking about, the chances of reaching the ideal, central intersection on the TPACK graphic above is remote.

Moodle ‘Teacher Apps’ anyone? A tool to drool but wasted on a fool?

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By human on March 10, 2010 | 1. Moodle | 6 comments
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Making Moodle boring

TL at Moodle HQ

Moodle Education Researcher Know this guy?

Since starting to work at Moodle HQ as Education Researcher, a number of people, including my family, have been curious about what is it like at Moodle HQ, what do I do in my role and so on. Well, here are the pictures, the rest are words…

In short, I borrow Martin’s words from the iMoot introduction, I am an “interface between educators and Moodle developers”. Moodle team does not want to build a static, shiny thing that nobody uses but a living, changing thing that people can use to achieve primarily pedagogical, not technological goals. And I am here to help them (ummm, us!) do just that.

While recognising the importance of the position, my role is NOT to be ‘the guru’ on everything educational but rather a highly collaborative and proactive creator and ‘curator’ of sound educational practices within and beyond the Moodle community.

I already have a full plate and I love it. I am currently working closely with Helen Foster, Moodle Community Manager, on redesigning the sections on teaching and pedagogy on Moodle.org and Moodle Docs, making it easier and clearer to access, understand, use and ‘get’ Moodle by ‘an average teacher’ (I know you are laughing at this label…me too :-)   ).  I also work on usability of tools and features, I chip in a teacher’s perspective in developers meeting, I am going through iMoot presentations mining ideas (yes, including our panel), then there is planning for a large worldwide survey of educational uses of Moodle, and more… But enough about me.

Even on the first day, I was struck by the enormity and complexity of Moodle project. There is a stunning volume of code, not to mention ideas, changes, fixes, meetings, bugs, checks, test etc behind what you see on Moodle screen every day. I won’t go in minute details but let me tell you that this is truly an amazing logistical and intellectual exercise.

The place looks like the United Nations. David and Petr drop in from Czech Republic in our working ‘chat’, Penny is live from New Zealand on big screen skyping with Martin and Andrew about something, Eloy is talking from Spain to Sam sitting next to me about some piece of code as if they were sitting next to each other, Anthony logs in from US during our regular meetings, Helen and I are looking forward to many of our meetings, me in Perth and her in Belgium… not to mention the active worldwide Moodle Partners network on top of that. All effortless, relaxed yet very focused on task at hand – listening to our community and making Moodle better.

The ethics of Open Source projects like Moodle is something to aspire towards in any school. We don’t make something ‘perfect’ then ‘lock it down’ and claim superiority. We put our best effort out there, constantly and publicly, then invite people to pull it apart and change and improve it to fit a range of contexts and uses. Constructive critique, not platitudes, is seen not as a threat but music to our ears (yes, of course we get a warm and fuzzy from kind words too :-) , we are human after all and very much so). Transfer to school, when was the last time you met a teacher who invited you to genuinely ‘pull apart’ their professional practice (unless they were forced to), have a conversation about the underlying, possibly contentious philosophical (not just safe, technical) assumptions,  then change it together perhaps? You have? Great!!! I’d love to hear from you…

On a lighter note … I suck at foosball, love the coffee machine (you were right Tim :-) ), know where to find good Vietnamese rolls for lunch around us,  and how to trigger a very noisy security alarm in the morning. I am learning :-)

What about that ‘making Moodle boring’ title? Everything I wrote so far is shiny and good…

It actually refers to a comment I posted today on Ira Socol’s excellent post titled ‘What is Technology?’. Ira looks at how advances in technology, both as an enabler and disabler, become normalised and become seen as unremarkable, even essential over time (ever though that a pencil, desk or book was once a bleeding-edge technology?). Here is my comment:

“Ah, the fallacy of exceptionalism just never fades does it? We, as in (still) larger body of teachers, admins, parents, politicians & pundits, react with either fear or awe (hence the exceptionalism label) when it comes to the digital technology afforded to us today. And that’s not doing us much good, on so many levels…

Only yesterday I was sitting with colleagues (all software developers, passionate & veeery good at what they do) at my new work at Moodle HQ and joked: “You guys are trying to make this thing [Moodle] exciting, shiny, new and powerful, my job is to make it boring and ‘normal’. ” I got a few confused looks…

I explained:”The sooner educators move beyond the point of fear & awe of Moodle [or any other tech] and see it as a tool just like a pen, desk, whiteboard, book etc. the sooner they will be used better and more frequently to reach the pedagogical goals (add social, economic, environmental etc). Let’s stop fetishising tech, work out what it’s good for and then use it do get where we want with the people we teach, work with.”

So there you have it – my goal! What’s yours?

PS Big thanks to all the people who have congratulated and wished me well on my new role through Twitter, email or comments. Much appreciated.

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By human on February 17, 2010 | 1. Moodle, 3. Change? | 14 comments
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Forum – the heart of Moodle (iMoot reflection #1)

Huh, the iMoot is over!

Judging by the feedback through various channels, the inaugural world online Moot was a resounding success. Congratulations and sincere thanks again to the iMoot crew, particularly to Leonie Beetham, Shane Elliot & Julian Ridden.

It was great to listen to so many passionate and clever moodlers, it was also great fun and honour to present at this event. I put my hand up for two things – the series of 3 live presentations called ‘Forum – the heart of Moodle’ (described below) in the Teacher Stream and a general panel discussion titled “Moodle v Pink Floyd – Breaking Walls With Moodle” (more on and from the panel next time…)

I embed a presentation I used as a backbone to my 3 ‘live shows’. In the first part of each presentation, I stressed that (at least to me) Forum activity epitomises Moodle for particularly two reasons. Firstly, because Forum is essentially a conversation, it encourages, enacts the constructivist notion of learning (we build knowledge with and for each other through active participation). Secondly, it presents awesome opportunities to get creative and moodle away (‘to moodle’ used as a verb meaning to tinker, create, experiment, get ‘a-ha!’ moments in trying to use Moodle in a meaningful way) to suit the needs of a particular context in a relatively simple, straightforward way with a little bit of imagination.

I tickled the participants with a few ideas about the possible uses of Forum activity (slides 5 to 8), took them on a brief web tour of what happened in my class just a day or two before, mentioned the ‘5 Principles of Moodle’ (see slide 12) then …. invited the participants to “walk the talk” on all five, immediately. Now THAT was the best part!

Inspired by Dave Cormier’s ‘live slides’ experience (read the post & rationale!), I simply created a few blank slides. One to doodle and practice, four with guiding questions on them.

While quietly expecting some input, I was blown away how quickly and effortlessly the slides filled up with awesome ideas from people (mostly teachers & educators) from around the world. Thoughtful, real educational experiences, positive and negative, pouring  onto the shared space.  I simply guided and commented on selected items that appeared on the  board while keeping an eye on requests, questions and comments in the chat window. We were literally building together. And every one of the three groups had slightly different ideas that simply enriched us all while having fun, engaged …Forum – The Heart of Moodle (iMoot presentation)

View more presentations from Tomaz Lasic.

I have since collated the responses gathered from slides, audio and chat of our ‘Forum – The Heart of Moodle’ sessions into a document I share below. I invite you to freely share & build upon non-commercially but if you do so please acknowledge the source by the request of the iMoot organisers and myself. Sincere apologies if I missed any points that you may have contributed but the devil of interpretation is that something always does get lost.

Forum – the heart of Moodle

A big thank you to all who participated in any of these sessions (and apologies for bumbling with Java setup on the first one :-0). YOU made them great, I hope you got as much out of them as I did.

A big, unsolicited plug also to Elluminate (not just because they were iMoot sponsors) – a great tool, worthy of exploring and using! I don’t know about you but I am getting myself a free ‘Vroom’ at LearnCentral very soon (thank you Jo Hart for helping me all along! :-) ).

Notes on the Panel 3 coming soon, still chewing through. Ciao moodlers!

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By human on February 13, 2010 | 1. Moodle | 1 comment
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