Let’s get one thing out of the way first – I’m an unashamed Moodle fan. I set up my first Moodle 8 or 9 years ago and although I have installed and run many instances since then, the original is still in use for my own personal teaching. Moodle has given me a lot, and improved my ability to effectively teach English, the reason why I like it so much is the developments that keep on coming through. Pretty much every week I learn something new and every time I get stuck trying to push the envelope a bit too far, the extraordinarily helpful forum community jump in and help me. To pay my debt of gratitude, I try to help out in the forums at moodle.org whenever I can spare the time.
For that reason, I signed up for the second time on the Teaching with Moodle MOOC which is run by Moodle HQ twice a year. The course is aimed at beginners and those with limited knowledge of Moodle and how it works. I had already done the course earlier in the year as I was interested to see how a MOOC worked in Moodle, and this time I signed up purely to offer some help and assistance in the forums.
MOOC’s are an interesting way of learning and I have taken part in a few, and certainly they are not a magic bullet for picking up new skills and knowledge. I’ve had good and bad experiences, and in particular I have issues with the self-selecting nature of MOOC’s – on a beginners course for python programming, for example, I experienced a course seemingly full of programmers who were anything but beginners and just getting some free practice, but had no skill whatsoever in explaining anything. Getting help was not easy!
The Moodle MOOC was another experience altogether. This may well have been due to the large number of teachers on the course who are more experienced at explaining things, but for whatever reason the help was nearly always pitched at the right level. One of the great challenges working with beginners is that they often don’t know that a question is anything but basic, and that adds to the challenge of explaining things at the right level. The Moodle system used for the course was, I believe, a standard course without any plugins (except for the BigBlueButton virtual classroom which was used for the weekly live sessions). Whilst it makes great sense to have some kind of standard, it did mean that a lot of the questions were answered with, “there’s a plugin for that!”
The course had twin moderators – the indefatigable Mary Cooch (@moodlefairy) and the tireless Helen Foster (@moodlehelen) – and between them they effectively managed a four-week course with around 4500 participants who produced in the region of 1500 practice courses. If that doesn’t convince you of the power of Moodle as a teaching tool then nothing will.
The course lasted 4 weeks and was structured on a weekly basis, Moodle gives the option of structuring by time or topic and for this course the weekly option was certainly better. As to be expected with beginners, the forums were particularly active with questions on almost every topic touched on in the course. More advanced questions were directed to the regular Moodle forums, but all the other questions were answered usually with a couple of options for the original poster to try out. With so many participants, it was inevitable that some questions cropped up more than once, and this has lead to reflection on the part of the organisers to highlight the search forums function in the next occurrence.
The first 2 weeks covered setting up and presenting information, and the second part of the course went into more depth on activities and testing. And while it’s inevitable that participants will always leave with the thought that maybe more could have been done on topic xyz, it’s really clear that this course is extremely well thought out and decks every reasonable query at the required level.
The highlight of the course for many was the chance to prepare their own mini course and there was everything on offer from Linux, to Beer, to basic Spanish. It shows that Moodle really is a universal framework and that even in the hands of beginners it’s quite possible to build a useful and stimulating course. It was noticeable that there were a large number of requests for information about setting up a Moodle site which showed the interest in going it alone. This raises the interesting issue of smaller scale Moodle instances with teachers creating their own highly tailored materials, rather than merely tweaking the big institutional courses that are currently the standard fare in schools.
One thing I would plead for in a future occurrence is the chance to work with a select handful of the more popular plugins during the final week. Maybe the Progress Bar, the drag and drop question types from the OU and the Grid Format and the Poodll filter would be a good start. It would allow learners to try out the process of extending Moodle (after all, the M in Moodle stands for modular!) and it would also let those who want to push on further spread their wings a little. Just my thoughts…
From my point of view, it was great fun and I really enjoyed lending a hand. But it would be really great to hear from others, who took part with the aim of finding out about Moodle, and hear what they thought. Please feel welcome to add your views in the comments below.
The dates for the next course will be set in the next few week, but will be early in 2016. You can go to the Learn Moodle Website where they will be published, and this article will be updated with the new dates too.