Transitioning to Moodle and the Moodlemoot

Posted: July 28, 2011 in Online development

Like many RTOs GippsTAFE will be moving from Blackboard to Moodle over the next year (not absolutely sure of the timetable but it’s definitely imminent). In order to help prepare for this transition I recently attended Moodlemoot 2011 in Sydney. The conference was well organised with some sessions specifically relating to Moodle 2 whilst others were about programs in Moodle 1.9 and some were about e-Learning in general. People attended from interstate and overseas, including Hong Kong, Fiji and New Zealand. Although the TAFE sector was well represented it was not the largest group.

The keynote speakers were all interesting. The first was Mary Cooch, a British secondary school teacher who is very Moodle oriented. She aimed to show the flexibility of Moodle and that it is applicable to all age ranges. She talked about Moodle training for teachers giving an example of what could be done in an hour long session. She also talked about the Moodle community; it is very web 2 with everyone contributing and helping each other. The second keynote speaker was Jan Herrington. This session was not primarily focussed on Moodle. She talked about the idea of authentic learning environments in an e-Learning context. She stressed the value of supporting teachers to move away from content focussed strategies. The final keynote was by Martin Dougiamas, the inventor of Moodle, and was about Moodle, the community of Moodle and where to from here. One point of note is that in a future version there will be the ability to have different pages to combat the scroll of death that we see in so many Moodle sites. We were informed that an app for i-Phones is due for release any day.

I attended a hands-on workshop about using conditional activities which is a part of Moodle 2. In Blackboard we call this selective release. The neat thing about this in Moodle is that you can make activities conditional on a person completing an activity or series of activities as well as on dates or assessment results. For example they may need to click on a web page before they can see a forum. This was one of the highlights of the conference for me. The workshop was well organised and we worked through a short sequence of activities as a way of introducing the concept.

Many sessions were focussed on the move to Moodle including teacher training and support. A wide range of approaches were presented from the very traditional to a game-based approach. The University of WA has gone down the traditional line with workshops supplemented by one-on-one follow up training as required. They are concerned that some people have not attended a group workshop to get them started so are considering making attendance at a workshop a requirement for people to get any one-on-one training. They are also providing drop in sessions for teachers at various times. They did an audit of all their courses to see what tools in Moodle they need to focus on in the early stages of training and later on will introduce some of the other tools. They also gave teachers the option to clean up the course before the migration, e.g. delete files and activities no longer used. Some took this up but others decided to start again in Moodle.

The University of New England is working on the idea of a game-based approach. This means setting up a scenario and presenting the teachers with daily quests that are intended to be completed in around 10 minutes. This uses the conditional activities feature of Moodle 2. The rationale behind this is that if the teachers have to work out how to use the tools themselves they will become more independent Moodle users. Some support is offered as clues to the quest.

This takes a long time to set up and may be difficult for some of our teachers to accommodate in our GippsTAFE context. Also I am not sure that we have sufficient gaming experience to set it all up but it is a novel idea and has some merit. I think we should point out to teachers that much of Moodle is just filling in a form and once they know how to do the basics they can experiment.

ANU has gone down the path of setting up FAQs for the use of teachers and students. They run a Help Desk so this is quite a different approach. Their system is interactive so users can comment and add to the database. This led me to think that our current Help Guides might be more usable and accessible if we presented them in a searchable Moodle database.

Other strategies included that were presented at the moot include:

• “2 minute Moodle” – short emails about the Moodle tools and tips about using Moodle are sent out on a regular basis.

• 10 minute spotlight – a teacher shares the way they are using Moodle at staff meetings in a short presentation. This might be difficult to organise at GippsTAFE as we have several campuses but we could do a short video or Elluminate interviews with teachers and post them here.

Another topic that was regularly raised was the differences between Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2. There are extra features in Moodle 2 such as the conditional release and others such as the lightbox gallery have not yet been converted. In migrating from Blackboard to Moodle most users will be first struck by the fact that here are also no course files in Moodle 2; files can be created in Moodle or attached to a specific activity. This is a different from the Blackboard approach and takes some getting used to. If a file is added to two activities there are two copies of the file in the course. If it needs to be changed it needs to be changed in both places. There was some talk that this may change in future versions. Another aspect of Moodle that will take some adjustment is that is has a flat structure rather than the layered structure of Blackboard. There are various ways to work around this but if we want teachers to set up and maintain courses themselves maybe we need to use Moodle the way it is intended or it will all get too complicated, at least initially. Maybe this means we accept the scroll. The terminology used in Moodle is also different so a discussion board is a forum, selective release is conditional activities….just more things to attend to in any transition.

It seems to me, after talking to other delegates, that the best way of solving problems in Moodle is by searching the forums to work it out for ourselves. I have tried this for some of the issues I have encountered and it seems to work.

What I found most valuable at the Moot was that I now understand more about how Moodle works with plugins etc. People can take the basic product and customise it by adding plugins or writing their own scripts which they often share and may eventually become part of the Moodle product. If users want specific scripts or plugins they may need assistance from a developer.

I have seen some good examples of how to support teachers in the migration to Moodle 2 and now understand more clearly that a variety of strategies should be used. A series of workshops will not be enough teachers will ongoing follow up and support as well.

Lynn Huguenin

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