Learn Moodle 3.5 Basics Week 3: Celebrating cultures

As we pass the half way mark in the current Learn Moodle 3.5 Basics MOOC, participants are discovering more about the countries and cultures of each other through two activities: a Food for Moodlers database and a My home country (peer assessment) workshop. Both these activities are advanced tools which are not directly taught in the MOOC but provide an experience, a ‘taster’ of what is possible in Moodle. In the database activity, participants share favourite recipes from their region:

FoodForMoodlers

In the My home country activity participants give basic information including an image and link to a website about their home area, and in the current “Assessment phase” the information is now evaluated according to very simple criteria by their peers. The submission and evaluation criteria have been deliberately left very simple, not only because of the number of non-native English speakers in the course but primarily because we want participants to get a feel for the process of this powerful peer assessment activity, without the worry of inadequate grading. (That doesn’t stop the worry for some participants however!)

Workshop

These two activities, along with other activities from the MOOC aroused so much interest in earlier runs of the course that we replicated them in our School demonstration Moodle site, Mount Orange. This is a site where you can take on the role of teacher or student and try out activities, safe in the knowledge that you cannot break anything as the site is reset every hour on the hour. There is a course there called Celebrating cultures  and if you’d like to see permanent examples of the database, workshop and other MOOC activities, log in and explore!

Week 3 also offers optional activities to better appreciate the Moodle mobile app, now updated for the latest version of Moodle. There’s an optional quiz and assignment for mobile app users in the MOOC, but the School demonstration site also has a course specifically designed to try with the mobile app. Head over to the Digital literacy course  with the app and see how you get on :)

While there’s still time to join the MOOC, it’s too late to obtain a certificate of completion as the one single deadline has passed. However, watch social media this coming week for the announcement of the next run, Learn Moodle 3.6 Basics :)

Learn Moodle 3.5 Basics Week 2: Even warmer!

This week on Learn Moodle 3.5 Basics has felt even warmer than the warm welcome experienced last week, although that might partly be because Helen Foster and I were in 30 degrees C temperatures at MoodleMoot Spain in Barcelona #mootes18 where  we  ran a workshop on collaboration in Moodle:

Photo courtesy of https://twitter.com/eixavuiro

Collaboration was a timely topic because this week in our MOOC, participants are submitting to a peer assessment workshop about their home region. While we do try to explain the various stages of the task, in particular that the completion tick is only available at the very end, some participants are still confused. This is less of an issue this time thanks to Hart Wilson’s  infographics, available in various formats in the Any questions forums:

Workshop help

As mentioned before, we’re grateful to our experienced ‘regulars’ who like to collaborate by helping out. Another good example is John Bennett  our ‘doorman’ in the Introduce yourself forum who ensures no post gets left unanswered. The Introduce yourself! forum has added interest this time, with Moodle 3.5, as participants can introduce themselves via video or audio with the new feature in the Atto editor:

 This new feature was very popular at #mootes18 and prompted many questions after my presentation on the benefits to teachers of Moodle 3.5 Here’s the slideshow. The slides are in Spanish although I presented in English.

Coming up this week…. all participants (not just those in the ‘All at once’ group) will be invited to share their courses for feedback. This is a very important part of the MOOC and we’d love it if our regular Moodlers and any experienced Moodlers enrolled in as many courses as possible to offer constructive comments.

And also this week… another live Big Blue Button session. These are optional (because of timezone issues) but popular as they give participants a chance to ask questions in real time and to see and speak to one another via video and microphone. See (and hear) you soon :)
Live session

 

Warm Welcome in Week 1: Learn Moodle Basics 3.5

We’ve just completed the first week of our twice-yearly Learn Moodle Basics MOOC, this time covering Moodle 3.5 (And yes, there is still time to sign up!)  From the (I confess, few) online courses I have participated in myself, I have learned that an early welcome by the facilitators  and contact with other participants is very helpful in encouraging newcomers to continue. Our MOOC has an Introduce yourself! forum where participants must not only introduce themselves but also (and this is something many initially omit) respond to an introductory post by others. The aim is that no post should be left unanswered. With over three thousand participants so far, it is difficult for the facilitators to engage with every new participant, and we’re very grateful to our experienced regular MOOCers who help with this. (I’m deliberately not naming  names because there are a few of them and I don’t want to miss anyone out but you know who you are and you’ll get your reward :) )

If this is your first experience of a course with a large number of participants,  a key piece of advice is: don’t feel obliged to read every post! Scroll down the list; find one with either a title you like or one which doesn’t yet have a response, and click on that. Perhaps someone is posting from your area? Perhaps someone has cleverly added a ‘teaser’ in their title? Would any of these attract your attention?

ForumPosts

And the warm welcome is not only restricted to the Introduce yourself forum: the Any questions about Week 1? forum is monitored by helpful Moodlers who respond within minutes of a query being made. Do our helpful Moodlers have the forum in a tab on their computer and simply keep refreshing the page every five minutes (or is that just me? :) ) Whatever – it’s great that assistance is so swiftly given. We even have participants providing  tips for Newbies and infographics to help understand the peer assessment task (more next week)

As last time, participants can select to have the weekly activities displayed one week at a time (for a Step by Step approach) or all at once, if they are confident they won’t be overwhelmed. This works well but  it is surprising (and a little disconcerting to see participants sharing their empty courses in the week 3 section “Show us your Moodle course”. The idea is to work on the course for two weeks minimum and only then share the course for feedback on its content. Hopefully these fast-trackers will get some participants willing to return to the course once content is added; I’m sure they will.

Another surprise with the All at Once group of participants, is the number of people who are completing the “Tell us what you’ve learned” forum after a mere twenty four hours in the course.  Fast learners! But when you get feedback such as the below, it’s very encouraging:

What Learned

Some facts and figures so far:

  • We have 4184 participants, of whom 1150 already have a Participant badge.
  • Nearly twice as many participants opted to see the course materials “All at once” rather than weekly “Step by Step”
  • Over two thirds of the participants are totally new or relatively new to Moodle.

This last figure is interesting because although (at the moment) only 238 participants have classed themselves as “expert users here to help others”, there are still aspects to be learned, as this blog entry points out:

Experienced moodler

Week 2, starting on Monday 25th, brings an insight into Moodle’s interactive elements – and one of its most powerful features: a peer assessment tool called Workshop.  Going to be fun!

Moodlefairy does Languages in Russia (Part 2: Languages)

Note: This blog is in two parts – the first about Moodle and Language teaching, the second only about Language teaching. So read one, both or neither, depending on your interests!

During the three days of the ITMO conference, I was delighted to attend, as a regular participants, sessions on ESP teaching. These were practical, active, hands-on, engaging sessions – exactly the kind of methods you’d like to think students would be experiencing! As with all good conferences, I couldn’t attend simultaneous sessions and so, sadly, had to choose some and miss out on others. I enjoyed Head of ITMO Foreign Languages dept Yulia V. Ryabukhina’s session on Project and Problem-based learning (two different things), particularly as we were constantly questioned, asked to reflect, to think, to predict what happened with her real-life example class. Yulia also chaired a panel discussion on the Role of Materials in Student Motivation during ESP classes.  On the panel were representatives from three publishers and there  was much talk of the huge preparation time needed to provide learners with interesting and relevant ESP materials. It occurred to me that Moodle users (and maybe non-Moodle users?) should  have this problem alleviated with the advent of resource sharing in the new MoodleNet. It’s worth keeping an eye on the ongoing progress of this new, open, social media platform for educators.

Discussion Panel

Elena Belyaeva of St Petersburg State University (and formerly my son’s manager!) did an excellent and interactive workshop on authentic learning for students. I was particularly interested in this because I know the difficulty of providing authentic materials for foreign language learners. Elena’s take on this was that she didn’t only mean authentic paper materials – but an authentic experience. So she took us through  a typical experience her students have where they first discuss the benefits and drawbacks of studying abroad, they then research possible scholarships (with differentiated tasks and more or less assistance depending on their needs) and eventually will produce a scholarship application. It’s authentic because, as graduate physics students they may well be doing this. Elena even thought to make our own workshop experience authentic by having us research teaching scholarships rather than Physics graduate ones. (Sadly for me, one of them required Russian nationality!) In undertaking these tasks we first reflected on our own, then with a partner, then with a different partner – I was reminded of ‘think/pair/share’.

Elena Belyaeva

This active, student-centred learning was very present in another workshop I attended – and unfortunately my poor photographic skills meant my pictures aren’t good enough to show. (Yes, they’re of even poorer quality than the ones  I have chosen to show!!!) That’s a shame because the workshop was run by Aleksandra Shparberg and Maryam Reyhani (EMI co-ordinator) from ITMO University. (Maryam is from Perth Australia -home of Moodle!) The two delivered a masterful double act, from the first five minutes when we all had to get to know each other via paper aeroplanes to the last five minutes where we were each teaching the group about considerations in English as a Medium of Instruction. By the end I really, really wanted to be part of their department! I wanted to be a teacher again, to inspire and engage and all the things  I had forgotten I’d enjoyed during my 28 years teaching.

The final keynote was delivered by Robert Cote of the University of Arizona. He’s visited before, several times and he intends to return. “Though our governments and presidents may not get along, the people certainly do.”

Robert’s presentation was full of interesting and entertaining facts and information along with many practical hints for getting the most out of your English language learning students.

English Prevalence

I loved the TV news and weather reports, and was reminded that I did that years ago with my own students, at a much lower level, but with their enthusiasm nonetheless. He also encourages blogging and I realised that my own personal learning Russian blog, while useful as a self-disciplinary task, really ought to be written in Russian now my skills are improving. Or some of it at least. I’ll think about it :)

Big thanks to ITMO for allowing me to attend the conference. It was a pleasure both from a Moodle and a Languages point of view. And, of course, thanks for the lovely cakes!

ITMO Cakes

 

Moodlefairy does Languages in Russia (Part 1: Moodle)

Note: This blog is in two parts – the first about Moodle and Language teaching, the second only about Language teaching. So read one, both or neither, depending on your interests!

While British, Russian and American politicians engage in serious handbag flailing, ordinary people in each country are getting on with each other and with their lives. Thus it was that I arrived in St Petersburg last week to attend a conference on English for Specific Purposes at the prestigious ITMO university. Several of the English faculty completed our Learn Moodle Basics MOOC in January (Quick plug: sign up now for the June 3.5 MOOC!) and so  I was invited to give an overview of Moodle and its possiblities for teaching English. Apart from a brief time during my student days, I have never actually taught English to non-native speakers, but I have taught foreign languages to native English speakers, and as I discovered, the skills are very transferable. So transferable in fact, that by the second day of the conference I began to think I’d taken the wrong career path thirty years ago – but it’s a bit late now!

ITMO

I started by explaining the background to the Moodle open source software, as the conference participants ranged from those whose universities used it fully to those who’d never heard of it, from those who used it on their own within a higher education establishment to primary and secondary school teachers who saw its potential for their classes. This is where Moodle has real value: with technical knowledge you can install it and maintain it yourself, for free; as an individual teacher you can use MoodleCloud offerings where the hard work is done for you, or if you have money and specific needs you can engage a Moodle Partner. See all three options here.

I then went on to highlight the benefits of Moodle when teaching languages, be that ESP, as at the conference, or other Modern Foreign Languages, as in my own experience. For ease of explanation, I divided it up into four areas, and below is a summary. I chose to talk only of standard or free plugins, although I do know there are some very good paid options for language teaching with Moodle as well.

Reading:

  • Easily drag and drop your reading materials (such as PDFs) onto the course page in seconds
  • Make your readings more accessible to mobile app and device users with Moodle’s Page  resource and Book resource. (I was keen to point out how Moodle’s mobile app allows students to access all standard activities and offers offline access if the internet is poor or costly)
  • Use Moodle’s superior quiz features: while many learning platforms, apps and sites offer different quiz question types, none offers the number and functionality that Moodle’s quiz does. Worried your students might benefit from guessing in multiple-choice quizzes? Use the Certainty based marking feature. Need to control the order in which students answer questions? Use Conditional questions. Not satisfied with the standard question types? Choose from the many contributed question types (such as WordSelect from Titus Learning’s Marcus Green)

Listening:

  • As with your documents, easily drag and drop your own sound and video files, and remember too that Pages and Books display external media such as YouTube videos very well….
  • as do Assignments. Offer a student an embedded YouTube video to watch/listen to and set them a writing task to summarise it
  • Use the popular, free and trustworthy RecordRTC plugin to record extracts of poems which students must respond to in quizzes: UPDATE: This plugin is now standard in Moodle 3.5 in the Atto editor!

Speaking:

  • Video conferencing. There are many options out there. Big Blue Button, the open-source video conferencing system integrates beautifully with Moodle if you wish to communicate with your learners out of class – or if you want them to communicate with each other remotely…
  • and if you want to set a speaking homework, RecordRTC’s video option allows your learners to make a mini-presentation as an assignment. (I did a demo of this too but I’m not going to display myself here!) UPDATE: This plugin is now standard in Moodle 3.5 in the Atto editor!

Writing:

  • For non-graded or collaborative writing, Moodle’s wiki activity serves you well. Or why not embed a Google doc (or Microsoft equivalent)?
  • For graded written tasks Moodle’s Assignment activity offers a rich variety of features – too many for the time I had. Did you know you can set a word limit, allow groups to submit, annotate and comment directly on submissions, use percentages, letter grades or any complex rubric you choose?
  • Need a template for scaffolding with less confident students? You can upload an additional file to aid students in an assignment but you can also provide a template in  the Quiz essay question
  • Want Moodle to do your essay grading? Sadly  we’re not there yet! But there are some options worth exploring, which go some (small) way towards it. These contributed plugins rely on the teacher inputting key phrases, words, expressions which the student should include, and the essay is graded according to how many are included. The most powerful (and complex) of these  is the UK Open University’s Pattern Match . I have also heard of, but have not personally tried, Gordon Bateson’s Essay auto-grade, only available on Github. (Gordon moodles in Japan, and a couple of years back, I was lucky enough to attend the Japanese Moodle Moot where I spent several blissful days in the company of English language teachers using Moodle. They’d get on well with ITMO university English teachers :) ) I chose  to demo the Essay question from H5P – a free open source product that also integrates with Moodle.  Explore the H5P Moodle plugin here.  Here’s a really basic example:

General:

Some ideas for all subjects, not just English and other language teachers:

.. that leads neatly into a Competencies  and Learning plans in ESP courses workshop I was fortunate enough to attend on the second day of the conference. This was run by John Kuti of ITMO and was in the style of a worldcafe, where we sit in groups at different tables, explore an issue, move around, and so on. We did it as a kind of Musical chairs with added Learning! (Hence the triangle…)

CompetenciesWorkshop

We looked at the Common European Framework Reference for Languages and how it could be enhanced for ESP teaching, and how such a competency framework would fit into a Moodle course. John helpfully had a sample learning plan and competencies set up in a course on his Moodle site for participants to explore. (Download the CEFR as a  Moodle Competency framework from  Moodle.net here.)

In Part 2 I’ll focus on the other sessions I attended, not directly Moodle -related, but putting me back into Languages Heaven :)