Learn Moodle MOOC: the halfway point

As I write this, we’re at the end of the second week of our twice-yearly,  four-week long MOOC on the basics of Teaching with Moodle. Participants are encouraged to blog about their experiences. The newbies have been very complimentary – here are a few:

Experienced Moodlers have also been blogging that they appreciate being able to try the new features of Moodle 3.2 and also to experience the latest version of the Moodle mobile app. So I thought, as one of the facilitators, I’d blog too, reflecting on how the first half of the course has gone. A former colleague used to divide the plus and minus points of her lessons into ‘Smiles and sighs’, so I’ll used her analogy. There have certainly been more smiles than sighs, both from the facilitators’ and participants’ points of view, but as sighs are valuable indicators of potential issues, we need to address and reduce them. Here goes:

Smiles

  • Despite only opening the course for sign up in the second week of December, we have over 4071 participants, 1260 of whom already have a participant badge. Percentage-wise this is a better rate than at the end of our previous MOOC last August: 31% as opposed to 26% and is looking  promising to match or beat the 37% from the MOOC this time last year. We were concerned about the course starting soon after Christmas, and about the short time to register before it began. I wonder now  if opening up sign up much closer to the start means it is fresher in people’s minds and so they are more active? We’ll get a better picture at the end of the month when we see who has the completer badge, an award which involves taking part in every required activity. Watch this space :)
  • As the MOOC is well established now – this is its sixth run – we have acquired several volunteer helpers, experienced Moodlers who just enjoy (I presume!) monitoring the course and responding to the more frequently asked questions. This is a very big ‘smile’ for Helen and me, because it means we’re not alone amongst thousands of Moodlers. It is particularly good for my own personality too, as it prevents me from answering every single question: bad practice in a course based on social constructionism! I have an annoying trait (neurosis?) in that if anyone texts, emails, whatsapps or asks a Moodle question, I feel compelled to respond straight away. That might be fine on an individual helpline, but if you’re running a course where participants learn together and help each other, you’re robbing them of the chance to do so. I learned my lesson trying to help in a foreign language forum on a different site: keen to respond, I spent ten minutes checking my grammar before pressing the ‘send’ button, only to discover the main facilitator and native speaker had already replied :(  So I thank one  of our hero regular Moodlers is Domenico Recchia, non-native English speaker yet knowledgeable and totally au fait with the Learn Moodle philosophy.
  • When a course is totally online and participants are scattered across the world, any opportunity to come together at the same time is a boon. We offer optional, recorded live sessions using Big Blue Button web conferencing. Participants join in with their microphones or webcams, or type questions in the chat and we’re always grateful when the developers of Big Blue Button come along in their free time to help.

  • In a MOOC with thousands of participants, it’s vital that each participant feels noticed and valued. One way we try to do this is by requiring people to introduce themselves – and then requiring them to reply to someone else’s post, thus ensuring everyone has at least one acknowledgement. Another of our hero regular Moodlers, John Bennett, has taken it upon himself to reply to anyone without a reply in the Introduce yourself forum. This is great:)

Sighs

  • The Introduce yourself forum as well as bringing smiles, also brings a level of frustration in that it illustrates how, despite the best efforts to explain things clearly, misunderstandings occur. Each required activity has box next to it. Most get a tick/checkmark automatically once the activity completion requirements are met. The Introduce yourself forum states that you must introduce yourself AND reply to someone else. Despite this, we still get participants wondering why their box is not ticked when they have introduced themselves. Some even introduce themselves a second or third time, highlighting to us we need to improve the clarify of the instructions.

  • We do a peer assessment activity called a Workshop.  It’s an advanced Moodle feature, so we don’t teach how to set it up, but we do feel participants will benefit from experiencing it as a student. (Its popularity certainly puts it in the ‘Smile’ list too. ) The activity requires participants to submit work and then, later, assess the work of others. Only then is their box checked as complete. A dedicated How to do the workshop activity page explains the process, but it seems we’re still not clear enough, judging by the confused participants who ask why the box is not yet marked complete once they have submitted their work.

  • Quiz questions for a large group of people whose first language is not English are very challenging to create! Each run of the MOOC there seems to be one question which causes problems – a short answer question. These are not the best type if your first language is not the language of the course. This isn’t a sigh so much as a salutory reminder that phrasing good quiz questions, with useful feedback, is a skill in itself, often overlooked.

 What’s to  come?

Weeks 3 and 4 will be busy – and, we hope, fun –  because not only will participants be assessing each other in the workshop activity but also sharing their practice courses to get some interaction and constructive comments. We’ll be very briefly touching upon advanced features to give newbies a taste of Moodle’s potential.  And if you’re wondering, yes, you can still sign up, but if you want a completion certificate, you’ll have to be quick, as that first workshop deadline is the 18th January :)

What teachers will love about Moodle 3.2

Not much blogging recently because I’ve been very busy filming :) Well, making videos that is, of the newest features of Moodle 3.2, which came out a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve been watching social media, you’ll no doubt have seen that everyone is talking about the new theme Boost, which will certainly silence those critics who complain the Moodle interface is ‘clunky’. Or maybe you’ve read about the user tours - guided tours administrators can create to help people find their way around the site. Equally cool, but for me, with each release, it’s the smaller, teacher-focused features that enthuse me. Little fixes that make a big difference to teachers’ lives. Here are a few scenarios:

  1. You’ve set up a Choice activity for students to choose their project group. When the deadline’s arrived, a couple of students message you in panic because they forgot to select their group and don’t want to miss out. Being the kind teacher you are, you make a note of their preference, go into the Choice activity and make those choices for them. Because in Moodle 3.2 teachers can make choices for students!
  2. Your drama class has an assignment deadline for next Tuesday. Then out of the blue your top student informs you she’s got an audition for ‘Stars in their X-Factor Talent‘ and can’t make the deadline. You don’t want to penalise her so instead you give her an individual extension. Because in Moodle 3.2 teachers can override assignment deadlines!
  3. You’ve mastered the complex lesson activity and are creating a long lesson with similar pages you use as templates, saving a lot of time. Because in Moodle 3.2 lesson pages can be duplicated in with one click!
  4. You’re re-running your course but you want this year’s students to view the postings from last year without replying to these older contributions. You can close those older contributions. Because in Moodle 3.2 forum discussions can be locked after periods of inactivity!

If you’re interested in finding out more about these new features from a teacher point of view, then why not sign up for our Learn Moodle MOOC starting on January 2nd?

Did I say I was busy filming? Oh yes – no sooner the 3.2 highlight videos finished than I began making all-new video tutorials for Moodle 3.2 to use in our MOOC. Better get back to work….

 

 

Moodling in Hollywood: moodlefairy goes to LA #mootus16

I’ve just come back from a week in Hollywood (OK, Universal City, but Hollywood sounds good!) at the very successful, very enjoyable – and VERY SUNNY! – US Moodle moot. I’m still in jet lag mode, sleeping, waking and eating at strange hours, so I’ll try to make this report as coherent and simply phrased as I can. It was a three day event; Tuesday, the pre-conference training sessions, and Wednesday and Thursday the conference itself. I took part in three presentations, one on our Learn Moodle MOOC, one on screencasting in Moodle and one with HQ’s Damyon Wiese on the new assignment changes in Moodle 3.1. The venue was the Hilton Universal City, great rooms, great food and best of all for conference attendees, having everything in the same place.

The novelty of breakfast in the sunshine

I especially liked the fact that my room, on the 20th floor, had not only a fine view of the Hollywood Hills but also, if I dared look down, a fine view of the swimming pool, allowing me to see how busy it was and whether it was worth going down there :) Before and after the conference, I did indeed go there, making the most of the 37 degrees C weather, which, to someone used to rainy summers of 17 degrees was in no way a burden…

I also took the opportunity to do the “Walk of Fame” and the Universal Studios tour.

Just to prove I’ve been!

Since my brain is still too chronologically challenged to think in sequence, here, in no particular order, is a list of things I really enjoyed and appreciated at #mootus16.

  • The full day workshop on  MOOC design – we were a small group so we all sat around a table discussing and sharing ideas. I felt it worked all the better for that. Thanks to Kathie Robeson from Elearning Experts for co-facilitating.
  • Meeting more Moodle partners. It’s always good to meet the people who pay your wages :) Several Moodle partners were sponsors, as you can see from the US Moot Sponsors list. As well as meeting Kathie, I was also pleased to meet other Partners for the first time, such as the refreshingly original Shalimar from Moonami, Ben from Lambda Solutions, Jai from Key to School/Vidyamantra and Navin from Ballistic Learning
  • Keynotes by invited speakers (1) On Wednesday we were treated to a fascinating exposé of the Neuroscience of Learning Design from Britt Andreatta. One aspect which particularly caught my attention was the knowledge that meditation/mindfulness is not only good for your mental health, which I was aware of, but can also help with learning and retention. I’ve been trying to “improve myself” this year, physically and mentally, with good intentions of  taking ten minutes each day for quiet reflection and weekly visits to our local Buddhist Centre and my good friend Pagpa. Sometimes it’s hard to find those ten minutes -yes- really! So understanding that there is yet another reason to do it – will motivate me all the more.
  • Keynotes by invited speakers (2) On Thursday we heard – and saw – the inspirational Aaron Page and Marlene Zentz demonstrate best practices in Accessible design. I say “saw” because Aaron demonstrated on his computer what it is actually like for people, like himself, who cannot  see with their eyes. And the two explained how we who are (love the term! “visually dependent“) can ensure our online courses are inclusive and accessible to all.
Marlene and Aaron keynote

Marlene and Aaron – photo by Martin Dougiamas

  • Speaking different languages! Kudos to Carles Augiló from Wiris Math, who is present at every moot I attend, whatever the country, and seems perfectly happy to pass on his passion about Moodle and Mathematics in several different languages. And thanks to the University of Montréal’s Serge Gauthier and Jean Philippe Gaudreau who worked with HQ on Competency based Education and who gave me the opportunity to attune my ear to Canadian French !
JP and Mary

J-P + Mary – le selfie anglo-canadien!

  • Having my historical phobia of numeracy assuaged by the calmly reassuring Statistics and Analytics expert Elizabeth Dalton. I’m sure if she and the equally mathematically competent HQ Community manager Helen Foster,  had been my school teachers, I wouldn’t have been so fearful of what, after all, is just another language.
  • Meeting old Moodle friends and making new Moodle friends. I don’t want to list names because I don’t want to offend  I don’t mention, but if we chatted, whether we had met before or met for the first time, I was really happy to connect with you and hope we meet again online or at another moot soon.

Many thanks to Gavin Henrick and Martin Dougiamas for making this possible and allowing me to attend. And now, if you don’t mind, it is six thirty pm, which I think means it is almost time for lunch…..

Moodlefairy goes to Tokyo #mootjp16

Last week I attended the Japanese Moodle Moot in Tokyo, as a guest of the Moodle Association of Japan, a  well-established and esteemed organisation of  both native Japanese and expatriate western Moodle enthusiasts from all areas of Japan.

Don, Mary, Thierry, Thom, Hideto, Takahiro

Family commitments prevented me from staying after the moot, so on the afternoon of my arrival I was delighted to have a whirlwind tour of Tokyo with MAJ President Hideto Harashima. We took in the ancient and the modern - Senso-ji,  the city’s oldest temple, followed by the Skytree,  completed in 2012 and now the tallest tower in the world. And to follow the ancient and modern: the traditional – my first Japanese meal of ramen - at which point I realised that while my having practised some basic Japanese before arrival might prove useful, it might have been even more useful if I had practised using chopsticks :) Never mind.

Sunday was the pre-conference workshops. I always appreciate participating in Moodle workshops run by people who aren’t me! This time I learned about using LTI to  link courses and activities on different sites  in a session run by Thom Rawson, who at 6 ft 9 is known as “the tallest man in West Japan” (which to me seems less of a nickname and more of a description.) I then learned about “Remoot control” a cool web app produced by the tech guys of Paris Descartes university which enables teachers to get their students responding on their mobiles to  Moodle questionnaires. This session was run by featured speaker Thierry Koscielniak whom I know from the French Moodle moots.  I  did a workshop on the Lesson activity which caused me much entertainment as I listened to Hideto’s interpretation of my words, picking out the many borrowed English words in the midst of the Japanese I didn’t understand :)

Sunday night took us into the centre of Tokyo to a  place called…. Beer Pub Camden where we drank craft beers  (very good) and ate fish and chips (very British!) You could tell how integrated the American/Canadian/Australian/British Moodlers were as they sat there happily eating fish and chips with chopsticks. And yet again I learned how small this big world is: I sat opposite Elton LaClare, a Canadian who had lived several years just a few miles from me in Preston and there we were, in Japan, talking about the Sunday train service in Lancashire…

The moot proper took place on the Monday and Tuesday. If I mentioned all the presentations I attended, it would turn a blog post into a novella, so I’ll summarise by saying it was excellent to hear about the many real-life case studies , particularly of Moodle use in language teaching. I was happy to share my own experiences of language teaching in the UK and to pick up tips from Elton LaClare and Rob HIrschel from Sojo University , from  long-time Moodler Gordon Bateson and to finally meet Justin Hunt, “the PoodLL guy”, a bit of a celebrity at the moot, whose plugins were showcased in several presentations I saw. I was particularly taken with his Read Aloud and TQuiz plugins (Github link here) and their use in diagnosing dyslexia. And to top it all, I’m promised a Python course from Christian Thompson (which will doubtless please teknoteacher and help me in my quest for Computing Moodle courses)

16 floors up in the Sky building of  Toyo University was the venue for the Monday evening get-together, another chance to experiment with chopsticks, enjoy sushi and other dishes I had never tried but was delighted to taste and wonder at the magnificent view of the city at night. Here I had the opportunity to chat to  Takeshi Matsuzaki, CEO of e-learning.co.jp, sponsors of the moot and one of three Japanese Moodle partners.

Monday evening

Former HQ developer Jetha Chan presented just before me on LMS issues in Asia. A student of Japanese, Jetha presented in Japanese and English, something I could only admire but not emulate, although I did try to say a few words in Japanese before my own keynote on “Working for the Community” – thanks to the kind assistance of Mari Yamaouchi (who’d also generously picked me up from the airport.) Asked by MAJ vice-president Don Hinkelman, Jetha and I helped in the judging and presenting of MAJ awards for best courses uploaded to the MAJ hub, a community hub similar to Moodle.net  and for best Moodle innovation.

On Tuesday, my final night, a group of us – including Mari and myself pictured below – trundled off to an isakaya where we sat on mats at a low table and I  had a lesson in chopstick usage and etiquette from Adam Jenkins (don’t stick them in your rice and don’t push your bowl with them!)

Tuesday evening

images from https://www.facebook.com/moodlejapan

I also experienced both cold and warm sake and no hangover whatsoever when I had to be up bright and early at 7 am for my flight home, kindly escorted to the hotel by Peter Ruthven-Stuart and then  through the morning subway maze by Takahiro Kagoya. Thankyou so much.

Overriding memories? The kindness, generosity and  enthusiasm of Moodlers in  Japan and their desire to promote and encourage subscription to the Moodle Users Association, which has Hideto on the inaugural committee. Oh yes – and the Japanese toilets - but you can read about them yourselves :)

Calling all Moodling Computing teachers…

Today I was pleased to approve two new entries in our Moodle.net Content database, the place where you can get Moodle quiz questions, glossary and database entries and more for your own Moodle site. They are both Computing related quiz questions, some General computing  questions from Hiteshi Trivedi and over 150 GCSE Computing questions from Alan O’Donohoe, former teaching colleague of mine and now continuing his Computing evangelism in a new role with the Exa Foundation.

I’ve for long wanted to create an example Moodle course on Computing, to showcase on our Mount Orange School demo site. This site contains ready-made courses and activities to give you an idea of how to use Moodle in your subject. These new quiz questions will make a great start to a course for teenagers learning Computing  - and I’ll get started on it – but there is only one problem: I don’t actually know anything about Computing :) So here’s where you come in, Moodling Computing teachers….

Open clipart image of teaching code

Alan sees his quiz questions as “Work in progress” and is happy for others to add to and improve them. I’m going to attempt to turn some into the cool new  drag and drop question types   - but we really need more stuff other than just quiz questions! It would be great if you have any other activities you could share, such as Moodle glossary entries , database templates or any ideas for collaborative activities you’ve used yourself in teaching Computing via Moodle.  I’ll build a sample Moodle course from them which we can add to Mount Orange, not only as an example of a Moodle Computing course but also as a usable one you can download and adapt for your own school and students. In fact, with grading via Competency/Skills Based learning being supported in the next version of Moodle, it would be a fine opportunity also to produce real demonstrations of how competencies are achieved.  So please spread the word!