Moodlefairy goes to Barcelona: #mootes14

Just a few days before Christmas, I left the shivery dark and drizzly north of England to fly to the blue skies and palm trees of mediterranean Barcelona for the Spanish Moodle Moot, #mootes14. Or at least, I tried to. Seconds before take off, the pilot changed his mind (“engine warning light”) and ferried us back to the “station” where we had to get off, wait a couple of hours, get on a replacement plane and finally take off three hours later. Not the most auspicious start, but it could only get better from then. And get better it certainly did! Barcelona is a great city, much improved thanks to the 1992 Olympics. The Moot was on Friday and Saturday and Helen Foster and I decided to stay an extra day to see the sights. Back here in parky Preston, I still can’t get over the fact that we were able to sit out on a cafe terrace , eating lunch in the sunshine on the 21st of December!

We had been invited by Jordi Vila,  of Moodle Partner CV&A Consulting, to present on our MOOC with Moodle, and it was quite timely since we are running the MOOC again from January 11th.  Please join us! Also keynoting were Moodle HQ’s Mobile Expert, Juan Leyva, whom we met for the first time in person,  Gavin Henrick, one of our favourite Moodle evangelists, and our new sight-seeing friend, Stephen Vickers whose workshop on LTI gave us both useful insights into Moodle’s External Tool.

Thanks Roger Domínguez for this photo

Moodle Moots are always great places to connect with people, and we were pleased to see face to face Moodlers we’d only ever seen on the forums and in the tracker before, such as Iñaki Arenaza,  and Pau Ferrer Ocaña  and also to catch up again with yet another Moodle HQ member, Andrew Davis, currently travelling  and blogging the world with wife Tanya and baby Zoe. This photo has four HQ members,  Mary, Helen, Andrew and Juan.. we just missed a fifth, David Monllaó who paid a flying visit on his way home for Christmas.

One thing I found hard to get used to – but I managed it!! – was the timings of the meals. Breakfast -fine – and our hotel, Hotel Condado was very pleasant and centrally situated. But lunch seemed not to be considered at all before 2.30 and it was sometimes nearer 3.30 when we sat down to eat. I would eat anytime between 12.30 and 1.30 in the UK. Evening meal often didn’t arrive until almost 10 o’clock – in the UK that’s the time Mr Moodlefairy is eating supper and the time I am contemplating going to bed… but the quality of the food, the variety of the tapas  and the deliciousness of the wine more than made up for our waits.

On  Saturday morning we did a workshop highlighting the potential of the Lesson activity. It hasn’t had much TLC in recent years, although a very committed French Moodler, Jean-Michel Védrine is currently redressing the balance, for which we are very grateful. It would be lovely to see a focus on Lesson in 2015; fingers crossed and eyes looking out for keen volunteers. We also did an interview for the lovely Itziar Kerexeta and the  unforgettable Josi Sierra which you can watch on youtube here.

The Moot venue was a Music school and so it was quite appropriate that it ended with a sing-song (sort of) where one of the teachers tried to get everyone to sing Moodle Moot  in various voices,  and then when we failed to perform satisfactorily, one of his talented students showed us exactly how to do it and more… a tiny flavour here:

On  Saturday afternoon, Helen, Stephen and I visited Casa Batlló, a Gaudi masterpiece and the most amazing family home I’ve ever been in. By special request (of me) we dined slightly earlier – 8pm :) and on Sunday morning, set off  to visit la Sagrada Família. Ex colleagues at my school told me “Oh-  you should go to the Sagrada Familia” when I said I would be in Barcelona, and I thought, yes, another cathedral; I’ve seen lots of cathedrals, temples, distinctive churches on my travels… And then I saw it!! Like nothing I’d ever seen before!! Thanks so much to Jordi and his team for allowing us the privilege of coming to Barcelona and being able to have these experiences.

Happily the journey back was uneventful, because as soon as we were home, it was Christmas. Now we’re finishing off the remains of the turkey and thinking about the 11th January when our MOOC with Moodle will run again. Will you be there?

Moodlefairy goes to Portugal

In recent years, I’ve attended a fair number of Moodle conferences or Moots, but last week’ s trip to Portugal with Moodle Sites manager Helen Foster was more of a MOOC event than a Moot event. It was a conference dedicated to MOOCS in Europe, how to collaborate on them, the opportunities and issues (threats) posed by them and of course, platforms used for running them. Helen and I had been invited, courtesy of Dublin City University’s  Dr Eamon Costello to present our experiences of running a MOOC using Moodle (which we did, last year, with our Teaching with Moodle MOOC) and which we are running again in January – sign up here! It was an academic conference, Mapping the European MOOC territory and it gave Helen and me a fantastic opportunity to broaden our horizons of and understanding of MOOCs, alongside hearing about others’ experiences with Moodle as a MOOC platform.

image courtesy of Dr Eamon Costello

But not just that! We got to explore Porto – and it’s lovely! Arriving mid-afternoon the day before the conference, we took a walk around the city, Portugal’s second largest after Lisbon and were immediately drawn into Port tasting just across the road from our hotel, the atmospheric Grande Hotel de Paris . During the one and a half days we spent in Porto, we managed three sessions of Port testing – white, ruby and tawny…

We almost missed one of the most amazing sights in Porto as we walked around – a small bookshop which attracted us in with its ornate staircase and turned out to be so Harry Potteresque we googled it – and discovered it did indeed inspire JK Rowling, who used to live in Portugal. Taking photos was restricted to certain times but do, please, look at all the photographs on Trip advisor to get a feel for the experience.

We also got to taste a typical Porto delicacy – Francesinha - interesting …  and, on a separate occasion, we ate in the Stock Exchange – or rather – the former Stock Exchange, Palacio da Bolsa, now an exclusive venue for events. On our table, delegates from England, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey and Russia, all shared experiences of MOOCS and aspirations for future collaboration. I learned a lot; it was fascinating attending a conference that wasn’t only Moodle-related and seeing different perspectives in online learning. Thanks again to Eamon for your support :)

Webanywhere Waxing Lyrical in Leeds

On Friday I spent a very pleasant afternoon in Leeds, attending the opening of the shiny new offices of Moodle Partner Webanywhere As an ever-expanding company (branches in Poland and the USA as well as UK) they are going up in the world – literally so – as the new office space is on the 6th floor of the Leeds City Exchange. We were greeted with a magnificent “spread” in the meeting room, complemented by a magnificent view, which my photos cannot do justice to:

Along with  company employees, MD Sean Gilligan and the whole Gilligan clan (Webanywhere’s a company which has managed to go international while at the same time retaining the family-run personal touch) the new office space was graced with the presence of the Lord Mayor of Leeds, the CEO of Leeds City Council and  the poet/broadcaster and serial tweeter Ian McMillan. But the main star of the event was Year 10 poet Emily who won a competition to write a poem about computers taking over the world. AShe came along with her mum, gran and English teacher (perfectly described on his badge as “Emily’s English teacher”) After  Sean gave a brief history of Webanywhere  which began, like Moodle, in its founder’s bedroom), Ian read Emily’s poem and presented her with her prize, an ipad mini. This photo courtesy of @webanywhere:

Sean had told us that Webanywhere’s original slogan was “Web here, Web there, Web anywhere” which Ian insisted we then chant as  he cut the ribbon to officially open the premises:


My family had said I should get a “selfie” with Ian since I have a new fairphone I am trying to get to grips with. However, I’m not convinced selfies show you off to best effect when you are over a certain age… so I had one taken from afar instead. Ian said to give it meaning we needed to be holding something, so here we are, with the Totally Random Moodle Nibbles bowl award :)

Thanks for inviting me!

 

Moodle quiz questions for Functional Skills ICT

In the summer term I did a 4 week project with a group of ten pupils  aged 14 – 15 years from Our Lady’s High School Preston . The plan was for them to create some quiz questions for the rest of their class based on the skill sets of the Functional Skills Level 2 ICT qualification they were doing. Getting students to create Moodle quiz questions is nothing new, and as pedagocially sound as it ever was, but I’ll blog about the mechanics of it some other time in the Teaching with Moodle forum where I do regular “Moodle Tips”. The mechanics of it -how you give them the permissions to create quiz questions in Moodle – is the easy part; writing the actual questions is the hard part! I thought I’d share how we went about it over the four weeks and how successful (or not) I felt we were:

In Week 1 we never went near Moodle. Using some of the lessons learned from Designing smarter quiz questions, I gave them the group some “unsatisfactory” quiz questions to discuss and identify what was wrong with them. Some were fairly easy: obviously silly wrong answers in multiple choice questions, which gave students an unfair chance at guessing the correct one…

…while some made them stop and think about use of language…

…while others were beyond them and needed an explanation…

Intrigued as to how much would stay with them I set them a homework of getting full marks on a “content free” quiz  written in gobbledgook I’d discovered courtesy of Tim Hunt, and which you can try for yourselves on the School demo site  and download from Moodle.net

In Week 2,  they each chose a skill set they would like to create questions on. They had to create ten questions each. Two of them wanted to collaborate on the same skill set. I said that was fine as long as you  still make 10 questions each; otherwise you are doing half the amount of work! They were then shown how to create quiz questions in Moodle. I had intended for them just to give 100% right and 0 for wrong but was interested to see how several actually wanted to award partial marks for partially correct answers. In the second half of the session, and for all of Week 3, they made their own questions. They were allowed to search the internet for inspiration and some wanted to add images – this proved a learning curve in itself: how do you take screenshots? Which format do you save them in for Moodle?  Which program to use for resizing and editing them? Can you resize them in Moodle? What about copyright? And so on. It wasn’t in the brief to go into all this in depth but had we had time, I think it would have been very useful – since you can add videos and hyperlinks too, they could have enriched their questions even more.

In Week 4 they were meant to test out each others’ quizzes, act on feedback and go back to class to try them out on other pupils. You can download the resultant quiz from Moodle.net here, to tweak as you wish. The questions are not perfect – but they’re there, and there are plenty of them :) There are some notes about use at the end of this blog post.

On reflection, were I to do it again, I would lay as much emphasis on the importance of good feedback to each response as I did trying to get them to create good questions. They gave some thought to the phrasing of their questions but few of them have constructive comments following a right or wrong answer. Proof reading is important too – I’m used to training teachers who (mostly!) spell and punctuate fairly reasonably, but some of the group struggled in this area.  I would also do a quick revision of their own ICT skills (screenshots, hyperlinking, etc)  in the initia session. And of course we’d bear in mind that creating the Perfect questions and Perfect feedback takes time, practice and experience – not something you can achieve in a short project.  However, public credit goes to: Declan, Jack, Amy, Michael, James, Tom, Matt, Lewiss [sic], Jordain [sic] and Hamed, and thanks to their teacher @teknoteacher Alan O’Donohoe for giving them the chance to spread their Moodle wings.

As an aside, there is a cool plugin which turns multiple choice questions into a retro-style arcade game - I can see these students enjoying that very much.

Note: You can either restore the whole course into your Moodle and and use “as is”  - see docs: Course restore or you can import the quiz (once restored) into your own Moodle course – see docs Activity Restore - or you can simply use selected questions by exporting and then importing one of the chosen question categories – see docs: Export questions and Import questions.

Stand up to Moodle

I love my job. But it’s very bad for my health. That is to say, a job which involves sitting hunched over a  computer for between 5 and 7 hours a day (and then sitting hunched over a laptop in my evening free time) is hardly conducive to keeping fit and flexible. And I know you are meant to take a break every hour and stretch your limbs – but I get so engrossed, I keep forgetting…

In order to ofset this, I’ve been going to Tai Chi once a week and exercise classes twice a week with Impact Training @impactptpreston but I still felt there was more I could do. Then last year I saw an item on BBC – The Big Standing Up Experiment suggesting standing while you work can have major health benefits. This, coupled with the discovery that one Moodle Partner provides standing desks for its employees, and that some HQ colleagues also moodle standing up, inspired me to go in search of a better way of working.  While it’s possible to make your own standing desk for a few pounds with materials from Ikea, I wanted something that would allow me to choose whether I wanted to work standing up or sitting; I wanted the option to alternate. Google Sitting Standing desks and you will find no end of expensive products. My ideal desk was unfortunately not only way out of my price bracket ,but also too wide for the tiny alcove I have in my front room. Enter Project Ergo UK who offer a range of ‘Kangaroo’ adjustable desktops, one of which they agreed to customise to fit my needs – and it does – perfectly! So now I can work standing up for a couple of hours…

(Actually, according to this image of the correct posture from Makeuseof.com, I haven’t quite got the positioning right yet – but I’m still learning; it’s only been a week! )  I probably need a mat too. Already though,  I find I love working standing up: I can fidget in a way I never did when I was sitting, immobile for hours, and I’ve also discovered I can walk around the room during online meetings (as long as the webcam’s not on) and nobody minds :)

Then, after a couple of hours, I can sit down…

It takes literally seconds to move the monitor and work surface from standing to sitting position. If it took any longer than a few seconds, I know I wouldn’t bother doing it, and it would be a waste of money, but it’s just a simple matter of turning a knob, pushing down (or up) and tightening again. And it fits perfectly into my tiny workspace.

While standing to work is better than sitting, and while alternating between standing and sitting is better than just doing the one or the other, I do realise I now need to set myself an alert every hour to eject myself from the computer completely. That’s my next plan. But at least now I know that by standing, I am moving in the right direction :)