Mootieuk15 – Moodlefairy goes to Dublin (again!)

Dublin again! Happy memories of the 2012 and 2013 Moodlemoots in this fair city (which, in fact, I liked so much I am returning to next week with my son for a mini-break). Magnificently organised once more by  Gavin Henrick supported by Dublin City University and the National Institute for Digital Learning, this year’s Moot trod new ground in that it had an HQ input courtesy of our Research Director Michael De Raadt. The idea was that, before  the regular two day conference with keynotes and presentations (short ones –  I like short presentations!) there would be Working groups where interested parties could discuss  improvements they would like made to core Moodle – and the day after the conference, the usual developer “hackfest” would prioritise making those improvements happen.

So- on Monday 11th May, I joined the “Dashboard” working group ably chaired by (the now bearded) Mark Glynn, while in the room next to us, discussions were being had over how to simplify the many forms admins and teachers have to complete during user, course and activity creation. I found my working group a very valuable experience because those present were happy to share their own organisations’ dashboard (“My home”) customisations, and for someone who has only ever seen Moodle’s default, I learned a lot, and we came up with a number of good suggestions.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days of presentations were possibly some of the best I had ever seen. I think one reason for this could well be the judicious choice of keynotes (Dr Bart Rienties of the OU on Learning Analytics and our very own Dr Michael De Raadt on Personalised Learning and Moodle. Oh and there was also @moodler himself, Martin Dougiamas who included in his presentation information about the new Moodle Association. A meeting was held later about this too. A second reason for the quality of presentations might be the fact that they had to be 15 minutes long -no time for waffling! I found this very refreshing. I was also impressed to note how few presenters just “read their bullet points” and how many had useful screenshots and key points to elaborate on. Pecha Kuchas were certainly a popular choice despite their scary nature – Petrify- Kuchas as Eamon Costello dubbed them. I enjoyed them all, especially the ones where you laugh and learn.. No doubting they are an excellent way of getting across your message concisely. I did a Pecha Kucha on the new improved Lesson activity – slideshare here:

along with a 15 minute presentation on What We are Learning from Learn Moodle, the HQ-run MOOC Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction. We’ll be starting up again on August 9th so if you know any beginners, please tell them to sign up.

Photo from Twitter courtesy of Dr Jane Holland

Rather than listing all the presentations I saw or regretting the ones I couldn’t see because I was in the other stream, I will simply mention a couple of things which according to  tweeters and attendees were the Moot highlights:

  • great stuff being done to make Moodle attractive and (dare I say it) less “Moodley” looking. One in particular is the stunning United for Wildlife site.
  • DCU’s purpose built Relative grades feature – something discussed in our Dashboard working group and presented during the main conference too. I can see this being extremely useful in all stages of education, to teacher, student or both.

Photo from Twitter courtesy of Jessica Gramp

In terms of extra-curricular highlights – the endless pastries with morning and afternoon coffee, free Irish chocolates, Jelly Beans and the superb Gala Dinner at the Crowne Plaza hotel all made for an excellent atmosphere in which to network, talk Moodle and generally add extra inches to the waistline. I appreciated the chance to meet up with HQ people I don’t often see – as well as  Martin, Michael and Business Analyst Danny Bonta, there was Plugins Liaison Manager David Mudrak (pictured below in front of a top class infographic ;) ) and Integrator Dan Poltawski who actually only lives 20 minutes away from me but whom I think I haven’t met in person since 2011. David and Dan both gave interesting presentations on plugins and continuous integration respectively, valuable insights into the workings of Moodle HQ.

Photo from Twitter courtesy of David Mudrak and taken by Tim Hunt

It was also good to meet up with other Moodle people whom I only see at Moots, and to make new friends. If we spent some time chatting, you know who you are, and it was great to talk to you :)

I left a lunchtime on Thursday, mid-way through the hackfest but for the rest of the day I was watching Moodle being literally improved tweet by tweet. Kudos to all, and especial thanks again to Gavin Henrick Mootmeister General, and the kind, capable and extremely clever Karen and Jane :)


Moodlefairy’s Magic Sound Box

I love making screencasts. In fact, whenever anyone in my family has an IT problem, my first move is to make them a screencast and let them work their way through it. I’ve always been conscious of the sound quality of such videos however, but when it was still my hobby, it didn’t really matter. I’d use the built in mike of my laptop and it worked OK. But since I started making screencasts as part of my Moodle work I’ve become much more aware of my sound inadequacies. At first I thought I needed a decent microphone – following the advice of Leon Cych I got one – a Samson Go Mic - and I am very happy with it. However, the sound’s still not right.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to work in a professional recording studio and I asked the tech guy there about my problem. He said basically that you can have the most state of the art 2000 dollar mike, but if the rooom you are in is not suitable, it won’t make any difference. My issue is that (to me) I always sound as if I am in some  cavernous Victorian room with high ceilings. Probably because I am. I’ve tried taking my laptop out to the garden shed, narrating in the illegally low-ceilinged basement box room and even recording with a velvet curtain wrapped around me – but still not satisfactory. Then by chance, a few months ago, Moodle HQ developer Andrew Nicols pointed out a Kickstarter project for a portable sound recording booth and I thought: that’s the Solution! Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest, and this is simple in its conception: it’s just a padded box, thickly covered in material on the outside and with sound proofing padding on the inside. You can either put it on a table or a stand, and use it with your microphone or smartphone.

To be honest, Mr Moodlefairy could quite easily have made one for me but, impatient that I was, I figured that ordering myself one would get it to me sooner… how wrong I was. Delays dogged the construction and delivery process and it eventually arrived from the USA last week,  5 months late, with an unexpected customs delivery charge  and just after I’d finished my latest batch of Moodle screencasts – but I’m not complaining! The sound is better than I currently have, and it’s so simple to operate. I just put it on the big table in my workroom, put my microphone in it  and off I go.   And when I’ve finished, I just put it away out of sight until next time. And the best thing is – we no longer need to move house to get me better sound quality :) :)



Looking for Arthur? He’s teaching languages on Moodle..

Just before Easter I went to Edinburgh for a mini-break with my son and amongst our many enjoyable outings we ascended Arthur’s Seat, thought by some to be the site of Camelot, the legendary castle and court of King Arthur.

It reminded me, with my #mfltwitterati hat on (Guardian article here) of a great webquest on Moodle that I’d heard about which was designed and developed to make the teaching of English in France more exciting….

The webquest is hosted on a Moodle site called Looking for Arthur and is aimed at pupils in 5e and 6e (11-12 years old) The classess sign up and are presented with, at regular intervals, several “énigmes” which they must undertake, earning points and competing against each other as they go along. At one stage, 180 classes were working through the puzzles, learning about King Arthur and improving their English as they played. The final culminates each year in an exciting day out in the spirit of Arthurian legends (see the 2014 winners here) The webquest even won a prize for its innovative approach to language learning.

Set inside Moodle, the puzzles don’t only use Moodle but also external activities such as Content Generator games, videos and Hotpotatoes exercises, all designed to motivate the pupils whilst also teaching them English and Arthur :) Unfortunately for privacy reasons (there are hundreds of pupils on there!) we can’t look inside the Moodle site, but its creator Mélanie Auriel  English teacher with the Conseil Général du Morbihanhas kindly sent screenshots of some of the activities. So for example here is a vocabulary exercise learning about rebellions against Arthur:

And here is a video activity: watch the video, listen to the lyrics and then do the crossword:

Mélanie is a frequent presenter of free MFL teacher webinars organised by Jürgen Wagner so I do suggest you check them out and be inspired by her next one :)

The Ten Commandments of the VLE

This morning I went to my old school to talk to a group of trainee teachers about making the most of online spaces for teaching and learning. My old school is now a training school for student teachers, and is the Lead School in the local Catholic Teaching Alliance, a group of schools who provide school-led training through School Direct.

This year’s intake for Secondary trainees delightfully included several former pupils of mine, who’d been my guinea pigs in my early Moodling days. However, I’d gone back to talk in general about teaching online, e-Learning and VLEs – but without the online, the e and the V  since, as many have said before, the internet is now so embedded in our day to day experiences in and out of the classroom that it’s ALL learning, wherever we are, and whatever we’re using. We began by talking about how, as a modern teacher you’d never dream of inflicting on your students a  ”Death by Powerpoint” session – so why should you think it’s OK to do it on your learning platform? It’s not.

Image Zac Martin

They then got together in pairs and discussed what they understood by certain key terms and current “buzz words” they’re likely to meet.  For my part, I was interested to learn that they were aware of “open source software” (gratifyingly from their schoolday ICT lessons) and “Flipped learning” (as they’d had a session on it previously elsewhere), but they were a bit unsure about “MOOCs” and didn’t even know how to pronounce “gamification”, although the concept appealed when they found out more. They made a valiant stab at “App smashing”  and even “Social constructionism”, which I threw in as a teaser for later on.

Following a five minute dash through 20 years of internet-based education, from early LMS incarnations such as WebCT to modern “lite” versions like Edmodo, I then asked them to think about what they might include in whatever online space they might have in their future school. It might not be Moodle; it might be a different learning platform, or they might  even end up going it alone…but what did they think would be useful?

“Putting on past papers and revison materials”, “uploading the worksheets we did in class so they don’t lose them”, “showing them videos” and “linking to  useful websites for our topic” were the (fairly predictable) suggestions from the group. This lent itself beautifully to my explaining the difference in Moodle between resources and activities, the former  being the worthy materials they thought their students would appreciate, and the latter providing  the interaction which could actually develop learning. So we looked at what VLEs and their little siblings typically offer, from discussion tools, to homework tools, to quizzes, all to a greater or lesser extent of complexity. I then  asked them in their pairs to think of examples of how using those tools in their subject might extend the learning done in their shiny new classrooms.  Self-marking quizzes were considered to be a quick way of testing subject knowledge, summative assessment, not much effort needed by the teacher….hmm… so to shake things up a bit, and add some confusion-based hilarity,  we looked at how poorly designed quiz questions can give students an unfair advantage and how to design smarter quiz questions instead.  They had ten  minutes to do that famous “context-free quiz” and justify their responses.

You too can answer this question!!!

Of course, along with designing good questions, you need to have informative and detailed feedback. (In fact you need feedback everywhere, on everything – check out this slide from Martin Dougiamas’ recent keynote speech  ”Give feedback on the feedback” )

slide – Martin Dougiamas (click to see keynote as pdf)

Moodle’s quiz lets you give detailed feedback and more; to misquote insurance companies, “other quizzes are available” – but probably with fewer features. Which led us on to how our teachers of tomorrow planned to use their online space. If the height of their aspiration was  putting on their lesson presentations and worksheets, while that was valuable in itself, it wasn’t going to move the students forward online. If they didn’t want to move them forward online, then fine. But if they hoped to use the power of the internet to draw in  their students, engage them and get them continuing their learning once they leave the classroom, they needed to focus on stuff that gets them (as I call it) “typing and swiping”.  Cue the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of Social constructionism and a chance  to explain that the Moodle, at the very least, was purposefully designed to get learners building their learning together.  In their face to face environment, learners are involved in group work, pair work, collaborating on a project, presenting to the class, reflecting on their progress, giving and receiving constructive feedback. So why not also online?

Dutifully at the end of the session, I reminded them they’re training in Catholic schools in a Catholic Teaching Alliance and are hopefully a tiny bit holy… so for their deliberation and well-being we finished by considering the Ten Commandments of the VLE and why it’s in their interests to keep them:


Moodlefairy gets a slice of Raspberry Pi at #RJamboree

So I went to my first Raspberry Jamboree today, a big event showcasing uses of the Raspberry Pi in education, a larger scale version  I suppose of the regular Raspberry Jams held around -well- basically everywhere. I attended as part of the three day marathon  at my former high school Our Lady’s in Preston which also included teacher training, an evening social and a family “hack jam”

I went for several reasons – first, because it was just down the road from me at my old school, so I reckoned even if I didnt know anyone or anything about the Raspberry Pi, at least I’d be in the place which was my second home for 28 years.  Secondly, I went because I’ve known Alan O’Donohoe @teknoteacher since 1985 when he was a pupil in my first ever French exam class, and I remember very well a few years ago sitting with him in the staffroom as he explained with enthusiasm about this tiny computer that was really cheap and had the potential to revolutionise teaching in schools. And  finally, I went because, having watched from afar for the last few years the progress and development of the Raspberry Pi movement, I thought it was about time I saw it for myself and found out whether I was the Pi type or not…

So here are my personal impressions…

Doors open at 10 said the info. I ambled in at about five past to find the restaurant at my school already buzzing with lots of  children and adults, with even more turning up by the time of the official start at 10.30 – the “official start” being Alan standing on a chair and doing a “5,4,3,2,1″ as we do in class. The restaurant (which incidentally is state of the art hi-tech, none of your typical school dining hall) was decked out with Pi-attached monitors for the Pi-less amongst us (like myself)  and a  number of separate areas were in evidence: a talk space where various people spoke about their experiences with Pi, a learning space where tutorial sessions took place, a hack space where I guess people tried stuff out, a Minecraft space with a server and a keen gang of players and a food space with cakes, coffee and  coveted bacon butties. While I noticed that men and boys seemed to make up most of the attendees, I did also  notice a pleasing presence of  girls and their mums keen to learn – in fact; I appreciated the number of parents, male and female who accompanied their children, male and female, with the desire to find out more about this growing movement. And of course  the Leader of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Education mission, Carrie Anne Philbin is a great role model.

After a brief intro by Alan, we moved into the first sessions. I had decided to stay for a couple of hours and in fact I couldn’t have got a more appropriate flavour of Raspberry Pi in the time I was there: Alan ran a beginners class, so I joined that, sitting alongside mums, dads and primary school children  all keen to get Pi-ed up.

I  confess to being a little fazed at first as one of our tasks was to  play a short game either in Minecraft ( a game I simply do not “get”) or Scratch ( a program I have only briefly looked at) and when I chose the Scratch marble game, I realised I didn’t even know what to click to start the game  -  but that in itself was a learning experience; it’s very valuable to be a total newbie and not very skilled at that!  (To be frank, one of the reasons I have so far stayed away from the likes of Pi and the new wave of computing teaching is that I have no interest in developing or hacking games, but I am well aware that’s a big draw for many youngsters.) On the other hand, I adored the “Sabotage” game where we had to deliberately “break” something in our set-up and then get someone else to try and work out what we had done. This totally appealed to my  love of troubleshooting problems, one of the reasons I enjoy helping out on the Moodle forums. It’s all about diagnostics, working through possible causes and eliminating stuff until you solve it. Magic.

And then, again, perfect for my first-time needs, came a fascinating and enlightening ” Brief history of Pi” from Pete Lomas, the Raspberry Pi’s hardware designer:

By this stage I was seeing similiarities in the ambiance of  the Raspberry Jam(boree) with that of  Moodle User Groups and some of the smaller Moots: attendees are passionate about their product; they are enthusiasts and evangelists, experienced or willing to learn from each other. Indeed, as they learn, create and hack together, they’re totally putting into practice the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of social constructionism, upon which Moodle is based. And  I had to confess to smiling at Pete’s outlining the differences between model A, A+, B, B+ , Generation 2, Compute and so on… I could tell you equally the changes between (pick a number)  Moodle 2.0 – 2.8 , what’s coming new in 2.9 and so on… My only slight question was – again similar to Moodle events – are they preaching to the converted? How many new participants come each time and how comfortable do they feel  amongst regulars who are all friends? I  expect the answer to that is, an increasing number and they are made to feel very welcome, but I just wondered.

I left after a very pleasant couple of hours with my curiosity satisfied and many questions answered. But I still have some questions left, so here goes

Will I go to another Raspberry Pi event? Probably, especially if it’s on my doorstep. I think I’d be more interested in a session for teachers on teaching with Raspberry Pi – even though I am not likely to teach with Raspberry Pi; it’s something I could relate to.

Will I buy a Raspberry Pi? Possibly. I guess I could attach it to the TV and keyboards and mice are very cheap, but I need to find a purpose for the purchase, a reason for committing myself to it. As mentioned above I’m not interested in games but I have in the past got involved in techie stuff as a means to an end: I actually have  ancient City and Guilds qualifications (Merits!) in Electronics and Radio Transmission in order to join my then boyfiend and his mates in the joys of Amateur radio; I’d never have studied such topics for the sake of it. In a similar way, I’d need to know how getting  a Raspberry Pi could benefit me directly. I guess I could explore Linux and the Terminal – but I already have a laptop with Kubuntu and a Terminal that I venture into from time to time.   I don’t want a hidden camera or dog alarm but I’d still  like to give it a go!  Of course, it’s so cheap I could buy it, try it and if it doesn’t rock my boat, donate it – as Pete Lomas pertinently said, it’s not much different from  a few service station Lattes and cakes.

How does Moodle work on a Pi? A quick Google suggested installing Moodle is do-able – is it slow? Is it functional? What would be the point?

I was  interested in Pete Lomas’  experiences of  the shortcomings of  Computing  students at Imperial and  Cambridge. I suppose it’s early days yet, but is there evidence yet, or how long before we get measurable evidence that Raspberry Pi and associated events are having a beneficial effect on the numbers of pupils taking computing to a higher level and then becoming more skilled at university? 

And finally...would I recommend a Raspberry Jam(boree) to anyone of any age who expresses an interest? Yes, absolutely :)