I have neglected this blog for a month – ironically, while at the same time encouraging people to blog reflectively about their experiences of the Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction course. It ends imminently (although course materials remain in read-only mode until January 2014) so perhaps at last ,I can take a breather from approving courses and responding to forum posts and messages to reflect myself on the last four quite unique weeks.
I hadn’t been with Moodle HQ many weeks when a message from Martin popped up : I’m thinking of running a MOOC for teachers new to Moodle. Do you want to be the teacher? To which I replied: well – I have used Moodle; I am a teacher, and I am interested in how MOOCS work… And so began, on September 1st, after much planning by the Sites team, the official Learn Moodle MOOC which would not only teach thousands of newbies Moodle ,but also teach Moodle HQ an awful lot about running courses on a large scale, both technically and pedagogically. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:
What I worried about most:
Before we began my main concern was not the technology. I had every confidence that the technical side of the team would ensure such a large site as learn.moodle.net would function efficiently, and it did. We had devised a course for complete beginners, the sort of reasonably IT literate but not particularly technical teachers I used to deal with in my previous job, and I was afraid the type of people we were targetting would simply not come – and the course instead would be populated by our many experienced Moodler friends from twitter, coming along for the ride and to see how we did it. As it turned out, although many old hands did join it the start, it became obvious as the weeks progressed that there were plenty of total newcomers or very inexperienced users wanting assistance – and that was great! By the end, the forums were full of questions from beginners with a small and very committed band of higher level Moodlers providing assistance. My fears were completely unfounded.
What I found heartening:
The resourcefulness and generosity of participants when things didn’t quite go to plan. When the Teach your group forum initially suffered from the groups not having enough active users, participants joined together to teach an impromptu group in a separate, open thread. And when one Moodler accidentally enrolled participants, realised his mistake and apologised, others were very forgiving . It was also good to see people sharing courses they had made as beginners, and to have other Moodlers critique them diplomatically and positively. Being able to request a practice course, try things out and get peer reviews was, I think, a great asset to this MOOC.
What I found frustrating:
Amongst the many positive comments, two messages from dissatisfied users, which -as ever – you tend to focus on more than the vast majority of satisfied people. One guy emailed to complain this could hardy be called a a course at all, and he would have done far better by finding his own way amongst the Moodle navigation. On investigation, he turned out to have accessed the course once in August, never posted or done any activites, and I strongly suspected he assumed the course noticeboard emails were the course! And the second: a lady who said the support on the course was extremely poor – she had emailed her support team several times with no response. With Helen and me both spending most of our waking hours supporting people, I found this strange, until I began to wonder if by her “support team” she meant the IT team at her own organisation who might not have had a clue what she was talking about, therefore ignoring her! But then to counter this, when one regular teacher completely new to Moodle blogs that “Moodle’s no longer a monster” – you feel a lot better!
What I learned:
You can never make things too simple, never explain things too clearly. I already knew this, from teaching 9 year olds, but even though we were dealing with adults (many whose first language was not English) this still applies. In all cases, use the K.I.S.S principle and try to avoid ambiguity. What could be simpler than asking people to write three sentences about their home country? Nothing except – when you grade it, and they write more than three -do you mark them down? What if their sentences have no verbs in them – are they still technically sentences? Just one example!
And Helen and I also learned, each Sunday how to manage Live Google Hangouts on air, having never done them before. We’re not there yet, but we really appreciated the experience of learning on the job and building each week on what we had discovered in the previous session.
What I was proud of:
The fact that the captions for the video tutorials were translated into many languages by our Moodle partners and the fact that people kept asking if they could use the video tutorials in their own courses on their own Moodles. (Yes you can – they are available on Youtube.com/user/moodlehq.) Making screencasts is my hobby, and I not only learned a lot during the making of these but – entirely coincidentally and badly timed – I had a chance, afterI had made the videos, to visit a recording studio and learn from the professionals some great tips on improving your video quality and output. Too late for Learn Moodle but I’d love to make a whole new batch for another version, as VideoFairy or EducationFairy – in fact – I’m already in negotiation with the family about turning a small basement room into a soundproofed room with better mike and equipment for future use!
What I found fascinating:
How seriously people took the workshop -it was only there to demonstrate peer assessment; the grades were irrelevant, but people were very concerned about getting a good grade. (I am sure I would have been the same!) And how, after the initial excitement about receiving the participants’ badge and going looking for other hidden badges, people settled down to learn Moodle and accepted that we weren’t throwing badges out all over. You had to work for the final completer badge and it was well deserved by those who earned it.
What I really appreciated:
The sense of working in a team – the HQ Sites team: Matthew the sys admin responsible for the whole site staying “up”; Barbara for the theme which proved so popular, Apu and David for the behind the scenes tech stuff we couldn’t do without, XY for spreading the word in Social Media and above all to Helen for putting in so many hours facilitating, sharing the stress, daily tasks and weekly live sessions. (Oh and Martin for having the idea!)
Would I do it all over again tomorrow?
There are no plans at the moment to do the course again, but from the point of view of improving on and putting into practice what we have learned over the last four weeks, I would absolutely like to do it all over again. Absolutely. But perhaps not tomorrow – I am off to Med Moot and the Moodle Research conference!