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:
- 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:)
- 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