Moodlefairy goes to Moscow: It’s all about Communication

One of the many benefits of the twice-yearly HQ-run Learn Moodle MOOC is that you get to meet online very interesting people from different parts of the world. Sometimes you even get to follow this up with face to face visits. Such was the case for me these last few days, when I was invited to speak at an educational conference in Moscow, Digital Education in the 21st century:

Panel discussion, Prof Mark Brown

One of the organisers, priest, theology lecturer and Moodle fan, Father Gennadi Egorev of St Tikhon’s University completed our 3.4 MOOC in January and felt the philosophy and pedagogical outlook of Moodle well suited his own approach and the approach of the conference.

Father Gennadi Egorov

So it was that on Sunday I arrived in Moscow  – my first time- and was fortunate enough to have the afternoon and evening for some whistlestop sightseeing before the work began on Monday – a walk around Red square with my excellent guide Evgenie and a pre-conference dinner in the form of a river cruise with magnificent views of the sunset.

St Basil's Moscow

In line with both Gennadi’s and Moodle’s approaches, the conference was not  a series of presentations with barely time for questions. it was a series of round tables (or круглые столы as I now know in Russian), parallel sessions on various topics. Each speaker had already submitted a paper or short presentation which conference participants should have familiarised themselves with in advance. I was on an all-woman panel facilitated by both Gennadi and Professor Mark Brown of the National Institute for Digital Learning, Dublin City University.

Panel discussion  with Prof Mark Brown

Our discussions ranged from my own Supporting non-native English speakers in an English-speaking MOOC to concerns and definitions of competency-based education, successful forms of assessment, and wider digital footprint issues.

As Dr Mark Brown pointed out, underlining much of the discussion was the importance of Communication. In our own Learn Moodle MOOC, nearly thirty percent of participants selected a language other than English for their Moodle interface. (And that doesn’t mean that those who chose English were native speakers just that they were comfortable using English.)

Communication is vital, be that in English as an international language  or in your own language (which shouldn’t be neglected in the face of anglophonic imperialism), communication with faciliators being available out of hours to support students, communication with students using various channels to discuss and communicate (and we considered the pros and cons of those) and of course, communicating progress via different types of assessment and competencies.

Panel discussion

Communication was apt in this conference as it was entirely in Russian apart from my own and Prof  Mark Brown’s contributions. I was torn between listening to the speakers and understanding as much of it as I could (after another three weeks in St Petersburg I am working towards B1 CEFR) or putting on headsets and  getting everything, essential in order to be ready to respond.

There was universal agreement about the importance of supportive and responsive facilitation in online courses and some interesting experiences of students these days being less ready to write and think at length – is it because of frequent use of short messaging services like text and Whatsapp? Is it because everything is so available from Google that they are not used to thinking? How far can a course facilitator guide and coach them – where does this preparatory work begin?

Some participants raised the issue of some teachers still being unwilling or uncomfortable delivering learning in any way other than lectures – the Moodle equivalent being lists of Powerpoints. Mention was made of the need to upskill some teachers digitally – this was a nice opportunity to mention the European Community Digital Competence Framework for Educators, and the work done by HQ with the Moodle Educator Certificate in the wider Learn Moodle program.  Professor Mark Brown also reiterated the  UNESCO four pillars of  learning. At the end of the session, participants were asked to give feedback on the format, with  Prof Brown reminding everyone that this too is an essential part of the learning process, both for students and teachers – yet more Communication.

The conference did have commercial sponsors, but they did not dictate the program, and it was refreshing to hear the conversations about educational issues rather than promoting agendas. Moodle was also represented there by our Russian Moodle partner, Open Technology, unfortunately in a different stream from me, so I was unable to get a photo, but it was gratifying to see the spread of Moodle in Russia. From a personal point of view, it was lovely to meet Russian Moodlers who contribute to the forums of Moodle.org. It was also satisfying to be approached by a couple of university Moodlers who told me they too had done one of our MOOCS and had then gone on to design their own faculty Moodle training based on our Learn Moodle MOOC design – great to hear we are helping people globally. Or, in other words, Empowering educators to improve our world :)

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