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Moodle, MOOCs and Accessibility

As if co-facilitating our 3.3 run of our twice-yearly Learn Moodle MOOC weren’t enough, Moodle Community manager Helen Foster and myself have just completed a four week MOOC on accessible online content. We were among around a hundred participants in the test run of this Accessibility MOOC: Inclusive Online Course Design  which will be showcased by its facilitators, Aaron Page and Marlene Zentz, at the New Orleans Moodle Moot #mootus17. If you’re intrigued, here’s a link to  a short video summary by Aaron and Marlene.

Helen and I were very enthusiastic participants on several levels, not least because it gave us a chance to experience a MOOC from a student’s point of view, and this helped us better understand potential issues of participants in our own Learn Moodle MOOC. Additionally, from a course designer’s point of view, we were pleased to observe new ideas and ‘borrow’ them to improve our own course. (If you did the Accessibility MOOC and you join us for Learn Moodle 3.4, see if you can spot some cool improvements :) ) Both these aspects sit nicely with Moodle’s social constructionist philosophy. As Moodle founder and CEO Martin says in our Pedagogy documentation page:

“All of us are potential teachers as well as learners. In a true collaborative environment we are both”

Of course -the main point of the MOOC was to develop our skills in accessible, universal course design, and the course went over and above our expectations. And  knowing Marlene and Aaron, those expectations started high! We aim to improve Moodle’s user documentation on accessiblity based on what we have learned. The MOOC used Moodleroom’s Snap theme, specially designed for accessibility. I struggled a bit with it as it was very new to me and unlike my experiences with other themes. But that’s the fun of trying new things! The teaching elements were divided into different aspects of accessibility with a new focus each week. For example, in the first week we learned about working with text – headings, layout, hyperlinks. Other weeks included information about images, media and uploaded content. I’m not going to go into too much details because I recommend you sign up and do it yourselves…

I had a slight understanding before, but the MOOC really clarified and extended that understanding. I especially appreciated the videos by Aaron and Devin who showed us how they experience online course content using Jaws and Dragon, two assistive technology software programs. That was for me the most revelatory aspect of the MOOC  -in fact, I was so enthused that I sat @mrmoodlefairy down for half an hour and explained to him everything I’d learned so far, culminating in showing him a couple of these videos. (That’s number 2 in the documentation page on Pedagogy by the way!)

As we progressed through the four weeks learning the materials (presented in Moodle Books) we were able to ask (and respond to) any questions in the forums. This gave us an opportunity to experience the Advanced forums plugin, which  I haven’t tried before. Each topic had a little mini-quiz at the end, and I think they were made from the popular H5P plugin – again, a  new experience. As part of the course we had to develop a practice course with accessiblity in mind. We could then share the link to our course during a Moodle workshop activity.That was fun too, since Helen and I are normally at the teacher end of the Learn Moodle MOOC workshops.

At the end of the MOOC we had both done enough to receive a Certificate of Completion and I have to say, having downloaded it, I now totally understand the pride and excitement involved when you successfully click that link!  If you’re able to attend #mootus17 in New Orleans, do go and see Marlene and Aaron’s presentation. Perhaps in a few months time you too will be the proud owner of a certificate like the person in the picture below!

Mary with certificate

Changing perceptions: Learn Moodle week 4

As our sixth run of the Learn Moodle MOOC draws to a close, it’s been gratifying to note that, alongside the technicalities of learning how to teach with Moodle, we’ve seen our participants broaden their horizons both geographically and pedagogically. When I left my UK high school to work for Moodle, I recall the surprise on colleagues’ faces to discover that, actually, Moodle was bigger than just our school LMS –  or even a local education authority imposed LMS – or even a British LMS! One participant reminded me of this when she commented that not only had she learned good techniques for using Moodle with her class but that she was now aware that Moodle is  not just used in the US.

Having educators from all over the world connect with each other in the MOOC allows them to find common ground in their teaching, share ideas and strategies that give their subject a more global perspective. This effect of  ’changing perceptions’ is also apparent in participants who come to the course with some previous experience of Moodle. They are surprised to discover that it’s more than just a ‘document dump’, and they leave motivated to try out new features with their students:

Additionally, there have been a number of conversations in the weekly forums which have gone beyond the basics of setting up course activities. In a thread sparked  by the workshop peer assessment results, we’ve discussed the role of facilitators in ensuring  student feedback is effective and fair:

We’ve also been talking about time spent in a MOOC. Some organisations require a certain number of hours for accredited Professional Development. One participant pointed us to a recent study (HarvardZ and MITx: Four years of Open online courses) which states that A typical MOOC certificate earner spends 29 hours interacting with online courseware. The Custom certificate plugin allows teachers to specify number of minutes a learner must have been logged in the course in order to be eligible for this certificate, but how meaningful are such figures? Should our certificate include a time element?

These are the kinds of discussion we hope to continue over on Moodle.org where there is a dedicated Teaching with Moodle forum. And for those who want to continue learning Moodle, there are many courses, online and face to face at intermediate, advanced  and administrator level available from our Moodle Partners.

Final smile and sigh:

In an earlier post I talked about the smiles and sighs. Here are my personal two from this last week:

Smile:  the success of the Moodle mobile app. Each time we run the MOOC, more people access the course from the app. Each time we run the MOOC, more of the course is accessible from the app :) Participants can also do an optional quiz about mobile learning and an optional assignment from the app. If your organisation doesn’t use either the standard Moodle Mobile app or the branded Moodle Mobile app, you really should encourage them to!

Sigh: Questions asked in the forums are speedily answered by our experienced, regular attendees, and yet sadly the same questions are still repeated. Even a MOOC FAQ page doesn’t resolve the issue entirely. We need to give guidance in searching the forums to prevent this.

 What’s next?

Once the course is over, Helen and I  will  post some completion and participation statistics and as usual, we’ll be going through the participant feedback and adapting the course ready for next time. Missed this MOOC?  Or simply missed the workshop deadline? Get ready to sign up for our next run, starting on June 19th!

Learn Moodle week 3: It’s not just about you!

All in it together

I’m writing this on the final day of the third week of Teaching with Moodle: an Introduction, the HQ MOOC we run every six months. Having spent the first two weeks of the course familiarising themselves with Moodle, the participants are now engaged in peer assessing in our workshop activity and in sharing their practice courses to receive constructive comments from others. Note: if you sign up now you won’t be able to complete the course as a deadline has passed, but you are still welcome to learn Moodle. One of our participants put it beautifully in a forum post:

Indeed, it is this encouraging each other, learning together that makes the MOOC so enjoyable and, I hope, beneficial. Although the offficial language is English, participants can post in their native tongues, as you’ll see from our selection of week 3 bloggers:

We regularly get discussion threads set up in languages other than English to provide extra help for those who might have otherwise have difficulties. One of the most popular threads currently is for Spanish speakers, running from week 1 through to week 3 and no doubt into the final week too:

Additionally, our Learn Moodle videos have now been subtitled completely in Italian (thanks  Domenico Reccia) and in Greek (thanks Vasilis Palilis from Moodle Partner WIDE Services) (with other languages under way as well)

One observant Spanish speaking participant reported an error in the wording of her grades, resulting in a language string improvement. Using Moodle on such a large scale can often bring to light bugs or errors in language translations, and we see this as a Plus when community  members spot these and get involved in fixing them. In yesterday’s chat activity, moodler Mary Evans noticed a display issue which she then promptly set about repairing :)

 What’s to come?

Week 4 will touch upon some of the advanced features of Moodle that beginners can learn if they take their training further with Moodle partners. We’ll also be looking at how they can save (‘back up’ ) their courses to upload (‘restore’) into a different site, such as a MoodleCloud site, in order to continue working on them. If you’ve missed this run of the MOOC, don’t worry, as we’ll shortly be announcing the dates of our next MOOC :)

Learn Moodle MOOC: the halfway point

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:

Smiles

  • 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:)

Sighs

  • 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 :)

What teachers will love about Moodle 3.2

Not much blogging recently because I’ve been very busy filming :) Well, making videos that is, of the newest features of Moodle 3.2, which came out a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve been watching social media, you’ll no doubt have seen that everyone is talking about the new theme Boost, which will certainly silence those critics who complain the Moodle interface is ‘clunky’. Or maybe you’ve read about the user tours - guided tours administrators can create to help people find their way around the site. Equally cool, but for me, with each release, it’s the smaller, teacher-focused features that enthuse me. Little fixes that make a big difference to teachers’ lives. Here are a few scenarios:

  1. You’ve set up a Choice activity for students to choose their project group. When the deadline’s arrived, a couple of students message you in panic because they forgot to select their group and don’t want to miss out. Being the kind teacher you are, you make a note of their preference, go into the Choice activity and make those choices for them. Because in Moodle 3.2 teachers can make choices for students!
  2. Your drama class has an assignment deadline for next Tuesday. Then out of the blue your top student informs you she’s got an audition for ‘Stars in their X-Factor Talent‘ and can’t make the deadline. You don’t want to penalise her so instead you give her an individual extension. Because in Moodle 3.2 teachers can override assignment deadlines!
  3. You’ve mastered the complex lesson activity and are creating a long lesson with similar pages you use as templates, saving a lot of time. Because in Moodle 3.2 lesson pages can be duplicated in with one click!
  4. You’re re-running your course but you want this year’s students to view the postings from last year without replying to these older contributions. You can close those older contributions. Because in Moodle 3.2 forum discussions can be locked after periods of inactivity!

If you’re interested in finding out more about these new features from a teacher point of view, then why not sign up for our Learn Moodle MOOC starting on January 2nd?

Did I say I was busy filming? Oh yes – no sooner the 3.2 highlight videos finished than I began making all-new video tutorials for Moodle 3.2 to use in our MOOC. Better get back to work….