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MoodleMoot UK 2010
by Jessica Gramp


MoodleMoot UK 2010 was held over two days from the 13th-14th of April at the University of London.

Delegates attended from across the UK, Europe and even further abroad, with some travelling from as far as Australia to participate. Many different sectors were represented, including Higher Education, Further Education, Schools, Health, Commercial, Work-Based Learning and Adult and Community Learning.

As there is not space to mention all the keynotes and workshops, this review focuses on the opening and closing keynotes and briefly mentions a few of the other presentations and workshops.

Professor Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, opened the conference with his keynote presentation about ‘The Hole in the Wall’ project. His research involved taking a computer, putting it in a slum in India and seeing what happened. Professor Mitra found that providing children with the tools to learn and leaving them to explore on their own, resulted in significant self-directed discovery and research that led to them learning in small groups. They taught themselves and those around them how to use computers and the Internet. In some cases, they even taught themselves English in the process.  More information about this project is available at: www.hole-in-the-wall.com.

Further research by Professor Mitra found that a deeper level of understanding was achieved when the group was encouraged by a mentor, even though the mentor was not necessarily knowledgeable on the subject being studied. This has led to the development of what Professor Mitra refers to as ‘schools of clouds’, a play on the ‘cloud computing’ term to describe the distributed computer networks that power many of today’s online services. These ‘schools of clouds’ consist of grandparents from around Europe who interact with students in third-world countries via a full-size video link to practice their English pronunciation. Professor Mitra’s blog explains this concept further.

The opening and closing keynotes tied together well through the central theme of learning using social constructionism. This is the concept of guiding learners, but allowing them to explore and discover knowledge by constructing things for themselves and others. This idea has guided the design and development of Moodle from its inception. The creator of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, told us in his keynote that he hopes this kind of use will become more prevalent as teachers move beyond using Moodle as a content repository and towards true blended learning.

The final keynote presentation by Geoff Rebbeck, Information Learning Technology Development Coordinator at Thanet College, followed on with this theme. He used an example where a teacher created an empty wiki space and guided students to add the content themselves. The students had to research and explain their ideas in the process of adding content and subsequently felt a high level of ownership over the learning area. In this instance, the teacher performed the role of mentor and moderator rather than content deliverer.

Geoff went on to suggest that learning technologists need to:

  • Be flexible
    Start a Moodle course and see how the users help to guide its development, rather than trying to develop and control everything from the beginning.
  • Adapt technology to the users
    Moodle developers have to make some broad assumptions about end users. Therefore, customisations need to ensure that the tool can be modified to meet the needs of your unique users.
  • Be imaginative and get the mix right
    The classroom is not the only place where learning occurs. Provide students with tools to learn outside the classroom as well. Do not just redo the things you used to do on paper in an online format. Take advantage of the new possibilities made available using online tools.

With the recent interest in personalised learning, Geoff suggested that Moodle is ideal for providing a social learning space. He believes it is not wise to enhance Moodle to provide portfolio functionality, but instead institutions should keep the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for its primary purpose and supplement this functionality by using separate portfolio software, such as Mahara, to provide a personal learning space.

Mahara, as well as other Portfolio systems like PebblePad, can be integrated with Moodle to allow content to be copied from the VLE into a student’s personal area in the portfolio. By doing this, the student is able to use material from their courses and structure it in a way that facilitates their own style of learning. Geoff stressed it is important to define where the social space (the VLE) ends and the personal space begins.

Having considered social and personal spaces, perhaps learning technologists should also consider how group spaces can work within Moodle. Although there is already some group functionality in Moodle, it could be greatly improved by enabling:

  • Self-selecting groups
    Allowing students to choose their own groups and then work in those groups within a Moodle course, or even across courses.
  • Group workspaces
    Enabling groups to share files and other resources and have more control over the tools they wish to use within their group.
  • Group assignment submissions
    Allowing students to collectively upload and submit files for marking.
  • Group feedback
    Making grades and feedback for group work available to all group members.

While many of these features are available through programming hacks and plugins, it would be great to see more group functionality incorporated into the core Moodle code.

Following the keynotes, there was a large selection of workshops available for delegates to choose from. The diversity of topics covered by the parallel sessions was impressive, with a nice balance between technical and pedagogical perspectives. Some of the topics focused on particular uses of Moodle including integration, administration, implementation and support. Other sessions focused on using Moodle in particular sectors including health, welfare, colleges and work-based learning.

One presentation by Sarah Lloyd-Winder, an art teacher at Barnett College who works with students with Autism, looked at how students were using blogs to present their work to their teacher and classmates. Interestingly, although perfectly functional, the Moodle blogging tool was felt to be less aesthetically pleasing than freely available blogging tools.   This led to Sarah deciding to use the WordPress blogging tool with her students instead of the School’s VLE. WordPress has the advantage of allowing students to choose their own theme. Further information about using blogs in the classroom can be read on Sarah’s blog.

Although some may argue that the visual design of a tool has little impact on students’ ability to learn, the fact that teachers and learners are turning away from using tools for aesthetic reasons should be incentive enough to develop them so they are more pleasing to the eye. Design is not just about how nice something looks, but also impacts greatly on the entire user experience. Additionally, giving students the ability to choose their own theme allows them to take more ownership of their learning space.

The importance of design was also mentioned by Martin Dougiamas, during his keynote presentation on the second day of the conference. He mentioned that a much greater emphasis will be placed on the design and layout of Moodle pages with the release of Moodle 2.0.

One key enhancement in Moodle 2.0 is the separation of the design from the underlying code. This will make it much easier for designers to make significant changes to the interface without having to make changes to the core code.

Martin also announced that more time and money is being invested in Moodle’s look and feel, with the creation of 20 new default themes for Moodle 2.0 by NewSchool Learning, a Moodle Partner based in the United States of America who specialise in Moodle theme development. Many will also be happy to hear that usability will be a key focus from Moodle 2.1 onwards.

Jessica Gramp
Learning Technologist
University College
London
j.gramp@ucl.ac.uk

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