Edmodo vs Moodle – A common debate

So many times when I’ve worked with staff at schools the question is raised, which is better, Edmodo or Moodle?  First of all, they are two different things entirely when you really know what they are.  Is it stated on the Edmodo website that Edmodo is a K-12 social learning network “dedicated to connecting all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential” (Edmodo, 2014).   However, Moodle is stated as being “a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments“, as well as this, there is a philosophy behind the development of Moodle that states that “the design and development of Moodle is guided by a “social constructionist pedagogy” (Moodle, 2012).  To me, it is pretty obvious that each of these two products serves distinctly different purposes.

There have been numerous teachers in places I have worked who claim Edmodo to be the best digital learning tool for all teaching and learning activities.  I decided to give it a good go with students a year ago and see for myself how it worked as a learning tool.  It worked well in some instances, and I had about 250 students using it for a range of activities and discussions.  I awarded badges to students based on things they were doing and interacted with them as they completed activities and wrote their reflections etc as replies to posts.  However, after a while, the issues became this:  students forgot passwords and would create new accounts instead of contacting me to find out their password or seek help; students couldn’t find the assigned activities in the feed of comments and activities; and, students focused too much on the social and not enough on completing work and learning.  These are things I found fundamentally disadvantageous to quality teaching and learning.

Moodle on the other hand facilitates teaching and learning that is both synchronous and asynchronous; collaborative and independent; and, passive as well as interactive. Courses in Moodle can be designed to facilitate learning that is based on a linear pathway of content and activities or it can be designed to be completely individualised based on student groups, or some other student-based variable.  For example, completing a lesson activity, students may answer questions in different ways that take them in different directions, depending on the lesson setup.  I could honestly go on about the things I believe set Moodle apart from other systems as a learning management system but basically it is because Moodle facilitates learning customisation, creativity, collaboration and personalisation.

Check out some of these other blog posts that discuss the Edmodo vs Moodle issues:

Ultimately, Moodle is a learning management system and Edmodo is not, it is simply a social learning environment that connects people with the potential to learn.

Moodle Heaven…. but how to make everyone see it that way?

So its been in the works for awhile but over the last week we (school ICT manager and myself) backed up all the courses from our school’s Moodle 1.9 instance and restored manually one at a time into new Moodle 2.4 instance… 160 plus courses!!! It’s been a tedious and at times very frustrating process as we configured not only Moodle 2.4 but Mahara 1.7 and our authentication process through Google apps and LDAP.  I don’t completely understand all of the authentication stuff but I’ve been handling a lot of the other stuff and it does your head in but the fruits of our labour are now showing… and it’s Moodle Heaven to me 🙂

So what have we got?  Moodle 2.4 with a theme that we will be changing very shortly to be a consistent theme across both Moodle and Mahara, making a Mahoodle configuration complete.  Our Moodle instance also has about 8 different course formats and I am a huge fan of Collapsed topics, OneTopic and Tab Topics format.  We have also eagerly added in many new blocks and modules including:

These are only are percentage of what we have added but I am very excited from the little play I’ve had with them.  However, this does pose the question… how to we train teachers bit by bit and not have them overwhelmed?  How much is a good number to cater for all faculties and experience levels, without being too much?  It’s a hard balancing act but in the past I’ve seen watered down Moodle instances that simply do not engage or motivate staff to take it up so I want to go the opposite way and see if this effects the uptake and motivation to learn more and use more than files and URLs.

Some of my plans so far to tackle the staff training and initial familiarisation with 2.4 is to post a set of times when I have lessons off and they can come to the library and have training with me on Moodle.  I will use the wonderful activity module called Booking, which I’ve had a bit of a play with and it will be perfect for them.  Why would I use a booking system and not just the usual channels of email etc?  Well, I think the benefits of using this booking system will be the email notifications and reminders and ability t add to calendar etc.  Another thing I will be doing instantly is starting an FAQ database that will be in the Learning Technologies courses but also in the staff Moodle page.  I will also keep creating instructional guides as I have and also creating screencast videos and putting them on YouTube for them to learn about Moodle 2.4.

I’m optimistic that it will all work out well and that staff will be very happy by the end of term 2 with the changes and be more confident with Moodle but we will have to see.  It will be a big learning curve for all but I believe that is a good thing… a great thing!!! I also believe that if I put the training for Moodle into the context of learning about something else that they will learn Moodle skills without focusing on Moodle so much that they are overwhelmed.  More to ponder and plan 🙂  No staff need to worry too much about Mahara at this stage as I will be taking every year 9 class through this myself and training them to use it and staff will take it up a lot more slowly.

PBL with Moodle and Mahara

[youtube http://youtu.be/LMCZvGesRz8]

Over the last two days I have been involved in professional development at school on project-based learning (PBL).  I have done PBL training before when I did the Intel Teach Essentials Online Master Trainer Course a few years ago.  That experience for me was one of the most valuable in my entire career thus far.  In that course, I learned to program units of work for PBL in a way that transformed my teaching completely.  Whilst the PBL I designed did not get successfully implemented, I still maintain that it was an extremely valuable course.

Throughout the last few days as I went through the PBL inservice at school, unlike other colleagues, I was not working on a particular unit of work but was observing and planning, designing and developing a Moodle course on PBL that uses technology.  It was great to hear the ideas my colleagues came up with and the fantastic progress they made as well as the two days continued to shape their ideas into products.

Each step of the process and each element of the PBL plan and resources sparked in me many ideas about how Moodle and Mahara could be utilise for the purpose of supporting the management and development of the project.  Below are some of the aspects of the PBL and how they might translate into Moodle, Mahara and other online technology:

PDF iconENTRY DOCUMENT – The entry document need not be an actual document such as a letter but could be a stimulus such as a video embedded within a Moodle page that has text but focuses on the video element.  You could also use a podcast as a stimulus and with audio files so easily embedded within Moodle now.

google-buzzTEAM CONTRACT – The team contract could be designed as a document template or form in Google Drive and accessed by students there to discuss and fill in with details needed.  Students could share it with their teacher but they could also download a copy of the document and submit it as an assignment or into a database set up with groups in MaharaMoodle.  It would also be a great idea to maybe instead set up a template in Mahara with a team contract and get students to complete the portfolio page with their details and write a statement of agreement in the comments section before submitting to a group or sharing with their teacher.  This contract is then readily accessible at all stages throughout the PBL and added to a collection of pages developed throughout the project.

table_headerRUBRICS – The rubric for the PBL task could be produced in the wonderful new assignment rubric creator in Moodle.  I love the rubric grading tool inbuilt into the Moodle assignment!! It is one of the best plugins in Moodle ever! It is easy to use and flexible.  Other tools that could be utilised from online include; RubiStar, iRubric and teAchnology.

briefcasePROJECT BRIEFCASE – The database in Moodle!! I love the database activity in Moodle and I’m constantly trying to use it in different ways and come up with new templates/presets to explore how it might be used.  The database is the prefect way to provide students with a project briefcase of resources throughout their PBL journey.  You could also create a briefcase in Mahara if you wanted to in a portfolio page shared with the class.  I would probably go with the database in Moodle as most of the learning is probably best kept in Moodle and the process, product planning and mapping etc could be in Mahara.

project-planPROJECT PLANNING AND MAPPING – Mahara 🙂 Mahara 🙂 Mahara 🙂  I’m a big fan of what tools are provided in Mahara and the simplicity of them as well.  They are user-friendly and easy to set up and use.  With the use of the Mahara journal, plans and notes sections, students could keep very detailed records of their project and planning.  They can also produce periodic portfolio pages to summarise their progress and show work samples of where they are up to.  I think that the integration on Mahara and Moodle in PBL is a great asset to all involved.

I have all but finished the course in Moodle that I have been working on during the last two days but it certainly won’t end here.  I will continue to work on further resources for supporting the intentional integration of technology into PBL.

Moodling by Design – Design by Moodling

In my research into and consideration of adult learning and andragogy, I came across learning by design (LBD).  This was not necessarily a new idea to me but I did start thinking more about how it applies to teaching and learning in Moodle.  In a nutshell, learning by design is project-based inquiry.  I have trained in the Intel Teach Essentials Online Master Trainers course in project-based learning (PBL) and have studied the inquiry learning model as well but what is the difference in it being termed learning by design?  A number of sites specifically identify learning by design as pertaining to science as well, a project-based inquiry approach to science.  Another thing to consider in its translation into Moodle.

Kolodner et al. (2003) is quoted on EduTech Wiki as saying that the design of LBD:

“ […] has been to use what we know about cognition (see, e.g., Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999) to fashion a educational approach for middle-school science appropriate to deeply learning science concepts and skills and their applicability, in parallel with learning cognitive, social, learning, and communication skills. Our intention was that the approach would lay the foundation, in middle school, for students to be successful thinkers, learners, and decision makers throughout their lives, and especially to help them begin to learn the science they need to know to thrive in the modern world”.

This post from Kendra Shimmell entitled ‘Learning by Design: It’s Not What You Know, But How You Think‘ sums it up for me perfectly.  Learning by design is designing for individual and optimal learning experiences, catering for the different needs of the students, based on how they learn.  It’s helping learners to become more aware of their own learning and to enhance metacognition.  I can relate a great deal to the post in that I often found it hard to learn in the traditional way at school but left to my own devices, I would seek out learning in my own way and succeed more than in class.  Once I got to uni and learned more in educational psychology about how people learned, I harnessed it and my learning has become easier in many ways.

So, what does it look like to cater for individual learning needs in Moodle?  and to integrate inquiry-based learning and project-based learning?  Conditional activities come to mind straight away, as does groups.  If you have not yet experienced these or utilised these in Moodle, make it your mission to take it on!

Groups, if labelled specifically, could define the custom string of activities a learner goes through based on their selection or choice.  For example,  get your students to do the Multiple Intelligences test and then set up groups with the title of each element from the multiple intelligences.  After students have determined what their predominant intelligence is, ask them to enrol in the group of that name.  Those groups can then have tasks specifically designed to cater for that intelligence, and that’s not to say that the tasks can’t be used by another intelligence group but each group will not need to see all of the materials for every other intelligence group either.

Conditional activities can help scaffold and guide the learning experience as well.  Inquiry-based learning and PBL rely a lot of good questioning techniques and scaffolds.  PBL is very methodical and sequential.  Set it out in steps using conditional activities so that students do the tasks required, in the order required.  Also, by setting it out on Moodle like this, you can provide as much or as little help as you wish.  We started PBL tasks in class today at school and we do not plan on giving any answers to questions as we want students to develop minds that inquiry and seek to know and explore for themselves.  If this was set up in Moodle, we could even just mark the role and sit back to observe amazing learning take place.  I would find that extremely exciting!!

Design your learning to take advantage of Moodle and all it offers.  Don’t limit what you do because the online environment doesn’t seem flexible enough.  Create your own flexibility and cater for all differences.  Get to know Moodle better and play around with what is possible.  Stretch the boundaries and go outside the box!  Design your teaching and learning by Moodling 🙂

Teaching Teachers – Methodology used in Moodle Training

I have had the opportunity to train many different groups of educators in the last few years in using Moodle for course design and facilitation.  My approach to the design and delivery of training sessions, which was strongly developed through my experiences at Macquarie University, is to simulate the student experience.  I want the teachers I train to experience Moodle in the same way that their students would be expected to so that they understand what the students might find challenging and what areas they may need to provide extra scaffolding and explanation for.  The question I have had recently though is, how does this compare with other models for best practice teacher training?  What characterises best practice learning design and methodology in teacher training/professional development?

When I consider the adult learning pedagogy, known as andragogy, these things come to mind: experiential learning, self-regulation, immediate outputs, collaborative/social learning, and contextual examples.  When it comes to teachers, their learning is very much based on their experiences with subject matter and the context of their school, they are shaped by the culture that exists within the school and the results achieved from teaching and learning.  As adult learners, teachers are very adept at self-regulating their own learning and often seek learning when there is a particular need in the context of their teaching.  Teachers, however, need their learning experiences to produce immediate products and outputs, something they can implement straight away and get results/feedback on their learning.  Learning becomes very collaborative within faculty groups, informal-competency groups (those with similar levels of confidence and experience in a particular area) and other wider professional bodies of colleagues.  Finally, when teachers are learning about a new pedagogical strategy or technology for example, they want to see it in the reality of a context they can relate to so that they can see the value of it in their own teaching and learning.

So what is my formula for success when it comes to professional development for teachers?  I don’t know for sure yet if it’s a completely winning formula but I always include the following in my Moodle training modules and workshops:

  1. Discussion forums – these are for open reflections and for sharing experiences and thoughts.
  2. Quizzes – to informally assist teachers recall what they have read and processed in their training experience and also so that they understand how a quiz operates in order to create one themselves.
  3. Choice – the get an indication of preferences or opinions for something.
  4. Embedded multimedia – to show what is possible within Moodle with the use of the HTML editor.
  5. Clear summaries – Moodle labels to summarise learning intent of section and guide the completion of activities.
  6. Stimulus images – to help teachers visually identify with the content and give a different perspective.
  7. Databases – to provide repositories of resources relevant to the context of the training.
  8. Glossary – to help explain jargon and terminology that learners may not be familiar with.
  9. Books – to layout and deliver larger amounts of information, with multimedia included

These are the main things I include but I’m still developing my formula and model for best practice teacher professional development and will continue my own professional development in these areas.  Please feel free to offer your ideas and reflections of experiences of being the learner or the teacher/trainer 🙂

Moodle Course Design – What is best practice?

This is a question I ponder over and over as I work with Moodle.  I have used Moodle in at least four different educational contexts now and each has presented different challenges and needs as far as teaching and learning goes but the same question always comes up… what is best practice in Moodle?  What does it look like?

The common problems I see with the integration of Moodle in educational institutes is that it is used more as a content management system or a cloud file repository than it is used as a learning management system.  File dumping and link loading is not learning!  Learning needs to be interactive, reflective, collaborative and progressive.  All too often, educators simply do not move beyond loading files and links in Moodle and into using the more interactive features, which so easily create opportunities for students to self-direct and regulate their own learning.  I want to help the staff at my current school and my colleagues on PLANE understand better, how to use Moodle to their advantage.

Many blog posts and presentations have been shared in the last few years on this very subject, including: Moodle Course Design: a high-wire act, Moodle course design made simple and Designing aesthetically pleasing Moodle courses.  I tend to stick to a very simple way of delivering content and activities in Moodle, which is shown below.

Moodle course design

I like to use the horizontal line <hr/> in Moodle course topics to break up the summary section for the topic with the tasks and resources for the topic.  It is a simple way of indicating at first glance what students will need to use or do.

I love the course formats for Collapsed topics, Grid format, Tabs topic format, and Onetopic format.  These topic formats significantly reduce the dreaded ‘scroll-of-death’ or SOD.  My main aim in course design is to reduce the impact of the interface on the cognitive load of learners and I feel that by utilising these types of course formats I can achieve that better.

Mark Drechsler of NetSpot, writes blog posts that I definitely resonate with and his post on Moodle course design is no exception.  His presentation in the blog post Moodle course design made simple, talks about Moodle courses creating a learning pathway.  I try and do that in all the courses I design and it comes across too linear to some, however, I believe it is an effective scaffold for guiding learners through structured learning activities.

Janetta Garton writes the blog post Designing aesthetically pleasing Moodle courses and she makes some extremely valuable points about Moodle course design that I already try to incorporate into what I do and some that I could be developing better.  Blocking content is a very important point and I have made use of the Book module on many occasions and find it an effective resource for delivering content in a user-friendly way.

Some greats points to consider….

META e-Learning: Moodle

Moodle is designed and developed to be a platform established on a “social constructionist pedagogy” (Moodle, 2012). Social constructionism is a theory that “implies that learning is particularly effective when the subject builds (constructs) something for others to experience” (Lytras & Naeve, 2007). As the only specific element of the META e-Learning framework, Moodle has been chosen for being Open Source Software, which means that the platform is developed and extended upon regularly, the impact being evident in the plugins and modules provided. Moodle provides the opportunity for teachers to create interactive lessons and for learners to construct new knowledge and skills throughout these interactions, thus enabling learners to be more in control of their own learning as well as motivating active participation. Resources in Moodle are about delivering content, such as pages and files, however, activities in Moodle are higher order as they require students to reflect on and apply their learning. The flexibility with which these resource and activity plugins can be positioned and customised empowers learning designers to meet specific teaching and learning needs.

Figure 1: Moodle Plugins Directory retrieved from https://moodle.org/plugins/

Figure 1: Moodle Plugins Directory retrieved from https://moodle.org/plugins/

Moodle.org is the home of all Moodle documentation and support and within this website a directory of plugins, which are added to Moodle modules for extending the open source software beyond its original configuration. Figure 1 is the directory and details a range of modules within Moodle and potential e-learning experiences that can be extended through the integration of these plugins. Modules such as the gradebook allow students to access their assessment results, extending the timely feedback they receive on their learning throughout their courses. A variety of course formats and structure or layout plugins provided in the directory extend the instructional design possibilities of a Moodle course and the numerous activity plugins facilitate incredible interactivity with information and course materials.

In 2010, the Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers was developed by educational technologist Joyce Seitzinger to “compare the functionality and pedagogical advantages of some standard Moodle tools” (Seitzinger, 2010). The tool guide has been utilised by educational institutions all over the world, redesigned and redeveloped and even translated into other languages. It also shows that these Moodle modules help extend e-learning beyond simply using technology for information transfer to assessing student learning, facilitating communication, collaboration and the creation of content. Additionally, the Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers also details how Moodle facilitates higher order thinking, according to Bloom’s taxonomy providing more articulate explanation of how to extend an e-learning experience with Moodle.

Figure 2: Moodle tool guide for teachers by Joyce Seitzinger

Figure 2: Moodle tool guide for teachers by Joyce Seitzinger

At Macquarie University, Moodle was being newly integrated in early 2012 and many academic course conveners moved beyond the course being a file repository to it being an experience where students engage in forum discussions with their peers; participate in online quizzes for the purpose of self-assessment and formal formative assessment; and, facilitate students’ application of new knowledge in the development of wiki pages. Academics extended their own e-learning experiences in workshops to learn the skills to create courses, resources and activities in Moodle.

In workshops, academics worked on designing teaching and learning materials that their students would engage with in the upcoming semester. Through their engagement in these workshops, which gave the academics a student experience, they learned how to design and develop Moodle courses, and gained a new insight into e-learning and constructing e-learning activities that other learners would also experience and continue to learn from.