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Is Moodle Worth it? – Part 1

Introduction

For the past two weeks we’ve used iPads in the classroom. They’re part of LAUSD’s policy of technology across the curriculum and will be using them from testing at the end of the year for the new common core assessments. Many challenges arise as I implement this new model.

For example, I spent one night installing plugins that allowed students to record their voices on their iPads, but the audio did not upload. On other days I had student login issues or students losing work due to a page reloading. We also had issues with the Belkin keyboards we hooked into the iPads via the thunderbolt connection. Certain keys wouldn’t work or certain letters would delete the entire student post.

Many of these issues require steep learning curves for teachers new to using Content Management Systems like Moodle. Overall, however, student engagement and interest in the iPads has been very high. I continue to receive positive feedback from students despite technical glitches and project problems.

Some of the questions I’m considering, however, are:

1: Is moodle just a glorified worksheet?
2: Is technology the way to go in education?
3: If so, what kinds of technology should we be embracing?

How I use Moodle Right Now

Currently I use Moodle as a kind of hybrid system.

Before the iPads came to my room, I had students fill in blanks on foldable worksheets that I custom engineered for my classes based on a keynote lecture presentation. Students take an oral quiz afterwards to show they understand the material.

With the implementation of the iPads at our school, however, I no longer use the projector to give students the blanks and students fill in the blanks on written notes through a Moodle quiz. They work on this assignment at their own pace and finish at different times during the period.

Students work at their own pace with built in checkpoints throughout the Moodle lesson to make sure that students read the material.

Students don’t get direct explanation of the material from the teacher. They learned everything a step removed from the teacher because they work at their own pace. How does this removal of the teacher change student comprehension?

For example, students complete a matching module where match the definition to a word they just learned. After this, students use the word they defined in a short answer sentence. At the end of the lesson, they get instant feedback on how well they understood the material based on how they answered the multiple choice and fill in the blank cloze questions. Completing the entire lesson online, however, still leaves open the chance that students just mark the right answer without understanding why the answer is correct.  Proponent of technologies like Moodle might argue that this is no different from analog note taking because there is no way to know that students are listening to teacher explanations.

On the plus side, however, Moodle quiz features also lessens grading time and students still end up with the same info at the end of the lesson. Students still take notes and must demonstrate the knowledge that they acquired through an oral quiz with me. During the oral quiz, I can make sure the students comprehend the material on a higher level. So I haven’t eliminated the teacher entirely from the lesson.

The obvious downside is the increase in the amount of time each day for creation of Moodle materials. Creating a Moodle lesson for one of my 90 minute classes takes anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. I teach three different preps, so using a Moodle lesson in all my classes would be 3 to 9 hours of prep a day.

The problem of time is not, I think, unique to Moodle. I feel the pressure of time no matter what medium I use to teach students. Creating high quality material for your classroom that meets the needs of your students is always time consuming.

Audio and Moodle

So far, all I have done in terms of audio is record some of the questions so students can listen to the notes and other material if they struggle with reading.

I would like to implement a system where students listen to a screencast to augment what they learn from just the slides. I would like to see students constantly learning and interacting with the material.

The main hurdle to implementing a video-based system is that YouTube is still blocked in Los Angeles Unified. No video streaming site can handle 15 to 20 students being on at the same time that I’ve been happy with besides Youtube. I’ve tried using dropbox and other solutions, but I don’t want to pay for a video streaming service like Vimeo.  Dropbox has bene glitchy because they throttle streaming video on the web significantly.  I already pay for the Moodle site so that I have full control over the course settings (the district also erases district Moodle programs at the end of each year).  Assigning students to watch videos at home or on their own time is also difficult because many of the students still do not have reliable Internet connections.

If I cannot get the video aspects of Moodle to work, I would at least like students to work on their pronunciation. I would like to create a system where I record myself reading a word and the student has to pronounce the word by recording themselves in the Moodle platform (the Poodll plugin has been invaluable in this regard). I’m hoping with the shorter audio segments, students won’t have as much trouble uploading like they did with longer files when we tried do podcasts and other things like that. Longer audio and longer video create problems because of the Apple technology and the difficulty of getting those videos and audio off of devices quickly.

Without a USB connection, I find it difficult to upload and process student audio files quickly without crashing the server. Some of the teachers at my school are considering buying digital recording devices to be used solely for this purpose. I am very intrigued by this idea and hope to use it in the future.

Next time, I will try to answer the some of deeper philosophical questions sites like Moodle pose for the future of teaching.

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2 thoughts on “Is Moodle Worth it? – Part 1

  1. You’re clearly passionate about teaching and giving the best learning experiences to your students. While your frustrations are valid, I propose to you that Moodle is much beyond a glorified worksheet with strong pillars within the software https://docs.moodle.org/en/Philosophy

    While you clearly have a firm understanding of Moodle, the plugins, site architecture and activities perhaps the Learn Moodle MOOC would provide some further answers to your question – is it worth it? The next course runs in August, with around a 1.3-2hr commitment to complete the course. I’ve personally found the peer review an invaluable tool learnt from the last MOOC in Jan this year.

    All the best with your class and Moodle site.

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