In my last post I discussed how I’ve been using Moodle in class. In conjunction with iPads in class, my student and I have been thinking more and more about how a web application like Moodle can work in the classroom. In my last post, I received a comment that led me back to the philosophy of Moodle page which has me thinking more about learning philosophies overall as I try to implement technology in the classroom.
As with all philosophies, there is a difference between what someone believes and how someone acts. The philosophy of Moodle as a software system seems to be social constructivism. In reality, however, Moodle sometimes feels a bit more like testing software. There’s nothing wrong with testing software, but trying to use it in a constructivist way can be difficult. The lesson modules prove inefficient and clearly more time was put into the quiz module. You cannot use the question bank to make questions for your lesson modules and many of the question types in the quizzes cannot be transferred over to the lesson modules.
I know that the software is free and open source, so I shouldn’t be expecting fireworks around every corner, but I do feel that if their main focus is social constructivism, they should be spending more time on the actual constructivism. If we are truly trying to personalize learning, every student won’t be beating the drum to the same path. We will have some students going in different directions than other students and this is where I see the value in the branching system of Moodle lessons. I can’t really use them currently, however, because of how inefficient and time consuming it is to create lessons in this format. (Hopefully more on this later).
Does this just make Moodle a Worksheet?
Moodle still feels like a worksheet. This doesn’t mean that I won’t use it. It does mean, however, that there is still work to be done. Just as I don’t give up on the new grading system in LAUSD leaves me wanting more and older, I want to see Moodle improved. If we don’t use the new system, the old system will always be better because that is what people are actually using. I’m going to continue using Moodle this year because I want to see it improve and the only way for it improve is for people to make suggestions for improvement.
As I think about Moodle, I keep coming back to the same thought: Isn’t Moodle, with its quiz features, fill in the blanks, multiple choice, and short answers, just a glorified worksheet? Students are still filling in blanks just like they did with worksheets. Students are still working sequentially to complete discrete tasks with an end goal in mind of understanding the material. Students are still being tested mostly on content knowledge rather than higher level analysis of the content. These are problems that I am still desperately trying to find a solution to.
There is a technological trap in most edtech: the easiest thing to assess is what you can easily measure. And, as big data has shown us, it is quite easy to grab a crapload of data from web sites like Khan Academy. According to Matt Faus:
Every day, we collect around 8 million data points on exercise and video interactions, and a few million more around community discussion, computer science programs, and registrations. Not to mention the raw web request logs, and some client-side events we send to MixPanel.
No matter what tool you use, whether it be Khan Academy or Moodle, we are constantly informing our practice based on our beliefs. If you are Sal Khan and you believe that more data will lead to more learning, then you will keep collecting more data. While we can continue to gather more and more data points, I’m not entirely convinced that more is better or that even more is the right direction to go. The entire idea of gradebooks as an institution, in my opinion, ought to be coming to an end. Gradebooks are the single largest stumbling block on the road to true educational reform that leads to real personalized learning, but that post will be saved for another time.
Dissonance with Moodle
I currently feel dissonance with Moodle because I’m not really doing much during the lesson. If I were to continue down this path of heavily using Moodle in class, students would be doing a lot of the work for themselves without the need of a teacher. What does that make my role in the classroom? I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few days. Am I becoming so efficient at my job that I’m working myself out of the job?
I have been listening and thinking about these ideas especially because of the Invisbilia Podcast episode I recently listened to on computers and the ominous video that CGPGrey hit us with last August. Both of these commentaries on modern life chronicle the increasing importance of robots and automaton in our society.
I think the brutal reality is that Moodle and sites like it are more than a worksheet. With a little tweaking and two to three years of lesson making, I think that sites like Moodle will make me not only a better teacher, but will fundamentally change the way that I teach. Right now I’m making quizzes, trying to add audio, trying to add videos, and just seeing what little I can do. But in a few years, after I’ve tweaked and modified Moodle or whatever comes along next, who knows what teaching will be like. I feel like I’m tinkering with a Tin Lizzie not even knowing what the future may hold.
Unlike CGPGrey, however, I don’t see teachers being lost in the shuffle. Modern notions of school have never been about the Digital Aristotle or making learning more effective. If we wanted to make learning more effective, there’ve been ways before computers to do so. In fact, I think that teachers need to lead the way in ditching factory style education and work more towards personalizing learning while, paradoxically, increasing the social engagement of students through high-level academic discussions in the classroom.
The reality is is that school needs to be a bit ineffective because we are teaching people about democracy, citizenship, and how to live in a society. Democracy isn’t easy and it isn’t built based on effectiveness. It is a messy discussion between diverse people who come together, learn about our differences, and try to live together. I think Moodle has a place in that conversation, but it will ultimately be our social structure that we are creating. Moodle will only be a reflection of that. And I think that the ways that we use Moodle will change as our social structure changes.
Student Feedback and Teacher Reflection
Here are some comments from students in my classes about their experience with Moodle:
Many of the students in class talked about how iPads are easier to use and see than a projector or screen in the front of the room. One student said, “I like it better on the ipad because your can see it better.” Another student said, “iPads are easier and faster because you can answers the questions if you already know them and move faster.” Other students said it was easier because there was less to listen to (less interruptions from peers and less time having to listen to a teacher). Still others said they liked it because they get to be in a group and help each other out.
One student in my class hypothesized as to why he was more engaged on the iPads saying, “They are good and it is faster doing notes on the ipad because we always want to be on our phones.” He was suggesting that the very fact that screens similar to phones are implicitly engaging to students. Other students talked about how they liked working independently and at their own pace. This seems to be the biggest advantage of an asynchronous device like the iPad.
One student who criticized Moodle said, “There is a lot of questions. Some questions take a while to complete.” He was referring to filling in the blanks, then answering cloze questions, and then often having to write a short answer about the topic. One student even said, “I disagree on taking the oral quiz, because I already took a version of the oral quiz on the ipad so this seems like extra.”
I still feel a bit uneasy about comprehension and higher level understanding. I need to find a way to create real time interactions between students to engage in democratic conversations, but I can’t say I miss going through slides where students have to fill in the blanks.
My goals for the next few weeks are going to be finding ways to implement small group learning that can take place on the ipads where conversation also has to happen.
One of the best ways to do that would be audio recording, but I haven’t found a good solution for managing these large files. I want students to record each other doing podcasts and asking each other questions, but this is going to take some practice on our part.
My next goal after encouraging student conversation is to try and lead toward higher level thinking and questioning that will happen as a result of democratic conversations. I suppose the two of these things go hands in hand. More to come on my Moodle adventures. Check back soon for more.