Over the Summer LTI had a lively email discussion on the pros and cons of Moodle baselines and the issues raised prompted this series of blog posts on making more of Moodle.
Some institutions use a baseline or template to ensure that all courses have a bare minimum of features and some degree of consistency on the layout and content. For example, UCL introduced a baseline in 2011 after consultation with students indicated that they found inconsistencies with layout, navigation and types of information available on Moodle. York St John University introduced University wide minimum expectations in 2015. Research into sector wide opinions and approaches to baselines carried out by Peter Reed at Liverpool University indicated that there are three common approaches to creating standardised VLE’s (simple checklists, detailed checklists, and detailed rubrics).
What to include?
Peter Reed’s (2015) research indicates a growing number of UK HE institutions have opted for some kind of standardisation of the VLE (of the 24 institutions that responded 75% already had some form of minimum standard and 25% were looking to introduce some minimum standards 21 March 2014, http://thereeddiaries.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/sector-wide-subscription-to-vle-minimum.html). But then the obvious question is what a best practice VLE should look like? Internal surveys at Liverpool indicated that while staff and students often favoured the introduction of minimum standards there was some inconsistency regarding what should be included in a course. Students appeared to be most interested in accessing quite practical course information and resources (Lecture Notes (95%); Past Exam Papers (93%); Further Reading (88%); Timetables (86%); Module Leader Contact Details (83%)) rather than learning activities. However analysis of what students do on the VLE has indicated that when such material are available they are not always accessed. Which brings us neatly to the main issue that LTI have with introducing a baseline or checklist at LSE;
Simply including certain tools or resources on a Moodle course does not guarantee that they will be used, either by students or staff.
Every Moodle course could be automatically set up with a discussion forum (just as the course announcements feature is a default in all courses) but simply having a discussion forum available does not mean that it will be used well or at all. Measuring how well tools are used is fairly difficult to ascertain but analysis of how much tools are used indicates that currently discussion forums are often set up and then remain empty.
Improving the learning experience
Over the years LTI have debated the pros and cons of developing a template or best practice for Moodle courses and have researched the differencing opinions across the sector. As learning technologists the LTI team are most interested in using technology to enhance teaching and learning. Devising a long list of requirements for every course can easily turn into a bureaucratic tick box exercise that adds more to teachers workloads than improving students experience of Moodle. A good learning experience needs to consider the design of the course i.e. navigation, usability, consistency etc. (see post 2) and how activities can be used to contribute to the learning objectives (see post 3).
Although a baseline can be useful, especially for online only courses, LSE Moodle editors currently have the freedom to choose the structure and content of their Moodle courses and LTI encourage best practice and offer training, advice and guides on using Moodle. The best way to ensure that a Moodle course is well used is for the teacher to be engaged with the editing to ensure that it is relevant and useful for students.
Peter Reed Staff & student perspectives on introducing minimum standards VLE, November 12 2013
‘Hygiene factors: Using VLE minimum standards to avoid student dissatisfaction’ Peter Reed and Simon Watmough E-Learning and Digital Media, January 2015 vol. 12 no. 1 68-89. Published online January 29, 2015, doi: 10.1177/2042753014558379