Last week I attended Moodle Moot in Dublin, which was an interesting, enjoyable and very well-run event. The major highlight was my team, The Sugababes, winning the quiz and the ridiculous trophy you see opposite.
Some other highlights are below:
Michelle Moore (RemoteLearner) presented her Moodle course for teaching teachers to use Moodle, and giving them the tools to continue learning about it. This course (“My Moodle course – an experiment in social constructionism“) is available for download from the MoodleMoot site. We’ll download this to see how it compares with our own design for an online Moodle course.
- Course review glossary (where teachers post reviews of each other’s courses)
- Best practices glossary
- A single “how to edit Moodle” lesson
- An assignment in which teachers have to update their own profile
- Tasks where students use existing online resources to investigate Moodle’s capabilities
- Teachers are put into small groups with specific roles: e.g. project manager, reporter, spy (to go and see what other groups are doing)
- A weekly web conference, in which the groups report back
Elsewhere, there were several presentations about using IMS LTI to connect Moodle with external tools, for example WebPA, and exhortations to developers to build LTI into their software. A big list of applications that use LTI is available on the LTI website. This is an area we should probably be looking into more. There was also a presentation on LIS (Learning Information Systems), which is a data interchange protocol for integrating with student record systems, but which doesn’t seem to be very mature or widely adopted.
In the Pecha Kucha session, Mike Hughes from City showed some usability testing they had done, which was mostly interesting for the approach used – i.e. to have an academic sit in front of a computer and talk out loud as they did things on Moodle, while being filmed on webcam and with their mouse actions captured. This seemed like a good way to find out how staff really use Moodle.
Helen Foster proposed some ideas for custom roles for students, to give them specific responsibilities: such as, forum moderator, assignment grader, question creator and ‘naughty student’ (a way to withhold forum posting rights from a student who has posted inappropriately!)
In one of the plenary sessions they used a format they called ‘fishbowl’ (but I would call it ‘party’). The initial setup is a familiar one whereby 4 invited panellists at the front hold a conversation around a theme. However, a 5th chair was available for anyone from the audience to come forward and join in. At that point, one of the panellists would retire from the panel but remain on hand to return if the audience participation dried up. I didn’t attend this session but I gather it worked well.
Tim Hunt (OU) demonstrated two question types, STACK and Pattern Match. The STACK question is a way to allow students to submit equations as their answers, using a simplified text format. The question converts their text into a Latex equation and asks them to confirm that this is what they meant, before submitting. Multiple correct and incorrect answers can be predefined for a question. Pattern Match uses a sort of simplified regular expression that is optimised for matching natural language answers to questions. By accounting for different phrasing and synonyms, the question can assess the students’ free-text answers. In extensive testing, the algorithm achieved 98-99% agreement with human markers.
Martin Dougiamas’ keynote was the usual look forward at where Moodle is going. He stated up front that “the tools can be much better, and they will be”. What’s coming up (some of this already in 2.4):
- “Universal cache” which will greatly improve performance
- SVG (vector-drawn) icons throughout
- An improved course format framework, making it easier to design new ones
- Blind marking
- Fast and complete logging of all actions
- A new Moodle app, using HTML5 and getting its data through secure web services. He showed a prototype and suggested that perhaps in future Moodle should look like this (i.e. like an app) on the web as well.
- New RWD themes
- Survey 2 – a consolidation of survey, questionnaire and feedback tools
- Ability to install plugins directly from the interface
Alex Walker from Glasgow City College gave a primer on theming with some useful tips about inspecting CSS. Particularly nice is the 3D element viewer in Firefox, which shows you the web page as a contoured map, with nested elements laid on top of their parents.
Pieter van der Hijden did his review of using gaming in Moodle. He does this every few years, and the conclusion always seems to be “Moodle’s not a lot of use for gaming”. LTI seems to be the best hope for using Moodle as a front end for educational games.
Davo Smith (Synergy), father of drag-and-drop upload, showed some new developments:
- Realtime quiz – a sort of PRS within Moodle, with questions, a timer and results displayed immediately. But it seemed a clumsy way to do PRS to me.
- PDF annotation assignment – allows a PDF to be uploaded and then students or teacher can annotate it with comments and scribbles, much as you can in Acrobat.
- Drag-drop images and text – an extension of drag-drop, so images dragged onto the interface are displayed inline, and text dragged on becomes a label.
Paolo Oprandi and Stuart Lamour (Sussex) demonstrated some of the interface redesign that they have done in Moodle 1.9 (and involves some core hacks). Stuart is a user experience expert, and bases his design on the idea that a web application needs to have a “call to action” that makes it clear to the user what they are expected to do. In Moodle, a new course is just a blank page with no obvious call to action. Their version presents the new course editor with a text editor so that they can start by adding a welcome to the course, and more or less forces the user to add images. Their course format is like the “Pages” format where each section is on a separate page. Some nice touches, like in-browser resizing of images using the canvas element. They also have tight integrations with other systems, so reading lists and lecture recordings are displayed inline. The reading lists are brought in from Talis Aspire by simply scraping the Talis pages, but there is hope that future APIs will make this process more robust.
Finally, a team from Cass Business School at City presented their work on obtaining student feedback on Moodle. They made some good points at the start about student surveys, which:
- Focus on satisfaction, not learning
- Focus on modules, not programmes
- Focus on teaching, not learning
Their approach therefore, while it did include surveys, also included a team of student participant-observers (but details of the research method were a bit sketchy). Some findings:
- A tension between the need for consistency and the need for innovation
- Need for a notifications system to alert students to new content
- Need for drivers of forum use: e.g. teachers must use them, participation must be expected.
- Students preferred tools for groupwork are, overwhelmingly, Facebook, email, Google Docs and Dropbox. Moodle doesn’t compare. This is because the former are seen as more user-friendly and are more familiar to them.
I think Moodle Moot is my favourite conference. It’s so focussed, everyone is very positive and moving forward all the time with new things, and there’s a distinct absence of ego.