Moodle Moot 2013

Does winning a quiz really merit such a trophy?

Does winning a quiz really merit such a trophy?

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.

Features include:

  • 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.

February 28th, 2013|Conferences|2 Comments|

Moodle Moot 2010

Moodle Moot 2010 logo

On 13-14 April I attended Moodle Moot 2010, hosted by ULCC at the University of London’s Senate House.

I didn’t find it as enlightening as last year’s Moot at Loughborough, but it had its moments, and I believe my colleagues were luckier in their choice of parallel sessions, as further posts here may reveal.

The first keynote was by Sugata Mitra, speaking about his “Hole in the Wall” studies. His presentation was excellent and inspiring, and can be seen on the MoodleMoot videos page, but as he’s done it many times before and much has been written about it already, I don’t really need to add. Later, Martin Dougiamas, on Skype from New Zealand, gave his now-traditional “What’s in Moodle 2.0” presentation, which was pretty much the same as last year’s as far as I can remember.

As for the parallels, not a lot to report, but a couple of presentations caught the eye. Eoin Campbell highlighted the clumsiness of the Moodle question-editing interface, and introduced a way to allow teachers to quickly and easily create quizzes by entering the questions, answers and feedback into a table in Word, and then converting that to Moodle questions at the press of a button (

Pieter van der Hijden talked about the potential of Moodle for running educational games and simulations. It was surprising how much of the scaffolding required to build a simulation could be supported using basic Moodle features, but what’s missing at this stage is the ability for users to store variables within Moodle, and a simple scripting language to allow those variables to be processed. These are pretty fundamental to simulation, and it doesn’t look like they will be native to Moodle any time soon. I did wonder, though, whether one couldn’t just use JavaScript and cookies to get around this limitation.

Overall: not bad. ULCC did a good job of running the show. I especially liked the no-nonsense approach to the evening entertainment, consisting of canteen-style tikka masala, a pub quiz and a free bar all night.


April 26th, 2010|Conferences|1 Comment|

EduCampLondon: an ‘unconference’

A few weeks ago now I attended my first unconference.  For the uninitiated an unconference is a conference that is organised & delivered by the delegates.  For example, take the programme, it was complied in this Google Spreadsheet with the delegates simply adding a title to a slot.  No submitting of abstracts 6 months before the event and still a great quality & variety of sessions.   Other than that EduCampLondon felt pretty much like any other conference/event.  The format of unconference sessions is supposed to be less chalky-talky and more discursive or  off-the-wall but in practice many sessions, including my own, were fairly traditional.

March 30th, 2010|Conferences, Syndicated|Comments Off on EduCampLondon: an ‘unconference’|

A Word in your Ear

A Word in your Ear was an excellent one-day conference on the use of audio feedback (AF) in higher education.

The keynote was by Bob Rotherham, who as leader of the JISC/Leeds Metropolitan project Sounds Good, has become the go-to man for AF for the UK. I was already familiar with the Sounds Good outputs, but it’s the way he says it that makes the difference. A really good, engaging, no-nonsense speaker. Bob tried to move the agenda on by pointing out that we all know now that most students like AF – it’s been demonstrated time and time again – but we don’t know whether it is actually more educationally effective than written feedback. Unfortunately I didn’t get the sense that any of the other presenters were trying to answer this question, or even proposing ways in which it might be answered.

Electronic voting systems (or PRS) workshop in Leicester

EVS Wordle image shared by AJC1 on FlickrYesterday, was definitely PRS day for me. CLT was running its first lecturer training session for use of PRS/EVS on the new LSE100 course, which I have been helping to prepare and was originally intending to facilitate along with my colleagues. Unfortunately it clashed with a workshop on EVS, co-ordinated by a special interest group called “ESTICT: Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology” which I had already booked a place at. I’m told the training session went very well, but I’m glad to say it was well worth going along to the ESTICT workshop in Leicester. As you can see, I still don’t know how to refer to this stuff. We’ve been calling it PRS (Personal Response Systems) but the accepted norm, at least to this group, seems to be EVS (Electronic Voting Systems). So I will try to refer to it as EVS from now on, at least to the world outside LSE.

Learning & Teaching Competition Winners

The Jorum* Learning & Teaching awards are given to innovative learning and teaching resources that have been created under a Creative Commons license. You can find out more about all six winners on the Jorum website and below I have highlighted two in particular.

All of the resources are free to use and can be linked to from within Moodle.

Making group work workMaking group work work

This video resource is aimed at giving students and tutors a better understanding of the challenges of group work and how to overcome them!  There are 10 episodes such as Managing conflict and Assessing group work which can be used independently or worked thru’ in order.

The website includes help for students and staff.

Reading Skills Tutorial

Produced by the Skills@Library team at the University of Leeds, this is an online tutorial to help students (and staff!) improve their reading skills.

*Jorum is a JISC-funded online repository service for teaching and support staff in UK colleges and universities.  It exists to encourage sharing, reuse and re-purposing of learning and teaching materials created by the community for the community

ALT-C 2009 Highlights

Conference Dinner at Manchester Town HallEarlier this month staff from CLT attended ALT-C 2009, the annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology.

Conferences can be hit-and-miss affairs and I find it’s usually wise not to set one’s expectations too high; however, for the second year running, ALT-C was excellent.

For me the keynotes usually provide the conference ‘edutainment’, you can be fairly sure that they will be humour, some memorable nuggets and an underlying message (although that’s not always clear!).  Overall the ALT-C  keynotes delivered and I took something away from all of them.  I think because I’d seen both Terry Anderson (live) & Mike Wesch (lots of videos) speak before, it is Martin Bean’s keynote, A Journey in Innovation, that particularly sticks in my mind.  Martin is the Open University’s Vice Chancellor Designate.  He’s an excellent speaker and his keynote is worth a look even if it’s just for the initial stuff on innovation scepticism & his overview of the current (changing) HE landscape.  His talk finishes with enthusiasm for the OU’s SocialLearn project which aims to provide students with a personal web platform for their learning; one I’ll be following with interest.

You can watch Matin’s keynote in full below and you’ll find the other keynotes & invited speakers on

There appeared to be two hot topics in the parallel sessions. 

October 1st, 2009|Conferences|Comments Off on ALT-C 2009 Highlights|

Symposium at York University: lecture capture, content production & Second Life

York Minster by chez_worldwideJane and I participated in a one day in-house symposium at the University of York this week. The audience were made up of both academic and support staff interested in learning from other universities about lecture capture, audio and video content production and Second Life. We were asked to talk about audio and video content production and so showcased some of the video & audio that’s produced here. We focused on lecture capture momentarily as although it is the most prolific output of media at the LSE, with 909 lectures having been captured in just one term this year, two other universities: Birmingham and Newcastle had already given extensive presentations on this subject. Instead, we wanted to highlight the idea of audio and video as a part of teaching, not just as a means to capture the teaching that’s already going on. We played examples of interviews & discussions, role playing scenes, groupwork, screencasts, video and audio podcasts as well as highlighting some of the Wimba tools and audio feedback. We also talked about the issue of scaling up to meet increased interest in media, professionally produced video vs the DIY approach and touched on the copyright issues involved.

It was an interesting day with good discussions both formally and over coffee/lunch and it was really nice to meet people in similar roles. The most lively debate came from the lecture capture sessions. It seems that across the board, the majority of students really value lecture capture (no real surprises) and staff are cautious about the educational benefits and fears about attendance. There were certainly many parallels between the student and staff surveys at both Birmingham Medical School and Newcastle university and the LSE. Rob Jones’ findings from Birmingham were particularly interesting because they compared the relationship between usage stats and grades. The findings look promising where the mean rose from 51% to 55% and the failure rate dropped to 2/69. The quality of answers also improved with students indicating a greater breadth of knowledge and looking at a wider set of resources.

The Second Life talks in the afternoon reminded me that Second Life is good for simulation and specifically designed educational activities but that perhaps we should be looking at other virtual worlds for better communication, movement, role play etc. Sheila Webber from Sheffield and Steve Warburton from King’s College agreed that Second life is probably not sophisticated enough for a young gaming audience; the average age of SL users is apparently 33. Steve flagged up MetaPlace, OpenSim (open source) and Blue Mars as potential Virtual World’s to explore, so perhaps another pilot project is due. Read Jane’s Social Software, Libraries and E-learning blog for more information on the lecture capture and Second Life presentations.

July 10th, 2009|Conferences, Images, Audio & Video|Comments Off on Symposium at York University: lecture capture, content production & Second Life|

making it personal – 7th annual @greenwich conference

Yesterday I attended the 7th annual eLearning @greenwich conference “Making IT Personal“, which focused on the practical and theoretical, technical and pedagogical issues surrounding the notion of “self-regulated learning”, summarised by the key notion of “personalisation”. How can optimal (pedagogically beneficial) personalisation be achieved using eLearning tools? I missed the first ten minutes of the keynote by Professor Jonathan Drori: “Personalisation – the good, the bad, and the ugly”. The first thing I learnt today was to remember never to underestimate Deptford traffic gridlock. Leaving the house at eight to arrive at ten for a journey that would have taken me only 30 minutes to cycle is one of those valuable offline lessons life insists on throwing at me. I bat them away.

The morning keynote set the tone very gently. Learning is (obviously) an experience, but unlike personal pleasurable ones to which we return on our own accord, learning experiences are often imposed; worse, they are generally ill defined, their relevance to the students left unclear. Asking the audience to shout out some pleasurable personal activities, Jonathan used the answers to illustrate key adjectives that explain why theses activities are engaging. (I was one of the few to participate and shouted “having a political discussion in the pub”, which earned me an “aw, how sweet!” and giggles from the audience. An outrage! ). Pleasurable, personal experiences can be characterised as being:

1. Defined

2. Fresh

3. Accessible

4. Immersive

5. Significant

6. Transformative.

This is an assertion by Jonathan, but judging by the tweets, many in the audience agreed that this was a useful list. Learning experiences however often don’t fit any of those adjectives, they can be imposed, badly designed, irrelevant, indifferently presented, repetitive. They are not personal, they lack the personable. (So far, so fairly obvious. The ideal of personalisation is old and almost intuitively right: better teachers are engaging, performing, personable and pay attention to each individual student. They are also rare – what can we do to improve the situation?)

Professor Drori maintained that “the harder the concept, the more personal the learning experience needs to be.” If you want learning to be effective, or indeed at the very least to “actually take place”, then the best teaching emulates what we now know good experiences to be about. Thus, any tool, particularly eLearning tools need to be chosen according to how much they support this ideal of personalisation. Finishing on ‘the good, bad and downright ugly use of technologies’, I was struck by his unquestioning allegiance to the common instrumental definition of technology; and he was not above using the dreaded comparison that technologies can be like, say a kitchen knife: it can be good (for chopping onions) and bad (for stabbing people) – in effect employing the tired “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument characteristic of the neutrality view of technology. But issues surrounding technology – including their use in an educational setting – are rarely this simple and need much more critical appreciation. I wasn’t too bowled over by the speech, and found a final almost fatalist note surprising. Commenting on the importance to engage our children from an early age (fair enough), he asserted that if you start a bad habit early enough, be it smoking, disrespect, or indeed a bad attitude towards learning, you will continue to practice this bad habit. Which, I would suggest, does not bode well for any idealist conception of adult education. I will listen to it again, to see if I missed some salient points. I have been told it will be available as a podcast soon.

After coffee I attended a very interesting presentation on eLearning & social inclusion by Alan Clarke, formerly of NIACE. Alan was enthusiastic and almost overwhelmingly positively charged: IT can do so much to support those whom he prefers to call disadvantaged, rather than excluded: prisoners and ex-offenders, adults with almost no formal education, teenage mothers, disabled students… people, aged from 16 to death who have often very poor basic skills, the lowest confidence in their own abitlies and a history of educational failure. Due to the very nature of the learners NIACE supports, the approach can but be personal: these learners have no common learning skills, if they have anything in common it is a deep-seated suspicion of the processes of formal learning. He told us a variety of positive stories to illustrate how elearning, and the adaptive use of technology in a variety of settings has had an enormous impact on bringing disadvantaged learners “back into the fold”, giving them back confidence.
My second chosen presentation, led by Mary Kiernan and Ray Stoneham, both of Greenwich University, considered the dichotomy between socialisation and personalisation: The Danger of Impersonalisation in Mass Personalised Learning: Can Socialisation and Personalisation Co-exist? As an ice-breaker we were asked to write down our names and answer the question “if you had to ask one question about personalisation what would it be and why.” Our neighbour was then to introduce us with that question. Becki, to my left asked why personalisation was such a difficult task to accomplish, and I had her read out “is personalisation only this year’s buzz word to be replaced by a cool new one next year”, which had started to crystallise even before we were asked to perform this little “socialisation task”. We’ll be sent a list of the other questions, most of which were pertinent.Their key thesis in a nutshell: we have a basic human need to socialise but tend no longer to do this on PLEs (VLEs). There may be personalisation, but no socialisation. The question is: what happens when we neglect the social integration? Lack of connection will lead to demotivated students. Of course personalisation is nothing new, denoting the effort to personalise learning for large cohorts of people, whilst aiming for the same goal but with different routes and different starting points. Plato’s Socratic dialogues often embody the principle, the Oxbridge model is another example, and special educational needs another. But within these models, socialisation is implicit. In PLEs, socialisation is often left out, or at most paid lip service to. Further, personalisation itself brings up a set of dichotomies: individuality versus mutuality, social learning versus isolated learning etc. The issue for elearning is therefore to prevent that social learning, community learning falls by the wayside. An interesting discussion followed on from here, with participants sharing their experiences, worries and ideas about how social software can be integrated into PLEs, and what potential hurdles must be overcome. (My thinking is that our focus needs to be on the teachers – they need to understand the use and abuse, the potential and dangers of social software to make informed choices about how to use them in their teaching. I don’t think the burden of choosing tools for learning delivery should lie with the students).

Lunch was edible and fresh fruit abounded, and stimulating chats with colleagues were had, so that was me happy.

After lunch I decided to do a little writing and thinking before I joined the herd again for the final keynote, by Serge Ravet. It was fast and furiously delivered in a heartening French accent, challenging conceptions about personalisation. It touched on a myriad of topics and ideas, flitted from worries about personal data management to social networks, from hosting to aggregating, the concept of the “Internet of Subjects”, individualisation, Jean-Claude Kaufman’s book The invention of the Self (available in French or German…). A key message of his was that not only is there much more to personalisation than many contemporary discussions (in education, for example) will have you believe – data management, regulation, ownership, creation, sharing – but also that it may be the wrong concept to focus on: Ravet emphasises the importance of individualisation, and instead of personalised learning, which he considers old, trite, adaptive, he favours self-regulated learning, which is both individuation and individualisation, and thus a type of identity construction. I liked his challenge to the idea that we all speak of having different identities, an online identity, an offline identity. I do think this is a dangerous metaphor to perpetuate, as it gives rise to the idea that we are becoming fractured, split personalities, schizophrenics, or superheroes (Bruce Wayne/Batman) – and that the source for this clinical “wrong” is our being tied to technology. Our identity may be fragmented, but it is not therefore broken.

He was quick, and touched on various ideas I will have to follow up in the near future. Hopefully there will be a podcast of his talk too.

DIVERSE video and teaching conference 2009

Aberystwyth sunsetThis week I’m attending the 9th annual DIVERSE conference in Aberystwyth. DIVERSE stands for “Developing Innovative Visual Educational Resources for Students Everywhere” and the focus of the conference tends to be on video resources, although it is not entirely limited to that subject.

It has to be said, I was expecting to be subjected to a certain amount of wind and rain, so came prepared with umbrella and raincoat which of course haven’t been out of my bag as the weather has been fantastic (see photo).

Highlights so far include a talk by Mark Childs of Coventry on the subject of students developing a sense of virtual presence when using virtual worlds such as Second Life. Fundamentally, his message was that not a small amount of time needs to be invested in generating such a sense of presence. From his research he also found a correlation between those students that valued their Second Life activities as a learning experience and those that felt a sense of presence when using Second Life. Mark also came up with a couple of good words, my favourite being “cyberdisinhibition”. I don’t think I need to explain its meaning.

I also went to a session presented by Olaf Schulte who was talking about the Opencast project, which intends to develop a completely open source lecture capture system over the course of the next year. It certainly looks an interesting project and I’m keen to see what they come up with. He also mentioned a couple of other projects developing along similar lines that already exist, his own REPLAY project and also one called MediaMosa which I previously hadn’t heard of.

Today’s keynote speaker was Obadiah Greenberg from YouTube who talked a lot about his background setting up a lecture capture system at UC Berkeley and how they used as many distribution platforms as possible to widen the availability of Berkeley lectures. He certainly prompted me to think why aren’t any regular LSE lectures available through either iTunesU or, which I guess was his intention. Finally, today’s most entertaining presentation was by Steve Hull from JISC Digital Media who gave a talk on the basics of producing good quality films using basic equipment, such as a Flip camera. Rather than try to describe the talk I can recommend watching when it becomes available. Which of course prompts me to mention that all of the sessions at this conference are being recorded by Echo 360, so if you aren’t at the conference you can just go to the conference schedule page and click on the link to each session and then find the Echo 360 link for the recording.

There are of course the now usual Twitter and Flickr feeds and I think this conference definitely has the highest ratio of iPhones per participant that I have been to so far. Maybe I’ve only noticed because I’ve just acquired one myself 🙂 but then given the subject of the conference there’s almost certainly a high concentration of Apple fans here I think.

It’s the conference dinner this evening, then a few sessions tomorrow morning and of course the 5 hour train journey back to London to enjoy.

June 25th, 2009|Conferences, Images, Audio & Video, Teaching & Learning|Comments Off on DIVERSE video and teaching conference 2009|