Tag: Moodle

Reflections on Emerging Technologies Course

I am wrapping up a doctoral course on emerging technologies this week. I have to admit, this has been the most enjoyable course I’ve taken to date. The subject matter was right down my alley, and there was much more interaction in this course than in previous classes (I’m working on an online degree.). I wanted to take the time to share a few things that were particularly significant to me as I plan for next year.

Games in education

While I have read many wonderful pieces on the blogs of such educators as David Warlick on the subject, gaming is not something I have devoted much thought or energy to. The research makes it clear that games are an effective and engaging way to promote higher level cognitive skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity. They also reinforce many academic skills, and they do so in a setting which kids actually enjoy. I will be looking for ways to bring games and simulations more attention in our district next year.

Moodle

Learning content management systems, like Moodle, are the present and immediate future of our profession. They make learning objects easily accessible by teachers and students, they facilitate collaboration and communication, they integrate Web 2.0 tools wonderfully, and they draw upon the collective knowledge and experiences of educators. The limited exploration I have done with Moodle this quarter has convinced me that it is well within the capabilities of our teachers and the time is now to get the implementation rolling in BISD.

Synchronous collaboration tools

This includes such presentation resources as Elluminate, WebEx, and Dimdim, but it also includes simpler tools, such as Skype and chat rooms. I received very positive feedback from participants in my first Dimdim professional development session, and I will be offering many more next year, perhaps even outside of the district. The convenience and extensive feature set simply make these tools essential for professional learning, and they go far beyond some of the existing online tools used in our district, which are asynchronous in nature. They also have many classroom applications. Elluminate will be available next year, and it will be exciting to see how we utilize the tool, particularly if we can find effective ways to incorporate it into our expanding number of online courses. It just might be an effective method of decreasing attrition and creating a greater sense of community among our online students.

Cell phones/personal electronic devices

Our district’s cell phone policy is now much more open, meaning it will be essential to explore and articulate best practices for utilizing the ever-increasing capabilities of the devices in the coming year. There will be an adjustment period for teachers, without a doubt. However, I truly foresee the wireless Internet capabilities, text messaging, and video/photographic capabilities being put to some creative and powerful applications.

Evolution of a Teacher

What, exactly, is a teacher? Webster’s Dictionary defines a teacher as:

Teach”er\, n. 1. One who teaches or instructs; one whose business or occupation is to instruct others; an instructor; a tutor.

Traditional teacher

Teaching is primarily defined as “To impart the knowledge of; to give intelligence concerning; to impart, as knowledge before unknown, or rules for practice; to inculcate as true or important; to exhibit impressively; as, to teach arithmetic, dancing, music, or the like; to teach morals.” Alternately, it is defined as “To direct, as an instructor; to manage, as a preceptor; to guide the studies of; to instruct; to inform; to conduct through a course of studies; as, to teach a child or a class” or “to accustom; to guide; to show; to admonish.”

There are significant differences in these definitions. The first is more traditional, and it depicts the teacher as the provider, source, and demonstration of information needed for learning. The alternative definitions depict a different role entirely, that of one who leads others to the sources of information and understanding. The former entails a significant level of control over what is learned and how it is learned. The latter implies greater freedom on the part of the learner. The former, it might be argued, implies greater structure, while the latter implies a more random order.

In the past week, there have been a couple of experiences that have led me to consider just how our profession is evolving from one of a source of knowledge to one of a guide, who leads students through a vast sea of information, so that they may construct knowledge independently. The first was a discussion with a colleague about the fears expressed by a teacher that they would become obsolete. Sacred cowsChange is inevitable, exciting, and terrifying. Technology is accelerating this change in education and in the world in general, by connecting us and giving us access to information on a scale unimaginable a few decades ago. It is easy to understand why this can be intimidating to a teacher. However, it is neither rational nor logical to expect that we will become obsolete. It is both rational and logical, however, to expect that our roles will be evolving, and that we will need to work to change our teaching practices to fit the needs of a new educational paradigm. The real challenge will be to develop enough of the critical literacy in teachers for them to be able to become the skilled navigators of information needed to lead our students to understanding. This is by no means a knock on a generation of educators, but it is a statement of the realities of our upbringing and education–information was different, smaller. The exciting part is, if we can change in these ways, the profession can become even more rewarding, as we will have the opportunity to witness so many more “a-ha” moments of self-discovery in our children. If we cannot, well, we very well may be on our way out.

The second experience involved the implementation of two technology tools in our district, Blackboard and Moodle. These tools promise to give access and unity to the vast reservoirs of learning objects, lesson plans, assessment tools, and other resources that have previously been dispersed, the property of individual teachers or, at best, small teams of teachers. They also will enable far greater Grocery storestudent access to the tools and resources they need to conduct their own learning experiences. Imagine a virtual grocery store of information, open 24 hours a day, where students select the ingredients needed for any recipe they need or desire. The teacher becomes the store manager, pointing them to the right aisles, the best ingredients. The end result is a motley mix of dishes, each contributing to a grand feast of knowledge. These tools will also allow students to contribute to the collective database of learning objects and information, providing resources for future students and teachers to utilize and build upon. Now, the student takes on a role once reserved for the teacher, a role made possible through the leadership and guidance of that teacher/manager.

Learning is about change and growth. The nature of information and access to that information is changing and growing, as well. Teachers are a resilient, dedicated lot, and we will adapt and excel, so long as we are willing to give up some degree of control and put it in the hands of our capable clients.

References:

teach. (n.d.). Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved May 07, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary1.classic.reference.com/browse/teach

teacher. (n.d.). Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved May 07, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary1.classic.reference.com/browse/teacher

Too Much to Moodle to Ignore?

As an advocate of free, online Web 2.0 tools, I have spent a great deal of time and effort in reading and Moodleresearching, trying to keep up with the latest, greatest sites for my teachers or presentation attendees to use to transform their curriculums into the 21st century. I must admit that I’ve been neglectful of some other areas of technology, not so much because I failed to see their importance, but rather that the read/write Web has simply captured my imagination. One particular tool that I wish to gain a greater familiarity with is Moodle. Moodle is a learning management system (LMS), defined by Leonard Greenberg as “a high-level, strategic solution for planning, delivering and managing all learning events within an organization.” (2002) Among other things, Moodle is a powerful tool for creating online content and e-learning opportunities.  It has become an amazing force in the education world. It is a free, open-source tool that is putting a serious dent in the sales of for-profit tools in the field, especially in the current economic climate.

Miguel Guhlin is one of the foremost advocates of Moodle in education in the state of Texas today. In his blog and numerous trade publications, Miguel offers insights into implentation of Moodle, its applications, and justifications for its use. In an article written for the magazine On Cue and cross-posted in his blog this week, Miguel gives a good, general overview of the tool and some suggestions for its implementation. One thing that caught my eye was that  “Moodle comes replete with blogs, forums, RSS feeds, wikis and more that enable it to be seen as an “absolute good” that opens the door, that enables powerful ideas to slay the fears our IMHO – slay the fears that leaders hold.” I’ve been told many, many times that schools cannot utilize the tools I’ve shared because of restrictive filtering policies, so if Moodle is a step to overcoming this, I’m definitely listening.

Moodle Tools

Miguel does a great job going into more detail on some of the applications of Moodle in education, but I’ll summarize briefly what he describes.

  • Online learning environments. Users can create and utilize online groups, such as literature circles, create online quizzes and other instructional resources, build wikis for group collaboration, display student work, keep writing journals, develop online lessons, and more.
  • District/campus communications. Leaders can create book studies, disseminate news, engage staff in discussions using online forums, etc. All of this can be created in a private setting, accessible only to invited members.
  • Supporting district initiatives. Moodle’s discussion forums, questionnaires, and synchronous tools (Such as a Dimdim module!) help schools and districts implement initiatives in a manner that is on-going and as needed, rather than the typical isolated and infrequent way that it too often is presented.
  • Professional development. Moodle has the ability to make professional learning opportunities an anytime, anywhere affair. Teachers can login, take a course, complete a questionnaire, share a lesson plan, and earn needed professional development credits, such as ESL or G/T hours. All of this accomplished in a format that is both cost-effective (no transportation expenses) and fits into already busy schedules.

Breaking Down Barriers

Miguel also offers some helpful tips for overcoming administrative hesitation in implementing Moodle (and Web 2.0 tools) in schools:

  • Take the time to list the reasons you need the tools.
  • Share the reasons with administrators.
  • Create a petition and enlist the support of like-minded educators.
  • Explain the need for a person to be the administrator of the computers on which the tools will be used and volunteer to be that person.
  • Cultivate a relationship with the people in “power” over technology and access to resources.

I would add to this list:

  • Do your research. Administrators generally love data. Be able to support your ideas with evidence.
  • Educate the leaders at the top of the hierarchy. Show what other schools are doing. Teach them the tools and encourage them to try them out. I know from experience how powerful this can be.
  • Emphasize the cost-effectiveness of your ideas. The tools are free, but will require some costs in terms of servers, support, etc. Regardless, they are certainly more efficient than many pay-for-use tools.
  • If those in charge are reluctant, emphasize the ability to create resources whose use and access is totally controlled by the school/district.

Want More Information?

I plan to be experimenting with the tool in the coming months, and I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences here. In the meantime, if anyone is curious enough, you can learn a great deal through Miguel’s writings on his blog and elsewhere. I’ve also found him to be very willing to offer insights and answer questions through Twitter (http://twitter.com/mguhlin). Additionally, Moodle has a very active community of users, and you can tap into this community through the Moodle forums at http://moodle.org/login/index.php.

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