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Moodle-izing Your
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"Moodle is a Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It is a free Web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites."

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More About Moodle

* Moodle
* Five Essential Tech Tools for Administrators
* Moodle in the Classroom

Technological change," shares Neil Postman, is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything." Moodle is one of those technologies that can transform how you handle professional learning online, as well as how you handle student learning. Disarmingly simple to use, once Moodle has been installed on a server somewhere in your district, it is also deceptively complex. When you can bring in blogs, wikis, podcasts; when you can administer questionnaires that print incredible graphs, quizzes; take grades; and institute online forums with attachments, organizing your courses online can be overwhelming. Like a mosquito in a nudist colony, as an old principal shared with me, where do you strike first? Where does one begin? This article contains some suggestions, as well as some specific practical tips for solving commonly asked challenges in K-12 Moodle implementation.

Knowing where to start is one of the primary challenges of using Moodle. In a world where every education vendor has a solution that has a cost sure to take a chunk out of your budget, Moodle can be one solution that transforms perceptions of online learning at the campus and district level.

In that spirit of transparency and open sourcing" learning, here are some quick tips on using Moodle in K-12 settings. They range from the big idea to the technical how-to, and include links to extensive Moodle resources you can use right now to get started. But one thing is for sure, the change that the use of Moodle can bring about is ecological.

This two part article shares 1) district use tips and 2) practical tips for enhancing Moodle for K-12 district use.

DISTRICT USE TIPS

Tip #1: Campus Communications: A wealth of information flies back and forth via e-mail, and like Lees video on Wikis in Plain English," that often is ineffective. Transparency of communications cannot be achieved in that manner. I was pleased, therefore, to hear how Abilene ISD's Ann Tawney shared how she would use Moodle with her particular campus. A former Blackboard user, Ann sought to use Moodle to help the campus organize in the following ways:

  • Posting announcements and bulletins;
  • Minutes and documents related to Campus Improvement Committee Meetings;
  • Sharing and review of the teachers handbook;
  • General resources that staff could use;
  • Surveys that could be conducted among staff.

Tip #2: District level book studies and conversations: Although one can easily imagine using online forums connected to learning management systems (which track professional development participation and certification) to facilitate specific discussions, a variety of district level planning sessions could find their way into Moodle. The use of Moodle to facilitate those conversations is not to be under-estimated. Many times, I have seen critical conversations take place in e-mail and then critical steps not taken because no one was exactly sure of what needed to happen next, or because a critical e-mail was missed. Moodle can help objectify" the presentation of information and move it from user inboxes to a central place.

Tip #3: Professional Learning Follow-Up Some of the challenges that professional learning facilitators face after the training is over is how to create a resource drop box" and online community around the content/ideas discussed in the training. The use of such a tool is obvious, and the idea of creating one in Moodle that is specific to certain criteria (e.g. subject area, grade level, campus, etc) has merit. The ability to host a chat room for virtual meetings, house scope-n-sequence documents, as well as lesson plans organized by LOTI level, subject area, and grade level within the built-in wiki available in Moodle also caught their attention.

Tip #4: Facilitate Online Professional Learning As director of instructional technology, I have had the opportunity to set in place several Moodles. Online learning is critical to our future, both for adults and children in K-12. As an administrator growing his own program, what planning do I need to put in place to ensure success for learners in a K-12 environment?

Moodle allows one to create a virtual learning space, yet what happens in that space is even more critical than what happens in physical space. When I try to imagine what online professional learning for adult learners looks like in K-12 schools, I find myself staggering from vendor to vendor, seeking what might work. For example, in one urban school district, it was found that PBS TeacherLine's programs, as constructed, were too challenging for online-learning "newsbies." So, partnering with PBS TeacherLine of Texas, one district worked to convert the courses to Moodle and pare them down to shorter increments (6-12 hours rather than the regular 30 hours). It is critical to know where your teachers are and then scaffold their learning and growth online. The results are starting to pay off, as we can see from quotes like this one in response to an introductory online learning course:

"This was my first online learning experience and it really helped me understand the ins and outs of an online course. An online learning course would be extremely beneficial to me given my work hours and schedule. I learned that I can still communicate effectively with my peers within the social and reading forums. This was a problem for me because originally I thought that face-to-face discussion was the only way for me to learn effectively. I also learned that online is not necessarily the easier, softer way. It requires a lot of self-discipline and self-motivation. I'm glad I took this course because it gave me an opportunity to expand my horizons academically, and I know I'll be a successful online learner in the future."

Some quick suggestions to get started:

  • Get staff certified as PBS TeacherLine Online Facilitators. That enables staff to better understand what is involved in facilitating an online course and gives you a standard framework to work from when designing a course.
  • Construct an Introduction to Online Learning course -- about a week long -- that can be used as a pre-requisite for teachers who have never experienced online professional learning before.
  • Implement a technology-integration lead-teacher program that grants incentives for completing online coursework. Those incentives can be as inexpensive as still image digital cameras, digital audio recorders, USB flash drives and/or FLIP video cameras. Use of the incentives can start a buzz about online learning that will be extended when learners realize that they can learn online.
  • Purchase online courses that are relevant to teachers' practice in ways that are relevant to the focus of your district.
  • Create your own online courses. When I started creating courses, I found myself wondering, "Where are the templates for designing an online course? What are the standards?" Most Moodle course designs are modular and (course content and activities like forums, assignments organized by topic) and multi-modal (featuring videos, audio, and text), and feature a syllabus, and assignment checklist.

What are some of the ways you are using Moodle to enhance online learning for adults? For K-12 students? Please feel free to e-mail those to Miguel Guhlin at mguhlin.com.

CONCLUSION

Implementing online learning environments in K-12 school districts requires cultivating new approaches to how we handle teaching, learning, and leading in schools. Because learning can happen online, the applications are limited only by the imagination. As a director of instructional technology, I want to be the one department in the district that uses Moodle; I want to be the one department district that encourages the use of Moodle by anyone at every level...to create their own online environments and start from there. Join me?

About the Author

As director of instructional technology for a large urban district in Texas, past president of the state-wide Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest U.S. technology educator organizations (TCEA), Miguel Guhlin continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing or engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner.

Article by Miguel Guhlin
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World



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