A recent comment I made in Twitter about not loving Moodle prompted this post. My explanation needs more than 140 characters.
First, a bit about my Cyber English background: in 2001, freshmen at SFHS began creating their own websites, stored on a school web server. On these creative, individual, wonderful sites, they published their writing, writing that reflected various purposes and genres. But all of it was public, and that made all the difference.
The websites allowed them to fully experience writing process in an authentic, meaningful way. There was always choice regarding topic and usually choice about genre. This process of decision making included the general decisions writers make regarding organization, selection of detail, etc., but also required students to decide on elements of presentation, like color, like font, like additional images, like hyperlinks. All of these decisions were made (hopefully) with their audience in mind–their real audience, which included their peers, their parents, their teacher, and on occasion, a person from the “world.” Peer review and revision were also easier with websites. While we use blogs now, instead of websites, the goals we have for our student writers are the same. Write for real, for real audiences. Inspiring a community of writers is much easier with technology tools.
I also recognized the value of online chat or discussion. There were some “cloud” programs about ten years ago, but very few were safe enough for student use (hard to lock down to keep out spam, etc.). But the premise behind the need for such a tool was and is valid. Students will say more with their keyboards than they will with their mouths, at least that is my experience.
The goals I have for my student writers have not changed so much in ten years. I think technology and access to the Internet are the two factors that drive high engagement. While Moodle is a technology tool (and I have used it and fully experimented with all of its functions), I do not love it. Here’s why:
- The main thing about Moodle that I don’t like is it’s a closed environment. It’s safe, sure, but if it’s not public (published), writing may as well be on paper (except keyboards create nicer looking documents).
- The writing spaces in Moodle (unless they’ve been vastly improved in the past year) are close to horrible. The Wiki is nearly impossible to use–not at all intuitive. The blog isn’t really a blog. The connectivity between them all is not good. What I mean is, it’s not easy to find others’ spaces within Moodle.
- The discussion forum feature in Moodle is pretty nice, and that was really the only thing I ever used there. I didn’t like that I couldn’t just clear out the responses to questions so I could start over the following year, but I found a way to manage that. I also played with the real-time chat. It was fun and chaotic, but not very productive. I don’t miss those tools much because with blogs, students can leave comments, so that sort of is like a discussion. Well, not quite, but comments on blogs help students share ideas and consider various points of view.
- The quiz/test feature in Moodle is time consuming and CLUNKY, though, once you spend the time on it, the resulting product is easy for students to use. Who wouldn’t love that the grades are automatic. But, if you don’t create many multiple choice tests, then you wouldn’t really use it.
- As for a place for teacher announcments and things, well, again, it’s a closed enviornment. I don’t like communicating in a web enviornment where I have to log in to see what I need to see. I imagine a lot of students and parents find that step annoying as well, and if they do, they won’t be reading the announcements. Besides, if we’re not making our teaching and learning transparent, we’re missing opportunities to share and learn from each other.
- As for Moodle being free, yes, it is. But the tech specialist at our school tells me ,that doesn’t mean it’s free to manage. Someone has to set it up, maintain the server, the updates, etc. I installed Moodle to my own domain once, thinking I could have students use it. It would have worked IF I needed only three or four students to access and use the space at a time. I quickly found out that having 28 students logging in to my own Moodle did not work at all.
So, what do I like/use instead?
- I miss websites, but I do love blogs. I think they’re a happy compromise. Students are publishing their writing. Their peers are reading. And the world is their audience. The ability to comment and get comments is my favorite thing about blogs. This year, one of my students got a comment on her blog from the author of the book she was reading. Needless to say, the student was excited and proud. About our blogs: We use Word Press MU (Multi user). Our school designates a server for storing student blogs and we have great support.
- I love cloud tools (Web 2.0). I would tell teachers, figure out what it is you want your students to do and find a tool for it, sort of like finding an app. : ) Some Web 2.0 tools are not stable. That is, they may be too experimental to use over time. But what does that matter? Use it now, learn with it, find something else later. There are so many things out there to play with.
- For collaborative writing, I love Google Docs. There is now a chat feature with Docs that allows collaborators to converse as they compose. It’s fantastic. Google Apps are, it seems, very stable, and Google is committed to education. There are Google sites as well, which are sort of like a blog/wiki combo. There is a lot at Google for teachers and students.
- Wikis are great, too, for collaborative writing. With a wiki, students can also publish their work. Ihave one or two project a year using a wiki. For myself, I use Wikispaces (great for teacher collaborative planning), but for students I prefer PB Wiki, as it’s a simpler, more intuitive space. Also, setting up accounts for students at PB Works is so easy. They do not need an email account!
- I am/was a huge fan of Ning, but Ning creators decided to begin charging. That is their right. There are similar web spaces, but I really did like Ning. A Buddy Press (WordPress) blog is a “sort of” substitute for Ning. You can create a small community there, each having a blog space, space for discussion, and the ability to message others.
- As for teachers simply communicating with students and parents, I do like my Word Press blog. It’s easy to edit, and I can make changes from anywhere. It’s public.
I am sure I have forgotten something, but these are my basic objections to what, on the surface, seems to be a great technology tool. For me, I would only use it if I had to. I’m glad I don’t have to.